Germany is an incredible destination with so many wondrous things to experience like Pfaueninsel, aka Peacock Island. It’s full of romance, beauty, and history. If you’re planning a trip to the area, this is a terrific way to spend at least half a day.
My daughter had the privilege, like so many in her generation, to take advantage of her college Study Abroad program. Much to my delight, her choice was Berlin, Germany. She chose Berlin for its ecologically advanced society. (She’s on her way to a PhD in Environmental Biology!) I, on the other hand, had always wanted to visit Germany to connect to family heritage and practice the language I studied in school for five years. I was definitely planning on visiting her! And, of course, I did. I was able to spend a full week in Berlin and Pfaueninsel was at the top of my daughter’s list of places to show me. I’m really glad she did.
About Peacock Island
Pfaueninsel, is an island in the River Havel in Berlin-Wannsee which is southwestern Berlin. The island is 67 hectares (about 165 acres) in size. The island is mostly wooded, but includes some open areas with lawns and fields. It’s a popular destination for day trips for tourists and Berliners alike.
In the late 1600’s the island was called Kaninchenwerder (“Rabbit Island”). Elector Frederick William I of Brandenburg had set up a rabbit breeding station here. In 1685 he also aided Johann Kunckel to build a glass foundry on the eastern part of the island. While Kunckel was here, he discovered a process to produce artificial ruby glass. After Elector Frederick William I died, the foundry was destroyed in 1689 by a fire so Kunckel left in 1692 to work for the King of Sweden in Stockholm.
The island had remained unused for about 100 years before the Prussian king, Frederick William II, acquired it in 1793. He had the Pfaueninsel castle built for him and his mistress, Wilhelmine Enke. The castle was built on the western tip of the island so it could be visible from his residence at the Marmorpalais in Potsdam.
Around 1821 the next generation, Frederick William III, transformed the island into a model farm and created a menagerie that included exotic animals–alligators, buffalo, kangaroos, monkeys, chameleons, wolves, eagles, lions, lamas, bears, beavers and , of course, peacocks. At one point there were over 100 species and 900 animals! It is said that he loved all of the animals and would often hand feed many of them.
In 1842, Frederick William IV, the next successor, transferred all the animals to the Berlin Zoo. Shortly after, Pfaueninsel was redesigned by Peter Joseph Lenne as part of the Potsdam cultural landscape.
Things to See & Experience on Peacock Island
- The Royal Menagerie- Die königliche Menagerie
- Johann Kunckel von Löwenstern
- Lenné’s Rose Garden- Der Lennésche Rosengarten
- Palace- Schloss
- The Cavalier House- Kavalierhaus
- The Dairy- Die Meierei
- Luis Temple- Luisentempel
- The Hunter’s Blind- Der Jagdschirm
- Aviary- Voliére
- The Frigate Harbour- Der Fregattenhafen
- The Gardener House- Die Gärtnerei
- Ferry- Fähre
- Lawn- Liegewies
- Restrooms- Toiletten
Travel is so easy in Berlin! We took a train to a bus to a ferry and there was no hiking in between. Very impressive! All of our travel was comfortable and the journey from the city to Pfaueninsel gave us a wonderful look at communities, parks, and their way of life.
The train traveled through many areas and we really got a good view of several communities. As we rode the rail behind neighborhoods, we saw that every single home had its own garden, gardener’s shed and composting area. We even noticed a section of tiny homes practicing communal living. If you’ve read my Tiny Living blogs, you know how wonderful I think these things are. Berlin, you really made me fall in love with you.
Our journey to Pfaueninsel brought us through the Westlicher Düppeler Forst (forest) by bus. (This forest could have been an adventure on its own.) The bus stops at a restaurant and parking area, Wirtshaus zur Pfaueninsel, and it’s a quick walk over to the ferry. We could’ve taken more time to explore this area and sample the restaurants, but as usual, we were on a tight schedule and Peacock Island was on the top of the list. (Note: There’s another restaurant if you stroll up the hill that has spectacular views, Blockhaus Nikolskoe. Both restaurants look superb and have excellent reviews.) The ferry ride was super short, perhaps a minute.
Our visit was in the early Spring so our tour of the island was relaxed. The walk around the entire island with a tour of the castle was about three hours for us. You can pick and choose where you want to spend your time. We didn’t walk directly up to the Dairy, but we spent some time at the Aviary. We took the castle tour and enjoyed the gardens, but we didn’t lounge or picnic on the lawn. We enjoyed stalking the peacocks for photos and admired the pristine, manicured grounds. There were fun discoveries all along the dirt path like stumbling upon friendly sheep at the Cavalier House which was a nice surprise.
The castle tour was interesting. They really get into details–wallpaper changes, servant’s routes, furniture origins, etc. If you enjoy historical lifestyles, antique furniture and learning about design styles, this is a great tour for you. I’m positive young children will find this excruciatingly boring, but there’s always an exception to the rule.
Things to Know
- The Castle is by guided tour only and, as of the moment, it is closed for renovation.
- When it is open, bags (backpacks, suitcases, etc) are not allowed and there is no place to “check” them
- You can only get on the island by ferry as a pedestrian.
- There is a museum gift shop and restroom by the ferry on the island.
- No dogs, bicycles or smoking is allowed on the island.
- Your ticket for the ferry will include a map of the island
- The island is a nature reserve in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive
- The island is a Special Protection Area for wild birds.
- The island is part of the Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- You can find food and drink on the island only during the summer months. There is no public drinking water, so be sure to take along a water bottle for the day.
- There is no swimming or anchoring of boats off the island (it’s a nature reserve), but if you’re really interested, you can find sandy beach areas for swimming along the Havel with plenty of boating and hiking too.
- The dairy is shaped like a gothic revival church.
- Lenné’s Rose Garden is the oldest rose garden in Berlin.
- Four Water Buffalo are kept on the island during the summer to help control the growing grasses in the wet meadow.
- Thomas Hettche wrote a novel, Pfaueninsel, that captures the island brilliantly.
- Frederick William III’s menagerie was modeled on the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris.
- On August 15, 1936, the closing of the 1936 Olympic Summer Games was celebrated on the island hosted by the German government. The theme was an Italian Night. There were one thousand invited guests and fireworks!
- Even though many buildings in Germany were destroyed during WWII, Pfaueninsel remained unharmed.
- After World War II, Pfaueninsel was part of West Berlin, situated right next to the border of East Germany.
- In the 1960s, the island served as an outdoor location for a number of scenes in the German Edgar Wallace series.
- Pricing– Ferry-4 Euro, 8 Euro for a family (2 adults, 4 children under 18), Palace Tour 6 Euro, Photo Permit (for personal use only) 3 Euro, The Dairy 2 Euro
- There’s no fee to roam and enjoy Peacock Island
- Peacock Island Ferry:
November to February: Mon – Sun: 10 am – 4 pm
March and October: Mon – Sun: 9 am – 6 pm
April and September: Mon – Sun: 9 am – 7 pm
May – August: Mon – Sun: 9 am – 8 pm
- The ferry runs every half hour or as needed.
Family Adventure Rating ❤️❤️
Cost– If you’re in the area, this is a low cost adventure. A family of five can enjoy their visit starting at 8 Euro plus travel. (Mass transit is cheap compared to American transit fares, especially New York.) If you pack your own lunch and drinks, a family of five can enjoy every amenity for well under 100 Euro (with travel). If you want to go big, you can add a visit to one of the nearby restaurants.
Parking & Transportation– If you have a car, there’s parking at the ferry at no cost. If you’re sans car, no worries—there’s terrific mass transit that will get you there. The S-Bahn goes to Wannsee. From there you can take a bus directly to the ferry. (Note: There’s a small park and some businesses right there to enjoy any wait time in between the bus and train transfer. We enjoyed some tea, baked goods, and a stroll in the park during our wait here.)
Location– Part of the enchantment and idyllic setting is the tiny island set next to the forest. The castle overlooking the water adds to the romantic ambience. And, of course, you couldn’t have peacocks running around freely if they weren’t confined by the natural barrier of the river. The location of Pfaueninsel is what makes the adventure so special.
Day Trip or Overnight– The island, by itself, is a day trip. You can find hotels nearby if you wanted to stay in the area.
Experience– For our family, this was a unique experience. There is interesting history tied to Peacock Island, the buildings have varied architectural influences and the gardens are beautiful. It was a novelty to walk along the grounds with the peacocks and we are all about novel experiences.
Combination– You will most likely use up the entire day traveling to and fro and enjoying the island. However, there are hiking and bike trails galore that connect this area to others. Check out: AwesomeBerlin.net You may even want to explore the neighboring forest or have a meal at one of the restaurants close by.