Yes, yes we know that Berlin is the greatest city on earth, but sometimes – just occasionally – it’s good to get out and about.
Whether you live in Berlin and want to explore the surroundings, or you are visiting and want to see something other than the city, here are our suggestions for day trips with something for everyone: from wave machines and saunas to history and architecture.
Great for the winter… TROPICAL ISLANDS
Berlin can be brutal during the never-ending winter months, but help is at hand. Get up early and take the train to Tropical Islands, an enormous glass and metal dome (the largest free-standing hall in the world), sitting in a nondescript corner of the Brandenburg countryside. It was originally built as an airship hangar but now serves as the ultimate escape from a chilly northern European winter. The clue is in the name: the dome – which is high enough to fly a hot air balloon – has been packed full with 50,000 trees, a 200 km sandy beach, multiple pools and even Europe’s tallest waterslide. It also houses 13 restaurants and bars… and you can stay overnight in a lodge on the beach, or even camp in a teepee.
- Price: From 10€ for an early bird ticket to 42€ for a full day ticket including the sauna and spa
- Getting There: Take the RB19 from Berlin (from Gesundbrunnen, Hauptbahnhof, Potsdamer Platz or Südkreuz) to Brand, then hop on the free shuttle bus to Tropical Islands
Great for a wander… POTSDAM
The charming town of Potsdam sits in Berlin’s zone C, at the south-west end of the S7 line, but with its small-town feel and cute streets, perfect for wandering, it feels a long way away from the capital.
Head to the Dutch Quarter for cafes, bars and independent shops and then make your way to the jewel in Potsdam’s crown: Sanssouci Palace, Frederick the Great’s summer residence. The grounds are magnificent, with a terraced vineyard and landscaped parks, and the interior is beautifully decorated in the baroque tradition.
- Price: Obviously it’s free to visit Potsdam itself, and also the gardens of Sanssouci Palace, but if you want to explore inside the palace you need a day ticket which costs 12€
- Getting There: Take the S7 to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof (you will need an ABC ticket), or an RE1 train. If you have bikes, take them with you (remember to get a supplementary bicycle ticket, or Fahrradkarte, for the S Bahn) – it’s a beautiful place for a cycle.
Great for history… LEIPZIG
118 miles away from Berlin (but with excellent transport links), in the north of Saxony, sits the East German city of Leipzig. It has a population of around half a million, and is far older than Berlin, having been given city status way back in 1165.
Leipzig is chock full of museums and monuments, but make sure you check out the houses of Mendelssohn, Schiller and Schumann who all lived in the city. More recently, get an insight into life in the GDR at the Museum at the Round Corner, which was the headquarters of the Stasi until their demise in 1989. Leipzig Zoo, one of the largest and best known in Germany is also worth a visit, as is the Botanical Gardens.
Leipzig also has a rich culinary tradition, so try some local specialities such as “Leipziger Allerlei” (a vegetable dish) and “Leipziger Lerche”, which are tasty pastries. All this can be washed down with a bottle or two of the local Leipziger Gose beer. If you want a good meal, then head to Auerbach’s Keller, the city’s most famous restaurant, which has served hearty meals to luminaries from Martin Luther King to Queen Elizabeth II.
- Getting There: The ICE train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof takes just 70 minutes to get to Leipzig – book early for a cheap deal. To do it on a budget, check out Flixbus or similar – direct fares are often available for as little as 8€ although the journey takes around 2 hours.
Great for relaxing… BAD SAAROW
Bad Saarow is a spa town about 65 km to the south east of Berlin, at the Scharmützelsee lake. The pretty town, with its hot springs and mineral-rich mud, has been a popular spot for health-conscious Berliners to relax away from the bustle of the city for many years. Spend a day at the SaarowTherme spa resort, taking advantage of its inside and outside pools, saunas, light therapies, and massage treatments and float back to Berlin in a haze of well-being. People from less permissive societies should be aware that this is a German spa, therefore swimwear in the saunas is not permitted!
- Price: Prices at SaarowTherme start from 15€ – full details on the website
- Getting There: Take the regional train from Berlin Hauptbahnhof and change at Fürstenwalde for the Bad Saarow train. The total journey is just over an hour, including changes. It is also a lovely cycle ride from Berlin, if you are feeling extra fit.
Great for enjoying the sun… LIEPNITZSEE
Bored of fighting the crowds at the Wannsee? Head north through the Brandenburg forests to the pristine waters of the Liepnitzsee: the water is so clear that visibility reaches 3 metres. It’s not terribly easy to get to – but think of that as a bonus: if it was simple, it would be packed with all the people you are leaving Berlin to avoid. We recommend you take your bike (set off early though to make sure it will fit on the train, as it’s a popular route), as the nearest train station is about 40 minutes walk to the Strandbad Liepnitzsee.
The popular beaches can get as crowded as any nearer the city, but keep walking and there are plenty of hidden spots where you can feel like you are the only person at the lake.
- Getting There: Take the train (mixture of S Bahn and Regional, depending where you are starting from) north to Wandlitz Bahnhof (it takes about 50 minutes from Hauptbahnhof with changes), then the lake is a 15 minute cycle away. Alternatively, take the S Bahn to Bernau and cycle the 10 miles to the lake.
Great for a romantic day out… PFAUENINSEL
This beautiful island in the river Havel gets its name from the peacocks (Pfauen) that roam freely over its 67 hectares. The entire island is a nature reserve, and was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2009. The picturesque white castle, which is the centrepiece of the island, was built by Friedrich Wilhelm II in the 1790s as a place to relax – and it serves the same purpose for visitors today. It is such a quiet, peaceful place that water buffalo are employed to mow the lawns, rather than annoying noisy machinery. Take a trip around the dairy – which is designed to look like a gothic church – or just enjoy a leisurely stroll around the shady lawns and the river’s edge. Be aware that bicycles and dogs are prohibited.
- Price: It costs 3€ to look around the castle, and 2€ for the dairy. The ferry costs 2€.
- Getting There: Take the S Bahn to Wannsee, then take the bus 218 from Wannsee station to the river (check the return times as it runs only every hour or so). A ferry will then take you to the island. Ferry crossing times are here.
Want to get to know Berlin better? Download our comprehensive (and free!) 87 page guide to Berlin – perfect for adding to your phone or tablet when exploring the city.
Header image of U Bahn train by vxla via FlickrCC