Berlin had been high on my bucket list for ages. It’s one of those popular Western European Cities that you feel you have to visit isn’t it? At one point, a few years ago, after seeing a lot of expat bloggers move to Berlin to use it as a base I was convinced that I needed to live there one day too. It’s funny how you can decide you want to move to a city yet have never visited it!
Anyway, my luck came when lastminute.com invited me to attend Lollapalooza Berlin Festival with them (hint, I loved the festival! It’s held in Berlin in September and you can read here why I loved it so much and how you can attend next year!) and between attending the festival I got to spend 3 days seeing Berlin.
I didn’t get to see everything. I had hoped to get under the skin of Berlin a bit more than I did but I feel that that’s what second visit’s to cities are for. Do you agree? Instead, I visited a fair few of the main tourist attractions but also some spots that I didn’t know about or expect to visit, and I ate some delicious food! The perfect city break hey?
Here’s a lowdown on what I got up to Berlin and what I’d recommend you do too if it’s your first time visiting Berlin!
How to get to the city from the airport.
I flew into Berlin Schönefeld Airport from Gatwick, London with EasyJet. Let’s say that this will not be your greatest experience in Berlin that’s for sure. A new airport is in construction next to the old one however its completion keeps getting pushed farther and farther into the future. The old airport is left over from the communist era which is why there are a lot of corridors and big rooms. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
Schönefeld Airport is connected to the city by an Express Airport Train between 5:00-23:00 so its super quick and easy to get into the city. Simply follow the signs for the train station out of the airport. Buy a ticket from the machine – the airport is in zone C and the centre of Berlin is zone A so you’ll have to purchase a A-C zone ticket for a few euros. Once you get into the underground passage the platform for the express train into the city is right at the end on your right and it has signs in English to say its the platform for the city. Make sure you validate your ticket by finding the little ticket machine on the platform. Simply put the ticket inside until the machine clicks.
Double check the train before you get on. Not all trains from these 2 platforms go into the city but if it states it’s going to Berlin Alexanderplatz then you’ll be on the right train into the city!
Tip: on your way home, get to the airport as late as possible as this isn’t an airport you want to be sitting around in!
Where to stay.
I stayed in the Radisson Park Inn Hotel in Alexanderplatz which is a really nice hotel and very central. Alexanderplatz is one of the main train stations so it was easy to get to and from the airport from here, and to and from the festival, as well as being walking distance to everywhere I visited in the City.
Oh and you can Base Jump off of the top of the hotel as its Berlin’s tallest building, incase that takes you’re fancy! I saw someone fly past my window whilst I was getting ready to head out! (You can see the ropes in the below picture taken from my room!)
As an alternative place to stay I would recommend saying in the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg as this is a really cool area with lots of places to eat and drink (more on that below) so if that’s your priority then it’ll mean less travelling between meals and nights out!
Which iconic spots to visit.
A lot of Berlin’s iconic spots centre around the war, and rightly so. This city went through a lot and when visiting it’s only right to see them and remember the past. There are a number of things that don’t relate to the war though so there’s a good balance, here goes:
Museum Island is a UNESCO site in the middle of the River and is home to.. you guessed it! Many museums! I didn’t visit any of the museums and the area was very much under construction when I visited but it was nice to walk through the island and see the impressive architecture. The Cathedral was one thing I really wanted to see in Berlin and it certainly didn’t disappoint as it’s a stunning building!
Tip: If it’s raining and you think visiting a museum is a good way to get out of the rain then expect that everyone else has thought of this too! I talk from experience!
From Museum Island myself and Kara from Heels in my Backpack, who I was visited with, walked down to Brandenburg Gate. This gate is iconic because it used to symbolise the gateway divide of East and West Germany. These days its full of people taking selfies, myself included, but it’s quite an impressive structure too so it can’t be missed!
Tip: If you want to get a photo or see the gate without any other people round then you need to get there first thing! My friend recently took a photo there at 5:45am and there was still someone else in the photo!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
I have seen so many photos of this memorial but I was not prepared for what it actually looks like and how I actually felt. Firstly the 2711 columns are all different sizes and the ground is not flat, its waves up and down which I didn’t expect. It has been designed like this to give visitors a feeling of uncertainty and I certainly felt this. When surrounded by the big columns I got a real sense of claustrophobia and a feeling that I was all of a sudden very tiny.
Walking through here and taking time to stop and think about the past isn’t nice but its a must.
Tip: Don’t be a disrespectful idiot and use the columns as a photoshoot location!
I wasn’t too bothered about seeing this but we stumbled upon it whilst on the way to West Berlin Cafe (more on that later too). It’s very touristy, you can take photos with the guards if you so wish but a long with a lot of Berlin’s iconic points it does have an important history as it became the most famous crossing point between East and West Germany.
Remains of the Berlin Wall in Potsdamer Platz
Near Potsdamer Station are the remains of the Berlin Wall. This area is far away from the East Side Gallery which is now very popular with its street art so its interesting to see just a few parts of the wall in the middle of a very built up and modern area. Potsdamer isn’t far from Checkpoint Charlie and is close to the Berlin Mall.
Tip: If you need a toilet break then head to the Berlin Mall just up the road!
The East Side Gallery
I didn’t expect the East Side Gallery to be next to a main road but it is. What I did expect though was a lot of incredible street art pieces and that’s exactly what it is! Again this wall is hugely important in terms of remembering the past and the divide of East and West Berlin but it’s also a memorial for freedom and the future. It’s possibly the largest and longest-lasting open air gallery in the world and I hope it stays like that.
I could see the TV Tower from my hotel bedroom window and I didn’t go up the tower to the viewing platform as I had a pretty good view from my hotel room too but if you don’t have this luxury then a trip to the top of the TV Tower would be worth it to see Berlin beneath you! You can also grab a drink or have a meal up there if you book ahead!
Which not-so iconic spots to visit.
As I said, I didn’t get to visit as many local spots as I wanted but I did visit a few gems that I didn’t associate with ‘Iconic, touristy Berlin’ so here they are:
If you’re in Berlin on a Sunday then you have to take a stroll up to Mauerpark. Open pretty much all day this flea market is home to many many stalls selling a range of things as well as many food stalls. It’s popular with locals as well as tourists giving it a great vibe. Kara and I had a wander around the stalls, grabbed a coffee and then sat in the park. It was a great way to start the day and what I loved is that we walked through some really residential areas to get to Mauerpark meaning I got to imagine where I could possible live if I do/had moved to Berlin!
To find Zola (where I had the most amazing pizza, more on that below too!) Kara and I took a walk a long Landwehr Canal or Landwehrkanal as its called in German. We started at Ratiborstraße/Paul-Lincke-Ufer at the very Eastern end of Kreuzberg and walked a long it for a few hundred meters. Walking a long it we felt completely removed from city life. It was like we were in a whole different place and I realised that we had stumbled upon a gem that you don’t see from getting on a tourist bus but you do get from simple wanderings.
Activities to do
Free Walking Tour
I didn’t get to do a walking tour on this trip but I usually love walking tours.. especially free ones! It would have been really interesting to learn a bit more about the city from a local due to it’s incredible history and size!
Alternative Walking Tour
My friend did an alternative walking tour in Berlin which she highly recommended. These tours take you beyond the tourist destinations underground and to see some street art and graffiti that you would not see visiting on your own!
Berlin is a city that’s set up for bikes with lots of bike lanes so bike tours are popular too. My friend also did a bike riding tour with Fat Tire Tours which she said was an awesome way to get a lot of the big touristy things done!
Hire a Trabant to drive around the city in
Whilst walking around Berlin we saw a few very old-looking, small cars being driven around the City by what looked like tourists. Further research has informed me that you can hire these old Trabi car’s which were built in East Germany between 1957 and 1990 and see the cities sites in them! If there’s a group of you visiting Berlin this could be a fun way to see the city!
Where to drink
Berlin is a city that is known for its nightlife! However when in big cities like Berlin it can often be hard to find out where to go. Those cool, trendy and local bar’s aren’t easy to find!
Berlin has been split into 4 sections on the map, if you click on a section it will show you bars and iconic music spots in that area and gives you a short intro about them.
For example, earlier in the post I said that Kreuzberg is good for food and drink. Kreuzberg is an area on the map and when you click on it one of the recommendations is a bar called Madame Claude- ‘this interesting and unusual venue is an upside down bar located in a former brothel’, this bar sounds like an interesting place to start your night in Berlin!
There’s also a list of music genres which you can pick from and then bar’s and parts of the city that are relevant to this style of music will appear. For example if you’re into Jazz then the map recommends Van Gagh Piano and Cocktail Bar and Quasimodo, perfect!
Due to being at Lollapalooza festival for both evenings I was in Berlin I couldn’t visit any of the suggested bars however The Berlin Wall is a spot you visit during the day and also a spot on the map. It says that Bloc Party and David Bowie are 2 of the many artists who have been inspired by Berlin and declared their love for the city by writing songs about it… you learn something new everyday hey!
Hofbräu Berlin is an extremely touristy Bavarian style beer hall but it’s fun and worth visiting! I would however, recommend it for the beer over the food!
If you want a big night out in Berlin, and I mean big! Then Berghain is one of the top techno clubs in the world! It sits on the border of Kreuzberg and it’s notorious for being hard to get into as I’ve heard the bouncer just decides who goes in and who doesn’t but if techno’s your thing then can you go to Berlin and not visit? I don’t think so!
Where to grab a coffee
West Berlin Cafe
On our first day Kara and I were keen for a coffee and to get out of the rain but we didn’t have time for touristy rubbish cafes. We wanted a cool, hipster cafe and luckily that’s just what I found! Located down the road from Checkpoint Charlie, West Berlin Cafe is a great spot for a coffee and/or bite to eat. It looked popular with locals and would be a great cafe to work from (note to self incase I ever become a blogger living in Berlin), it’s also a media shop with items to purchase meaning it has an extra cool feel so I’d recommend passing by.
This cafe is slightly out of the centre but if you’re visiting Mauerpark then its worth popping into on the way there or back. It’s a really cute place selling a huge variety of coffees and smoothies in a more residential area of the city and seemingly popular with locals.
Where to eat
If you don’t visit Burgermeister when you’re in Berlin did you even go to Berlin??? The answer’s no.. just FYI!
Burgermeister is now in 2 locations. I visited the one in Kreuzberg (see I told you you have to stay in this area if you like food) and it didn’t disappoint. I went for the plain fries which were a bit plain so I would recommend getting the cheese fries or chilli fries as Kara did as they looked seriously good. I went for the Cheeseburger too which was incredible!!
It’s a really chilled setup, you order at the bar and get given a ticket with your number on, hope to god there’s a table you can sit at, wait for your ticket number to be called in German or appear on the screen if you don’t know any German, pick it up from the bar, get your sauces from the side counter and you’re ready to eat!
Zola is a pizza restaurant also in Kreuzberg, it sells Neapolitan Pizza and let’s say we felt like we could have been in Italy! The pizza was incredible and Zola is located right by the canal so it’s in a lovely area. We visited on a Monday lunch time when it was fairly quiet but I can imagine come evening this place gets busy!
A place I did have on my list but we didn’t have time for is District Mot. Berlin has a big Vietnamese population and I heard that this is one of the best places to visit!
Ok so Currywurst is a German dish rather than a restaurant but you can get it all over Berlin and I would recommend not leaving before you have tried it! I had it at Lollapalooza after a few beers and it was gooood!
Due to attending the festival I didn’t get to visit any other spots in Berlin so if you want more ideas on where to eat and drink then check out Sophie’s blog post- The Ultimate Food and Drink Guide to Berlin and thank you to her for suggesting to go to Zola!
And that should pretty much cover you for your first trip to Berlin!
**If you have any other recommendations or places that are a bit more ‘local’ then let me know by commenting below or tweeting me as I’m sure it’s a city I’ll be heading back to!**