As anyone who follows this blog regularly will know, I am a huge fan of Germany. It’s a country I feel a great connection to, I speak the language and I love visiting regularly. This year I’ve missed visiting as much, so am catching up on trips past.
Potsdam is one of the best day trips from Berlin. It sits within the state of Brandenburg and was a residence of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser until 1918. It embodied ideas of the Age of Enlightenment and was intended as a reminder to its residents of their relationship with nature, helped by its location on a number of interconnected lakes.
It’s a beautiful, historic city which one day I hope to return to to discover more of – and it’s perfect to combine with a visit to Berlin given its proximity to the capital.
Why should I visit Potsdam?
Well, why wouldn’t you? First of all, its home to Sanssouci, a Palace which once belonged to Frederick the Great of Prussia and is now a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And if you’re not interested in palaces? Well, those interested in more recent history will also have a deep appreciation for Potsdam. It was an important location for spies during the Cold War, and it was also the place where the Potsdam Conference took place after WW2, effectively dividing Europe up after the War.
And if you don’t like history at all? Well, it’s a lovely spot to take a break from the noise and congestion of Berlin to escape to a more peaceful place. The city is full of natural beauty, parks and lakes…so you could always just find a small beer garden and get back to nature in a way that’s impossible in Berlin itself.
How do I get there?
You’re in Germany, so take the train. You can get a taxi, or a bus, but really the trains in Germany are amazing so just take advantage of them.
If you’re in Berlin, you can take the RE1 train direct to Potsdam from Berlin central station. The train takes about 35 minutes – simple, easy and no fuss. Plus the stations are quite beautiful.
There is one important thing about German trains though – make sure you validate your tickets before boarding. You do this at the little metal boxes on the platform; hold your ticket in until you hear it’s been ‘punched’ and then check that there are holes on the ticket. You do not want to have to deal with the plain clothes Policemen ushering you off the train and fining you, regardless of whether you’re a tourist or not.
I can vouch that it does happen – I forgot to validate once, got hauled off a train at a station in the middle of nowhere, charged a fine, then there wasn’t another train for an hour so I had to sit in a station with only a man singing for company. And the singing wasn’t good.
Another piece of advice is don’t disembark at Potsdam Hauptbahnhof (main station). Instead wait on the train and get off at the next stop Charlottenhof, which is much closer to the palaces, only a ten minute walk or so.
What should I do when I get there?
There is so much to do in Potsdam. I don’t think it’s possible to see all of Potsdam in a single day, but you still can get a strong feel of the place and plan to return again in the future, as I do. I visited with my parents as well, and they feel exactly the same and hope to return one day soon when we’re all back travelling again.
A. Sanssouci Palace
The main attraction to visit is Sanssouci Palace, home of Frederick the Great. The Palace and its extensive park were built between 1745 –1747. This magnificent summer retreat was Frederick’s sanctuary and you can take an audioguide tour of the site to learn more about it.
Make sure to explore the grounds, too. You will discover Frederick II’s tomb on the castle hill. He wanted to be buried near his dogs so he chose this scenic place for his eternal rest. Interestingly, potatoes are placed on his grave. He introduced potatoes to Germany so people pay their respects with potatoes not just flowers! It’s little things like that which is why I love travelling, and Germany.
Keep in mind that Sanssouci Palace is closed on Mondays. Therefore plan your day trip to Potsdam from Berlin for another day of the week. It would be a pity to miss such a spectacular place.
About a 40 minute walk from Sanssouci, Cecilienhof is another palace located in Potsdam. Built in the early 1900s, this palace was designed in the English Tudor style. It’s most famous for being the site of the 1945 Potsdam Conference. Walk in the footsteps of Stalin, Churchill, and Truman as they gathered here to determine how to run Europe and establish order after Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II. Here, Berlin was split in to East and West, as was the whole of Europe. Shortly after the Potsdam Conference, the Eastern Europe countries were converted into Soviet satellite states. Needless to say, this meeting changed the course of history forever.
Cecilienhof is now a museum and is located inside Potsdam’s gorgeous park Neuen Garten or New Garden.
C. Potsdam old town
The centre of Potsdam is also lovely, with a number of attractions. It’s home to the Brandenburg Gate (no, not that one – a different one). This monument is located in the centre of Potsdam, and was constructed in 1770 after Prussia won the seven years’ war.
Also in Potsdam is Glienicke Bridge (or Bridge of Spies), which during the height of the Cold War was a restricted border which served as a crossing between territories associated with both the American military and the Eastern Bloc. This bridge was even used to exchange Soviet and American spies and other prisoners. Unsurprisingly, Glienicke Bridge is the star of the Tom Hanks’s film Bridge of Spies. It’s a must visit for any history buff!
Finally, another important attraction in Potsdam is Hollandisches Viertel (Dutch Quarter), home to lots of red brick buildings in Dutch style. Why all the Dutch buildings? During the extension of Potsdam, Frederick William I wanted his Dutch craftsmen to feel at home in Germany so he built houses in the Dutch style – lovely.
You will do well to fit all of this in to one day, so if you really want to get the most out of a visit to Potsdam, then why not stay over for a night and escape Berlin?
Thank you for reading. I hope you’ve found this post on visiting Potsdam helpful; I love Germany and am always glad to blog about my favourite country in the world. You can also check out my other posts on Germany here:
Stay safe and happy travelling!