Berlin is surrounded by the forest-filled, lake-spotted state of Brandenburg, which offers year-round respite from the streets of the capital. Forest walks, cycling routes, dips in the lake, historic sites and much more are all within easy reach, sometimes still within the city’s boundaries.
Just know that you’re unlikely to be exploring alone – Berliners themselves love nothing more than a day out, especially when the weather is schön, and booking ahead for popular sights or tours is often your only option.
1. Paddle along the canals of Spreewald
Travel time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Spreewald is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, occasionally referred to as Germany’s Little Venice. Well, forget about that, and instead go for the chance to take a peaceful paddle along the extensive network of forest-lined waterways. The gentle waters are easy to navigate, even for paddling novices, and you might be able to pull up at a little snack stop, restaurant (where excellent Spreewald gherkins are guaranteed) or beer garden along your chosen watery route. All stops are delightfully quaint and wholesome.
Lübbenau is one of the best towns from which to explore Spreewald. From Lübbenau’s Altstadt, it’s a short walk to Bootshaus Kaupen, where you can hire wooden kayaks and canoes and get information on suggested routes of up to 20km (12.4 miles). The old town itself is worthy of a wander, with a small market (for more Spreewald gherkin sampling), Brauhaus Babben (for post-paddling brews) and plenty of gherkin-inspired kitsch around town.
How to get to Spreewald from Berlin: Spreewald Biosphere Reserve is located approximately 100km (62 miles) southeast of Berlin in the state of Brandenburg. It’s easily reached by taking the RE2 train from Berlin to Lübbenau. You can also hire boats in nearby Lübben, for a similar experience.
2. Admire the grandeur of Potsdam
Travel time: less than 1 hour
The classic day-trip destination from Berlin is Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg, Berlin’s surrounding state.
Nothing in Potsdam screams for your attention more than yellow-hued Schloss Sanssouci – the rococo summer palace of the Prussian King Frederick the Great, today a Unesco World Heritage Site. The palace grounds are also wonderfully impressive, and you'll find a number of other ornate buildings, such as the Chinese House and the New Palace, to gawk over. Book tour tickets in advance, lest you miss out.
If the palace and its grounds don’t keep you all day, Museum Barberini is another fixed Potsdam highlight, featuring international art exhibitions with a focus on impressionism. Since opening in 2017, headline exhibits have featured the likes of Monet and Van Gogh.
Before or after undertaking your sightseeing itinerary, take a wander around the historic Dutch Quarter and stop for a coffee at the locally beloved Buena Vida Coffee Roasters – it just might end up being one of your favorite coffee stops on your trip.
How to get to Potsdam from Berlin: Potsdam is approximately 35km (22 miles) southwest of Berlin. It can be reached in less than an hour from central Berlin, on the S-Bahn (S1 or S7). The city lies within Berlin’s C fare zone, so you’ll need an ABC ticket.
3. Swim in the clear waters of Liepnitzsee
Travel time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Plenty of swimmable lakes lie within easy enough reach of the city – there are approximately 3000 in Berlin and Brandenburg, after all – but Liepnitzsee is a standout for its clean, clear water and lush forest surroundings.
Hardly a secret among Berliners, the banks of Liepnitzsee are filled with city escapees on warm summer weekends, and you may have to search a while to find the perfect spot to lay down your towel, either on a secluded spot nestled between trees or on one of several sandy beaches.
Pack a picnic and spend your day dipping in and out of the refreshing water that appears, from a distance, to be a mesmerising emerald green. If that’s too sedate for you, hire a paddle boat, walk or ride around the lake, or ferry to the island plonk in the middle, Großer Werder.
Not swimming weather? Go anyway. The lake and surrounding forest is picturesque at any time of year, even when covered in snow, and you may still see people swimming when others wouldn’t dare take off their scarves.
How to get to Liepnitzsee from Berlin: Driving the 40km (25 miles) northeast from Berlin to Liepnitzsee is your easiest option, but getting there with a combination of train and bike is the most fun. Take the S2 to Bernau and then ride the final 12km leg through the forest. If you don’t want to cycle, take the regional train all the way to Wandlitz; you'll need to walk from there.
4. Celebrate asparagus season in Beelitz
Travel time: 45 minutes
Germans are serious devotees of seasonal produce, whether it’s bärlauch (wild garlic), strawberries or Federweißer (a young, bubbly wine).
An absolute favorite arrives in Berlin in early spring: spargelzeit (asparagus season). During the short season, starting in mid-April and ending, punctually, on 24 June (St John the Baptist Day), Spargel is celebrated on menus across city, both the white and green varieties, and you won’t have to look long to find Spargel served as soup, with hollandaise sauce or something more inventive.
Deepen your own appreciation of this vegetable with cult status by heading to the regional center of production, Beelitz, where you can visit local farms to see how the regional variety is grown and, if you time it right, attend the annual Spargelfest.
While you’re in the area, you should dedicate part of your day to the Baumkronenpfad Beelitz-Heilstätten, a treetop walkway above the sprawling grounds of an abandoned (and crumbling) sanitarium, once used to treat tuberculosis patients and later soldiers (including Adolf Hitler) in both World Wars. You must join a guided tour to visit the buildings.
How to get to Beelitz from Berlin: Beelitz is approximately 50km (TK miles) southwest of Berlin. Beelitz-Heilstätten train station is connected to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Central Station) by the RE3. From the train station, you can reach the town by bus.
5. Cycle along the Spree in Treptower Park and Plänterwald
Travel time: 30 minutes
You won’t leave the city limits on this day trip – but it will feel like you have. From the Treptower Park S-Bahn station, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to the Treptower Hafen, from where you can ride (or walk) along the shared bike and pedestrian path as it follows the Spree. The riverside path will take you through Treptower Park and then Plänterwald, passing the Zenner beer garden, Insel der Jugend, playgrounds, the infamous Spreepark and the newly opened Zum Anleger beer garden along the way – all worthy stops if you have the time or are in need of a drink, bratwurst or an ice cream.
Otherwise, keep on riding until you reach a tiny ferry dock. From here you can take the Fähre F11 across to the other side of the river in just one or two throttles of the engine (you will need a BGV ticket for you and your bike). Once on the other bank, find your way to the Funkhaus Berlin, a former East German broadcasting complex which now hosts curated concerts and music festivals. Here you can grab a coffee or eat a wood-fired pizza from Zola while looking out over the water and summoning the energy for your return journey. It’s the perfect day out and a good one with kids.
How to get to Treptower Park: Treptower Park is easily reached by S-Bahn or bus from almost anywhere in Berlin.