Berlin seems to effortlessly ooze cool. Even as it’s catapulted to the center of European power and faced growing gentrification woes, it still retains an air of DIY creativity and free-wheeling spirit. Long a haven for artists and activists, Berlin’s live-and-let-live ethos and climate of cultural acceptance has a way of making anyone with an open mind feel at home here.
When to Go
Berlin comes alive from May to September, when its long, dark winter gives way to a short summer that’s nothing short of addictive. Think beach bars on the Spree river, outdoor dining and imbibing on the Landwehr Canal, and all-day picnics at Tempelhof, Treptower, and Tiergarten parks. If you visit in the winter, Berlin’s cozy, candlelit restaurants, UNESCO museums, and outdoor Christmas markets won’t disappoint.
Germany’s capital plays host to a wide range of fashionable, family-friendly, and flamboyant festivals. The most famous are the city’s celebrity-filled Berlinale film festival in February; the Karneval der Kulturen, which celebrates the city’s diversity with four days of music, dance, art, and a raucous parade in May; and the dozens of outdoor Christmas markets held throughout the city starting in early December.
What to Eat
Berlin’s dining scene is a melting pot of Italian, Vietnamese, Turkish, and German flavors. The city now has 18 Michelin-starred restaurants and more doner kebab shops than in Istanbul. Currywurst (pork sausage and fries with curry-flavored ketchup) is as Berliner as it gets, though two of the best culinary experiences you can have are at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg, where dozens of international vendors prepare locavore-inspired dishes, and at Thai Park, where hundreds of women prepare Thai food in Wilmersdorf.
Souvenir to Take Home
In a city known for attracting creatives, some of the best souvenirs you can pick up are at the many markets and shops where independent merchants gather. Mauerpark’s hugely popular Sunday flea market and the weekend market at Museuminsel bring together tons of designers, painters, and artists selling everything from illustrations to sculptures to T-shirts.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Berlin is massive (344 square miles, and larger than New York’s five boroughs), but thanks to some of the world’s best public transportation, you won’t need a car. The U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram, and buses are the most efficient ways to get around and run 24-7 on weekends. Tip: Download the BVG app to cheaply and quickly purchase tickets on the go (available in English).
Tucked in a back courtyard off Berlin’s busy Rosenthaler Street in downtown Mitte, the explosion of graffiti, murals, and pop-up sculptures covering the outside walls near Cafe Cinema (Rosenthaler Strasse 39) are fun, original, and raw—the perfect embodiment of the city that inspired them.