If one of your travel goals is to find that secret spot away from the crowds that allows for an authentic experience, this trip is for you! Instead of spending another day in line at museums in Berlin, bike to Potsdam for the best day trip the Berlin area has to offer. You’ll get some exercise biking along the river while seeing beautiful architecture, admiring the Sanssouci Palace and drinking a traditional radler at a not-so traditional cafe.
Getting to Potsdam and renting a bike
There are numerous places to rent a bike Potsdam, but the best biking comes before the city center. S-Bahn trains leave Berlin every 10-20 minutes, depending on the day and time. Take the S-7 line, which is available at almost any of the main central stations in Berlin, southwest towards Potsdam. Get off right before Potsdam at Griebnitzsee. You’ll see a sign in the small station for bike rentals and Pedales rentals will get you set up with a bike. These usually include a basket on the back and a lock and it costs less than $15 US a day. You’ll feel very German riding one of these!
Planning your bike route
There are a few options for routes, depending on how much you want to bike. The Potsdam main train station has another Pedales bike shop, so you can return the bike here if need be. The roundtrip route on the map below is just under 25km, depending on how you go.
When I did this activity with a big group of students who hadn’t biked in a while we just biked the 7 km from the Griebnitzsee station to the Potsdam Hauptbahnhof (central train station), walked around Potsdam a bit, and biked back. When it was just me and a friend we biked a lot further but after a long day outside we were happy to have the option to leave our bikes at the main station and save a few miles on the way back.
Biking Park Babelsberg
Once on your bike, head west keeping the water to your right. The ride starts out on leafy, neighborhood streets that give riders glimpses of unique houses. There isn’t much traffic here and the streets are wide. When you reach Park Babelsberg you can stray from the main bike trail to explore some of the towers and monuments in the park.
About 2/3 of the way through the park you’ll come to Kleines Schloss Bablesburg. A schloss is a castle or palace (there are many in Potsdam) and this aptly named small castle is a fun surprise. I highly recommend stopping here for a snack, or bringing a lunch and sitting on the lawn. Sure, it’s a bit overpriced, but how often do you get to eat at a castle cafe? Plus, if you want to feel even more German you can order a Radler. Radler means cyclist and it is popular with cyclists because it is a shandy of half beer and half lemonade or lemon soda so it’s lighter than a beer. And of course, there are any number of delicious cakes and tarts available to help ensure you gain back any calories you may have managed to lose biking.
After your snack, continue through the park, passing a swimming area that offers a chance to cool off. Once you get to the main train station the streets will be more crowded, so you may want to walk your bike for a bit. After crossing the river there will be some designated lanes for bikes that will take you to a pedestrian and bike-only area. Make sure to watch for other bikes when crossing, because these lanes are taken very seriously in Germany.
At the end of the pedestrian mall is the Brandenburg Gate. Not to be confused with the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, this one was built by Frederick the Great in the 18th century to celebrate his victory in the Seven Years War. It is smaller and less well-known than Berlin’s landmark, but striking and worth a photo op all the same.
Now would be a good time to pause and mention some of the history of Potsdam. If you know anything about European history you’ve probably heard about Frederick the Great. Frederick II, dubbed Frederick the Great, ruled Prussia (what was parts of Germany and Poland) from 1740-1786. He was considered an enlightened monarch and a strong military leader who was quite tolerant and open-minded for the time. On a more personal level, he was a gay flutist with an abusive father who enthusiastically introduced potatoes to Germany and chose to be buried with his beloved greyhound dogs. The palaces in Potsdam were built by him as a summer residence away from Berlin.
Potsdam is also well known as the city that hosted the Potsdam Conference after World War II. President Truman, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met here to decide the future of post war Europe.
Sanssouci Park and Palaces
From the Brandenburg Gate follow the signs for Schloss Sanssouci. Biking along, you’ll come across a tree-lined boulevard and be treated to your first view of the stunning Sanssouci Palace. Resist the urge to run up and explore it, though, because you’ll be stopping there on your way back.
Instead, keep heading west through the shade of the park before stopping for a photo of the shiny Chinesisches Haus (Chinese House).
At the halfway point of this bike trip, you’ll come across the Neues Palais and start to understand the immensity of the Sanssouci Park you are biking through. The New Palace was also built by Frederick the Great but seldom used as his residence. Instead, it housed visiting receptions, meetings and outings for visiting dignitaries.
The stoic Communs, behind the Neues Palais, evoke thoughts of ancient Rome and is appropriately now part of the University of Potsdam. You’d never guess from its appearance, but it was actually just the servants quarters and kitchen for the Palace.
As you start looping around you’ll have the option to hop off your bike and explore numerous gardens to the north. The renaissance-style Orangerie Palace and its garden are worth a stop.
A bit farther down the road and finally you’ve arrived at the main attraction, Sanssouci Palace. Stroll through the gardens, as the palace looks most impressive from below.
With the gardens to your back, on the right hand side of the palace is the grave of Frederick the Great. And yes, those are real potatoes on his gravestone. Thanks to him, potatoes are such an important part of German cuisine today that visitors leave potatoes on his grave! See this cute animation in potato prints to see Frederick’s ingenious plan to get Prussian’s to adopt the potato.
Biking through the parks and seeing the outside of the palaces is free. If you’d like to explore the insides you’ll need to buy a ticket, which includes multiple palaces. Note that all the palaces are closed on Mondays but the grounds and some cafes and gift shops are open.
After all this site-seeing head out of the park and back towards the Brandenburg Gate, stopping for some shopping on Brandenburger Strasse and Gutenberg Strasse if you still have energy.
If your legs are sore head back to the Hauptbahnhof to drop off your bike and get on the train back to Berlin from there. Or, if you are up for more biking you can take the same route back through Babelsberg Park. If you are feeling really ambitious, head northeast on Berliner Strasse and cross the Glienicke Bridge for some beautiful water views as you make your way back to the Griebnitzsee station.
Whatever route you choose, biking in Potsdam is sure to be a memorable and unique experience!