There’s something for everyone in this city, a place that truly got under my skin during our one-week stay.
First, you’ll want to pick a base to explore Berlin. Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (two neighborhoods that merged in 2001) is the “cool” part of Berlin, where artists, hippies, druggies, and street performers are all part of the community.
Mitte, the historical center, has a modern twist – where you’ll find polished buildings and higher prices.
Prenzlauer Berg, somewhere between those two boroughs,
Berlin might be a fun place for drinking, eating, and partying, but it’s important to learn about the history of the city while you’re there. The best way to do so is to visit these sites:
During the Cold War, the iconic Berlin Wall divided the neighborhoods of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. This also meant it divided families and friends. These days, you can see politically-charged artwork and graffiti on the wall.
Since this city is filled with creative souls, you’ll find some incredible street art all around Berlin. Some of the pieces are based on politics and social issues, while others are just pretty to look at.
You’ll find most artwork in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Look for these artists in particular: AliCé aka Alice Pasquini, Herakut, El Bocho, XOOOOX, and Banksy. Wandering through the city to see the street art was one of my favorite experiences in Berlin.
It might sound weird to have a park on a list of sights to see, but this isn’t your average green space. This area used to be an airport, but it’s now been turned into a massive park for residents to unwind.
You’ll see people walking, running, flying kites, drinking beer, slacklining, doing yoga, smoking weed... you name it, they’re doing it! I recommend going late in the afternoon with a blanket and some wine to watch the sunset (keep in mind, drinking in public is legal in Germany). They usually kick people out and close the gates between 5pm–6pm, depending on the season.
Apart from visiting the Berlin Wall and looking at street art, the best way to see the historic architecture and important sights of Berlin is by joining a walking tour. There’s a free tour (perfect for backpackers) that departs three times a day from One80 Hostel.
This tour takes you through the Mitte borough, which is home to sites such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and Museum Island.
Why not rent a bike to explore the neighborhoods like the locals do? Cycling in Berlin is easy because there’s a designated bike lane (careful when you’re walking), and the city is relatively flat.
If you’re not interested in navigating yourself, you can join a cycling tour as well – some of which you can combine with food – winning! Check out Berlin On Bike for biking tours.
If you’re craving an adventure outside the capital city, here are a few of our favorite day trips:
Take a 35 minute drive from Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, and leave the city behind for the serene forest and fresh air.
This is where Berlin’s elite used to live and play, away from the urban mass of the city. While lovers of architecture will enjoy looking at mansions, what you’ll probably enjoy most is the refreshing river; it's perfect for wild-swimming spots.
Home to the second oldest coffee shop in Europe, this city is a two-hour drive from Berlin. Leipzig is best known for its art, culture, and music scene – as well as stunning architecture.
This city was once dubbed “Florence of the Elbe” because of its beautiful collection of art and architecture. Sadly, many of the buildings were destroyed by bombs in WWII. Regardless, a lot of restoration has been completed, and the city is looking almost back to normal. It’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Berlin.
This city is just a 45-minute journey from Berlin, making it an easy day trip from the capital. Up until 1918, Potsdam was home to the Prussian Kings, which means there are some gorgeous palaces and gardens to check out here.
German food is tasty, but after you’ve had your fair share of schnitzel and bratwurst, you might be ready to sample some of the international cuisine on offer in Berlin.
For travelers, this means a diverse range of food – at an affordable price! Look out for awesome street food stalls and markets around the city, but if you’re short on time, here are some of our favorites:
Urban Spree (Friedrichshain): This cluster of stalls serves up ethnic food from around the world – we particularly liked the Indian and Mexican food. You’ll also find an art gallery, workshops, and live music. It’s got a beer garden vibe, and plenty of picnic tables to choose from.
Curry 36 (Kreuzberg): You’ll find hordes of people lined up here to sample this fast-food German favorite. Currywurst is a sausage (cut up into pieces or whole) and covered in ketchup and curry powder. No surprises here, it’s delicious.
Preußenpark (Wilmersdorf): This park is actually nicknamed “Thai Park” due to the flavorsome Thai cuisine sold here. If you’re in Berlin during spring and summer months, don’t miss this place.
Mustafa's Gemüse Kebab (Kreuzberg): Near Curry 36, you’ll find Mustafa’s. There’ll be a long line of people down the street (from open to close), but it’s worth the wait for tasty kebabs at cheap prices.
Zazza Vegan & Vegetarian (Kreuzberg): Just across the Spree River, you’ll find this little café/restaurant. If you’re sick of eating sausages and shaved meat, come here for your fill of vegetarian food. The food here is light, healthy, and delicious. Plus, they have great coffee.
Beer Gardens: You’ll find these in numerous places around Berlin, but be sure to check out Urban Spree and the beer gardens at Mauerpark. If you want to feel like a local, head to the shops and purchase a few bottles of beer and sit out front. Often, Berliners will just sit on the curb with their friends.
Hopfenreich Bar: Officially, this was the first craft beer bar in Berlin, and it’s a top choice to stop in for a pint. There are 22 different types of brews on tap. The atmosphere is great, and so are the beers.
Club der Visionäre (Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg): Don’t miss this river bar with a sundeck. Located on the riverbanks near Treptower Park, this is the place to be in summer. Admission is free, unless you go in the evening when the club atmosphere gets amped up a notch. In that case, it’s a five-Euro entry fee.
Whether you’re looking to do a little bit of shopping or just feel like browsing with the locals, there are a heap of markets to visit in Berlin – especially during the warmer months.
Sunday Flea Market in Mauerpark (Prenzlauer Berg): Find anything and everything you might want or need here. There are some seriously random items for sale at this flea market (stuffed seagull anyone?). After wandering around looking at vintage goods, stop in at the beer garden for a chilled wheat beer (Hefeweizen), and finish your Sunday afternoon off with live music in the adjacent Mauerpark.
RAW Flea Market (Friedrichshain): If you’re looking for an alternate (less touristy) market to visit on a Sunday, then definitely check out RAW. The outdoor area here is much more than a market, and you’ll find numerous clubs and cultural projects. Plus, there are beer gardens nearby.
Neuköllner Stoff (Kreuzberg): This is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon. Located along the pretty Landwehr Canal, shops line the sidewalk, selling everything from food and jewelry to clothing and wine.
Want to know more about Germany? Check out our podcast. We have an insider's guide to the coolest spots in Berlin and find out how to Eurail around Germany.
Five ways to explore Germany by bike. Stop to taste the local cuisine, see Zwinger, and the Dresden Elbe Valley.
How to make the most of your time at the world's largest 16-day beer festival.