I never had much interest in Germany, at least not compared to the host of other places I want to visit. Then I took a tour around central Europe to Prague
, and Budapest
where we started in Munich
. I was pleasantly surprised by this city which later led me to also visit Berlin some years later. Germany has surprisingly friendly people considering their language sounds so angry (no offense). I have mentioned this to German speaking folks who sometimes agree. Despite it's horrible past, the country has recovered well. I have only been a few places in Germany to date, but I plan to visit again in the near future to explore and experience more of the country.
Suggest Staying: 1-2 weeks
Transport: Metro, train, taxi, bike
Highlights: Urban life, history, parks, museums, nightlife, industrial music
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
During previous trips through Europe when I would ask fellow travelers what places they liked the most, most often the response was Berlin. Although I had visited before, it was only for 1 day and we only made it to the Tiergarten and a couple other tourist sites, so I decided to go to spend some time having a more locals experience. Berlin has a reputation for being a lively party spot, which is most definitely true, but you can also find all kinds of other cultural things to do in this massive city. There is a lot of diversity and change that has happened since the Berlin wall came down, and you can see how those past events have shaped the current state and future trends of this city. I definitely recommend checking out the nightlife, even if it’s not your thing. It’s an experience.
See & Do
- Mitte. City center with most of the tourist attractions.
- Kreuzberg. Really cool hipster neighborhood with great places to go out, eat, and generally wander about. My favorite place in Berlin. Gorlitzer Park has a small petting zoo inside that is a nice park, but there are some seedy dudes that will try to sell you weed, even early in the morning, which is weird because in passing there will be normal people jogging or riding bicycles.
- Friedrichshain. Semi-hipster neighborhood. Popular club scene and other various nightlife.
- Neukolln. Chill little neighborhood with interesting shops and restaurants.
- Charlottenberg. The palace and gardens are really nice as well as the residential area.
- Berlin Wall. Remnants can be found around the city and there is also a museum dedicated to it with great historical information. Really helps you understand and appreciate what went on.
- Brandenburg Gate. Iconic gate of Berlin.
- Alexanderplatz. Popular tourist area with museums, food, and shops.
- Tiergarten. Massive, amazing park with a huge lake in the center. Stroll around and be sure to have a beer at one of the beer gardens in the park. Be sure to check out the Global Stone Project in the park as well.
- Reichstag. Housed the Imperial Diet eventually run by the Nazi party until it was set on fire. Has been restored and is a very popular site to see when visiting Berlin.
- Checkpoint Charlie. Berlin Wall crossing point.
- Palace of Tears. Berlin Wall crossing point. Wonderful information about the history and what went on during the time the wall was up.
- Museumsinsel. Museum island. My favorite was the Pergamon Museum (ancient history museum, Altar of Zeus, and Ishtar Gate from Babylon).
- Holocaust Memorial. Remembrance of the Jews that perished in the Holocaust.
- Bebelplatz. Book burning memorial.
- Hackescher Markt. Market square.
- Oranienburge Strasse Synagogue. Neue Synagogue Berlin-Centrum Judaicum/The New Synagogue.
- Berliner Dom. Berlin Cathedral.
- East Side Gallery. Berlin wall with paintings and graffiti art. Along the river in Friedrichshain.
- Martin-Gropius-Bau. Art museum with different exhibits. Pay for each one you want to see.
- Vintage Shops. Vintage and second hand clothing which can be very cheap and have cool stuff. I liked Colours (vintage, used, pay by the kilogram) in Kreuzberg and Humana (vintage, used) in Neukolln. There many are others in both neighborhoods and also Friedrichshain.
- Floors. Cafe, bakery, breakfast, tea. I went here several days for breakfast.
- Kreuzberg. A more chill bar area that’s always bustling. Bad Kreuzberg was good for meeting people including both locals and internationals. There is a monthly locals meetup and couchsurfers meetup.
- Friedrichshain. Many clubs and industrial/electronic music. Several popular ones are Berhain/Panorama Club (best and most famous), Watergate, Matrix Club, and Tresor (industrial, underground music; the lower level is like a spaceship out of a sci-fi movie). I had a blast staying up into the wee hours around here. Look up Kit Kat Club, it has a reputation.
- Hours of Operation. Berlin is a city where people seem to work when they feel like it, especially in the younger, more hipster neighborhoods. As a result, nothing really opens before 9am and some days things are closed altogether. This isn’t necessarily true of the main tourist attractions, but if there are places you must see and are short on time, check the hours.
- Reichstag. Free, but need to make an appointment in person at least 1 day in advance. It gets very crowded.
- Charlottenberg. After the palace, keep going south to the open walking area to find a mall, shops, restaurants, and cafes. Many places closed on Sunday.
- Clothes. If you’ve been traveling for awhile or like me were unprepared for cold weather after traveling around Southeast Asia, you can find many second hand clothing stores with good deals and cool stuff. Women have many more options than men, as is normal when it comes to shopping. See above for a couple I found that were good. Many charge by weight.
- Guides. Check out ResidentAdvisor and Timeout.
2. The Eagle's Nest
Eagle’s Nest View
Highlights: Hitler’s compound
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
This was an optional excursion on a Trafalgar tour I took around central Europe. The story is that Hitler wanted a place constructed at the top of the world where he and his Nazi officers could discuss important matters. Most of it was destroyed after the war ended, but Hitler’s main quarters remain. The views are absolutely breathtaking. There is food and drink at the top as well as a gift shop. We got free hot chocolate.
- Logistics. Bring a jacket, it gets cold at the top of the mountain. Most easily accessible from Salzburg, Austria, but you can also do a day trip from Munich. A 20-minute or so bus ride will take you up a narrow, windy road up the mountain. It’s pretty scary and if you get motion sickness takes some meds (i.e. Dramamine). The bus drivers are amazing though, so it’s perfectly safe. They time the buses, so check the schedule ahead of time.
Highlights: City, parks, museums, markets, nightlife
Suggest Staying: 3-5 days
Stay Around: Marienplatz
Where most young locals go to work after university, Munich is a bustling city. Very clean and efficient, exactly what you would expect from the Germans. Diverse culture, friendly, and plenty to see and do.
See & Do
- Altstadt. Major sites clustered around here, including Marienplatz and Residenz (palace).
- Viktualienmarkt. Small town open air market good for snack or meal. Amazing sausages (I liked the bratwurst and bockwurst).
- Deutches Museum. Like Smithsonian. Really cool science plus other cool stuff museum worth checking out.
- English Garden. Huge city park. Stroll around and be sure to have a beer at one of the beer gardens in the park. The one we went to had cheap amazing Paulaner Weissbeir, giant soft pretzels, sausages, and a wonderful view of the lake.
- BMW Welt. Place where you can view tons of BMW cars and motorcycles. You can even take a test drive on their indoor track or order your own custom BMW. Really cool place on the outskirts of the city.
- Dachau. Jewish concentration camp from the Nazi regime. About 30-45 minutes from Munich.
- Marienplatz. Try Hofbrauhaus (world famous beer hall) or Atomic Cafe (live music, DJs).
- Kultfabrik. Popular nightlife location with a cluster of bars and clubs. Located at Ostbahnof metro train station.
- Schwabing. Huge selection of bars, cafes, jazz, and dance clubs. Student area. Located at Dietlindenstrabe metro.
- Metro. The metro system is very good, but confusing when it comes to payment. You purchase a ticket in the vending machine like you would any other metro, but you have to punch holes in your ticket, kind of like a validation box, depending on how far you’re traveling. This is indicated on the map near the ticket machine. There are no turnstyles or guards, so it’s a very trusting system. Beware if you get caught without a validated (stamped) ticket, you will incur a hefty fine.
- Bicycles. Very popular around town and they ride fast. Pay attention when walking around or you might get run over.
- Marienplatz. At certain times during the day (I think it’s on the hour), the main clock tower in the square go off and have a funny little puppet dance coming out of it.
- Dachau. You can take the S-bahn and then catch a local bus to the site.
- Flights: $471 (from Bangkok)
- Lodging: $244 (AirBnB, hotel)
- Transportation: $21 (metro, train)
- Activities: $0 (I went to a couple free museums)
- Food: $180 (estimated $30/day)
Note: I only started keeping detailed costs after visiting Berlin, so this is the only city factored into the above cost breakdown. Munich is slightly more expensive. I also chose to do less touristy things, so if you opt for more museums and such, the cost will go up some.
- International Hub. When it comes to flying into and out of Europe, and even stopping over in Europe en route to Asia, Germany has some of the best flight deals. It can be cheaper to route your flights through Munich, Frankfurt, and sometimes Berlin. I flew from Bangkok to Europe and the best/cheapest way was into Germany. I opted directly to Berlin. Similarly, there are many flights from the U.S. into Frankfurt that can easily get you anywhere in Europe at a low cost, either on larger international airlines, or you can look for local carriers for better deals.
- Water. Germany's water is very clean, at least around the cities, similar to the U.S. In Munich there are water refill stations around the city. So far has been the only European country I've felt comfortable drinking from the tap.