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Berlin is cool, like really cool. In fact by the end of our 4 day visit we had decided we want to move here, and which neighbourhood we want to live in (I sure Brexit will scupper those plans but anyway….).
With it’s fascinating history, diversity, creative street art, great German food and vibrant nightlife scene, Berlin is the perfect the perfect city break. It has also quickly become one of our favourite European cities.
Here are our suggestions for things to do when visiting Berlin:
Spend a cultural day at Museum Island
This is the cultural heart of Berlin, home to such museums as the Bode and Pergamon. Depending on when you visit, there are lots of spaces to explore including the flea-markets, lawns with deckchairs and a variety of street performers. The five museums are also included with the Berlin Welcome Card.
Take a free walking tour
There is plenty to see in Berlin for history lovers and a walking tour usually ticks off many of the important places. We booked a free tour with Sandemans which is perfect if you are visiting Berlin on a budget. It was one of the more popular free walking tours we’ve done and due to its popularity, our group had to be broken down into several sub groups.
As you’d expect, the success (or lack of it) is totally down to the knowledge and charisma of the tour guide, and in this instance, our guide Theo was on fine form, also extolling his recommendations to us on where we should eat and drink. For a budget traveller, this tour is definitely worth considering as you get to visit many fascinating historical points of interest. Advance booking for this tour is essential.
Walk along East Side Gallery
A must do when in Berlin, this open-air, 1.3km stretch of preserved ‘Berlin Wall’ is painted with multiple murals depicting tales of modern political history. The gallery was opened on 28 September 1990, with 118 different artists from 21 countries represented. It is a free attraction and located in East Berlin’s Friedrichshain neighbourhood.
Learn about Berlin’s Street art
We wanted to learn more about Berlin’s street art and alternative scene so we booked onto a 3 hour Alternative City Tour with Sandemans. Whilst exploring trendy areas such as Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, our tour guide explained all about the development of the art and nightlife scene after the fall of the wall and reunification. At €14 per person this tour was excellent value for money. Book the tour online here >
Spy on pandas at Berlin Zoo
We do not often visit zoos, but we made an exception this time for the awesome one in Berlin, which features many crowd favourites such as pandas, a polar bear and elephants. This is a large scale zoo with lots of feeding and education demonstrations so allow plenty of time to visit.
The panda house was the busiest section and given their very nature, you may not see them do much as they’ll likely be asleep. If you don’t want to pay and are travelling on super tight budget, you can get a free glimpse of some of the animals from the the neighbouring park.
Address: Hardenbergplatz 8, 10787 Berlin, Germany; Opening times here
Enjoy a view of the zoo at Monkey Bar
The popular Monkey Bar is located on the 10th floor of the boutique 25hours hotel (near to Bikini Mall) and has an outdoor terrace. It is famous for having fantastic panoramic views of the city and also of the monkey enclosure in the neighbouring zoo. It was voted ‘Europe’s best hotel bar’, and it is indeed lovely, however the service is below average.
Address: Budapester Strasse 40, 10787 Berlin. Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 12pm – 2am
Shop at Bikini Berlin
One of Berlin’s hipper retail malls (and labelled as ‘the first concept mall in Berlin’), this boasts numerous fine fashion and coffee shops, all of whom are unique and not the usual big brand stores. The mall is trying to be so hip, it was even hosting a Banksy exhibition when we visited.
There are also some upmarket food vendors and food courts, including (our favourite) the KANTINI. This comprises of a variety of swishly designed food stalls (designed by Werner Aisslinger) with enough foodtypes to offer something for everyone’s tastes. As with the nearby Monkey Bar, this also offers views overlooking Berlin Zoo – (monkey) nuts!
Address: Budapester Str. 38-50, 10787; Opening hours: 9am-10pm everyday
Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
The iconic Fernsehturm is a television tower close to Alexanderplatz which offers 360° view of the city, and has a bar and revolving restaurant. It holds the title of being the highest building in Europe open to the general public. The observation deck adult tickets start from €15.5 per person, and you can book skip the line and dinner tickets here.
If you want a view with a cheaper price (and one which actually includes the TV tower in the skyline), then head over to the Park Inn Hotel in Alexanderplatz for access to their viewing platform. Admission costs only €4.
Eat traditional currywurst
This cult street food snack was invented in Berlin just after World War II, and comprises of a sliced smoky German sausage served with a curry flavoured tomato sauce (and usually accompanied by fries). You can find the dish easily all over the city as there are loads of fast food kiosks selling it.
Take a Secret Food Tour in fashionable Friedrichshain
This awesome 3 hour evening food and walking tour with Secret Food Tours takes place in the heart of bohemian East Berlin. Becs was our very friendly guide and took us to multiple places in the trendy and non touristy neighbourhood of Friedrichshain. We tried a variety of local food and drink in multiple places including cafes, restaurants, a Turkish shop and a fast food kiosk. This was a really fun way to spend an evening and we left feeling very content and full. Make sure you arrive hungry!
Spend a Sunday afternoon at Mauerpark flea market
If you are wondering where all the cool people are hiding in Berlin on a Sunday afternoon, then chances are they can be found at Mauerpark. Every week crowds of tourists and locals trawl the huge flea market for vintage treasures, whilst also enjoying the many delicious street food stalls.
Crowds also picnic in the large open spaces next to the flea market, listening to live music performances. The atmosphere was fantastic however I didn’t stay around long enough to watch the karaoke which starts around 3pm.
Enjoy a drink at the oldest outdoor beer garden
Pratergarten is the oldest beer garden in Berlin, dating all the way back to 1837 (although the beer they serve is a little fresher). There are several bars and food kiosks on the site and during the summer months they sometimes show outdoor theatrical performances – maybe they’ll show Shakesbeer’s ‘Ale’s Well That Ends Well”?! (sorry I’ll get my coat…)
This beer garden is less than 10 minutes walk from the Sunday Mauerpark Flea market so you might want to combine the two on your itinerary. The walk takes you through a lovely neighbourhood called Prenzlauer Berg which has lots of nice cafes and restaurants.
The beer garden is open from April – September, but the restaurant is open all year round. For more information visit their website here.
Enjoy a stein at Hofbrau beer hall
The thought of going to Berlin and not visiting a beer-hall is a bit like visiting Bordeaux and not having any wine. Although not strictly a historic beer hall, this cavernous hall is close to Alexanderplatz and adopts all the traditional trappings of what you’d expect from a German beer hall (think of it as an Oktoberfest-lite experience).
Enjoy a large tankard of Lowenbrau with a wide array of German meats and snacks (vegetarian options are also available). Also spare a thought for the poor serving staff who have to weather leather lederhosen in all weathers, that may explain their lack of smiles!
Address: Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 30, 10178 Berlin; Opening hours: Everyday 10am – 1am (2am on Friday and Saturdays)
Eat Vietnamese cuisine
There is a huge Vietnamese community living in Berlin and therefore you will find tonnes of authentic restaurants in the city. I visited Monsieur Vuong and Madami (both located near Alexanderplatz where I was staying) and the food was superb, some of the best Vietnamese cuisine I’ve had outside of Vietnam!
Head to Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle
Every Thursday night, this historic market holds a very popular street food event where you can find delights such as Thai tapioca dumplings, Mexican tacos, Allgäu cheese spaetzle and Nigerian FuFu.
Purchase a Berlin Welcome Card
This tourist card was super handy during my trip as it includes free transport (including getting to and from the airport). I picked mine up from the tourist office at the Tegal airport when I arrived so I was all set to go from the very start.
The card can also be used to gain discounts at over 200 places of interest including Berlin Zoo, the TV Tower and Museum Island, plus the ‘hop-on hop-off’ bus and a variety of restaurants.
Purchase your Berlin Welcome Card online here.
Bonus tip – the David Hasselhoff ‘Museum’
Possibly the most kitsch thing you’ll do in Berlin and if you are ‘Looking For Freedom’ away from the usual sites, the David Hasselhoff museum is fun to watch, but it should be renamed ‘The David Hasselhoff toilet corridor’. is found in the basement of the Circus Hostel, the ‘shrine’ to the Knightrider star (who sung on top of the Berlin Wall as it was being demolished around him – legend).
This small museum (or shrine) isn’t actually signposted (I can’t decide if this is because they think is it either uber sad or tres cool) – it is literally a handful of posters and knick-knacks hung on walls and the whole thing will take you 30 seconds to visit – that said, the man himself (Hasselhoff visited recently and signed the walls) so if it is good enough for him, it is OK with us (free admission too). P.S – this is so niche, it doesn’t even have a Tripadvisor listing.
Address: Circus Hostel, Weinbergsweg 1A, 10119 Berlin
If you are visiting Berlin in December you will find many magical and traditional Christmas markets. The best markets to visit in Berlin and and it’s vicinity are Alexanderplatz, Gendarmenmarkt and Potsdam Christmas markets.
We stayed at the very comfy Park Inn by Radisson hotel in Alexanderplatz which was within walking distance to Museum Island and many excellent restaurants and bars. It is also super close to the metro and train station, and right next door to the airport bus to Tegal. The viewing deck which I mentioned earlier is located on the top floor of the hotel but sadly guests do not get free access. Book a room online here.
Have we missed anything out? Let us know in the comments!
Blog post and photography by Caroline Keyzor and Neil Hassall. Please do not use without permission.
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Disclosure: The Berlin Welcome cards were complimentary from Visit Berlin, but as always, opinions are all our own.