Thursday, 15 December 2016

A quick guide to Berlin at Christmas

A guide to Berlin at Christmas

As you'll know, I went to Berlin over the weekend with my sister. And before I went I found myself googling 'what to do in Berlin at Christmas' and 'what to do with 3 days in Berlin'. It was a new city that I had no clue about, and I found blog posts that gave me a short guide very useful - so I thought I'd put one together myself with my own experiences.

I'm not going to give any tips about flights or getting there, as I think it's probably just best to look for yourself at when the cheapest flights are. We flew with Norwegian Airlines who were the cheapest for the weekend that we visited, but also check out EasyJet and Ryanair.

What to do in Berlin at Christmas

Where to stay?
We stayed at the Days Inn Berlin City South Hotel, which was great as it was fairly cheap, it wasn't that far from the airport, and it was right next to a metro station and a bus stop, so the city was really accessible. Berlin has a really great metro system, so if you stay slightly out of the centre it's really easy to get everywhere - it's very similar to the London Underground. We found it incredibly easy to get everywhere - it's around 7 euros for a day ticket, where you can use the metro and buses as many times as you like.

Where to eat?
The most obvious place to eat around this time of year is the Christmas markets! They had loads on offer, including the classic German sausages and pretzels. However, we struggled a bit to find some really good restaurants, and I feel like this was something we should have researched a bit before we went. One of the best areas we found to eat was Kurfurstendamm in the west of the city (easily accessible via the metro), which is a main shopping area. There seemed to be a lot of restaurants in this area - we had a really nice Italian meal here that was fairly cheap. However, I would definitely recommend looking this up before you go - we spent a fair amount of time wandering around trying to find somewhere to eat!

What to pack?
Lots of warm clothes! I took things that I could layer - vest tops, jumpers/sweaters, a warm coat, scarf and hat. Take comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking around. A camera as there's a lot of things to take photos of. A European plug adapter. Lots of euros for the Christmas markets :)
Things to do in Berlin at Christmas

 What to do?
This is going to form the main part of my quick guide, because I think the rest can easily be researched before you go. We had 3 days in Berlin and found that that was plenty of time to fit in everything that we wanted to do.

 Free walking tour
One of the first things that we decided we wanted to do was go on a walking tour of Berlin, to get a feel for the city and learn about some of the history. We ended up going on a free walking tour with New Europe, who have tours leaving from the Starbucks opposite the Brandenburg Gate at 10am, 11am, 12pm, and 2pm every day. There are a few companies that do free walking tours in Berlin, but the idea is that you tip your guide at the end according to how much you think the tour should have cost. The walking tour was one of the best things that we did over the weekend, and I felt like I learnt such a lot. We were talked through the history of Berlin, including the World Wars and the Berlin Wall, and visited most major landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, part of the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie. Kyle, our guide, was so knowledgeable and was able to answer any questions we had - I would honestly put this tour as top of my things to do in Berlin.

Christmas markets
This is probably the most obvious thing to do in Berlin in December, and probably one of the main reasons that you would visit Germany during this time of year, but it's famous for a reason. There are over 60 markets spread out over Berlin, and sometimes you just come across them when you turn a corner or come out from a metro station. I think we only visited 3 or 4 in total - but the main one we visited was at Alexanderplatz, one of the main squares in Berlin near to the TV tower, the tallest building in Germany. This market was really big but also really busy, but had all of the things you'd hope for at a German Christmas market - food, crafts, fairy lights and gifts. I've also read that the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz, a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate, is worth a visit.

This kind of relates to the Christmas market point, as the Gendarmenmarkt is transformed into a winder wonderland at this time of year, but it is also a beautiful square to visit at any time of year, with two churches and the Konzerthaus between them. The market is 1 euro to get into, but is probably the prettiest and most traditional market that we visited, and made us feel really festive. You'll find lots of arts and crafts here, as well as Christmas decorations and the traditional German market foods. There are also carol singers and performances throughout the day, which made it feel even more magical.

Tour of the Reichstag
The Reichstag is a building opposite the Brandenburg Gate (the building with the glass dome on the left), and is the current base for the German Parliament. The general public can enter for free and go up into the dome, which apparently has amazing views over Berlin. We didn't realise, until our last day, that you have to book in advance, so we weren't able to go up. But I would definitely recommend booking a tour (book online here) - I would love to have gone up around the time when the sun was setting. The other option for great views over Berlin is the TV tower, but you have to pay to go up, whereas the Reichstag is free.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
In photos this doesn't really look like much, but these 2711 concrete blocks are the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, to remember the Jewish community that were affected during World War II. Walking through the memorial was actually really eerie and moving, and the designer's idea was that everyone would have a different idea about what the memorial signified to them. There is also a free museum underneath the memorial, which we really wanted to visit but there was too much of a queue. We visited the memorial during our free walking tour, which was great as our guide gave us as much information as possible about it.

Brandenburg Gate
This is an obvious one, but the Brandenburg Gate was beautiful when we visited, especially with the huge Christmas tree in front of it. I would recommend going around sunset, as it was lovely seeing the tree and the gate all lit up. The street in front of the gate is also really nice to walk down, and will eventually lead you to the TV tower and Alexanderplatz.

These photobooth machines were scattered all around the city, including in all of the major train stations. It costs 2 euros to print out a strip of 4 black and white photos, which were really lovely souvenirs to take home. You have to be patient as they take about 5 minutes to print the photo, and make sure you are fairly low down - our first strip was just of our chins as we weren't low enough! I can imagine these would be hilarious if you had drunk a cocktail or two...

East Side Gallery
This was one of my favourite parts of Berlin. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long stretch of the original Berlin Wall, which has been turned into an open air gallery that displays some of the most famous paintings in the world, such as an East German Trabant car breaking through the wall, and Honecker and Breschnew kissing. The wall was painted by 118 artists from 21 different countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Part of the wall is protected by a barrier, as some of it has been graffitied on, which is a shame. You can get to the East Side Gallery by catching the metro to Ostbanof and walking the length of the wall to the next station.

I had such a great weekend in Berlin and really loved the city - I would definitely go back, and would recommend it to anyone that is thinking about visiting Germany. It is really easy to travel around due to a great public transport network, and it has such a lot of interesting history. I would recommend visiting around Christmas time because it seems even more magical with all of the Christmas markets and festive decorations. Most definitely somewhere to put on your bucket list!
Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.

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