I have been to Berlin two times now, first in February 2013, and the following February of 2014. I could still go back for probably another two times and wouldn't see everything. The city is huge, vibrant, full of history and has wonderful culture and people. The food is delicious, the beer is to die for, and the places that you can see are endless and breathtaking.
Berlin has something for everyone, whether you're a history buff, a shopper, a food-lover, a sight-seer or a partier. Personally, I apply to every one of those categories. I loved exploring the city, and there are many places that I've seen twice and would see again. Of course, there is also a list of places I have yet to see and need to make another trip in order to do so
I went there both times with university, I took German for three years and our professor organized it. it was officially called a study trip, but that doesn't sound fun, nor adequately describe what sort of things I experienced. Both trips were different, as there were different people each time, and of course, more places we explored.
There is so much to describe, I suppose it would be easiest to break it down into categories so I don't get all excited and just end up rambling. I could probably write a book on how awesome Berlin is and all the stories I have, but I'll try to condense it a wee bit and mention the highlights and recommendations.
Have you been to Berlin?
Berlin is full of history. A lot happened in the city. WWII, the Berlin Wall and the communist rule, the era of German Kings and Queens and their palaces. The places that you can see are endless. It is common to see bullet holes in some of the older buildings from the war. Evidence of WWII bombings are everywhere. There are still pieces of the wall, and Checkpoint Charlie is a popular tourist attraction. The architectural differences between what used to be East and West Berlin are rather clear. There are museums galore and buildings that are hundreds of years old. A lot of historical locations aside from the museums themselves have self-guided or guided tours that allow you to further explore the locations. If you love history, it's probably a good idea to make a note on your to-do list to visit Berlin.
Noteable Places: Berliner Dome, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Castle Charlottenburg, St. Nicholas' Church and Nicholas Square, Gendamenmarkt, Berlin Wall Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, Unter den Linden, Hitler's Bunker, Museum Island, St. Mary's Church, Town Hall, Potsdam (Just outside of Berlin, features Castle Cecilienhof, Sansoucci Palace & more)
I always tell everyone that if I ended up living in Berlin, I would probably end up gaining weight. Although, most of the traveling I did was on foot, so there could be a potential evening out in that regard. German food is absolutely delicious. There are bakeries and coffee shops on almost every corner, and they always have freshly baked bread, pastries, sweets - just thinking about it makes me hungry. There are also places to buy fresh meats and cheeses. The traditional German dishes, such as sausages, sauerkraut, potatoes, schnitzel, pretzel and sweet mustard, and apple strudel, are to die for and you must give them a try. A popular Berlin snack, that you can buy pretty much anywhere from vendors or shops, are curry wurst. Sausages in curry and tomato sauce, basically. They're pretty great, and unique only to Berlin.
Experimenting with German beer is a good thing to do too, if you like beer that is. I tried a few different kinds when I was there but my favorite had to come from the Hofbrau House Berlin, a Bavarian name, but delicious none the less. The Hofbrau beer hall is about as traditional as you can get, and they serve amazing food. Benches and tables, waiters dressed in traditional German clothing, live music, crowded, cheery, and excellent. I went there many times in both of my trips to Berlin.
I have a sweet tooth, so naturally I must also recommend German chocolate. There are specific chocolate shops (Fassbender & Rausch, Ritter Sport, etc) as well as any large super mall has a chocolate section with more chocolate variety than you've ever seen. Candy as well - and what would be a trip to Berlin without trying the original and famous Haribo gummy bears. They're great too.
Getting around in Berlin at first can be intimidating, especially if your German is not that great, but rest assured, there are many ways to travel around the city. If you are in central Berlin and the weather is good, getting around on foot is fine, best for sight-seeing, and sometimes the quickest way depending on where you're going. Just watch out for traffic.
Berlin has a public bus, train and subway system. These can be intimidating but once you get the hang of where the routes take you and where you want to go, it's a convenient and cheap way to get around. It only costs a few Euros for day passes, as well there are packages available more longer times for greater cost. As well, there are bikes that can be rented for a few Euros a day. Best idea for tackling the transport system is being in central Berlin and working your way outward.
Shopping / Night Life
Berlin has unlimited possibilities for both shopping or a night out in the city. There are souvenir shops, giant shopping malls, clothing stores, shoe stores, technology stores or the high-end shopping for designer names on Friedrichstrasse or Franzosichstrasse. I went a little crazy for the shopping when I was in Berlin. I stockpiled on chocolate, clothes, and a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, as well as picked up a souvenir here and there for friends and family. There is good shopping in and around Alexanderplatz, the two streets I mentioned, and in the little town of Potsdam, just west of Berlin, accessible by train. Really though, on every street there are shops, and I'm sure that there are many hidden gems that I wasn't able to discover on my two trips.
The city is known for its night life, there are hundreds of clubs and bars. While I only adventured to one club my first trip to Berlin, and relied on the bar within my hostel the second trip, it was a pretty crazy experience. Alcohol isn't as expensive as in North America. Berlin loves electronic music, that's what was playing in the one club I went to. I wish I could recall its name, but I was drinking at the time and did not get that information. Definitely go partying when you're in Berlin, even if it's just once.
Accumulated from both experiences to the city, I've compiled a top 10 list of things that you should definitely check out when you're in Berlin.
1. The Reichstag
Burned, bombed, taken over by the Russians in WWII, the Reichstag is an iconic and historical location involving Berlin's politics. Be sure to take the tour and check out the view from the dome.
2. The Berlin Dome (Berliner Dom)
Bombed heavily in WWII, this structure has also seen a rough history. The biggest church in Berlin, it is beautiful inside and out. You can take a tour, view the crypt, go up on the roof and even enjoy a coffee in the cafe or browse the gift shop.
3. The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)
A very iconic and famous location, be sure to check it out. Excellent photo ops, and there are paid actors dresses as American and Russian soldiers that can take photos with you for a small price.
4. Museum Island
A literal small island within Berlin, Museum Island gets its name for the museums that are on it such as the Pergamonmuseum, the National Art Gallery, and the Altemuseum. Worth checking out.
5. Checkpoint Charlie
A really neat place to go, it's filled with history and reminds you that Berlin was once divided. Remnants of the Berlin Wall are nearby, and you can take photo ops at the U.S. Checkpoint with paid actors dressed as American and Russian soldiers.
6. Charlottenburg Palace
Built for a single German queen, this palace and its gardens are absolutely jaw-dropping. Be sure to take a tour, inside and out. You'll be left amazed at the grandeur. There is also a gift shop.
7. TV Tower (Fernseher Turm)
Not just a part of the Berlin skyline, you can take an elevator up the tower to get a 360 degree view of the city. There is also a restaurant.
8. St. Nicholas' Church (Nikolaikirche)
This is the oldest church in Berlin, and it's architecture is stunning. Be sure to go inside and check out the small museum.
9. Sansoucci Palace
A gem located just west of Berlin in a small city called Potsdam, Sansoucci Palace, its gardens and surrounding palaces are a reminder of an age of grandeur long since gone. Absolutely beautiful.
A beautiful square just off of Franzosichestrasse, it features beautiful arcitecture in the form of an opera house and two matching twin domes, the French dome and the German dome. You can go up the domes to get a beautiful view of the city. It is also close to lots of shopping.