Those who come to Berlin expecting the quintessential if not stereotypical European experience of cobblestone streets, baroque/gothic/renaissance buildings at every turn and people dressed in medieval costumes will be in for a disappointment. As the capital of Europe’s mightiest economy, Berlin at once reflects the no-nonsense attitude of the Germans as well as the rebuilding that occurred after World War II. Having been bombed to almost nothing 60 years ago and the distinction of being the world’s most famous divided city have made the urban landscape of the German capital quite unique compared to its European counterparts.
in front of charlottenburg palace
Despite not having the old world beauty of Prague or the music heritage that Vienna is known for, Berlin is easily one of Europe’s most interesting cities with several fun attractions and nightlife options to last a couple of days. Berlin is made up of several neighborhoods, each very distinct. The city is best appreciated via walking tours and since Berlin is quite spread out, each interesting neighborhood deserves some time for exploration. For money-saving tips in exploring these places, my favorite vegan travel bloggers have come up with their own tips on visiting Berlin on a budget. Here, I suggest the top neighborhoods to visit. You can also segregate these areas based on the places to stay in Berlin.
The Berlin district that is perhaps closest to the Europe of one’s imagination, Charlottenburg is home to the Charlottenburg Palace, the only surviving royal palace in the city. As such, it’s become a default stop for any tour of Berlin. The baroque and rococo interiors are impressive and can rival some of the more famous palaces of Europe. I was already having a bout of palace fatigue during my visit but I was still left in awe by the amazing wall decor and art pieces on display.
Aside from the palace, Charlottenburg is also home to Kurfurstendamm, the most popular shopping street in Berlin. Make sure to check out the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtnis Church at the very end of the avenue. It was purposely not rebuilt as a reminder of World War 2. The hotel where I stayed in, Hotel Q!, is also located here.
the pergamon altar
Located in Berlin’s Mitte district, Museum Island is a treat for history buffs. Housing no less than 5 museums, I found Museum Island fascinating even though I wasn’t THAT interested in old things. My personal favorite here is the Pergamon Museum which houses the artifacts from the German excavations around the Middle East in the early part of the 20th century. Of note is the Pergamon Altar, reconstructed here from actual pieces brought from Pergamon in Turkey. Another highlight is the Ishtar Gate of Babylon in what is now Iraq. The reconstruction in the museum is the most authentic version currently available with actual bricks from the original. It’s even more authentic than the one that now stands in Iraq which is a replica.
There are so many other museums on the island including the Bode Museum, Altes Museum and Neues Museum and Alte Nationalgalerie. It’s literally possible to spend several days here but the only other one I managed to visit was Neues Museum which contains a bust of Queen Nefertiti and many other Ancient Egyptian artifacts.
Forming the central core of Berlin, Mitte is where the bulk of city attractions are located. It was here that I spent the bulk of my time, whether it be in strolling down Unter den Linden, once a divided avenue during the cold war era, or in Brandenburg Gate which I walked past several times.
the dome of the bundestag
Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, is also located here and is open to guests. Admission’s free! The building’s dome has some amazing architecture and I highly recommend a visit. I’ll let the pictures above do the talking!
There is a limit on the number of visitors that can enter per day so make sure to queue early! It’s also possible to reserve one’s space a few days in advance by queuing at the ticketing counter next to the Bundestag.
Kreuzberg & Neukolln
Once known for its cheap rents, the districts of Kreuzberg and Neukolln used to be a magnet for broke artists and struggling immigrants. It was due to this diversity that the area became known as a place for counterculture and hipsters. This reputation became so much embedded into Kreuzberg that many hip and happening shops, underground & password-only bars, and even theaters showing indie films have moved in. Since then, Kreuzberg-Neukolln has become one of the trendiest places to live in the city and rents are no longer cheap.
For a quick tour of the indie shops around Kreuzberg, the area around Oranienstrasse corner Skalitzer Strasse offers the highest concentration of punk paraphernalia, cafes and specialty stores.
Same concept as Kreuzberg but more upmarket and slightly less commercialized, Prenzlauer Berg is the go-to place for hard to find vinyls, quirky stores, vegan restaurants and exotic cuisine. There are noticeably more old buildings here which have been carefully preserved. The main street to check out is Kastanienallee.
David Bowie once made Schoneberg his home in the 1970s during his experimental era. I came to Schoneberg for something far less ambitious, and that’s Winterfedtplatz. It’s the closest thing that Berlin’s got to a bazaar with a mix of natural produce, clothing, souvenir items and ethnic food. I came here especially for the latter. There are some great concept food trucks around here offering meals for as little as Eur 5. I had my lunch at a Thai food truck with its own delectable version of tom kha gai and curry. There are also plenty of cafes nearby.
Day 1 – Berlin highlights
Day 2 – Charlottenburg & Museum Island
Day 3 – Hipster Berlin
Kreuzberg + Neukolln