It’s pretty much impossible to get bored in Berlin. Nevertheless, you may feel the urge to explore beyond the city’s borders or to simply escape for a day.
Sara, an adventurous au pair currently based in Berlin, has put together a list of exciting day trips to suit all tastes and budgets. She also writes about her rollicking escapades and everyday experiences on her blog, Berliner Games.
1. Enjoy the Prussian atmosphere of Potsdam
This is the classic day trip from Berlin that everyone must take sooner or later. Potsdam is the capital of Brandenburg, the federal state surrounding Berlin, and it used to be the residence of the Prussian kings.
You’ll be charmed by the quietness of this historical city. Discover the palaces in the huge Sans Souci Park and wander through the Dutch district, admiring its colourful houses.
There’s just one adjective to describe Potsdam. Can you guess what it is? Exactly: Prussian. Forget your map and meander through the old town, or just take it easy outside a café sipping a cup of tea, feeling like a Prussian royal.
If you’re a cinema freak like me, I recommend visiting the Babelsberg Film Studio. Many famous films have been shot there, from Metropolis and The Blue Angel (for the nostalgic ones who love old movies) to The Hunger Games, Inglorious Bastards and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Photo credit: Michael
2. Visit the Sachsenhausen Memorial
Take a train to Oranienburg and visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Descriptions do this place no justice – you have to go there and see it with your eyes, feel it on your skin. What I can tell you is that it was established by the Nazis and then used by the communists as a “special camp” for Soviet prisoners.
I like the concept of this memorial. If you want to visit the camp with a guide you can join a paid tour when you’re there, but admission itself is free. The impression I got is that the management doesn’t want to exploit the camp and make money from a place of terrible tragedy, unlike some other concentration camps I’ve visited.
Photo credit: Damian Entwistle
3. Chase the peacocks in Pfaueninsel
Pfaueninsel means “Peacock Island”, and for good reason. Take the bus from Wannsee Station and then get a ferry across to the island. You’ll find some surprises there, among them wild peacocks! Sorry if I sound naively excited, it’s just that these beautiful birds run freely around with their colourful feathers on full display.
The island is also home to some nonsensical things, for example a fake castle that’s clearly made out of plastic. I still wonder why…
Bring a picnic to have on the lawn, and enjoy the nature, the picturesque landscape, and the sun sparkling on the water. Just remember to keep an eye out for the peacocks – sometimes a crazy one might try to steal your food!
Photo credit: Marcus Mehnert
4. Absorb some mystical energy at Chorin Abbey
It takes just one hour by train or car to reach this stunning abbey located in Schorfheide, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The entry fee is inexpensive (€4, or €2.50 if you’re a student) and really worth it. I mean, who doesn’t like monasteries? It’s also a venue for concerts, art exhibitions, and theatre performances. Check this website to find out what’s coming up.
The surrounding area is also amazing. Visit the abbey and then, filled with mystical energy, go hiking in the forest or head to the nearby lake.
Photo credit: micharl_be
5. Experience a canoe ride in Spreewald
If you like hiking, another place I recommend visiting is Spreewald, an area around 100 kilometres south-east of Berlin. Follow the paths in the forest, or hire a canoe, explore the canals, and take in the picturesque view of the small houses with their pretty gardens. Put on your hiking shoes, pack your rucksack, and enjoy the excursion. Just beware of wild boars!
Photo credit: Anja Pietsch
6. Catch some “rays” at the Rheinsberger nuclear power plant
If you want to have an unusual experience, if you don’t mind cycling long distances and, most importantly, if you’re not paranoid about radiation, you can’t miss a visit to the Rheinsberg nuclear power plant.
Located north of Berlin, it was the first nuclear power reactor in East Germany. It was shut down after the reunification because it didn’t meet safety standards. It’s said to be safe, though, which is why it’s open to visitors on Wednesday afternoons.
If you’re a group of at least five people and can speak German, or if you’re simply curious about seeing a nuclear power plant, send an email to Joerg Moeller to arrange a tour. After your visit you’ll have plenty of cool photos to show your friends and, who knows, maybe your clothes will start glowing in the dark.
Photo credit: Willi Seiler
7. Relax in Spandau
Spandau is a district in the outskirts of Berlin. It’s the ideal place to get away from the mayhem of the big city and enjoy a relaxing day off. Take a stroll among the market stalls, eat some currywurst or boulette (they can be very cheap there), visit the old town, and buy an ice cream at the famous Florida Eis café.
My favourite part of Spandau is the Citadel, a Renaissance military fortress and a site where important bands often perform. And if you’re a Tarantino fan, you can’t miss Fort Hahneberg, a hidden fortress where several scenes from Inglorious Bastards were shot.
Photo credit: Achim Fischer
8. Refresh your history knowledge in Wittenberg
This town, reachable in less than an hour by train from Berlin, is a paradise for history lovers. The name may sound familiar. Yes, it’s actually a place of Protestantism. Surrender to the curiosities of a typical German town and visit the famous Schlosskirche where everything began and where Luther is buried. The Hundertwasser school is also worth visiting for its colourful and crazy architecture.
Take this trip during the Christmas market period. You’ll have to endure the cold, but everything will look magical.
Photo credit: Neuwieser
9. Treat yourself to a day at Tropical Islands
Maybe you won the lottery, maybe it’s your birthday, maybe you’re just a poor student who worked hard the whole year and managed to save a bit of money. In any case, if you feel like spending more than €40 and having an indulgent day off, Tropical Islands is the place for you.
Located 70 kilometres south of Berlin, this spa centre will make you feel reborn. It’s called Tropical Islands because it replicates the environment of a tropical island (surprise, surprise!) Enjoy the outdoor pool, have fun on the slides, or abandon yourself to the stream.
You’ll find everything you need to have the perfect relaxing day, but you’d better not forget your credit card.
Photo credit: Tropical Islands
10. Hitchhike to Poland
Last but not least, something for my fellow adventurers. The Polish border is incredibly close to Berlin and hitchhiking is easy in Germany, so it’s possible to complete this expedition in a short time. Take a train to East Berlin and start from there. You can find the best hitchhiking spots on Hitchwiki.
If you’re wondering about the purpose of this trip, well, there isn’t one. It’s just for the sake of travelling, for the thrill of getting a lift from one country to another, for the satisfaction of reaching your destination despite all of the setbacks that might occur. And for the feeling of going back to the time when people from the GDR were only allowed to travel to eastern countries. Call me old fashioned, but my heart belongs to East Berlin.
Opening photo credit: Werner