Lorna is a freelance writer who caught the travel bug early. She believes that exploring new places awakens the mind and touches the heart.
Germany has always held a special place in my heart, as I spent my childhood growing up in Dusseldorf. Over the years, I have returned many times, with my most recent venture being to the exciting city of Berlin during a summer break.
With its eventful past and rich history, Berlin has all the attributes of the phoenix rising from the ashes, capturing the imagination of every intrepid traveller. This bohemian metropolis is teeming with busy street markets, incredible art and amazing architecture, along with a variety of restaurants and exciting night life.
Although there are many wonderful attractions to see in Berlin, in this article I will share my favourites, along with tips on how to get around the city.
Places to Visit
Berlin Television Tower (Fernsehturm)
Situated at Alexanderplatz and standing at an impressive 368m high, the Berlin Television Tower is not only the tallest building in Germany but also Berlin’s most prominent landmark. Once viewed as a symbol of socialism by East Germany, after unification, the Tower took on a new significance and now symbolises a strong, reunified Germany. Popular with visitors from all over the world, it is now ranked among the top sights in 21st century Germany.
On a beautiful sunny day and rising early to miss the queues, I made my way to Berlin’s famous Television Tower. I had already purchased my tickets online, which I then picked up at the ticket office in the entrance area. It takes only 40 seconds to get to the observation deck which is 203 metres above Berlin; with an amazing 360-degree view, it is well worth it. A great place to start if this is your first time visiting Berlin, you will be able to view the entire city and pick out most of the famous sights from the all-round panorama windows.
Where to Eat Nearby
I must mention the incredible revolving restaurant, Sphere, which rotates once an hour on its own axis. Serving both local and international food, it has a modern feel combined with a little retro chic adding to its ambiance. Live piano music provides a relaxing atmosphere and the perfect place to plan your day. It’s advisable to book online in advance, especially in the summer months to avoid lengthy queues.
The Bethanien Art Gallery
Definitely worth a visit, this wonderful art gallery is located next to a popular park and plays host to artists and their workshops. Visually beautiful, it was once a former hospital built in 1847 and remained so until 1970. However, its survival was secured due to the passion of citizens and conservationists who succeeded in overturning plans for its demolition. Today it is a tranquil space for contemporary art mainly focusing on social and cultural issues. Free to visit, you can take advantage of the artists’ open studios on the first and second floor, or enjoy the very informative walking tours, workshops and films.
Where to Eat Nearby
A visit to this incredible art gallery would not be complete without stopping for refreshments at the 3 Sisters Restaurant. Located inside the Bethanien where the sisters of the Bethany monastery dined, this restaurant is both simple and elegant. Soft music combined with perfect lighting and an efficient service added to the overall ambiance of this very unique restaurant. I particularly enjoyed the authentic German cuisine with generous portions. I would suggest dining with friends in order to share the many wonderful dishes on offer, which are very reasonably priced.
The Brandenburg Gate
Commissioned by the Prussian King, Frederick William II, and built in the 18th century, this iconic site was once known as The Gate of Peace. Ironically, during the Cold War, the Gate represented the division between East and West Germany, symbolising the sadness of a divided city.
The sculptures which adorn the gate are based on the exploits of Heracles and were designed by Gottfried Schadow. However, it is the statue known as Quadriga – which depicts the Goddess of Victory as she drives her chariot pulled by four horses – that captures the real essence of Berlin. Confiscated by Napoleon during the French occupation of Berlin in 1806, it was shipped to Paris where it languished in storage. After his defeat in 1814 at the hands of the Prussian soldiers, it was returned to its rightful place as protector of the city. Today this only remaining town gate stands proudly at the western end of the avenue Unter den Linden and is a poignant reminder of a reunified Germany.
I always enjoy visiting this iconic landmark which is closed to all traffic, making it easily accessible to pedestrians and cyclists alike. If you enjoy a stroll after dinner, I cannot think of a more perfect place as the gate has a magical feel to it at night, lit up by sparkling lights. With fewer people around, it is a very romantic way to end the evening.
Situated on Spree Island in the district of Mitte, this unique Island is home to an ensemble of five museums whose buildings have a very temple-like facade. Illustrating the evolution of modern museum design through the 20th century, they are the custodians of the most incredible treasurers capturing 6,000 years of human history. Awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1999, Museum Island is a must-see, and with such a lovely location on the river Spree, conveniently connected with bridges, you can simply stroll along the riverside to it.
The Five Museums
Depending on how much time you have and your particular interests, the five museums are:
- Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum)
- Neues Museum (New Museum)
- Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery)
- Altes Museum (Old Museum)
My favourite museum on the Island is The Neues Museum, mainly because it houses the world famous Bust of Queen Nefertiti. I would suggest focusing on specific areas in the museums as it would be impossible to view everything in a single visit, however, using the Berlin Welcome Card (Museum Island) will allow you to explore all the museums on the Island over three consecutive days.
Located on the very trendy street Kastanienallee and right in the heart of Berlin, Prater Biergarten is one of Germany’s oldest biergartens and the one to visit. A very chilled out place, you have the option of sitting outside – where there is space for 600 people – or at the sit-down restaurant inside. On those hot summer days, I usually sit outside under the shady protection of the most wonderful chestnut trees.
Berlin is always busy and you tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of sightseeing; however, if you are looking for an oasis which serves great German beers, friendly locals and an atmosphere which is relaxing and fun, then I highly recommend this enjoyable venue.
Berlin is more a part of the world than a city.
— Jean Paul, 1800
Getting Around the City
My preferred mode of transport in Berlin is cycling as the city is flat with an abundance of cycle paths. It’s a great way to explore, with the added advantage of the many parks and canals to leisurely cruise beside. As this was a summer trip, I opted to rent with Call-A Bike which operates in the summer only. To use this system you have to register, which you can easily do at a docking station terminal via the website. At other times of the year, you can rent bikes from Pedalpower or Fahrradstation.
Even though I thoroughly enjoy walking and Berlin is a good walking city, the downside is that it’s spread out. I would suggest picking an area such as Mitte, which is pleasant to visit on foot, with no need to take a bus or train.
Operated by the Berlin Transport Authority, the BVG operates the bus, U-Bahn (underground) and tram networks. It also operates a few ferry services on the outlying lakes. However, the S-Bahn (overground railway) is run by a separate authority whose services are integrated within the same three-zone tariff system. As this might sound a little confusing, the BVG website has a wealth of information (in English). If you decide to use the S-Bahn, it has its own website as well.
With a culture to rival London or Paris, Berlin has certainly come into its own. Despite the destruction of war and division, it has rebuilt its reputation as a centre of international cultural life.
As I visit its many varied and wonderful attractions, I am reminded of its tenacity in creating a city against all the odds which feeds the imagination, soothes the soul and leaves you wanting more.
© 2018 Lorna Lamon
Liz Westwood from UK on December 05, 2018:
Berlin has long been on my list of places to go. This is an informative and helpful article.
Stephanie Launiu from Hawai'i on December 04, 2018:
Thanks for this very interesting article. I would love to visit Germany someday. I'm especially fascinated by Museum Island. I shared your article on Pinterest. Aloha, Stephanie
Lorna Lamon (author) on December 04, 2018:
Hi George, It certainly has a great vibe to it and I always learn something new each time I visit. Thank you for sharing.
George Johnson from San Antonio, TX on December 03, 2018:
My wife and I visited Berlin in 2005 and loved it. The thing I remener about the Berlin Television Tower was the giant plus sign that the sun made on the outside. We took a bike tour that was really neat. Definitely the coolest city we visited on Europe