The thing about being the capital of the country that started and lost two world wars is that you’d expect it to cast a rather gloomy pall over the whole city. But while that fact may give visitors cause for reflection, it certainly doesn’t seem to be getting the Berliners down.
Berlin is cool. And it always has been. From the decadent, smoke-filled, jazz-playing bars of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s to the decadent, smoke-free (times have changed in one respect) techno-thumping bars of today, Berlin has been a magnet to the hippest, trendiest teenagers and twenty-somethings from Germany and beyond.
So many people seem so intent on having a good time (every summer, a section of the Elbe is transformed into a City Beach for the residents to enjoy. They even haul in wave-making machines for the surfers!), that you even forget that little more than two decades ago, Berlin was a city divided.
You can’t visit Berlin without going to see the Berlin Wall (what remains of it, anyway) and grim reminders that the city was once the Nazi nerve centre (Hitler’s Bunker is chilling). And with the Brandenburg Gate dominating the heart of the City, you can’t ignore Germany’s imperial past.
But Berlin is a city firmly facing the future, both in attitude and ambition if not architecture. A wonderful sense of fun permeates the place (Erotic Museum, anyone?). The food and beers are to die for and the locals are both friendly and fascinating.
So get your diary out, because to get the most out of this city, you’ll have to act like a German and get organised!
Germany: Explore Underground Berlin
Frankfurt is a global alpha hub of high-finance. Munich is a liveability index paragon. Hamburg is affluent. Düsseldorf has charm and Kraftwerk. But not a one can touch Berlin.
The capital of Germany is a capital of cultural pluralism few rival. The grand cityscape icons and monuments of the city are abundantly familiar: the Victory Column, Brandenburg Gate, Fernsehturm, Potsdamer Platz, Reichstag and UNESCO World Heritage Museum Island. But Berlin’s magnetic pull is as much about edgy guerilla clubs, co-op artist studio spaces, ethnic markets and alt subcultures. As Klaus Wowereit, the city’s progressive, openly gay mayor likes to say: “Das ist auch gut so” (That’s a good thing).
Berlin's Top 10
10. Gründerzeit Museum Get your gay on for this museum founded by Germany’s first transvestite and gay icon.
5. Hitler’s Bunker Part of many great walking tours available and worth spending some time in.
9. Kunsthaus Tacheles A collective art and culture hub, often known as the Sistine Chapel of Graffiti.
4. Reichstag The old parliament building might sounds like a drag, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Absolutely breathtaking. A picnic on the lawn in front is pretty special.
8. Alexanderplatz: A famous square in the former East Berlin and home to the World Time clock, which rotates to show different times across the world.
3. Berlin Wall Take a walk down the remaining sections. Unbelievable and worth it just for the graffiti.
7. Potsdamer Platz Now the busy city centre but was completely destroyed in the war. Cinemas, shops and all mod-cons, as well as a history lesson included with every visit!
2. Checkpoint Charlie Indescribable. So get a walking tour or someone in the know to tell you the escape stories. Guaranteed goosebumps.
6. Holocaust Museum 19,000 square metres of tribute to the Jewish population lost during the Third Reich. Get lost yourself in the maze and do some thinking.
1. Brandenburg Gate Whatever you do, don’t miss it. So famous that you may think it’s just for lame tourists ticking it off a list. It’s not. You’ll never forget it.
- Berliner Dom – This is the city’s main cathedral, which bears a resemblance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Climb to the top of the dome for a spectacular view of the city.
- Reichstag – The Parliament Building was made in the late 1800s and then suffered a series of attacks between 1933 and 1945, but was recently renovated and restored as home of the German Parliament.
- Gendarmenmarkt – One of the best plazas in Berlin and home to a number of neoclassical buildings.
- Victory Column – Standing 69 meters tall, this monument is made of sandstone, granite and bronze, with 285 steps that lead visitors up to the observation deck.
- The Holocaust Memorial – An impressive historical site remembering those who lost their lives during the early years of the 1900s.
Berlin Art & Culture
- Museimsinsel – This “Museum Island” houses three well known museums: the Altes, the Bode and the Pergamon.
- Deutsches Historisches Museum – Covers the history of Germany from the beginning to the present day.
- Gemäldegalerie – Home to thousands of paintings from European artists spanning the time period from the 1200s through the 1700s.
- Mauermuseum at Checkpoint Charlie – This museum is located between the two Berlins at the historically famous spot.
- Deutsches Theatre – Constructed in 1849, this event centre remained been open continuously with the exception of one year during the Second World War.
- Kurfuerstendamm and Tauentzienstrasse – A mile-long shopping strip with a wide assortment in price, style and design.
- Friedrichrichstadtpassagen – Provides an exclusive shopping area with high-end designer clothing and an art-deco environment.
- Potsdamer Platz Arcades – This lively mall is great for finding everything from clothing and accessories to the latest in technology.
- Hackescher Market – Offers a colourful combination of bars, cafes and shops.
- Savignyplatz – Those looking for a quieter shopping experience will appreciate this area to go window shopping or find a perfect gift.
Berlin Gay & Lesbian
- Hafen – The first and original place to hang out and socialize is still popular today.
- SchwuZ – Offers themed nights, including girls’ night and hip dance sounds.
- GMF – A famous dance-party environment with techno music and an abundance of glamour and good vibes.
- Ackerkeller – A cool place to get together in a relaxed environment that provides a pub/cafe six days a week starting at 7pm.
- Barbie Deinhoff’s – This joint is original and over the top with a variety of events and parties, exhibits, dancing and more.
- Tiergarten – The largest park in Berlin is a great place to hang out, have a picnic or barbecue.
- Vikoriapark – Provides a lovely panoramic view of the southern area of Berlin.
- World’s Garden – Offers assorted gardens, including Chinese, Oriental, Korean, Japanese and Balinese styles.
- Wannsee – Also known as Berlin’s “bath tub,” this is the most famous place locals go for bathing.
- Müggelsee – A popular spot for swimming.
- Soccer is played everywhere, and you can catch a Hertha BSB Berlin game at the Olympic Stadium.
- Alba Berlin is the country’s best basketball team and plays at the o2 World Arena.
- One of the best places for playing golf is the Motzen.
- For a fast, exciting game of hockey, check out the Berlin Eisbären stadium.
- The Berlin Adler is Berlin’s top football team and plays in the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark stadium.
The Berlin-Brandenburg Metropolitan Region in Germany offers a wide variety of amazing tourist attractions. From the lush, green forest areas to the bustling, ever-changing cultural hubs, this is a great way to experience northeastern Germany at its finest. The remnants of the Berlin Wall are also a major focal point, as they shed light on the tumultuous past of Germany as a whole.
- Charlottenburg Palace
- Legoland Discovery Centre
- Gendarmenmarkt of Berlin
- Climb the 285 steps to the top of the Siegessäule
- Take a stern und kreisschiffahrt (boat tour) on the surrounding lakes
- Enjoy the dulcet tones of the renowned Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
A humid continental climate is what travellers can expect from the Berlin region. Warm summers (reaching an average of 24°C) and mild winters (reaching an average of 1°C) make this a great place to visit throughout the year.
Getting There & Around
Berlin has two operational airports. Tegel International Airport is the main airport for flagship carriers, while Schönefeld deals mainly with low-cost airlines. For people travelling to Berlin via train, the Hauptbahnhof, Südkreuz and Ostbahnhof make up Berlin’s train network.
Getting around the inner city itself is relatively simple. Buses, the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn, scooters, trams, taxis, bicycles and even walking are great ways to get around. Berlin’s public transport system and vehicle renting system are tailored to suit the needs of tourists and locals.
At the centre of Berlin is the landmark-studded district of Mitte (which, conveniently enough means middle). Here you’ll find cafes, restaurants, museums, galleries and clubs, as well as loads of historical sites of interest.
Visit the go-go dancers and other ladies of the night at the Friedrichstadtpalast, or if you’re into more conventional art visit the Dali Museum or the Hoffmann Collection(OK, neither of those is strictly conventional, either, but you get the point…)
Mitte is also home to the historic Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz. Those two great squares have been the centre of Berlin’s nightlife – above the line and decidedly below the belt – for centuries, and nothing has changed.City West
As well as great shopping streets along Ku'Damm and Tauentzienstraße,this district also contains the Schloss Charlottenburg (the largest palace in Berlin) and the Olympic Stadium, home to the 1936 Olympics and the place where black American Jesse Owens challenged Hitler’s boasts of Aryan supremacy in the best possible way by beating every blond-haired, blue-eyed competitor he came up against.City East
Associated with lefties and artist communities, this district is loud, boisterous and packed with clubs, bars and cafés. Explore Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauerberg to check out the hidden galleries and museums.
Spend a lazy Sunday in Berliner Mauerpark or at the Mauerpark Fleamarket and discover the graffiti art down Bernauer Strasse. And when you’re all shopped out, stop by the Fassbender & Rausch chocolate café for an indulgent treat.
Berlin Eat & Drink
Burgermeister What can we say? The Biggest And Best Burgers
Schlemmerbuffet Did you say Doner? You’ll want one every day.
Bird Big eaters eat for free when they finish the incredible 750g beef burger with the lot! Good luck! The ambulance is waiting.
Zur Letzten Instanz The best joint in town for really classic Berlin grub. Eat like a local.
Schwarzwaldstuben Not for the small appetite. Massive portions of all things German and delicious.
Zwölf Apostel Cheap but decent thin-crust pizzas for a late-lunch stop off between museum tours. Pay as little as &euro 7 a pizza.
Sasaya Perfect sushi and other Japanese treats in case you’ve eaten your last wurst (as if!).
Bar Centrale Creative Italian cuisine. We recommend the antipasti plate (to share!). If you’re in the mood for pizza, think again.
Louis Mmmmm… schnitzel. With a 50cm diameter, you’ll want to wear your loose pants for this dining experience.
The International Green Week (IGW) is a one-of-a-kind event for the food, agricultural, and horticultural industries. Or, just wear green during January! Why not?
The Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival, struts up the red carpet in February.
Berlin's Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures) based in the Kreuzberg district is a great summer festival and an unmissable street party. Comes around each June.
Friedrichstadt Palast is Berlin’s biggest show in Europe's largest and most modern Show Palace.
Christopher Street Day descends on the streets of Berlin in the traditional celebration of the LBGTI community in Germany. Bring your pride each June.
For the 20th time the musical carousel at the Classic Open Air Festival starts spinning again at Berlin Gendarmenmarkt in July.
Something you won’t get anywhere else is the Long Night of the Museums. More than 100 museums and cultural institutions leave their doors open all night to Berliners and visitors during August.
Pyronale is a spectacular two-night pyrotechnic event with OMFG fireworks. 60,000 spectators come to experience the gigantic bangs known for their beautiful compositions. Pyronale explodes in September.
September brings us The Popkomm –a combination of a trade show, international congress and music festival all in one.
The Berlin Marathon is one of the largest marathon events in the world. More than 50,000 runners and skaters come to the capital from every part of the globe to take part in the race. Watch from a balcony in September.
More than 50 famous landmarks and spaces, including the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Cathedral and the Radio Tower light up during the Festival of Lights in October.
If you don’t mind the crowds and the cold, the Brandenburg Gate is also the place to be as Berliners welcome in the New Year.
When To Go
In winter (December to February), Berlin looks beautiful but is very cold, with temperatures hovering around freezing. There’s also lots of snow and lots of fog.
In spring (March to May), the warmer weather brings the tourists (but in manageable quantities). Temperatures range from 4-18°C (39-64°F).
Summer (June to August) has temperatures ranging from 11-30°C (52-86°F). It’s generally sunny, which make the city beautiful but busy.
Autumn (September to November) sees some rainy periods, but temperatures are a manageable 9-13°C (38-55°F).
What To Miss
Avoid the themed bars (you know the ones: ‘American’ or ‘Irish’ or ‘Australian’. They’re over-priced and tacky and no locals hang out there).
If you’re looking for trendy bars and clubs to party in, avoid the CBD late at night.
When riding the U-Bahn or S-Bahn make sure you get a ticket or get your cash ready to pay a fine – especially to and from the airport.
Ride A Bike
Berlin is a flat city, which makes it easy to see on a bicycle. Almost all roads have a separate bike path next to them, so there is no need to dodge traffic while riding around the city. Although drinking in public is allowed (encouraged, even!), we recommend you don’t drink and ride!
Berlin is one of Europe’s major trendsetting cities. Soon after the Cold War, Berlin has never stopped being in the forefront of change, even turning into a major art capital in the whole world, hearkening back to the Golden Twenties when art flourished in Berlin.
Soon after the reunification, Berlin underwent an upsurge in urban planning. The result is a wonderful city awashed in museums, palaces, gardens, galleries, cafes and ultra-modern buildings. The highly popular attractions are the Brandenburg Gate and scattered chunks of the Wall. If you’re travelling to Berlin, the city also hosts major social events in arts, film, theatre and sports which keeps on drawing crowds of tourists every year. With an outlook that is as vibrant as the cityscape, the city offers an exciting experience for all ages! More Berlin information and guides are also available at all hotels.
Inspired by a strong sense of renewal, renowned architects made Berlin into a splendid metropolis that blends the old and new.
Reichstag houses the German Parliament. Its beautiful glass dome, designed by Sir Norman Foster, offers the perfect observatory deck for fantastic city views. North of Reichstag is the iconic Brandenburg Gate which used to be closed to separate the east and west.
In Mitte, a strip of museums creates an island in River Spree known as Museumsinsel. Some of the highlights include the Old National Gallery for its 19th century art, excellent classics at Pergamon Museum and for Greco-Roman showcase, Altes Museum. For more fantastic showcases, one should not miss two big names both in Tiergarten. Most of modern art was carved out of Bauhaus movement so it would be interesting to see the extensive display on show at the design school. At Kulturforum’s Gemaldegalerie , a massive collection of paintings are all for public viewing. To make it a more memorable arty journey, don’t forget to drop by Judisches Museum which shows how Jews influenced Berlin’s culture and history.
Lastly, two more famed Berlin attractions deserve to be included in this roster. In the park located at Tiergarten, the Victory Column, with its golden angel on top, stands proud as testament to the glories of Berlin in wars during the 1860s. Another lofty trademark of the city is the Berlin TV Tower, measuring at 368 meters, where you can sample exceptional views at dizzying heights!
Gay Berlin is something to experience for those interested to let their hair down while visiting the city. Party with the Berliners and the rest of like-minded revelers during the annual gay and lesbian pride month in June highlighted by the Christopher Street Day parade the month after.
The red carpet leading to the Berlin Film Festival is always a dazzling affair with international celebrities and filmmakers congregating every year in February. While a different rhythm can be heard around October-November when Jazzfest Berlin witnesses the best jazz musicians meet and perform here in the city.
And just to reiterate how Berlin is a great art capital, watch out when over 100 museums open doors until the wee hours leaving aficionados in a frenzied state. Transport systems also run in extended hours for this one day in August so be sure not to miss this cultural spectacle.
More Info On Climate
- Winter (December to February)-1 to 3°C Wet, freezing with frequent snowfall and frost
- Spring (March to May) 4 to 18°C Warmer and more pleasant
- Summer (June to August) 11 to 30°C Sunny throughout
- Fall (September to November) 9 to 13°C Cool and some rainy periods
More Info On Getting Around
The public transport network in Berlin is one of the largest in Europe and, like most things in Germany, is unbelievably efficient. It works on an honour system, but if you are caught without a valid ticket you will have to pay a €40 fine.
All public transport can be used with the same ticket, and there are three zones, A, B and C. A short trip costs €1.30, and is valid for three3 U-Bahn or S-Bahn stops, or six tram or bus stops with no changes. A single trip within zones A and B costs €2.10, and allows you to travel in one direction with unlimited changes for up to two hours.
• The best value and easiest option is a ‘Tageskarte’, or day card, which allows you unlimited travel within the purchased zones for a whole day. For zones A and B, this costs just €6.10.
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