Berlin is a cosmopolitan and thriving multicultural city. It's Germany's largest city, the size of Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Munich put together, with a reputation for cutting-edge cool.
Nowhere is this better represented than at Potsdamer Platz. This was no-man's land, divided by the Wall, after the Second World War. Now, with lots of shiny new buildings, it is a lively commercial and entertainment quarter. It is close to the important symbols of "old" Berlin - the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (the original parliament of the German Empire) and the 630-acre Tiergarten park.
Berlin marks its once terrible history with the Jewish community with several monuments. The Jüdisches Museum tells the story of the Jewish people in Germany and the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, unveiled in 2005, is a field of 2,700 undulating concrete slabs near the Brandenburg Gate.
There is no shortage of cheap flights to Berlin. The city has two airports, Tegel in the north-west to which BA and Lufthansa fly and Schönefeld to the south-east where Berlin flights with easyJet and Ryanair land.
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July and August are the wettest and warmest months when temperatures can reach the mid-20s (Celsius). September/October is the most pleasant time of year, highlighted by the autumn foliage. The cold and damp winter is from November to March and is marked with overcast skies and temperatures that often drop below freezing. December to February are the coldest months. In May and June the trees are in bloom and the outdoor café season starts.
When to fly to Berlin
Berlin is interesting to visit any time of year, with the most visitors arriving between May and September. Major holidays and events pack the city, such as Easter, Christmas, New Year, Green Week (January), the radio-TV fair (August and September of odd-numbered years) and the Love Parade (July). Throughout the year Berlin also hosts trade shows which can fill the hotels.
March to May and October to early November have pleasant weather and fewer tourists. The fewest visitors are here between November and March; lines are shorter, and you can focus on cultural events. There is also the chance to pick up cheaper Berlin flights.
Getting around Berlin
Berlin may be a large city, but you won’t have trouble finding a way to get around. Berlin has one of the best public transport systems in Europe. From early morning to past midnight you can ride a bus, tram, underground (U-Bahn) or elevated (S-Bahn) train. Some services are offered all night.
Many historic sites are located close together and best explored on foot. It’s very safe during the day, even in large parks, but be aware of your surroundings at night.
Heavy traffic can make biking seem scary, but there are bike lanes almost everywhere and it’s an especially good way to explore parks and forests. You can even take a bike on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn during certain hours for an additional fee.
If you want a taxi, it’s cheaper to hail one from the street than call one ahead of time. There’s no need to rent a car, especially with Berlin’s abundance of reckless drivers and ongoing construction. Parking is difficult to find as well.
Berlin insider information
- The Fernsehturm, or TV Tower, soars above Berlin’s skyline. At 368m (1207 feet), it’s the third-largest structure in Europe. The visitor platform and rotating restaurant at 204m (669ft) both offer stunning views of the city – on a clear day you can see for 40km (25 miles). Incredibly fast lifts speed you up for a cost of €11. As with most major tourist attractions, however, be prepared for a long wait. Arrive early in the morning for the shortest queues, or bring a good book to read.
- If you’re in the city in the run up to Christmas, you can’t avoid the Christmas markets. Springing up in December at the weekends, the Wiehnachtsmarkts take place in the squares and streets of Berlin (as in much of Germany) and are a wonderful place to buy presents, eat from the open air stalls, drink some gluhwein and generally enjoy the atmosphere. One of the best is in the Spandua region, a suburb in Western Berlin. The market here has been running for more than 30 years and is guaranteed to get anyone in the Christmas mood.
- Festivals and events take place throughout the year in this cultural city. One of the most popular of recent years is the summer Love Parade. Originating in Berlin in 1989 (just four months before the wall came down) the festival has now spread worldwide, though Berliners believe theirs is still the biggest and best. If you’re planning on visiting the city at this time, make sure you have a hotel booked well in advance. It’s a hugely popular event and the entire city can become booked up.
- Beer and sausages are the staple food and drink throughout Germany. Berlin specialities are the currywurst (curry sausage) and the Berliner Weisse (white beer). Pick them up in most restaurants, bars or from street sellers.
- Berlin is home to two city zoos. The older is the Zoologischer Garten Berlin (zoological garden of Berlin) which has been open since 1844 and is the oldest zoo in Germany. Opened with a donation of animals from Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, today the zoo has more species of animals than any other, including giant pandas and polar bears.