Berlin Holiday Planning Guide
The country's capital and largest city, Berlin is a diverse urban center boasting a lively nightlife and countless things to do. You're faced with a dizzying array of choices for cafes, clubs, bars, museums, galleries, shops, historic sites, and other places to visit. Berlin's architecture is quite varied. Most of it was severely damaged in the final years of World War II. However, in the last 20 years, the city has become renowned for its mix of renovated old structures and innovative new ones, including fusions of both, such as the Reichstag Building and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. You can see examples of many historic periods within the city center. Look for everything from elegantly restored medieval palaces to ultra-modern steel structures. The latter are famous worldwide for their groundbreaking design. Berlin was once a divided city representing a deep separation between the East and the West. Today, the city throbs with a youthful energy. It's now the heart of the country's commerce, art, and science. And it's an important symbol of European unity and cosmopolitanism.
Best Neighborhoods to Visit in BerlinMitte
: Berlin's central district, Mitte is a place where the city's past and present meet. The neighborhood is the home of some of the city's most well-known attractions, offering some of the best options for sightseeing in Berlin, but it's also a place to go for shopping, dining, and partying. Potsdamer Platz
: One of Mitte's most famous areas, and definitely the busiest part of central Berlin, Potsdamer Platz became a symbol of the city's development after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Once at the frontline of the Cold War, the area is now Berlin's largest commercial hub. Nicholas Quarter
: In the heart of Mitte lies Nicholas Quarter, the reconstructed center of old Berlin. Wandering through this oasis of peace in the busy center of the city is a great addition to any Berlin itinerary. Kreuzberg
: Definitely one of Berlin's most famous and most colorful neighborhoods, Kreuzberg evolved from a poor working class area and now represents a lively center of culture and creativity. Dotted with bars, nightclubs, and galleries, the neighborhood is also home to the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall.
Charlottenburg: Famous for its parks, museums, theaters, fine dining restaurants, and high-end shops, Charlottenburg is one of Berlin's most affluent neighborhoods. Home of an 18th-century royal palace, the area was once a busy center of West Berlin, but the development of Mitte has made it much more tranquil.Friedrichshain
: Once known as the favorite neighborhood of artists and squatters, Friedrichshain has grown into one of Berlin's trendiest areas to live in. Despite modern changes, the area maintains its reputation as one of the best places to go in Berlin if you're looking for a party. Karl-Marx-Allee
: Connecting Friedrichshain and Mitte, this monumental boulevard is a real time capsule of East Berlin's communist past. Built in the 1950s, the street retains many of its original features that provide visitors with a great opportunity to experience life behind the Iron Curtain.Schoneberg
: This area was once the political center of West Berlin where John F. Kennedy famously said "Ich bin ein Berliner," but it's much better-known for its vibrant energy and residents that included Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich, and David Bowie. Today, the neighborhood perfectly combines its historical heritage with a modern lifestyle, and is known as the favorite spot for Berlin's LGBT community.
Things to Do in Berlin
Popular Berlin Tourist AttractionsBrandenburg Gate
: One of most recognizable attractions in Berlin, Brandenburg Gate is in many ways a true symbol of the city. Built in the 18th century as a monument to peace, this imposing arch is definitely something you shouldn't miss during your visit to Berlin.Pergamonmuseum
: Displaying some of the greatest treasures of ancient Greece, Middle East, and the Islamic world, the museum is a must-see for any history enthusiast in Berlin. One of the highlights of its collection is the famous Ishtar Gate, the elaborate entryway to the city of Babylon that is over 25 centuries old.Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
: Visiting this moving memorial and its underground information center is a good way to pay respect to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and remember the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. Reichstag Building
: One of the most iconic places to visit in Berlin is the Reichstag Building, crowned with its trademark glass dome. The seat of the German parliament for over a century, the building draws visitors interested in the nation's history, while its dome offers panoramic views of Berlin.Berlin Wall Memorial
: Get firsthand experience of Berlin's recent history at a memorial to the structure that separated the city for almost 30 years. You can still see the original structure as well as guard towers and escape tunnels underneath the wall.Topography of Terror
: Get a sense of the darkest period in Berlin's past at the museum dedicated to keeping the memory of Nazi terror alive. The museum building is relatively modern, but it sits on the same spot once occupied by the headquarters of Gestapo and the SS.East Side Gallery
: One of the most original collections of art available in Berlin is displayed over a fraction of the Berlin Wall known as the East Side Gallery. Over a hundred murals painted on the wall in 1990 come together to form an international memorial to freedom.
Museum Island: Located on an island in the Spree River in the center of the city, five incredible museums let you enjoy everything from the world's most famous archeological findings to 20th-century paintings.Gendarmenmarkt
: It may not be the most famous of Berlin's squares, but Gendarmenmarkt is widely regarded as one of the city's most elegant public spaces. Three landmark buildings surrounding it, while in the center of it stands a statue of the poet Friedrich Schiller.Gymnasium Tiergarten
: Established as the royal hunting ground in the 16th century, this large green area is now in the center of Berlin, serving as a great place to take a break from the city bustle and go for a relaxing stroll or a picnic.
Planning a Berlin Vacation with Kids
Things to do in Berlin with Kids
From outdoor activities to a great mix of educational and entertaining attractions, there is a great selection of things to do in Berlin for visiting families. A real treat for visitors of all ages, Zoo Berlin
remains one of the largest and best-known zoos in the world. Smaller but just as interesting for nature lovers is Tierpark Berlin
, Berlin's second zoo. A great place for younger kids is LEGOLAND® Discovery Centre Berlin
, while both older children and adults can enjoy the thrills of flying an airplane at Flugsimulator Berlin Wulff / Stephan GbR
. Another excellent way of having family fun in Berlin is playing some of the numerous escape games that you can find all over the city.
The city's famous museums are definitely places to visit in Berlin. In addition to those located at Museum Island, young technology enthusiasts are certain to enjoy German Museum of Technology
, while car buffs have a ball at Classic Remise
. If the weather is nice during your stay Berlin, the whole family can take one of many guided bike tours of the city or spend time soaking in the peaceful surroundings of Gymnasium Tiergarten
Tips for a Family Vacation in Berlin
Despite being a large city and one of Europe's major capitals, Berlin has a reputation as an extremely child-friendly place. All parts of the city are well connected with a vast public transportation network, so there's no real need to rent a car. Sidewalks are usually more than wide enough to easily navigate with a stroller, and trains, busses, and trams have designated stroller spots. This is very handy for traveling between the city's attractions, which can be quite far away from each other.
The fall of the Wall boosted Berlin tourism sector, and with the ever-rising number of places to stay you should have no problem finding good family accommodations. With a large number of museums in the city worth visiting, it's good to know that many of them either don't charge admission for underage visitors or provide large discounts.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Berlin
Cuisine of Berlin
A bustling multicultural metropolis, Berlin is a place where you can taste specialties from all over the world, indulge in the latest culinary trends, and enjoy traditional German cooking. The influences of different cultures and lifestyles that can be felt all over the city also create a unique gastronomic scene. One of the locals' favorite snacks is the doner kebab, introduced by Turkish immigrants. Arguably the most famous locally developed fast food dish is the world-famous currywurst. This combination of traditional German sausage, ketchup, curry powder, and French fries, invented by a food kiosk owner Herta Heuwer in 1949, is a product of of the post-war period when Berlin was controlled by the Allied forces. Many restaurants throughout the city serve authentic German specialties, such as schnitzel, sausages, and meatballs that every meat lover on a Berlin vacation is sure to enjoy. A visit to Berlin wouldn't be complete without trying the famous Berliner doughnuts, which, paradoxically, are called "Berliner" everywhere except in Berlin. Here, this sweet pastry is known as pfannkuchen, which means pancake.
If you're looking for guided tours in Berlin, consider Berlin Food Tour
, on which you can explore the city's culinary scene with the help of knowledgeable locals. Beer enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the local brewing tradition with Brewer's Berlin Tours
Shopping in Berlin
The political and economic center of Germany, Berlin is also a shopping paradise. Whatever your taste, there's hardly a thing you won't be able to find here. As in many other cities in Germany, major shopping destinations are department stores, and Kaufhaus des Westens
is not only the most famous one in the city, but also the largest in Europe. Another shoppers' top pick is Alexa
, just minutes away from Alexanderplatz
, the city's central square. One of Berlin's best-known shopping streets is Friedrichstrasse
, where you can find everything from high-end watches and jewelry to branded fashions. If you prefer more of a local flavor, small galleries, and quirky shops, make sure to stop by Hackescher Markt
. Bargain hunters on a trip to Berlin should dedicate at least one Sunday morning to a visit of Mauerpark Flea Market
. In addition to the most famous shopping areas, all of the city's neighborhoods feature a selection of shops of various kinds, so wherever you're staying you'll have an abundance of options to choose from.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Berlin
History of Berlin
Somewhat surprisingly, Berlin is a relatively new addition to the list of major European capitals. The first settlement on the city's territory was founded by the Slavs near the present-day Nicholas Quarter
. The first German settlers moved to the area in the 12th century and founded their own settlement on what's now known as Museum Island. This was the time when Albert the Bear founded the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which later became the focal point of the Kingdom of Prussia. As the Slavic influence in the area diminished, the German sphere of power expanded. In 1237, the German settlement received the town charter.
During the subsequent centuries Berlin evolved into a significant city, but was still lagging behind many European capitals. This changed at the beginning of the 18th century, when Duke Frederick III became the King of Prussia and chose Berlin as his capital. Grand structures like Museum Island were built, and the numerous settlements in the vicinity of the city united into a single administrative unit, greatly increasing Berlin's population.
Between the early 18th and mid-19th century, Berlin followed the rapid rise of Prussia and developed into a major European center of culture, industry, and economy. The population grew equally fast, reaching almost a million. To cope with this expansion, the government of the newly-formed German Empire invested heavily into improving the city's appearance and infrastructure. Together with the new sewage system and subway, impressive structures like Reichstag Building
and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
were built. This period of prosperity ended with World War I and subsequent economic turmoil during the initial period of the Weimar Republic.
The early 1920s were particularly hard times in Berlin, but the city quickly recovered and caught up with the spirit of the "Roaring Twenties." Berlin became one of the world's major industrial and scientific centers, but it was even more famous for its cultural scene. This was the time of Bauhaus design, Fritz Lang and Marlene Dietrich films, and Bertolt Brecht's theater, but it all came crashing down with the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism.
After the severe bombings and street fights of World War II, Berlin once again found itself on the frontline of another global conflict--the Cold War. The city was divided into sectors by the victorious allies. Several crossings existed between the sections, the most famous of which you can revisit on your trip to Berlin at Mauermuseum - Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
. In 1961, to prevent the citizens of the Soviet-controlled sectors from defecting to the West, the government of East Germany started the construction of the Berlin Wall, the biggest symbol of divided Europe. For almost 30 years, the two parts of the city lived entirely separate lives, which remains obvious in Berlin's current architecture.
The Wall fell in 1989 and the border crossing between the two parts of the city opened. In 1990, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall began and Germany was once again united into a single country. Once again the nation's capital, Berlin transformed itself into a bustling city that attracts artists, professionals, and visitors from all over the world.
Holidays & Festivals in Berlin
Throughout the year Berlin hosts various globally recognized festivals, as well as numerous events that celebrate local history and heritage. Probably the most famous cultural event is the Berlin International Film Festival, which takes place every February. With hundreds of films screened all over the city, this is the perfect time for film fans to plan their Berlin vacation. For one night in January and one night in August, Berlin's museums stay open throughout the night and allow visitors to use a single pass for the event called "Long Night of Museums." August is also the month for beer lovers attending the International Berlin Beer Festival, the city's answer to Munich's Oktoberfest. Karneval der Kulturen, one of the city's most colorful events, takes place in early summer and celebrates Berlin's multicultural scene with numerous live performances and parades. October is the best month to see Brandenburg Gate
and Bar 203 in Berlin TV Tower
in a different light, during a weeklong Festival of Lights. Around Christmas, atmospheric markets spring up all over the city, but those at Gendarmenmarkt
, Potsdamer Platz
, and Alexanderplatz
remain the most lively options.
Berlin Travel Tips
Climate of Berlin
The weather in Berlin depends largely on the season, and temperature differences throughout the year can be quite significant. In the winter you can expect snow and temperatures around freezing point. Summer in Berlin is usually a pleasant time, with a lot of sunshine and average temperatures around 22–25 degrees Celsius (72–77 degrees Fahrenheit). However, periods of very warm temperatures that exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and high humidity are not uncommon. Spring and autumn months usually bring mild temperatures, but they can also be chilly and wet. In general, June tends to be the wettest month of the year, but be prepared for rain whenever you choose to visit. Stay dry during your tour of Berlin by always keeping an umbrella at the ready.
Transportation in Berlin
As you would expect from a city of its size and importance, Berlin features an elaborate and diverse transportation network. The city boasts two international airports and features a wide network of roads and railways. Berlin's public transportation network operates with about 20 tram lines, over a hundred bus lines, and two rapid transit railway systems. This means that getting around the city can be quite easy, despite its size. A flat city with plenty of bike lanes, this urban center is one of the best places for cycling tours, which not only allow you to cover short distances quickly, but also provide you with an eco-friendly option for sightseeing in Berlin.