General wisdom will tell you that you need at least four days in Berlin – or even a week – if you want to ‘see everything’, and I would agree with that view. However, I’m not a ‘see everything’ kind of gal and, as I only had three nights in Berlin with my teenage niece, we had to prioritise by deciding on what we considered essential and by leaving other sights till the next trip. So here’s what we did below, and what I’ve saved for my next trip.
The Berlin Welcome Card
This is the first thing we bought on landing at Schonefeld Airport. It covers all public transport (U-bahn, S-bahn, buses) and gets you discounts to a ton of major sights. At 30.90 Euro for zones A, B and C over 72 hours, it was great value and really convenient as we could just run for trains without bothering about tickets every time. You need zone C if you are going to Schonefeld Airport or Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. The inspectors are constantly monitoring the trains to the airport and you’ll pay a 40 Euro fee if you travel outside your zone.
The Television Tower – Fernsehturm, at Alexander Platz
The iconic Fernsehturm, emblem of Soviet Berlin, stands at 368 metres in height and was built ‘with the aim of demonstrating the strength and efficiency of the socialist system in mind’. The lift takes you up to its sphere in a mere 40 seconds and, for a sense of this speed and height, look up the shaft as you ascend – but maybe not if you’re of a nervous disposition! Once up in the sphere, you will get stunning 360 views of Berlin and great photos. You can also book dinner or drinks up there.
Before we bought our tickets they advised us that there would be a two-hour wait before entry. This is a good time to go off and see the DDR Museum nearby. We probably should have booked fast-track tickets but we didn’t want to commit to a particular time and day, so if you’re not commitment-phobic you should fast-track.
Cost of TV Tower Observation Deck Tickets: Adults € 15.50 / children €9.50 Student ticket: 20%- Discount for the Observation Deck Ticket at the ticket desk (with student identity card). https://tv-turm.de/en/homepage/
The DDR Museum, Karl Liebknecht Strasse
This recreates life in Soviet Era East Berlin, from politics to home life, school, holidays and work. It’s got a very fun, interactive approach and is really excellent for young people and those who knew nothing about Berlin’s Soviet history. Considering the repression and suffering of the Soviet regime, I would say those who are old enough to remember might find it too light-hearted and entertaining but it’s still worth a visit and will be extremely popular with school groups.
The Berlin Cathedral – Berliner Dom
Berlin’s landmark cathedral, flanked by the river Spree and Museum Island.
Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
There are a few tour buses to choose from. We did the yellow tour of the west which took in major sights like Unter den Linden, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Kurfurstendamm. It would have been nice to also do the East tour but that’s for another day. Technically the tour takes about 2.5 hours but you will want to get off at different stops so you should really allow several more hours to do this tour at your leisure. The City Sightseeing Bus also looks like a really good tour. We had originally booked a free walking tour for day two but after walking 18,000 steps on day one, we knew we’d need the bus.
It’s important to pay your respects at this memorial to those murdered in the Holocaust. Sadly, people allow their children to run around the stele (monuments), sit on them and generally treat them like a playground, despite notices which ask people not to do this.
Reichstag – Parliament Building
We didn’t have time to tour the Reichstag. If you decide to do it you must book ahead and submit your passports for a few hours for security clearance. The modern glass dome at the building’s rear is meant to be a real highlight, and you can book lunch there as well.
Ka de We Shopping Emporium
This is a little over-rated – it’s basically the same as every high-end store everywhere else. However, their top-floor food emporium is worth a visit if you’re a foodie.
Berlin Wall Memorial at Garten Strasse
Blocks of the wall remain standing around this small green area opposite the memorial centre. Information about the wall’s history is posted all over the area so that you get a really good sense of context and meaning. Well worth a visit.
Kreuzberg and Oranien Strasse
I really liked Turkish neighbourhood. It’s a ‘gentrified’ hipster, artsy area with lots of cool bars, cafes, restaurants and grafitti art. A great place for restaurants, bars, ethnic food, vintage shopping, and just meandering about.
AmpfelMan Traffic Light Guy – he’s everywhere!
Restaurant Ephraims, Spreeufer, 1
If you’re determined to eat traditional German food – knuckle of pork, roast ham, sauerkraut, apple strudel – in an old-world setting, then look no further. It’s quaint and charming.
Hazir, Adalbert Str, 12
This restaurant is part of a small Turkish chain in Germany. It’s buzzy, friendly and casual, with authentic Turkish food. (I’ve eaten in Turkey and it compared well with meals I’ve had there.)
Ka de We, Tauentzienstrasse, 21-24
Their food hall is pricey but nice for a little treat. We ate so much that we left no room for dessert.
Monkey Bar, BudapesterStrasse, 40
This bar which overlooks the zoo and offers panoramic views of the city, is a great novelty and well worth a visit. Wine and spirits are expensive but beer is reasonably priced. For a non-alcoholic drink, the limonana is delicious and looks like a mojito. Despite being crowded, service was super quick and friendly.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp – guided tour with Get Your Guide
This tour will take a full day out of your schedule as it runs from 10:00 to 16:00 but it’s an essential part of Europe’s ugly history. It’s not an easy thing to do but it has to be done if you care about history, and the guides do an excellent job of educating groups in an accessible and memorable manner.
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, Potsdamer Platz, which was excellent value. This pristine, contemporary 4-star hotel cost us about 75 Euro per night and was the best value/quality hotel I’ve had in years. Had a lovely luxurious feel to it and was just minutes away from everything on the S-bahn.
Next time, I’ll spend more time soaking up the atmosphere around Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain; visiting vintage stores, markets and the antique quarter; seeing the East Side Gallery; seeing more of East Berlin (I stayed there in the ’90s so I did get to see it back then); taking a day trip to Sans Souci Palace and Gardens.