Berlin has been our base for the last 5 years. It is a city that even after all these years, I’m still discovering. It has so many rich and complex layers of history – there is never a dull moment here. Even though Berlin and Munich are like chalk and cheese with a very different architectural style, history and feel, Berlin too like Munich ( checkout my socially distant yet fun 48 hour Munich itinerary here ) has many wide open green spaces that are a sanctuary in a busy city like Berlin. I thought it would be great to create a guide on the best outdoor activities Berlin has to offer. ( Perfect, if you are visiting Berlin in the summer )
Despite being a busy, dense metropolis, Berlin is one of Europe’s greenest cities. On the doorstep of Berlin you have the beautiful area of Brandenburg crisscrossed by countless lakes, dense forests and rich and thought provoking pockets of history. I hope you enjoy my Spreewald itinerary but I would also urge you to find the time to visit Potsdam which is also one of the best day trips from Berlin
PS: If you haven’t already, do checkout my guide to cool things to do in Berlin on a budget, my self guided free walking tour Berlin Mitte , self guided free walking tour of Berlin Wedding, one of Berlin’s upcoming districts. Also definitely checkout Sam Wood’s 15 free things to do in Berlin and if you are person who virtually travels the world through movies, you definitely should checkout my 10 movies that inspired me to visit Berlin
A good place to start your journey of discovering Berlin is through exploring one of its many beautiful parks. Treptower Park is one of my favourite parks in Berlin, situated in the south-central corner of Berlin, near the river Spree in Alt-Treptow. It’s a treasure trove of many unusual interesting places, each with their own history, that all combine to create a fascinating place. The park has enjoyed many incarnations. It was originally the site of the Great Industrial Exposition of Berlin of 1896. Later it was also the venue for a large open-air concert by a western band, Barclay James Harvest in 1987, the first of its kind after the formation of the GDR.
The most prominent feature of the park you must see is the monumental Soviet War Memorial (the largest Soviet memorial outside Russia), built to mark the loss of lives of 80,000 Soviet soldiers who perished in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Not only is the memorial a tribute to the memory of fallen Soviets, it is also the last place of rest for many soldiers.
The Memorial consists of several striking features that include: a statue of a Soviet soldier with a German child, yielding a sword and poised over a destroyed Swastika, a central green landscaped area with 16 stone sarcophagi placed at regular intervals, embellished with relief work of military scenes with Stalin quotes. At another spot, there are also a pair of red granite portals, shaped to resemble the Soviet flag.
The memorial is currently being renovated but the red granite portals are still visible.
Walking along the Spree River, you get a different perspective of the park. You’ll spot the iconic Abbey Bridge arching over the Spree to the Island of Youth or Insel der Jugend. This bridge was the first composite steel bridge of its kind to be made in Germany. Pre-Corona, the island would host events and concerts but in the current day it is a popular place to chill by the river and enjoy a drink in the Island garden. If time permits, you can also rent boats or a canoe and enjoy the park from the perspective of the river.
Lunch: Sahara Imbiss
Prepared with fresh ingredients, Sudanische takeaway, Sahara Imbiss, is one of the Berliners’ favourite cheap eats since 2010. Encased in a freshly toasted pita bed roll, with a choice of fillings ranging from their delicious falafel made on the premises to halloumi, kofta, chicken or fohl beans, all topped up with their signature peanut sauce. For €3, it is a steal. Don’t leave Berlin without eating here.
We dined in their outlet near Treptower Park in Neukolln but they also have 3 separate outlets in Kreuzberg and one in Schöneberg. Checkout their website for more details.
Afternoon- Gardens of the World ( Marzahn Hellersdorf)
Our next stop brings us to the beautiful Gardens of the World-another perfect place to pause, in the midst of this busy city.
Situated on the eastern fringes of the city in the heart of Berlin’s Marzahn neighbourhood, this place really transports you to different world, thanks to the presence of ten very different gardens, which draw inspiration from various countries and cultures across the world.
The Gardens were built in 1987 to commemorate the 750th Birthday of the city. The concept revolves around its variously themed gardens, representing gardening styles from around the globe. Visitors can venture into the Italian Renaissance Garden, the Chinese Garden of the Recovered Moon, Gardens from Bali, the Middle East, Korea and even a Christian themed Garden.
We had limited time and could only visit the Flower Garden, Oriental Garden, the English Garden and the Korean Garden. You could easily dedicate half a day or longer to explore the gardens.
If I was to pick my favourite out of all the gardens, I would say the Oriental Garden. Constructed over 2 years and designed according to the principles of Qu’ran’s Surah, stepping into the gardens transports you to a different world with its arcades, exotic plants, the magnificent water fountains and the exquisite mosaics. For a few moments you could be in Granada, Seville or Marrakech.
Afterwards, I would recommend hopping on the Seilbahn aka Ropeway to get a nice aerial perspective of the gardens. You also get a birds eye view of the infamous Marzahn’s endless string of GDR-era concrete tower blocks – a glimpse into an alternate reality.
Late afternoon: Tempelhofer Feld
If riding an e-bike (with top speeds of 20 mph) on an abandoned airfield sounds like your cup of tea, don’t demur from visiting Tempelhofer Feld.
Historically, this field was used for military practice, as part of the Berlin Garrison’s stomping grounds. Nowadays, it has achieved an alternate purpose.
In the 1920’s an airport was built on this site. Nowadays Tempelhofer Feld is a public park with 386 hectares dedicated to recreational purposes. A cycling and jogging trail, a dog walking area, and plenty of picnic spots for barbecuing during the summer – this is a popular meeting point for Berliners and a must visit during your trip to Berlin.
You can hire a scrooser or e-trike (they also have hoverboards, segways, e-wheels) from Steckdose Berlin. Their rental office is a 200 metre walk from the Tempelhofer Damm entrance close to the S&U-Bahn Tempelhof station.
To give you an idea of costs, for hiring the E-Trikes for 30 minutes, it costs €15 or €25 for an hour.
Sunset drinks at Klunkerkranich
Perfect place to wrap up the day is in Klunkerkranich, an urban beer garden near Karl-Marx-Strasse 66 and the perfect place for sunset drinks. Klunkerkranich (translates to the ‘wattled crane’) has a beautiful rooftop bar where you can nestle in between the fragrant flower boxes and sip on Berlin’s best ale. There’s lots of well spaced out seats so social distancing is not an issue here. The views of Berlin’s red roofs and the TV Tower – ever present in the distance, are the best way to end your first day in Berlin.
Afterparty-Pawn Dot Com Bar and Loft 41
Situated on the party mile of Berlin, Torstrasse, the name Pawn Dot Com is a nod towards the historic roots of the building, which used to function as a royal pawnshop, as the historic inscription above the gate passage reveals. The drinks menu revolves around a novel concept where you can choose from twelve drinks , each of which are served alongside a sideshot, something that ideally complements the main drink. For example you can savour a Pornstar Martini with a glass of champagne served separately. It is a vibrant place with a grungy, graffiti strewn neon lit interior that might be out of a Bladerunner set. Fun place, drinks. Not cheap by any means at around €15 a cocktail but a cool experience and nice friendly bartenders.
Finish your bar crawl with another epic rooftop bar – Loft 14 situated as you may have guessed from the name, the 14th floor of the Vienna House Andel hotel. You get a wonderful view of Berlin’s skyline from this bar and a great selection of classic cocktails served with some tasty popcorn. Again, not cheap (around €15) by Berlin standards but you’re paying for a unique view, ambience and the drink of course.
Late night snack- Currywurst!
Also, if you are coming to Berlin, you can’t leave without having the city’s iconic dish, the Currywurst. It’s basically a diced up classic german wurst with a lot of ketchup and dollops of curry powder on top – might not sound too appetising but it’s tasty. One of the decent places to try is CurryMitte on Torstrasse (perfect if you are going to Pawn Dot Com) or Curry 61 in Hackescher Markt (Curry 61 also have a decent vegan version).
Day trips from Berlin: Spreewald
A UNESCO biosphere reserve knitted together by 400 km of natural and man-made waterways that are perfect to get lost, Spreewald is the perfect social distancing-friendly day break from Berlin. Just an hour by train from Berlin, with its lush dense forests and thousands of miles of waterways, coming to Spreewald feels like a tropical Amazonian world far away from Berlin.
How to get there
The best way to get to Spreewald is by the RE2 train that leaves on the hour from Berlin Central Station with stops at Alexanderplatz and Ostkreuz. The journey time to Lubbenau is about an hour (don’t get off at the stop before, Lubben – I was confused and almost disembarked there but thankfully some people on the train stopped me). If you are travelling with loved ones or family the Berlin-Brandenburg day ticket that is €33 for 2 people, is excellent value and covers your return trip to Lubbenau from Berlin plus is valid on all public transport within Berlin.
There’s two important key things that make Lubbenau a pretty unique and memorable town. First of all, Lubbenau is the”city of cucumbers”; which have been grown and pickled here since the 8th century. Near the harbour, about a 15 minute stroll into the town centre, you’ll find the ‘Gurkenmeile’, a dedicated outdoor marketplace where you can sample a range of pickled delicacies- besides trying pickled cucumbers. Try also the horseradish-delicious stuff.
Another unusual local tipple you might want to sample at the market is their local Kräuterlikör aka herbal liqueur, the Spreewald Bitter, an original East German herbal liqueur. It is best enjoyed either as an aperitif or digestif- give it a shot.
The best way to explore Spreewald’s is by boat – you have two options. Right by the Gurkenmeile you will find yourself at the scenic Spreewald Harbour, a popular starting points for boat trips into the Spreewald. The wooden boats with their lovingly laid tables are Spreewald’s answer to Venice’s iconic gondolas. If you’re looking for an idyllic and relaxed ride along the rivers of Spreewald, go for this.
The other more adventurous option of traversing the magical water world of Spreewald is to hire a canoe by the hour or for the day. AS some of you may know, I can’t swim and am pretty terrified about being on water. That said, with the river being waist deep, I felt ok but I was feeling pretty nervous to begin with. Luckily, Sabrina was a calming influence at the back of the boat. We had the option of having the boat for the day but went for a 3 hour spin along the canals via the town of Lehde. Once my initial panic subsided, I started to enjoy the meditative silence of this awe inspiring beautiful forest, the silence occasionally broken by the sound of birds and the wonderful gushing, gurgling sound of surface water breaking as our oars propelled us gently forward. Also, with no motorised boats allowed to operate on the canals, it is pretty chill.
How to rent
We rented our 2 seat kayak from the lovely Bootshaus Kaupen. Our paddle boats came from their family workshop, carrying on a tradition of boat building for almost 100 years.
Renting the 2 seat kayak for the day starts from €25.50. A 1 person kayak starts at €18.50 a day.
Covid safety regulations
All paddles, water hiking maps and seats are disinfected before/after each rental. There is a hand disinfection station at the boat rental. Customary textile back cushions for reasons of hygiene are not provided but you can bring your own.
Lunch: ‘Gasthaus Wotschofska’
After dropping off the kayak we decided to hike to Gasthaus Wotschofska’.
A 8 km round hike from Lubbenau, situated on the Alder Island, until 1911, the guesthouse could only be reached by water. Situated at a slight elevation and due its inaccessibility, the island and the guesthouse have always been a place of refuge to people in times of need. Previously accessible by boat only, since the walkway was constructed, the restaurant has become a popular place with walkers.
The log cabin built in the style of a hunting lodge seems straight out of a Wes Anderson movie and is a beautiful place to linger after a relaxed hike through the forest.
Serving up a generous portions of classic German comfort food, combined with excellent local beers, visiting the guesthouse was definitely a highlight of our day out in Spreewald.
If time permits: Visit the Freilandmuseum Lehde
If you’re keen to learn what life was like in Spreewald in the 19th century and a historical re-enactment enthusiast to boot, then you should also squeeze out an hour to check the Freilandmuseum ‘open air’ museum in Lehde. A reconstructed 19th-century village complete with costumed actors, visitors can indulge in a bunch of interactive activities ranging from milking a goat to walking in wooden shoes or even building a proper Spreewald log cabin.
Where to stay in Berlin: The Student Hotel Berlin
A student accommodation, hotel and co-living hybrid, Student Hotel is one of the few hospitality concepts that has defied convention over the years and revolutionised the budget accommodation sector with their wonderful mix of brilliant design, great hospitality and amazing facilities at a very reasonable price- it’s a cool design hotel with the DNA of a a luxury hostel. I’ve been a huge fan of their concept since they launched several years back in Amsterdam and have been following their fortunes with great interest and excitement.
Let’s start with the location: just next door to Jannowitzbrucke U-Bahn and S-Bahn station, it’s very central and well connected for tourists looking to reach all parts of the city.
The rooms, as is standard with TSH hotels are fantastic -an amazing mattress so you have the best nights sleep, stylish bedside lamps and plugs, storage space for luggage plus ensuite showers with powerful rain showers – love it. Best feature in the rooms is the Nespresso machine which offers you the perfect way to start your day. The other standout feature of TSH Berlin are the facilities – they have a free small, well equipped gym which is a great luxury to have when you spend a lot of time on the road and need to keep in shape. Plus if you’re working on the road and a digital nomad you have the convenience of working from their quiet co-working spaces on site – this saves you the hassle of trying to find an expensive co-working space for the day.
TSH Berlin also has an onsite restaurant called the Commons where they have a diverse menu with everything from Gourmet Burgers (start from €10) to daily specials (Starts at €9.50)
They do run a happy hour from 5-7pm.
PS Checkout my earlier guide to the best budget places to stay in Berlin
My trip to Berlin was possible, thanks to a collaboration with the German National Tourism Office. However, all the opinions and suggestions expressed here are entirely my own, with a little influence from my other half, Sabrina Wulf.
Huge thanks to Denise, Josefine, Helena and the rest of the team at GNTO for making this amazing trip and collaboration possible.