Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy declared “Ich bin ein Berliner,” travelers continue to flock to the city. Germany’s capital since reunification in 1990, Berlin is edgy and traditional, energetic and relaxing, avant-garde and classic; it has true universal appeal. It’s also large, covering 892 square kilometers with a population of 3.5 million.
Berlin’s economy historically was associated with creative industries such as arts, music and media. In recent years, the city’s economy and employment base have moved toward services and manufacturing. Berlin also ranks among Europe’s top spots for research and development.
Getting to and from the airport
Two major airports serve Berlin: Schönefeld and Tegel. The Berlin Brandenberg Airport is in development.
Schönefeld is southeast, approximately 18 kilometers (about 11 miles) from the city center. You’ll find taxis waiting outside terminal A. You’re not obliged to take the next taxi in line but drivers have an obligation to use the shortest route unless you specify otherwise. Check your route and approximate fare using the official online tool. For two passengers with standard luggage that fits in the taxi trunk, you can expect to pay around €33 (about US$43 at €1 to US$1.30) to get to Alexanderplatz. You’ll pay around €40 to go as far as the Messe Berlin exhibition center.
Otherwise, take the S-Bahn (suburban train). The station is a 10-minute walk from the terminal building. The Airport Express lines RE7 and RB14 run from 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and take 28 minutes to reach Berlin’s central station (Hauptbahnhof). Tickets are zoned, so expect to pay €1.50 to €2.20 one way, or consider a multi-trip or daily unlimited ticket (see below).
Tegel is northwest of Berlin, approximately 8 kilometers from the city center. Taxis are located outside terminals A, C and E, and you should expect to pay around €25 to Alexanderplatz. Some taxis accept credit cards; check with the driver beforehand or look for a card sticker in the window. Tegel is not connected to the rail network, but there are express bus services. Take the TXL JetExpressBus to the central station or the X9 JetExpressBus to the Zoologischer Garten station; you’ll pay €2.40 one way, or consider multi-trip options below.
Getting around Berlin
Berlin’s extensive public transportation system includes subway and local trains (U and S-Bahns), trams and buses. The city is divided into three zones: A, B and C and tickets can be purchased from multilingual automated machines in stations. A wide range of ticket options is available including a single, costing €2.40 and valid for two hours in zones A and B, a four-trip ticket at €8.40 and a one-day unlimited ticket for €6.50. Visit the BVG website for an overview of ticket types and prices.
Festival of LightsVisitors may buy the Berlin CityTourCard, which offers unlimited travel and discounts ranging from 15% to 50% on 50 city attractions. If you’re in Europe, you can buy the card online and arrange for it to be shipped before you travel. Or just buy it from the BGV ticket machines in the stations. It costs from €16.90 for 48 hours to €34.90 for five days.
Where to stay
For a luxury stay, try the Waldorf Astoria Berlin, Hardenbergstrasse 28, Berlin 10623, Ph: +49-30-814-0000 or the Grand Hyatt Berlin, Marlene-Dietrich-Platz 2, Berlin 10785, Ph: +49-30-25531234.
High-end options include the Swissotel Berlin, Augsburger Strasse 44, Berlin 10789, Ph: +49-30-220100 and the nhow Berlin, Stralauer Allee 3, Berlin 10245, Ph: +49-30-290299. And upscale options are the Melia Berlin, Friedrichstrasse 103, Berlin 10117, Ph: +49-30-20607900 or the Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof, Budapester Strasse 25, Berlin 10787, Ph: +49-30-26960.
For a mid-scale stay, try Steigenberger Hotel Berlin, Los-Angeles-Platz 1, Berlin 10789, Ph: +49-30-21270; Mercure Hotel Berlin City, Invalidenstrasse 38, Berlin 10115, Ph: +49-30-308260; or Adagio Berlin Kurfurstendamm, Lietzenburger Strasse 89a, Berlin 10719, Ph+: 49-30-818-2580.
Economy options include the Days Inn Berlin West, Kogelstrasse 12-13, Berlin 13403, Ph: +49-30-498810 or the Holiday Inn Express Berlin City Centre, Stresemannstrasse 49, Berlin 10963, Ph: +49-30-200520.
Things to see and do
The German parliament building, the Reichstag, is in the Platz der Republik, built in 1918. Guided tours are available when parliament is not in session but must be pre-booked because of security restrictions.
Just around the corner from the Reichstag, you’ll find the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), whose design was based on the Acropolis in Athens. The gate has been a backdrop for many key events in German history—from Napoleon’s occupation to the Nazi regime. The gate was located east of the Berlin Wall, and when the wall came down in 1989, it became a symbol of reunification. Join the throngs of tourists for a photo opp. Berlin city beach
Also in the Brandenburg Gate area is the unforgettable Holocaust Memorial. It’s open 24/7, but check the website for opening times of the underground information center. Entry is free.
Another historical hotspot is Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point between east and west during the Cold War years. The Mauer Museum offers memorabilia and Berlin Wall exhibits and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Take the U-Bahn to Kochstraße on line U6 or line U2 to Stadtmitte.
A must-see for many visitors is the Jewish Museum with its stunning zig-zag zinc-covered design. Take the U-Bahn to Kochstraße on line U6. The museum’s permanent exhibitions offer a moving and thought-provoking journey through two millennia of German Jewish history. Guided tours are available in several languages. Also look for special exhibits.
Berliners make the most of the summer months with open-air theater, opera, music and cinema festivals, city beaches, flea markets and much more. Check the summer information pages on the visitBerlin tourism website for schedules.
Where to eat
If you’re visiting the Reichstag or are seeking a unique dining venue, try the Käfer Dachgarten on the roof of the parliament building. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. For security, you’ll be asked to provide personal details (including date of birth) when making a reservation, and you’ll need to show valid I.D. upon arrival. The panoramic views of the city are spectacular, and the menu focuses on fresh local produce.
Another choice for a special event is the food critics’ favorite, Reinstoff, located in a residential area northeast of the Brandenburg Gate. Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only, the restaurant holds two Michelin stars and reservations are highly recommended (Edison Höfe Berlin Mitte, Schlegelstrasse 26c, Ph: +49 30 30 88 12 14).
Enjoy steak every which way at the Grill Royal located at Friedrichstrasse 105b. Open daily for dinner, call +49 30 28 87 92 88 for a reservation.
Meat is definitely not on the menu at Cookies Cream—one of the few vegetarian restaurants in Berlin. Located at Behrenstrasse 55 (Ph: +49 30 27 49 29 40), the restaurant is open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. It’s above the Cookies nightclub, which is free to diners on certain evenings.
No prize for guessing what’s on the menu at Burgermeister at Oberbaumstrasse 8, near the Schlesisches Tor metro stop. Hours of operation vary at this popular late-night spot, but it’s open until the wee hours on weekends.
Chocolate fans should head straight to Fassbender & Rausch (website in German) to eat and drink all manner of chocolate concoctions. The restaurant even serves lemongrass risotto with white chocolate. There’s a café and shop, too (Charlottenstraße 60, Ph: +49 30 20 45 84 43).