I research and evaluate all recommended products and services. This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on links, I may receive compensation. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please see my commercial disclosure by clicking here.
BERLIN SHORT BREAK GUIDE
Berlin is a brilliant family city-break destination if you’re looking for a city that combines a rich history and vibrant culture. I went on a four-day, three-night short break to Berlin with my family (husband and 13-year-old daughter), and we absolutely fell in love with this wonderful city. Here is a quick short break guide to Berlin to help you plan your own trip.
Berlin is a city that has undergone significant changes throughout its history, including the division of East and West Berlin after the second world war and its reunification and reinstatement as the capital of Germany in 1990 and its current status as a hub of creativity and innovation.
Clearly, some of Berlin’s history is incredibly dark and horrific. However, we found it quite amazing how Berlin and Berliners have dealt with marking the dark side of the city’s history in a way that acknowledges it, pays respect to those who lost their lives and finds creative ways to educate so that history isn’t repeated in this part of the world.
During our trip, we discovered that Berlin is a veritable treasure trove of experiences for visitors, from solo travellers to families and groups.
The city has everything from world-class museums and galleries to trendy bars and restaurants. I was surprised at the beauty of some of the older historical churches and public buildings that survived the war, mixed in with Bauhaus and brutalist architecture and some modern architecture designed by world-renowned architects such as Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Daniel Libeskind.
One of the best ways to get acquainted with Berlin is to book a walking tour.
FREE BERLIN WALKING TOUR
Our walking tour with Sandemans New Europe was the standout moment of our entire trip. I can’t stress enough how amazing our tour was. And the tour is free. The idea is that if you enjoy the tour, you tip your tour guide. As a family of three, we gave our wonderful tour guide €50 (April 2023), and he thoroughly deserved every cent.
The tour we took was scheduled to last two hours. However, we ended up spending almost three and a half hours being shown around some of the major sites of central Berlin by an American guide, Chris, who has lived in Berlin for 20 years. I’d hazard a guess that what he doesn’t know about Berlin simply isn’t worth knowing.
There are a variety of walking tours that cover the city’s top attractions and historical sites. All the tours are led by knowledgeable guides who are passionate about sharing their love of the city with visitors. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Our tour started in Pariser Platz at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate and finished at a stretch of the Berlin Wall that has the Topography of Terror museum in front of it.
Here is a list of a few of the places we visited on our walking tour and by ourselves during our short break.
The Brandenburg Gate is pretty much the most iconic landmark in Berlin. It was built in the 18th century and has since become a symbol of unity and peace. However, a rich history is attached to the Brandenburg Gate and its location in Pariser Platz, including a brush with Napoleon.
It is well worth also paying a visit to the DZ Bank in Pariser Platz. The building, nondescript from the outside, is designed by Frank Gehry and has the most extraordinary atrium, which can be seen from the bank’s lobby. You will have to negotiate with some rather stern-looking security guards to take a peak, but it is totally worth it.
If you don’t have the courage, you can see the outside of the atrium, said to resemble a whale, from the glass dome at the Reichstag.
The Reichstag is yet another Berlin building designed by a superstar architect, or rather, the ultra-modern dome on top of it is. The dome was designed by Norman Foster to symbolise the reunification of Germany.
It is free to visit the dome and wander around the inside of it. However, you must register in advance.
The view from the Reichstag dome takes in various Berlin city churches, the Berlin cathedral, the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, City Hall and the space-age-looking Berlin TV tower.
THE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL
The Holocaust Memorial is a sombre reminder of the atrocities committed during World War II. The memorial is made up of 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights across cobbled pathways that undulate randomly.
The Memorial is arranged in a grid pattern and extends to concrete slabs embedded into the surrounding pavement, so you quite literally can’t avoid it.
Visitors are encouraged to walk through the memorial and reflect on past horrors. We did just that, and I can attest to it being a powerful and moving experience that should not be missed.
From feelings of fear and despair in the centre of the memorial to feelings of hope returning as you reach the outer, shallower depths, it is truly one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.
THE BERLIN WALL
The Berlin Wall was a physical barrier that went up overnight during the Cold War, a few years after the city was divided into East and West at the end of World War II.
Today, only a few sections of the wall remain standing, but they serve as a reminder of the city’s turbulent past. There are also bricks embedded into the footpaths and roads that mark where the wall stood.
Our walking tour guide took us to a slab of the wall that stands not far from Potsdamer Platz that you can graffiti on.
We also ended our tour by a long stretch of wall that is the backdrop for the Topography of Terrors, which details some of the grimmer facts about World War II.
I’m not going to go into detail about the Topography of Terrors, but save to say that there is a lot to be learnt and gleaned from understanding what happened and why we need to ensure that history is never repeated.
THE EAST SIDE GALLERY
The East Side Gallery is a popular spot for tourists, as it features a collection of murals painted on the remaining sections of the wall. The section of the wall is around a mile long and well worth a visit.
Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Today, a replica of the guardhouse stands at the site, and visitors can learn more about the history of the checkpoint at the nearby museum.
If I’m honest, we found it a bit of a cheesy tourist spot that was overrun with influencer types taking ages to pose for the perfect selfie. Still, it is the hipster Mitte district, so it is worth stopping by just to say you’ve seen it. (More on Mitte further down the post).
JEWISH MUSEUM BERLIN
In my book, the Jewish Museum is one of the must-visit places in Berlin. The museum is dedicated to showcasing Jewish history and culture in Germany.
It is a place where visitors can learn about the rich history of the Jewish community in Germany and the impact they had on the country’s culture and society, plus the horrific impact that the abhorrent Nazi regime had on the Jewish people across Europe.
We spent a whole morning slowly making our way around the museum and left feeling thoroughly educated and moved.
The museum is located in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin and is easily accessible by public transport. The building itself is a work of art designed by the famous architect Daniel Libeskind.
The museum’s exhibition spaces are spread over two buildings, and they showcase a range of exhibits, including art, artefacts, and multimedia installations.
If you plan to visit the Jewish Museum Berlin, I recommend pre-booking your tickets to avoid long queues during peak tourist seasons.
The museum also offers guided tours, which are a great way to learn more about the exhibits and the history of the Jewish community in Germany.
Mitte is of the most popular districts in Berlin and our favourite. If you are taking a short break in Berlin and don’t have time to explore the whole city, put your focus on Mitte to experience one of the loveliest districts and neighbourhoods in the city.
The central Mitte neighbourhood is the heart of the city and is home to many of Berlin’s top sites and attractions, plus top brand stores, cool independent boutiques and numerous places to eat, from trendy cafes to upscale restaurants.
Our 13-year-old loved browsing around Week Day and the PicknWeight vintage clothes store and I felt I had to buy a pair of Adidas Gazelles in the flagship Adidas store.
THE PLAYCE – POTSDAMER PLATZ
Our walking tour guide took us to one of the coolest places to visit in Mitte, the newly reopened (as of 2022) The Playce shopping and food mall at Potsdamer Platz.
This three-storey glass-roofed shopping street has been redesigned and reopened in September 2022 with a new name and concept.
The Playce is home to 90 shops spread across six theme worlds, ranging from fashion and lifestyle to sports and technology.
You’ll find everything from high-end designer brands to affordable high-street fashion and plenty of beauty and home interiors stores too.
The thing we liked most about The Playce is that it is also a foodie’s paradise. There is a large food area with a really good selection of regional products, where you can buy delicious local cuisine and international dishes.
There are several museums worth a visit on Museum Island, the river island in the centre of Berlin. We only managed to visit one of them, though we enjoyed wandering through the island and enjoying the grandiosity of the museums.
The museum we stopped off at was the James Simon Gallery, housed in a stunning architectural masterpiece. The building was designed by David Chipperfield Architects and opened in 2019.
The gallery serves as the new entrance to Museum Island and houses a variety of exhibitions and events. Its design featuring modernist columns blends seamlessly with the surrounding buildings, creating a modern and welcoming space to explore Berlin’s rich history and culture.
Whether you go to look at the art inside or simply admire the architecture, the James Simon Gallery is definitely worth a visit.
Top tip: Berlin’s state museums are free for kids (under 18). Here is a list of all the state museums in Berlin.
We had some really great meals in Berlin. It wasn’t the kind of trip for heading to upscale restaurants with Michelin stars; it was very much a fun family city break, so we ate at low to mid-priced cafes and restaurants. There were plenty of choices, and every meal was a hit.
We ate at Vietnamese District Mot on our first evening in Berlin, dining on delicious Bao Buns and noodles.
We had lunch at Kreuz Burger on our second day and thoroughly enjoyed our beef burgers and halloumi burgers at this hip Berlin burger bar chain.
We had a very novel experience dining on a boat at the wonderful Capt’n Schillow on our second evening. The food was very traditional German fare, which we washed down with beer (or Coca-Cola for our 13-year-old!).
We had been wanting to eat at Tiergarten Quelle, but they don’t take bookings, and we were sadly turned away when we arrived. However, judging from the many positive Trip Advisor and travel blog reviews I have read, Tiergarten Quelle is a great place to experience German cuisine washed down with lashings of beer.
CU29 – CAFE AT THE JAMES SIMON GALLERY
Lunch on day three was in the ultra-modern CU29 cafe at the James Simon Gallery on Museum Island overlooking the river Spree. We had pizza-style flatbreads, and our drinks were brought to us by a robot waiter. It was fab!
Dinner on our final evening was the most special of all. A German friend recommended we visit Clärchens Ballhaus (ballroom).
Clärchens Ballhaus is a legendary institution in Berlin that has stood through over 100 years of German history.
It was opened by Clara Bühler and her husband Fritz on September 13, 1913, and was first called “Bühlers Tanzhaus”, but the name “Clärchens” quickly established itself among Berliners.
As it says on the Clärchens website, while the high society celebrated in the Spiegelsaal, all other Berliners danced in the ballroom.
The front half of the building was destroyed during World War II, but after undergoing restoration, Clärchens Ballhaus reopened as a restaurant in 2020, offering a unique combination of traditional German cuisine and a historical atmosphere. The ballroom is still used for dancing and live music.
We tucked into broiled chicken, meatballs and some really delicious leak soup as a starter. The food is really Germanic and combined some flavours we hadn’t experienced before, including aniseed on goat’s cheese and coconut on baked potatoes.
Ultimately, the food is nice, but the true experience is in enjoying eating it in such a historic building. Clärchens really is a must-visit destination if you want to live and breathe the history of Berlin from within.
Given that we were on a family holiday with our 13-year-old, we focused our evenings on eating out. However, we did notice when we went to Clärchens that the Oranienburgerstrasse and the surrounding streets in Mitte really came alive with cool-looking bars and clubs in the evening.
We stayed at the Moxy Berlin Humboldthain Park Hotel. I chose it because it has a hipster city vibe that I knew our 13-year-old would love (as much as we did).
I also zeroed in on the Moxy because of its location, which is central but not right in the throng of the city. This meant it was reasonably priced and allowed us to have some real downtime in a quiet location.
The hotel is situated in Gesundbrunnen in the outer part of the Mitte district. Gesundbrunnen is a multicultural up-and-coming area that is just a couple of stops from the centre of Berlin on the FEX (airport express train), S-Bahn (City rapid rail) or U-Bahn (underground). The hotel itself is a five-minute walk from the stations, which are next to each other.
The lobby is styled with plenty of the usual kinds of hipster bar and hotel accoutrements; a Vespa scooter, street art, quotes and graffiti drawn on walls and doors. It also has a bar area and plenty of comfortable seating, from mid-century style armchairs to comfy sofas, divided up into zones for relaxing, hot-desk working or hanging out with friends.
We enjoyed eating the continental-style breakfast in the hotel lobby every morning.
We also made use of the lobby area every evening to take a breather after a day of walking and exploring. It’s brilliant to be able to relax in a space that feels more like a hipster bar or cafe rather than a hotel lobby.
The rooms are simple but stylish, with a contemporary design and have all the amenities we needed for a comfortable stay. The bed was incredibly comfortable, and we appreciated the blackout curtains that helped us get a good night’s sleep.
The ensuite bathroom was pocket-sized but well-designed and had everything we needed for a short break, including a decent hairdryer (it’s always a bugbear of mine when hotel hairdryers don’t live up to expectations!!).
The hotel staff were friendly and helpful throughout our stay, and we appreciated the little touches like the complimentary welcome drink at check-in.
Overall, we had a really good experience at the Moxy Berlin Humboldthain Park. We would recommend it to anyone looking for a stylish and comfortable base for their Berlin city break.
Getting around Berlin is easy, thanks to the city’s super-efficient public transport system. The Berliner U-Bahn (metro/underground train) is a symbol of the city and by far the best way to get around.
U-Bahn trains run every 5-10 minutes during the day on a network of ten different lines that reach almost every corner of the city.
If you want to avoid buying a ticket every time you make a journey, I recommend downloading the BVG app (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe is Berlin’s main public transport company).
The app is super easy to use and allows you to buy tickets in advance. I love that the tickets sit on the app in the form of a QR code, so there is no need to try and work out ticket machines or how to ask for tickets at the station.
I bought a bundle of single A,B,C zone tickets to get us from the airport to the hotel on the FEX train, but once I’d mastered the app, I realised we could buy passes that are valid for 24 hours. Note that they are valid for 24 hours, so if you buy a pass at midday on a Tuesday, you can still use it until midday on Wednesday, which is quite handy.
The app also provides real-time information on train and bus schedules, so you can easily plan your journeys rather than having to figure out maps and directions.
Aside from the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, Berlin also has a great tram and bus network. Trams are particularly useful for getting around the city centre, while buses are great for exploring further afield. Just be sure to validate your ticket when you board, as there are often spot checks by ticket inspectors.
GETTING TO BERLIN
We flew to Berlin with British Airways from London City Airport. The flight time is around 1 hour and 35 minutes. We booked flights and our hotel through BritishAirways.com. EasyJet and RyanAir also fly to Berlin from the UK.
TIPS FOR PLANNING A SUCCESSFUL FAMILY CITY-BREAK
Here is a quick list of six really useful tips for planning a city break for you and your family.
- Choose a family-friendly city: When planning a family city break, choose a destination catering to the family’s needs. Look for cities that offer a mix of attractions and activities suitable for kids and adults, such as parks, museums, and themed attractions.
- Book family-friendly accommodation: Look for hotels or apartments that offer family-friendly amenities, such as a swimming pool, lobby with games (board games or table tennis/baby football), a kitchenette (great for keeping costs down), or a play area/nearby park for younger kids.
- Pack smart: When packing for a family city break, it’s important to pack smart and bring only the essentials. This is particularly true if you want to maximise your time by only taking carry-on luggage so you don’t have to wait around for suitcases at the carousel or to check in luggage on your way home. I am a huge fan of packing cubes for keeping my family’s luggage ultra-organised. Oh, and ensure everyone has comfortable walking shoes, boots or trainers.
- Plan your itinerary in advance: City breaks can be hectic, especially when travelling with kids. To make the most of your time, plan your itinerary in advance and prioritise the attractions and activities that are most important to your family. This will help you avoid long queues and make the most of your time in the city.
- Make sure to plan for downtime: City breaks often involve a lot of walking. Make sure to plan in time to relax and recharge everyone’s batteries, particularly for younger kids, between sightseeing and exploring the city.
- Be flexible: Finally, being flexible on city breaks with kids is important. If the kids are tired or uninterested in a particular attraction, be open to changing your itinerary and doing something else.
Hello, I’m Luci, founder of Mums Make Lists (Est. 2011). Over the last decade or so, I have combined my experience as a mum, journalist and shopping editor to create useful guides and lists of ideas and inspiration to make it easier for busy parents to plan and host kids’ parties and find great gifts. Read more.