This tried-and-tested guide to Berlin has been designed as a mid-level holiday with a mix of activities and dining options that range from gourmet meals to fast food. On the basis of this itinerary, the cost for a three-day holiday in Berlin for two adults is ₹80,000 without airfare. You can plan and modify your trip depending on your budget. Trendy Berlin is full of nightclubs, bars, and hip restaurants. It’s easy to spend a lot of money here, but it’s also easy to make the right choices and enjoy an affordable holiday while still experiencing the city’s vibrancy, cosy café culture, and hipster vibe.
Berlin’s past is a big part of its present. The remains of the Berlin Wall are covered with messages rallying against builders who want to replace the city’s old structures with modern buildings. From a baroque-style Prussian castle, to severe Soviet housing and Nazi bunkers, each bloc that historically controlled the city has left its mark.
On my first day in Berlin I entered an old margarine factory to attend a classy art show. That evening, I walked down a steep flight of stairs into a musty underground room that used to be a brothel. A small audience of 50 sat on upturned buckets and listened to indie musicians from Italy, France, and Germany. Later that night, I peeked into several old Soviet-era buildings: one of them was covered with pink lights while a DJ played punk rock.
For visitors, Berlin is a fantastic place for a holiday. It also provides easy connectivity to major European cities. Visit the German capital to be awed by its old architecture, disturbed by its war stories, and welcomed by a new generation of artists who have taken over the city.
Buy a 72-hour ABC Berlin WelcomeCard that allows unlimited use of all public transport and discounts on entry fees to cultural monuments. Berlin’s train system, which includes the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, is extensive and reliable. Maps are displayed at every station and pasted inside trains as well. Trains run 24 hours on weekends and pause from 1-4a.m. on weekdays, when buses ply the routes instead. There is also a tram system that covers the eastern part of the city. I tended to opt for the unhurried trams more than the trains, because I enjoyed the views they offer. If you have the time, tramline 68 follows a very picturesque route (www.berlin-welcomecard.de/en; €28.70/₹2,100 for 72 hours; three children under 15 free per card).
Tip To save time when commuting distances of under 2 km, hail a taxi moving in the direction you want to go and say “Kurzstrecke, bitte” (pronounced “koortzshtrekah, bittuh”) to avail the discounted short-stretch fare of €4/₹270.
I recommend looking for accommodation in the central district of Mitte, where most of the city’s historic monuments are located and the streets are dotted with hip cafés and bars. Art’otel Berlin-Mitte is dedicated to German artist Georg Baselitz and displays his original artwork. The hotel’s excellent location makes up for the small size of its rooms (Wallstraße 70; artotels.com; doubles €80/₹5,600). Ibis Berlin Mitte is a standard well-priced hotel with a good view of the city (Prenzlauer Allee 4; accorhotels.com; doubles from €69/₹4,320). If you’d rather indulge, go to Hotel De Rome. This restored bank is a now an extravagant hotel where the jewel vault has been turned into an indoor swimming pool (Behrenstraße 37; www.roccofortehotels.com; doubles from €330/₹23,000). Neighbouring Kreuzberg also has good options. Michelberger Hotel is an old factory building that has been refashioned into a boutique hotel. Room sizes vary from tiny closet- to comfortable family-sized (Warschauerstraße 39/40;www.michelbergerhotel.com; family room €160/₹11,200). For a more local experience, pick a Berlin apartment on Airbnb; the site offers hundreds of rental options in these areas (www.airbnb.com).
If your hotel tariff doesn’t include breakfast, ask around and visit a local bakery. German bread is seriously delicious and hearty. Pick up seeded rolls, soft pretzel sticks, and croissants along with your coffee. Start your day by taking a stroll around the Brandenburg Tor, one of Germany’s most iconic monuments. The 18th-century gate was built as a symbol of peace though it represented the separation of East and West during the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall was taken down, it turned into a symbol of unity. A few blocks south is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Walk along the eerie undulating alleys between the 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights. Although this abstract memorial is spread over a large open space, it can feel extremely claustrophobic. End with a visit to the information centre for some cold hard facts about the genocide (www.stiftung-denkmal.de/en; Field of Stelae open daily 24 hours; entry free).
Next, take a taxi to the DDR Museum. The interactive exhibits here describe everyday life during Germany’s Socialist era (discounted tickets at www.ddr-museum.de/en; entry €7/₹490; daily 10 a.m.-8p.m., Sat 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.). Exit the museum on the banks of the lovely Spree River. Walk a few minutes north to Alte Börse pier and join one of the boat tours. These boats cruise along the historic district, past several iconic sites like the Berliner Dom, Reichstag, and TV Tower (boat tours between Mar and Nov; www.berlin.de/en/tourism; adults €12/₹840, children €6/₹420).
Pause for lunch and beer at Brauhaus Lemke, a rustic craft brewery. Ask for their seasonal specials or try the tasting menu of four small glasses. The food includes German favourites like pork knuckle served with sauerkraut, schnitzel, and spätzle (soft egg noodles) (Dircksenstraße; +49-030- 2472 8727; brauhaus-lemke.com; meal for two without drinks €40/₹2,800). After this refreshment, walk through neighbouring Hackescher Markt’s cluster of historic courtyards. Chic cafés sit alongside shops, selling among other things, clothes by local designers, vintage accessories, and outrageous hats. Then head towards Museum Island, a complex of UNESCO World Heritage sites designed by Prussian architects. I suggest visiting the Bode-Museum for its impressive art, or the Neues Museum to see the 3,350-year-old limestone bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti (www.smb.museum/en/home.html; entry €12/₹840 for each or €18/₹1,130 for admission to all the museums on the island for one day; discounts for online booking; free entry with Berlin WelcomeCard Museum Island AB; Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thur 10 a.m.-8 p.m.).
Delve deeper into Germany’s beer culture as you relax at Prater Beer Garden (Berlin’s oldest). In the summer, the open-air spot is always buzzing; there’s also space for kids to play. Snack on bratwurst and pork steaks fresh off the grill. If you’re still hungry for dinner later, move indoors to the restaurant for classics like Wiener schnitzel and Königsberger klopse (meatballs in white sauce) (Kastanienallee 7-8, Prenzlauer Berg; +49-30-448 5688; pratergarten.de; beer €3.50/₹250, dinner for two €40/₹2,800; outdoor beer garden open Apr-Sept; restaurant open all year round; cash only).
Get the first meal of your day at the rooftop Käfer, the only public restaurant in the world located inside a working parliament building. This terrace has a spectacular view of the city and serves a classy German repast. The Bavarian set breakfast is a good choice and even allows you to swap coffee for beer (+49-30-2262 9933; to reserve, email email@example.com 48 hours in advance; meal for two € 80/₹5,600). After a leisurely meal, explore the Reichstag building that the restaurant is located in. It is the seat of the German Bundestag or Parliament. Walk around the glass dome, which overlooks the city, and learn more at the history exhibit at the bottom of the dome (www.bundestag.de; entry free but advance online registration mandatory; daily 8 a.m. to midnight; tours at 90-minute intervals from 9 a.m.-8 p.m.). A restaurant reservation grants access without online registration, and is a good way to avoid the long queues. Carry your passport for security inspection.
Next, take a while to walk around Potsdamer Platz, the city square that once lay on the line between East and West Berlin. The entire area was rebuilt in the 1990s and now showcases Berlin’s modern architecture and is its business hub. Pause at the Daimler Chrysler Atrium, which has an automobile showroom, public spaces, and free art exhibitions that change routinely. Spoil yourself and enjoy lunch at the Michelin-starred Facil restaurant. The cuisine is modern European: try the salmon caviar, Wagyu beef ribs, and liver of Polting lamb (Potsdamer Straße 3, inside the Mandala Hotel; call +49-30-5900 51234 for reservations; facil.de/en; four-course set lunch €108/₹7,500; also separate à la carte menu). Post-lunch, art lovers can walk west to the Old Masters Museum or Gemäldegalerie, packed with masterpieces by artists from the 13th-18th centuries, including Rembrandt (Matthälkirchplatz; entry €10/₹700).
Take an early evening walk or rest in Tiergarten, the city’s most famous park. In Tiergarten you will also find the Memorial to the Roma and Sinti victims. Over 5,00,000 people from these two gypsy communities were also killed during the Holocaust and this memorial to them was inaugurated in 2012.
Then head for coffee to Café Einstein. This elegant Viennese café is one of the few structures in this area that survived war bombings. Their apple strudel alone is worth the detour you need to take to get here (Kurfürstenstraße 58; +49-30- 2639 1918). The ensuing sugar rush will help you walk through KaDeWe, Berlin’s biggest supermarket. I recommend going straight up to the 6th floor to the gourmet food selection. Treat yourself to traditional meats, fresh cheeses, and chocolates, or some of the meats and cheeses that are packed to travel well (Tauentzienstraße 21-24;kadewe.de/en; Sun closed).
The city’s large Turkish population has a strong influence on modern Berlin. This influence is most apparent in its cuisine. You’re never more than a street away from a Turkish kebab joint with a rotisserie. Stuff yourself for the night with a döner kebab roll at Mustafas Gemüse Kebap (Mehringdamm 32; approximately €8/₹540 per roll).
End the night at Warschauerstraße, where parties extend until dawn, and on weekends, run 48 hours nonstop. Get off at the subway stop of the same name and follow the revellers to a complex of old buildings full of nightclubs, presided over by international DJs.
If it’s Sunday, spend the morning antique-hunting at Mauerpark Flea Market, listening to music, and snacking on currywurst (Bernauer Straße 63). There are plenty of bazaars in this city of market lovers. Tuesday and Friday is the Turkish market in Maybachufer, the Hackesher Markt thrives on Thursday, and Saturday is for the farmers market in Winterfeldtplatz.
Get to Alexanderplatz by 1 p.m., to make it in time for the Alternative Berlin walking tour which condenses Berlin’s underground art, music, and graffiti scenes into a three-hour walk. Guides are usually artists and musicians themselves with interesting personal stories (www.alternativeberlin.com; no reservation necessary; free, but tips of €10/₹700 per attendee are expected; meet outside Starbucks under the TV Tower at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m.). This fascinating tour ends a few metres from Burgermeister, a burger place. Enjoy their legendary juicy burgers and chilli cheese fries, washed down with a cold Club-Mate, Berlin’s most popular energy drink. You might wonder about the odd location of the joint, in the middle of the street: It’s time to tell you that this used to be a public toilet, and was repurposed over ten years ago. Don’t let that piece of trivia ruin your meal (Schlesisches Tor, under the U-Bahn sta-tion; €20/₹1,400 for two).
A short walk away, across the river is the kilometre-long stretch of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery. After the wall came down in 1989, artists from around the world covered its vestiges with messages of change and hope. This preserved section is now a free, open-air gallery in Mühlenstraße.
Stop at the Young and African Arts Market (YAAM) at Schillingbrüke. This is a lively beach bar by the River Spree complete with sand and reggae music. Sample some African snacks, build a sandcastle, or relax on a beach chair with a cocktail in hand.
Enjoy your last Berlin meal at the cosy and cheerful Max und Moritz. The friendly staff can guide you through the authentic German fare this 100-year-old restaurant serves. They make great schnitzels and the serving size is large (Oranienstraße 162; +49-30-6951 5911; maxundmoritzberlin.de; meal for two without beer €50/₹3,500).
Appeared in the April 2015 issue as “The Berlin Formula”.