A guest blog by Yessica Klein
Potsdam, the capital of the leafy state of Brandenburg, is just a stone’s throw from Berlin's city centre, and easily accessible by train (S-Bahn or RE). With royal parks and various crystal-clear lakes, this city boasts unique charm—from UNESCO heritage sites to scenic hikes and even a forest brewery.
The city is often overlooked as a mini-break destination, with many opting to take a day trip from Berlin, but we believe that an extended stay here is well worth it as there is simply so much to see! So, with that in mind, here's your guide to discovering the best of Potsdam.
Potsdam emerged as a settlement in the 10th century and developed into a crucial trading center due to its strategic location along the Havel River, but it was only under the reign of Frederick the Great in the 18th century that Potsdam truly flourished. The Prussian king turned the city into a magnificent royal residence, constructing opulent palaces such as Sanssouci and transforming Potsdam into a center of art, culture, and power. It remained the home of the Prussian royal family until 1918.
Potsdam's significance continued throughout the tumultuous 20th century. The city hosted the Potsdam Conference in 1945, where the Allied leaders shaped the post-World War II world order, and, on a more artistic note, is also home to the Filmstudio Babelsberg, founded in 1912, one of the oldest large-scale studios worldwide.
Potsdam boasts an array of incredible attractions that showcase its historical and architectural splendour. With the city's history as a royal home, one of the most iconic cultural spot is the Sanssouci Palace, Germany's largest World Heritage Site, an opulent rococo masterpiece surrounded by stunning gardens and vineyards. A stroll through the terraced parklands is a must, revealing breathtaking views of the palace and its fountains. Explore the elegant rooms, immerse yourself in the rich history, and imagine life as Frederick the Great did centuries ago.
Another must-visit is the Cecilienhof Palace, where the Potsdam Conference occurred in 1945. This is where the three heads of government of the USSR, the US, and the UK decided on the division of Germany following its surrender, defining Germany's history for the following 45 years.
Art lovers will enjoy the Museum Barberini, opened in 2017. Located in Potsdam's historic city centre, it displays an extraordinary collection of Impressionist paintings. Iin fact, the museum is one of the most important Impressionism locations, featuring over one hundred works by twenty Impressionist masters such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Gustave Caillebotte, and Paul Signac. It houses 38 paintings by Claude Monet, the largest concentration of the artist's work outside of Paris. The exhibitions are quite popular, so make sure to book a ticket in advance.
For those seeking lesser-known treasures, Potsdam has several hidden gems awaiting discovery. The Alexandrowka settlement, a unique Russian colony dating back to the 19th century, is a delightful surprise. The UNESCO World Heritage site consists of thirteen wooden houses in Russian style, built between 1826 and 1827, mimicking the style of a village near St. Petersburg. They were home to the Russian singers of the First Prussian Regiment of the Guards, and one of the houses features an exhibition about the building's living conditions in the 19th century.
A visit to the Dutch Quarter is also highly recommended. With its narrow streets and charming 134 two-storey red-brick houses, this alluring neighbourhood is the largest closed Dutch-style buildings outside the Netherlands. It was also one of the first urban areas in the eighteenth century, designed by Dutch architect Jan Bouman between 1733 and 1740.
Potsdam's culinary scene is a delightful fusion of traditional German cuisine and international flavours. If your trip falls on a Wednesday or Saturday, we highlight recommend starting your day at the street markets Markt Am Nauener Tor. Local vendors display an enticing array of fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and baked goods. Perfect to stock up some treats and prepare a picnic in one of Potsdam's beautiful parks.
When it comes to dining, indulge in traditional German dishes at one of the cosy taverns or beer gardens. We love the traditional tavern environment to Zum Fliegenden Holländer (The Flying Dutchman, in English), in the heart of the Dutch Quarter. The perfect atmosfere to enjoy seasonal German treats, such as white asparagus or year-long favourite such as Schnitzel, paired with German beer or wine.
And to honour the Russian tradition of Potsdam, this guide couldn't be complete without Café à la Russe, serving Russian, Ukrainian, and Uzbek delicacies—borscht, bline, and pelmeni included. Don't skip dessert and get yourself a slice of traditional honey cake, too—it's the energy you need for an afternoon outdoors.
Only one quarter of the region is comprised of buildings, making it the perfect getaway for enjoying nature. With around 20 lakes and rivers, such as the Havel, the Griebnitzsee, Templiner See, Tiefer See, Jungfernsee, Teltowkanal, Heiliger See, and Sacrower See, Potsdam's natural landscapes provide ample opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. One of the most famous spots is the nearby Wannsee lido, Europe's largest outdoor swimming area on an inland body of water.
For hikers open to a day-long excursion, the village of Caputh is a must-see (additionally, a good excuse to visit Albert Einstein’s former summer home, built for him as a fiftieth birthday gift from then-mayor or Berlin, Gustav Böss). Walk or cycle along the water, and find your perfect (and often, peaceful) spot by the lake for a swim and a picnic.
For a well-deserved break, summer hikers shouldn't miss the Braumanufaktur Forsthaus Templin, perfectly located in-between Potsdam and Caputh. Grab a pint of organic beer while tasting local game charcuterie (mostly deer and boar) on top of some traditionally bitter Treberbrot (draff bread, made with the leftover yeast from the brewing process). This is a seasonal treat though, and the brewery closes during the winter. And don't forget to bring water with you!
Our first choice for a Potsdam mini-break is parkchâlet potsdam. Located a short stroll from Potsdam’s centre in Klein Glienicke, the chalet is called a chalet for a reason: to be in-keeping with the village’s original style, a mini-Switzerland. In the 19th century, the Alps were very much in fashion, so Prince Carl of Prussia has architect Ferdinand von Arnim design several Swiss-style houses to nestle into this hilly nook between Potsdam and Babelsberg and their idyllic lakes. We love the floor-to-ceiling windows in each apartment, that have you waking up to a wall of green leaves.
Another excellent choice, if you want to be closer to the action, is Potsdam Design Apartments, a collection of apartments dotted throughout the Dutch Quarter’s historic buildings. The striking interiors contrast with the facade, and you’ll find bold design matched with quality furnishings.
Potsdam, with its blend of architectural wonders, traditional cuisine, and natural beauty, is a destination that promises an unforgettable experience. Immerse yourself in the city's rich history, stroll through its enchanting parks, and indulge in its culinary delights. Whether you're a history enthusiast, nature lover, art fanatic or foodie, Potsdam has something for you!
Yessica Klein is a Brazilian-German writer living in Berlin. She holds a MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University (London, UK) and was shortlisted for the 2021 Aesthetica Creative Writing Prize and the 2017 Jane Martin Poetry Prize. She dreams of a writer's cottage in the woods.
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