Berlin’s a pretty great place to start a road trip from, not only because there are over a dozen countries within a day’s drive (or more, depending on how much you like to punish the autobahn), but also because Germany itself is hardly lacking in the "excellent vacation spots" department.
Distance from Berlin: 35 kilometers southwest; 40-minute drive
Why it made our list: Let’s start with an obvious choice, Brandenburg’s capital and its pack of UNESCO World Heritage Sites from former Prussia. How about the gothic castle at Park Babelsberg or Sanssouci Palace, decked out with rococo interiors and manicured gardens? Cinema buffs should also take a tour of Studio Babelsberg, where Marlene Dietrich and the German celluloid expressionism took off, and Tarantino recently shot Inglourious Basterds.
Pro tip: Get around Potsdam on a bicycle, or better yet on foot via the 66 Lakes Trail. This 400km trail circumventing Berlin has one of its most scenic legs starting at Potsdam’s Brandenburg Gate, ending at an abandoned palace in Marquardt.
Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island)
Distance from Berlin: 30 kilometers southwest; 45-minute drive
Why it made our list: Because yes, there are real peacocks here. This small island outside of Berlin can be reached by ferry from Wannsee Station. It was once a romantic retreat for Prussian royalty, today a protected nature reserve with lush flora and fauna. Check out King Friedrich Wilhelm II’s fairytale castle, and Luise Temple, the red-granite mausoleum of his former mistress.
Pro tip: Besides those gallantly feathered pheasants, look out for water buffalo, woodpeckers, and cormorants during the summer.
Spreewald (Spree Forest)
Distance from Berlin: 97 kilometers south; 1.5-hour drive
Why it made our list: Berliners love getting away to Spreewald, a beautiful meadowy region in Brandenburg dotted with picturesque B&Bs. Here you can take a barge tour or rent your own canoe on the forest’s sprawling canals. There are plenty of secluded beaches and bathing spots along the way.
Pro tip: Pickled cucumbers are renowned as this region’s delicacy; don’t miss the Gherkin Cycle Trail. Just follow the signs of gherkins towards a fresh batch from a wooden casket.
Distance from Berlin: 151 kilometers north; two-hour drive
Why it made our list: Because, pierogis. Need we say more? Szczecin may not be as lively as Warsaw, but it’s the easiest solution to a German’s craving for a plateful of dumplings. It’s a port town with sandy shores, charming cottages, and motley of architecture from over the ages.
Pro tip: There are lots of restaurants where overdosing on pierogis is possible, but Pierogarnia Kaszubska is always a sure bet. If you can get over the bad '90s interior (and don’t mind waiting for a table), it serves up hefty portions of handmade dumplings filled with everything from pork to sweet cream cheese.
Distance from Berlin: 286 kilometers northwest; three-hour drive
Why it made our list: A pretty seaside town like Lübeck is definitely a rarity in the Vaterland. Lübeck’s Travemünde is known for its warm Baltic shores, old-school casino, and colorful catamarans. If you do manage to tear away from the beach, the town center is filled with medieval architecture and German brew.
Pro tip: Lübeck’s world-famous for its marzipan. Check out Niederegger, the flagship shop of Lübeck’s biggest producer, for everything from sculptures to gift boxes of the sweet stuff.
Prague, Czech Republic
Distance from Berlin: 351 kilometers south; four-hour drive
Why it made our list: Prague’s a place that everyone should go once in a lifetime, and luckily it’s just a morning’s drive from Berlin. In the winter, a lot of Germans end up over the border enjoying the city’s famous Christmas market for a few days. Cozy cafés, galleries, and parks also make it an awesome holiday spot in the summer, too.
Pro tip: If you’ve got the time for a serious road trip, you can hit a few different destinations on the way down to Prague like Potsdam, Dresden, and Swiss National Park.
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Distance from Berlin: 418 kilometers south; four-hour drive
Why it made our list: This Bohemian city is a Romantic era throwback to vacation spots -- after all, Beethoven and Chopin used to call it a weekend getaway (because of Karlovy Vary’s hot springs, which are said to have medicinal properties). Today you can fill up your drinking bottles for free, or enjoy the water in open-air pools and spas around the city.
Pro tip: Try a spa wafer, a warm snack made from the local water and salt, sold at various street stands.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Distance from Berlin: 583 kilometers south; five-hour drive
Why it made our list: Rothenburg is Germany’s best-preserved town from the Middle Ages, and despite being awfully touristy, it’s beauty is worth it. The Plönlein -- a charming triangle square with medieval towers -- is one of the most photographed sites in Germany.
Pro tip: Make sure you check out its Christmas village -- it's open year-round, and has the largest collection of German Christmas decorations on the planet.
Distance from Berlin: 597 kilometers southeast; six-hour drive
Why it made our list: Kraków’s a cool vacation spot because of its far-reaching history, from the ancient settlement of Poland to the more recent black mark of Nazi occupation. It’s an energetic city, especially in the evenings, when crowds form around kitschy cocktail bars and street food stands. Most of sites and attractions are within walking distance of each other, so find a parking spot and trek around Kraków by foot.
Pro tip: Check out in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, where you’ll find historic synagogues and school groups donning kippahs by day, and upscale kosher restaurants and dive bars by night.
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