There are some cities that I have visited and loved not because of any one thing in particular, but because they were simply nice places to spend a few days; places where I could wander around local neighbourhoods and soak up the atmosphere, where there might be a few things of cultural interest, but perhaps not too much and that was fine. These were places where I just enjoyed the novelty of being somewhere new, somewhere a little different, even if I didn’t necessarily do all that much except explore on foot or bike, take photos with my camera, stop to sit and read for a while and just pause to take in interesting sights I stumbled across out of chance.
Berlin though, well Berlin proved to be a very different experience. It was one of those places that had been on my travel radar for a long time, yet I didn’t know exactly what I would find there apart from my vague awareness of things like the Brandenburg Gate say, or that space-like needle with the round ball at the top (which I discovered to in fact be their famous TV Tower). Having booked this city escape at the last minute I didn’t have much time to research beforehand, but sometimes that’s the best way to do it; to just arrive and take it from there. And what I found in Berlin was incredible. I had anticipated just a short city break like any other — in actuality I spent two days mesmerised by the best history lesson I have ever had.
This trip left quite an impression on me and I was deeply moved by what I learned about the events that came to define life in Nazi Germany, the war and the subsequent rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. Not only that, but I found the city to be wonderfully diverse, trendy and laid back, especially in the late summer.
So if you haven’t been, then Berlin is waiting for you! With remnants of its rich history at every turn and its booming cosmopolitan streets signifying one of Europe’s most thriving hubs, this is a city where you will never be short of things to do and see. And here then are my picks of the best sights, places to eat and shops worth visiting which are sure to deliver the perfect trip to Berlin for the solo traveller.
Until next time…
In terms of décor and style, Lokal is a refreshingly understated affair and the menu confidently boasts about the superior flavours that can be drawn from their locally sourced and high-quality produce. I had a wonderful evening here dining solo, immersed in the buzzing crowd of diners seated at furniture that has been carved from wood sourced in the forests surrounding Berlin and illuminated by the calming glow from beautifully low-hanging lanterns, perfect for a spotlight on my food and most importantly, my book.
Lokal is a slightly pricier dining option so I opted for two small starters and that left enough change for a tasty dessert! I’d recommend booking ahead for a seat if you definitely want to dine here as it’s very popular with the local clientele, but even if you make an impromptu visit, you will likely be able to grab a seat at the bar.
This was without doubt my favourite café in the city and I stopped by here before visiting the Jewish Museum just a few streets away. Although the location is in the heart of one of the most touristy areas of the city near to the Checkpoint Charlie post, WestBerlin is an oasis of chill, with slick modern interiors and excellent coffee, tea and freshly prepared delicacies inviting your taste buds at the counter. You could easily lose time here reading or relaxing and there is a unique selection of art and culture magazines and books on display for you to browse over and purchase. My top tip is to sample their beautifully comforting spiced chai latte — divine!
Klub Kitchen was one of my favourite solo dining finds and offered a welcoming seat for my weary self after a long morning walking between different sites I had wanted to visit. The interior here is minimalist and oozes an appealingly calm atmosphere and the menu is filled with wonderfully inventive vegetarian dishes. I was highly impressed with my order of an Asian inspired tofu and sweet potato glass noodle salad. Each dish is under ten euro so it really is a great quality budget option if you want to balance out the cost of eating out in more expensive places while in Berlin.
This was a great little discovery near to the Airbnb I stayed in and perfect for a morning coffee and quick breakfast before a day of exploring. The team here specialise in delicious sandwiches, home-baked cakes and cookies, as well as excellent house coffee. The interior is simple with a “pop-up” feel to the place and there are just a couple of seats, but it has a charming local atmosphere to it and staff are incredibly friendly and chatty.
On my first evening in the city, having arrived after a ridiculous o’clock morning flight from London and then sightseeing for the remainder of the day, I was bleary-eyed at best and not quite in the mood for a long dinner. So instead I stopped by Mogg & Melzer to try one of their infamous home-cured and smoked pastrami sandwiches, which if I could sum up in one word would be — epic.
Mogg has established itself in a former Jewish girls school and inside, the small deli-style space has a few communal wooden tables from where you can witness all the action from the small kitchen nearby. Tempted as I was, I couldn’t fit in a slice of their New York cheesecake but I was told it occupies legendary status in Berlin; an obvious excuse to return again some day!
I have a weak spot for Matcha tea lattes so this charming green tea café was a delightful find one afternoon. Walking through the door of Mamecha is like stepping into a restaurant in central Tokyo and it is bustling with trade throughout the day. Their menu boasts an eclectic range of sushi dishes and the large number of Asian diners eating here when I visited gives probably the best and most tell-all positive review one could ask for!
Located in trendy Kreuzberg, there is a traditional farmers’ market here on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays where you’ll find local producers selling from their individual stalls throughout the day, while everyday except Sunday, there are also an array of food stalls selling everything from handmade Italian pasta, to BBQ pulled pork and craft beers. The weekly Street Food Thursday is a hugely popular event here, with international cuisines from every corner of the globe available and therefore something to satisfy all tastes and preferences. There are plenty of seating areas in the centre of the market so all you need to do is grab a spot and tuck in to whatever dish has caught your stomach’s desire.
This was a very happy discovery for me while wandering around the Kreuzberg area of the city one morning. Their tea and coffee selection is excellent and as soon as you walk through the door your eyes are drawn to the irresistible array of cakes, brownies and cookies on display around the counter — I’d be impressed by anyone who could resist such temptations! Supposedly offering one of the best cheesecakes in Berlin, I simply had to try a slice, all in the name of solo travel research of course! The Five Elephant team roast their own coffee on site and also sell their signature blends to other locations around Berlin.
There is a beautiful airy and relaxed layout to the front section of the café and they have a lovely outdoor seating area if the weather permits an al fresco morning or afternoon coffee and cake stop. Laptops are only allowed in a very small separated seating space at the back, a welcome rule that more places, especially those I’ve seen in London, could benefit from.
I visited Bowl after strolling along the East Side Gallery and it’s a perfect lunch or breakfast option, plus it boasts beautiful views of the river. The menu is rooted firmly in the healthy eating and organic cooking realms of modern dining so everything is freshly prepared, plant based and of course gluten free, just in case. The dish I tried was flavoursome and light, but also satisfying enough for my lunch. Everything is served in bowls, hence the name, a little comforting reminder of how I tend to prepare my own food at home, and while this isn’t going to be the most memorable type of food one could try in Berlin, it’s sometimes nice to have something slightly healthier during the day. Of course you are then free to counterbalance this with an afternoon treat somewhere!
One of the defining landmarks of this richly historic city, the Brandenburger Tor is a sight that no trip to Berlin would be complete without. Formerly a symbol of division between the East and West, this grand structure now proudly stands as a symbol of hope, unity and peace. The area is closed to traffic so there is ample space to play tourist and take photos, but do also stop and simply marvel at the sheer scale of this beautifully constructed monument with your own eyes — it is quite an incredible piece of history.
Nearby Tiergarten is a lovely place for a stroll and the impressive Reichstag building, the home of the German parliament, is also within a few minutes walking distance. It’s a fine option to just admire the exterior of the building which was rebuilt after the war, but you can also visit the dome and roof terrace if you register online here beforehand (make sure you do this at least two days in advance).
Located close to the Brandenburger Tor, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a striking and profoundly moving place of solace and remembrance designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman. 2711 concrete pillars have been planted here, each one erected at a varied height with the ground surrounding them all unevenly inclined to create a wave-like shape when viewed from the streets surrounding it. You can enter at any point and a stroll through the narrow lanes in between each row allows you to quietly take in the sheer scale of the memorial and its significance. The grey, cold bleakness of each pillar is a fitting tribute to a catastrophic black mark that lingers eternally over both European and world history.
I found the Topography of Terror to be a truly fascinating place that charts the demonic and terrifying course of events that encapsulated life in Nazi Germany in a profoundly peaceful and orderly exhibition of photography, written testimonials and artefacts preserved from the war. The display is built on the site of the main offices of the Secret State Police (Gestapo) who were prolific in their terrorisation of Hitler’s perceived enemies between 1933 and 1945, and a visit here is honestly quite a moving and humbling experience as one gets a sense of the horror and sheer evil that once gripped this city and the nation.
Situated at the historic Bernauer Strasse, this memorial in central Berlin is the ideal place to understand more about how the city was actually divided and the implications for those who lived on either side of the wall following its construction. The effects of the division were dramatically felt on Bernauer Strasse, as the wall was erected right in front of the buildings along this strip of land. After the separation family and friends attempted to escape, helped by those on the other side. Many were seriously injured trying to climb and jump over the wall, but the area too had many escape tunnels that proved successful for some who used them.
The visitor centre here delves deeply into the individual stories that defined the human tragedies that stemmed from this division, but it also charts the reunification and hope that emerged after the wall was taken down. On the night of the 10th of November 1989, the first sections of the wall were knocked down here between Bernauer Strasse and Eberswalder.
Another fascinating place for historical insight, the Jewish Museum, which opened in 2001, offers a rich appreciation of Jewish history in Berlin and more widely throughout Germany and Europe. The museum is comprised of three buildings, two of which have been designed by the Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. The permanent exhibition is arranged chronologically and features photography, texts, artworks and everyday objects that combine to create an intriguing picture of Jewish life, both then and now. As a metaphor for the tortured history of the Jewish people, Libeskind’s building is designed to symbolise a fractured Star of David that is pierced intermittently with what liken gashes in place of traditional windows to allow in some light. This powerful architectural feat is as much a part of the experience as the displays and makes a visit here extremely rewarding.
This fantastic location, across the river in the Friedrichshain district, has been bestowed the impressive accolade of the world’s longest open-air gallery. Years ago the area formed part of the border between East and West and today hosts hundreds of images directly painted onto the large concrete bollards. The paintings are a remembrance of and an homage to the deeply divisive political events that gripped Berlin and strolling alongside each one is a great reminder of the passion, sadness, hope and fear that still resonate after such a long time. This really is a unique artistic experience and having visited it on my last day in the city, I found it to be an insightful conclusion for such a historically fascinating trip.
Fans of art nouveau architecture are in for a treat with a visit to this vibrant courtyard complex that houses beautiful boutiques, quirky bars, art galleries and restaurants. During the daytime it’s a lovely place for a stroll and shop browsing. Do check out the impressive collection of funky street art paintings that line the walls of Courtyard II. The area is a hive of activity come nightfall and if like me you quite enjoy a visit to the cinema while you are travelling, then the Hackesche Höfe Kino is one of the best independent cinemas in Berlin, showing most films in their original language with German subtitles.
This is quite the strikingly impressive square and possibly the most beautiful in Berlin. Three prominent and grand architecturally significant buildings stand here, the German and French cathedrals (Deutscher und Französischer Dom) and Schinkel’s Konzerthaus (concert hall) — a truly stunning ensemble. This part of the city, the Mitte area, is home to some of the most glamorous hotels and shops. In the festive season the Gendarmenmarkt hosts one of the city’s best Christmas markets.
Very near to Bikini Berlin, a shopping and lifestyle location I would highly recommend visiting, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a striking remnant of the deep history engraved throughout the city. Destroyed during the bombing raids of 1943, the ruins were to be demolished but locals successfully protested to have them integrated into the construction of the new church that took place between 1959 and 1961. The preserved ruins are now another powerful visual reminder of the horror of destruction and the ruins left behind but now entwined with the hope and resilience that stems from reconstruction. This is truly a unique sight in the heart of the contemporary West Berlin area.
I love discovering the best green spaces a city has to offer and Treptower Park was a beautiful detour from the centre of the city. You could easily while away a few hours strolling around the grounds and a particular highlight is the Soviet Memorial. Built between 1946 and 1948 there are large concrete slabs carved in depiction of the course of the war, each arranged to form long tiers of straight lines. The mausoleum is crowned by an imposing solider carrying a rescued German child and it forms part of the largest Soviet war cemetery in Germany and is the biggest anti-fascist memorial in Europe. I took a tour around the park before diverting along the riverbank towards the East Side Gallery, a walking tour I would highly recommend.
This is a fantastic urban shopping hub, with unique boutiques and a great array of casual dining options. The centre of the mall hosts rotating pop-up stores that are rented temporarily by local designers so there is always something new and exciting to find. It has taken full advantage of its unique location right beside the Berlin Zoo and the windows in the main foyer of the complex offer a spectacular view of some of the animal enclosures nearby. The rooftop terrace is also a superb highlight and the perfect place to take in sweeping views of the zoo and the surrounding metropolis.
I stayed in a fantastic Airbnb in this area (probably my best experience of the online room and homestay network to date) and discovered that Neukölln was exactly my kind of neighbourhood. It has a great mixture of second-hand boutiques, project and gallery spaces, local delis, traditional Berlin coffee houses and pop-up bars to keep you occupied if you were to stay somewhere nearby, or visit for an afternoon or evening. My best find here was a superb vintage clothing store called Neuzwei that has a great collection of items that have been carefully restored to a high standard. I picked up a trendy oversized denim shirt here that has been a staple of my wardrobe ever since.
This upmarket chocolate emporium is heaven in a shop for connoisseurs of the sweet stuff. Handmade truffles and pralines are stacked everywhere and there are even replica chocolate sculptures of famous Berlin landmarks. A great place for gifts and the upstairs café has great views of Gendarmenmarkt — do try one of their incredible drinking chocolates.
The KaDaWe gourmet food section rivals its contemporaries such as the Harrods Food Hall in London, or the concourse level of the Plaza hotel in New York. Fine food purveyors abound and occupying the entire 6th floor of this temple to shopping in central Berlin, there is something here for everyone. There are champagne and oyster bars, a divine chocolate section, plus cheese and deli counters and produce from all over the world. Even just taking a stroll around offers an interesting glimpse into modern dining and food culture in this thriving city.
This a great find for contemporary fashion fans and if you are exploring the Kreuzberg area of the city it is worth a visit, although the labels on display can be achingly pricey if you’re quite budget conscious like I am. Voo hosts local and international designers and it is worth a browse for anyone with an eye for quality, style and seasonal looks. There is an appealing tea and coffee counter on hand if you are more in the market for a not too extortionate cup of something, or a treat from their freshly baked goods selection. You’ll also find an innovative selection of books, art and magazines on sale.
This may be an odd recommendation for some of you but when I go away I like to fit in a little exercise at some point if I can and swimming is probably one of my absolute favourite things to do. When I visited Berlin it was late summer and I discovered the perfect location for some lengths. Down by the river is Badeschiff, an old river barge that has an outdoor swimming pool and in the summer during the daytime it is the place for Berlin’s cool crowd to hang out and enjoy the warmer weather.
One thing to note, if like me you actually want to have a proper swim then go early as it gets crowded later in the day and in the evening things turn to party time with music and events happening. One of my favourite things about this place was that while swimming I had the finest view of Berlin’s iconic TV Tower, an angle not many others will find! In the summer there are also outdoor yoga sessions and Stand Up Paddle Boarding courses so you could happily spend hours here rejuvenating if you have enough time while visiting the city. In winter the pool is covered over but there are saunas and a bar area so it’s still a great place to hang out and take in the peaceful riverside views.
What about you, have you any solo travel recommendations for Berlin? Looking forward to hearing your stories.