‘After the Berlin Wall came down I visited that city and I will never forget it. The abandoned checkpoints. The sense of excitement about the future. The knowledge that a great continent was coming together.’ David Cameron, British Prime Minister, 2013
Another day begins in Berlin. Cafe doors fling open, bicycle bells ring in the air and coffee-carrying pedestrians stride through picturesque Prenzlauer Berg. This is modern Germany and while it’s orderly, an almost tangible sense of freedom pervades the city.
Since the fall of the wall in 1989, Berlin has become a magnet for the young, hip and happening. It’s a creative, cutting-edge urban centre that offers so much for visitors to see and do.
This Berlin city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
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An undercurrent of individual expression, youthfulness, creativity and alternative energy flows through this city, and you’ll notice it in every aspect of the vibrant cultural scene.
Structurally, Berlin is divided into twelve boroughs. Orientate yourself with a guided walking tour through Mitte, which designates the centre of the city. Other neighbourhoods to explore on foot include Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Friedrichshain and the aforementioned Prenzlauer Berg. All of these are great spots to immerse yourself in Berlin’s buzzing street culture.
From there, it’s time to hit some of the city’s key cultural institutions — starting with the Gemäldegalerie, which houses one of Europe’s most significant collections of works by European masters from the 13th to the 18th centuries. You’ll see works by Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, and more.
There are plenty of cool contemporary arts spaces to check out too. Berlinische Galerie showcases Berlin artists from the late 1800s right through to today, while CO Berlin is a must-visit for photography lovers.
Alongside the River Spree is the East Side Gallery — an intact part of the Berlin Wall which is now an art-scape of political commentary. It’s said to be the longest open-air gallery in the world.
Berlin for history lovers
Behind Berlin’s modern incarnation lies a ragged history.
However, rather than shying away from the atrocities of the first half of the 20th century, the city has clearly documented the past with museums and monuments — many of which are free to enter.
Although kitsch (with actors portraying American soldiers), you have to stand at Checkpoint Charlie for a photo. It was set up in 1961 following the construction of the Berlin Wall, and facilitated crossings between the divided East and West Berlin. A themed Cold War walking tour will bring more of the history of this tense period to life.
Walk across the road to The Wall exhibition, designed by artist Yadegar Asisi. The life-size panoramic depicts life during the divided years.
Other must-sees include the Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and the poignant Holocaust Memorial. Berlin Wall Memorial Park commemorates those who tried to flee East Berlin through apartment windows facing Bernauer Strasse — the street that divided the city for almost 30 years.
Great places to eat in Berlin
While it would be easy to blow your entire holiday budget on Michelin-starred dining experiences, there are plenty of inexpensive ways to connect with the city’s culinary culture.
Street-eats are a popular and low cost way for locals and visitors alike to eat out. Here are some options you shouldn’t pass up:
Currywurst — The humble pork sausage in a sauce of ketchup and curry. You’ll find it being served on most street corners, 24 hours a day.
Doner kebab sandwich — Allegedly invented in Berlin! There are hundreds of doner kebab stands across the city.
Berliner Pfannkuchen — Similar to a jam donut — and just as tasty!
When it comes to choosing great places to eat, there’s no substitute for a local’s knowledge. Book a guided food tour and pick up plenty of recommendations for eateries to check out during the rest of your stay.
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Fashionistas looking to shop up a storm in the German capital will find everything from designer labels to bohemian chic.
Start your holiday shopping spree at the Bikini Berlin concept mall in Charlottenberg, which showcases Berlin’s love affair with design, art, and fashion. The rooftop Monkey Bar is a great spot to revive with a beverage, and boasts fabulous views of the city and monkey house at Berlin Zoo.
Flea markets spring up across the city on weekends. Try the oldest and most famous market just outside the Tiergarten (Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm) or head to Mauerpark (Sunday 7am to 5pm) in Prenzlauer Berg.
Ways to relax in Berlin
The city’s heart beats green with a fabulous 510 acre recreation space called Tiergarten.
Tiergarten is Berlin’s answer to Central Park in New York City or Hyde Park in London. Wander along the 23 kilometres of winding paths or just laze in the sun. The park is close to the iconic Brandenburg Gate.
Thanks to patient drivers, wide roads and a culture of sustainability, bikes are a popular way of getting around Berlin. Hire a bike and chart your own course, or book a bike tour and follow the leader.
For a unique recreational experience, pay a visit to the expansive Tempelhofer Feld. This former airport/now public park features a six-kilometre cycling and jogging trail, and is the perfect spot to throw down a rug and enjoy a picnic.
Browse our range of Berlin day tours and experiences here.
Do you have any tips to add to our Berlin city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Vanessa O’Hanlon is an Australian television news and weather presenter, and an avid traveller. Her travels began with a flight to Egypt, a visit to the pyramids and a camel ride, and she knew there was no turning back. Since then, Vanessa’s backpack has seen a thing or two — from exploring relatively untouched Bhutan to braving the cold on the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro.