8 great day trips from Berlin

8 great day trips from Berlin

Berlin is a huge city and a hive of history, culture and nightlife. But some of the best travel treats here are outside the city proper, and there's much more to a holiday in this vibrant capital than a standard city break in the confines of the centre. There are some phenomenal day-trip destinations within easy reach of Berlin, where you can both recharge and get a broader sense of Germany.

1. Tropical Islands Resort

Germany was a pioneer in air travel with the invention of the Zeppelin. In their blimpy heyday, all of these enormous passenger balloons required even bigger storage hangars than modern aircraft. Located about 30 miles (50km) south of Berlin, the Aerium was among the largest hangars, first constructed by the Luftwaffe in 1938. For a sense of scale: its ceiling is higher than Big Ben, and it’s longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall. Nowadays, instead of stowing airships, the Aerium is home to Tropical Islands Resort – a biodome of sorts that does an impressive job of replicating a tropical paradise. Inside, where it’s always a balmy 26 degrees, there are more than 50,000 plants, seven saunas, 13 restaurants and bars, a lake-sized swimming pool, and sandy beaches – there are even flamingos. Who says your German holiday can’t include sipping a piña colada and lounging in a steamy lagoon?

2. Wannsee

Wannsee is a southern suburb of Berlin, where there are two huge lakes: Grosser Wannsee and Kleiner Wannsee (Greater and Little Wannsee, respectively). Both bodies of water boast big beaches, too – there’s 355,000 square metres of shoreline to be exact (in the interest of full disclosure, much of this sand was imported from the Baltic Sea to widen the beach). Though there are other easily accessible lakeside spots near Berlin, Wannsee is the most popular, and with good reason. There are ample food and drink options, paddleboat rentals, and a nude bathing area if you're worried about tan lines.

3. Görlitz

This smallish Germanic hamlet has spectacular, colourful architecture, and many of its buildings date as far back as the 13th century. The town is so uniquely well-preserved that it’s routinely selected as a filming location for Hollywood movies: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inglourious Basterds, The Book Thief, and The Monuments Men all shot scenes here, among many others. Görlitz is also the birthplace of Emil Jannings, who won the first Oscar for Best Actor in 1929. The town is apparently beloved by Tinsel Town – in fact, Nicholas Cage is rumoured to be responsible for the anonymous $675,000 donation the town received in 1995 to bolster its historical conservation efforts.

4. Spreewald

For a rustic break, head here. The region’s USP is its elaborate latticework of meandering canals. There are more than 200 of these narrow waterways, the banks of which are flanked by dense and protected alder woodland. The natural world here is unbridled and abundant – there are 830 identified species of butterfly, for example. Spreewald is ideal for exploring by kayak, but there are bicycle and hiking trails, as well as some punt-guided tours led by locals clad in a kind of traditional Slavic garb (think the Berlin area's leafier answer to Venice).

5. Potsdam

Located 30 minutes south of Berlin by train, Potsdam is a just quick jaunt away. The major draws here are the palaces and surrounding gardens. The most elaborate is Sanssouci Palace, which served as Frederick the Great’s summer home, and is now both a museum and park. There are three additional palaces in Sanssouci Park alone; its Picture Gallery displays an impressive collection of Renaissance paintings, including works by Caravaggio and Rubens.

6. Pfaueninsel

Pfaueninsel, German for 'peacock island', is exactly that – an island covered with proud strutting birds. On the River Havel and near the border with Potsdam, Pfaueninsel was once the preferred playground of Frederick William III, a decadent descendant of Frederick the Great. During his reign, he imported all manner of exotic animals and plants to the island (which already had a castle big enough to see from Potsdam), including alligators, monkeys, kangaroos, and lions. At its peak, his personal menagerie contained more than 900 animals, which he routinely fed himself. Today, only the peacocks and a few other species of bird remain; the rest were moved to the Berlin Zoo in 1842. However, the German government recently began introducing water buffalos (four of them) to control the overgrowth of vegetation on Pfaueninsel during the summer months.

7. Bad Saarow thermal baths

If you crave a soothing escape from the city, head to these natural baths, where thermal waters emerge from the Catharine Spring and naturally absorb salt and other minerals from the rocks they gush past on the way. The first bathing establishment here was constructed in 1911, and in 1923 the town of Saarow was renamed Bad Saarow ('bad' meaning 'bath' in German). The spa and surrounding marshes are great for de-stressing, and the spa also offers other ways to pamper yourself, including massages, facials, and a Finnish sauna.

8. Schloss Friedrichsfelde

Since this palace was first built in 1685 it has housed many moneyed families and served a variety of purposes. After World War II, Soviet troops looted the home, and the property was confiscated by the state. Then in 1954, the grounds were reopened as a zoo and the palace was used as offices. Today Schloss Friedrichsfelde has been fully restored to its former glory and shares the site with Tierpark Berlin, a huge zoo. The manor house also frequently hosts period fancy dress parties (Kostümfest) to bring its own rich history to life, but you can visit Tuesday to Sunday for a fascinating look around a German stately home. The site is in the west of Berlin and you can easily reach it from the city centre on the U-Bahn to Friedrichsfelde.

Try out these day trips on a different kind of city break to Berlin – you can get there in just 1 hour 45 minutes on a flight from London City Airport.