They said it would be the last beautiful weekend of summer this year, so let’s go on a Berlin to Potsdam day trip, shall we? We take the train from Berlin, it’s easy enough. Just buy your zone C ticket, hop on the train from Berlin Central Station, and then enjoy the ride. It is much more comfortable than you think, you’ll see.
Get off at Park Sanssouci Station, you don’t even have to change. Walk into the park to see the glowing autumn colours. Hear the first fallen leaves get crushed under your soles. See, the kids are already kicking the heaps of foliage that is just lying around in the corners. I know it’s easy to get excited about this beautiful autmn day but make sure you don’t roll your ankle on an acorn.
Catching the Last Rays of Sunshine at Potsdam Sanssouci Park
Our plan is simple, really. It’s warm and sunny today, so we don’t want to be indoors. Instead, we want to go for a pleasant walk at Sanssouci Park, smell the fragrant autumn leaves, get one last view of the fountains before the water is cut off for winter, feel the rays of the sun hitting our faces from the tell-tale angle of winter.
For our walking tour, we enter the park at the end that is farthest from Potsdam city centre. We know we cannot expect too much from the children, so we pick a path that is full of surprises and not too long a walk. We stay away from the main paths though, focussing on the sights that are scattered around the park. The highlight of our walk would be Sanssouci Palace with its magnicent vineyard. From there it would be just a couple of steps to Potsdam city center with its many options for drink and food.
We start at my favourite palace in Sanssouci Park, the New Palace. It’s an impressive two-storey building which is completed by even more impressive looking administrative and household buildings on the other side of the road. Called the Communs, this is where the apparatus would live and work that served the royal household. With its huge stairs and colonnades it is looking almost more impressive than the actual palace. Today, Postdam university, among others, is a tennant in these historic buildings.
New Palace – the Last Royal Residence in Germany
We walk around the New Palace to get to the more representative side of the building. The big cuppola in the middle of the roof can be seen from all sides , but as you walk around you can get a glimpse of some of the beautiful statues and the most elaborate lanterns.
The palace was built in the mid 18th century by Frederich the Great but it was hardly lived in. Rather, the palace was used for royal functions and as guest quarters. Only towards the end of the 19th century, when Wilhelm II was the last Emporer of Germany, it became a royal residence. To remind us of these days, we see a copy of an old German newspaper on one of the lampposts proclaiming the peaceful abdication of the Emporer – no shots were fired.
A Walk Around Sanssouci Park
From New Palace we head eastwards with the kids towards Sanssouci Palace. There is a main road connecting the two palaces in a straight line, crazily busy on a sunny day like this, so we dive into the depths of the park until we can no longer see the main artery for the many trees that surround us. It’s a great botanic lesson for the kids who didn’t grow up in this climate. Together we look at the fallen leafs and identify oak and beech and chestnut and lindens.
We stay in the northern part of the park, visit first the slightly sad looking Antiques Temple, then the Botanical Gardens of the University of Potsdam. The next highlight that we find is the beautiful fountain on the food of the Orangery Palace. Behind the water fountain, there is a beautiful terrace of red vines and hidden grottoes, stairs and terraces.
From here, it’s just a few metres until we lose ourselves in a dream of Mediterranean ambience. In the Sicilian Gardens we walk among palm trees and covered pergolas with climbing plants. We touch the delicate feathered heads of tall grasses and enjoy the colourful display of the last blossoms of the year. With the sky above us a violent blue, the illusion is almost perfect.
The Vineyard of Sanssouci
From this vantage point we see more notable buildings in the distance, the New Chambers and the Historic Windmill. We rest assured in the knowledge that there will be always more to see when we come back. Through a maze of hedges we go, suddenly surrounded by darkness as the tall trees close in on us. We find our way back to the main road of the park, the one that connects New Palace with Sanssouci Palace, and now we have arrived in the crown jewel of the ensemble.
I am excited to show the kids the beauty of this place. The colourful flower beds, the orderly arrangement of pathways and visiual axes, of fountains, blindingly white statues of marble benches. It is much prettier than I remembered. We take the central stairs to climb up to the palace, the place that Frederick the Great loved the most, a retreat which was meant to let him forget all worries.
To our left and to our right we see the vines that furnish the terraces, with figs inbetween which would be kept behind glass in the cooler months. Contrary to many other palaces, this palace on the top of the hill does not grow in magnificence as we get nearer. Instead, the one storey building looks more like bungalow, hardly dwarfing us in size, and thus reminding us of a humble garden house rather than a magnificen golden palace.
The Grave of the Potato King
I think this says a lot about the man who commissioned the build of this palace, Frederick the Great. A practical man, the best known of all the Prussian kings, who thought of himself “a servant of the state”. He was nicknamed “The Old Fritz” by his people, a gentle, enlightened ruler who was rather buried next to his hunting dogs than with pomp and glory in a royal crypt.
And this is where we find his grave, in the shadow of Sanssouci Palace, set apart slightly from the tombstones of his beloved dogs. Someone had placed potatoes on the late king’s grave, probably a way of thanking the man who introduced the potato crop to Germany to put an end to the threat of famine.
This reminds us of our own worldy desires, so we head to the last part of our day trip. From Sanssouci Palace it is a mere ten minutes’ walk until we arrive at Potsdam city centre for our well-deserved lunch. There are quite a few restaurants to choose from as you follow Brandenburger Str. behind Brandenburg Gate. At the end of our day in Potsdam, we return to Berlin via Potsdam Hauptbahnhof station.
Practical Information for Your Day Trip to Potsdam
A day trip to Potsdam is easily arranged using public transport. You don’t really need to book a costly day tour if you don’t feel like being herded around in a group of tourists. I think that a trip to Potsdam is a great addition to seeing Berlin and will give you some unique insights into life at the Royal Court in Prussian Germany. Even if you are not intererested in history, the splendour and the beauty of the parklands are well worth a visit.
How to get there
To get to Potsdam’s Sanssouci Park, take a regional train from any of the bigger Berlin train stations (Alexanderplatz, Hauptbahnhof aka Central Station, Bahnhof Zoo). Check online for the correct connection – not all trains travel through to Sanssouci Park, so you may have to change trains at Potsdam Hauptbahnhof. Line RE1 is a good direct route to take.
Getting to Potsdam from Berlin won’t take you much longer than maybe 30 or 40 minutes. I usually use Google Maps to get up to date information on train services.
Which ticket to buy
Travelling to Potsdam on public transport is cheap. If you already own a daily pass or tourist pass that covers zones AB, you just need to add an extension ticket for zone C. If you have to buy a ticket from scratch, look out for the daily travel pass zones ABC.
Entrance fees and tickets to park and palace
Entrance to the park is free (or rather, you pay what you can on a voluntary basis). If you want to visit any of the palaces however, book well in advance when visiting on a weekend, during school holidays or in the summer months. Guided tours are advised if you want to get a better understanding of what you are looking at.
Which palace is the best in Sanssouci
Personally, I prefer New Palace over the main attraction, Sanssouci Palace. New Palace has some splendid rooms, representative halls and some interesting details such as early bathrooms with plumbing and an electric call system.
What are other places to visit in Potdam
Park and palaces in Potsdam are vast and you will need a lot of time if you plan on covering a lot of ground. Besides Sanssouci, there are many other palaces you could visit in town such as Charlottenhof Palace, Park Babelsberg, Belvedere Pfingstberg and many more.
Potsdam proper is also very pretty with lots of old buildings, impressive churches, arched gates and administrative buildings and historic neighbourhoods such as the Dutch quarter. It’s a long process but you can see how the town slowly returns to its former glory.
Where to eat in Potsdam with the family
Many restaurants can be found in the city centre on Brandenburger Str. We dined well at an Italian restaurant – always a good choice when travelling with children – whose name I cannot Google for the life of me. However, you will see that there are many options available, and while dining is not exactly cheap in Potsdam thanks to the many tourists looking for a bite to eat, there are also budget options available.
Looking for More Ideas on What to do in Berlin and Surrounds?
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