Berlin is a city that is perhaps often overlooked by the masses as a typical holiday destination. However, the popularity of the ‘city break’ has started to rise, Berlin is back on the map, and has become a city worth visiting at any time of year. With a fascinating history and a vibrant cultural scene there is much to see and do here. As for the city residents, they couldn’t be more welcoming or friendly. Not only does nearly everyone have a decent, if not perfect level of English, but they are more than happy to stop, help, even go out of their way to make sure that you have a good time. With different districts offering visitors completely different experiences, it seems rather London-esque with no central hub, rather several different boroughs, each with their own unique atmosphere and lots for the discerning travelers to enjoy.
Berlin has seen boom in tourism over the last few years and with that several areas have had a bit of an overhaul. Once almost forgotten regions such as Neukölln which was a few years ago considered dangerous, run down and dull, now has had a complete and rather fabulous makeover, and is one of the hippest areas in town. Massive parks, a wealth of cozy bars and pubs, fantastic nightlife (including possibly the coolest club in Europe), excellent cuisine, and lots of arts and cultural sites to get your claws into, Berlin really is a city that should be rising up your list of must see places to go to.
So if you do (and you really should) decide to head to Berlin, what are the best things to see and do? Obviously the more time you have in the capital the better it is as this will allow you to experience the loveliness of Berlin life. However if you are visiting for just a short while, or have a particular time of year that you are thinking about coming, below we have listed the top ten must see things to visit and do, ones which will give you a good insight into what beautiful Berlin is all about.
The Berlin Wall Memorial & Checkpoint Charlie
Even those who are least bothered about culture and history read about the Berlin wall, credit to its interesting history. And just in case you could not then there isn’t much to worry, you can head straight to the official Berlin Wall Memorial , north of central Berlin on Bernauer Strasse and learn all. The houses that now stand here indicate the line where the border ran. Here you can find an information centre which tells you all about the walls history and its construction. There is also a viewing tower where you can observe part of the actual wall itself that has been restored, where, if you walk round it, you can peer through the gaps to view the ‘death strip’ as it was known.
You can also visit ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ the most famous crossing point from East to West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie is a symbol of the Cold War and is located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin. For something a little more light-hearted it is here that you can get your passport stamped and pose for pictures with the mock border guards dressed in the official uniform for a couple of Euros or so!
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
If you enjoy architecture the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is sure to delight. The ridged, golden yellow building with its slanted, tent-like roof is truly unique and simply admiring it from the outside is something that is certainly worth going for. However if orchestral music is right up your street then you are in for a treat, as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra hosts some of the best in the world. Renowned director Sir Simon Rattle has taken it to new heights and you can even experience it for free. Every Tuesday free lunchtime concerts are held where new up and coming musicians will perform. Be warned -despite the impressive interior, the audience members are asked to sit on the floor so bring something soft to sit on and make sure you get there early!
Check out the View
Berlin has some fantastic architecture and if you want a spectacular view of the city skyline then head to the Panoramapunkt at the top of the brick Kollhoff tower on Potsdamer Platz. Here, Europe’s fastest elevator will take you 100 meters skywards where you can let yourself be truly awestruck by the panoramic view of the city. In the summer however let nature take its course and take a stroll up to the incredibly pretty Kreuzberg hill in Viktoriapark. Admire the gorgeous natural waterfall, take a picnic and enjoy the awesome view - you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Take a tour with a difference
If you don’t have a great deal of time to do the tourist routes in a leisurely fashion, one of the fastest and best ways to learn a lot about the city is to take a tourist tour, where a guide will show you some of the most important historical and cultural sites. Of course as with all popular cities there are dozens to choose from some far better than others. You can be a part of the walking tours conducted around the city. They show you a unique and detailed side to the city that you wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. The tours are guided by lovers of the city, so you are sure to get people who are passionate, knowledgeable and can show you bits of Berlin that you might not have otherwise discovered.
A city break is not complete without a trip to a market. There is nothing better than perusing stalls, haggling with the owners and coming away with a fantastic bargain that will serve as a memory of your trip for a long time. Makethalle 9 is a wonderful farmers market where the atmosphere is one of lively hustle and bustle and you can pick up some fantastic local food. There are restaurants within the market itself which are perfect to grab lunch in and serve excellent organic food at very reasonable prices. Every Thursday evening there is a street food market and the newfangled Heidenpeters microbrewery trades its incredible beers on market days.
Not for those with two left feet, Clärchens is a perfect example of an old school dance hall. Having been going since September 1913, you really get a sense of the history and animation of the place. Here Berliners could meet up and boogie the night away to classic tunes of the era. You can check out the old photographs of them doing just that by the entrance. In recent times the Clärchens is a fantastic social space where visitors can enjoy great German cuisine and brilliant dance nights where classic ballroom dance forms such as the tango, foxtrot and salsa take place. At the weekend expect something a little more youthful as the popular schwoof parties take place, where it’s all about the live music, the laughter, and most importantly the fun!
Tempelhofer Freiheit Park
Getting out and about in the fresh air isn’t always easy in a big city, however if that’s what you fancy then Tempelhofer Freiheit Park is the place to go. An erstwhile airfield which only closed in recent years can be found in the heart of up and coming Neukölln. There is something pretty special about the atmosphere of this place where now many festivals and parties are held. Somewhat bleak in winter with its strange towering sculptures, in summer it is a family friendly place of fun and frolics. There is over 2km of runway which still exists. Some old planes are still parked up and the terminal building is now used for events and tours. Several patches of the land have been taken over by keen gardeners and are now used as allotments where flowers and vegetables are grown. The space is now popular with dog walkers, cyclers and joggers, kite boarders and roller skaters.
Let’s face it; a holiday just isn’t a holiday unless you can relax at the end of it all with a nice local beverage. Barvaria is Germany's most popular local beer and certainly worth a try. There are great pubs and bars in every area of the city, so why not try a few? A recent trend in the city amongst many bar owners is to ‘brew your own’ so if you fancy something entirely unique then head to a bar that does just that such as the lively Hops & Barley in the Friedrichshain district, or, during the warmer months head to the oldest Biergarten (beer garden) in town to reach to Prater Garten, which has the proud title of being, and sells its very own Prater Pils.
Get off the beaten track
Berlin has a great many weird and wonderful places that are hidden in its corners and outskirts, you just have to be willing to get out there and find them! If you aren’t sure where to go just check out one of the many websites dedicated to finding these secret spots. An abandoned amusement part, for example should be high on the list, and has an eerie yet magical ambiance as the rides still stand yet are tardily being engulfed by the forest that grows around them! Other hotspots for those who like to explore the hidden city wonders are the Beelitz Heilstätten hospital which is reportedly extremely haunted, and the old CIA listening post situated on Teufelsberg hill which can be found to the west of the city.
Celebrate life at a Berlin festival!
If you are in the party mood come at a time where there is a party going on. Festivals in Berlin are plentiful and held throughout the year. In fact, if you can bear to brave the harsh Berlin Winter then the Berlinale Film Festival organized every year in February, is a true treat for film buffs and more casual cinema goers alike. You can find relief from the bitter winter air in cozy cinemas and be treated to an amazing range of films; both old and new. Summer celebrations such as MyFest street festival held in Kreuzberg District, are fantastic for those who like to have a good time. Food stalls, drinks, live music and dancing go on until the wee small hours at the beginning of May. For those who perhaps like something a little more demure and sophisticated then in October the magical Festival of Lights takes place where the most popular and recognized buildings and landmarks are lit up in unique and often very colorful ways.
So there you have it, ten great experiences, sights, and activities to ensure that you make the most of your time in Berlin. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this fantastic, vibrant and fascinating city has to offer, so much so that we might just have to come back again and again.