Summer is by far the best season to visit Berlin. The city’s residents take full advantage of the decent weather to hit the streets, rivers and lakes and partake in endless events across the city.
Since the fall of its world-renowned Wall, Berlin has busied itself with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe. These days it's a city of many faces, known equally as a hedonistic hub (parties here can go on for days rather than hours), a magnet for history buffs (the city was at the heart of much of the turbulent 20th century) and, increasingly, as a destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces that includes the sprawling Tiergarten, the Sunday flea market at Mauerpark and the Volkspark Friedrichshain.
There are lots of outdoor playgrounds and plenty of attractions to keep the little ones occupied. And despite the cheap (but rising) rents and bohemian reputation, there’s also a lot on offer for well-heeled and business travellers, from ritzy hotels and classy boutiques to Michelin-starred dining spots. A grand European all-rounder? And then some…
Summer is by far the best season to visit Berlin.
When to go
Tales of Berlin’s notoriously long and harsh winters send shivers up the spines of visitors before they've even arrived – but don’t worry, they’re not that much worse than those in Britain. Still, the preferred time to visit is in the warmer months (April-September), when you can explore the city’s waterways and parks, as well as the numerous lakes and sights that lie within striking distance of the centre.
There are plenty of cultural events happening all year round. To paraphrase comedian Billy Connolly: there's no such thing as a bad time to visit Berlin, just bring the right clothing…
The seat of the German Parliament is also one of Berlin’s most famed landmarks.
Where to go
The city’s main cultural and historical sights – from the Museum Island and the Reichstag to Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum - are to be found in central Mitte. But the surrounding neighbourhoods (including Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Schöneberg) are well worth exploring for their slew of independent bars, restaurants and clubs, as well as their edgy art spaces and lesser-known museums. Kreuzberg’s Museum of Things and Prenzlauer Berg’s Berlin Wall Memorial spring immediately to mind.
Know before you go
British Embassy: (00 49 30 20 45 70; ukingermany.fco.gov.uk/de), Wilhelmstrasse 70, Berlin. Open Mon-Fri, 9am-5.30pm.
Police (Polizei): Dial 110.
Ambulance (Rettungswagen): Dial 112.
Tourist office and information: There are several official tourist offices (run by visitberlin.de) around the city, the main ones being at Brandenburg Gate, Kurfürstendamm 22 and the main train station (Hauptbahnhof).
Telephone code: From outside Germany, dial 00 49 30; from inside Germany, 030 – then the number.
Time difference: +1 hour.
Flight time: London to Berlin is around 90 minutes.
Local laws and etiquette
Service in Berlin is generally OK, but when it’s bad it makes nonchalant Parisians look positively proactive. You’ll likely fall victim to the occasional delay, arrogant waiter/waitress or even a withering glare, but don’t take it personally. It’s just the Berlin way.
Berlin is a hedonistic hub (parties here can go on for days rather than hours).
Berliners, like all Germans, take their rules seriously, especially things like jaywalking and recycling. Littering the streets or crossing at a red light is likely to provoke stern looks or even public admonishment.
On the plus side, Berliners are generally very tolerant and “anything goes” – an attitude that perhaps manifests most in the city’s nightlife scene, where establishments don’t tend to close until late or when the last guest leaves, and where even in the wee hours there’s a discernible lack of tension in the air.
In some bars and clubs, a fee (“pfand”) is added to your bottle or glass (anything from €0.20 to €1), which is reimbursed when you return it to the bar. Sometimes you will also be given a token, which you again return at the end to claim your “fund”.
Public transport in Berlin operates on an honesty system. There are no barriers at train, tram or bus stops, though underground inspectors will fine you up to €40 on the spot if they catch you without a ticket. Make sure your ticket is also validated (stamped) before boarding a train (there are usually validation machines next to the ticket vendor).
Service is usually included in bills, but it’s customary to round up snacks and drinks to the nearest euro or leave a slightly larger tip for meals and larger bills.