How to spend a world-class weekend in Berlin


Berlin has busied itself since the fall of its infamous Wall with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe. It is a hub for hedonists, hipsters and history buffs alike – one that truly offers something for everyone.

Its slew of art spaces, notoriously tolerant nightlife and burgeoning start-up scene grab the headlines most regularly, but the city is also a welcoming destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces, sparkling lakes and a generally child-friendly infrastructure. Luxury travellers are catered for with a slew of five-star hotels, Michelin-starred dining spots and indulgent spas; and for history fans, there’s plenty – after all, the city was at the heart of much of the turbulent 20th century.

Alongside world-famous cultural and historical sights – such as the Unesco-protected Museum Island and the domed Reichstag, Alexanderplatz and Checkpoint Charlie – the inner-city neighbourhoods (Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Schöneberg) are huge on local atmosphere and peppered with hip bars and restaurants, as well as independent boutiques and quirky museums.

For a more in-depth look at Berlin, see our individual guides for hotelsrestaurantsbarsnightlifeattractions and shopping

Day one


Start with a visit to Berlin’s most renowned cultural ensemble, the Museum Island. It’s not really possible to do all five museums in one trip, so be selective; the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum both offer a vast and incredibly varied array of exhibits, including the famous Pergamon Altar and bust of Nefertiti, respectively. Get your tickets from the swanky James Simon Gallery – designed by David Chipperfield architects – which serves as a meeting point, ticket office and gift shop for the whole island.

Take a light lunch or coffee break at the Deutsches Historisches Museum‘s pleasant Café im Zeughaus, whose pavement terrace looks out over the Lustgarten and Berlin Cathedral. The dome of the latter is well worth ascending on a clear day, but first explore 2,000 years of German history in the adjacent museum. Find more of the best attractions in Berlin in our guide.


Cross the road for a look inside and around the city’s Prussian Palace. The various exhibition rooms, museums and institutions it contains are collectively known as the Humboldt Forum, and include the Ethnological Collections and Asian Art exhibitions, which showcase 20,000 objects and consider topics such as colonialism. The Berlin Global exhibition, which shows how the city is connected to the rest of the world, is one of the main draws.

Stroll west along historic Unter den Linden, pausing to look into Friedrich Schinkel’s neoclassical Neue Wache, with its poignant sculpture by German artist Käthe Kollwitz; linger on Bebelplatz square to admire the opera house Staatsoper and Mischa Ullman’s Bibliotek installation, a memorial to the Nazi’s 1933 book-burning. Afterwards, enjoy some shopping along the elegant arcades of Friedrichstrasse, which hosts high-end shops like Galeries Lafayette department store.

Further along you can also find the Checkpoint Charlie museum, which explores the Berlin Wall years.

Reichstag, Berlin

Visitors can climb inside the dome of the Reichstag, home of the German parliament

Credit: WESTEND61


At the western end of Unter den Linden you’ll find the Brandenburger Tor (Pariser Platz), which has an interesting museum. Around the corner is the historic Reichstag, whose dome can be climbed for memorable sunset vistas. Pre-book a table at the Reichstag’s rooftop Käfer Dachgarten restaurant, which offers decent German cuisine and the chance to jump the queues, or head to Cookies Cream for inventive, Michelin-star quality vegetarian cuisine.

Round the night off with some classy cocktails at the Crackers bar below, or take a taxi to the more intimate Buck & Breck. If you’re in the mood for a classic Berlin techno party but don’t want the trauma of long lines and almost-certain door rejection, try Watergate or Tresor. Find more of the best bars in Berlin in our guide.

Day two


Begin at Potsdamer Platz. One of Europe’s busiest squares in the Weimar era, and a derelict wasteland during the Berlin Wall years, today it’s the boldest symbol of contemporary – or at least commercial – Berlin, complete with looming skyscrapers and swish shopping malls. The distinctive, peat-fired brick Kollhoff Tower offers a viewing platform (and a café) at the top, while the Deutsche Kinemathek museum gives an impressively modern and thorough overview of German television and cinema.


Though well-known for its sights and shopping, decent restaurants are thin on the ground; best to grab a quick and healthy lunch at Weilands Wellfood, which has poké bowls, salads and tasty vegan, vegetarian and meat dishes, and overlooks a pleasant pond with a sculpture by Mark di Suvero (lunch from €9.50/£8). Find more of the best shopping areas in Berlin in our guide.

After lunch, explore the neighbouring Kulturforum, which hosts the architecturally flamboyant Philharmonie as well as the excellent Gemäldegalerie, with its Rembrandts, Caravaggios and Botticellis. After six years of restoration work costing some €140 million, the nearby Neue Nationalgalerie – designed by Bauhaus master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1968 – has also finally opened its doors again; it has a magnificent collection of 20th century visual art on rotation, and there’s also an outdoor sculpture garden inspired by MoMA’s in New York.

The LP12 Mall of Berlin at nearby Leipziger Platz has a wealth of mid-range and high-end stores, but hipper is the Bikini Mall, a 15-minute S Bahn ride from Potsdamer Platz to Zoologischer Garten, which offers Berlin/German brands such as Blutsgeschwister, Closed and Mykita. Nearby sights to explore when you’re done browsing are the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and Berlin’s Zoo and Aquarium, Germany’s largest and oldest.

Berlin short break

Gemäldegalerie has a collection of Rembrandts, Caravaggios and Botticellis



The nearby 25 Hours Bikini hotel’s Monkey Bar has great aperitif options and a pleasant wrap-around terrace that overlooks the zoo and the church. Its classy in-house restaurant NENI also has very good Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine – and great views. Afterwards, catch a cabaret show, comedy or drama at the legendary Theater und Komödie am Kurfürstendamm, currently hosted at the Schiller Theatre (Bismarckstrasse 110), a short walk away, while the main building gets rebuilt. Find more of the best restaurants in Berlin in our guide.

Later, walk to the small but convivial Rum Trader for some of the most sophisticated drinks in town – don’t try and order a Moscow Mule or a Basil Smash or you’ll be met with righteous indignation.

Glass restaurant, Berlin

NENI is the place to go for Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine

Insider tips

Neighbourhood watch

Despite its edgy buzz, not so many tourists make it to Neukölln. Take a stroll down Weserstrasse at night and check out the many great bars (TierÄThelonius) and soak up the atmosphere.


If you’re pushed for time but keen to explore Berlin’s Cold War history, skip the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which is often busy, and instead visit the neighbouring Black Box Cold War Museum (Friedrichstraße 47) the Asisi Panorama (Friedrichstraße 205) and the (free) nearby outdoor photo exhibition.

City views

The Amano rooftop bar is a boon – for guests and locals alike – in the summer, for its views across Mitte’s rooftops and its expertly mixed cocktails.

Berlin short break

Hotel Amano in the heart of Berlin has a rooftop bar

City hack

Instead of getting a €30-€40 (£26-£35) taxi from Schönefeld airport, buy a €3.80 (£3.30) ABC ticket and catch an S-Bahn or Regional-Bahn train straight into town in roughly the same amount of time.

Did you know?

Berlin has more than 100 miles of navigable waterways within its city limits. It is possible to take a boat tour, or to rent a kayak or canoe and explore by yourself.  The piers along Treptower Park is a good place to start.

Where to stay

Luxury living

The Waldorf Astoria is a classic Berlin hotel in the upmarket City West district. It more than earns each of its five stars for its convenient location and excellent service. Elegant and sophisticated, the interiors seamlessly blend Art Deco and contemporary touches, while the staff are eager and obliging. The first – and only – Guerlain Spa in Germany is located on the fifth floor of the hotel, and is one of the best in town.




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Waldorf Astoria

The Waldorf Astoria is one of the city’s top five-star hotels


Boutique bolthole

If you’re looking for a hotel that seduces from the off, pick Monbijou. This intimate boutique hotel enjoys a wonderfully central location, a welcoming (even romantic) aesthetic, friendly service and an impressive array of on-site amenities that span a bar, lounge, roof terrace and small fitness area.




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Monbijou, Berlin

Monbijou is an intimate boutique hotel in the heart of Berlin

Budget beauty

The Michelberger hotel yells youthful creativity. It has a buzzy bar and a courtyard for concerts, both popular in their own right, one of the best restaurants in the neighbourhood, plus a range of funky, idiosyncratic rooms to choose from – especially the renovated fourth floor double with an in-built saunas and huge bathtub. It’s also close to Friedrichshain’s nightlife scene. Dorm-style rooms are also available. 




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Michelberger, Berlin

Michelberger is funky and creative


What to bring home

If you’re a fan of interior design, architecture and art, this book by website Freunde von Freunden (Friends of Friends) combines interviews with local creatives with top-notch photography of their immaculately designed apartments. It’s available from Dussmann, the main bookshop (Friedrichstraße 90). 

For a uniquely fragrant gift, head to Harry Lehmann, a charming timewarp shop inconspicuously located along Kantstrasse. Open for almost a century, it offers vintage and contemporary scents – some of which are Berlin-themed; all of which are handmade and unique.

When to go

Tales of Berlin’s notoriously long and harsh winters used to send shivers up the spines of visitors before they’d even arrived – but these days the truly cold snaps (which can still see the mercury drop right down to -20) don’t last so long, with temperatures usually climbing back above zero by mid-February. In any case, the endless museums, galleries and indoor attractions – not to mention the excellent array of cafés, bars, clubs and restaurants – provide plenty of stimulation to combat the cold and dark.

Springtime and autumn are pleasant months to visit thanks to the many attractive gardens and parks, though it’s during summer when the city really comes into its own, as locals hit the streets, rivers and lakes and partake in the many outdoor events that take place across the city.

Know before you go

Essential information

• Service in Berlin is generally OK, but when it’s bad it makes nonchalant Parisians look positively proactive. You’ll likely fall victim to the occasional delay, arrogant waiter/waitress or even a withering glare, but don’t take it personally. It’s just the Berlin way.

• Berliners, like all Germans, take their rules seriously, especially things like jaywalking and recycling. Littering the streets or crossing at a red light is likely to provoke stern looks or even public admonishment.

• On the plus side, Berliners are generally very tolerant and “anything goes” – an attitude that perhaps manifests most in the city’s nightlife scene, where establishments don’t tend to close until late or when the last guest leaves, and where even in the wee hours there’s a discernible lack of tension in the air.

• In some bars and clubs, a pfand (deposit) is added to your bottle or glass (anything from €0.20 to €1/18p to 88p), which is reimbursed when you return it to the bar. Sometimes you will also be given a token, which you again return at the end to claim your deposit back.

• Public transport in Berlin operates on an honesty system. There are no barriers at train, tram or bus stops, though underground inspectors will fine you up to €60 (£52) on the spot if they catch you without a ticket. Make sure your ticket is also validated (stamped) before boarding a train (there are usually validation machines next to the ticket vendor).

• Service is sometimes included in bills, but it’s customary to round up snacks and drinks to the nearest euro or leave a slightly larger tip for meals and larger bills.

The basics

: Euro

Telephone code: From outside Germany, dial 00 49 30; from inside Germany, 030 – then the number

Time difference: +1 hour

Flight time: London to Berlin is around 90 minutes

Essential contacts

British Embassy: (00 49 30 20 45 70;, Wilhelmstrasse 70, Berlin. Open Mon-Fri, 9am-5.30pm

Police (Polizei): Dial 110

Ambulance (Rettungswagen): Dial 112

Tourist office: There are several official tourist offices (run by around the city, the main ones being at Brandenburg Gate, Kurfürstendamm 22 (Neuen Kranzler Eck) and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof)

Author bio

Paul moved to Berlin in 2008 and still finds it one of the best cities in Europe. He enjoys serendipitous meanders through the city and exploring off-the-beaten track neighbourhoods and abandoned sites.

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