There’s so much to do in this town etched with history at every turn. After World War II, the city was split into two – East and West Berlin. Visiting the city, you can still see remnants of the division – including bricks that mark where the Berlin Wall once stood. These days, the unified city is a bustling playground of culture, politics, and commerce. You’ll find government buildings mixed in with monuments that mark significant events of Germany’s past, sprinkled across gorgeous architecture, topped with an unbeatable nightlife. From summer festivals to Christmas Markets, this energetic capital city has a little something for everyone.
Know Before You Go
- Currency: As with other countries in the EU, the currency is the Euro €
- Airport: The main airport you’ll fly into is Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL)
- Language: German is the national language, though you will likely have no problem finding English speakers
- To/From the Airport:
- Taxi: A taxi will cost about 40€+ between the airport and Berlin, depending on traffic. Most (if not all) taxis should accept credit cards, but it’s not a bad idea to have cash handy.
- Uber: Ubers are allowed to pick up and drop off at the airport. My UberX cost 25€.
- Public Transportation: Buses run between the city and the airport, at a cost of under 3€. The ride takes about 40 minutes. You can take either the TXL Express Bus or the Express Bus X9.
- Getting Around:
- While uber exists in this city, it’s still growing in terms of popularity. Wait times may be a little on the longer side (5-10 minutes) since there aren’t as many drivers as you might see in other cities. It’s worth noting that Uber Taxi is an option within the app, and calls a standard taxi. Your taxi fare is paid through the app (though this tends to be more costly than taking an uberX).
- The U-bahn is a very convenient way to get around the city, but with tickets costing 2.70€ each, it made sense for us to take ubers (since there were two of us traveling and ubers were cheap).
- If you’re in town to see the tourist spots, several sights are within walking distance of each other.
- Tipping: Though not expected, if you appreciate the service you receive, you can leave a Euro, or 5-10% of you bill – whatever you feel comfortable leaving.
- Credit Cards vs Cash: While most large establishments (hotels, popular restaurants, stores) will accept credit cards, some smaller shops may prefer or only take cash. Visa and Mastercard are far more widely accepted than American Express.
- ATMs: Popular retail banks in Berlin include Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Postbank, and Dresdnerbank. If you have a Bank of America account, you’ll be able to withdraw money from Deutsche Bank ATMs without incurring an ATM fee (though beware the Foreign Exchange fee, which will usually run you about 3%).
- Neighborhoods – You’ll find most tourist sites in Mitte, but head to Prenzlauer Berg for some of Berlin’s best dining spots. For culture (think: palaces, opera, and manicured gardens), head to Charlottenburg. If you’re looking for Berlin’s up-and-coming graffiti-covered neighborhood, head to Neukölln.
- Must-Try Food: Currywurst (steamed then fried pork sausage covered in curry ketchup), Wiener Schnitzel, and local German beer (a must for any visit to Germany!)
See & Do
- Tiergarten – If you appreciate the outdoors, you’ll enjoy the main park in the city, Tiergarten, where there is tons to see and do, including the Berlin Zoo, gardens, and spaces for picnics, cycling and recreation. Weather permits, it’s a great area to pack lunch and enjoy the greenery. Another option – Cafe am Neuen See on the south-west area of the park overlooking the lake. While you’re walking around, don’t miss the Berlin Victory Column, located in the center of the park. You can visit the base of the column through underground walkways located at corners of the roundabout that circles the monument.
- Reichstag Building – Built in 1894 to house Parliament, the building has a rich history, surviving events like a fire and raids that wore the building down. Reconstructed in the 1990s, the Reichstag Building now boasts a glass dome on the roof, which offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding Berlin skyline. Visiting the roof area is free, but you’ll have to register in advance.
- Brandenburg Gate – Perhaps the most famous symbol of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate is always bustling with visitors coming to see the famed structure, on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.
- Holocaust Memorial – Just one block south of the famed Brandenburg Gate lies, the Holocaust Memorial – a somber, artistic tribute to victims who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
L-R: Berlin Tiergarten taken from Straße des 17 Juni, Victory Column, Brandenburg Gate
- Museum Island – This UNESCO World Heritage site takes its name from the five museums that were built on the island. You’ll find the Altes Museum (Old Museum), Neues Museum (New Museum), Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Bode Museum and Pergamon Museum all within walking distance. One could easily spend all day museum hopping. Even if you’re not a museum person, walking through the area to admire the architecture is well worth the visit.
- Berliner Dom – While on Museum Island, the Berlin Cathedral is a must-visit. Built in 1905, has seen a lot in its days – from a blast that shattered the windows to a fire on the roof. Today, the cathedral has been restored to its original splendor. Located right by the Altes Museum, an admission fee of 7€ is charged for visitors looking to enter the cathedral.
L-R: Altes Museum, Bode Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berliner Dom
- The Berlin Wall Memorial – The memorial spans 1.4 km (or about .86 miles) and is built on a section of where the wall had previously stood along Bernauer Strasse. The open-air space includes remains of the original wall, while metal poles signify where the rest of the wall stood. The memorial features information about the history of the wall, and those who lost their lives because of the division of Germany. If you don’t make it to the memorial, keep in mind that a line of two rows of bricks that cross the city signify where the Berlin Wall once stood.
- Checkpoint Charlie – The former crossing point between West and East Berlin, situated on the territory of former West Berlin that functioned as a checkpoint for those entering East Berlin between 1961 and 1989. Today, the checkpoint is no longer functional, and in its place stands a replica of the old checkpoint house that stood there. The area (and the checkpoint itself) has become incredibly touristy, and may come off as over-hyped and underwhelming, though the history of this spot keeps it on our list. You’ll find actors there today that charge about 4 euro for you to take a photograph with them, and you can have your passport stamped for 3-7 euro (but do note that doing so technically renders your passport invalid, since this is not a legitimate immigration stamp). For more history on the history of the checkpoint, you can visit the nearby Checkpoint Charlie museum, which will cost you 12.50€ per person in admission fees. You can also opt to visit the Black Box Cold War exhibit, which is kitty corner to the north side of checkpoint. This temporary-looking exhibition offers media exhibits, news reels, and photographs from the cold war era and costs 5€.
- Gendarmenmarkt – I visited in November, so this square, which is home to two cathedrals (one French, one German) and the Konzerthaus (concert hall), was decked out as a Christmas Market. Even without the Christmas Markets up, you should come by to see the gorgeous buildings. The square is said to be the most beautiful square in Berlin – and with these artistically crafted buildings, I don’t disagree.
L-R: Remains of the Berlin Wall, Berlin Wall Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt
If you visit Berlin between late November through late December, you’ll be lucky enough to experience Christmas Markets in Berlin. It’s pretty hard not to stumble upon one, even by accident – there are over 60 throughout the city. Here are a few of the popular markets you’ll find while weaving through the city’s sights.
- Gendarmenmarkt – Though we’d recommend visiting anytime of the year to admire the stunning architecture, Gendarmenmarkt hosts arguably the best Christmas Market in Berlin (and charges 1€ to enter – where most do not), so it is definitely worth visiting if you’re in town during the Christmas Season. And for those traveling with their pups – no dogs allowed.
- Berliner Weihnachtszeit am Roten Rathaus – This Christmas market is easy to spot from a mile a way – thanks to its brightly lit in Christmas lights, plus who could miss that Ferris wheel? I liked this market for the cute trinkets it sold (though some items you can easily find at different Christmas Markets) and for the warm atmosphere. Plus – this market has a skating rink!
- Alexanderplatz – A quick five minute walk from the Berliner Weihnachtszeit is the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz. Though I wasn’t as big of a fan of this one, it did seem to have a more varied food selection than its neighbor. It was however, lacking in atmosphere (and this should come as no surprise since this area is more of a transportation hub), but is worth the visit – at least for a quick view of the Fernsehturm (which happens to have a rotating restaurant inside it)
- Schloss Charlottenburg – Though a bit further away from the center of the city, if you happen to be in the area, I loved this Christmas Market. Located right at the Charlottenburg Palace, this Christmas Market has a good mix of food options and great little gifts to buy. It was also much less crowded than the other markets. Only downside? The palace was under construction during my visit.
L-R: Berliner Weihnachtszeit am Roten Rathaus, Christmas Market, Fernsehturm, Alexanderplatz Christmas Market, Schloss Charlottenburg Christmas Market
Eat & Drink
- Katz Orange – Head to Katz Orange for a delicious dinner whipped up with local organic ingredients. This farm to table restaurant offers an extensive wine list (150!), and with a few local beers to round out the menu. If you’re going with meat lovers, we recommend ordering one of the slow roasted (read: 12 hours in the oven) menu items – but these must be ordered by two or more people per table. PS – if you think you want the fries cooked in duck fat, you absolutely do. No matter what you order, you can’t go wrong.
Bergstraße 22, 10115 Berlin
- Cafe Einstein – For a quick and fuss-free breakfast, check out Cafe Einstein, a cozy cafe in Mitte, with a menu that has just a bit of everything. Not to be mistaken with the Einstein Kaffe chain, this cafe coincidentally also serves a good cup of coffee. Due to the location, it falls a little bit on the pricey side, but the laid back, relaxed atmosphere (and walking distance to shops and sights) make it worth it.
Unter den Linden 42, Berlin, Germany
- Sucre et Sal – This adorable French bistro is known for the French Pizza (odd sounding, we know) and cheese and charcuterie platters. Located just steps away from the Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station, this quaint spot is incredibly easy to get to.
Torstraße 132, 10119 Berlin
- Kaschk – It would only be appropriate to commemorate a visit to Germany with a beer. While you can certainly pick up a beer anywhere, we like Kaschk for its wide selection of craft German and European beers.
Linienstraße 40, 10178
L-R: Breakfast at Cafe Einstein, Latte at Cafe Einstein, Salmon at Katz Orange, Breaded pork at Katz Orange
- Westin Grand Berlin – Centrally located to several of the major spots a first-time visitor would want to see, this hotel offers comfortable accommodations and at a great price too. See our review of this hotel here. Room rates run from $140-$180 USD per night.
Friedrichstrasse 158-164, 10117 Berlin
- Hotel Adlon – This hotel is known as a spot frequented by many celebrities and politicians – including a recent visit from President Obama. The property boasts well appointed guest rooms and 13 different types of suites – truly something for all tastes. It’s popular not just for its grand looks but also for its location – it’s steps away from the Brandenburg Gate. Rates run from $220-275 USD per night for a standard guest room.
Unter den Linden 77, 10117 Berlin
- Grand Hyatt Berlin – A contemporary property located in the Potsdamer Platz area, this fantastic hotel offers modern guestrooms, a luxurious spa, and the Grand Club Lounge available to those in club rooms. The Spa is open till 11pm – perfect to unwind after a long day of sightseeing. Don’t miss the heated indoor pool and rooftop terrace with gorgeous city views. Though the hotel has 3 restaurants on-site, the property is walking distance to plenty of restaurants and cafes. Room rates run from $200-$350 USD per night.
Marlene-Dietrich-Platz 2, 10785 Berlin