After a long spring spent indoors, it’s time to (safely) venture outside again and reconnect with the world beyond our four walls. Even though it’s excitingly gratifying to rediscover our cities after a long quarantine, what most of us crave right now is an escape to a more natural setting. If you live in Berlin, you’re lucky to be within a couple of hours’ drive of a variety of leafy retreats that will fill your lungs with fresh air and give your legs a much needed stretch. Here are our top five recommendations for a weekend escape from Berlin.
Peacock Island (Pfaueninsel)
If you still haven’t visited this charming little island on the Havel river, a favourite picnic spot among the locals, then you mustn’t put it off any longer. Only an hour away from central Berlin, it is a true oasis of peace and greenery. And yes, there are peacocks strutting about majestically.
The island has a long and curious history – it was inhabited as early as 500 B.C., only to be forgotten until many centuries later. In the late 18th century, Friedrich Wilhelm II, king of Prussia, built a summer palace on the island, designated to his secret romantic rendezvous. The little white palace still dominates the romantic landscape of the park, surrounded by 67 hectares of immaculately landscaped grounds. The island has been a nature conservatory since the early 20th century, and currently holds the status of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The castle is currently being renovated and it’s expected to be closed to visitors until 2024, but you can still take a replenishing stroll along the tranquil, lush gardens of the island. Remember to check the ferry timetables before you set off.
Another UNESCO protected area just outside Berlin. Often referred to as the “green lung of Brandenburg”, this vast forest region is interspersed with countless canals connecting quaint little villages that boast some serious fairy tale character.
The most popular way to explore the area is by boat or a kayak. The scenery is gorgeous, and with very easy access by train, it does tend to get touristy. So if you’d like to have it more to yourself, skip the popular guided rides and rent a kayak or a canoe for yourself or your friends. You will get a map and a list of marked routes of different lengths.
If you’re not up for paddling, forest walks will be just as pleasurable and enchanting. You can buy trail maps at the tourist office in the town of Lübbenau, which is also where you’ll find many quaint shops, cafés, and restaurants. And while you’re in Spreewald, don’t miss to try Spreewaldgurken, the famous Spreewald pickle.
High Fläming Nature Park (Naturpark Hoher Fläming)
One of the reasons Berlin is such an attractive place to live is the sheer abundance of vast green areas, both inside the “city walls” and in its immediate vicinity. High Fläming Nature Park is another green oasis a mere hour’s drive from the city, where you can easily spend an entire day surrounded by countryside.
The park covers an immense area of vegetation, characterised by rolling hills and sprawling meadows on one end, and deep verdant forests on the other. It is a popular hiking region with attractive themed paths, such as the castle trail (the area is home to no less than four castles), the art trail, and even a horse-riding trail.
And for a perfectly relaxing end to an active day on the trails, head over to the Bad Belzig thermal spa. The thermal water with a salt content of around 20% and a temperature of 30°C is said to provide a host of health benefits, from strengthening the heart and the cardiovascular system, to relieving muscle and joint pain and improving your respiratory health. But do you really need an excuse to visit a pool and sauna complex for an afternoon of pampering and relaxation?
Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz)
Don’t let the name confuse you, we’re still in Germany. Saxon Switzerland is a stunning national park in eastern Germany, most well known for its otherworldly rock formations rising majestically around the Elbe valley. The area boasts 400 km² of marked hiking trails and some steep and adrenaline-provoking biking routes.
Malerweg is probably the best known hiking trail in the park, and certainly one of the most picturesque ones in all of Germany. Aptly dubbed the Painters’ Way, this 112km-long route is where painters sought inspiration, admiring the timeless beauty of the rugged landscape. If you’re not up for strenuous activity, you can also hop on a paddle steamer and explore the park from the meanders of the Elbe river below.
The park is a 3-hour drive from Berlin, or about 4.5 hours on the train. While you may certainly make it a day trip, it’s really worth spending the night and taking your time to explore the untamed nature of the area. If you’re feeling adventurous, try what the locals call wild camping (Boofen), or sleeping under a rock without a tent. But don’t worry, there are also designated campsites along the park, as well as many B&Bs in the towns alongside the Elbe.
Warnemünde on the Baltic Sea
And now for something altogether different. Hop on the train again, but this time head north of Berlin. Three hours later you’ll find yourself on the shore of the Baltic Sea, in the quaint little port town of Warnermünde. A popular seaside resort among locals, Warnermünde is a perfect destination for a quick day trip from the city.
The vast sandy beach dominates the landscape and luringly invites you to start your day right by the sea. Take a stroll in the shallows, get your daily dose of vitamin D, or head over to the area where grilling and campfire are allowed and set up a barbecue picnic. Follow it with a walk along the pier and a visit to the Warnermünde lighthouse for a well-rounded maritime experience.
Dotted with picturesque storefronts and busy cafés, the seaside promenade is usually buzzing with activity. Find a good spot in an open-air beer garden and settle down for an afternoon of people watching. And while you’re there, don’t miss to try the famous Fischbrotchen, a fish sandwich sold literally on every corner, made with any imaginable type of fish.
Warnermünde is perfect for a slow, lazy day by the beach, and even though it’s a cruise ship terminal and it does get its fair share of tourists, it has an unmistakably local flair about it. So pick a sunny day and make it a beach outing!
There you have it, our favourite ways to escape to the countryside and get a respite from the hustle and bustle of the busy Berlin. As much as we love its lively beer gardens, quirky markets, and innovative galleries, every now and then we all need to get away, if only for a day. And if the weather is not on your side, check out the many ideas on our blog on how to live your best life at home.