Northern Delights: Berlin to Stockholm
|And So You Begin: Berlin's Brandenburg Gate (Photodisc)|
European vacations often center on the obvious winners—London, Paris, the Greek isles, Tuscany—but northern Europe has more than its fair share of charm. Between Berlin and Stockholm, you can break up the old Hanseatic towns by visiting seaside market villages, and lively, young cities with rugged outdoor adventures. As you snake your way through Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, options abound for angling off rugged seashores, canoeing pristine lakes, and cycling windswept moors and thick forests.
Days 1-2: Berlin
Still rebuilding itself after the fall of the Berlin Wall 17 years ago, Berlin can at first seem intimidating and dreary in comparison to fairytale Paris or Rome. But it has a fascinating blend of pre-war, fascist, communist, and modern architecture; a rich mixture of history, art, and theater; and an edgy youthful buzz that's unique to European cities—which is saying something. Loosen your legs by cycling with Berlin On Bike (www.berlinonbike.de). Their guides will show you the city's inner workings, from discos and the red light district to the Berlin Wall and the Palace of the Republic, a hulking relic of the GDR that may contentiously be torn down soon. Set aside a day to hit the museums: The Pergamon (Am Kupfergraben 5; +49.030.2090.5577) is a must-see, with an astounding collection of antiquities, including an ancient Greek temple from the 2nd century BC; Checkpoint Charlie chronicles the history of the Berlin Wall; and, for an alternative to the tourist track, try the quiet Musical Instruments Museum. After your dose of culture, explore the old boutique-lined streets of the Jewish neighborhood near Alexanderplatz or the Turkish markets in Kreuzberg for kebabs, falafel, and a multicultural crowd. Come evening, the area has a trendy, up-and-coming club and bar scene.
Day 3: Berlin to Neustrelitz (70 Miles)
In the morning, take a dip at the Spree Bridge Bathing Ship, a pool made of an old hull in the River Spree, modeled after similar bathing facilities that existed at the turn of the last century. But we advise that you start your trip miles north to Neustrelitz, the gateway to Mecklenburg's scenic lake district, before noon so you'll have time for some anti-urban R&R. In nearby Mueritz National Park (Schlossplatz 3; +49.39.824.2520; www.nationalpark-mueritz.de), find silent beech forests, bogs, and an astounding bird population surrounding Lake Mueritz. Try to spot a crane or a sea eagle as you canoe across the lake or cycle one of the well-maintained bike paths. Bed down for the night in Neustrelitz, a lakeside city of prim red-roofed buildings and quiet residential districts.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication