Although many come to it only as a day trip from nearby Berlin, Potsdam has so much to offer, that the overwhelming recommendation is to spend more than a day in the city. You can of course spend the night in Berlin, as Potsdam is only about thirty-five minutes away by train from the German capital, but don’t let yourself spend less than one day there. It is one of the most beautiful, diverse and majestic cities in Germany. In addition, this city is home to the largest World Heritage Site (recognized by UNESCO) in Germany, and in a country with 46 of them, this is no small feat.
The main factor that makes Potsdam so beautiful and interesting is its choice by the Prussian kings to be their royal summer residence. As a result, palaces, gardens, government institutions and many other impressive buildings were built in the city, all of which give the city a noble touch even today. Being an important symbol of Germany, the city was a significant target for Allied bombing during World War II, and the discussions about the fate of Germany in particular and Europe in general after the war were also held here.
Pottsdam is a destination for a leisurely day trip. It is not a focus for field trips or big parties, and the main attractions here are those that focus on history, heritage and art. It is also known as the film capital of Germany, and a significant number of its attractions correspond with the industry. However, trips around the spectacular Sensausee Gardens and the magical Babelsberg Park will satisfy even the most ardent nature lovers, and although the nightlife in neighboring Berlin is richer, you will also find in Potsdam an impressive selection of bars, clubs and cafes for an evening’s entertainment.
Although the history of Potsdam is not as old as that of other cities in Germany, in some of which settlement began more than two thousand years ago, it certainly has an impressive volume and an even more impressive variety. It began to gain fame in the mid-17th century, leading to it being one of the most prominent places to see the Rococo style, an artistic style that dominated Europe for a brief period during the 18th century. The fact that it is an important city for a relatively “short” time is compensated by its multitude of palaces, museums and gardens, which present the visitor with a rich history and a multifaceted heritage.
This is without a doubt Potsdam’s tourist site, according to the news. It stars first in any list of points of interest in the city, and rightly so. This summer palace of the kings of Prussia, whose name literally translates to “without worries”, is the German equivalent of the French Palace of Versailles, although that it was built in the Rococo style and not in the Baroque style, and is part of the largest World Heritage Site in Germany (which includes the many palaces and gardens in Berlin, Potsdam and their surroundings).
The palace was built over two years in the middle of the 18th century to be a resting place for Frederick the Great, the famous King of Prussia, and the sheer wealth of its buildings and gardens alone can provide you with a whole day’s trip. However, despite the enormous size of the area on which the palace and its gardens sit, they infuse the visitors with an intimate and relatively calm atmosphere. There are many buildings and sites around the palace and garden that are worth a visit:
While staying inside the palace, it is recommended to wander between the rooms and be impressed by their style of construction and design. You should pay special attention to the famous marble hall (Marmorsaal), which was the main hall for receiving guests. Its elliptical shape, the Corinthian columns made of marble (which was specially imported from Tuscany in Italy), the marble statues of Venus, Apollo and the little angels and more, all of these will help you imagine the events that were held here and the multitude of high-ranking personalities who visited the place. The rooms adjacent to the Marble Hall display a variety of 18th century Rococo paintings, and this is a golden opportunity for art lovers to admire.
After leaving the palace, it’s time to enjoy the beautiful garden and park built over several years at the behest of Frederick the Great, and those who came after him (who contributed but little to its overall appearance). The most prominent feature of the gardens are the vineyard terraces, which are amazing in their beauty and organization, six in total. The vines arranged in Hadalia were brought from several places in Europe, and the division between the terraces was made using stone walls. Inside the stone walls alcoves were built, in which fig trees were also planted. The stairs that cross the terraced garden into two equal parts (132 in number, like the number of Spanish steps in Rome) lead to the baroque garden at their feet. In the garden itself there is a large fountain and many marble statues, which will remind you that this is a supremely royal garden.
The park that comes out of the Garden of Terraces extends over an extremely large area, crossed by an avenue about two and a half kilometers long, and is filled with thousands of trees of various varieties, including many fruit trees. Paths, fountains and even an artificial lake decorate the park, a walk in which will bring you peace and fill your field of vision with green.
Throughout the park there are many buildings worth a visit. These include the Bildergalerie, a paradise for art and painting lovers, the Neues Palais, full of works of art and including a royal theater that is still active today, and the Belvedere auf dem Klausberg, located outside the gardens. themselves and that the view from it of the Sanssouci Gardens is one of the most beautiful you will see on the trip.
This impressive palace (although it is less impressive than other palaces in the city), is known for being the place where the Potsdam Conference was held, one of the most important conferences that took place after World War II, and where the new world orders were established. The conference was attended by the leaders of Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the USA, and it is known as one of the most tense conferences held between the personalities.
The palace was originally built in the early 20th century for the German heir to the throne, who ended up living in it for only one year (until his deportation to the Netherlands following the German Revolution), making it the last royal palace built in Germany. The Cecilienhof Palace, built in a rustic English style that was beloved by Prince Wilhelm and very different from the many other palaces of the city, has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Sensouci Palace and its gardens.
If you came here from Berlin, or just if you know the name, you must be confused. But Potsdam has its own Brandenburg Gate, and it’s even twenty years older than the one that stands proudly in the German capital. This gate was built by Frederick the Great as an imitation of the monumental Constantine Gate found in Rome, right next to the Colosseum, with the victory of him and his allies (mainly Britain) in the Seven Years’ War that took place in the mid-18th century. This gate replaced a medieval gate that stood in place before, and formed part of Potsdam’s city walls until they were destroyed during the 20th century.
This is a popular tourist site, and you will see many visitors here taking pictures against the background of the gate. Note that each side of the gate (the one facing the city, Stadtseite, and the one facing out of it, Feldseite), has a completely different design. The reason for this is that two different architects (or, more correctly, a teacher and a student) were hired to design each side of the gate, and they apparently did not coordinate their positions.
Anyone familiar with the history of Europe knows that the dynasties of kings who ruled the continent (and often fought bloody wars with each other) were inextricably intertwined. One of these connections was the marriage connection between Charlotte, the daughter of Frederick III, King of Prussia, and Nicholas I, the brother of Alexander I, Emperor of Russia. A deep friendship prevailed between Frederick and Alexander, so upon the latter’s death in 1825, Frederick built this colony in his memory. The colony was designed by the famous architect Carlo Rossi (who, although born in Naples, grew up in Russia and identified as a Russian), who designed many of the grandest buildings in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Originally, choir members who were formerly soldiers of the Russian army settled there, and were allowed to settle in Potsdam by the Tsar. This is why the houses were built for them in a Russian style, which has been preserved to this day. Although the last member of the choir died in 1860, the houses were inherited by their descendants until the last of them died in 2008.
This museum is the oldest of its kind in Germany, and is housed in Potsdam’s impressive city palace. The museum underwent an extensive renovation very recently, and there are close to a million items (and maybe more) all related to the film industry. Between the rooms of the museum you will pass through an interactive route, which will guide you through the various stages of film production. From script writing, to casting, costume and make-up design, photography, editing, production and more. In addition, here are accessories that were used (and are still used) for shooting movies, such as old cameras, microphones and what not.
One of the most special exhibits here is the Theater/Cinema Organ, which was previously used to create a soundtrack for silent films, and was originally created for the Luxor cinema, which still operates today in Chemnitz, near Dresden.
Unlike the other sites listed here, the Bridge of Spies represents a much later piece of history. Although it looks like a completely ordinary bridge today, this bridge was one of the most important in the region (and perhaps in the entire Western world) at a time when Berlin was divided into East and West by the famous Berlin Wall. The bridge connects the Wannsee district of Berlin, which at the time was under the control of the West German government, and Potsdam, which was under communist control, and the Havel River passes under it.
This hatch between the worlds was where the opposing forces exchanged each other’s spies, who were captured alive one by one on both sides of the wall. The exchange of spies on the spot gave the bridge its name, and it is also the place where the famous movie The Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks was filmed.
Even if you are not a big history buff, it is highly recommended to visit this important historical site if only for the views that can be seen from it. The Dark River, Glienicke Castle and Babelsberg Castle are all viewed from this bridge in a most beautiful way.
Attractions and points of interest in Potsdam
It is not always easy to bear the masses of palaces and works of art, as well as the royal splendor, that Potsdam offers to its visitors. This is doubly true if you are traveling with children. There are some interesting places you can visit that, even if they offer you more history and more art, they will also have a different facet.
This unique park is both a fascinating attraction and a historical site. It is the oldest film photography studio in the world (it has been operating since 1912), and for a long time also the largest in the world (today it is the largest in Europe). It introduces visitors to the golden age of German cinema, as well as Germany’s contribution to the world of world cinema as a whole. It is also the studio where over 1,000 propaganda films were shot during Hitler’s reign in Germany between 1933 and 1945, many of which were directed by the infamous Josef Goebbels, and greatly aided the Nazi regime in its anti-Semitic propaganda.
Today, apart from the fact that it is still an active studio for the filming of German films and high-budget international films (among the famous films shot there are the film “The Pianist”, the fiftieth season of the series “The Fugitives” and more), there are many amusement facilities, and tours are organized Following the thousands of films made there.
The tour will take you between the different parts of the studio, which include, among other things, a restored medieval village, and the huge Neue Berliner Strasse/Metropolitan Backlot, which is a versatile lot where you can create the scenery of almost any city in the world. A must-visit site for movie fans, and one that is also recommended for those who don’t live this world on a daily basis.
Those who saw the accelerator named after Koffler at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot (the White Tower which is hard to miss), will not be surprised to see the (lower) White Tower dedicated to Einstein, and located in the south of Potsdam. Others will probably be more surprised by its “unique” design. This is an observatory, which resides in the city’s Einstein Science Park. Architecture buffs will be happy to hear that this tower, which is the first structure designed by the Jewish architect Erich Mendelssohn, is considered one of the few examples of Expressionist architecture that exist today.
Today it is an observatory, specifically specializing in monitoring the movements of the sun (Solar Observatory), making it a beautiful example of a combination of art and science. A limited number of visitors can enter the tower itself, and that too after pre-registration, but stargazing enthusiasts will be happy to know that there is a large telescope (Potsdam Great Refractor) in its complex, which is more freely open to visitors.
In addition to the observatory, there is a statue of Einstein as well as the sculpture “3 Sec Brain”, a small model of a human brain that is partially planted in the ground near the steps of the tower. The sculpture is a tribute to the theory of neuroscientist Ernst Poppel, who holds that the experience of continuity we experience originates in separate segments of three seconds each, which our brain processes and presents to us as one experience.
If Frederick the Great’s 20th century successor liked the English style (see above), then Frederick the Great preferred the Dutch one. This is why he hired a Dutch architect to design for him an entire neighborhood in Potsdam, to be built entirely in the Dutch style. This neighborhood is particularly notable in the city, both for its 134 red buildings, and for the fact that they are all in use and in excellent condition. This is one of the trendiest districts in the city today, and it contains a large number of boutiques, antique shops, cafes, art galleries and more.
Besides the multitude of businesses here, the district tries very hard to preserve its Dutch character. The museum housed in a house named after Jan Bouman (Jan Bouman Haus, the architect who designed the neighborhood) tells about its history, and several Dutch-style festivals are held there throughout the year. These include the Tulip Festival in April, a pottery market held in September, and a colorful Christmas market that runs in December.
If you also find it strange to find a museum named after the famous Italian Pope, who actually lived and worked in Rome in the seventeenth century, you are not alone. As you can see, the kings of the Prussian dynasty loved to travel, and loved to imitate the building styles they saw around Europe. This palace was also built by Frederick II, and the model they tried to imitate here is the Barberini Palace located in the center of Rome. The original palace was completely destroyed during the Allied bombing of the Old Market area (Alter Markt) in World War II, and has since undergone intensive renovation. Although its facade has been preserved in its baroque style, the interior rooms have been completely changed and are completely modern.
The museum was opened to the public only in 2017, with an impressive launch, and most of the works here are works brought from East Germany during the period when the city was divided, as well as works by artists created in the thirty years that have passed since then. You will also find a small collection of impressionist and other paintings by big names such as Renoir, Monet and more.
Although this is a historical site, since it is probably the most well-preserved baroque square in Europe, this place is interesting mainly because of the buildings that surround it and its calm atmosphere. It is an impressive square, with a total area of about 2,000 square meters, which sits on a site where there used to be horse stables. The square got its name to distinguish it from the old market (Alter Markt), which is right next door and which was almost completely destroyed in World War II.
The buildings in the square are mostly dedicated to various research institutions, among which we can name the Moshe Mendelssohn Institute for the Study of European Jewry, the Center for Modern History and the Brandenburg-Prussia History Museum, which sits where the horse stables used to be (note the impressive facade).
Potsdam is built entirely on the tributaries of the Dark River, which allows you to explore it from the water as well. Many companies offer a variety of boat tours along the river, tours that focus on the variety of faces of the city. Here you will find a cruise that focuses on the many palaces of Potsdam, only some of which we have listed here. Another cruise puts the emphasis on the various gardens, castles and villages along the Hafel, in order to expose you to the local culture. In short, the variety is great and so is the selection of the companies that offer it. Choose the style that suits you and go on a cruise of a few hours.
Befitting a city of kings and nobles, Potsdam offers its visitors a wide variety of cultural events and festivals of the highest order. Here you will find jazz and rock shows, classical arts festivals and even an entire night where you can watch artists in the setting of the Sensoussi Palace and its magnificent gardens.
This is one of the biggest festivals in the region throughout the whole year, and it is held for about three weeks during the month of June. The festival hosts shows and concerts of music from the Middle Ages and the periods that followed, up to the Romantic period, where in each concert there is a great effort to reproduce the instruments and playing techniques of the period. In addition, there are dozens of shows of newer music, such as jazz, rock and pop. The festival was held in the many palaces of the kings of Prussia in Potsdam and Berlin, all of which are recognized as a World Heritage Site.
A very impressive event, held every year in the buildings and gardens of the Sensoussi Palace. The number of visitors to this event is limited to 32 thousand, and as part of it more than 450 artists appear throughout the palace, the gardens, and the buildings attached to it. The event was held on two consecutive nights during the month of August, and at the opening of each of the nights an open-air concert was held, with first-rate international musicians.
This festival was also held in Potsdam during the month of August, for about a week and a half. Dance troupes from all over the world flock to Potsdam to participate in this festival, making it a must-see for dance lovers of all ages.
This is one of the most prominent and interesting festivals in Potsdam. Every year at the beginning of November it is held in the ancient streets of the city, and is a stage for artists from all over Europe. Theater performances, dance, drama and more, all mix here and turn the streets of the city into a live stage.