Berlin – the cosmopolitan capital of Germany. A gigantic, gritty city that effortlessly blends East and West – acknowledging the past by building a future right around it. A city saturated in history, horrors, and social liberation. A city of modern art and hipster culture, quirky street fashion and vegan restaurants, and open public green spaces in every direction.
The thought of visiting Berlin has always excited me. As the guys on the train yelled excitedly as we pulled into Berlin Main Station, I secretly enthused with them – “Berliiiiiiiin!”
I’ve been living in Germany for over a year and a half now, but I only got to visit Berlin for the first time last month!
I’d spent a good few months in Northern Germany (Hannover, Hamburg, Bremen, Hameln), Central Germany (Frankfurt, Rhine Valley, Sankt Goar), and visited South West & South East Germany (Schwarzwald/Black Forest, Munich, Bavaria), but I was DYING to finally explore the country’s capital in the east. And this May, I got my opportunity!
With the help of a Deutsche Bahn rail voucher we received as a gift, we took the 4.5 hour train ride to Berlin and stayed in a shared apartment that we found via AirBnb. It was quite a strange experience – we had one of 3 bedrooms in an apartment owned by the renter, and all guests share one bathroom and one kitchen. I’m an anxious person, especially when it comes to sharing intimate spaces with strangers, but the experience was surprisingly good! Everything was cosy, clean, and comfortable, and we were able to cook dinner and make breakfast at the apartment, which saved us lots of money on meals.
Berlin has many trendy, contemporary boutique hotels and stylish hostels (one on my wishlist is the 25hours Bikini Berlin Hotel), but if you are travelling on a budget, a rented room via AirBnb is a fantastic alternative. We couldn’t see all of Berlin in 4 days, but here are the things we did get to see and do 😀
Charlottenburg is a pretty, peaceful old neighbourhood in western Berlin. It is quite imposing with its huge, grand buildings and wide roads, but it has a surprisingly relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Berlin is truly gigantic, and it takes around 30 minutes by public transport from the main train station to Charlottenburg. The area is a great base-camp for exploring Berlin if you don’t mind a bit of a commute into the city centre.
The highlight of Charlottenburg is perhaps the palace (Schloss Charlottenburg) – a former royal residence with gorgeous Baroque-style gardens. Most of the hop-on, hop-off buses stop right outside the palace, and you can take a tour of the inside for around 10 EUR (depending on if you buy a ticket at the palace, or a day ticket for entrance to multiple attractions in Berlin).
Budget Berlin – Charlottenburg Palace
- To view from outside (facade) and walk in the square – FREE
- 12 EUR adult entrance to the palace (includes guided tour or audio guide)
- 6 EUR for entrance to the new wing only (main palace excluded)
- 17 EUR adult combined ticket for all palace buildings, mausoleum, and gardens
- U-Bahn: Richard-Wagner Platz
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) was badly damaged in an air-bombing raid in 1943, and has been left in its ruined state as a World War II memorial. Known by the locals as “der Hohle Zahn” (the hollow tooth), the church is a striking landmark and a great sight to see with your own eyes.
Budget Berlin – Gedächtniskirche
- Entrance to the memorial hall = FREE
- Daily guided tours = FREE (in German)
- 4 EUR per person for a group guided tour of the church in English or French
- U-Bahn: Zoologischer Garten
25 hours Berlin/Bikini Hotel & Monkey Bar
The 25-hours Bikini Berlin Hotel is one of the current hottest hostel-hotels in Europe, and its newly-famous rooftop Monkey Bar is incredibly popular. Staying there for 3 nights was a bit out of our budget, but I would absolutely stay there in the future if I could! As for the bar – amazing views out over the zoo, a relaxed yet chic hipster vibe, excellent drinks, and great snacks make this a must-visit hotspot of the West End. I highly recommend the sweet potato chips, and the cherry gin cocktail!
Budget Berlin – Monkey Bar at the 25-hours Bikini Berlin Hotel
- U-Bahn: Zoologischer Garten
- No cover entrance fee
- Cocktails are on average 12 EUR each
- Waiting time when busy – 15-20 minutes
If you are a history enthusiast, then a visit to Checkpoint Charlie is a must. It is usually packed with tourists, which can be a bit unpleasant, but there are several museums and art galleries in Friedrichstraße that are absolute gems. One to visit is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Mauermuseum), which chronicles the Cold War years, the history of the Berlin Wall, and the epic escape attempts by East Berliners (DDR citizens) to reach the GDR (West Berlin).
The area has tons of souvenir shops and cafes, as well as lots of street art and temporary exhibits to explore.
Budget Berlin – Checkpoint Charlie
- Haus am Checkpoint Charlie (Mauermuseum) entrance – 12,50 EUR
- Picture with soldiers in front of the checkpoint – approx 3 EUR (a bit of a tourist trap, but a cool souvenir)
- U-Bahn: Kochstrasse/Checkpoint Charlie
Auguststrasse & The Barn Coffee
Berlin has a rich and welcoming hipster culture that is dedicated to holistic, alternative living. Auguststrasse is one great place to experience Berlin’s hipster culture, as there are several boutique clothing stores to browse, vegan slow-food restaurants, and third-wave coffee places like The Barn. When we visited on a Friday afternoon it was sunny, quiet, and very pleasant to walk down the street after the chaos of Checkpoint Charlie and hundreds of tourists. I’d highly recommend stopping in at The Barn for some artisanal filter coffee and a delicious sandwich for lunch. Their cake is fantastic too!
Budget Berlin – Auguststrasse
- A fancy filter coffee (Aeropress is a great choice!) at The Barn is around 7 EUR, which is VERY expensive for coffee, but it is 100% worth it. Their regular coffee is superb too.
- Click here to visit The Barn website
Oderbergerstrasse & Bonanza Coffee
Another prime hipster neighbourhood is around Oderbergerstrasse in Berlin Mitte (Berlin city centre). The road is very wide, lined with beautiful old houses and many trees. The area has an incredibly laid-back and friendly atmosphere, with many shops and cafes having outdoor seating. The gem of Oderbergerstrasse, in my opinion, is Bonanza Coffee. Known for having the best coffee in Berlin, Bonanza does not disappoint. Click here for my blog post dedicated to Bonanza Coffee Heroes!
To feel the true scale of Berlin, a visit to Potsdamer Platz is in order. The towering buildings and immense square make you feel tiny! There is a small Berlin Wall art installation in the square, as well as high street shopping and plenty of things to see and do.
East Side Gallery – The Berlin Wall
The best way to see the Berlin Wall is by visiting the East Side Gallery – a 1.3 km stretch of the surviving Berlin Wall that is covered in massive artworks and striking murals. Take a slow walk along the wall to get the full impact – it’s one of the most powerful symbols of Berlin.
Budget Berlin – East Side Gallery
- Public, permanent outdoor art exhibition – FREE
- U-Bahn: Schlesisches Tor
- Wear comfortable shoes!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The Holocaust Memorial – or, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – comprises of two parts. The first is the large Field of Stelae, which is the visible arrangement of large grey blocks of various heights. Walking among them is quite eerie. Sadly, we had no idea that there was a small museum underground on the site – that would have made our visit so much more meaningful!
I was also saddened and a little shocked that people were running around playing hide-and-seek between the stelae (which are effectively massive symbolic gravestones), jumping from one to another, and screaming as they played their games. A bit disrespectful, so I’d recommend at least being relatively quiet and not jumping or standing on the stones. The memorial is about 5 minutes walk from the Brandenburger Gate, so visit if you can. Entrance to the information centre/museum and the monument site is free.
Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
The architectural symbol of historical Berlin – the Brandenburgertor, or Brandenburg Gate, is a must-see on any trip to the city. This 18th century neoclassical triumphal arch is quite impressive, and it has a rich history. The quadriga (chariot) has been stolen many times by invading powers, and the gate featured prominently in the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – it had been sectioned off in East Berlin for decades.
It is impossible to see all that Berlin has to offer in 4 days, or even a week, but you can definitely see enough to have you eager to come back! Below are a few parting images of Berlin from our long weekend trip 🙂 Feel free to ask questions in the comments!