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Berlin
Photo Courtesy of Oliver Mark

At a Glance

Berlin—mecca of artists, bohemians, and Europe’s creative class—is an old, historic city made new again. Once the Berlin Wall fell and the country was reuinified, Berlin saw an influx of young, trendsetting individuals from around the world. What was once a divided city is now a cultural capital of Europe, with plenty of up-all-night clubs and a wealth of provocative art.

But Berlin's ultra-modern present sits side-by-side with Germany's history--most notably the country's role during the 20th century and World War II. The city doesn't shy away from its past, with sites including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Other worthwhile history stops include Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

The Essentials

When to Go

Berlin is famous for its summers—not that they’re especially warm, but there is just so much to do. The summer season can be wet, so it’s best to pack an umbrella—though rain doesn’t stop Berliners from enjoying their city. May is often considered the best time to visit, with good weather and plenty of festivals and events. Winters in Berlin are cold (below freezing in January and February), but the cultural events don’t disappear. Locals stay busy with seasonal festivities and quirky adventures like skiing on the grounds of the former Tempelhof Airport, which is now a giant city park.

Getting Around

Berlin is served by two main airports. Tegel (TXL) is conveniently located within the city limits. Public buses (20 minutes; 2.80€) run from Tegel regularly to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Alexanderplatz. Schonefeld Airport is connected to the city by S-Bahn and regional trains (30 minutes; 3.30€).

Berlin’s transportation system, the BVG, is reliable, convenient, and vast, and it includes buses, trains, and trams. Single-journey rides (valid for two hours) cost 2.80€, or a day pass costs 7.00€. As in many European countries, the BVG runs on the honor system, so make sure to validate your ticket before boarding. At random times, officers check the tickets of each passenger. The U-Bahn trains (underground lines) run until late and are round-the-clock on weekends; S-Bahn trains (commuter lines) traverse the city, making them best for fast connections. Taxis in Berlin are readily available, as are services like Uber.

Can't Miss

To really get a feel for Berlin's cultural life, it’s best to visit one of the many parks and public spaces on a sunny afternoon or early in the evening. Görlitzer Park is one of the most popular hangouts, but you’ll find more locals at the Volkspark Friedrichshain. There’s a beer garden, a small hill for hiking, and even a fairy-tale fountain (the Märchenbrunnen). Museum goers should head straight to Museum Island, where five exquisite museums (all on one ticket) await.

For an overview of all that happened before, during, and since the Holocaust, seek out the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum). The museum is a challenging but extremely worthwhile place to spend time.

Food and Drink

Food in Berlin runs the gamut—from cheap street foods (don't miss the ubiquitous doner kebabs) to fine dining. Each Berlin neighborhood, or kiez, typically has its own food market. Fresh vegetables, produce, and bread can be bought at the markets, and many have small stands selling lunch or snacks.

Though, years ago, few people would have shouted "Berlin!" if asked for one of the world's best food cities, things have changed. Trendy brunch spots, Vietnamese restaurants, and traditional German fare all play a role in today's Berlin. Most tourists flock to the bars around Görlitzer Bahnhof and Schlesisches Tor, but there are plenty of other areas worth exploring. Branch out into Neukölln for the freshest crop of good bars. And rather than hitting the restaurants on Simon-Dach Strasse in Friedrichshain, go a few blocks east to Boxhagener Platz.

Culture

With hundreds of independent galleries in addition to its many city-owned museums, Berlin has history and culture in spades. Museums cover everything from typography (Buchstabenmuseum) to film (Film and Television Museum). Art galleries in Berlin have a solid reputation among enthusiasts. Berlin was a hotbed for culture in the 1920s, and in recent years the city has again embraced its creative classes. Artists, musicians, and innovators have made Berlin home in the past 15 years, changing the very face of the city—sometimes quite literally. Street art and graffiti in Berlin is often ranked among the world’s best thanks to Berliners’ need to speak up and be heard.

In a city as diverse as Berlin, festivals and events happen all year long. Summertime sees an influx of music festivals: watch out for MyFest, Christopher Street Day gay pride, Carnival of Cultures, and Berlin Music Week. The winter has its fair share of festivals as well, most notably the star-studded Berlinale indepedent film festival.

Guide Editor

Adam Groffman Berlin Local Expert

Adam Groffman is a freelance writer and travel blogger based in Berlin, where he covers city trips in Europe and around the world, expat life, LGBT issues, festivals, and nightlife. His work has been featured in Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler, DETAILS, USA Today Travel and numerous online publications. When he's not out exploring the coolest bars and clubs, he's usually enjoying the local arts and culture scene. His travel stories are available on his blog, Travels of Adam, and additional travel tips are shared through his @travelsofadam Twitter account.

Practical Information

American citizens who have a passport can spend up to 90 days in Germany, no visa necessary. The first language of Berlin is German. There's a good chance you'll run into English speakers in the city but a translation app or German language guide is definitely helpful. Germany is a member of the European Union and uses the Euro as its currency. The country's standard voltage is 230v. Power sockets throughout the country require a type F adapter (though type C and E plugs will also work).