What are the five best things to see and do in Berlin?

Berlin is a vibrant city, steeped in history and culture. Here are five activities not to miss in the German capital:
 
1. The Reichstag. Home of the German parliament, the Reichstag is a marvel of democracy and architecture. You must register at least a month ahead to visit the building’s dome. British architect Sir Norman Foster’s mirrored spiral draws thousands to the roof every day, so be prepared to wait (if you’re visiting the building’s rooftop restaurant, you can skip the line). Guided tours can be arranged in English six days a week, however, 45-minute lectures about the history of the building are only offered in English Tuesday afternoons (registration is required for both). After registering, you can even watch a session of parliament.
 
2. A visit to East Berlin. East Berlin has a drab history, which included small, bland apartments in nondescript gargantuan concrete buildings where everyone lived. Today, you can still see signs of the area’s past — like the buildings, along with some lingering war destruction — but you’ll also see shops, museums and a vibrant nightlife scene. While it may be cliché, a bus tour is one of the best ways to see East Berlin. Look for tour companies like Berlin City Hop-On Hop-Off, which lets you get on and off as many times as you like, so you can explore the area by foot.
 
3. Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg). Before 1871, Germany was home to closely related states and kingdoms. Royalty had mansions sprinkled throughout the region. We are drawn to the majesty of Charlottenburg Palace, the largest castle in the capital. Construction on a summer residence started in 1695 for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Prussian Elector Frederick III. After he ascended to the throne, the palace and its ornate gardens became more and more grand. Although the structure sustained substantial damage during World War II, the baroque and rococo mélange was lovingly brought back to its original splendor in the 1950s. It's a great place to get a glimpse of the life of Prussian royalty and see exquisite collections of 18th-century French and German paintings and porcelain.
 
4. Visit the Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer). Construction of the Berlin Wall started on Bernauer Street (Bernauerstrasse), where a visitor center now sits. However, you’ll see the full exhibit outdoors. Walk about nine blocks along Bernauer Street; the wall has been replaced with 12-foot-tall rusted metal poles. Go there to read and hear (audio is available) about the cinder-block barrier and the lives it separated.
 
5. Museum Island. The World Heritage site holds five world-class museums, including the Pergamon Museum and Old National Gallery. Head to the area to get an up-close look at the Pergamon Altar and Ishtar Gate on this land in the middle of Berlin.
 

  • On June 12, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What are the best day trips near Berlin?

    Although Berlin offers plenty to see and do, if you want to get away from the city for the day, there are several options for nearby day trips as well.

    Just 20 miles from Berlin, a trip to Potsdam is a great way to spend the day. Located on the Havel River, Potsdam is home to the sprawling Park Sanssouci, with numerous palaces and gardens to explore; a historic Dutch Quarter full of shopping and restaurant options; and a look into Germany’s version of Hollywood with the Potsdam Filmmuseum’s take on the history of film production in the area and the theme park-like Film Park Babelsberg.

    On a sunny day head to Berlin’s version of the beach—Lake Wannsee, the longest inland sea beach in Europe. Thirty minutes west of Berlin’s center by train, the lake features a 1-kilometer long sandy beach with a water slide, beach volleyball courts, and nudist area.

    To take in some of Germany’s harrowing history, a trip 40 minutes to the north brings you to the memorial site of Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp. Erected in 1936, the site was used as a model for many of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Today many of the buildings remain, including the gas chamber, prison cells, and barracks. It is easy to reach by train, a shot walk from the S-Bahn Oranienburg station.

    A 45 minute train ride southeast of Berlin will take you to the wonderful lush greenery that is the Spreewald forest. A winter visit is the perfect time to take advantage of the area’s thermal baths; in warmer weather spend time hiking, canoeing, or riding paddle boats. Just make sure to try the famous Spreewald cucumbers!

    The coastal town of Hamburg may be further than the rest, but the speedy German rail system can get you there in an hour and a half and, if you have the time, it’s worth a visit to this port city. Take a boat ride down the River Elbe; walk along the canals and bridges of the historic warehouse distric; and see the flashy lights of the Reeperbahn.
  • On May 28, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    Where is the best shopping in Berlin?

    West Berlin has a certain Parisian charm about it, and on Kurfürstendamm (or Ku’damm), you’ll find some high-end shopping on par with the fashion capital. Along with luxury designer brands like Prada, Versace, and Chanel, this mile-long shopping street is home to Europe’s largest department store, Kaufhaus des Westens (or KaDeWe). The premium department store houses six floors of fashion, jewelry, home goods, and shoes, as well as an impressive food hall that’s not to be. When you are ready for a break, head to the top floor restaurant and enjoy lunch underneath the café's stunning art deco glass ceiling.

    In East Berlin, the central Mitte neighborhood is home to some of the city’s young designer boutiques and showrooms, like Antonia Goy and Lala Berlin. Steps away from the nearby Alexanderplatz, the Alexacentre shopping mall offers a wide variety of more commercial stores, like German brands Camp David and S. Oliver, as well as globally recognized European chains H&M and Zara.

    Berlin is also home to some great vintage and flea markets. The Sunday Mauerpark flea market gathers eclectic shoppers looking for a bargain on used bikes or vintage ware, while the Straße des 17. Juni market is known for a stricter policy for its vendors, which leads to more professionals and antiques. You'll also find small trinkets, jewerly, and housewares at the city's farmers markets; the Saturday market at Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg is worth a visit.
  • On May 28, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What are the best coffee shops in Berlin?

    The café culture is very much a part of German life—there is always time for coffee and cake (most often a dense piece of quarkkuchen). Cafés and coffee shops line the streets of Berlin, where you will find both residents and visitors lazily enjoying the day over a massive cup. In the summer, this relaxed attitude spreads onto the streets, as cafés add plenty of outdoor tables and seating. Anne Blume and Cafe Fleury are portraits of this type of Berlin institution, the type of places you can get your caffeine on all day long.

    Coffee in Berlin has changed for the better in recent years, thanks to an influx of roasters and enthusiasts immigrating to the city from all over the globe. With their latte art talents, fancy equipment, and high standards for sourcing beans, these aficionados have upped the ante on Berlin coffee, helping the city to compete on a world level when it comes to java.  At shops like Mitte’s The Barn, Prenzlauer Berg’s Bonanza, and Kreuzberg’s Five Elephant, you’ll find some of the best the city has to offer.

    If you’d like to get a little work in with your caffeine fix, Sankt Oberholz, KaffeeMitte, and Bully’s Bakery all offer wifi along with a side of caffeinated atmosphere.

    And in West Berlin you can find a few examples of more elegant coffee shop culture. Inside a turn-of-the-20th-century villa, Café Einstein Stammhaus is a refined Viennese restaurant and coffee house, which roasts its own coffee and takes pride in its Austrian classics, including Apfelstrudel. And you can take a break from shopping on the ritzy Kurfürstendamm at Cafe im Literaturehaus, a charming coffee house where poetic and literature readings often take place.
  • On May 27, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What are the best museums in Berlin?

    Berlin is home to more than 170 museums and galleries, many of which are conveniently located near each other on Museum Island, keeping visitors busy for days on end. The city’s three day pass, allows access to many of the big museums for three consecutive days, and, at 24€, is an economical way to go if you plan on visiting more than one or two during your visit.

    Both the Deutsche Historische Museum and Neues Museum are among the most popular destinations because they both hold eye-catching artifacts and antiquities collections—you’ll find an extensive selection of cultural, political, and economic relics and documents inside the Historische Museum, while objects like Nefertiti’s bust are inside the Neues.

    Another popular destination for visitor’s to Berlin is the newly opened Pergamon Museum, which houses not only a massive Greek Temple, the Pergamon Altar, but also a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, one of the eight gates of Babylon, as well as numerous other impressive artifacts and reproductions.

    Those interested in Jewish history may wish to visit the Jewish Museum, which chronicles Jewish people from the Middle Ages through today. Rather than focus on World War II and the Holocaust, the museum is centered on and celebrates Jewish culture, life, and history. For a more direct look on the Holocaust and the crimes of World War II, the Topographie des Terrors houses photographs and documents that outline and explain many of the actions of the Nazis' Reich Security Main Office.

    For modern art lovers, the Hamburger Banhof is the place to visit. Inside a former railway station, this contemporary art museum features some of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, including Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Joseph Beuys. Galleries like the Martin-Gropius-Bau, and Sammlung Boros Collection are also popular for their wide-ranging and often controversial exhibits. And for the design-oriented, the Bauhaus Archives is home to a collection of artifacts from one of the most influential schools of architecture in the 20th century; you’ll find sculpture, ceramics, furniture, and architectural models by Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Josef Albers inside.
  • On May 24, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What are the best parks in Berlin?

    Around one-third of Berlin’s landscape is filled with parks, gardens, lakes, rivers, and other natural space, so there is plenty of greenery to enjoy in this city. The most well known, and largest, is the Tiergarten park in West Berlin, which is home to many monuments, including the Victory Column, and includes numerous pathways throughout it and alongside the Spree River.

    On the border between the neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, you’ll find Volkspark Friedrichshain, a sprawling park that includes a swan pond, tennis courts and a volleyball area, a restaurant, and plenty of pathways for walking and jogging. The park is also home to many landmarks, including a charming fountain featuring characters from classic fairytales.

    A former airport was turned into Tempelhofer Park a few years ago and provides a unique space within the city. The wide open fields and landing runways have become popular with cyclists, bikers, skaters, and kiters—the area is also home to several dog parks, picnics areas, and barbecue spaces. Insteading of housing airplanes, the hangers are now used to host festivals and fairs, including the Berlin Festival and the Bread and Butter tradeshow.

    And in West Berlin, the Schloss Charlottenburg gardens are not to be missed during the summer months. The Baroque gardens includes picturesque rose and flower gardens, landscaped pathways, and a former teahouse, which is now a porcelain museum. The castle itself, a summer residence for Frederick III, houses one of the largest collections of 18th Century French paintings outside of France.
  • On May 23, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What are the best souvenirs to buy in Berlin?

    Some of the most iconic Berlin souvenirs include statues of the Berlin Buddy bear, available in a variety of designs and styles; numerous mementos decorated with the Ampelmann logo, the East German pedestrian traffic light symbol; and items imprinted with the image of the Brandenburger Tor, TV Tower, and other well known Berlin landmarks.

    For more eclectic souvenirs, head to one of Berlin’s farmer’s markets or flea markets, where you can find more unique items to remember your trip by, such as locally made jams and honey, or vintage books and jewelry. Or pick up a GDR-era knickknack from M. Koos-Ostprodukte, a shop inside the Alexanderpltaz station that caters to East Berlin nostalgia, or the DDR Museum shop.

    Berlin also launched a design completion in 2013, the Berlin Design Souvenir Award, to help the city develop a new iconic souvenir. Hoping to find an creative design that will break away from the typical Berlin-themed souvenirs, the city is looking for a new, unique reminder of the German capital. The preliminary nominees of this competition will be announced in early June.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    Where is the best shopping in Berlin?

    West Berlin has a certain Parisian charm about it, and on Kurfürstendamm (or Ku’damm), you’ll find some high-end shopping on par with the fashion capital. Along with luxury designer brands like Prada, Versace, and Chanel, this mile-long shopping street is home to Europe’s largest department store, Kaufhaus des Westens (or KaDeWe). The premium department store houses six floors of fashion, jewelry, home goods, and shoes, as well as an impressive food hall that’s not to be. When you are ready for a break, head to the top floor restaurant and enjoy lunch underneath the café's stunning art deco glass ceiling.

    In East Berlin, the central Mitte neighborhood is home to some of the city’s young designer boutiques and showrooms, like Antonia Goy and Lala Berlin. Steps away from the nearby Alexanderplatz, the Alexacentre shopping mall offers a wide variety of more commercial stores, like German brands Camp David and S. Oliver, as well as globally recognized European chains H&M and Zara.

    Berlin is also home to some great vintage and flea markets. The Sunday Mauerpark flea market gathers eclectic shoppers looking for a bargain on used bikes or vintage ware, while the Straße des 17. Juni market is known for a stricter policy for its vendors, which leads to more professionals and antiques. You'll also find small trinkets, jewerly, and housewares at the city's farmers markets; the Saturday market at Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg is worth a visit.
  • On April 23, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    Where can you get the best view of Berlin?

    When you think about the Berlin skyline, the image that most comes to mind is Brandenburg Tor. And while the neoclassical gate in the center of town is certainly impressive, Berlin’s landscape offers much to be admired. Thankfully there are plenty of options to get a great view. The Fernseturm, or TV Tower, is one of the city’s most recognized landmarks, jettisoning into the skyline where you can see it from almost every location in town. That tall tower also offers a great view; an elevator brings you 207 meters high to find a revolving restaurant and viewing gallery. The glass roof of the Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament, also offers an impressive view from its West Berlin home; entrance is free, but advance registration is required. And for a bit of a thrill, take Europe’s speediest elevator to the 24th floor panoramic observation deck, Panoramapunkt, in Potsdamer Platz’s Kollhoff Tower.
  • On April 23, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What is public transportation like in Berlin?

    Berlin is Germany’s largest city, and with a population of roughly 3.5 million people, it’s about 3 times the size of Chicago. An impressive transportation system helps navigate the paths throughout it. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn networks help get you around the central city, with frequent stops in most of Berlin’s primary neighborhoods. These trains also reach out further into the city’s suburbs. The above ground Ringbahn makes a circular loop around this network, connecting points throughout the city center. And every few blocks you'll find either a tram or a bus stop, which make numerous stops throughout the city. The country’s transportation network, Deutsche Bahn, also provides bike rentals; register ahead of time, pick-up a bike, and enjoy the city views on wheels.

    One thing to note: the public transportation system here relies on an honesty system, so you won’t find entry barriers at any of the stops. But underground inspectors make rounds throughout the bus, trams, and train lines, giving out fines of up to €40 to riders without a ticket. Tickets can be purchased on trams and at U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, and need to be stamped before boarding the train. Check out the official website for more information and to plan your journey; the Deutsche Bahn Navigator phone application is also helpful in planning routes for tech-savvy visitors.
  • On April 17, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What are some things to know before visiting Berlin?

    Berlin is a pretty carefree city, full of creatives, artists, and wanderers who tend to just let things happen as they will. This nonchalant attitude often rubs off on the city’s visitors, but there are a few things to keep in mind when planning your visit. Here are some simple tips to get you in-the-know before you land in Berlin.

    Open Hours
    While the weekends are high season for tourists, they are sacred time in Germany. In smaller cities, shops are only open until noon on Saturday and nearly everything shuts down on Sundays. The more cosmopolitan Berlin offers a little leeway, but the rules are pretty much the same. You’ll find that most shops, grocery, stores, pharmacies and the like have shorter hours on Saturday, and are closed on Sundays. Tourist shops stay open for souvenirs, along with restaurants, bars, and convenience stores for provisions.

    Credit Cards
    Cash is king in Berlin—most shops, restaurants, and bars don’t take credit cards. Although many hotels, grocery stores, and some high-end department stores cater to an International audience and will take your plastic, it’s best to be prepared to spend cash.

    Tipping
    German law requires that all prices, menus, and bills include tax and a service charge, so tipping is not neccessary. However, it's common practice to leave a few Euros for a tip. Berliners often round up the bill and leave the change.

    Important Telephone numbers
    Stay connected while travelling with these numbers on hand. The international access code for Germany is +49 and the city code for Berlin is +30, so dial 011+49+30 + a Berlin phone number in order to call the city from the United States. When calling the U.S. from Berlin, dial 001 first.

  • On April 16, 2013
    Katherine Sacks answered the question: Katherine Sacks

    What is the best time to visit Berlin?

    Berliners love to gripe about the weather, and everyone you meet from December through March will apologize for the cold, gray city skies. While a snow walk through Tiergarten park can be magical and December’s Christmas markets are unforgettable, the best time to visit Berlin is in the summer. The city is extremely walkable, and sunny weather makes that so much nicer then the freezing winter temperatures.  Many of Berlin’s best attractions—boat rides along the Spree River, open air concerts, and outdoor film screenings—are best enjoyed in summer. The warm weather also brings everything from the blooming Schloss Charlottenburg courtyards and boisterous beer gardens, to a number of barge pools set along the Spree River, perfect for soaking up the sun. And of course, one of Germany’s favorite treats, a trip to an eis café for several scoops of German ice cream, is best enjoyed during the hottest summer days.
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