For years I’d longed to visit Berlin, and in 2019 I finally got to visit this amazing city – and I really was bowled over. This city really does deliver the goods – it’s modern and vibrant but also has strong memories of past historical events. First mentioned in the 13th Century, Berlin has had a tumultuous past – if you like your history then this City is for you. In the Second World War, Berlin was the powerbase for Hitler’s Third Reich, and after the war the City was hidden behind the Iron Curtain in what became East Germany during the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Berlin has regained its position as the capital of a united Germany and for a capital City it is surprisingly quiet.
All the main places to visit are quite close to each other and most are easily within walkable distance, but you might need a bus/ taxi to get out to some sights further afield. There really is so much to see and do that you’ll need to plan your trip so you don’t miss anything. Here’s my top sights to see:
From our hotel, we walked to the iconic Brandenburg Gate, Germany’s most famous landmark – and as such, you have to visit this spot. Built in the 18th Century it was a gate house from Berlin to Brandenburg. In the Cold War, it was situated in no man’s land – isolated between East and West, and has since become a defining symbol of Germanys divided past. It’s amazing by day but all lit up at night, it’s simply majestic.
Reichstag (Parliament Building)
Just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate, we walked a couple of minutes to Germany’s Parliament building – the Reichstag, built in 1834. It’s very impressive from the front, and has been re-built after being bombed in the Second World War. We were treated to an amazing glass dome designed by Sir Norman Foster was added in 1990 – you can book tickets online (well in advance) and visit this place. It really is breath-taking. Walk up the spiral ramps to enjoy fabulous views of Berlin below and look down through the looking glass to the Reichstag debating chamber below (and yes, we did see Angela Merkel!).
Right next to the Reichstag is the picturesque Tiergarten – a gorgeous, old fashioned park and one of the largest in Germany. This old former royal hunting ground is now full of shaded tranquil spots to stop, boating lakes, outside cafes, beautifully colourful flowerbeds and even a zoo too! After a morning sightseeing it’s a great place to stop, relax and take a breather and get a bite to eat.
Unter Den Linden
From the Tiergarten, retrace your steps and go back under the Brandenburg Gate and step out onto Under Den Linden (literally translated as “under the linden (lime) trees”. This is a beautiful tree filled and very grand boulevard that runs from the Brandenburg Gate to Museum Island. It’s only a mile long, so perfect for a short stroll under the tree lined canopy – and again, there’s plenty of places to stop for a drink and people watch.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Museum Island sits on a little island (of course) in the middle of the River Spree. There’s a choice of 5 museums to visit if that’s your thing, but instead, we just wandered around and watched the boats sailing by up and down the river. From here there’s lots of choice if you want to go on a river cruise – we took the one-hour cruise (15 Euros) which had a really interesting audio guide which explained much of the history of Berlin as we sailed past all the main sights.
Still on Museum Island and on the banks of the River Spree sits the majestic Berliner Dom – Berlin Cathedral. Built between 1894 – 1905, it’s a mix of baroque and renaissance styles and is really impressive to see. To the front is a huge area of parkland, where crowds mix, picnics are had and people lazed in the sunshine. It’s a fabulous building to see by day – but wait till it’s all lit up at night – it’s even better.
From the Dom, we strolled another half mile to the Television Tower which was built at the height of the Cold War in the 1960’s in East Berlin. It was built by the Communists to symbolise their power over the city. It remains a landmark today, visible throughout Berlin. You can take a lift up to the viewing platform at a dizzying height of 368 meters. Nearby is the busy Alexanderplatz, which is one of the main hubs for shopping and food and drink, it’s OK by day but a little bit intimidating at night, so I probably wouldn’t want to stay around this area.
Berlin Wall/ East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery in Berlin. It consists of a series of murals painted directly on to the remnants of the Berlin Wall (it’s just short of a mile long). Located near the centre of Berlin, on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, it’s now a heritage-protected landmark and we found it fascinating to wander along the wall and view the artwork. There’s not much else around this spot – but it is a “must see” but you then can head off onto your next stop….
Berlin Wall/ Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer
Still on the Berlin Wall, but in a different area, is the Berlin Wall at Bernauer Straße. It was here in the early days of the Wall that this spot became infamous as a boundary. Here you can see the Wall, the Death Strip in between, and a watchtower and a five-storey observation tower – which gives a real perspective on the size of the divide. This whole section is closed off as a permanent memorial to those who died trying to cross between 1961 – 1989. Across Bernauer Straße is the visitor centre, which chronicles the wall, from when it was first enforced to its eventual destruction. I think this part of the wall is much more thought provoking, and there are many museums and monuments all over Berlin dedicated to this history of the Wall. What a fascinating place to visit.
From Unter Den Linden it’s about a mile walk to Checkpoint Charlie, whose name comes from the phonetic alphabet (Charlie meaning C), as this was the third border crossing set up by the allies in the city. It’s now been reconstructed and the guardhouse, sandbags and famous border sign in the centre of the street are worth a photo as you pass by. The “guards” aren’t official, they’ll ask for a few Euros from you if you want to take their photos! There’s a nearby souvenir shop selling loads of Wall books, posters and artefacts. it’s well worth a short stop.
We used a “Hop On Hop Off” bus tour to get us along to this pretty palace which sits on the banks of the River Spree. It took us about 15 minutes to reach by bus but it was well worth it as we spend a lovely couple of hours here. Known as Germany’s very own “Versailles” and built in 1695, it is a mixture of Baroque and Rococo styles. There’s a huge garden towards the back of the palace and it has lovely formal gardens and is very relaxing place to stay. There aren’t many amenities here so we stopped at a bar just over the road for a quick refresher!
Food & Drink & Nightlife
It’s in the Euro-zone, but for a capital City, Berlin really is very reasonable. The local beer is good and very cheap too! Prices for a three-course meal for two (including wine) at a really nice restaurant cost us about 40 Euros. If you’re here, then you have to try the Berlin speciality of a Currywurst. This dates back to 1949 and it a grilled sausage in a bun, with a special curry sauce – it’s delicious and it’s a source of pride for Berliners. You’ll find Currywursts sold on almost every street corner. If you’re looking for nightlife then Berlin offers lots – a truly international City, the nightlife here is renowned for being late and loud. There’s lots of organised beer crawls, pub crawls and nightlife tours. Berlin is known for being the night life capital of Europe. There are some amazing clubs to suit all tastes, high end cocktail bars, cool hipster restaurants and obviously some great outdoor beer gardens to choose from.
I really LOVED Berlin, and after spending a long weekend there, I can’t wait to go back and explore the City some more. It’s a fascinating place and I still have more sights to tick off my “to do” list! I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading my top tips for Berlin. I loved it and I’m sure you will too! To get around easily, I’d recommend staying as close to the centre as your budget allows. Our hotel looked onto the Dom and Museum Island and I found everything was within easy walking distance. Also, some of our staff here at Tate’s Travel have also been to Berlin – so if you have any queries or want to book your trip to Berlin, then get in touch and we’ll be happy to help you!