Berlin is like an onion. No, not just because it might make you cry but because there are so many layers to this historically and culturally rich city! My 48-hour visit was long enough only to scratch the surface of what Berlin has to offer its visitors. The multitudinous aspects to this city mean you could return and see a new onion layer each time! Is the onion analogy weird?! Anywho!
Since it was my first visit and such a short one at that, I opted for the history side, because …. obvs.
A lucky win at the Ryanair sale afforded me €100 return flights to the German capital and it would have been rude to turn that offer down. I decided that Berlin would be the destination for my ‘first’ solo, weekend adventure. History, culture, tons of cafes and restaurants, an efficient public transport system and, since I speak very little German it was, a bonus that Germans are amazing bi-linguists and speak excellent English as well! #win. Vielen dank team Germany!
If you have had Berlin on your to do list then let me show you what even a weekend getaway can include.
I chose to do a high up and down low visit. Meaning?! Meaning views from atop Berlin attractions and underground tours were on my list.
Where to stay:
I chose the H10 KuDa’mm hotel near the zoo as my base because of the good reviews and chic minimalist interior.
In hindsight, I possibly should have chosen somewhere closer to Mitte or at least on the other side of the Tiergarten since I did spend a good chunk of time on that side of the city. If you have kiddies it’s a good location for its proximity to the zoo.
While the area I was in was indeed pretty and perfect for a pit stop in the Bikini Hotel’s Monkey Bar it was at least a 20-25 min S-Bahn ride away from main attractions like the Brandenburg Tor and Museum Island. Many people say that Berlin doesn’t have a centre, as such, and that it sprawls, with areas of interest dotted all over the city. This is indeed true and public transport became my #bestie.
ABSOLUTE Top tip: Invest in a Berlin card.
They are available online in advance or can be bought upon arrival at the airport in Berlin. (click here for info on getting from the airport to the city with your Berlin card) Best.Purchase.Ever. I bought the 48-hour pass and it gave me unlimited access to public transport from zones A-C which got me from the Schönefeld airport to the zoo area and back. I used the U and S-Bahn multiple times a day and even tried out the bus on my last day so I cannot express enough how handy this was. You MUST remember to validate your card the first time you use it. Punch the card into any of the available machines at the stations and away you go.
The card comes with a handy booklet that has sample itineraries for 1-2 days worth of activities and laid out maps to help you navigate the city, just in case you were feeling overwhelmed about where to begin!
I had the good fortune to be in Berlin at the same time as some fab travel writers and bloggers that I follow including @nadia_dailyself and @hellomeganmarie who made the solo visit far less daunting! Thanks girls! x
Where to drink:
Berlin is famous for its club scene and the bazillions of bars to choose from mean you are spoilt for choice. We checked out Michelberger Hotel’s funky, minimalist bar whose Tempranillo I can vouch for! This chilled bar has an outdoor as well as a cosy, indoor seating area and is close to the Warschauer Straße train station and the tram line.
Our next stop was Madame Claude’s. This former brothel is now an upside down bar which hosts live music. The Kreuzberg-Schlesisches Tor district is known for its alternative nightlife, apparently. Heads up, while smoking bans have been in effect for years in bars and public indoor areas some bars do work around this and you can smoke indoors if no food is served. Just so you know.
Since Madame Claudes was not quite our bag we shimmied on to Mano around the corner (and walk up the road for about 8 mins!). This super cute cosy bar, with picket fences cordoning off snug, couch-filled areas was far more fun. Plus they served cookies! No judging!
My favourite bar, by a mile, was Monkey Bar on the roof of Bikini Hotel in the Kufürstendamm shopping area. Get there before sunset to enjoy the stunning colours and cocktails, and even a seat, if you’re incredibly lucky!
What to see and do:
Fat Tire Bike Tour
Right so, I had decided I wanted to do a bike tour of the city, after my fun scooting experience in Budapest. I was done with bus tours! A friend recommended the Fat Tire Tour Company. Thanks, Orls! Great advice.
I chose the Day City Tour and at €28 it’s money well spent. Thanks for the discount, Fat Tire folk! It was such a fun way to see the city and our guide, Claudia was great craic. Self-professed ‘Best Tour Guide in the City’, she was informative, helpful and fun. This tour takes 4.5-5hours so plan accordingly. Also, it helps if you can actually ride a bike before going on the tour. Our guide said you wouldn’t believe how many people show up for the tour not knowing how to ride a bike. How are we not extinct? Honestly.
The tour takes you to the main sites, from Alexander Platz to the site of the book burnings at Bebelplatz and on to Checkpoint Charlie and the section of the wall by the old Gestapo headquarters (now the grounds of the Topography of Terror museum).
There is a stop for lunch in Tiergarten at the biergarten, Schleusen Krug, with schnitzel, gnocchi, and delicious falafel salads to satiate your, by now, ferocious appetite!
Continue on to Brandenburg Tor, Berliner Dom, and Museum Island before returning to base. By now you will have a good idea of where you are in the city and I would highly recommend it as a fun way to spend a day!
East Side Gallery
The Berlin wall coming down in 1989 was something I remember watching on tv as a child so seeing it for myself was quite poignant. The many stories about families being separated by its construction and the daring escape attempts and crossings were incredibly moving.
The East Side Gallery is an area of the wall that artists have covered in murals. It is a preserved segment of the wall near the Warschauer Straße train station. It is so incredible to think that this wall isolated so many people from the rest of the world for so many years.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is another sobering monument and part of a trio of Holocaust memorials including the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism and the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism (in 2012). It has been criticized, by some, for not including the names of those murdered or the locations of their killing. The 2711 concrete stelae do not bear any identifying marks nor did the architect explain why he chose that number or that design. The overwhelming feeling of being in a graveyard, with the stelae suggesting tombs, is something you cannot ignore.
So, funny story! When I was planning my trip I knew I wanted to go up to the dome in the Bundestag and see the sunset city views from there. I misread the website and thought you had to book your entry 2 days before your visit. I was very wrong. Two days before my visit meant that all entry times were fully booked and I was facing the prospect of not getting in at all. Ta daaaa, enter my stubborn streak! I was getting into the Reichstag another way!
Top tip: The Reichstag has a lovely restaurant, that takes bookings and on your way to the restaurant you get to see the glass dome and walk around in it afterward. I was fortunate enough to get a 10 am breakfast slot. WIN! I was delighted and despite the breakfast menu being limited and pricey, it was a beautiful, sunny morning and a bonus to be able to see the city from above after all.
Among the world’s biggest helium filled balloons, this 15-minute ride was a fun ‘time filler’ before I left Berlin on my last day. Use your Berlin Card ticket to get a discount of about €5 on your ticket. It floats up about 150 m and gives a panoramic view of the city. It was a glorious day when I did it so the sun bathing the city as it spread out below you was an extra delight! Needless to say, this ride is very weather dependent!
This tour is a little unusual as it takes you under the city and explores a different side to Berlin. Tours include a walk around an underground bunker used as an air raid shelter during bombings of the city. The guides are informative and inject humor into an otherwise grim subject. Tickets (€11 pp, €9 conc) cannot be bought online in advance so you need to turn up on the day and hope you get in.
This is all I had time for on my weekend visit but there are so many things I didn’t get to see; the Berlin Wall Museum, do the Trabant tour, go to the top of the radio tower, see Museum Island’s many museums and don’t get me started on the fact that I had no cheesy pretzels!
Berlin, you deserve more than a weekend, you amazing onion you!