Berlin City Guide
Once a city of two halves, since the falling of its dividing wall Berlin has transformed itself into a multi-faceted yet cohesive capital that is at the forefront of technology, entertainment and culture.
Things to see and do in Berlin
Images of the fall of the Berlin Wall are amongst the most iconic of the ending of the Cold War, and no visit to the city would be complete without seeing for yourself the remains of the structure that once divided it. While much was demolished in 1990, one particular stretch has been carefully restored along the border of Wedding and Mitte, while another section at Freidrichshain-Kreuzberg can be walked along. Visit Checkpoint Charlie, which has been reborn as a tourist centre, or admire the preserved artworks along the stretch now known as the East Side Gallery.
For more background on the East Berlin of the Cold War years, visit the DDR Museum where you can be treated to an amazing interactive experience topped off with a tour of the city in a Trabant.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Museum Island is not to be missed, and is worth a visit not just for its eclectic collection but for its awe-inspiring location in the middle of the Spree. And if modern art floats your boat, make sure you squeeze in a visit to the Bauhaus Museum.
For an alternative bird’s-eye view of the city, head to the Panoramapunkt on the upper floors of the Kollhoff Tower, home to Europe’s fastest elevator.
Parks and leisure spaces in Berlin
The Grunewald Forest is the largest green area in Berlin and makes the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you choose to explore on foot, by bike or on horseback, there is plenty to entertain adults and children alike, from play areas and freshwater lakes to picnic clearings and cafés in which to enjoy a hearty slice of homemade cake.
Mauer Park is a popular destination both for a leisurely stroll and for a spot of bargain hunting at the Sunday flea market where you will find everything from furniture to food, while Berlin Zoo is the perfect place to entertain the little ones.
At the west of the city, the Schloss Charlottenburg palace and gardens are well worth a visit for a wander through the greenery and a walk through the former summer retreat of Queen Sophie-Charlotte, wife of Friedrich, the first king of Prussia.
Shopping in Berlin
The North Mitte is one of Berlin’s leading shopping areas, home to quirky boutiques and emerging designer names. For high-street names head to Friedrichstrasse, which is also home to KaDeWe, the largest department store in Europe which stocks just about everything under the sun for every budget imaginable. Alexanderplatz is home to the Alexa mall, with 180 different stores to choose from, or head to Hackischer Markt for a wide range of stalls stocking youth brands and an eclectic mix of bars and restaurants to keep you fuelled during your shopping spree.
Eating and drinking in Berlin
Eating and drinking in Berlin is as diverse as the city’s broad cultural mix. From currywürst on street stalls to Michelin-starred dining, this city really does have it all. Indulge the old school and head to Heising with its 1920s décor, or visit Hugo’s at the Hotel Intercontinental, probably Berlin’s hottest restaurant of the moment. A huge selection of mid-priced bars and restaurants awaits elsewhere, serving high-quality food at mostly affordable prices, and for those who like to eat on the run, Berlin has been declared the kebab capital of the world – perfect for indulging those late-night hunger pangs after a night on the tiles.
Berlin is considered to be the home of European techno and this vibrant city does all it can to live up to its reputation. The Berghain Panorama Bar is perhaps the best known techno venue, though there are many other offerings throughout the city that are open for serious dancing from dusk until dawn. Other house and dance venues include the Salon Zur Wilden Renate and Watergate on the banks of the Spree, with its notorious floating deck terrace.
With so much going on it can be daunting knowing where to start, but thankfully Berlin has several quality listings magazines and websites which are the perfect place to find out who is playing where and when. Not limited to house music, they provide details on all forms of musical genre, from jazz to classical via R and B.
When to visit Berlin
Berlin is best visited in summer, when the sun is shining and the city’s residents flow out onto the streets, populating the many bars and cafes, enjoying the parks, rivers and lakes and enjoying the many cultural events that take place throughout the city. In general, the summer season lasts from May to September but there is also plenty to be enjoyed outside these months, as is befitting of a major European capital city.
Winter is decidedly chilly in Berlin, although in real terms temperatures are not wildly different from those in London or the north of England. Summer is warm, spring and autumn pleasant, and showers can be expected any time from January to December.
Hotel accommodation in Berlin is refreshingly affordable, though prices are rising. Many local designers are indulging their creative fantasies, creating themed hostels and hotels that add a refreshing quirky edge to your stay. For wild animal themes head to the Hotel Zoo Berlin or the 25-Hour Bikini Hotel with its forested décor and funky prints. The Circus Hostel is a comfortable low-budget alternative offering excellent value for money, while at the other end of the scale there are luxury hotels galore such as the Waldorf Astoria, the Ritz Carlton and the imposing Soho House.