The Ultimate Berlin Guide
Peter Dargatz /Pixabay
Last updated: 08 September 2020 / by Sam Williams
Whether you’re into the party scene, you’re an art buff or you love to experience different cultures, Berlin is the city that has it all. With a reputation for being vibrant and cosmopolitan, whatever you’re looking for you’re sure to find it in this fun German city.
Berlin has so much to see and do, it’s impossible to cover everything in a single trip. This guide will help you make the most of every minute in the city by running through the best places to eat and party and the attractions you won’t want to miss.
How to Get Around
You won’t need a car to get around in Berlin as the public transport system is easily accessible and efficient, and comprehensive. Wherever you want to go to the city, you can be sure there’s a way of reaching there using a bus, train, or tram.
The main methods of public transport in Berlin are:
- Overground train – S-Bahn
- Underground train – U-Bahn
- Trams – primarily in East Berlin
- Sightseeing buses and tours
As well as public transport, bikes are a trendy way to get around. You can hire bikes from many places in the city at a very cheap rate.
Where to Eat
Looking for an upmarket meal? Or perhaps you want delicious food on a budget? Whatever you’re looking for, then chances are you’ll find it in the wealth of culinary delights that Berlin has to offer.
Thai street food
There’s an authentic enjoyment of street food, which is hard to beat. If you go to Thai Park in Charlottenburg on the weekend, you’ll savor the delights of Thai street food.
With each item costing around €5, you can buy pretty much any popular Thai dish you can think of. The vibe is casual and laidback and it’s a great spot to fill up your belly with good food without spending a fortune.
Tim Raue – fusion
If you want a real treat at the opposite end of the spectrum, check out Tim Raue, a fusion restaurant near Checkpoint Charlie.
Japanese flavors and techniques are evident, but the cuisine is a mind-blowing combination of east meets west. Choose between delights such as Wagyu beef, Australian winter truffle and tofu, prawn sashimi and much more.
Expect to pay around €55-96 per main course ordered. Expensive but delicious!
Good Morning Vietnam – Vegan Vietnamese
If you are craving Vietnamese food with a conscience, head to the quirkily named Good Morning Vietnam. Authentic Vietnamese food won’t break the bank; this restaurant is now committed to only offering vegan cuisine. As an added benefit, this restaurant is tucked away from the main path to need to walk through the courtyard to find it.
Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt – traditional German
If you are looking for a taste of traditional German food, you won’t find better than Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt.
A rustic venue situated in a genuine Bavarian beer hall, this restaurant is a favorite with everyone who loves hearty food.
Roast pork, pretzels, and sausages dominate the menu with nothing more than a token salad offered for anyone who doesn’t want to guzzle a meat-heavy meal. And of course, the filling food is washed down with an Augustiner beer brewed in Munich.
Taverna Ousia – Greek
This top-notch Greek restaurant won’t break the bank so you can fill up on an array of sumptuous Mediterranean dishes. Along with plates to share, there are both hot and cold appetizers to choose from, with plenty of traditional Greek flavors to spice up your meal. The relaxed and country-style decor helps to provide the illusion of getting away from it all – without leaving Berlin.
Coda – desserts
If you are the type of diner that picks at their main course but launches enthusiastically into dessert, then Coda could be the restaurant for you.
A concept restaurant that only serves desserts and drinks; this is far more than a cheap and cheerful ice-cream parlor. With tasteful artwork on the walls and a gourmet menu, it’s a match made in heaven for even the most discerning sweet tooth.
Nobelhart & Schmutzig – local
Nobelhart & Schmutzig is the restaurant that is credited for starting the main sustainable eating movement in Europe.
While still being a fine dining establishment, which costs a little more than average, Nobelhart & Schmutzig provides the impression of eating around a family kitchen table.
Everyone in the restaurant sits around a single long table, and all the food that’s served is organic and produced within a 125-mile radius.
Every ingredient on your plate has its own story to tell and if you want to know where the broccoli was grown, the staff can probably tell you the name of the farmer that picked it. Just lovely.
Ryotei – sushi
Berlin is the city of surprises and Ryotei is certainly that. The exterior looks just like a derelict store, with graffiti and tinted window but pull open the door that appears to be locked and you’ll discover something amazing.
A high-end, sophisticated sushi bar is decked out inside with an open kitchen in the center so you can watch the chefs preparing the dishes. Dinner here is as much of a performance as a meal, so it’s perhaps not that shocking to hear that it’s a secret favorite of footballers and Berlin celebrities.
What to Do
It’s impossible to list all of Berlin’s activities, but here are a select bunch of some of the stand-out things you might want to try:
Visit a spa
You may enjoy a regular sauna after a work-out at the gym, but nothing compares to a traditional spa trip. There are a number in Berlin, such as Vabali, which are mixed gender and clothing-free.
A completely normal experience for any Berlin resident, naked, mixed-gender spas are mind-boggling for new arrivals. However, if you can manage to cast your modesty aside, you could find the experience curiously liberating.
There’s no clothing allowed in the spa and no separated gender areas, but it’s a relaxing atmosphere. There’s no flirty or weird behavior as everyone relaxes in the body that nature blessed them with!
Sing at Bearpit karaoke
Flea markets are very popular in Berlin, especially with the bohemian crowd. The Mauerpark flea market is a huge hit, and is a great way to while a couple of hours on a Sunday.
However, this is no ordinary market as it also includes an open-air karaoke. It’s renowned in the area and the crowd love anyone who’s brave enough to get up and give it a go!
Go for a swim in the river – but not in the river
Ever wanted to take a dip in an outdoor pool that’s submerged in a river?
Bizarrely enough, that’s just what’s on offer in Berlin. Badeschiff is an old barge that has been harbored and now operates as an open swimming pool that floats on the river Spree.
One of the funkiest locations in Berlin, Badeschiff is popular with swimmers and those who want to pop by and soak up the atmosphere with a drink. There are views of some of the nearby landmarks and a buzzing bar scene back on dry land.
Join a graffiti walking tour
There are many walking tours of Berlin, each with their own particular theme. The graffiti tour is fascinating as it offers a different insight into what many others might view as vandalism. In Berlin, graffiti is viewed as art and there are some spectacular examples around the city. This tour visits some of the most iconic with the chance to see huge murals as well as secret displays.
Visit the pandas
While you won’t see any pandas roaming wild in the city, if you head to Berlin Zoo you can still enjoy the sight. The oldest zoo in Germany, Berlin Zoo has a unique charm, offering fabulous architecture and one of the most important collections of animals globally. Over 1000 species were represented, with 20,000 animals, including the famous pandas, orangutans, hippos, big cats and the largest birdhouse in Europe.
Once you’ve finished at Berlin Zoo, you can finish off your day with a stroll around the aquarium next door. With reptiles, amphibians, insects, reef fish, piranhas, sharks, and jellyfish, it’s a comprehensive marine environment that is fascinating and educational.
Take a cruise
With the river Spree winding around Berlin, it’s a shame not to take advantage of this city’s unique viewpoint. A cruise on the water is available from several different tour operators and is a beautiful way to get a glimpse of Berlin before you dive in. If you don’t want to be limited by the cruise’s itinerary, you could hire a kayak and paddle around the river yourself for a more leisurely look.
Watch the sunset from the top of the TV Tower
The Berlin TV Tower, Fernsehturm Berlin, is the city’s tallest structure and dominates the horizon. At 368 meters tall, it offers sensational views of Berlin and there’s no better way to watch the sun fade away at the end of a glorious day. The visitor platform, seen as the round sphere on the tower, is 203 meters in the air with visibility that stretches up to 42 km on a clear day.
You have the choice of either taking the lift up to the viewing platform, a trip of 40 seconds, or you can climb up the 986 stairs. On the level above, there is a revolving restaurant where you can also enjoy a drink.
Chill out at YAAM beach
Berlin may not be on the seafront, but don’t let that stop you enjoying a day at the beach! YAAM (Young and African Art Market) offers a true, chilled-out beach vibe complete with banana beer, deckchairs and sand – all surrounded by high-rise industrial buildings.
Scrumptious Caribbean cuisine, distinctive artwork and reggae music all await; turn up and stay as long as you want. If you’re still there when night falls, join in with the organized events, including DJs who fly in from all over the world.
What to See
As well as activities to enjoy, there are a myriad of sights in Berlin which would feature high on any itinerary. Some of the best include:
Although it’s the seat of the German government, you don’t need to be a fan of politics to admire the incredible architecture.
An amazing glass dome tops the building, and you can book tickets to walk around – if you dare! It’s free to visit, but you will need to reserve your space as it’s very popular.
The walking platforms around the edge of the dome offer panoramic views of the city, and at night it’s an extraordinary sight. The audio tour provides information about Berlin’s prominent landmarks, so it’s a great way to learn more about the surrounding area.
This is a great outdoor space, especially in the summer, where you can fly a kite, windsurf, or barbecue on the tarmac.
A decommissioned airport, the space has been reclaimed by the city where you’ll find folk lazing around in the grass or carrying out all types of activities on the former runway. The space is vast and at certain times of the years, you’ll attend festivals here too.
Although this outside area is lots of fun, on Mondays and Wednesdays every week you can enjoy a tour of the inside of the building. A rather eerie experience, the airport has been frozen in time so it’s like visiting a ghost town. With a tour guide available in English you can wander around all parts of the airport, including the conveyor belts and behind the counters while listening to the history of the now-deserted location.
Although Brandenburg Gate looks as if it belongs in Greece, it’s a piece of 18th century German architecture. One of the most well-known landmarks that Berlin has to offer, Brandenburg Gate has come to symbolize peace and unity.
Although several historical events have taken place at Brandenburg Gate over the years, it’s now used for an annual party on New Year’s Eve with fireworks, music and around a million revelers.
East Side Gallery
The Berlin Wall may have been knocked down in 1990, but there are sections of it that have deliberately been left standing. Standing next to the sections that remain is an intimidating experience and a stark reminder of how different Berlin’s life once was.
The East Side Gallery is free to view and is now covered with murals that are loaded with a deeper meaning. At 1316 meters long, it’s an impressive stretch of artwork with more than 100 paintings featured from global artists.
A strange structure that’s been covered with graffiti, Teufelsberg is the site of the former US spy listening station. Set up in the Cold War and in use until 1989, Teufelsberg was built on rubble and became the highest point in West Berlin.
Today, it couldn’t be further from its eerie origins, although the structure remains still there to be seen.
You can take a tour of the radar domes and get up close to the enormous satellites as part of a guided tour. In the future, when archives are unsealed, it will be possible to find out more about the secrets it still holds.
Over the years, Teufelsberg has been landscaped to be one of the most beautiful natural beauty spots and it’s popular with those who want to fly kites, picnic, go paragliding, or just hiking in the nearby Grunewald. An artificial snow-slope has been built on the manmade hill and in the winter, you can enjoy skiing or tobogganing.
Located on the Spree, Museum Island is a collection of five wonderful museums in one place. This is a real treat for fans as it’s possible to hop between the different museums and explore the full range of history and culture. The five museums are:
- Neues Museum – an award-winning museum for architecture, and the jewel in the crown
- Pergamon Museum – an archeological museum and the most popular on the island
- Alte Nationalgalerie – a stunning neoclassical building offering 19th-century art
Bode Museum – collection of Byzantine coins, artifacts, statues and art
- Altes Museum – a UNESCO World Heritage Site offering a collection of antiques
Located between Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie was the name given to the most famous border crossing point between East and West Berlin.
The site witnessed many confrontations over the years, including 1961 when Soviet and American tanks lined up against each other, ready to fire. Checkpoint Charlie is also the point where most people tried to cross the wall, most sadly failing and many losing their life.
Today, the site has an installation and commemorative plaques to tell the tale of its past, with a museum that offers a real insight into how life used to be in Berlin.
Also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Holocaust Memorial is an installation designed to pay respects to the millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Spread out over 19,000 square meters, the site includes 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights, arranged in a grid. The end result is unsettling and disturbing, eerily reminiscent of an unmarked graveyard.
Museumswohnung WBS 70
It’s hard to imagine just what life was like in East Berlin, but this museum apartment takes you back in time. Everything at Hellersdorfer Straße 179 is realistic, from the floor coverings to the books, records and even kitchen utensils. A perfectly preserved example of a prefabricated GDR building, it’s also possible to book guided tours of the apartment to hear real-life stories from survivors of the era.
Berlin has a reputation as party central, and it’s one that is well-deserved. No matter what type of entertainment or music you like, you’re sure to find a club or nightspot that tickles your fancy.
You won’t find the scene getting started early in Berlin; some of the best places don’t go until at least 1am. You should also be prepared to keep an open mind; public nudity and uninhibited sexual conduct aren’t unusual.
Some of the prime spots for a night out in Berlin include:
You don’t need to head to a thumping nightclub to enjoy an evening in Berlin. Klunkerkranich is a rooftop bar that charges a small sum for entry, but it’s more than worth it. When the weather is nice, the outside space is glorious. The design is quirky with plants, a rotation of different artwork and even a sandbox because, why not? With live music and a laidback vibe, this hidden gem is one to seek out.
If you’re into the club scene, you’ll have probably heard of this infamous nightspot, which some fans claim to be the best in the world. Starting out as part of the LGBTQ+ scene and located on an old power station, it’s now evolved into more of a techno club, complete with dark rooms. It’s impossibly trendy and it’s not always easy to get in. They like to admit familiar faces, so if you’re friends with a local, you’ve got a better chance!
If you don’t know anyone who can give you a hand to gain entry, turning up alone is better than being in a large group. Black clothing and a casual vibe are what they’re looking for, so don’t rock up in club brights, heels, and 20!
It might sound like a lot of hassle but this sought-after spot is well worth the effort. If you’re successful, you won’t regret it.
This may sound more like a chocolate biscuit, but it’s one of Berlin’s most notorious clubs. It’s not a club that will appeal to everyone because despite the standard fare of techno, trance and electro beats, it’s very different from everywhere else.
There’s a strict dress code to gain admission. Think fetish, latex, kink or high glamour and you’ll be successfully admitted. But once inside, patrons are expected to shed most of their clothing for an atmosphere where quite literally, anything goes.
As well as the dance floor and various rooms, there’s also a luxurious pool for patrons to enjoy. Cast off your inhibitions and you could just have the night of your life.
A ground-breaker even in the offbeat Berlin club scene, Hoe_Mies is an alluring combination of community and party house. You’ll find a different mix of music here from reggae to 1990s R&B right through to trap music.
What makes Hoe_Mies unique is that it focuses on putting transgender, non-binary and women artists center-stage, amplifying their voices while still putting on a great night of entertainment.
If you enjoy your clubs to feel like an old-fashioned bump and grind, Bodysnatch will be the perfect spot. Full of high energy and a crowd that can’t get enough, it’s easy to feel high just on the atmosphere alone.
Unlike the techno that dominates many other top Berlin clubs, at Bodysnatch, you’ll be shaking your hips to some serious bass, grime, hip-hop, reggaeton, and Jersey Club.
Amidst all the hardcore clubs you’ll find in Berlin, there are other types of nightspots too, such as Dicke Wirtin, a traditional German bar.
With nine beers available on tap, massive plates of sausage and house Schnapps to get you really pickled, it’s a slice of authentic German that visitors will love.
For a vibe that’s more like the classic speakeasy, head to Becketts Kopf. Decked out in red velvet, it’s a real blast from the past with Chesterfield sofas to relax on, glass in hand. This cocktail bar is non-smoking, a rarity in Berlin and offers an oasis of clean air.
A fabulous array of cocktails are available to order but prepare to be judged by the portrait of Samuel Beckett that hangs on the wall.