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How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Berlin

Impressive culinary enclaves and thriving nightlife scenes are just two allures of the German capital.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Berlin

Aerial view of Berlin skyline with Spree river in summer, Germany

From cutting-edge museums and galleries to lively outdoor markets to first-rate dining experiences, Berlin is upping the cool factor.(Getty Images).

With its international culinary scene, trendy neighborhoods and flourishing nightlife, Berlin is a vibrant and affordable travel destination. Once divided by war and politics, the German capital has emerged as a 21st-century incubator of technology, innovation, arts and culture. Its youthful entrepreneurs are leading the way, but what lies woven into the fabric of this multifaceted European city is the history and sites that bring more tourists to Berlin than any other city in Germany. After the German reunification in 1990, many people moved away in search of jobs, but over the years, Berlin has attracted immigrants from around the world, developing it into the most multicultural and cosmopolitan city in the country.

Plan to stay at least for a long, three-day weekend to explore, savor and travel to the city's top highlights, including Berlin's numerous museums and major attractions. Berlin is four times the size of Paris with a surprising number of rivers, canals and green spaces. A third of the city is comprised of parks and forested areas, so it's beautiful to navigate by bike or on foot. One of the best ways to plan your Berlin vacation is to divide your time between its 12 districts and 23 distinct neighborhoods. Read on for tips for making the most of your next trip to Berlin.

Explore Mitte

Begin your visit in the busy and beautiful central district of Mitte, where you'll find many top attractions, including Checkpoint Charlie, which was once the crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War, and Brandenburg Gate. Built in the 18th century by Prussian king Frederick William II, this imposing neoclassical monument is located across from the Pariser Platz, one of the city's most attractive squares. Since the reunification in 1990, Brandenburg Gate has become a national symbol of peace and unity.

After viewing the gate, travel to Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to five of the city's most important art and archaeological museums. Here, you'll find the renowned bust of Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum. Another must-see is the domed Cathedral of Berlin, the largest church in the city. Take time to explore this vibrant area and watch the tour boats navigating the Spree River. On warm sunny days, you'll find locals and tourists taking in the spectacular scenery while enjoying lunch on the banks of the river.

Next, head to Gendarmenmarkt, one of the most beautiful and historic squares in Berlin. When you need a break from sightseeing, visit Rausch Schokoladenhaus. This famous chocolatier and family business dates back to 1918. They source the finest cocoa in the world and create extraordinary chocolate sculptures that are on display in the store. Take home delectable chocolates and pralines and visit their cafe for a coffee and a mini torte. For an added treat, have lunch or an early dinner at their second-floor restaurant overlooking the square, which features creative dishes prepared with their specialty chocolates and cocoas.

Once you've meandered through the market, wander through the bustling Alexanderplatz with its modern glass and art deco buildings. The Alexanderplatz serves as the city's major transportation hub with the Berlin Central Train Station and is also one of the largest shopping districts in Berlin, with numerous restaurants, along with interesting modern structures in Berlin, such as the World Clock and TV Tower. Visit in the evening, when the square is filled with people and aglow with the bright lights of the city.

Dine in Mitte

If you're in the mood for traditional southern German food, known as Schwäbische Küche or Swabian cuisine and said to be some of the best in Germany, dine at Schwarzwaldstuben for lunch or dinner. The casual and rustic interior is reminiscent of a hunting lodge with its antlers, boar's head over the bar and large ceramic stove. Specialties include Spätzle, Schäuffele (a cut of meat from a pig's shoulder), Flammkuchen (a version of a German pizza), and a generous portion of crispy fried Schnitzel. Plus, Rothaus Pils Tannenzäpfle, a delicious beer from the Black Forest, is on tap.

For a more upscale evening, book a table at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Tim Raue. Berlin's most famous chef and one of the featured guests on an episode of "Chef's Table" on Netflix, this award-winning chef serves his Asian-inspired cuisine at this stylish eatery. Also noteworthy is Noblehart & Schmutzig, helmed by Swiss-born executive chef Micha Schäfer. Garnering a Michelin star for its innovative cuisine, the restaurant serves a 10-course meal to 28 guests of strictly regional products and produce, sourcing only as far as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg and the Baltic Sea, so don't look for ingredients such as lemons, tuna or chocolate on the menu.

Check Out Other Neighborhoods

Wander the streets of Bergmannkiez in Kreuzberg with its eclectic mix of shops, cafes and restaurants and visit Marheineke Markthalle, a large indoor gourmet market featuring local and international specialties. If you're in town on a Thursday evening, also make plans to attend the popular Street Food Night at Markthalle Neun. Arrive early and enjoy tasty bites and drinks from around the globe. Viktoriapark, also in Kreuzberg, is one of the most romantic and prettiest parks in Berlin. This picturesque setting is dominated by the "berg" (or hill) that stands 217 feet high and is topped with a national monument with a cascading waterfall below. Linger longer at this special place and enjoy a local beer at Biergarten Golgatha.

Two notable museums in Kreuzberg are Martin-Gropius-Bau and The Wall Museum at the East Side Gallery. Located next to each other, the museums each merit a visit. Another must-see is the Luther Effect, an impressive exhibit commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, which will be on display at Martin-Gropius-Bau through Nov. 5, 2017.

When it comes to casual dining in Kreuzberg, try a cult street food favorite, like Currywurst at Curry 3, or experience Turkish-influenced Döner Kebabs at Mustafas Gemüse Kebap. If you're not in the know, Currywurst is Bratwurst that's been steamed and fried, served on a bun and topped with curry ketchup, and traditionally served with French fries.

After refueling, embark on a shopping extravaganza. Visit Kaufhaus des Westens (or "Department Store of the West"), fondly called KaDeWe. Berlin's largest department store, KaDeWe is located in the neighborhood of Schöneberg. Head to the 6th-floor food hall, the biggest delicatessen department in Europe, and enjoy a French pastry or glass of bubbly and freshly shucked oysters.

And at the end of a long day of sightseeing and noshing, make your way to Klunkerkriach, a lively rooftop bar in Neukölin. This under-the-radar spot is popular with locals and one of the best places to see the sun set over the city. It's the perfect way to cap off your trip to Berlin.


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About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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