Reflecting on all the wonderful European city break destinations that I have visited in recent years, I was surprised that Berlin was one of the destinations that I hadn’t yet visited. Just over a year ago I decided to take a trip to Berlin to visit the annual ITB Berlin travel trade show. I follow many influential figures in the travel industry and it seems to be the one place which they all visit annually to get the inside information on everything travel-related, so I decided to book a Berlin city break and include a visit to ITB Berlin while I was there.
Berlin City Break
Flight Time from London: The published flight time from London to Berlin is 2 hours and 10 minutes, but the actual flight time is around 1 hours and 30 minutes.
Airline & Airport of Operation: I flew to Berlin Tegel Airport on British Airways from London Heathrow Airport on one of their many daily services. BA’s fares to Berlin are currently as low as £75 return in economy and £230 in their Club Europe business class cabin.
Transfer Time to City: Tegel Airport is located eight miles from the city centre and takes around 30-40 minutes by taxi, bus and train. Upon arrival I purchased a 72 hour Berlin Card which allowed me to use the city’s transportation services including the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and busses, in zones A & B. The three-day pass costs €29pp and also gives you discounts at attractions within the city.
Where to Stay on a Berlin City Break
For this trip I booked two nights in a standard room at the NH Collection Berlin Mitte am Checkpoint Charlie on hotels.com for £170 on a room only basis. I choose this hotel primarily for its central location for all the places I wanted to visit while in Berlin.
My room at the NH Collection Berlin Mitte am Checkpoint Charlie was modern, clean and quite spacious for a standard room. The room had very good lighting, which gave it a warm feeling, and also had large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the street. The modern feel to the room was replicated throughout the hotel from the hallways to the reception, restaurant and bar areas. I didn’t eat in the hotel during my stay so I can’t comment on the food. I did have a drink in the bar which was quite reasonably priced.
My Top Recommendations for a Berlin City Break
There are many things to do on a Berlin city break, from exploring the city’s historic past to its wild party scene – Berlin is one of those places that has something for everyone. There are many well-known landmarks and attractions in Berlin which most people pay a visit to, such as the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) and Checkpoint Charlie. During my trip I did make sure I visited all of these places, but there was something a little less popular that I wanted to do and that was to take a tour of the Tempelhof Airport.
Take a tour of Tempelhof Airport
The airfield at Tempelhof Airport was first used for flight demonstrations by Orville Wright in 1909, and in 1923 was officially designated as an airport. The first terminal building was constructed in 1927 and not long after, in 1936 the construction of the new terminal was started, under the instruction of Hitler. The new terminal building, which can be visited today, is a 1.6km long quarter-circular structure, clad in shell limestone and, according to Sir Norman Foster, was the ‘mother of all airports’. He also called Tempelhof ‘one of the really great buildings of the modern age’.
The airport has had many uses over the years, for example just after construction it was used as an aircraft factory during WWII. After the war the airfield, then located in West Berlin, was used not only used as West Berlin’s commercial airport but also as an American Airbase. Templehof continued to be used as a commercial airport until the last flight in October 2008. Tempelhof was most famously known for the Berlin Airlift which lasted for eleven months from 1948 to 1949.
You can book a two hour tour of the airport terminal and surrounding areas at 1:30pm, five days a week (Wednesday to Sunday) at a cost of €15pp. You can turn up and pay on the day, but to avoid disappointment you can pre-book online in advance. It’s worth considering that the tour is a two hour walking tour, which includes many staircases so this may not be suitable for all, and sensible foot-ware is recommended.
The tour gives you a great overview of the building and how it was used over time. You visit the passenger terminal areas and outside on the tarmac, and you also see some areas of the building that were never completed and also some areas which were used by the Americans for various activities such as basketball while they were based there. I would highly recommend a tour of Tempelhof if you are in Berlin and have the time. Tempelhof can be reached from the city centre on the U-Bahn within 10-15 minutes.
Lunch at the top of the Berlin TV Tower
On my last afternoon in Berlin I decided to visit the Berliner Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) for the views over Berlin. You can book your tickets online which gives you a timed visit, or you can purchase tickets on arrival from the cashier, but this could result in having to queue much longer for entry. Luckily on the day that I visited there was only a half hour waiting time. Tickets on the door cost €16.50, but there was a 25% discount for anyone with a Berlin Card.
The lift quickly whisks you to the observation deck at 203 meters. Despite the weather not being great on the day that I visited it was still quite busy on the observation deck. After about 15 minutes of taking in the views all over Berlin I planned to have a drink at the bar, however when I reached the bar I realised that it was over half an hour until it opened. At this point I glanced up and saw the maître d for the revolving restaurant on the upper observation deck, waiting by the stairs which led to restaurant. I decided to go over and ask if there was a table available for lunch and to my surprise she said yes and led me upstairs to a free table.
This was my first experience in a revolving restaurant and I must admit it took a few minutes to get used to the fact it was moving, but once I had it was quite a nice way to relax and enjoy a meal. For my lunch I had a German version of roast beef, as it was Sunday after all. It was quite different, but very delicious. The beef was served in a light gravy and with carrots, cauliflower, Spätzle, and fried onions, all washed down with a nice glass of German red wine. My roast beef lunch and two drinks set me back around £30 which I didm’t think was bad at all, especially with the constantly changing view I had for the duration of my lunch.
Dinner at Restaurant Schlossgarten
For dinner on my second evening in Berlin I wanted to eat somewhere that served traditional German food, but this seemed to be quite a challenge, because after looking online it seems to be that the most popular food in Berlin is a Berliner Kebab, which is quite similar to what we would call a Doner Kebab. I then looked on Tripadvisor and found a place called Restaurant Schlossgarten which was located quite a way away, but after seeing some of the reviews I decided that I would give it a go. I jumped on the U-Bahn and after about 45 minutes and a couple of changes I had just a short 5 minute walk to the restaurant.
Given the good Tripadvisor reviews I was surprised to find that only a hand full of tables were occupied. I did choose to eat quite late after a long day at ITB Berlin as well as some sightseeing, so perhaps they were winding down for the evening. Despite the restaurant being quiet the food was extremely good, and the menu was full of many traditional local dishes. I started with a bowl of venison goulash soup, followed by brisket of beef in a horseradish sauce served with potatoes and beetroot, washed down with a few large local beers. My two course dinner and beers cost around £25pp – great value.
Top Tip: Purchase a Berlin Card when you arrive at the airport, because if you only use if to get to and from the airport it will be cheaper than a taxi, and you can also use it to get anywhere in the city during your stay. Berlin public transport is very easy to use and it’s so simple to navigate around the city. There is also the added bonus of discounts on attractions all over the city.
Currency: Germany’s currency is the Euro and at the time that I visited the exchange rate was around 1.15 EUR to GBP.
Weather: I visited Berlin in early March and the weather was in the high single figures and was quite a mixed bag. It was mainly overcast with some rain at times and a few sunny spells now and again.
Best Time To Go: Berlin is definitely a destination that can be enjoyed all year round, from its fantastic Christmas Markets during the winter and chilled out atmosphere in the summer. Whatever time of the year you visit Berlin there is always a lot to do in this superb cultural city.
Recommended Duration: I visited Berlin for two nights and given its close proximity to London it was a perfect amount of time to get a feel for this cultural city.
Conclusion: Considering that I had only two nights in Berlin I managed to pack a lot into my itinerary and I was able to do almost everything that I had planned for my trip. The highlight of the trip for me was without a doubt the tour of the Tempelhof Airport. I found it very interesting not only from a historical perspective but also from an aviation point of view. I would definitely visit Berlin again, because even though I saw a great deal of the city, there is still much more I would like to see.