There is so much to see and do in Berlin and we loved it. We spent three days pretty non stop but definitely could have filled a week. One thing to know is that most shops are closed on a Sunday and many tourist sites are closed on a Monday. We knew this before we went so we booked stuff in advance and planned what to do when to make sure we didn’t miss out!
Train tips: get tickets on the train platform at the airport station as there was a massive queue at the machine in the underpass (€3.30 each for single into city centre). Always VALIDATE your ticket at the small red machines next to the ticket machines on the platform otherwise you can get a €60 fine.
We arrived at our hotel at about 2pm on a Sunday. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Kudaam, which took about 1.5 hours on the train and the tube (once we’d bought tickets and figured out how it all worked) from Schonefeld airport, which is in the east of the city.
We had a late lunch near our hotel (nothing special) and then got the 100 bus from right outside our hotel to the Reichstag, which is the German Parliament building. It’s beautiful and historic from the outside but was completely renovated by the architect Norman Foster in the 1990s so it’s very modern on the inside. We had a free 90 minute guided tour and then had entrance to the famous dome at the top (remember to pick up the free audio guide for the dome), which gives excellent views over the city. The building has a long and interesting history so I would highly recommend the guided tour. It’s also a great introduction to Berlin. Both the tour and/or entrance to the dome need to be booked online in advance to guarantee entry and avoid any queues. Also remember to take your ID otherwise you won’t be allowed in.
We walked round the corner and briefly had a look at the beautifully lit Brandenburg gate. We then went back to near our hotel in Kudaam and went to the Christmas market near the zoo/ train station. It was one of the smaller ones but the main road had a lovely Christmas tree and the whole area felt really festive! We also saw the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was originally built in the 1890s but was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943 and the damaged spire has been retained.We then had an amazing Thai dinner at Sukan (booking recommended).
On the Monday we had booked a 3 hour Sandeman walking tour, which started at 10am near the Brandenburg gate. Sandeman tours are free and are in cities all across Europe. Sandeman tour guides work on tips, which you give at the end depending on how much you’ve enjoyed the tour. We had a fantastic American guide who had been in Berlin for eight years. He took us through 700 years of German history, mostly focused on the events of the 20th century. We took in sights such as the Brandenburg gate, the Hotel Adlon (aka Michael Jackson baby dangling hotel), Jewish memorial, Hitler’s bunker, a historic building where the Ministry of Finance is now based, Berlin Wall, Topography of Terror, and Checkpoint Charlie. It was a great intro to Berlin and Germany e.g. we wouldn’t have noticed the Berlin Wall going all around the city (small bricks in the ground marking where the wall was) and we would never have known that West Berlin was an ‘island’ in the ‘sea’ of the Communist ruled parts of the Iron Curtain (check out a map).
We then had lunch in a great Vietnamese place called Cafe am, right by Checkpoint Charlie. It was very reasonably priced and the Pho and green tea warmed us up! After lunch we went to the Topography of Terror (10am-8pm daily, free), which is the former HQ of the Guestapo and the SS. It’s a glaring insight into Nazi history and is definitely worth a visit although it’s very text heavy and there are few interactive experiences. For me the most interesting thing was near the end and seeing just how much of Europe the Nazis took over… Very scary.
Next we walked to the DDR museum (open Mon-Fri, Sun 10am-8pm, Sat 10am-10pm, adults €6, concessions €4), which is one of the best museums we have ever been to. It is really interactive e.g. you get to drive a Trabant, watch TV in an authentic East Berlin living room, and spy on your neighbours and a great insight into what life must have been like in the DDR (East Germany). We stumbled upon another Christmas market that was in the shadows of the TV tower and we got some amazing nuts and tried Gluwein for the first time while we watched the ice skaters and listened to Christmas music.
We got the train to Charlottenburg Palace as this is usually given the ‘Best Christmas Market’ accolade. It’s open 2-10pm during weekdays but we decided to go in the evening when it was dark. To be fair it deserves the praise it gets as it is in a beautiful setting with the palace lit up. The market is one of the biggest and we had our first Bratwurst there and a wonder around all the stalls. I find Christmas markets in England quite repetitive and boring but I really enjoyed them in Berlin as I found there was more variety of food and drink and gifts to look at.
We made our way back to near the hotel and went to an Italian near the Kaiser Wilhelm Church called Ristorante Pizzeria Allegro, which was pretty average. We then had another wonder around the Christmas market there and then went back to the hotel to rest our very tired feet!
On the Tuesday our first stop was Potsdam Plaza just to have a wonder round and see the Sony Centre. We then walked to the Jewish Memorial museum (10am-7pm every day apart from Monday) for 10am. Definitely get there before all the tours as this museum really deserves time and reflection, which is best to do without the crowds. This museum is so important as to me history is all about people over dates and stats. Learning first hand the experiences of individuals and families, people with hopes, dreams, and lives of their own, makes the situation far more real than any statistics. We got the audio guide, which I would highly recommend (approx €4 each), as you get a much more in depth insight. This stop is a must on any Berlin itinerary but is very hard hitting.
We wanted another view over the city after our visit to the Reichstag dome so we went to 37th floor viewing platform (€3 12-6pm everyday) at the Park Inn in Alexanderplatz. The view was ok but the platform was tiny, definitely not panoramic, and very disappointing! The most interesting thing was after learning about all the history over the previous two days, seeing the stark difference between the architecture in the west and that in the east made it feel like history staring us in the face. Another option is the view from the TV Tower, which is what we will do next time. We had a walk around the Christmas market outside the hotel and tried Currywurst for the first time (take it or leave it for me!).
Our final visit before going back to the airport was to the East Side Gallery, which is the 1.3km stretch of the original Berlin Wall with all the political graffiti on. Unfortunately when we went there were wire cages over parts of the wall to protect it but it was still very interesting to see. We then had our final meal at a fantastic vegan restaurant called The Bowl, which was over the road from the train station.
Berlin is a fantastic city that I definitely want to visit again. There is something for everyone here whether you’re into museums, clubbing, drinking, culture, architecture, or history. Berlin, we will be back.