Being one of the most multicultural city hubs in Europe, Berlin draws all sorts. Musicians, artists, writers, tech startups and wanderers all flock to Germany’s capital city seeking inspiration and, more often than not, a taste of the city’s famous nightlife.
Nowadays it’s easy to forget all that Berlin’s been through in the past century or so. There’s a special vibe here that can’t be replicated anywhere else — an energy and can-do spirit, but more raw and alternative than most other European cities. But every now and then you’ll see a section of the Berlin Wall or an important monument like the Holocaust Memorial and you’ll be reminded that you’re exploring one of the world’s most important cities, with a devastating history.
Be sure to mix history with leisure. There’s plenty of room for both. Berlin is an incredibly green city, with fewer cars than any other city in Germany. This is largely thanks to Berlin’s incredible public transit system. There’s plentiful green space (almost a fifth of the city is covered in trees), including giant parks like Tiergarten. And you’ll find an organic supermarket, restaurant, or café on every corner.
It’s important to know that Berlin is made up of many different districts, each with a very distinctly different feel. Mitte tends to be the tourist center, for example, while places like Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are more alternative. But thankfully you’re never too far from an U-Bahn station.
Check into The Circus Hotel located on Rosenthaler Platz for your first true taste of Berlin eccentricity. Each room is colorfully designed by Sandra Ernst, and with an individual personality.
Other than being one of Berlin’s most environmentally friendly hotels, The Circus also puts a big emphasis on making people feel at home and giving something back to the city. There’s a peaceful rooftop bar and courtyard connected to the restaurant, where you can escape the city when needed. The courtyard looks to Alexanderplatz, and the iconic radio tower. There are organized yoga and fitness classes, and regular events (like readings and talks).
It’s Friday night in Berlin, so head out for some food and drinks. Hop on a train and head to nearby Oranienstrasse, lined with bars and restaurants. For German fare, head to Max and Moritz – it’s been serving schnitzel and pork knuckle for over 100 years. It has survived two World Wars, and still has the kitschy furniture and jazz bands to prove it.
Don’t forget to try the house lager. There’s even a handy vegetarian selection, including the likes of vegetable pasta in spinach and noodle-dumpling omelettes.
For a place well known for its beer consumption, Berlin has a surprisingly large number of classy wine bars. Ottorink is one located just off of Oranienstrasse. Low candlelight, a small tapas menu, and knowledgeable staff will keep you happy…as will the wine selection.
The third wave coffee movement in Berlin has been slow to take off, but you’ll find these sorts of coffee shops popping up more and more often these days. This typically means fair trade beans and organic local milk.
Start your morning out with a fresh brew from The Barn in Mitte. There’s a fine selection of teas as well, and some sweets to tide you over at breakfast.
Then it’s off to Brandenburg Gate to meet with your Sandeman’s walking tour around historical Berlin, sure to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. An experienced guide will lead you through Brandenburg Gate, where Hitler once marched through with his army.
From there you’ll be introduced to the Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, the Luftwaffe Headquarters, and a section of the Berlin Wall. You’ll wrap up in Bebelplatz, the site of the infamous book burning during the Nazi era. The Berliner Dome is also here.
For lunch, grab a seat on the terrace at AIGNER am Gendarmenmarkt. This place specializes in Austrian cuisine, and you can’t leave without a glass of wine from the restaurant’s very own winery.
Walk off your lunch by heading to Museum Island. For a little history lesson, check out the interactive DDR Museum where you can drive a Soviet car and “spy” on your neighbors. The Alte Nationalgalerie is home to some incredible pieces of art, including those of Caspar David Friedrich. There’s also the famous Pergamon Museum, known for its archaeological offerings.
If it’s a nice day, hop on a boat and head down the River Spree for a special view of Berlin.
For dinner, head to Pantry on Friedrichstraße, one of Berlin’s first sustainable restaurants. Chefs Jarno Huhn and Ralf Geisendorf visit local farmer’s markets every day for the freshest foods. You’ll find Iberian-Pacific dishes, as well as German-Asian fusion dishes.
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, you can’t pass up Berlin’s currywurst – a sausage dish with curried ketchup, usually served with fries. For an organic alternative to all the street meat, head to Schöneberg and try some at Witty’s Bioland Imbiss.
Start your morning off by grabbing some healthy food at Fabisch, The Circus Hotel’s restaurant specializing in modern German cuisine.
From here, hop on the train and head to Friedrichshain. Walk the East Side Gallery, the stunning stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into an art gallery. You’ll want to spend some time here taking it all in. The gallery stretches for a kilometer.
Friedrichshain is definitely Berlin’s art center, and even if you’re not overly interested in street art, a guided walking tour with Alternative Berlin is an enlightening experience.
If you’d like to explore trendy Prenzlauer Berg, hop on the S-Bahn and head to Mauerpark. There you’ll find the weekly flea market, home to some incredibly kitsch findings. You’ll see DDR-era furniture next to handmade jewelry sellers, and antique books sitting with stunning fine china. At 4 o’clock, there’s outdoor karaoke in the park.
Ins and Outs
Schönefeld and Tegel are Berlin’s two main airports, and public transportation from there is easily arranged. If you’re staying in Mitte, you’ll likely have to transfer at Alexanderplatz. Taxis from Tegel are affordable, but Schönefeld is quite a distance out.
Buy a tourism transit pass for a week around the city, especially if you’re visiting various neighborhoods. Transit fines are hefty if you’re caught without a ticket.