Slow Travel Berlin Seasonal Guide: Summer

Our guide to some of the best outdoor spots and summer activities in Berlin…

In 1968, an East German “feel good” musical entitled, Heisser Sommer (Hot Summer) was released. Touted as the “The East German Grease” for its 2001 video release, it was in reality a far cry from the John Travolta and Olivia Newton John classic, though the concept was essentially the same: people making the most of the summer months. Hanging out, drinking beer, having fun.

Not only have Berlin’s summers have been getting consistently warmer since the Swinging Sixties, there’s no longer a huge concrete wall dividing the city—along with the endless grey winters and rainy springtimes we generally have to endure, no other reasons are needed to grab summer with both hands and wring every millilitre of sunshine from it…this guide is designed to help.   

Beaches, Lakes & Pools

Strandbad Wannsee. Image by Paul Sullivan.

An EasyJet flight can deliver you to Mallorca in a couple of hours, but let’s face it: it’s hours of stress all told. Luckily, Berlin has plenty of perfectly pleasant beaches, most of which are just an S-Bahn ride away. The best-known is Strandbad Wannsee, the oldest and largest Lido in Europe, which is famed for its lovely long beach, Strandkörbe (wicker loungers) and classic seaside atmosphere—complete with rows of classic German snack stalls selling sausages, ice cream and beer.

There are several great urban beaches and pools right in the city centre too, from the famous Badeschiff, an iconic swimming-pool-in-the-Spree that attracts sunbathers and partygoers alike throughout the warmer months, through to classics like Strandbar Mitte, Plötzensee and Sommerbad Kreuzberg. For a fuller list of outdoor pools, check out our post here.

If the city feels too crowded, just head out to one of the city’s myriad lakes, which encircle the entire city. Particular favourites include MüggelseeLiepnitzseeSchlachtensee and the secluded Strandbad Grünau, but there are literally dozens to choose from. Wild swimming fans should check out this article.

Beer Gardens & Breezy Cafes

Cafe am Neuen See. Image by Paul Sullivan.

We have no scientific proof to support the claim, but there definitely seems to be something about sitting outside al fresco that makes a cold frothy pint of beer taste just that much better. For many, summer equals beer garden season and Berlin has plenty of charming options for both drinking beer and dining outdoors.

Go traditional with wagon wheel-sized pretzels and onion-studded Obatzda at Prater Garten, head to Tiergarten to indulge in a frothy beer at the delightful Schleusenkrug and the lakeside Cafe am Neuen See, where you can also rent a boat and row yourself around for an hour, or visit Viktoria Park‘s Golgatha Beer garden has a great rooftop bar and patio. For a fuller list of our favourite beer gardens, click here.

Biergarten aren’t the only al fresco options of course. For the culturally inclined, Cafe Wintergarten im Literaturhaus is a lovely, sun-dappled spot for brunch just slightly removed from the chaos of Ku’damm. The attached literary salon hosts visiting authors and an array of events, though note that the Käthe Kollwitz museum that used to be right next door has now moved to Schloss Charlottenburg. 

In Kreuzberg, Osteria No. 1 has been serving authentic Italian in a gorgeously atmospheric courtyard for nearly four decades. If you’re wondering why the parmigiana tastes so good, it might have to do with the fact that there is an actual nonna in the kitchen making it. Nearby on pretty Bergmanstraße is Café Strauss, whose house-roasted coffee and generous slabs of Kuchen are secondary to the establishment’s primary lure: it’s location inside a cemetery.

For something a little more lively, both Neukölln’s Café Rix and Mitte’s Clärchens Ballhaus offer tree-shaded outdoor terraces as well as great history. Both once served as gilded arenas for the grand balls of their eras; the former fell into disrepair after its glory days in the late nineteenth century, but was reopened in 1990, while the latter still hosts all manner of dancing classes both in its tinsel-spangled ground floor and in the regal time-warp Spiegelsaal on the first floor.

Pretty Parks & Urban Gardens

Neukölln’s Körner Park. Image by Paul Sullivan.

Although monarchy has long been abolished in Germany, you can still feel like royalty strolling through the immaculate castle gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg or the iconic levelled terraces at Sansoucci in Potsdam. Schloss Schönhausen in Pankow is also worth a visit for its lavish interior and expansive public park.

Other city parks might not come with castles, but they do have their own stately elements: Volkspark Friedrichshain has Ludwig Hoffmann’s fairy-tale Märchenbrunnen, while Kreuzberg’s Viktoria Park has a cascading waterfall, Schinkel’s National monument for the Liberation Wars and some of the best park vistas in the city.

Treptower Park has Soviet memorials galore, and at the vast Tempelhofer Park, you can cycle or run for hours on end, make use of the former airport runway or join in any number of special weekend events and activities. The city’s largest park, the Tiergarten, is also a wonderful place for random strolling.

For more floral delights, check out the ever-impressive Botanical Garden, which has its own tropical greenhouses, the seasonal blooms of the Britzer Garden in Neukölln, or enjoy a stroll through the various botanical sections of Marzahn’s Gardens of the World. A visit to the Prussian-era Pfaueninsel is also a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or day.

If you’re feeling more active or green-fingered, you can join the city’s aspiring horticulturalists, whose work can be found all over the city, from rooftops and balconies to community gardens. Allmende-Kontor, a mini-oasis situated within Tempelhofer Feld, is one of the prettiest places to spend a meditative afternoon pulling up weeds and planting seeds in between admiring the makeshift art sculptures and relaxing on the grass or deckchairs. 

Prinzessinnengarten was a wasteland for more than five decades before the non-profit organization Nomadisch Grün turned it into a verdant oasis in 2009. Today, the site hosts organic produce, as well as a seasonal café that spotlights produce from local, sustainable growers. Similarly, the former nightlife icons behind the Holzmarkt complex have made a point of giving back to their community; Mörchenpark, part of the multi-purpose complex on the Spree, gives urbanites plenty of opportunities to get their hands dirty.

Unlike these others, Bauerngarten Mette is a fully functioning farm that has been in the same family for six generations. Rather than surrender to the encroaching development, the farm has become something of an education centre. In summer, stop by to pick your own strawberries or buy some of the produce before local restaurants snap it up.

Rooftop Bars & Open Air Clubs

Image courtesy of Amano Hotels
Image courtesy of Amano Hotels

Berlin looks fine at ground level, but it takes on an entirely different allure when viewed from on high. An array of rooftop bars allows guests to take in the view, although with most options being attached to hotels they therefore coming at a price (as well as a certain type of crowd).  Options include the Amano in Mitte and the sumptuous Hotel de Rome on Bebelplatz, and the Monkey Bar in West Berlin, from whose on top of 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin provides the perfect perch from which to survey both the primates ofwraparound terrace you can observe the primates in the adjacent zoo as well their modern commercial equivalents at the nearby Bikini Mall.

Non-hotel options include the slick restaraunt-bar Solar, where a glass elevator whisks patrons 17 floors up the side of an apartment building. The restaurant does credible fusion cuisine, but the main draw here is the panorama through the lounge’s massive windows. For a buzzier scene head to the House of Weekend, the roof terrace connected to the Weekend club, whih has views right onto the Fernsehturm. Real clubbers will prefer Klunkerkranich, which is hidden away on top of the Neukölln Arcaden and has a shabby-chic aesthetic, lush community garden, comfy couches, cheap drinks and top-notch views across the city.

Also tucked away on top of a mall, Deck5 up the on the seventh floor of the Schönhauser Allee Arkaden in Prenzlauer Berg isn’t exactly hip but it does have palm trees, and a giant Buddha statue. Yes it’s weird, but it’s also a genuine rooftop bar option and can be fun on the right night. For a list of open-air clubs around the city, click here.

Cycling, Kayaking, Sailing, Walking

Photo by William Thirteen
Kayaking in Gosen. Photo by William Thirteen.

Although Berlin is a landlocked city, it’s criss-crossed throughout by rivers and canals—as well as the afore-mentioned lakes in and around town. Although not as popular here as in some other European and North American countries, water sports are starting to make a real splash (lol) in Germany with several nearby water ski clubs and even wake boarding.

For something a little more relaxed, there are also several companies which provide paddle boat, canoe and kayak rental offering a fun alternative to sightseeing on foot around the city’s historic center, not to mention the option of renting barges, houseboats, tour boatssail boats and motor boats. We can certainly recommend a spot of canoeing in Gosen.

Berlin is also a great city for biking, it is (for the most part) flat as a pancake with ample bike lanes running along most of the main roads. Jumping on your bike is also a great way to get to know the surrounding countryside, whether its the gorgeous greenery of the Spreewald or interesting cities like Prenzlau. If you’re feeling really ambitious you can even cycle all the way from Berlin to Copenhagen on a dedicated trail—just one of the many routes included in our cycling guide here.

By far the best way to explore the city though is on foot, since the slower pace allows one to really appreciate the details of the city. You can choose a theme for your walk—architecture, for example—or opt to get up close and personal with specific streets. Wedding’s Osloerstrasse, Kreuzberg’s Reichenbergerstrasse, Prenzlauer Berg’s Köpenhagener Strasse, West Berlin’s Kantstrasse or Mitte’s Friedrichstrasse, for example. There are some easily accessible rural walks too, such as the lovely stretch from Wannsee to Potsdam, a shorter route along the Erpetal. For some longer urban hikes, see here.

Although you would have to travel a few hours to get to the nearest rocky terrain (the Sächsische Schweiz on the German-Czech border south of Dresden is probably the closest) what Berlin lacks in alpine hiking it makes up for with historical trails and lake-side excursions. The 66-Lake-Trail, which officially starts and ends in Potsdam, surrounds Berlin and takes hikers through a landscape dotted with run-down industrial estates, forests, and lakeside areas like Grunewald (where you can also explore the excellent Haus Am Waldsee), Weissensee, and Tegel. You can also walk or cycle the entire 160km length of the former Berlin Wall (Mauerweg).

Outdoor Art & Abandoned Sites

Image by Catherine Lupton
Beelitz Sanatorium by Catherine Lupton.

Berlin might be known for its world class art museums, but what often goes overlooked is the generous amount of sculpture and outdoor art available for public viewing around the city. The work of local street artists like El Bocho and Alias decorate the city alongside discover dozens of smaller works from international names. You can find a history of the street art scene here.

As well as street art, the city has a dizzying amount of public art—some, like the colourful Bierpinsel, quite well-known, but others hidden away, such as “Steht und fällt” (“Stands and Falls”) by acclaimed British sculptor Antony Gormley, which is located in a flooded courtyard of the Jakob Kaiser Building. You can find out more about these and other examples of public art in our fuller round-up here.

Exploring Berlin’s abandoned sites has become a movement all of its own. The city’s turbulent history has left a lot of fascinating ruins, some of which lie on the peripheries, while others are hidden right in the center. Some of the more well-known abandoned complexes like the former Nazi training camp turned spy tower at Teufelsberg and the overgrown amusement park at Spreepark have become guarded against would be trespassers in recent years, although both are sometimes accessible with guided tours.

However, many others like the delightfully creepy Beelitz Sanatorium and the old Soviet army camps of Panzer Kaserne and Krampnitz are still largely undisturbed, though of course you must enter at your own peril.