My Berlin Guide
It's about time I turned my 'let me send you an email with all my hot Berlin tips' into an actual blog post. I thought it would make sense to write about MISSABLE and the UNMISSABLE parts of Berlin. Unfortunately I haven't made it to many of the museums or usual tourists hotspots, so I can't offer any wisdom on those, but I can give you some helpful tips and point you in the direction of good coffee and the true 'Berliner Vibe'.
First Things First:
- Wear good shoes. Berlin is massive and you will find yourself walking miles and miles between attractions and Ubahn stops.
- That said, if you want to get somewhere quickly DO use the Ubahn. What might look close by on the map, is probably a twenty minute walk away, plus the Germans have an annoying habit of sticking up roadworks and building sites in the most unexpected places.
- Make sure you have cash on hand. Most places don't take card and if they do it's usually only EC cards (the German debit card) so don't get caught out. I have on so many occasions and it's super annoying.
- If you're going in the Summer, take a bottle of water with you. Berlin gets very hot in the summer months and doesn't really do air conditioning. For some reason, bottled water is more expensive than beer, so to save time, money and energy, carry one with you.
- If you're going in the Winter, wear thermals and a hat. You'll thank me. It's so cold, I once thought my nose was going to fall off.
If you're doing Berlin on a budget but still want to get a historical impression of the city then here are two walks that aren't too long and really show off the most famous landmarks.
- Get the train to the Hauptbahnhof and leave on the Starbucks side of the station. Walk over Washingtonplatz towards the Spree river. You'll eventually come the Reichstag, then the Bradenburg Gate, Unter den Linden, Humbolt University and if you keep walking down the street you'll come to the Cathedral and Alexanderplatz. In the Summer this is best done in the early morning or early evening, otherwise it gets a bit hot and crowded. Plus the light is gorgeous! It takes about an hour to an hour and a half, but it's well worth it.
- If you want to explore the former East Berlin without paying a penny, then get off at Alexanderplatz and walk straight down Karl-Marx allee. You'll get a good idea of the communist architecture as well as pass the Karl Marx bookshop that was used in the film The Lives of Others. Turn off at Warschauer Strasse and if you fancy a break, grab a drink at the kooky Michelberger Hotel before heading down to the East Gallery to look at the wall and the famous murals.
- If you're looking for a general restaurant area then I recommend getting off at Eberswalder Strasse (U2) , Rosenthaler Platz (U9) or Moritiz Platz (U9) if you wander around those areas you're bound to find something wonderful to eat.
- For a cheap authentic Bratwurst you can do no better than a €1.50 job from one of the street vendors at Alexanderplatz.
- Berlin is also famous for it's Donor and Falafel. My favourite falafel places are Maroush in Kreuzberg and Dada Falafel near Schönleinstrasse (the peanut sauce is insane!)
- Henne is like the vintage Nando's of Berlin. It boasts an impressive clientele including President Kennedy. It's sits just off Moritz Platz (U8) and serves half a chicken with a choice of potato salad or sauerkraut.
- If you find yourself on the West Side or in one of the tourist areas and are reluctant to pop in to Mcdonalds or Burger King, allow me to recommend Vapiano. It's a healthy fast food Italian restaurant that is very popular among Germans and is very reasonably priced. For the Gluten-free among you, their salads are delicious! The one on Potsdamerplatz is particularly nice.
- Last time I was in the city I stumbled across a great Veggie place called Cafe Bada on Reichenberger Strasse. It was cheap and delicious. Win, win, win.
- The Prater Biergarten on Kastanienallee is very cool and authentic. Grab a beer, sit on one of the benches and feel like a REAL German. (nearest Ubahn Station Eberswalderstrasse)
- There's a great, seemingly nameless bar opposite the Gethsemane Church near Schönhauserallee. They have tiny little chairs and benches out the front, one tiny menu, which is handwritten in a black moleskine and serve the most delicious cocktails for €5. Try the Hugo-Rouge and watch the sunset over the street.
- If you're in the centre then Mein Haus Am See on Rosenthalerstrasse is another great bar, with mismatched furniture and a great choice of drinks. It can get very busy but the atmosphere is great.
- One of my favourite bars in the city and the one which I take pretty much everyone too, is Luzia on Oranienstrasse. It has large windows, with padded window sills so you can sit and dangle your legs into the street, a piano, wall art, comfy sofas and lots and lots of candles. It can get busy, but is well worth a visit for a glass of Riesling and a great night with friends.
- Again, on a recent trip, I discovered BAR 3 near Rosa-Luxemburg Platz. They serve the Köln beer for €2.50 and glasses of Riesling for €3. When I say it was the dream, I mean it was the dream.
Another option is to buy beer from the supermarket or a Späti (newsagents) and sit in a park with friends. This is definitely the cheapest option, with a bottle of Berliner Pilsner costing roughly 50 cents.
- BUY YOUR WATER FROM THE SUPERMARKET. Water is expensive in Berlin and they really hate giving you tap water in restaurants, so stock up.
1) Bonanza Coffee Heroes near Mauerpark is one of my favourite coffee shops in the world. I love sitting on the benches outside, reading a book and marvelling at how I can be in the middle of a city and still hear the birds.
2) The Barn at Schönhauser Allee is a must-see for all coffee snobs. They don't allow laptops or pushchairs and are reluctant to give you milk or access to the toilet. Sounds outrageous, but it's an experience and their brew bar is insane.
3) Five Elephant Coffee on Reichenberger Strasse is just beautiful, peaceful and super friendly. They also have great cake.
4) Companion Coffee is situated in the Voo Store on Oranienburger Strasse. It's a lovely little courtyard and I once spent an entire afternoon reading Moon Palace by Paul Auster on one of th benches. They also have a great toilet.
5) Chapter One Coffee is another great place to read in Kreuzberg. Their iced coffee is the one.
- Fleamarket Mauerpark This is the biggest flea market in the city and takes place on Sundays from 7am-5pm. It strikes a great balance between vintage furniture, second hand clothes, handmade items and excellent food. There is also a lot of live music, with local artists busking between the different stalls and in the afternoon be sure to head to the Bearpit to watch or perhaps participate in the Karaoke party!
- Open Air Cinema There are lots of these that pop up all over the city. I went to the one in Kreuzberg to see Creatures of the Southern Wild and it was fantastic. For €5 you get to sit in a comfy deckchair and watch a film on a huge outdoor screen. There's also beer, popcorn and bratwurst for sale. Most of the films are shown in their original language with subtitles - so you're sure to find something you can watch!
- The Wall there are lots of 'wall bits' to choose from, but whatever you do, you can't leave Berlin without having visited one of them. It helps you understand a little bit why Berlin is like it is and there's nothing more powerful than coming face to face with with history.
- Brunch Sunday morning turns Berlin into Brunch city. My particular favourites were Cafe Rix (for €8 all you can eat) the vegan brunch at Cafe Vux (€9 for all you can eat and you won't even notice it's vegan - I promise!) and the blueberry pancakes at Cafe Tassenkuchen (if you ring up the day before, you can even get them gluten-free!)
- Garage this amazing second hand store at Nollendorf Platz is absolutely incredible. High quality vintage clothes for a reasonable price. They also sell clothes by the kilo. Pretty much all the clothes I bought whilst living in Berlin were from here!
- Lakes when the city gets too much, then definitely head out to one of the lakes surrounding Berlin. I lived next to Plotzensee, which was absolutely gorgeous to swim in. But if you fancy something more impressive, then Tegelsee and Wannsee are just a 20 minute train ride away. So grab your swimmers, a yummy picnic and enjoy a day of relaxation.
- Photo Booths Keep your eyes peeled for the tiny retro photo booths, where you can get a strip of black and white pictures for €2. So much fun.