Although shadowed by dark history, Berlin is a vibrant city with an incredible mix of old and new. We definitely hope to go back someday but below is what we explored in five days in Berlin (and the surrounding area).
Day 1: Arrival in Berlin
The first morning, we land in Berlin and swiftly make it to our hotel. After spending some time figuring out public transportation we eventually arrive at Berliner Dom – a stunning cathedral in a gorgeous area of the city. We climb the many stairs to the top of the cathedral and enjoy the views. Next, we continue our sightseeing on foot and walk to Brandenburger Gate, one of the most recognizable German monuments. Along the way we stop for a late afternoon meal.
Being extremely jet lagged, we head back to the hotel to relax. To avoid sleeping at 6:00pm, we try to watch Netflix, however we eventually give in to the exhaustion and sleep.
Day 2: World War II History Day
This day was spent visiting many World War II-related monuments and museums. We visited Checkpoint Charlie (the most famous checkpoint on the Berlin Wall and a Cold War symbol), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Topography of Terror (an indoor / outdoor museum). As expected, it was a very sobering day but it was incredible to spend time learning more intimate details about the war.
We next embark to the East Side Gallery – an open gallery that has turned the Berlin Wall into a monument of reunification. The industrial area was out of the way but we were glad we ventured there.
We then head back to the historic district for a late lunch at Kantine Deluxe. We continue exploring the historic district by wandering in whatever direction suits our fancy. We visit an old church and see numerous statues, monuments and fountains. The architecture all seems to belong on postcards and we enjoy taking many photos!
Next we visit KaDeWe, Europe’s second largest department store. We probably have more fun than is appropriate in the toy section and have an amusing time wandering the store.
For dinner we opt for German fare at Dicke Wirtin. This small pub definitely has a big German personality. The beer was cheaper than water, futbol was on every tv, the people watching was the most amusing I’ve every encountered, and the portion sizes were ridiculously large (yes we got teased for not finishing our meals). Also, we had our first apple strudel in Germany! Overall the atmosphere made for a great meal.
Day 3: Potsdam and Palaces
After some transportation struggles we manage to arrive in Potsdam, a city bordering Berlin (note: definitely research if there is any public transportation construction before you visit a city – it’ll save you cellular data and time!). The train to Potsdam provides lovely scenery of Berlin suburbia, forestry, old homes, and some areas that are not in great shape. Our first stop in Potsdam is the historic district and we wander around Nicholas’ Church. We then take the bus up to Park Sanssouci. We somehow get lost trying to enter the park and end up walking around a quiet neighborhood with beautiful facades.
We finally manage to enter the park in what is clearly the ‘not tourist’ entrance. You guys, this park is phenomenal! There are so many random statues and palaces including the Chinese Teahouse, the Orangery Palace and Sanssouci Palace. We also wandered into a beautiful church on the grounds.
Afterwards, we take two buses to Neuer Garten to see some more castles and palaces (honestly we can never get enough of castles or palaces). After much walking we encounter Schloss Cecilienhof, Marmorpalais and our personal favorite, Belvedere auf dem Pfingstberg. The cobble path to the Belvedere was painful but the view was absolutely worth it. We were the only ones there so we relaxed on the roof with some snacks while taking in the amazing vistas.
We arrive back in Berlin and are starving since we missed lunch. We end up going to one of the first restaurants we see and have a not so great Italian buffet meal. We don’t linger long and head back to our hotel to plan for the next day.
Day 4: Charlottenburg Palace and Chocolate
We’ve finally become experts with the public transportation and easily catch a bus to Charlottenburg Palace. We tour the New Palace, Old Palace, and the gardens (including the Belvedere, the Mausoleum and the Neve Pavilion). Many of the rooms are quite literally breathtaking and the gardens are super tranquil. We did the audio tour and as not big audio tour fans we thought it was great!
We then make our way to Fassbender and Rausch, the famous chocolate store and cafe. We did get a bit lost on the way and ended up walking through some unfamiliar neighborhoods and a small street market but it was cool to see a side of Berlin we otherwise would not have! At the cafe we each get a drink and dessert and yes the cafe lived up to the hype. It was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had! We then shopped at the store below the cafe and explored the neighboring Gendarmenmarkt.
We spend the evening shopping at familiar stores like H&M and Birkenstock (which are cheaper to buy in Europe than the U.S. so buy them abroad!!). We end the night with dinner at Wok to Walk which is essentially the Chinese version of Chipotle.
Day 5: Peacock Island
We travel to Peacock Island (known as Pfaueninsel), an island on the River Havel, just southwest of Berlin. The ferry boat to the island is literally 50 feet of travel so it’s very accessible. We actually walk the entire perimeter of the island and are able to see many random buildings, peacocks, gardens, and the castle. It was an extremely serene morning with gorgeous weather. If you have time for an easy day trip and are looking for something relaxing we’d definitely recommend Pfaueninsel.
After arriving back in the city we indulge at Cafe Einstein (the original location). The cafe is located in an old Viennese style home and the ambiance was glorious. However, our experience was slightly dampened by the New England family sitting next to us. Notable quotes from them include: “Should we invite the driver to join us?”, “Brooklyn has been flooded with.. what do you call them? Hipsters?”, “Chipotle… how do you pronounce that?”, and worst of all “Yeah burritos.. I don’t eat them.. tasteless”. Actually it was extremely entertaining and nothing could ruin our mood at such a lovely cafe.
We spend our last evening shopping again and stumble upon what is possible the world’s largest fire hazard, Primark. For those unfamiliar, Primark is basically Wet Seal or Forever 21 on steroids: cheaper, better variety, and the size of a department store. It’s basically Black Friday everyday and it is LIT. We definitely go overboard here.
For dinner we start what is a now long-standing tradition with TwentyA: finding the best Mexican food in Europe. We eat at Maria Bonita – a hole in the wall Mexican cafe that was so so good! We did not expect to find decent Mexican food but Maria Bonita set the bar quite high for European Mexican fare.
That concludes our five days in Berlin! We were able to do a variety of things and absolutely fell in love with the city. Any recommendations for a future visit?