Saturday, January 4, 2020

Berlin Travel Guide: Best Attractions, Food, Tours and Day Trips

Five years have passed since my first trip to Germany. Munich was (and probably still is) a shopper’s paradise. There are scrumptious pastry shops on almost every corner, the architecture is magnificent, and I have fond memories of munching giant pretzels while people watching in the beer gardens.

This year Berlin was my destination of choice. The multicultural metropolis has a hip urban vibe, shiny new skyscrapers and trendy cafes, but technological advancement does little to mask the city’s traumatic past.


Berlin is moving forward while attempting to rebuild what was lost. Among the diversity, culinary delights and intoxicating nightlife you will find historical monuments, museums and galleries dedicated to WWII and the city's devastating division. 

We stayed at the Hyperion Hotel conveniently located around the corner from a metro station and small shopping mall. If you’re looking for a quiet neighborhood just outside the city center, this hotel offers newly renovated rooms with modern decor.


Starting Your Tour
A good place to begin your tour is the Brandenburg Gate – a symbol of separation between East and West Berlin. The gate is one of the most significant landmarks in the city so it was the perfect spot to meet up with my blogging pal Luchessa – a local and former tour guide.


After snapping a few photos we had brunch at Cafe Einstein - one of Berlin’s oldest coffee shops. The decor is stylish and the menu features an impressive selection of delectable desserts and beverages. Reservations are recommended but we were able to get a table right away.


After enjoying fresh mint tea and tart plum pie, we made our way to The Memorial for Murdered Jews, walking distance from Brandenburg Gate.


This impressive monument took 17 years to complete and there are 2,711 rectangular blocks of concrete. The columns are strategically placed in a maze-like formation that gradually slopes downward to create the illusion of total immersion. The experience is intense, humbling and impressive.

While in the area, stop by the Victory Column – designed to commemorate Prussian victory over the Danish.


Berlin is quite large and has three city centers. In Potsdamer Platz one of the most distinguishable buildings is the large Sony Center topped with a domed roof designed to look like the Japanese volcano Mount Fujiyama. Inside you will find restaurants, a large movie theater, shops, offices, hotel rooms, condominiums and Legoland. Throughout the year many festivals and concerts are hosted here.


Transportation
An awesome way to see the main attractions without exhausting your legs is by taking the City Circle Bus Tour. There are 2 main lines and the price includes a map, earphones and historical audio guide. For more information head to visitberlin.de/en or city-tour-berlin.de/en/

Hop on and off anywhere you like or sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of Berlin. I captured great photos from the top deck and we used it as one of our main methods of transportation.

Photo by: City Circle Sighseein: © Photo: Gundi Adamski

Berlin also has an impressive public transportation system and the transit pass covers buses, trams, U-Bhan (mostly operates underground in the city center), S-Bhan (hybrid of local train and metro that runs from the city center to suburbs) and train.

Ticket kiosks are located at every underground station and there are various ride options. A one-way ticket cost 2.80, a full day 24 hr unlimited pass is 7 and a seven day pass is 30.00.

Pro Tip: To avoid being fined remember to validate your ticket before riding.

One of my favorite things to do in Europe is learn about the royal families and visit glamorous castles filled with ancient artifacts and paintings.

Charlottenburg Palace is easily accessible via metro and tickets cost 10.00 with audio guide.


Pro Tip: I was given a special photography pass which enabled me to take photos inside the palace so inquire about this prior to starting your tour.

Admittedly, Charlottenburg was not the most outstanding royal residence I’ve visited. The tour was a bit sparse (many rooms were closed) but the historical commentary was a nice touch.


Best Doner Kebab in Berlin
According to many of the travel videos I binge watched while preparing for this trip, many locals in Berlin grow up eating Doner Kebabs – similar to the North American version of shwarma. Turkish culture is evident throughout the city and you can find a kebab restaurant on almost every major street.

After much research and a few recommendations, the two most popular places for kebab seem to be Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebap and Ruyam Gemuse Kebab.

Mustafa’s offers a simple menu with just 3 meal options. The line is almost as famous as the food because it always stretches down the block with an average wait time of 45 minutes. It took an hour before we were able to order and things got more chaotic as the night wore on.


Although the toppings are flavorful, I don't think the food is worth the wait. The meat was chewy, fatty, stringy and greasy (probably because they didn’t have time to cook it long enough) so I discarded most of the chicken. Standing on the busy street to eat dinner was not enjoyable, especially with mosquitoes buzzing around.

Ruyam has both indoor and outdoor seating. We didn’t have to wait and the service was much better. The kebab was large and loaded with a combination of fresh veggies, sautéed veggies, savory sauces and well seasoned chicken. The bread was tastier and they offer free Turkish tea with your meal. Overall it was much better quality and just 4 per doner but the restaurant is not conveniently located.


When gazing at the skyline you can’t miss the iconic TV Tower standing at 360 m. At the top there is a panoramic viewing deck, bar and restaurant but reservations are required for dining.


Pro Tip: To avoid long lines book tickets to the TV Tower online for 19.50.

Many people visit Berlin during Oktoberfest and we were lucky enough to catch the beginning of the festival in Alexanderplatz – the largest of the three city centers. There was a small fair, beer garden and tents selling arts, crafts, food and local goods.



I tried the potato pancakes called Kartoffelkeller / Kartoffelpuffer because they look like giant hash browns. Unfortunately they tasted awful – bitter, dense and way too greasy. Maybe this batch wasn't a true reflection of the traditional recipe so I might try them again. 


You might have better luck with the Schneeballen – a crunchy pastry filled with sweet creamy filling.


Expect to see a lot of curry wurst stalls. This popular street food consists of sausage topped with curried ketchup sauce and sometimes an order of fries. I don’t like pork, beef or fatty meat so I decided to skip this dish. A few places offer vegetarian/beyond meat alternatives but by the time I discovered them, I was too full to eat another morsel.

Kaider Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche / Emperor William Memorial Church is located in Berlin’s commercial center. We didn’t go inside but it is a popular attraction and landmark.


Another thing I enjoy while traveling is grocery shopping at local markets and trying unique snacks. Erdnub Locken is basically peanut butter flavored Cheetos. When you open the bag it smells exactly like a jar of peanut butter and as you eat the light puffs, they are crunchy and salty - unusual but quite good.


You can’t visit Berlin without stopping at the Berlin Wall. Small segments can still be found in their original location but the most famous piece is East Side Gallery - known for its bright graffiti art.


The paintings below are my favorite.


Schedule at least half a day for Museum Island if you plan to explore the beautiful galleries.



Some of the most popular museums include the Pergamom, Neues featuring ancient Egyptian artifacts and the Bode Museum. Most of the buildings don’t open until 10 am and tend to be closed on Mondays. Purchase tickets online to save time.  


The largest, most beautiful structure on the Island is the Berlin Cathedral. The interior is almost as impressive as the facade and tickets are just 7 per person. Audio guides can be purchased for an additional 4.


Backpacks and large bags are not permitted inside the church but storage lockers are available just outside the main entrance for a refundable fee of 1.




Pro Tip: If you have the stamina, I recommend climbing the hundreds of steep steps to the domed roof observatory for an amazing view of the city.


Visiting the Reichstag
The Reichstag is one of the only parliament buildings in the world that is open to the public but make sure to plan ahead. Entrance is free but reservations are required and depending on your travel dates, you may have to complete the request form before your departure to Berlin.

It is much easier to book an appointment online but you can also register across the street from the Reichstag. Submit the names of everyone in your party and wait to receive a confirmation letter.


On the day of your visit, remember to bring your passport and confirmation letter (digital or printed) to gain entry. Everyone is required to go through security screening so arrive early before the line gets long. To make an appointment online visit the website HERE.

Checkpoint Charlie is another popular landmark along the City Tour Bus Route. It is on Friedrichstrasse – a street closely related to the rich history of Berlin and the Second World War. Snap a photo at the guard station and check out the free outdoor museum nearby.


Day Trip to Sanssouci Palace
If you love visiting elegant castles as much as I do, a day trip to Sancssouci is a must! It is located on the outskirts of Berlin in a town called Potsdam - easily accessible by train.



The bus stop across the street from the Postdam Train Station goes directly to the palace and tickets can be purchased on-board for 4.20.

Entrance to Sanssouci is 12.00 and an additional €3.00 for a photography pass. You also have the option of visiting all the palaces in Potsdam for about €19.00 but make sure to inquire about this pass specifically because they probably won’t offer it.

The palace's best feature is the sprawling back garden (free entry) and the magnificent Photo Gallery which is not included in the ticket price. Entrance to this area cost an additional €6.00 and last admission to around 5:30 pm.


Photo Gallery 

Pro Tip: If you plan to see more than one palace, wear comfortable shoes, arrive very early and bring food. You will need a full day and this trip requires a lot of walking.

Traveling from Berlin to Prague
After enjoying the culture and sights in Berlin, my husband and I made our way to Prague. If you are planning a similar route, I highly recommend Side Trip ToursThe company takes small groups on one-way trips between cities so you don’t have to waste a whole day in transit. I love this idea because instead of idly watching the world go by from a plane, train or bus, you can explore the sights along the way with a knowledgeable guide. Tours from Berlin to Prague take 10.5 hours and start at €65 - €75  per person. For more information visit the website HERE.

After meeting with the tour operator, we made our way through the German countryside to Moritzburg Palace in the state of Saxony


This bright yellow castle was a filming location for the 1973 version of Cinderella and her shoe can still be found on the steps leading to the back terrace. Originally, the baroque building was used as the king’s hunting lodge and inside there is an interesting museum.


We also stopped at the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxon Switzerland Germany. The terrain is wild and rugged with undeveloped forest, unique rock formations and a winding river.




My favorite stop was the colorful little city of Dresden which has an interesting past.

Most of the stonework looks ancient and discolored but many of the buildings are no older than fifty. Builders purposely aged the bricks to represent the original town – the way things would have looked if everything hadn’t been completely destroyed in the war. 



Bombings leveled the entire town except for one memorial wall. Most structures in the city are replicas so many people describe Dresden as “fake” or “artificial” – almost too perfect to be real.



I think it is both - a beautiful fairytale city with Disney-like charm and a stunning historical remodel. They’ve even tried to incorporate tourism by offering global cuisine including a restaurant inspired by my home province - Ontario.



If you stop in Dresden, make time to visit the Frauenkirche Church. The inside is designed in soft pastel tones to create a heavenly ambiance. (Entrance is free and photos are allowed).


Before heading to your next destination, stroll around town, have lunch (the desserts are amazing) and relax by the river.

If you like this article stay tuned for my Prague Travel Guide and visit my Travel Page for more vacation inspiration.

Special thanks to Visit Berlin Tourism for sponsoring my bus tour throughout the city.

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