Living in the UK I’m really fortunate to have the ability to visit European cities for weekend city breaks. I absolutely love to travel and explore new places and cultures and I’ve been lucky enough to tick off quite a few cities on my bucket list. For my boyfriend’s birthday I decided to surprise him with a trip to Berlin as it was a city neither of us had been to and it was high up on his list of places to visit!
Well we just got back from our long weekend and it was just so beautiful I wanted to add it to my Travel Edit series and give you as many useful details as possible.
Here’s my list of the Top 10 things to do in Berlin!
What you can expect: a big vibrant city with lots of history and culture. You can expect a lot of walking or alternatively you can utilise the numerous public transport options, overground, underground, tram and bus, you name it! We did a mixture of both. I would say the city if a perfect mixture for those looking to learn about the history of country and learn more about the Holocaust and War, whilst also balancing it with beautiful architecture and charming cafes and bars. I didn’t feel overtly touristy (avoid Check Point Charlie – all the tourists are there and it’s pretty gross, McDonalds next to it and shops selling pieces of the wall… not my kinda thing), it feels like you’re mingling with locals and old time Berliners which is exactly what I look for in a city break.
1. Holocaust Memorial
We were blown away by the Holocaust Memorial – make sure you go into the Information Centre below the actual memorial, it was the most harrowing and informative place we visited if you’re looking to learn more about the Holocaust. We spent around 2 hours walking through each of the rooms and I’d definitely recommend paying for the audio guide.
2. Olympic Stadium
If you’re a sports fan and looking for some history at the same time, head out to the Olympic Stadium. Don’t worry it isn’t abandoned as quiet as it might look! We paid to go inside and walk around the grounds and it was really informative whilst mixing history with modern day achievements. Hussain Bolt broke the world record there, as well as Berlin hosting the Olympics in 1936 before the war – they weren’t held again for another 12 years
3. Nocti Vagus – Restaurant
Nocti Vagus is a darkness restaurant and I couldn’t recommend this place more. You eat in total darkness and are served by blind or partially sighted waiters and waitresses. It is a mind blowing experience. Your other senses are on high alert and so the focus is on the taste, smell and texture of your meal, whilst listening to the sounds around you as well as the musical show that is put on at the same time. Our waiter was Wolfgang and he was incredible – to think he was managing to serve at least 20 people while we were sitting there trying to work out where our food was, was truly humbling. You are completely dependent on your blind waiter, whereas normally they would be dependent on the seeing world – it was an incredible experience.
4. Berlin Wall
The wall wasn’t as dominant throughout the city as I thought it might be – I had assumed there were bits and pieces throughout the city but that wasn’t really our experience. However if you take the train out to the East Side Gallery at XXX there is a 1.3km stretch of wall that still exists which has been painted by different artists all the way along. It was amazing to see how big the wall actually was and imagine living in that time. The whole area was so vibrant and a really bohemian atmosphere.
5. Canal Boat
We got a canal boat along the river Spree which runs through the city – it was a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon and to see the city from the water. We relaxed with a cocktail and bathed in the sunshine. City breaks can be really full on so I would always recommend breaking it up with a relaxing activity to rejuvenate yourself; a canal boat or bus tour can be perfect for that.
6. Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum is a purpose built building that hold multiple exhibitions. It provides a significant amount of information on Jewish History and the persecution in the lead up to the Holocaust. It was very moving, especially the Holocaust Tower and Garden of the Jews. However, I did find the Holocaust Memorial Information Centre more informative overall, so if you only have time for 1, that’s the 1 I would recommend prioritising.
7. People watching (beer)
One sunny afternoon we took a break at one of the bars and had a beer in the sunshine overlooking a beautiful square. I absolutely love people watching and doing it abroad is one of my favourite things to do! German beer is also definitely something you have to try while you’re in Berlin, of course.
The Reichstag is the German Parliament and is a very grand building in central Berlin. The building has an iconic glass dome at the top which you can go into and look down into parliament – the idea being transparency and openness after the tragedies of the past. We tried and failed to get up the dome due to the crazy long queues, so my advice is look online to book a space before you go, or get there by 8am. In the end we decided to leave it rather than spending 1-2hours queuing and wasting our time in Berlin.
9. Gleis 17 Platform
The final thing I would recommend doing is the Gleis 17 rail platform. This platform is pretty out of the way but we stopped by on our way back from the Olympic Stadium. Specifically it’s the platform from where Jews were sent from Berlin to various Concentration Camps across Europe and it gives the exact date, the number of Jews and their ultimate location. It’s very poignant and was eerily quiet. I think sites like this bring the Holocaust to life and for me it was really important we incorporated them into our trip.
10. Eat pretzels!
We found there was an abundance of vegan/vegetarian restaurants everywhere we went which was such a surprise! You’ll see Pretzels everywhere you go – eat them at every opportunity!
And there you have it, my Top 10 Things to do in Berlin if you’re there for a weekend break!
Overall it was such an exciting city, we could have spent another few days there. If you get the opportunity to go, I say GO!