Travel Diary: Three Days in Berlin, Germany
I have been dying to go to Berlin for years now. It has been the number one destination on my travel bucket list for so long, because it is—and I apologize for this corny designation—the ultimate city of cool. The multicultural city is famous for its “poor but sexy” aesthetic (how a former mayor literally described the city). Think techno raves, so-ugly-it’s-intriguing Soviet architecture, contemporary art, tattoos, and an anything-goes attitude. I finally got the chance to visit, and am lucky enough to have a friend who has been living in the city for three years. Over three days, I saw tourist landmarks, discovered local favorites, and explored lesser-known neighborhoods. Here are the highlights:
Getting to Berlin
I took a 14-hour bus ride from Paris to Berlin. Yes, you read right. I decided on an overnight bus mainly because of the price. It is dirt cheap to travel Europe by bus, and I wanted the chance to experience travel like a true backpacker. Depending on when you book, it is possible to find bus tickets (Paris-Berlin) for 20 to 30 euros one-way. I would recommend overnight travel simply for the fact that it is easier to sleep, and therefore, time passes more quickly.
Some tips for extra long bus rides:
Expect that the wifi will not work. It doesn’t matter what bus company or where you are traveling, the internet connection will be crappy for most or all of the ride. Plan accordingly.
Entertainment is key. Bring books/magazines. Pre-download movies and TV shows on a phone or laptop. Make sure whether your bus provides outlets.
Bring snacks and water. Most buses only stop once, or not at all. Some companies threaten a fine if you are caught eating, but it is rarely enforced. Just do not bring hot food, loud food, or anything that emits odor. My go-to options are protein bars, tabbouleh or grain-based salads, fruit and/or bottled smoothies.
Bring a large scarf that doubles as a blanket, no matter the season. The air-conditioning is often strong on buses.
Whether you arrive by bus, train, or plane to Berlin, you can take the metro to the city center. Public transport is the best way to get around the city. The S-Bahn (above ground railway), U-Bahn (underground railway), trams, and buses all function with the same ticketing system. Depending on the length of your stay, I would highly recommend a day pass or a seven-day pass, which is worth it if you take three or more rides on the metro per day. Plus you don’t have to worry about buying/validating tickets each trip.
Where I Stayed
My friend lives in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin. I stayed at her lovely apartment during my time here, and it was an ideal location to discover the city. Neukölln is located in the southeast of Berlin. It is heavily Turkish-influenced, meaning culture and great food is in abundance. There are also a lot of small, local bars and parks that make it a charming yet authentic neighborhood. My friend’s apartment was beautiful and breezy—full of small artworks, and overlooking a courtyard. I really felt like a local during my time here. I was able to make my coffee every morning and even enjoy a home-cooked meal. Instead of a hotel, I would recommend an Airbnb-rented apartment in Neukölln, Kreuzberg, or Friedrichshain.
After arriving to the city’s central bus station in the morning, then taking the metro into the city, brunch was the first activity in Berlin. We went to 21 Gramm, a beautiful restaurant/café with a romantic interior and vast outdoor space with hanging lights. It’s actually right next to a cemetery, and is the converted cemetery church (mosaic windows still intact), which is kind of what keeps the establishment from heading into basic brunch territory. The food was amazing. We got coffee, a vegan fruit and veggie platter, and pancakes. the portions were huge and yet we paid less than 15 euros per person for the entire meal (another reason to love Berlin, food and restaurants are cheap).
Next was a walking tour of Neukölln. One of the highlights of the neighborhood is Tempelhofer Feld, a former military airport that was converted into a park. The runways are still intact, and it looks very much like an airport, except for all the people biking, having picnics, and drinking beer. The perfect place to spend a warm afternoon.
We took the U-Bahn to Alexanderplatz, a commercial center of the city. Nothing too inspiring here beyond the number of people. It is simply a convenient location for meetups and shopping. For an afternoon snack, we visited Zeit für Brot bakery. The cinnamon rolls were amazing, and the thing you should try here.
We hit all the must-see tourist destinations next. First up was the Berlin Wall and East Side Gallery, where each panel of the wall over a few hundred meters are covered in distinct murals. Some works are older than others, some are happy, some are political. The diversity is the main experience of walking alongside the wall. The art isn’t necessarily iconic, but the wall stands as an optimistic reminder of that unity, creativity, and the human touch can transform the bleakest of barriers into a symbol of regeneration.
Museum Island was next, where some of the major cultural institutions are located all within a few steps of each other.
We then took a bus to the the Holocaust Memorial. A moving work made up of hundreds of concrete blocks of varying sizes, it is disorienting and humbling. Next was Brandenburg Gate, the unofficial symbol of the city. It is really breathtaking, especially during sundown. The Reichstag is also close by, and another magnificent piece of architecture.
After hours of walking, we had a casual but staple dinner at a doner kebab stand. Most stands also have veggie options, and I opted for a halloumi doner. Mustafa’s is Berlin’s most famous stand, but plenty stands in the city are great.
We ended the night at a techno club, of course. Techno dominates the nightlife here, and everyone who visits should experience a night out in Berlin. We went to Ritter Butzke, a 3-floor nightclub within a former factory.
It was Sunday morning, so I headed to Mauerpark Flea Market. It is an amazing marketplace that sells everything from vintage cameras, to jewelry, to antique furniture. And of course, there is food. There were so many options, so I tried a little bit of everything. I started with a Turkish spinach and feta gözleme. I then tried the iconic Berlin currywurst (I got the vegan option), and for dessert, a Portugese pastéis de nata (custard tart) and Berliner plum pfannkuchen (jelly donut). You can easily spend 2-3 hours at the market.
For dinner we ate at Shiso Burger, an asian fusion burger joint. A lot of the burgers incorporate seafood and Japanese ingredients. There are also tons of vegan and vegetarian options. I got the prawn burger with fries. The day ended with a casual a beer and a walk around museum island with friends.
I started the day late with brunch at a place known by two names: Shakespeare and Sons/Books and Bagels. It is a bookshop and café featuring bagel creations and bakery items. I got the rosemary bagel with hummus, tomato, and avocado. I also got the vegan chocolate cookie, and it was genuinely the best vegan cookie I have ever tried. Most of the books here are in English, though there are German and French sections.
Next up, more art. I visited the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. It is a center dedicated to the production, display, and diffusion of contemporary art. Established 25 years ago, the KW aims to act as a forum for discourse on the current state of international art (read my review here). After about two hours at the institute, I took an afternoon pause and reading break at Monbijoupark. Berlin has lots of green spaces, and when the weather is nice you will always see people lying in the grass, conversing over a beer, or playing recreational games.
Another doner for dinner. Just because they win in terms of price and taste. I got the falafel doner this time, which was my favorite of the two I tried. It was also my travel day, meaning another overnight bus back to Paris. I appreciated the fact that I got to enjoy a full day before heading back home, especially since the bus station is quick and easy to get to.
Berlin is a fun city with great contemporary art, cheap food, and an open ambience. It’s an ideal destination for budget traveling. “Poor but sexy” makes sense now.