Quintessentially cool with an old soul but a young, creative spirit, full of prestigious cultural institutions but underlined by a rebellious streak, Berlin is in one moment the epitome of everything fashionable and in the next throws you a knowing grunge-punk wink.
As an affordable, thriving cosmopolitan centre, with bargains for the bold young creative types who flock from all over Europe and the world to partake in its magnetic charm, Berlin is a diverse, thriving metropolis and ideal for a memorable jaunt abroad.
Here’s our breakdown of the must-dos and neighbourhood gems to make the most of your break in Berlin.
For a dose of urban art, explore the streets of Kreuzberg, which act as a sprawling open-air graffiti gallery. This edgy neighbourhood has seen its punk heart softened over the years, but it still has a gritty air of creative rebellion and an energetic nightlife.
If you’re a fan of Vietnamese cuisine, pay a visit to Miss Saigon, a tiny and adorable local favourite that serves incredibly fresh, authentic food at equally incredible prices. Warm your soul on a cold day with a steaming bowl of pho or cool off on a sunny afternoon with a decadent avocado and coconut smoothie.
While many claim the über popular Curry 36 in Kreuzberg slings the best currywurst (deep-fried sausage in a curry-ketchup sauce) in Berlin, the conscience-friendly fare at Witty’s lets you enjoy your indulgence with a smidgen less guilt. While still fast food, the organic offerings at this slice of spicy sausage heaven are made from locally sourced meat and veggies.
Work it off by wandering through the cavernous confines of Kaufhaus des Westens (or KaDeWe), the largest department store on the Continent.
Head to the food halls on the upper floors and feast, maybe just your eyes if you’re still remembering the currywurst, on gourmet delicacies and specialties from down the street and across the world. Stop for a bit of respite in the impressive winter garden on the top floor, which affords excellent views of the surrounding area.
Considered by many to be the heart of Berlin, Mitte comprises the city centre and reaches across areas that were historically part of East and West Berlin.
Balancing the city’s major cultural institutions, tourist attractions, and most historic spots with chic areas filled with stylish shops and trendy restaurants, this neighbourhood could easily devour all of your sightseeing time.
Nestled in a wooded spot within Volkspark am Weinberg, Nola’s am Weinberg serves Swiss comfort food in a welcoming setting with walls of windows for watching wintry scenes from the warm, chalet-inspired interior and a splendid terrace for soaking up the sun in the summer.
Once you get over the surprising fact that Berlin boasts excellent Vietnamese cuisine, stop by the vibrantly decorated, always busy Monsieur Vong for your fill of pho – as well as oodles of noodles and other zesty delights.
Treat your ears to a concert featuring the stunning organ in the Berlin Cathedral, an equally breath-taking building, or feed your eyes with modern art by the masters in the equally masterful glass cube of the Neue Nationalgalerie, a work of art itself – designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a renowned architect and pioneer of modernism.
Pause for a moment of contemplation, while trying not to be swallowed by the crowds, as you soak in the striking sight of the Brandenburg Gate – a symbol both of the city’s tumultuous past and of its ambitions for a peaceful and bright future.
Just south, experience another moment when past meets present in Potsdamer Platz, where segments of the old Berlin Wall are juxtaposed with soaring skyscrapers housing the corporate headquarters of some of the world’s biggest brands.
If you’re there between the beginning of November and the start of January, check out the annual Winter World – an outdoor homage to everything snowy, cosy and Christmassy. Warm up with a glass of glühwein after a ride down the largest mobile snow-tube slide in Europe.
In the posh but laid-back streets of Prenzlauer Berg, devote a bit of time to wandering the relaxed residential avenues before stopping by I Due Forni.
This bustling, convivial pizza place packs you in family style at long communal tables amidst walls plastered with posters and graffiti from artists and grateful guests.
Local beer, cheap and cheerful house wine, and sensational pizza with a light, crispy crust and fresh, high-quality ingredients come together in a deceptively simple formula for a heartily enjoyable and affordable meal.
Afterwards, meander over to Forum Weinerei, one of the popular wine bars in the area operating on an honour system of payments. This unusual concept allows you to sample different white and red wines and pay at the end based on what you think you owe. It’s great for those who like to try wines without committing to a full glass.
Or perhaps you want a dash of Kubrick with your drink? Stroll down the street to 8mm, an atmospheric dive bar exuding grungy glamour with solid taste in music and a soft spot for iconic films and cult classics, which are played nightly via an old-school projector.
Fill your eyes and your heart with the inspiring tribute to freedom that is the East Side Gallery. Artists from all over the world have painted segments of the old Berlin Wall, creating an eclectic mural stretching along 1.3 colourful kilometres.
After, explore Friedrichshain, an artsy, expressive neighbourhood that places a lot of emphasis on community and has a more casual, homey feel.
Following a delicious Thai meal at Lemongrass, a friendly local haunt, drink in a moment of history at Die Tagung. Furnished with parts of dismantled factories from East Berlin and decorated with GDR memorabilia, this tongue-in-cheek neighbourhood hangout has an irreverent and relaxed vibe.
Prenzlauer Berg Image Credit: Mark Jensen