‘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.
Enjoy this Berlin travel guide.
An undercurrent of individual expression, youthfulness, creativity and alternative energy flows through Berlin, and you’ll notice it in every aspect of the city’s vibrant cultural scene.
Structurally, the city 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 C/O 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.
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. It marked the border of the divided East and West Berlin.
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.
While it would be easy to blow your entire holiday budget on Michelin-starred dining experiences in Berlin, 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!
Fashionistas looking to shop up a storm in Berlin will find everything from designer labels to bohemian chic.
Start your holiday shopping spree at Bikini Berlin in Charlottenberg. This urban design concept mall showcases Berlin’s love affair with architecture, fashion and lifestyle. Up and coming designers mix with uber-cool cafes and eateries. Make sure you head up to the rooftop garden, which boasts fabulous views of the city and the 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.
Berlin’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.
For a unique recreational experience, visit Tempelhofer Feld. This former airport is great place to chill, or take advantage of the six-kilometre cycling, skating and jogging trail.
Thanks to patient drivers, wide roads and a culture of sustainability, bikes are a popular way of getting around Berlin. Hire a bike and immerse yourself in life on the city’s streets.
However, if that sounds way too much like hard work while on holiday, stop at a riverside bar like Club Der Visionaere and dangle your feet in the cool refreshing water as the reflected clouds drift slowly by.
Five tours we love
This popular guided walking tour is fantastic value and will give you an insight into the conflict between the Western world and the communist world that took place over four and a half decades. You’ll see the Berlin Wall and hidden areas of the Death Strip, former guard towers and underground ‘Ghost Stations’. This tour is a Berlin must-do!
See the main sights of the city and sample some of its tastiest tucker on this four-hour walking tour. You’ll visit six authentic Berlin eateries to taste-test a range of local specialties.
Do as the locals do and navigate your way around Berlin by bicycle. This bike tour is a fun way to explore, and you’ll be thoroughly entertained by your local guide.
Germany has a rich history of brewing, and Berliners love their beer! On this three-hour beer tour, you’ll visit three venues for a beer tasting at each.
Board an evening cruise on the River Spree to see Berlin by night. A three-course dinner and two drinks are included.
Do you have any tips to add to our Berlin travel 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 presenter with the Nine Network and an avid traveller. Her travels began with a flight to Egypt, a visit to the pyramids and a camel ride and instantly she knew there was no turning back. Since then Vanessa’s backpack has seen a thing or two, from discovering relatively untouched Bhutan to bracing the cold winds on the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro. Her travel tales span nearly 50 countries. Combining a love of writing, photography and exploring the unknown, Vanessa is pleased to share her adventures with The Big Bus tour and travel guide readers.