In January 2017 (in my second year of University) my boyfriend and I started our now annual tradition of taking a short city break at the beginning of every year. We went to Copenhagen, which was eye-wateringly cold (there genuinely were almost real tears) but absolutely beautiful.
Copenhagen, Denmark – January 2017
Exploring a new city was the perfect remedy to those inevitable January blues (mourning the departure of the Christmas holidays at home, and oh, hello to January exam stress), and we found super cheap flights and accommodation deals, as well as there being very few tourists around.
And there begun our yearly travel tradition.
Not really knowing where we wanted to explore the following year, we embarked on a srprs.me trip, soon after I finished my third year University exams. Srprs.me is an Amsterdam-based travel company through which you book a city break for the dates, budget and ‘theme’ you’re looking for… and then turn up at the airport not knowing where you’re going.
(I will write up a blog post on this in the future, or please drop me a message if you’d like to know more about this trip!!)
On a day trip to Vienna, Austria from Bratislava, Slovakia – January 2018
We ended up with a city break in Bratislava, a city I never would have chosen to visit myself (purely due to not knowing anything about the city) but absolutely loved. There’s so much to do and see in Bratislava, and we even managed to squeeze in a lil’ day trip to Vienna!
So I couldn’t resist when I saw some cheapy flights to Berlin – a city I’ve always dreamed of visiting – and a sleek, stylish and budget Airbnb close to the city centre. I booked the trip for two on a whim, on my lunch break at work one summer’s day – and luckily Joseph agreed to come with!
I feel like this trip came around really quickly, what with getting back to work in the new year, and so being the queen of planning with no plans, I was panicking. So whether you’re already in Berlin panicking about your lack of sightseeing plans, like I was, or planning ahead for an upcoming trip – sit back, grab a cuppa and explore some of the coolest things to do during your stay in Berlin…
Visit the East Side Gallery
The iconic urban art and graffiti covering the remains of the Berlin Wall is a must-see whilst you’re in Berlin, and the perfect place to capture that all-important edgy insta shot.
The East Side Gallery can be found in the edgy district of Friedrichshain with the nearest metro stations being Warschauer Straße and Ostbahnhof.
Side note: The transport/metro system is so wildly efficient (though I suppose you shouldn’t expect anything less from the Germans!) Every single train was on time to the exact second, and the whole metro system is really easy to navigate, with day passes costing €7 – €7.70, depending on which travel zones you’d like to include. The metro system is a really efficient way of getting round the city, particularly if you’re trying to fit in a lot of activities in a day like we did!
You can walk all the way down the strip of the Berlin Wall, admiring over 100 incredible urban art pieces reflecting the political disarray in Germany in the late 1980’s.
As a fun little memento from your trip to the German capital, you can even get your passports stamped with old East/West German stamps that were used back when the Wall was still in use!
Price: Free! Passport stamps €1 each.
‘Berlin From Below’ Underground Tours
I had to admit, I was dubious when Joseph suggested we go on this tour, but it actually turned out to be one of my favourite things that we did on our trip! We went on the ‘Tour M – Under the Berlin Wall’ – the tour gives you an insight into the history of the escape tunnels and routes (through subway and sewer systems) used by those trying to flee East Germany. Our tour guide was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever seen, and was so passionate and knowledgable about the escape stories – I was absolutely engrossed from start to finish, and the two hours underground flew by! The tour company also offer three other tours: ‘Dark Worlds’, ‘From Flak Towers to Mountains of Debris’ and ‘Cold War Nuclear Bunkers’ and are very reasonably priced, ranging from €10 – €15.
Price: €10-€15, depending which tour you’d like to go on
Visit the Reichstag dome
The Reichstag (German parliament) is one of the city’s most significant historical buildings, and the dome and roof terrace can be visited by members of the public, offering spectacular views of Berlin, and a look back at the different German governments over time.
Though it’s free to visit, advance registration is required to visit the Reichstag dome, and I’d advise registering at least a week in advance in order to have full flexibility around visiting slots. Having planned our Berlin itinerary at the very last minute, we only got round to registering the night before and this left us with a limited availability of visiting slots, either in early morning or late evening. We ended up securing a visiting slot at 8pm the next evening, which worked out well for us, but if you’re able to, then definitely register as early as possible to avoid disappointment!
Topography of Terror
The Topography of Terror is a museum located on the site of the buildings which during the Nazi regime housed the SS Reich Main Security Office, and the headquarters of the SD, Einsatzgruppen and Gestapo. I loved this museum – not only was it free (always a plus for fellow bargain-hunters like myself), but it also was an amazing and elaborate look into the terror techniques used by the Nazi leadership in Germany 1933-1945. The in-depth key figure profiles, never-before-seen documents, and explicit photographs made the history of the indoctrination and terror techniques used by the Nazi regime so much more real than the facts learned in my History GCSE. A must-visit if you have a spare couple of hours.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, designed by architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial is around a 5 minute walk down from Berlin’s most important monument Brandenburg Gate, so I’d definitely recommend doing these two sights at the same time! The memorial is a site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs in a grid pattern. The slabs are all on slopes, which is meant to represent a moment of giddiness or uncertainty, and the openness and abstractness of the memorial is designed to give you the space to confront the topic in your own personal way. I felt quite emotional visiting the memorial, particularly as it was so quiet when we visited; this seemed to facilitate an eerie moment of reflection and contemplation of the horrors committed to the Jews during the Nazi regime.
I have to say, with Germany not particularly being known for its food, we didn’t eat in anywhere massively worth talking about apart from the most amazing traditional Bavarian restaurant – which just happened to be a 5 minute walk down from our apartment!
It was the coolest restaurant – all the waiters and waitresses were dressed up in traditional Bavarian outfits, and the menu was insane – a traditional German menu of schnitzel and goulash.
I even broke Dry January to sample a few pints of the local beer (now doing ‘Dry January, with a chance of showers‘).
Price: €9 – €14 for a meal, around €3-4 for a large beer
I loved this city. It surpassed my (already quite high) expectations, and truly was the ideal place for a jam-packed city break: full of beautiful architecture, captivating history and a pretty efficient transport system!!! I’ll definitely be returning to Berlin in the future.
So there you have it – a whistle stop tour of the coolest things to do whilst on a weekend to Berlin.