Germany’s capital Berlin is perhaps Europe’s most intriguing city. Along with its obvious role in 20th century history, the city features an additional 7 centuries of history. Situated in east Germany along the Spree River, records of Berlin exist from as far back as the 13th century. The city’s location in central Europe has made it a key figure in regional politics from the 1700s, when it became the capital of Prussia. As kingdoms and borders changed throughout the centuries, Berlin remained a capital city, although it lost the status when Germany was split, regaining it on re-unification, and today has transformed itself into a haven for arts, culture and innovation.
Map of Berlin
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, Berlin has rebranded itself as a premier cultural destination. Over the past 20 years, many of the city’s major landmarks and historic attractions have been restored to their former glory and are now open to eager visitors. While western Berlin has enjoyed steady growth, eastern Berlin has been the subject of major redevelopment and is now known around the world for its thriving arts and culture scenes.
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The Best Time to Go to Berlin
Sitting along the European Northern Plains, Berlin enjoys a temperate climate between April and October each year. Late fall and winters tend to get quite cold, with night-time temperatures dipping below freezing on a regular basis. Berlins attracts visitors throughout the year regardless of the season, with many of the city’s cultural highlights including the Festival of Lights, Christmas Markets and Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival), occurring in the winter months. Berlin in winter is attractive as in the sun, so dress warmly and enjoy.
Getting Around in Berlin
Public Transportation is as expected in Germany – efficient and well-maintained. Berlin’s network of subway and tram lines makes it an easy city to navigate. Most of the Berlin’s major sights and attractions are within easy walking distance from a subway (U-Bahn) station, which are denoted at street level by the letter ‘U’. The U-Bahn network is divided into zones A, B and C, where A covers central Berlin with B and C expanding outwards.
Like most subway networks, there are a number of fares available on the U-Bahn. To keep things simple, it’s easiest to purchase either a day or week ticket, which will cost 6.50 and 28.00 Euros respectively for zones A and B.
Taxis provide another option for travelling in and around Berlin. Normally taking the form of beige colored Mercedes, they can be found lining up around major public transportation stations and tourists sights. Berlin is more driveable than most major cities and taxis drivers are usually able to speak English.
Main Attractions, Sights and Things to do
Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie
The fall of the Berlin Wall was one the most powerful moments in recent history, and triggered the reunification of Germany following decades of separation. The nation’s reunification revived Berlin and it has since become one of Europe’s premier cosmopolitan cities. As a reminder of its history, portions of the Berlin Wall as well as Checkpoint Charlie remain available for viewing
The product of over a century’s worth of careful construction and collecting, Berlin’s Museum Island is perhaps the greatest collection of museums on Earth. Consisting of the Altes (Old) Museum, Neues (New) Museum, Pergamon Museum, Bode Museum and Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), visitors to the island are privy to priceless artefacts, artworks and ancient architectural finds from antiquity and Germany.
Located in the heart of Berlin, Museum Island is easily accessible via several public transport stations including U-Bahn stations Friedrichstrasse, Alexanderplatz and S-Bahn station Hackescher Markt. Highlights of Museum Island include the 2nd century Pergamon Altar, the famous Bust of Nefertiti and a fully reconstructed Ishtar Gate, which once stood as the gateway to Babylon.
Also located on Museum Island, the Berliner Dom’s history dates back to the 1400s and has been on the receiving end of several iterations over the centuries. In its current state, the cathedral represents the neo-renaissance construction from 1905, though it was significantly damaged in World War II. Re-inaugurated in 1993, it features a stunning neo-classical interior and a magnificent pipe organ.
Unter den Linden
Best viewed in the summer or spring when the rows of linden (lime) trees still feature their leaves, Unter den Linden boasts the quintessential view of Berlin. Starting at Brandenburg Gate, head east past the iconic gate towards Museum Island. The street is perhaps Berlin’s most famous and is home to the Berlin State Opera, German History Museum, Humboldt University and more.
Built in 1791 as a monument to peace, the Brandenburg Gate was featured prominently throughout World War II and the Cold War that followed. On the border between the former East and West Berlin, the wall has been featured prominently as a political symbol. Today, it stands as Berlin’s most recognizable landmark and is surrounded by a refurbished pedestrian area along with the embassies of the United States and United Kingdom.
Perhaps the greatest symbol of Berlin’s rebirth and the reunification of Germany, the Reichstag has been witness to its fair share of historical moments. Once home to the parliament of the German Empire from 1894 to 1933, the building was nearly destroyed when Berlin fell in World War II. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag played host to the official German reunification ceremony in 1990. In 1999, the Reichstag’s famous dome was rebuilt featuring modern glasswork and the building was subsequently handed over to the Bundestag, where it is used for official meetings.
The Reichstag sits very near Brandenburg Gate and can be reached by U-Bahn stations Brandenburger Tor and Bundestag. Visitors who register in advance can access the building’s distinctive glass dome for spectacular views of Berlin below.
Though its origins date back to the early 1800s where it was a prominent cattle market, Alexanderplatz is better known for its role in the fall of East Berlin. In the 1960s, the square was subject to a redevelopment project undertaken by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), who built the large Fernsehturm (Television Tower) which has become a hallmark of the Berlin skyline. In November 1989, the square played host to East Germany’s largest demonstration. Known as the Alexanderplatz Demonstration, an estimated 1,000,000 participants congregated around the square in a event that played a crucial role in the destruction of the Berlin Wall shortly thereafter.
Today, Alexanderplatz has been further revitalized, though it still retains many of the architectural features from its 1960s facelift. In close proximity to many of Berlin’s other historic attractions, Alexanderplatz now stands as a major transportation hub and shopping destination.
Schloss (Palace) Charlottenburg
Located in the scenic western suburb of Charlottenburg, Charlottenburg Palace dates back to 1699, and was once home to the royal Hohenzollern family. Over 300 years later, the palace is one of Berlin’s largest attractions. Much of the original structure as well as a rebuilt wing is open to the public and features handcrafted baroque and rococo detailing, period furniture and artwork. Surrounding the palace are acres of manicured lawns and gardens also open to the public.
To reach the palace, ride the U-Bahn to Sophie-Charlotte-Platz and follow Schlossstrasse north. Alternatively, the palace is also a short walk from the S-Bahn station Berlin Westend.
Shopping in Berlin
Short for Kaufhaus des Westens (Shopping Mall of the West), the KaDeWe is Berlin’s premier shopping destination. Featuring over 60,000 square meters of shopping space and restaurants, the mall covers 8 floors, each featuring a different category of merchandise.
The KaDeWe is located just outside the Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station.
It’s hard to miss the pink glow of the Alexa Centre, which is strategically placed within striking distance from the iconic Alexanderplatz. In addition to 5 levels of shopping, the shopping centre features a large children’s play area as well as the largest model railway in the world.
To reach the Alexa Centre, exit S and U-Bahn station Alexanderplatz.
Antikmarkt am Ostbahnhof
Berlin isn’t short on traditional markets. For antiques and cold war artifacts, head to the Antikmarkt (Antique Market) located just outside of the city’s Ostbahnhof (East Train Station). In addition to an array of antiques spanning a few centuries of European history, visitors can also sample traditional Berlin street food while they browse.
Eating Out in Berlin
As a truly international city, Berlin features a host of amazing restaurants spanning cuisines across the world. Catering to any budget, Berlin is home to its own unique brand of street food which can be had for just a few Euros, while there is also a growing number of gourmet restaurants with Michelin-star chefs.
Well-priced and accessible, Curry 36 is an excellent place to begin a culinary tour of Berlin. Serving the city’s famous currywurst, the famous street food staple can be found in Mehringdamm and Hardenbergplatz. Curry 36 is popular with both locals and tourists, so don’t be surprised to find snaking lines of hungry customers during peak times.
Tucked away in Charlottenburg is a popular Cantonese and Pan-Asian restaurant frequented by those looking for authentic Asian cuisine in the heart of Europe. Incorporating authentic ingredients into a dizzying array of dishes including traditional Peking duck, wonton soup and century eggs with jellyfish, patrons are guaranteed to go home happy and full.
Located within the Regent Hotel in central Berlin, Fischers Fritz is the home of two-star michelin chef Christian Lohse, who focuses his efforts on amazing seafood dishes. Despite the prestige, the restaurant’s two-course lunch menu is surprisingly affordable at 35 Euros.
Their are a large number of Asian and Arabic restaurants in Berlin.
Nightlife in Berlin
Berlin’s nighttime offerings range from stereotypical European discotheques to more eclectic haunts attracting residents and visitors from all walks of life.
One of Berlin’s more sophisticated clubs, this Kreuzberg hotspot boasts fabulous views of the Spree River while supplying its patrons with a steady stream of electro, house and techno music.
As its name might suggest, this establishment is home to two separate clubs which together make for what is by far Berlin’s most frequented clubbing destination. Located just outside Berlin’s East Train Station, the well designed complex features a top-notch sound system and a liberal attitude.
A mainstay of the Berlin punk scene, head to Supamolly for a peek into the city’s alternative nightlife. The venue plays host to local punk acts on a regular basis and attracts an eclectic crowd.
Anything of local interest
Festival of Lights
A relatively new tradition in Berlin, the Festival of Lights is fast becoming the highlight of the city’s fall tourist season. Each October, the city’s landmarks are illuminated by a dazzling display of colorful lights for 12 nights. The Berliner Dom, Charlottenburg Palace, Brandenburg Gate and more all transform into spectacles of light during the festival, which features special night time ‘light tours’ of the city.
Each year, tourists from all around the world flock to Germany to experience the nation’s many traditional Christmas markets. In the month preceding Christmas, Berlin hosts several large Christmas markets to the delight of visitors and locals alike.
The Spandau Christmas Market is the largest in town and is set within a beautiful old square. The market boasts an incredible 400 stalls on weekends in addition to regular live entertainment, live animals, a carousel and more. Stalls feature traditional Christmas decorations and gifts from Germany and other parts of the world, in addition to traditional foods such as mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. If Spandau is not enough, Christmas markets can also be found at Charlottenburg Palace, Potsdamer Platz, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial and Gendarmenmarkt.
Despite the chilly temperatures, movie stars from around the world flock to Berlin in February to attend the Berlin Film Festival. Held over 10 days, the festival spans 15 separate venues featuring everything from independent to blockbuster and foreign films. In addition to red carpet events and priority screenings, festival attendees can watch films to their heart’s content buy purchasing tickets at participating venues.