Berlin sightseeing has much to offer the tourist. You can explore flea markets, linger in cozy cafes, or take a dip in one of the lakes, as well as sample the unique nightlife. It’s also well worth making a day trip into the surrounding countryside. There are many interesting destinations within easy reach of the city by car or train—or, if you prefer to get some exercise, you can even explore the area by bike.
Potsdam: Town of Palaces and Gardens
Potsdam is just one example. A day trip to the capital of Brandenburg will offer a pleasant change from hectic Berlin sightseeing. You can visit wonderful palaces from eras ranging from Rococo to Baroque and you can take a stroll around the vast parks and gardens. The fastest way to get to Potsdam is by train (it’s only 25 minutes from station to station). Even if you choose to go by bike, it only takes around two hours, and it’s a pleasant ride, especially if you take the route along the Havel River and through the Grunewald forest.
Once in Potsdam, you have the choice of around a dozen palaces to visit, among the most famous is the Sanssouci Palace. This rococo building designed by King Fredrick II stands resplendent in the Sanssouci Palace Park. The path takes you through the beautifully kept park, along the immaculately trimmed lawns and past the round pond, which has a fountain so powerful you can feel the spray as you stand at the edge. From here, walk up through the terraced gardens to the summer palace of the Hohenzollern family. By this stage, it becomes obvious why this “Prussian Versailles” has been made a World Heritage Site under the protection of UNESCO.
Incidentally, sans soucis means “without worry,” and a tour of the palace soon proves that it is well named. The sheer elegance and splendor of the rooms, with original furnishings dating to the 18th century, will temporarily banish all your cares. As you walk over the precious marble floors and admire the 140 paintings in the gallery of Frederick the Great, you feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. Try not to spend too much time here, though, or you might miss another attraction in the park. The Drachenhaus Restaurant & Cafe provides seasonal German food using local ingredients, served in stylish surroundings. Another highlight is the building itself, which is modeled on a Chinese pagoda.
If you feel like exploring a different side of Potsdam, bear east and go back through the park and into the northern part of the town center. Here, you can explore the French Church and the Dutch Quarter. Wander into quaint shops and linger in cozy cafes.
Spreewald: a Natural Paradise
The countryside around Berlin offers exciting excursions to nature lovers, too. Not to be missed is the Spreewald, a forest upstream from the city. Roughly one hour away by train, to the southeast of the city is the small town of Luebbenau, and a trip here or to one of its neighboring villages is heaven for nature lovers.
Little streams, rivers, and the wider river, Hauptspree, flow through the dense forest and moorland. The Spreewald forest is nationally renowned for the cucumbers which grown here.It has recently become a popular tourist destination as well as a welcome recreation area for Berlin city dwellers.
Biking the Gurkenradweg (the cucumber cycle path) is a fantastic way of getting to know the Spreewald. It is a biosphere reserve conservation area, and you can cover every corner of it on the 250-kilometer cycle path, which takes you as far as Cottbus. You might plan to stop for a rest in the fairy-tale village of Lagunendorf Lehde with its historic buildings, or to observe white storks—or perhaps even a sea eagle, if you’re lucky—in one of the swampy clearings. Most local bed and breakfasts and guesthouses now welcome cyclists and offer one-night stays for people who want to spend a bit longer in the area.
Another way to explore the Spreewald is by kayak or canoe. This is a unique experience: with your eyes on the same level as beavers and kingfishers, you glide along on the water and see everything from a new perspective. Even the post is delivered by boat here.
If you haven’t seen enough by the end of your day trip, then simply come back for another visit. Next time, why not take a canoe trip that lasts a few days—beyond the borders of Spreewald and into the countryside, beyond Berlin sightseeing?