Who else is guilty of making the same New Years Resolutions every year? My resolutions come down to just a few things in essence: try to like running, consume less cheese, and finally become a grown-up. The fact that none of these things seem to ever happen is somehow reassuring (#foreveryoung).
This year I did try another resolution though: travel more within Germany. For the past three years I’ve been feasting on this European buffet of fantastic countries, going to every place I had ever imagined. I’ve hit the big ones: France, Spain, Italy, England. I’ve hit some smaller ones too: Croatia, Denmark, Czech Republic. But the number of cities I’ve been to in Germany? I could count those on one lonely hand.
Tragically, this resolution’s fate was sealed before I even made it. I barely traveled within Germany last year.
Maybe this is because Berlin is such a big city that instead of this list, I could easily write a neighborhood guide that takes just as long to complete. (Note to self: do that).
Luckily for anyone coming to Berlin and perusing this list, I didn’t get too ambitious with my Germany travel and instead have a bunch of amazing side trips from Berlin – most of which are within two hours of the city where you can go to unwind and take a break from the pervasive smell of Döner kebap.
You’ll find both Berlin excursions that get you into nature, as well as cities close to Berlin you can just enjoy for a different pace. I absolutely recommend adding a few day trips to your Berlin itinerary.
Are you sold? Let’s get started.
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Can you visit Germany right now? (In 2021)
According to the official office here:
...restrictions are in place for entry into Germany from a large number of countries. Those entering Germany from risk areas must complete a digital entry registration form, be tested [...] and, depending on the regulations of the State in question, self-isolate.
You may enter if you are from an EU member state, Schengen countries like Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, and some other countries based on EU-level treaties.
If you've been in a high-risk area or somewhere with the new variant in the last 10 days, you're also required to register before arriving in Germany and carry proof of registration. Testing requirements are published online.
Be sure to check the regulations for the specific State within Germany you plan to enter, as the requirements for quarantine upon arrival may vary! If you are already in Germany, do check the local regulations to be clear about how far you are allowed to travel, as the country is on a form of lockdown as of January 2021.
The Best Berlin day trips
Here are some places within Berlin you can do as a half or a full-day trip. They’re roughly sorted by how far from Berlin they are, and how long it’ll take you to get there.
Travel time: 1 hour by public transit
Wannsee has a dark history behind it, but nonetheless is a beautiful area to visit from Berlin. Nowadays, people mostly come to Wannsee to visit the lake, which is one of the most popular sandy beaches surrounding the city. On a hot day it can get crowded, but there’s plenty of beer and beach food to keep you comfortable.
On a darker note, Wannsee is most famous for being the site of the Wannsee Conference, where senior Nazi officials met to plan the Final Solution to the “Jewish Question”. The location of this meeting, the Wannsee Villa, has been converted into a free exhibition where you can read real clipping from the newspapers and internal documents alike, demonstrating how the Jews were targeted and blamed for Germany’s problems. Honestly it’s unsettling to be in the same building where this happened, but seeing the original words of the people involved is eye-opening nonetheless.
What makes Wannsee unique? I’d say the fact that you can have a really balance day of learning about history, and then relaxing on the lake. Neither has to be a full-day activity, so there’s some real variety to this day trip.
How to get to Wannsee. You’ll take the S-Bahn S1 line, which passes through major stations throughout Berlin such as Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburger Tor, and Friedrichstraße. The S7 line is also an option, which passes through Alexanderplatz, Hackescher Markt, and Hauptbahnhof (Berlin main station).
Quick tips for visiting Wannsee:
- The Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz (House of the Wannsee Conference) is a free exhibit, where you’ll pass through several rooms, all overlooking the beautiful Wannsee.
- Another villa, the Liebermann Villa , hosts artist Max Libermann’s paintings of his home and garden. Unlike the Wannsee villa, it is not free to enter.
- Pfaueninsel is a nearby nature reserve, which tops numerous other lists of best day trips from Berlin. I went last Summer and it was a really nice trip to enjoy some of the nature around Berlin.
Travel time: 45 min by public transit
Potsdam is a posh town right outside of Berlin, especially for people who want access to the city but prefer to live in bigger houses (in my uneducated opinion). The town itself is charming and worth strolling through, however the main draw is undoubtedly the Schloss Sanssoucci (Sanssoucci Palace).
If you’ve been to Versailles, outside of Paris, you might notice some similarities right away. Sanssoucci has large, dedicated gardens, as well as smaller buildings along the grounds that you can go up into. The interior isn’t as vast, but the design of the rooms is just as elaborate and showy.
What makes Potsdam unique? Especially if you’ve been to Versailles, you’ll appreciate when I say this: comparatively few tourists. You don’t have to push your way through to see everything or fight people for a photo. Instead, it’s possible to just walk through, do some reading, and learn some history!
How to get to Potsdam. You can take the same train you took to Wannsee (S7), but keep going until you hit Potsdam Hauptbahnhof (Postdam main station). Directly in front of the stations are busses that will connect you to the palace!
Fancy a guided tour? As with most historical areas, it can be 10x more interesting when you have someone to explain the history to you. I find I’m also more likely to actually remember things as opposed to reading signs inside the palace. Here are some tour options in and around Potsdam and Sansoucci.
3. Britzer Garten
Travel time: Between 45 minutes and 1 hour by public transit, depending on your starting point.
Germans love nature, and nature loves the Germans – nowhere is it clearer than Britzer Garten, a large park featuring a lake, rose, tulip, and dahlia gardens, a functioning windmill, and a Liebesinsel (Love Island). Both dogs and bicycles are banned in this park, so it’s guaranteed to be peaceful. There’s a cafe overlooking the lake, as well as convenient spot for ice cream.
Come here if you’re looking for an early taste of Spring – when everything else is still waking up from their winter’s sleep, the cherry blossoms at Britzer Garten are already showing off how pretty they are.
When we came to Britzer Garten, we packed for a picnic and ate right across from the Love Island. Everything was fine and dandy until a swan decided he wanted to share our meal! I pretty much thought he was going to fight us, but somehow we managed to defend our food.
What makes Britzer Garten unique? Like Kromlauer Park, Britzer Garten is a place enjoyed mostly by locals who are looking for some time out of the city. You’re unlikely to get stuck behind hoards of tourists trying to snap an identical photo – you can just come here to wind down in the middle of a busy tour through Germany.
How to get to Britzer Garten. You can take the U6 U-Bahn south in the direction of Alt-Mariendorf. From there, transfer to the 179 Bus towards Gerlinger Str. and disembark at Sangerhauser Weg. A short walk (6 min, 550 meter) down the same road and you’re there!
Travel time: 50 minutes by S-bahn from Alexanderplatz
Berlin is surrounded by countless lakes, and if you come in Summer on a weekend, you’ll see the public transit full of people who are clearly heading for a day at the beach. Müggelsee is one of the most popular lakes in Berlin, given its shallow waters make it one of the warmer options. You can bring your family or set up solo. There are some snacks available at the lake (for a premium) or bring your own food and drinks.
How to get to Müggelsee. The easiest way to get to Müggelsee is to take the S-bahn (S3) to Köpenick and then ride your bicycle around the lake. Otherwise at Köpenick you can connect to a bus that will take you closer to the lake. All in all the trip takes between 50-80 minutes depending on where you’re starting in the city.
Travel time: 2 hours by car
In this tiny town on the border between Germany and Poland, Kromlauer Park is a hidden gem, visited by a very small number of foreign tourists. This 200-acre park is home to the Rakotzbrücke, also called the devil’s bridge for the legend behind it that the devil helped build it in exchange for the first living soul to cross it once completed. In Autumn, this park is absolutely breathtaking, although lacking a lot of the flowers and ponds that would otherwise be there in Spring.
What makes Kromlau unique? It’s not a city, it’s not on any major tourism website – it’s a local sanctuary that few find out about. If you want to see something in Germany that few others have, Kromlau is waiting for you!
How to get to Kromlau. The trip can be a half-day trip if you’re going by car, but will most likely require a full day if you’re going to take public transit. By car, you’ll start driving towards Dresden, and then towards Cottbus as soon as you see signs for it. By public transit, you’ll take the train to Cottbus and then transfer to an old steam train to make it into Kromlau.
6. Bad Muskau
Travel time: 2 hours by car, 3+ hours and 5 transfers by train and bus (read: best to drive here)
Bad Muskau is home to the Muskau Park, officially called the Fürst-Pückler-Park Bad Muskau. It’s one Central Europe’s largest and most famous gardens. This town is right on the border to Poland if you want to easily add another country to your own personal count. The Muskau Park was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2004. Today you can go to the Museum, walk around the gardens, go to the cafe, and have a picnic. Bad Muskau is just down the street from Kromlau Park so if you’re going to one, it makes sense to combine them for a day trip.
How to get to Bad Muskau. The directions are essentially the same as getting to Kromlau. If you check on the map at the beginning of the post you’ll see they’re only about 10-15 minute drive apart from one another.
Travel time: 1 hour by express train, 1 3/4 hours by normal train, 2 hours by bus
I can’t tell you how many New York Times articles I’ve read claiming that Leipzig is the new Berlin – it’s hip, it’s cheap, and did I mention that it’s hip and cheap? Besides those two draws, Leipzig does have something else remarkable going for it:
I used to live there! So naturally it has a special place in my memory as my very first experience living in Germany. Leipzig used to be one of the biggest cities in East Germany before the wall came down, but saw a mass exodus of people when the country was reunited. As a result, real estate prices are low, there are a lot of abandoned buildings, and the city has struggled to recover to its former glory. That said, Leipzig has a lot to offer in a small, concentrated package, so it makes for a wonderful day trip.
My top 7 favorite things to do in Leipzig:
Of course I have to turn this into a blog post at some point, but here’s a quick rundown of the things I would say are essential for having a city trip in Leipzig.
- Visit the Christmas market – Leipzig has one of the most charming Christmas markets I’ve ever visited, and it happens right in the middle of the car-free city center.
- Go for a walk through Clara-Zetkin Park – If you look on a map, you might be shocked to see exactly what the relative size of this park is to the rest of the city. In the summer, people gather on the Sachsenbrücke to drink beer al fresco and create live music.
- Check if you’re in town for the Bier Börse, an annual beer festival. You’ll get to try a variety of German beers (and beers from the Czech Republic, Belgium, pretty much anywhere in Europe that’s known for beer).
- Take a walk through the city center and absorb the main sights: Augustusplatz, Leipzig Opera, Thomaskirche (where Bach is NOT buried, but they say he is). There’s a local brewery near the Thomaskirche which always has a different seasonal beer on tap.
- Spend an afternoon in trendy Plagwitz, a neighborhood west of the center. Here you’ll find the Baumwollespinnerei, a former textile factory turned into art exhibits. There’s a lovely beer garden, as well as an fabulous art store (where only university students and “unknowing tourists” can shop), great for gifts.
- Visit the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument to the Battle of Nations), which is pictured above. It celebrates the fact that Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig in a big way. Fun fact: This is where the Backstreet Boys performed when they visited Leipzig.
- Go for a beer my favorite beer garden in all of Germany: Substanz in Reudnitz, the district best known for student life. The best time to go is when the beer garden is open from late Spring through early Autumn. If you can’t make it, there’s still the piano bar. The burgers are divine.
What makes Leipzig unique? Leipzig, in some ways, is like a time capsule. Although the city is modernizing, demolishing, and rebuilding, the city’s architecture is distinctly East German. Combine that with the youth and university culture, Leipzig is a place where you can have a good time on little money without having to go far.
Restaurant recommendation in the city center: Imperii
How to get to Leipzig from Berlin. There’s a train between the two cities that runs every hour between main stations – you can decide between a fast train and a slow train (1 hour vs. 1 hour 45 minutes). These trains are possible to book directly in the station, although you will save some money by booking in advance. Booking the same day means the trip costs about 50 EUR, and in advance can bring it down to half that. Besides trains, you can take a bus between Berlin and Leipzig, which will run you between 10-20 EUR. The most comfortable option of all would be booking the express train (ICE) far enough in advance.
Fancy a guided tour? Leipzig has SO MUCH HISTORY, you are really missing out if you don’t learn about its past. Its where famous Germans like Bach and Goethe got their start. Check out some of these guided tours if you are interested in getting more context about the city.
Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes by train, or 1 1/2 hours by car
If you learned about the Protestant Reformation in school, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Wittenberg’s most famous resident: Martin Luther. It was in Wittenberg that he nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church, and if you come here you can see the exact door that he nailed it on. The city isn’t huge but you can come by and explore some small shops, get an ice cream, and give yourself a small historical tour. Near the church there is also a museum about Martin Luther and the protestant reformation.
How to get to Wittenberg. You can simply book a train directly from Berlin to Wittenberg, or opt for renting a car if you prefer. You can book a train on the Deutsche Bahn English website .
Travel time: 2 1/2 hours by train
I’ve only been to Hamburg once in the dead of Winter and it was cold and dreadful. But in the Summer, Hamburg is known to be one of the prettiest cities to visit in Germany. It’s a port town, with nautical vibes up and down. You can take a walk along the sea, participate in its famous nightclub scene, or infamous Reeperbahn.
How to get to Hamburg. Trains run regularly from Berlin to Hamburg, so you’ll have no issue booking one with Deutsche Bahn. If you prefer you can also go by bus via Flixbus, but it will take much longer.
10. Saxon Switzerland
Saxon Switzerland is easily one of the prettiest natural day trips you can do in East Germany – making it very popular on the weekend and over the holidays. You can gaze over the Elbe River, go rock climbing, or hiking in this area. I’ve written a longer post about this place so I won’t go into too many details but it’s safe to say that it’s a really beautiful spot to explore if you want to do a nature-focused day trip from Berlin rather than visiting a city.
How to get to Saxon Switzerland. Drive towards Dresden, you will eventually start to see signs for Sächsische Schweiz.
Travel time: 2 1/2 hours by train or 3 hours by bus
I have to admit – I’ve never been to Dresden! I’ve always wanted to go but never quite made the time. Which is a shame because it’s so close to Berlin and is meant to be very beautiful. You can spend a weekend here and enjoy the history of the city, which came under heavy fire during the second world war. Today you can visit the reconstructed version of Dresden’s most famous sight, the Frauenkirche (Church of our Dear Lady).
How to get to Dresden. Similarly to Hamburg, there are plenty of regular trains at your disposal as well as bus service. Dresden is close to Saxon Switzerland so if you’d like, you can combine these trips into one.
Travel time: 3 1/2 hours by car, 4 1/2 hours by train
It’s arguably a stretch to call Prague a day trip, but if you really want to see Prague from Berlin it’s doable. You need to get up early, and you need to come back late, but it can be done! I’ve done it as a day trip from Leipzig before.
Plus, the Czech Republic is probably the easiest of all the countries near Berlin, Germany to visit.
Prague may be one of the most popular cities with tourists coming to Europe and it’s no surprise why – the architecture is beautiful, the prices are still rather low, and there is a ton of things to do in this historic city.
How to get to Prague. In the interest of time, the best way to get here is by car. It’s also possible to take a train which will add an hour on to your travel time, or even to take a six hour bus. At six hours I would argue it’s easier (and probably costs just as much) to take a plane!
Have you ever been to these cities and towns outside of Berlin?
What’s your favorite daytrip you’ve even taken outside of a major city? For me, Kromlau is my absolute favorite out of Berlin (although Leipzig might contend if I were truly a first-time visitor). Versailles was also cool, but way too crowded! Let me know what your favorites are in the comments!
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