What to do with a weekend in Berlin

Berlin is a city like no other. It is safe to say the city has been shaped by its volatile history of Prussian might, Nazi reign and Cold War divide, but today it is an artistic, multi-cultural and welcoming city; easy to navigate on foot, boat or by bike.

I visited Berlin with work many years ago and if truth be told, I expected a very old-world Germanic City. Instead I found modern architecture which didn’t appeal but I spent most of my time in a convention centre and pubs. Looking back, it makes total sense considering that about 80% of the city was bombed during WWII.

But with a long weekend we had more time to explore further and discover the city’s pockets that really make Berlin one of the most diverse and attractive in Europe.

This might not be the ultimate itinerary for a visitor to Berlin, but it did come from someone who lived there for 5 years so take what merit you want from that, plus we added a few of our own bits on. Some of our favourite finds were when we just walked aimlessly, stopped for a cake at a konditorei and watched Berlin go about its daily business.

The reasons I liked Berlin were the architecture and the convergence of old world and new. Dated Soviet boxes nestled themselves against modern art deco constructions and graffiti murals. This says a lot about the city’s history, but also its thirst for change and diversity. I like that there are loads of buskers (check out Paint Pots on Spotify who are a mash up of electro and banging paint pots) and street entertainers, but also because Berlin is incredibly flat, making it ideal for the throngs of runners and cyclists.

Berlin is an easy city to navigate and when we didn’t fancy walking, we rode the metro, or took to the water to watch the architecture from the Spree River. There are art installations everywhere, there is a pulse to Berlin and people are so friendly. Berliners take their coffee seriously and also sell delicious cakes when you need some downtime. You can find whatever flavour meal (for amazing falafels check out ‘Da La FaLafel) you desire and they serve a decent beer. Ultimately, for a long weekend break, what more could you really want?

The itinerary below is not rushed so if you want to compress it you can. In truth, we could have done this in three days but it’s nice to tick off the highlights, but also have time to end up where our feet took us.

Day 1 Welcome to Berlin
We booked a tour of the highlights the first day, this way we could orientate ourselves, learn more about the city’s history and generally get a feel for Berlin. We opted for a free three-hour walking tour with Sandeman’s (yes I did say free) of the monuments which was absolutely brilliant. Have a read of this blog post to learn why it was free, what was included and why we went back for more.

Our base was Leonardo Hotel in Mitte which in my opinion has the perfect location. Rooms were a decent size and although they charge a ridiculous amount for breakfast (we never ate here), I would gladly stay again. It is close to bars and restaurants and only 10 minutes walk to Brandenburg Gate for an evening view.

Day 2 The Spree River & Kreuzberg
Berlin from the Spree River – what can I say? It is beautiful, really lovely. We opted for a five hour cruise on the river from one end of the city to the next. It may sound a bit boring but the weather was incredible, they serve beer and the scenery is leafy green. We went through a lock and there were multiple times we could have disembarked to explore new areas. We chose instead to simply wait out our time and enjoy a lazy sightseeing day.

In the afternoon, we had a tour of the food and art in funky Kreuzberg with Urban Adventures. Whilst I do recommend the area, the tour itself could have been better.

What will you find in Kreuzberg?
The unofficial kingdom of cool, Kreuzberg is Berlin’s epicentre of trendsetting. Basically, if there was a hipster area of Berlin, it would be here. You’ll find an original section of the wall, and artwork commissioned by famous artists. One of the famous murals is the depiction of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing as painted by Dmitri Vrubel. It’s the perfect place to grab yourself a tasty Currywurst (a rite of passage for every visitor) and hit the streets of Wrangelkiez, checking out the little shops, “Spätis,” and grocery stores. You’ll hear loads of streets performers and find lots of cool drinking holes to sample local beers.

Day 3 Sachsenhausen
You might think visiting the site of an infamous concentration camp whilst on holiday sounds morbid, but we can never outrun history. Whether people choose to ignore it or see the Nazi rule as history which should be forgotten, it serves as an important slice of Germany’s history.

Quids in, having had the benefit of a free Sandeman’s tour, we opted to pay for a guided five-hour tour to Sachsenhausen which involved travelling by train, and then a 20 minute walk to the site. That’s what I liked about these tours, they were on foot or public transport, devoid of 50 seater coaches.

Sachsenhausen held over 200,000 prisoners during the Nazi reign, many of which were murdered or killed within its walls. This camp was a school for brutality and was utilised as a place to train SS soldiers before they worked in other camps throughout Europe. Following liberation, the Soviets used the camp as a prison for their political enemies but today it serves as a reminder to how low humans can sink with the wrong dictator ruling them. It’s a harrowing visit but the guide had done his research and delivered just the right amount of information, detail, empathy and passion. I highly recommend including this to your Berlin itinerary.

Day 4 Auf Wiedersehen Berlin
The last day we had no plans and no set itinerary. We took our time to just wander around and leisurely chill in coffee shops, as well as revisit places we liked but now at our own pace. We walked beside the river, enjoying the sunshine and watching Berliners heading back to work after the weekend.

Summer is by far the best season to visit Berlin so if you’re looking for a great getaway, what’s stopping you, book now!

Finally, here is a video I made from the tour and a few other parts of my Berlin weekend.

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