Reigning champions of the World Cup; home to some of the world’s best-made cars; renowned for their picturesque castles and famous for over 2 millennia of history, Germany’s your next destination and the first stop: its capital city, beautiful Berlin!
Some quick 101s:
While Alexanderplatz, the heart of Mitte (directly translated to mean middle) seems to be where much of the tourist activity is at, you’ll find that many of the attractions are scattered in either the East or West part of the city, reflective of its 40-year division pre-Cold War. So whether you choose to stay in hipster Kreuzberg, laid-back Pankow or upscale Charlottenburg, pick somewhere near the U- or S-Bahn and you’ll be set for the entire trip.
Credit: Travel Noire
The Germans are known to be super organized and efficient so don’t worry about getting around, how good their services are or what accessibility will be like at the places you’re keen to go to. The best way to explore the city is to have a few things you absolutely want to do, with some space for the “if-you-have-time” extras.
There is also little to worry about with eating halal. Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey which goes without saying that döner kebabs have become something of a local delicacy with one of every street corner. There are plenty of multi-kulti supermarkets stocking a wonderful range of halal meat (halal sausages in Germany is a dreaaam). The city also has a great awakening to really yummy vegetarian options on just about any menu.
So on with it! Here are some top recommendations for taking on Berlin for the first time.
1. Take a tour!
Credit: Berlin City Tours
Berlin’s a walking city so sign on to one of the free walking tours available. The New Berlin Tour starts from Hitler’s Bunker and ends at the magnificent Gendarmenmarkt (a square of breath-taking German and French cathedrals). But if you’re up for a real treat, there is nothing quite like seeing Berlin by river. The Spree River Cruise is between one and a half to three hours of peacefully floating through this grand city, past some beautiful buildings such as the Reichstag, the Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island. What I liked by starting with a cruise is being able to soak in the city feels in absolute relax and seeing what Berliners typically do along the riverbed.
Credit: Bjørn Grøtting
#HHWT Tip: Germans take their bread very seriously. Not only do they house the most bakeries in the world but also consume more varieties of bread than any other country. So if you want to live like a local, get on with the programme and commit to one of my favourite German traditions, their bread culture! From rye-based sour dough, spelt and wheat flours, the favourites are packed with grains and seeds. They’re also big on cheese, so stock up on a good choice of spreads – like goats cheese or curd, marmalade, honey and a soft-boiled egg, and you’ve got yourself a typical German breakfast!
Credit: Zum Stullenglück
If you hop off at Pergamonmuseum from the Spree River Cruise, you’re a 10-minute walk away from one of the top-rated bakeries, Wiener Brot, featuring organic wood-fire oven breads with Austrian roots. The anise, fennel and caraway bread comes highly recommended as does the spelt-rye bread with sunflower and pumpkin seeds – best enjoyed hot with fresh butter.
Address: Tucholskystraße 31, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Directions: Closest train station: Oranienburger Tor (U-Bahn) or Berlin Oranienburger Straße (S-Bahn)
If you are coming from the pier, cross the Spree and follow the directions to Wiener Brot:
Opening Hours: 7am-7pm Monday to Friday, 8am-4pm Saturday
2. See the historic landmarks of Mitte
Now that you’ve seen the façade of most of the main buildings along the Spree, spend some solid hours seeing (and taking selfies with) them up close. Mitte is an absolute sight to behold – particularly the highlights between Tiergarten and Alexanderplatz. See the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Rotes Rathaus, the TV tower, the Victory Column and Berlin Cathedral. It will take 2-3 hours on foot but you can do this real quick by jumping into one of the many BikeTaxis that will be happy to take you past the places of your choice for anywhere between €20-35 depending on how long the ride is and how many people there are.
Credit: A Travel for Taste
#HHWT Tip: For a sweet treat you can find in any traditional German bakery, look for the Berliner. It has different names in other parts of Germany, sometimes called kreppel, krapfen,or pfannkuchen but means the same sweet, yeasted donut which is deep-friend and filled. The favourites are sugar-dusted with plum jelly filling or glazed with marmalade. But there are also those with chocolate, lemon or vanilla filling – all equally good. And for some of the really traditional stuff, Bäckerie Ladewig has them in giant sizes!
Address: Oppelner Str. 4, 10997 Berlin
Directions: Closest train station: Schlesisches Tor (U-Bahn)
Find the bakery here:
Opening Hours: 5am – 7pm Monday to Friday; 6am – 7pm Saturday; 8am – 5pm Sunday
3. Visit Museum Island
Credit: Roland Zink
If you’re a history buff, then you cannot miss Museum Island! A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s an ensemble of buildings and artefacts dating as early as the 1800s. The Pergamonmuseum is famous for its archaeological holdings, with a collection of Classical Antiquities, Ancient Near East and Islamic Art. The Bode Museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures, Byzantine Art and coins. The Neues Museum suffered from severe damage during the war and was left in ruins until 1999 where it underwent massive restoration works. If you like Ancient Egypt, this one’s for you. The Alte Nationalgalerie houses works in the Classicist, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and early Modern styles. The Altes Museum showcases the city’s main collection of ancient art and sculpture and a gold treasury.
Credit: Rainer Güttgemann
#HHWT Tip: If you’re up for some Asian fusion, check out Shiso Burger that has a range of meat-free burgers that are very tastefully done. You’ll have a choice of marinated tuna, salmon fillet, black tiger shrimp, tofu and Portobello mushrooms accompanied with complementary fillings such as grilled aubergine, blue cheese and gravy teriyaki. Be sure to also have a side of their perfectly crisp sweet potato fries!
Address: Augustraße 29c, 10119 Berlin
Directions: Closest train station: U Rosenthaler Platz (U-Bahn)
From Rosenthaler Straße, take a right on Auguststraße to find Shiso Burger on the map:
Opening Hours: 12pm-12am Monday to Sunday
4. Explore World War II landmarks
Credit: Adam Barrell
The dark history of Berlin is an experience that is unlike any other city. Opt for a World War II or Cold War tour for an insider’s view on key signposts of the rise and fall of the Hitler regime or choose to spend more hours focusing on one place at a time. Important spots include Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Memorial, Typography of Terror, Bendler Block and the Berlin Wall. All these locations are scattered across the city so be sure to include travel time in between if you’re planning to see them all.
Credit: Berlin Wall Memorial
The Berlin Wall must be the whole reason you’ve come. So start at the Visitor Centre and Documentation Centre for a history of the memorial and video screenings of the Cold War and then walk along the border strip with multiple stops including the Chapel of Reconciliation, Ghost Stations, the Monument and Memorial Grounds which all include first-person accounts earmarked along the remnants of the wall. If you wanted to see a longer stretch of the wall, the most popular spot is 15 minutes away at the Ostbanhof nearer to Checkpoint Charlie with entire sections beautifully hand-painted with artistic graffiti.
Address: Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin, Germany
Directions: Closest train station: Berlin Nordbanhof (S-Bahn)
Find the starting point on the map here:
Opening Hours: 8am-10pm Monday to Sunday
#HHWT Tip: After all that hot and heavy stuff, you’re probably ready for a little pick-me-up. It’s actually quite random but the Germans have developed a penchant for Curry and have engineered their own version – the Currywurst! It’s usually made with pork sausage but we did a little digging and discovered one made of halal beef out in Moabit, about 20 minutes from Mitte at a quaint little Turkish joint called Döner Turm.
Credit: Visit Hamburg
Address: Döner Turm, Wilhemshavener Straße 1, 10551 Berlin
Directions: Closest train station: Turmstraße (U-Bahn). The shop is located directly on the U-Bahn station:
Opening Hours: 9am – 1am Monday to Sunday
5. Stroll across luscious parks in gorgeous green
Credit: Schloss Appartements
With over a whopping 2,500 green spaces to choose from, even the slightest hint of sunshine in Berlin brings everyone outdoors into the parks. Take a break from crowded museums and noisy shopping centres for some peaceful quiet of Berlin’s green lungs. Tiergarten is an expansive inner-city sanctum that straddles the east and the west with running trails, a lake, a beer garden and the Berlin Zoo nestled within its greater fringes. But my favourite is the Schlosspark Charlottenburg which is Germany’s first baroque garden with multiple playgrounds, grounds of Queen Luise’s mausoleum, the small Rococo pavilion Balvedere and the Charlottenburg Palace – the largest in Berlin.
#HHWT Tip: For families, Berlin will be a real treat because the city is super friendly to their little residents with a social innovation called Kindercafe’s. You’ll be able to find a café oriented for little children and their families in just about any neighbourhood which is god-sent for tykes and their parents looking to catch a break! Not only are their menus friendly to kids – think babycinos and proportionate, soft and healthy foods – but they also always come with amazing play areas that will occupy the little ones for hours! Kiezkind is decked out with an indoor sandpit, a reading area and an outdoor playground with trikes, bobby cars, rocking horses and bouncing animals.
Credit: Berlin for All the Family
Address: Auf dem Helmholtzplatz 1, 10437 Berlin
Directions: Closest train station: Eberswaldee Straße (U-Bahn) and Berlin Prenzlauer Allee (S-Bahn). The café is nestled in its own square in the Prenzlauer suburb on this map:
Opening Hours: 12pm – 6pm Monday to Friday; 10am – 6pm on weekends
Have a magical time in Berlin!
P.S. Did you know the famous Disney palace was modelled after Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle?