I confess. When I went to Berlin for the first time, back in October 2011, my conclusion after a weekend in town was: “nope. Not my type of city”. It might have been because of the weather, or due to my expectations, or even because it was a short stay. Now, on our recent road trip to the city, I came to discover a new Berlin, another side I didn’t get to see the first time around.
It’s rare to meet someone who loves both Munich and Berlin, they are very different cities in many aspects (but I won’t be getting into that now). Yes, I still do prefer Munich (sorry Berlin lovers, I just need to be honest here) but I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t enjoy my time in the German capital this time. I did enjoy, and it actually made me feel like going back one of these days.
The weather was perfect, I got to learn more about the city’s and the country’s history, melted my heart once again at a Coldplay concert at the Olympic Stadium, watched the UEFA Euro game of Germany x Slovakia at the Brandenburg Gate with thousands of people, had a mouth watering Döner, found my so far favorite rooftop bar, and even got to make my own chocolate just as I like. Yup, I told you. I had a great time, and here are my suggestions of 10 must do’s in Berlin to help you have a great time too:
1. Visit the Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate goes all the way back to the 18th century and survived the World War II, of course, it needed to go under restoration a few times. The gate is the main postcard of Berlin and a must for everyone visiting the city. It is also where important events are celebrated, such as the New Year’s Eve and when the German football team wins a championship.
– Get there early to get nice photos, later on it gets really crowded
– In one of the sides of the gate, you may see on the floor the signs of where used to be Western and Eastern Germany
– The Brandenburg Gate is very close to the Reichstag, and you can easily visit both
2. Take a boat tour on the Spree
There are many spots and different companies that operate boats on the Spree. There isn’t much difference between them, some are cheaper, others have bigger boats. In the end all of them offer great tours on the Spree from where you have different angles and perspective of Berlin. It’s fun, beautiful and you get to learn more about the city’s history.
– Some boat companies offer discounts if you have the Berlin WelcomeCard.
– Dogs are allowed on board!
3. Visit the Reichstag’s Dome
The Reichstag is a historical building dated back to 1894. After being almost destroyed and reconstructed, nowadays it is the house of the German parliament, the Bundestag. In 1999 the stunning glass dome on top of the building was finished. From there you have a 360 view over Berlin and where you can see a magnificent cone-shaped light sculptor with 360 mirrors, which generates solar energy to heat the building.
Can I be honest? Don’t leave Berlin without visiting the Reichstag’s Dome. It is simply impressive and unique, it’s one of the most interesting and stunning places I’ve seen so far.
– It is necessary to register in advance to visit the Dome
– The tour is free of charge
– Normally the online registration can be done only months in advance. However, if there are no remaining available tours online on your chosen date, all you need to do is to go to the Information Point in front of the Reichstag and register. There are always available places for the same day or the following days.
– Get to the Information Point early, between 8:00 and 09:30, when it’s still empty. Later on you might have to stand in line for at least 1 hour.
– Take your passport/document with you, as it is required for everyone who wants to register.
– Another way of visiting the Dome is to get a reservation at the restaurant located up there, Käfer.
– For more information about visiting the Reichstag, click here.
4. Take a look at Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie or Checkpoint C (name given by the Americans) was one of the guard towers of the crossing between Western and Eastern Berlin back when the wall divided the city. Nowadays it is one of the most touristic places in Berlin, where you can even take pictures with costumed guards. The original parts and signs of the checkpoint are kept at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, located right next to it.
– Visiting Checkpoint Charlie is a nice way to learn more about the strong history of Western and Eastern Germany
– You don’t need much time to see it, as it is simply in the middle of an avenue, but you can visit the museum, the gallery, take pictures with/of the “guards” and even buy some weird souvenirs!
U-Bahn: Kochstr./Checkpoint Charlie
5. Wander around Nikolaiviertel
Berlin has some surprising places, one of them is the pretty Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas’ Quarter), a neighborhood founded in 1200, the heart of the old Berlin. A photogenic part of the city, with colorful buildings with beautiful architecture, located on the shore of the Spree river. There you can find stores, restaurants, cafes, statues, and the Nicholas’ Church, the oldest in town.
– From there you have different angles of the TV Tower
– Take a look at the official website (yup, they have their own website)
6. Have a Döner and a currywurst
Whether you have tried them before or not, try them in Berlin, it’s a must. Döner Kebab, for those who don’t know, was originated in Berlin, and well, currywurst is the local dish. I confess that I don’t like currywurst, but I certainly love Döner, and there are great places to have one in town, like at the Rosenthaler Grill & Schlemmerbuffet or at Mustafa’s Gemüsekebap.
7. Be impressed by the Gendarmenmarkt
The Gendarmenmarkt was first built in 1688 and it used to be a market place. It is a beautiful square where you find the German and the French Churches facing each other, the Concert Hall, a statue of the poet Friedrich Schiller and some cafes and restaurants. The square really resembles a part of a French town, due to its architecture. A beautiful place to take a break.
Just a few meters away from there you find the Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt (colorful ChocoWorld) where you may buy the chocolates of the brand and even decide how you want it. Yup, you get to make a chocolate just how you like it. Certainly worth the visit. I recommend you to go there first, order your chocolate and while it gets ready (it takes around half an hour), take a walk around the Gendarmenmarkt.
8. Pay a visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (or Holocaust Memorial)
Not far from the Brandenburg Gate, you find the memorial, which was inaugurated in May 10, 2005 (exactly 60 years after the end of the WWII) and was designed by the architect Peter Eisenman and the engineer Buro Happold. It is a large site covered with concrete slabs or “stelae” organized in rows, intending to produce an uneasy and confusing atmosphere.
– Entrance to the memorial is free, though if you would like to have an audio guide it costs 4€, reduction 2€ with the Berlin WelcomeCard for example
– There you find an underground “Place of Information” where there are over 3 million names of Jews victims of the holocaust.
9. Find remaining parts of the Berlin Wall around the city
As you wander the German capital, it’s impossible not to spot here and there remaining parts of the Berlin Wall. Some of these places are: at the Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, to name a few.
The largest remaining part of the wall can be found at the East Side Gallery, located along the Spree river at the Mühlenstraße. Also right next to it there is the Berlin Wall Monument.
10. Admire the city from above
Berlin has great places to appreciate a beautiful view, especially rooftops. Being a huge fan of rooftops, I did my research and found THE place, probably my favorite rooftop so far: Klunkerkranich. A laid back and alternative rooftop bar on where it used to be a parking lot on top of the Neukölln Arkaden. The place is ideal to enjoy the sunset, listen to live music and have some drinks (the line can be long, but the wait is worth it).
Other options are Monkey Bar, Solar Sky-lounge & restaurant, AMANO Rooftop Terrace, “Roof Garden” of the HOUSE OF WEEKEND, among others.
*Before you ask about the TV Tower, yes I went up there, and no, I don’t think it is a must do in Berlin or even worth it going up there, unless you go to the rotating restaurant.
– Download the app Going Local Berlin for more tips and recommendations on what to do in town.
– Buy the Berlin WelcomeCard to get discounts in several attractions, restaurants and stores around the city, including the boat tour, the Ritter Sport store, the TV Tower, and much more. It also includes public transportation, discounts for Potsdam and a mini guide to the city, which I loved and couldn’t leave the hotel without it!
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Berlin Tourismus & Kongress has kindly provided us with Berlin WelcomeCards to enjoy our time in the city. As always, views, feelings and opinions are my own, and I only recommend what I like and what I believe my readers will like too.