Of all the traveling I’ve done in Europe, Berlin may be the most unique destination I’ve visited yet. With tumultuous history so recent it almost feels palpable, Berlin has seen an overwhelming transformation over the last 75 years. This city was headquartered by Nazis, heavily bombed during World War II, divided by communism with the Berlin Wall and finally reunited -- all in such a short period of time. Today, Berlin is one of the most multicultural and open-minded cities in Europe and offers visitors the perfect blend of both grit and glamour.
I've always been interested in Berlin's history, but I especially wanted to visit after befriending my pal Caitlin this past year. I always love my time with her, but I was particularly excited for this trip. She calls Berlin home, and I knew she'd be able to show me the best of this fascinating city (and from a local's perspective). Thanks to Caitlin + her sweet boyfriend Oliver (who is Berlin-born and raised), I fell in love with the German capital and learned even more than I anticipated I would.
Berlin is definitely someplace worth visiting and should be added to your travel wishlist immediately. When you plan a trip of your own, here's what you should know:
One of the nights I spent in Berlin was at Hotel Oderberger: a historic boutique hotel, just a stones throw away from Mauerpark. Originally a bathhouse, this building was converted to a hotel just last year (the bath now the stunning indoor swimming pool). While the building may be historic, the decor is chic + contemporary. I loved the overall look + feel of the entire property. Aside from the aesthetics, both the cocktail bar and restaurant (also where breakfast is served) were incredible. The staff was extremely helpful (and spoke perfect English too). Overall, if you’re looking for a boutique hotel in central Berlin, this is the place for you.
For my second night, I headed just west of the city center to a quiet + quaint area of town called Hansaviertel. Here, I stayed at ABION Villa Suites: which offers luxury maritime themed rooms. I absolutely adored my experience here! My room had floor to ceiling windows with canal views of the Spree (which reminded me a lot of Amsterdam!) It made for such a relaxing escape to come home to after sightseeing all day and I found myself having a hard time wanting to leave the room again once I was back! All the decor is bright, contemporary and luxurious. I definitely recommend staying here if you're someone who prefers a luxury experience and likes to retreat from the hustle and bustle of a city (although this location still makes it very easy to get around Berlin).
For my last night in Berlin, I stayed at Motel One Berlin Upper West, which was such a cool experience. Motel One is designed to look + feel like a luxury boutique hotel, but without the luxury price tag. They do a really great job of cutting costs in areas you're least likely to miss, which means the overall value is one you can feel great about.
I absolutely loved the decor of the entire hotel, and my room had such an amazing view of Berlin! I was also incredibly impressed with the common spaces (the rooftop bar and lounge area is actually stunning and felt like a swanky luxury hotel).
If you're looking for the best of both worlds regarding luxury and price, Motel One is a great option for you! They have a few other Berlin locations as well, but Upper West is their newest property (and I'm fairly certain it won't disappoint).
SEE + DO
If there's only one thing I tell you to do in Berlin, it's spending time where the Berlin Wall once stood. This was hands down my favorite landmark I visited. Obviously, I knew about the Berlin Wall from history class, but I didn't really know what to expect when visiting (after all, the wall came down- so what is there really to see?) The city has done an incredible job commemorating where the wall once stood and divided East and West Berlin during the communist occupation. There is a memorial that pays tribute to the deaths that occurred there while people tried to escape from the East to the West. The museum includes an exhibit that depicts the history of the wall, including interviews and biographies from Germans who escaped or died trying. No matter how I try to sum up my time here, it's sure to fall short. This is truly something to experience first-hand, and will stay with you long after you leave Berlin.
One of the most popular landmarks in Germany is the Bradenburg Gate, located in the heart of Berlin. This neoclassical monument is a symbol not only of Germany’s tumultuous past, but also of European peace + unification. It’s almost always crawling with tourists, but it's also a pretty epic place to watch the sunset so you definitley don't want to miss visiting this spot.
Unlike most of the rest of Europe, Berlin’s architecture is fairly modern after being heavily bombed during World War II. But even among the newer buildings + Communist-era blocks, let’s be clear: it still has it’s fair share of beautiful cathedrals- the most famous being Berlin Cathedral Church. This is one of the most-photographed spots in the city- and for good reason. On a warm sunny day, this is the perfect spot to camp out with a picnic on the lawn + marvel at this beautiful building.
In the 1960s, the Communists erected this 1,200 foot TV tower in the center of the city. It's purpose wasn't just for better TV reception, but to also remind people of the power of the atheistic state (this was at a time when leaders were having the crosses removed from the majority of churches and cathedrals). What they didn't think about, was that when the sun hit the tower, it created a huge reflection of a cross on the mirrored ball. People joke that it was the "Pope's revenge." Regardless of the history, this landmark is arguably the most iconic part of the Berlin skyline and you simply can't miss it while visiting the city.
On a pretty day Berlin, head to Großer Tiergarten: a tranquil park in the center of the city. Caitlin and I hopped in these quaint little row boats and paddled along the pond near a traditional biergarten (where you should definitely stop for a beer). We also saw a clan of artists casually sketching in the nude (which definitely caught us off guard!) But juxtaposition like that is exactly what makes Berlin, Berlin and is why I love this crazy, quirky city.
OTHER SIGHTS YOU CAN'T MISS:
EAT + DRINK
Berlin is known for a variety of food + drink. Traditional fare includes things like pretzels, pan-fried pancakes (known as kartoffelpuffer), currywurst, apfelstrudel and schnitzel. They also have a prominent Turkish population, which means you can get a mean kebab. But while all of these favorites are certainly worth trying, limiting yourself only to these options would be a missed opportunity. Berlin is a cultural melting pot, which means a variety of cuisines done well. While we definitely indulged in a lot of the above, Caitlin showed me more of the modern food scene that the locals are enjoying.
Caitlin took M.C. (a friend of mine from high-school who happened to be in Berlin too!) to Klunkerkranich for drinks one afternoon, which we loved. This rooftop bar has been called one of the "hippest" spots in Berlin. It's tucked away above a car park in Neukölln, and is another great spot to watch the sunset.
While Caitlin and I were walking through Kreuzberg, we stopped dead in our tracks when we saw La Lucha: a new Mexican restaurant. This brilliantly-pink restaurant takes a modern approach on traditional Mexican cuisine. Caitlin got to sit down with the owner, Max, a young man from Holland, who is quickly making a name for himself in the Berlin food scene. You can read her full article on the restaurant here, but in summary: "The owner Max lived in Mexico for two years where he first found his love for the cuisine. He loved going to the street food markets where you have the options to order from several different stands and can share with friends your different plates of food- thus his idea was born. The concept here is that your food doesn't come out in any order- just when it's ready. Everything is made to be shared and enjoyed together, just like at home. The menu has a "selection" platter where it takes care of the ordering for you. It also offers plenty of drink pairings as well as a "tequila discovery flight" for those of you ready to get the weekend started. If you're with a larger group, ordering the pitcher of sangria is highly recommended- especially on those warmer days out on the patio."
Another great reco, courtesy of Caitlin! Spindler is on one of her favorite streets in Berlin, right on the canal in Kreuzberg. Their carefully curated and seasonal menu is inspired by Nicolas Gemin, a young and innovative French chef. You can also read her full article on this gem here, but this spot is known for its impressive brunch, as well as coffee and deserts (a German tradition around 4pm).
If you haven't picked up on it already, Caitlin knows a thing or two about the food scene in Berlin. Once again, you can read full details on this spot in the article she wrote (here) but this cafe boasts exposed brick, tables topped with vibrant flowers, tropical plants, and an aroma of freshly baked sourdough bread. Since bread is their specialty, they have amazing pizzas, cinnamon rolls and sandwiches- making it a great spot for breakfast + lunch.
TIPS FOR SURVIVING THE CITY
- The public transportation is cheap and easy to use- whether it's the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, a bus, tram or ferry. Just be sure you actually buy a ticket, because they do have people (dressed liked everyday commuters) who will announce themselves once the train starts and check everyones ticket. I'm told they make quite a scene and you don't want to be caught without one.
- Berlin is also known for having some of the best nightclubs in the world (Wilde Renate, Kater Blau, About Blank + Sisyphos being some of the most popular). But if you're thinking of something along the lines of Las Vegas- think again. Getting into these establishments isn't easy, and there are some things to know before you go. Wear dark colors (think casual grunge, not heels or dresses) and don't talk much while standing in line. Know how to say your age in German, and know the names of the DJs who are playing that night. If there are a lot of guys in your group, you're better off splitting up into smaller groups in line. You'll also have better odds getting in if you have a German with you.
- The Spree (which I mentioned while speaking about my stay at ABION Villa Suites) is the river that runs through Berlin's city center. You can take river cruises if you want to tour the city from a unique perspective, but you should also grab food at a restaurant along the canals here to dine like a true Berliner.
Berlin was a fascinating destination exploding with history and things to do. I have no doubt I'll be back again (I'd want to even if Caitlin didn't live there!) and I can't wait to discover even more to this city when I do. Shoutout to both Caitlin + Oliver for being fantastic hosts and showing me all that their is to love about their city-- you guys are the best! x
Still more you want to know about Berlin? Let me know in the comments below!
Hope you find this guide helpful as you plan your trip, and as always thanks for stopping by!