Forget everything you thought you knew about Berlin — this city follows no script. Many visit for the notoriously hedonistic club scene but don’t overlook the great art, architecture, and innovation happening at a clip of the nation’s capital. Grab a Berliner (the pastry, not a citizen) and brush up on your high school Deutsche.
Berlin is a living monument to the perseverance of the human spirit. After being divided physically and ideologically by the Berlin Wall for the better part of half a century, the reunification of the city allowed citizens to openly let their freak flags fly. Today, communities of all races, creeds, colors and persuasions eat, shop, and party together. Moving forward does not mean forgetting, however, as many old relics and memorials to the city's complex history still stand. So go experience — no, participate in — this continuous cultural renaissance. Prost!
Berlin has weather extremely similar to cities like Paris and London. No matter the season, conditions are manageable and certainly don't keep Berliners from venturing out. May through September can see humidity and rain but temperatures usually stay mild, ranging between 75F and 50F (~28C-10C). Come October through December, temperatures drop into the 30s (~0C-4C), but 60F (15C) days are not uncommon as the leaves change and begin to fall. Winters are sometimes unpleasant, as gray skies and sub-freezing temperatures linger from January through April. It will snow but heavy accumulation is uncommon.
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Peak tourist season occurs during the long summer from late May through August. Outdoor cafes, parks, museums, and a slate of festivals draw huge crowds. Formula E ePrix in May, the Lesbian and Gay City Festival in June and Berlin fashion Week in July can get so large that certain parts of the city shut down, so plan accordingly. Fall sees smaller crowds due to the drop in temperature so it's a good time to take advantage of better hotel rates while checking out Oktoberfest and Jazzfest.
Berlin may seem atypically bohemian for a German city — that is until you look at their public transportation system. The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (Berlin Transport Company or BVG) facilitates a network so comprehensive and efficient that many consider it the best way to get around.
The most widely used public transit option is the underground, or U-Bahn trains. U-Bahn runs ten routes to 173 stations total and operate from 4am to 1am with some lines provide 24-hour service on the weekends. Frequency varies from intervals of every 5 to 15 minutes. The next most popular method of transit is the elevated or street-level (S-Bahn) trains. The S-Bahn traverse north-south, east-west, and circular roots mostly through zones A and B. These trains run a similar schedule to U-Bahn with service between 4:30am and 1am, Monday to Friday, and 24-hour service on the weekends. Frequency of service varies from intervals of 5 to 30 minutes.
If that's not enough there are Strassenbahn (or Tram and Metrotram lines) to fill in any gaps left along your route, as well as over 300 bus lines. Frequency depends on the route and time of day but most operate 7 days a week at intervals between 10 and 30 minutes.
A mind-blowingly comprehensive system of buses runs through the city as well. In operation since 1846 (though with a somewhat smaller footprint then), the network of almost 400 lines features normal buses (running from 4am to 1 or 1:30am); metro buses (which operate 24-hours a day every 10 minutes); night buses (which cover U-Bahn and S-Bahn routes outside of operating hours); and express buses (used to reach the airports or linking the suburbs to the city centre).
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Finally, the BVG operates a system of ferries through the city's extensive network of rivers, lakes, and canals. There are 6 lines in total (one of which — the F24 — is actually just a man in a boat who rows you across the river) operating as frequently as every 10 min, but at least once an hour. Pickups spots are marked by signposts along the rivers. In the summer, ferries run Monday to Friday from 6am-7pm; Saturday 7am-7pm; and Sunday and public holidays 10am-6pm. During winter they run Monday to Friday 6am-6pm; Sat 7am-7pm; and Sunday and public holidays 10am-4pm.
Trains, busses, and ferries cover the city broken down in 3 zones: A, B, and C with the majority of major attractions within zones A and B. Fares go from 1,70-3,40€ depending on distance travelled. Day tickets can be purchased for individuals or groups for 7,70€ or 20,80€ respectively. The 7-day unlimited ride tickets can be purchased for 30€. The best place to buy a ticket is at one of the many BVG and S-Bahn Berlin retail outlets or at the ticket machines in the station. Fare validation operates on an honor system so be sure to stamp your ticket at the yellow or red boxes on the platforms, in buses, or trams before you ride. Fare evaders are issued a 60€ fine. It's a good idea to purchase a Berlin Welcome Card, which allows you access to the entire ecosystem of public transit along with discounts on dining and attractions.
Renting a car is not recommended due to the volume of people and vehicles, as well as shortage of convenient parking spaces. But if you do prefer to drive, car rental and car-sharing apps are available including ShareNow, Car2Go, or Sixt Share. Yellow taxis are also readily available and the base fare is 3,90€; each of the first seven kilometers costs 2,00€ and each subsequent kilometer is 1,50€. A special "short trip" (or Kurzstrecke ) fare is 5,00€ for a two-kilometer trip. You will need to tell the driver straight away that you want this short trip upon boarding. Major ride hailing services like Uber are not available here but similar apps like My Taxi and Allygator are local versions that comply with German regulations.
Both bike- and scooter-sharing companies are readily available and offer an easy way to get around. Popular companies include Nextbike, Donkey Republic, JUMP, and more. Prices and availability vary, but there are often bikes parked or docked almost everywhere. If you prefer to rent or buy your own bike for your visit you can even carry it onto S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains, on trams, and on night buses if a bike ticket is purchased
Euros are the official currency of Germany. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions and for picking up the tab at cash-only establishments. It's also a good idea to have small bills on hand for taxi trips in case your driver cannot make change with larger bills.
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Berlin definitely lives up to its cosmopolitain reputation when it comes to food. Alongside traditional, meat-heavy options you'll find the culinary influences of nearby Turkey, and arguably the most thriving vegetarian and vegan scene in the all of Europe. While fine dining establishments are just carving out a niche here, street carts and late night options have been providing club fuel to revelers for decades.
Traditional German cuisine pushes the concept of comfort food to its limit. Heavily breaded meat cutlets, known as schnitzel, are extremely popular, as are sausages, or wurst, that are served alongside thick breads and root vegetables. If you're hungry, try some out at Clärchens Ballhaus, a palatial restaurant and ballroom in Mitte that offers dance lessons and nightly music shows to help diners stave off their food comas.
Hit the streets to sample foods influenced by Berlin's large Arab and Turkish immigrant populations. Carts serving falafel, lahmajoun, and kebab, rich with Middle Eastern spice dot Landwehr Canal in Neukölln as well as markets throughout the city. Doner kebab, rumored to have been invented in Berlin in the 1970s should not be missed. It consists of thinly sliced rotisserie meat, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a yogurt-based sauce and served as a platter or packed into pita. The kebab will have you mesmerized, partly from the skill and speed with which your order is prepared but mostly from the singular flavors. Start with Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap a street cart in Mitte, but once you're hooked you can find the specialty almost everywhere.
With over 500 vegan and vegan friendly restaurants in the city, it's safe to say Berlin is a great city for conscientious eaters as well. Try 1990 Vegan Living or Cat Tuong for amazing Asian-influenced examples, HERMANN'S Berlin for a quick bite, or AVOCAI Food if you're looking for Instagrammable foods.
Beer is practically an institution here. Germany has been producing beer since around the year 1,000 and invented many of the most popular types including pilsner and bock varieties. Ales are cheaper than mineral water and stronger than most brews served in Europe, so pacing yourself is key. The craft beer scene thrives in Berlin too, and the city has long since championed small batch brews over the cheaper, mass-produced brands. In fact, like many German cities, Berlin has its own beer specialty, the Berliner Weiße. It has slightly bitter and sour notes and is made from wheat. Order it mit Schuss, with a shot of raspberry or flavored syrup, for a refreshing twist in the summer.
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Even if you don't consider flashing lights, loud music, and thrashing bodies a good time, the club scene in Berlin is so revered you might be tempted to give it a try while you're here. After German reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall, citizens found the ultimate playground in the abandoned commercial and industrial cityscape. Through music, dancing and yes, a little hedonism, a newly shared identity was forged. Today, some 30,000-40,000 people come out each weekend to push the limits of celebration.
The club synonymous with Berlin nightlife is Berghain; the famously selective dancehall has welcomed party goers since 2004 and attracts top DJs from all over the world. It would be easier to gain access to Sisyphos where you can dance your heart out in the warehouse-style main room or the open-air dance floor, which is decorated with hammocks, disused cars, and tree houses.
Berlin is known for being one of the most socially inclusive cities in all of Europe. Though same-sex marriage was not legalized in Germany until 2017, its capital has long been a haven for the LGBTQ community. Same-sex bars and dance halls were in operation in the 1800s, and in the the 1920s, gays and lesbians maintained visibility unheard of throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Today, an open minded and dynamic population continues to embrace each other's right to love whomever they want, however they want.
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Hundreds of independent galleries and grand museums filled with historical works, as well as world-class street art, call Berlin home. Start with the classics and head to Museum Island, where five exquisite museums await, containing ancient artifacts, classical paintings, and sculptures. A short way down the Spree River in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg you will find The East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall that remains standing today. It is painted with 101 images by local and invited street artists and is known as the longest open-air gallery in the world. Head back indoors and go for something a little more immersive with IMAGO Camera, in Kreuzburg, a gallery built around a walk-in, full-body camera that invites you to snap your own large format portrait or browse a gallery of selected shots from previous visitors. You can take one home, for a price. Or in Mitte, the Museum of Silence invites you to appreciate the art of stillness with soundproofed rooms featuring works meant to enhance the absence of outside noise.
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If you're here to shop there's no better place to start than one of Europes largest department stores. Kaufhaus des Westens in Schöneberg — usually abbreviated as simply KaDeWe — impresses. Spanning more than 600,000 square feet, KaDeWe carries thousands of designer goods and exclusive brands spread across 8 floors (including two dedicated entirely to food). For something a little more trendy, visit Bikini Berlin, a concept shopping mall in Tiergarten featuring boutique vendors, delicious food, a rooftop bar with a view of the neighboring zoo, and a hotel.
Both the city's flea and farmers markets are truly worth seeking out. Popular flea markets at Mauerpark and Boxenhangerplaz offer incredible finds but are typically mobbed with tourists and locals; Neuköln's Klunkerkranich, is a rooftop craft fair with live DJs that set the soundtrack while you browse; and Markthalle Neun in Kreuzburg is a historic food lovers' destination featuring fresh grocery products as well as rotating themed food truck events.
If shopping local is your thing, the city's record and book shops provide hours of entertainment. You'll find niche vendors like OYE record store in Reuterkiez or do you read me?! in Mitte that are as dedicated to building their communities as they are to selling their products.
Tiergarten is a 519-acre park in central Berlin that serves as a "green lung" of the city. The park not only offers winding tree-lined paths and open green spaces, but is also home to memorials like the Victory Column (Siegessäule) which can be climbed for expansive panoramic views. Görlitzer Park in Kreuzburg is one of the most popular hangouts, if not a very verdant park. You’ll find more locals at the Volkspark Friedrichshain in Friedrichshain, where there’s a beer garden, a small hill for hiking, and even "the fountain of fairytales," the Märchenbrunnen. There is even a beach to relax on without having to leave the city. Badeschiff in Kreuzburg features an old water-filled barge floating on the river perfect for laying out on a sunny day. Nearby, a beach bar with cocktails and music makes sure you're still not too far away from a party.
Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, partly thanks to their industrial vibes and partly to the convenient U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, are destinations for the hip and clubbing crowds. Friedrichshain is where you'll find Berghain, but also smaller dance venues like Minimal Bar, where the lines will be shorter and the drinks less expensive. In Kreuzberg, don't miss Barbie Deinhoff’s. A quintessential Berlin experience, this discreet gem is part cafe, part dance club, part champion of alt-culture. Prinzipal Kreuzberg offers music, drinks, and dancing in a 1920s-style cabaret setting. And up on the roof of a shopping mall in Neuköln you'll find Klunkerkranich, where you can listen to music, dance, drink, and even purchase crafts from local vendors at the open-air market. If the only crafts you want with your rooftop views are craft cocktails, the Monkey Bar in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is the place for you.
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Berlin's history is a fragile one, but its citizens take pride in laying it bare for the world to see. Lichtenberg, formerly in East Berlin, is home to the Stasi Museum, a hands-on history museum exploring the campaign undertaken by the Secret Police to suppress dissent by stoking fear in its citizens. In Kreuzberg, you'll find Checkpoint Charlie, the former border gate that marked the American sector of Berlin after World War II. The German Museum of Technology celebrates many of Germany's positive contributions to the world, while the Topography of Terror acts as a memorial to atrocities committed against Jews during the Holocaust.
If you've had your fill of gravitas and are in need of something kitschier, there is a small museum (or rather, a bar) in Mitte dedicated to the Ramones. A collection of memorabilia from the punk band's rise to musical prominence is a cathartic reminder that what's old can be new again. On the more regal side, Berlin is home to 9 castles. Most visitors chose to tour the ornate grounds of Schlossgarten Charlottenburg but don't overlook, Köpenicker Schloss, Schloss Schönhausen, and six former “mansions,” commonly referred to as Schösschen, or little castles.
Staying in Charlottenburg will put you right in the heart of all things Berlin posh. Tourists flock to the gardens and upscale restaurants like Mine, while many families live in the area because of its proximity to kid-friendly institutions and extremely safe streets. Upscale hotels like Hotel Henri and Hotel Zoo offer luxury accommodations and sleek style, and you can head to the stretch of Suarezstraße between Kantstrase and Kaiserrdamm/Bismarkestrasse to shop the Antique Mile, where merchants specialize in vintage treasures. Make sure to take in a show at Deutsche Oper Berlin where iconic works of German Opera and performances by the Berlin State Ballet are put on.
To the east is Postdamer Platz, an elegant neighborhood that features a wealth of shopping options as well in the Sony Center, where the Berlinale Film Festival is held. You can catch a movie there and keep an eye out for the Obamas, who are known to stay nearby when they come to town. Travelers with a sweet tooth are invited to indulge at Rausch Schokoladenhaus in Mitte. The world’s largest chocolate shop is also Berlin's oldest. It includes two chocolate-themed restaurants on the premises and 11 varieties of the world's best hot chocolate.
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Take the kids to one of Berlin's two world famous zoos: Zoologischer Garten and Tierpark Berlin Zoo. Founded over 150 years ago, Zoologischer Garten (Tiergarten) is the oldest zoo in Germany and houses over 20,000 animals from 1,380 species. To the east is Tierpark Berlin Zoo (Friedrichsfelde), which is smaller but distinguished for its successful conservational breeding programs. The DDR Museum and German Spy Museum Berlin in Mitte are kid-oriented museums, full of colorful interactive displays on espionage and technology from the front lines of the World War II and the Cold War. Don't forget to try the best ice cream in the city at JONES icecream in Schoneberg.
In a world full of trendy brunch spots, Berlin is leading the pack with originality and aplomb. So much avocado toast, so little time.
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