When most people think of gritty Berlin, they picture an ultra-urban playground of (mainly) indoor pleasures: techno clubs, chilled-out bars, and edgy art galleries for which the city has a reputation. And while that's all certainly a draw, 40 percent of Germany’s sprawling capital is parks, forests, and bodies of water—in fact, Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg are home to more than 3,000 lakes. When Berliners want to escape their gray-leaning environs—and the often-oppressive summer heat—they have their pick of serene (or even some party-focused) spots for swimming or socializing, forest hikes, and massive gardens to laze in. Best of all, many of these places are accessible by public transit or bike; plentiful car-share options can also get you where you need to go.
While living in Berlin for the past five years, I've been lucky enough to explore these areas, uncovering fantastic nature both within and just outside of the city. Here are nine standout outdoors activities in Berlin for mixing up a visit to this urban destination in spring, summer, or fall.
Best for: Fitness gurus and food lovers
Know before you go: Next to the lake, you’ll find a fine playground and stationary tractor that makes Schlachtensee ideal for families with young kids.
When Berlin urbanites want to feel like they’ve left the city without actually leaving, they head to this lovely forest lake in southwest Berlin’s Steglitz-Zehlendorf district, accessible by S-bahn, bus, or bike. Though it has few strictly sandy sections, this pretty tree-lined body of water promises plenty of calm, grassy areas to read or soak up some rays, and an easy 4.3-mile lakeside path for relaxing walks or runs in the surrounding Grunewald Forest; you can also swim in the lake. When hunger strikes, the adjacent Alte Fischerhütte (Fisherman’s Hut)—housed in a former inn built in 1723—dishes out tasty fish, including zander (pike perch) straight from the lake. Or, grab a pint and people-watch at the beer garden, which serves up mulled wine and hot chocolate in the colder months.
Best for: Families and sun bathers