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By Alexandre Schuck, French-German Berliner who has been exploring Germany’s exciting capital for the past two years.
Edited by Elodi Troskie
If the rich culture and fascinating history of Germany interests you, Berlin should be at the top of your travel bucket list. Berlin, the lively capital of Germany, has something for everyone: museums, galleries, street art, international cuisine, amazing nightlife and outdoor activities. This city is highly diverse in terms of food, music and art, with cultural influences from all over the world. If you’re planning a trip to Berlin, use this travel guide for the top 10 things to do in Berlin as suggested by yours truly, a Berlin local.
The Berlin Cathedral, also known as the Dom, was established in 1905 and remains one of the most beautiful buildings to see in Berlin. The cathedral was reconstructed in the 1970’s after it suffered severe damage when a bomb dropped on the dome of the temple in 1944. The renovations were only finished in 2002. Apart from the impressive interior – an altar made of white marble and onyx, the stately organ that was Germany’s largest organ at the time it was installed, the grand Imperial Staircase leading to the Imperial Gallery and the Baptismal and Matrimonial Chapel – a sure highlight of the cathedral is the dome. If you brave it up the almost 300 steps to the top of the dome, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of Berlin – definitely worth the climb! Opening hours are from 09:00 until 20:00 during the week and from midday until 20:00 on Sundays. Admission is 7€ for adults and 5€ for students.
Cocktails at sunset with a beautiful view of the city never gets old, no matter where in the world you are. There’s a lot of cool bars in Berlin where you can try the locally brewed beers Germany is so famous for. Monkey Bar is a really cool bar in the Charlottenburg neighbourhood, located on the 10th floor of a boutique hotel. You’ll have a panoramic view of the city, at its best if you find yourself there at sunset. The bar has an international choice of drinks and you can order food from NENI restaurant just next door. Another rooftop bar not to miss out on is Klunkerkranich in the Neukölln area. Something between a club and a laid-back beach bar, this bar is a must visit if you’re looking for cool things to do in Berlin at night.
Mauerpark is one of the best hangout spots in Berlin, especially during warm summer days – the best time to visit Berlin! When in Berlin, there’s no better place to be on a Sunday afternoon than Mauerpark. This public space located in west Berlin is a former part of the Berlin Wall – hence the name, which translates to “Wall Park”. You can stroll through the stalls in the flea market, browsing for vintage treasures like clothes, hand-made jewellery and old records. A highlight of a visit to Mauerpark is the battery-operated karaoke system where you can unleash your inner star and perform your favourite songs in front of your fellow park goers. There are beautiful running tracks through the park and you’ll often see runners and cyclists in the area. If you don’t know what to do in Berlin over the weekend, you’ll never regret an afternoon of relaxing in Mauerpark.
Alexanderplatz, located in the heart of the beautiful Mitte district, is an enormous public square that is one of the most visited attractions in Berlin. Back in the day, the square was used as exercise ground by the military as well as a trading space for farmers selling their local produce. The railway station opened in the 1880’s, making this area the major transport hub in Berlin. The square was largely destroyed during the war and renovations were finished up in the 1960’s. If you’re sightseeing Berlin, Alex is a good place to start your city tour. The square is within close reach of other must see Berlin attractions like Rotes Rathaus, Nikolai Quarter, the World Clock, the Fountain of International Friendship and Fernsehturm, the famous television tower. You’ll find yourself in the middle of one of the best shopping areas in Berlin, with countless department stores, cinemas, restaurants and cafes in the surrounds.
Burgermeister, located in Kreuzberg, is the best place to eat burgers in Berlin. With good food and good vibes, this is one of the locals’ favourite hangout spots in the city. You’ll almost always find a line, but it’s worth the wait. Order their signature Meisterburger on the side of a locally brewed beer. Another great burger joint is The Bird Barbeque a laid-back Texas-style eatery in Oderberger Street. If you want to try more of the local beers Germany is so famous for, a few suggestions are Monterey, Vagabund and Kaschk, the latter a trendy cafe where you can switch from coffee to beer within minutes.
Located at the historic site of Bernauer Strasse in the centre of the city, the Berlin Wall Memorial preserves the last remaining part of what used to be the border strip that divided Berlin until 1989. If you’re interested in learning about the history of the division of Germany, you’ll find the Berlin Wall Memorial really interesting. You’ll see remnants of border obstacles on display, along with information on its history to make it more accessible for visitors. The memorial centre is part of the Berlin Wall Foundation, which extends to other institutions like the Marienfelde Refugee Centre Museum, the Günter Litfin Memorial and the East Side Gallery. The visitor centre is open from 10:00 until 18:00 every day except Mondays. The viewing platform can also be accessed from 10:00 until 16:00 on Mondays.
East Side Gallery forms a part of the Berlin Wall Foundation. The largest open-air gallery in the word, East Side Gallery is a 1.3 kilometre stretch of the former Berlin Wall, colourfully painted with more than a hundred mural paintings by 118 artists from 21 countries over the world. The paintings are striking and often surreal, many done in the graffiti style of urban street art. You’re likely to recognize a few of the paintings, like “The Mortal Kiss” by Dmitri Vrubel and “Trabi” by Birgit Kinder. The gallery is a protected memorial – one of the coolest things to do in Berlin and a must visit if you’re looking for those picturesque Instagram-worthy sites.
The best area to stay in Berlin if you’re looking for a creative, trendy environment are the neighbourhoods in the southeast region of the city. Prenzlauer Berg is a cosmopolitan neighbourhood with countless cafes and quirky little shops. Although this district is home to boutique stores and international luxury brands, it’s a really great area to explore if Berlin’s art scene interests you. Visit the many small galleries surrounding the Weißensee Art College, a bustling creative space for young artists. Another up and coming neighbourhood is Lichtenberg, popular among young families and creatives. From the old-worldly brick houses to the enchanting old industrial buildings now converted into residential spaces, the architecture in this neighbourhood is something to behold. When you’re in the area, be sure to visit the Friedrichsfelde Palace, a Neoclassical-style building formerly owned by Prussian royalty.
Interestingly enough, the capital of Germany is surprisingly little focused around traditional German food. But it only makes sense to explore traditional local cuisine when you’re in Germany. Typical German food includes a lot of meat and starch. Think sausages, schnitzel, potatoes, pretzels and beer. Engelbecken is a great restaurant for traditional German food. Located in the charming Charlottenburg neighbourhood, Engelbecken serves all the meaty German favourites as well as a selection of vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes. If you want to have a more local dining experience, head to Fleischerei Domke, a canteen-style restaurant in Warschauer Street where you’ll find tasty German eats at very affordable prices. This is a popular restaurant among locals who work in the area, so can count on a tourist-free eating experience if you visit over lunch time – a real Berlin hidden gem.
Berlin’s food culture is very diverse and features cuisines from countries all over the world. You can find really good Italian and Mexican food in Berlin, but if you want to try something that’s not quite as internationally explored yet, opt for Pakistani and Israeli cuisine. Holi Cow is an amazing street side cafe in Revaler Street where you’ll find some of the best Pakistani street foods at affordable prices. Pakistani cuisine includes a lot of rice, curry and spices. For Israeli food, the best restaurant in Berlin is Yafo, located in the Mitte district. With their unique take on traditional Israeli cuisine, the chefs will place you right in the heart of Tel Aviv. They also have a wide range of meat-free dishes, as well as a generously stocked bar.
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