Win a luxurious spa weekend courtesy of Arla LactoFREE
A woman in a swimming costume standing next to a lake
EXPLORE,  FEATURES

Where to swim in Berlin

Celia Topping from Wild Swim Berlin shares her suggestions for wild swimming spots in Germany’s capital

You might think you know Berlin – from its turbulent history to its cool, laid-back vibe. The bars, the clubs, the cafe culture, and the flea markets. But do you know about the lakes?

I didn’t, not until I moved there in 2016. Apart from being one of the most interesting cities I’d ever visited, I was thrilled to find that there are over 3000 beautiful lakes within Berlin, and the surrounding state of Brandenburg. From inner-city lakes with currywurst and beer stands nearby, to more remote, tranquil stretches of water winding through silent beech forests. For a wild swimmer like me, it was heaven on earth.

So, if you’re thinking of a city break to Berlin, don’t just make a beeline for the Brandenburg Gate. Instead take a short S-bahn ride to one of the city lakes, loved by locals and visitors alike.

Wannsee

For a taste of classic German Strandbad action, take the S1 or S7 to Nikolassee. From here, it’s a 1km, forest-lined walk to the grand entrance of the Wannsee bathing beach (€5.50 entry). Opened in 1907 this impressive, listed building stands overlooking the vast, meandering sweep of Lake Wannsee.

Once through the turnstiles, you’ll get your first glimpse of the lake’s wide, glistening expanse, dotted prettily with the crisp white sails of skiffs and dinghies. This view never fails to make me catch my breath, before descending onto the beach below.

In the height of summer, you can expect to share this 1,275 metre long beach with 30,000 other folk trying to escape the city’s heat. But in early May, you’ll have no problem securing a Strandkorb (beach basket chair) to yourself, especially if you get there in the morning.

My favourite spot to set up camp is under the willow trees at the very far left of the beach. But turn right and you’ll find yourself among the local FKKers, teutonically untroubled by bathing suits or modesty.

The lake is shallow for a good 20 metres from the shore, which is why this is a popular spot for families. But once you’re out in the lake proper, it’s a good stretch to swim the length of the beach and back – but beware of the strong current past the buoys. Post-swim, you can relax in the shade with a beer, a plate of salty chips, and a bratwurst.

During your visit, see if you can spot the House of the Wannsee Conference on the opposite shore, where the Nazis planned the Final Solution. Reminders of Berlin’s darker past are never far away.

Schlatensee and Krumme Lanke

There are plenty of lakes that are free to swim in too – two of the most popular city lakes being Schlatensee and Krumme Lanke. Like Wannsee, these next-door-neighbouring lakes are west of the city, in the Grunewald Forest. Take the S1 to Schlatensee and find the lake literally just the other side of the road. For sheer convenience, Schlatensee can’t be beaten.

It’s about a 5k walk/jog/cycle around the lake if you so choose, but if not, just find one of the many secluded clearings near the water’s edge, and put a blanket down to mark your spot. The lake is clear and crisp, and for swimrunners there are plenty of exit and entry points all the way around.

The Fischerhütte provides nourishment at the east end of the lake, with a smaller snack hut outside serving less elaborate dishes than the restaurant fare. There’s a small playground here, and a huge beer garden where you can watch lake users paddle, swim, row and splash.

Krumme Lanke is a short stroll away, with a large nudist area on the southern end. If that’s not your thing, you can easily steer clear and head to the north where there are shallow sandy bays. You can pretty much access the water from anywhere along the northern shore.

Best times to visit

The lakes and rivers are lovely all year round, but my favourite times to swim at the city lakes are May and October. In Summer, the city gets hot, so the lakes are packed. But in May, despite the temperatures usually hovering around the mid-20s, it’s not officially “summer”, so the lakes aren’t overcrowded.

By October, the water temperature has dropped to around 15 degrees and there’s barely a soul to be found in the water. You can take a solitary swim, while enjoying the trees putting on their best blazing autumnal display.

Take a wild swimming tour

There are thousands more lakes to be explored in the region of Berlin and Brandenburg. If you fancy a swimming tour of some of the most beautiful lakes, with a city break on the side, check out wildswimberlin.com.

The next trip is 2nd – 5th May 2024. It’s £750 for 3 nights at a lakeside hotel (not including flights). Use the contact form on the site or message @wild_swim_berlin on Instagram with the code SWIM50 and get £50 off.

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.