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 this 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 cool spots within two hours from Berlin where you can go to unwind and take a break from the pervasive smell of Döner kebap.
Berlin is a great starting point for day trips in east Germany. For one, it’s well-connected by train, including the high-speed train which will get you to some of these places in under an hour. Another reason is that there are a lot of worthy daytrips that are just on Berlin’s doorstep – so no matter how far you want to travel or how long you want to sit in the train, there are alternatives to Berlin’s proper city for any itinerary.
Are you sold? Let’s get started.
Follow Not a Nomad blog on Bloglovin', the easiest way to keep up with your favorite blogs.Follow
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 kind of creepy to be in the same building where this happened, but seeing the literal 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 personally haven’t been but the photos look intriguing!
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.
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.
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.
READ MORE – I’ve written an entire post on Crossing the devil’s bridge, including details on what to do in the area of Kromlau, precisely how to get here, and the other attractions of the park. It’s really somewhere magical you don’t want to miss on your tour of east Germany!
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: 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 Sansoucci (Sansoucci Palace).
If you’ve been to Versailles, outside of Paris, you might notice some similarities right away. Sansoucci 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!
More day trips from Berlin
These five spots are just the tip of the iceberg! There are a ton of other great spots outside of Berlin, some of which are still on my personal bucket list:
- Poznan or Szczecin, Poland – It’s surprising how close Poland is, yet how far away its best known cities Warsaw and Krakow are. I’ve heard great things about these two, western Polish towns but haven’t quite made it across the border yet!
- Dresden, Germany – It’s only two hours away from Berlin but I still never managed. Dresden is supposed to be a classically beautiful German city, which had to be largely rebuilt after the bombings of World War II. I’m sure I’ll make it here in the next 6 months or so!
- Prague, Czech Republic – It’s a bit of stretch to call Prague a day trip, but if you won’t fit it into your itinerary any other way, it’s definitely possile to fit Prague in. The train ride is about 4 1⁄2 hours and costs about 50 EUR if you buy your ticket for a specific time slot. With an early start in the morning, it is doable, but probably at least warrants an overnight stay.
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!