Potsdam in Three Days
Congratulations. You truly made the right decision. With three days and more you can take your time to explore Potsdam the decelerated way. Just as the former Prussian heads you can let your thoughts drift, wander through UNESCO World Heritage and enjoy the perfect composition of garden art, baroque architecture and the romantic river landscape.
1st Day Potsdam Tolerance – Europe’s cultural diversity packed in only one City
On your first day, you will see the most favorite sights of the city centre and the northern part of Potsdam.
A walk through the historic centre to the north of Potsdam will take you on a journey through whole Europe. You will see why Italy, the Netherlands, France and Russia are just some footsteps away.
Start your day in Potsdam at the Old Market, which is used to be called one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Standing on the stairs of the St Nicholas’ Church looking over the Old Market you can see that Frederic the Great and his architects created an Italian piazza right in central Europe. The Obelisk, the façade of the Museum Barberini and other buildings had there archetypes in Italy. With the opening of the Brandenburg State Parliament in the reconstructed facade of the City Palace that got destroyed during World War 2, the historic heart of the city started to beat again in 2014.
Around the Old Market there are several museums to be visited:
- Film Museum Potsdam : Potsdam-Babelsberg is home to the modern. Therefore the permanent exhibition “The Dream Factory - 100 Years of Film in Babelsberg” takes you on an eventful time travel through 100 years of filmmaking in Babelsberg.
- Within the historic walls of the Old Town Hall the Potsdam Museum is the place to get behind the history of more than 1025 years of Potsdam. The permanent exhibition “Potsdam. Eine Stadt macht Geschichte” (Potsdam. A City makes History) tells you about Potsdam’s role as a garrison city, its’s art and culture scene as well as the developments as a science location.
- The Museum Barberini , which opened its gates for art lovers in 2017 is a great art museum. Monet, Richter, Picasso and von Gogh are just a view names of artists whose masterpieces call this gallery their temporary home.
The historic city centre is also part of the guided walking tour “Getting to know Potsdam” starting from the Tourist Information Centre Old Market. Every 2nd and 4th Sunday the tour is held bilingual in German and English. You can get the tickets at the Tourist Information Centre or book online. Within two hours you will walk across the Old Market, to the New Market and end up with lots of inspiring information and interesting stories in the Dutch Quarter. This quarter is considered to be Europe’s greatest collection of Dutch-style houses outside the Netherlands. Cozy cafés provide a delicious ranch from big brunch buffets to small bites of Dutch “Pannekoeken”. Just the perfect area to get your lunch.
Another 20 minutes walk leads you from the Netherlands to Russia. Its small wooden blockhouses make you feel like you’re in a Russian fairytale. If you’re wondering about, what life looked like in the Russian Colony take a look at the Museum Alexandrovka.
Passing the gorgeous Russian Orthodox Church on Kapellenberg Hill your next aim is the Belvedere Pfingstberg. This romantic pleasure palace built in style of an Italian renaissance-villa is the cities highest elevation. Green parks, pompous palaces, the historic centre all framed by the idyllic river landscape lying to your feet. This stunning panorama makes the view from its two towers considered to be Potsdam’s best view. If you look further east, you can even see the skyline of Potsdam’s younger and bigger sister Berlin.
Despite its great views, the exhibition on the first floor is worth having a look. It tells you about the reconstruction the Friends Association of the Pfingstberg and well-known donors made it possible from the late 1980s until today.
There is no better way to end a day in Potsdam then with a filled tummy right on the shores of the river Havel. Recapping your impressions of your journey through Europe you watch boat cruises, canoes and Stand-Up Paddle Surfers passing by enjoying the last sunrays of the day.
Restaurants on the waterside in Potsdam are for example:
- The Restaurant “Seerose” (Waterlily) and its terrace located at the Neustadt Havel Bay, only a short walk from the square Luisenplatz. Enjoy mouthwatering Steaks and Burgers on the terrace or inside the east modernism building interpreting a waterlily.
- The “Meierei” brewery. Just a footstep away from Cecilienhof Palace this brewery provides two possibilities to enjoy their craft beer outside. Either you choose some proper meal on the lovely terrace or some pretzels and French fries in the beergarden.
- Right at the culture district of Schiffbauergasse is the restaurant boat "John Barnet". On deck you have a great view to Babelsberg Park on the other side of the river while choosing from one of their large selection of fish dishes.
2nd day Cold War Stories and Prussian Pomp
Your second day in Potsdam will take you back to the late 1940s to get to know what world-shaking events and border-shifting decisions have been made in Potsdam. This all in a peaceful park environment with pompous Palaces.
Today’s starting point is the S-Bahn station “Griebnitzsee”. If you don’t want to walk long distances today the bike rental outside the station provides bikes of any size.
The walk/ride along Karl-Marx-Strasse takes you through the Mansion Colony Neubabelsberg . But as Wiliam I told his neighbours not to build the houses too swanky to the street-side, use the shore path along the other side of lake Griebnitzsee to get the best impressions of the magnificent mansions and their spacious gardens.
Due to the nearby Filmstudios Babelsberg, well-known actors and stars such as Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich called these houses their temporary home during film shootings. Also President Henry Truman was accommodated here when the Potsdam Conference took place in Cecilienhof Palace in summer 1945.
At the end of the Karl-Marx-Strasse you will get to Babelsberg Park . Peter Joseph Lenné and later Prince Pueckler designed this park in the 19th century. You can still see the British influences Pueckler brought to the hilly landscape of the park. Enjoy the awe-inspiring view over the busy river Havel from the grass grounds in front of Babelsberg Palace. Also this is the best spot to see the famous Glienicke Bridge in a panoramic view. Take a rest here or at the small Café in the Small Palace.
From Babelsberg Park the Glienicke Bridge is only a 15 minutes walk away. To get to the Bridge your walk takes you through the neighbourhood of Klein Glienicke. Because of its location this place belonged to East Germany but geographically was on West-Berlin grounds. The “Special Security Zone” surrounded by the Berlin Wall was also called “Appendix of the GDR”.
Crossing Glienicke Bridge, keep in mind, that 30 years ago that wasn’t even imaginable. With West-Berlin on the one side and Potsdam as an East German city on the other side, capitalism and socialism were facing each other here for decades. This made Potsdam to a hotspot for secret services. The film "Bridge of Spies" with Tom Hanks tells the story of the first agent exchange that took place here during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA in 1962.
Another 20 minutes-walk away at Cecilienhof Palace in 1945 the Potsdam Conference was held. Here the allies Soviet Union, United Kingdom and the United States agreed to divide Germany into four occupation zones, which later led to the division of Europe.
Just west of Cecilienhof Palace is a neighborhood that wasn’t easy to access in cold war years. In fact only residents, who lived there and agents where aloud to enter this part of Potsdam as it domiciled the German Headquarter of the Russian secret service KGB. The former KGB-prison is now a memorial giving you deep insight of the former conditions. Numerous inscriptions on the cell walls impressively reflect the deprivation of rights and isolation of the prisoners. The permanent exhibition shows the history of the building and tells you about prisoner’s fates that set you into a goosebumps-mood.
More information about the division of Germany and the peaceful revolution you can get at the Memorial Foundation in the city centre in Lindenstrasse . The exhibitions focus is on the people imprisoned during Nazi dictatorship and the SED dictatorship.
For dinner try out the neighborhood around Gutenbergstrasse, Lindenstrasse and Dortustrasse. From classic but good Italian pasta, fresh French kitchen with brasserie charm to Hawaiian burgers. There is a restaurant suiting any taste.
To end the day you can stay in the same area as there are plenty of bars and pubs.
3rd day Island of great Thoughts
No Potsdam-visit without Sanssouci Palace. Of course. With more than 300.000 visitors each year its truly not just Frederick’s favorite palace anymore. It served Frederick II. as a summer residence and pleasure palace in which he wanted to enjoy his private life.
To see Sanssouci Palace from the inside, get to the visitor centre at the Historic Mill as early as possible. This way your chances are higher, to get a ticket for the inside visit within the next hour. But even if you get a ticket for the entrance a couple of hours later, there is a lot more to explore in this beautiful park area.
You want it all planned ahead? Get a sanssouci+ ticket with the following benefits:
- One-time entrance to all palaces of the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg in Potsdam
- Choose your fixed time to enter Sanssouci Palace (even days in advance)
- Get the ticket at the visitor centers in Sanssouci Park, the Tourist Information Centres on the Old Market and Potsdam Main Station or online.
Looking west from Sanssouci Palace you will definitely be surprised by a windmill. The Historic Windmill is a perfect lookout to get an overview over this huge park area. With some windy help it’s creaking wings are still processing grain. You can get bread baked with Sanssouci flour in the museum shop right across.
The nearby Orangery Palace is a must for any art lover. Inside the palace the imposing Raphael Hall displays a great collection of about 50 copies of Rafael’s paintings such as the Sistine Madonna and the Transfiguration. Deep red walls accentuate the paintings in a great way. Also the Orangery Palace has two lookout towers from which you have a great overview over the park and its historic buildings.
Crossing the Maulbeerallee you will see a huge red bricked palace – the New Palace . It’s by far the biggest palace in Potsdam and in strong contrast to the intimate and rather modest Sanssouci Palace.
The building, which Frederick himself referred to as Prussia's "boast", became famous for its impressive interiors such as the Grotto Hall, the Marble Hall and the palace's own theatre. The reconstructed Grotto Hall with the glitter of thousands of shells, quartzes and minerals was intended to impress the guests of Frederick the Great and can now be experienced again by you.
To get back to the city center you can take the bus line 695. But if we couldn’t quench your thirst for palaces and garden art yet, you better take your way back through the park. With the Chinese House, Charlottenhof Palace and the New Chambers (just to name a few), this park is packed with culture, architecture and vistas that emanate the certain “savoire vivre”.
It goes without saying that the palaces in Sanssouci Park are a breathtaking setting for events such as:
- The Music Festival Potsdam Sanssouci with several music performances from Rennaissance, Baroque, Classic and Romantic every year in June.
- The Potsdam Palace Night . Taking place for one weekend in August with music, literature and plays in the illuminated Sanssouci Park.
- The Winteroper in November. The refurbished Palace Theater of the New Palace will be the operas home for the first time again in 2019.
At the eastern end of the park you will re-enter the city at the square Luisenplatz with the gate Brandenburger Tor. Don’t mistake it for the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. They only share the name. Actually the gate in Potsdam was built 20 years before its bigger brother in Berlin.
Surrounded by the river Havel and its lakes it’s clear, that Potsdam is perfect to be explored from the waterside. There are a lot of different possibilities to do so:
- The most comfortable way is to get on board of one of the excursion boats that depart from the harbor just next to the Old Market. Enjoy some refreshing German food and let your feet rest. Carried over the waves of the idyllic river Havel the sunset will immerse Babelsberg Palace in blood orange light just before you will pass through Glienicke Bridge.
- If you like to stay private, you can also rent one of the famous wooden rafts. Don’t worry, there is no boat license needed. Enjoy the freedom to decide on your own, what direction you are going. Also you can bring your own food to have a bbq on board. Overnight stays are possible as well.
- For the more active and fit once of us, that are also several possibilities to rent a canoe or a SUP.
Whatever vehicle you choose. The friendly and helpful Potsdam experts at the Tourist Information Centers are happy to assist you with booking.
Of course you can also have dinner on board of the raft or on one of the excursion boats. But, if you rather dine on solid grounds, here are some restaurants that have been awarded by Michellin, Gault & Millau or regional labels:
Recappulating your days in Potsdam you might already make plans for your next trip to Potsdam. If you don’t know what season is best to come back, here we gathered together some ideas.