Berlin has a mass appeal that makes it one of Europe’s most popular city break destinations. Whether you’re seeking out the hedonistic pleasures of grubby electronica clubs, arty cafes in Berlin’s hipster districts or searching for the historical monuments that have dark tales of war to tell, Germany’s capital city has it all.
Cheap flights from almost everywhere in Europe also make Berlin an incredibly accessible city to explore. Jamie and I grabbed bargain return flights from Ryanair for just £25 each! It was in the middle of January sure, but you’ve got to make some sacrifices for budget travel right? While it was my second time in this thriving city, Jamie had never been before and so we planned a whistlestop tour of the main attractions that would satisfy our inner history nerds AND leave us with some time to explore the hidden gems.
To make getting around the city easier, Visit Berlin stepped in to gift us with an excellent Berlin WelcomeCard: with a number of different options to choose from, the pass allows you access to all public transport throughout the city PLUS you get discounts off selected partner attractions too. While we usually prefer to pound the city streets, the freezing temperatures meant that we gratefully ducked onto the U-Bahn / S-Bahn to help us get around and the WelcomeCard made it incredibly easy to do so.
Historical Attractions in Berlin
If you’re into history, Berlin is absolutely chock-full of incredible things to see and as my school force-fed us World War / Cold War knowledge until it came out of our ears, seeing the main points of interest from Nazi Germany and the years following World War II were high up on the Berlin bucket list.
We booked onto a ‘Discover Berlin’ walking tour (using the discount from our WelcomeCard) with Original Berlin Walks. In spite of the freezing temperatures and low-hanging mist that completely obscured the landmark TV tower, our guide Charlotte was fascinating and kept us going for the four hour walk! If you’ve only got a couple of days to explore Berlin like we did, or simply want to gather a bit more historical knowledge from an expert guide, I’d highly recommend finding a walking tour. Here are all the places we visited on the tour!
Museum Island: Lovers of art or ancient history, this is the place for you. Here, you’ll find five museums, each with their own speciality and stunning architecture. Some of these buildings are so old that you can even see bullet holes in the facades from the years gone by.
TV Tower: As one of the most iconic landmarks in Berlin, it was crazy that we couldn’t see the TV Tower at all during our tour! It was built by the Soviets in East Berlin back in the 1960s to demonstate the strength and efficiency of the system but now serves as restaurant and observation deck to look over the whole city.
Berliner Dom: This stunning cathedral is really close to Museum Island and while it looks centuries old, it was actually badly damanged by a bomb in World War II and rebuilt. The outside is pretty beautiful but it’s definitely worth taking a peek inside to see the beautiful decor. For a small fee, you can head up to walk around the dome, something we did on my first visit to Berlin – click the link to find out what the view from the Berliner Dom looks like. The two pictures below were taken on different days so you can see just how misty it was on the morning of our tour!
Bebelplatz: While on first sight, you may not recognise this university square but it’s actually one of the sites where huge amount of books by Jewish writers, scientists and artists were burned in 1933. There’s a memorial on the floor of the square but it’s also worth a visit to look around at the beautiful architecture.
Air Ministry building: This example of original Nazi architecture is an imposing building opposite the Topography of Terror ehibition.Once the home of the Luftwaffe, it’s now the government Tax office!
Brandenburg Gate: Even if you’ve never been to Berlin, you’ll almost certainly recognise the Brandenburg Gate. Once used by the Royal family, it’s now one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: Spending time getting lost in the memorial of towering concrete blocks is a must-do while you’re in Berlin. In the low mist and persistant rain, this site felt even more sombre and it was places like this throughout the city that really drove home the suffering that took place in this now liberal city.
After a quick break for a salty pretzel and warming hot chocolate for our chilly fingers, we were lead into the middle of an unassuming group of apartments. With numerous other tours around, it soon became clear that we were at the former site of Hitler’s bunker and the place where he spent his last days as the Soviet troups advanced through Germany.
Berlin Wall: There are three sections of the Berlin Wall left standing and we visited them all during our short visit. One is the East Side Gallery which you can read about a little further down, one runs alongside the Topography of Terror and the other is in the north of the city. Seeing the crumbling wall there now, it’s almost impossible to imagine how it once was a source of terror, dividing families, friends and an entire city in two.
Checkpoint Charlie: This is one of the most touristy parts of Berlin but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re in the area. As one of the main checkpoints between East and West Berlin, it’s now marked by a replica guard hut where you can get your passport stamped and your photo taken with the ‘guards’ for
As I’m sure you can tell, there’s so much history in Berlin so it’s really worth spending some time learning about the events of the 20th century while you visit. Far from being hidden beneath the new, thriving culture of Berlin, the scars of the past are open for everybody to see and learn from and that’s pretty special.
Personally, I love the amount of history there is to learn about in Berlin but I appreciate that you might want some lighter entertainment too! The DDR Museum, located next to the Berliner Dom, is a great interactive museum that houses a ton of artefacts including clothes, household goods and electronics all manufactured by the Soviet Union. If you’re travelling with kids, this is a great one to visit and I definitely enjoyed getting out of the cold for a few hours!
Hackescher Markt is a great little area filled with restaurants and outdoor seating that is better enjoyed in the summer compared to the freezing winter chill!
Car lovers out there, this one could be for you. Forget touring the city on an open top bus, classic Mini’s or VW’s, the East German Trabant is the vehicle you need to commandeer. You can find them displayed near the Topography of Terror or take a city tour in one for a truly unique experience!
This could arguably fit into the historical attractions category but in comparison to the two other remaining stretches of the Berlin Warll, the East Side Gallery stands out a mile. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, artists came from all over the world to create both political and joyful murals along the 1.3km stretch. Many of the murals have been recreated and then preserved over the years so it’s well worth a trip to the far Eastern side of the city to see them.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about quirky attractions without mentioning Ampelmann. The quirky traffic light man was introduced to East Berlin in 1961 and became somewhat of a cult icon over the years. Despite attempts to standardise traffic lights after reunification, protests ensured that Ampelmann survives today on many traffic signals in former East Berlin as well as becoming a popular brand; you can find him on T-shirts, mugs and all kinds of merchandise in stores around the city. Keep a look out when you’re crossing the road!
I couldn’t wait to go back to Berlin as a vegetarian. Known as one of the best cities in Europe for vegan-friendly cuisine, I had a list of places as long as my arm that I wanted to visit. A good deal of the nightlife culture revolves around outdoor hidden gardens, outdoor pubs and food markets which, unfortunately for us, weren’t quite in-keeping with the time of year we visited! And with the Christmas market stalls packed away a few weeks earlier, we went in search of some amazing restaurants and cafes with pretty decent success! We were intending to visit many more but with an evening unexpectedly disappearing to a Tarantino themed bar, what can you do?
Lucky Leek – a fine dining vegan restaurant with an array of absolutely delicious dishes. I’m not somebody who knows a lot about food or cooking, beyond the fact that I love eating, but they undoubtedly boasted some of the most imaginative veggie food I’ve eaten – including a cashew cheese board!
Voner – this vegan kebab shop was just down the road from where we stayed (the Almodovar Hotel in Friedrichshain) and what a discovery! The faux-donner kebabs are their speciality but they had a number of other awesome alternatives on the menu including vegan currywurst and ‘phish’ ‘n’ chips.
Avocado Club – I couldn’t do this post without including our surprise find just across the road from our hotel! Avocado Club opened just a few days before our visit to Berlin and by the looks of their Instagram stories, their creations get better and better. Plus, with a plant-bedecked pastel pink interior, you can’t get much more Instagram-friendly than this place. For more pictures, check out my full review of Avocado Club.
International Airports: Berlin Schönefeld and Berlin Tegel
Well, that exhausts everything that we crammed into our short break in Berlin! In a city this large and diverse, there will aways be more to see but for first timers, I hope this gives a pretty good overview of what you should see and do. Hopefully one day, I’ll get to go back a third time in the warmer months to enjoy everything that the outdoor parks and markets have to offer!
Have you been to Berlin? What was your favourite thing to do there!?
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