I’ve rounded the corner on our summer Europe trip. First we had London, then Paris, to the beach in Barcelona, and now Berlin! Berlin was the dark horse of Michael and I’s trip. We had no idea what to expect!
From Barcelona, we flew on European low-cost carrier, Ryan Air, to Berlin. Two recommendations when flying these type of carriers:
- Download the carrier’s App and be sure to check-in and download your boarding pass prior to arriving at the airport (they charge you extra for having to print your boarding pass at the airport);
- If you have a backpack/purse with you plus a normal American size carry on bag (I had the Bigger Away with me) be sure to purchase a ticket for one checked bag and one hand bag (aka backpack/purse) prior to your flight – then, upon arrival at the airport, CHECK the carry on bag. This is the cheapest way that we found to travel. What NOT to do: Do not bring your rolling carry-on bag to the gate with you. If your bag won’t fit in the overhead bin, the low-cost carriers will force you to check it AND charge you around $50 for having to check the bag.
As in all of the other cities, we used the public train system to get around the city. As a forewarning, Berlin’s metro system is a little sketchy. There are no turn styles or entry ways where you have to scan any sort of ticket to ride the train. For the first day and half we were baffled. We rode the train and attempted to look around to see if anyone else was buying tickets to hop aboard … It wasn’t until about half way through day two that I googled the situation.
Apparently purchasing train/metro tickets is a bit of a game in Berlin. You don’t need one to enter the station or even get on the train, however, there are metro employees that ride the trains in unmarked uniforms that randomly make their way through trains throughout the day, randomly checking to see if riders have a valid ticket on them. I’m not sure what the penalty is for not having the correct ticket, thank goodness we never got caught! With that said, while we did skip out on purchasing tickets for our short rides throughout the city, we did purchase tickets to and from the airport – this trip is longer. Our tickets were only checked on our way back to the airport …
Where We Stayed
As I mentioned above, Berlin was the 4th stop on our trip. As I’m sure you know by now, Michael and I really enjoy staying in Airbnb properties while traveling, but we had a handful of Marriott points to burn so we decided to stay at the Westin Grand Hotel Berlin. Truth be told, I was super excited to be staying in a hotel at this point.
We had a reallllly long travel day from Barcelona as our flight was delayed and then we took the wrong train in from the airport (the right direction, just not the fastest train) … so when we arrived into the city it was almost 11:00pm. I was so happy to see that big, gleaming Westin property right when we got off of the metro.
If you’re looking for somewhere easy to stay that’s centrally located, I highly recommend this property. They had a partnership going with Veuve Clicquot while we were there so the entire front patio was decked out in cute Veuve gear. The patio is a great place for an afternoon cocktail and people watching. The hotel is in the middle of downtown, so there’s lots of activity!
What to Do
One note before I jump into what all there is to do and see in Berlin, Berlin had far less tourists than any other city we visited on this trip. It was really nice to be able to visit a lot of the hot spots without being overwhelmed by the amount of people.
On our first full day in the city we started the day out at the Brandenburg Gate (first photo above), one of the most recognizable spots in Berlin. There had just been a concert here the night before so that’s why you see the big white fenced barrier in front of the gate.
From there, the Reichstag Building, which is where the German Parliament meets, is a short walk. It’s a massive building, similar to the U.S. Capitol building. It was amazing how few tourists were out in front of the building at the time we visited.
Next we wandered through the city to Gendarmenmarkt, which is a beautiful public square. There was a violinist playing outside of the cutest beer garden so we stopped and sat for a while to enjoy a beer and his music. The people watching was also wonderful!
That afternoon we ventured over to Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous Berlin Wall crossing point between the East Side and the West Side. It’s interesting that this sight has turned into, dare I say, a cheesy tourist photo opt? There are guys dressed up in costumes whom you have to pay to take photos with in front of the replica of the historic checkpoint. It’s also a bit bizarre that the Checkpoint is located in the middle of a busy street – I’m sure the locals love the congestion that the site causes!
On day two we started with a trip across town (by train) to the East Side Gallery, which is the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. Right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, artists flocked to the city to paint the wall, and in 1990 the East Side Gallery opened as an open air art gallery. It’s really something to see. My favorite painting, pictured below, has words painted on it that are still so incredibly applicable to today.
We rode the train back from the East Side Gallery to Alexanderplatz, a large public square where we happened to stumble upon a giant world clock – funny story about the clock – it has every timezone from around the world on it with a couple of cities from each timezone etched into the corresponding zone. For the central timezone, New Orleans was the representative! I was super excited to see Louisiana represented all the way over in Berlin. 🙂
That same afternoon is the only day out of our entire 16 day trip that it rained. So what else were we to do besides take cover in a traditional German beer house?! We hit up the Hofbräu Wirtshaus to wait out the storm. Here you can experience Bavarian style food while being entertained by a traditional, live German band. It was a fun way to pass the time!
Where to Eat
- Digital Eatery – A cool cafe in Microsoft’s building right in the heart of downtown. It’s an interesting and quirky spot. Lots of seats and great wifi!
- The Visit Coffee – I love this coffee spot. It’s located right in the midst of busy downtown, but it’s tucked away down a quite street. There is outdoor seating, and their chocolate croissants were heavenly!
- Nante-Eck – We popped in this place out of convenience, but it turned out to be pretty tasty! One thing I learned while in Berlin is that German food is hearty. For lunch I usually stuck to potato soup and a salad as most of the food options include heavy portions of meat.
- Hofbraü Berlin – When we got caught in the rainstorm I mentioned above, we headed for this German beer garden. We ended up eating lunch here to let the storm pass. Again, I opted for the potato soup with a giant soft pretzel. It hit the spot on the dreary day!
- Das Meistersrück – This spot was really cool. There’s an open fire oven in the middle of the restaurant, which wasn’t quite ideal for the time that we visited since there was a heat wave hitting the city on that particular day, but there is a lovely patio out back where most everyone was dining. Sitting inside would be so cozy during the fall and winter months though! The menu here featured tons of traditional German meats. I went with a brat … when in Germany! It was delish and the side of potato salad didn’t disappoint either!
- Weingalerie und Cafe No – By far my favorite restaurant that we visited while in Berlin! This hidden gem is on a quiet street downtown. The owner and the staff were beyond welcoming. We had a three course meal here, capping off dinner with a slice of German chocolate cake. I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re visiting the city!
Next up, our last stop, and my favorite, Amsterdam! Stay tuned for that recap coming next week!
Things to Know:
- Use the train. (You’ll save SO much money!)
- Purchase this converter + adapter set (You need both! Saved me!)
- I never felt unsafe for one minute – just be an alert traveler, that’s the best you can do! Always go. 🙂
Michael made a VLOG of our time in Berlin, you can check it out here!
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- 48 Hours in London
- 36 Hours in Paris
- A Weekend in Barcelona