Whimsical castles and world-class museums
The travelers: Australians Andrew and Eleanor Flowers, and kids Grace (11), Celeste (8) and Jasper (6).
The Perfect Itinerary: Berlin is a great city for families with kids of all ages, with attractions ranging from its numerous parks, playgrounds and delicious chocolatiers, to fun museums and fascinating war paraphernalia. As seasoned Berliners who spent three years in the capital, the Flowers family has many suggestions for the ideal trip to Berlin. Germany can be expensive, but with a little local know-how, you’ll save enough euros to splurge on local delicacies and treasures.
The Sights: The views from the top of the Reichstag’s glass dome will delight the whole family; kids will love racing up the ramps to the top. Home to the German Parliament, the Reichstag has an inner cupola that features a mirrored cone that will split your reflection into myriad pieces. Eleanor says to expect long queues, so go early. If you have a stroller, bypass the queues and take an elevator straight to the top (+49 30 2273 2152, 10am-1am; subway stop: Unter den Linden). Little princesses will love a visit to Schloss Charlottenburg, a whimsical 17th century castle with ornate French-style gardens. The Flowers family recommends the palace tour. You can picnic in the forested area behind the lake and the two playgrounds will keep the kids busy.
The Wall: Alas, not much remains of the historic Berlin Wall that once divided the capital. At Checkpoint Charlie, only the East German watchtower remains, and few places offer more than a small pile of bricks. For the largest section of Wall still standing, go to Mühlenstrasse along the Spree River. Now called the East Side Gallery, this part of the Wall has been decorated by artists from all over the world. Don’t miss the 200-year-old Brandenburg Gate, where thousands cheered as the Wall was torn down in 1989.
History on Tap: Berlin is packed with a mind-boggling assortment of more than 170 museums. Must-sees include the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, where the history of the Berlin Wall is documented at this most famous of border crossings. Kids will love the tales of espionage and daring escapes; be sure to tour the display of children’s art that documents the fall of the Wall.
The Pergamonmuseum is Berlin’s premier spot for older kids who love art and history, with a full-scale, jaw-dropping replica of the Gate of Babylon along with other ancient wonders. The Deutsches Technikmuseum enthralled the Flowers kids with its Spectrum science center and fabulous exhibits on machinery and technology – there’s plenty to push and pull. Don’t miss the Natural History Museum for its full-size dioramas on the evolution of life, covering everything from dinosaurs to the solar system. Get a three-day museum entry pass and remember that all state museums are free the first Sunday of the month.
Out and About: Berlin abounds in parks and playgrounds. For a great family outing, Eleanor suggests the Tiergarten – once a summer residence of Prussian kings. Hire rowboats, then relax with a coffee at the Biergarten on the lake. Feeling restless? Rent a bike from just about anywhere in Berlin and pedal around the capital. Like Beijing, the city is quite flat; you can also take bicycles on trains at off-peak times. In summer, take a cruise on the Spree River – locals like to sun on the banks. Three-hour round-trip cruises leave near Schloss Charlottenburg and include the Landwehrkanal canal, which runs through Tiergarten.
Eleanor says the kids loved Berlin Zoo, especially its famous resident, Knut, an abandoned polar bear cub who has been raised by zookeepers. Visit the neighboring Aquarium, which offers an impressive playground for when the kids are all fished-out. After the zoo, take a walking tour from Zoo Station. For one of the most informative ways to explore towns, Berlin Walks offers a number of affordable and interesting tours. Eleanor says the walks can easily be done with strollers, despite some stairs.
Food: If you are a family of foodies, you’ll love Germany. Sausage, in all its incarnations, is a must-try, and the Flowers family thinks everyone should try Currywurst – a hotdog with ketchup and curry powder. The Berlin drink of summer is Berliner Weisse mit Schuss – German wheat beer with raspberry syrup. Germans love their coffee and the winter drink of choice is Milchkaffee – a large bowl of milky coffee that will warm your hands while your toes defrost. The exquisite Fassbender und Rausch has an incredible array of fanciful chocolates, as well as what the Flowers family promises is the world’s best hot chocolate.
Other Berlin delicacies include Wiener schnitzel (Viennese cutlet) and Johannisbeer-Baiser, a heavenly meringue and red currant cake from the Leysieffer patisserie chain that can be found all over Berlin. For a lazy brunch, Eleanor suggests the gorgeous Café Wintergarten at Literaturhaus, where kids can browse the bookshop in the basement (Fasanenstrasse 23, +49 30 882 5414, 9.30am-1am).
Getting Around: Berlin’s public transport, including the U-Bahn underground train and S-Bahn above-ground train, is convenient and affordable, especially if you buy a 72-hour Berlin WelcomeCard, which allows unlimited travel on trains, buses and trams for three days, as well as up to 50 percent off entry fees for more than 130 sights. Families can buy a card for one adult and three kids (up to 14 years old), saving even more money.
Another tip is to take the hop-on/hop-off bus, which makes 15 stops around the city. Tickets are valid for 24 hours and you can board at any time, with shuttles every 15 to 30 minutes. If you have two hours, take the full tour, which comes with English commentary.
Where to Stay: The Flowers family recommends looking for a pension or guesthouse in Berlin, as they are better value than hotels. Try venere for unbiased reviews on pensions, B&Bs and serviced apartments.
Buyfest: Kurfürstendamm (aka Ku’damm), the Rodeo Drive of Berlin, is a must-browse. If you want something a little less damaging to the wallet, Berlin’s regular weekend markets are great for antiques, handicrafts, toys and an assortment of food. If you have older children who love to shop, don’t miss KaDeWe, a Harrods-like department store that is the largest on the continent. Steiff Bears on Ku’damm will send teddy-bear lovers into a nostalgic daze.
Biggest Splurge: Restaurant meals are expensive in Berlin and you could easily blow a fortune on the exquisite local porcelain. Stores sparkling with Christmas decorations are open year-round and will quickly empty your wallet, but nothing beats Germany’s superb, handmade ornaments, according to Eleanor. She highly recommends the beautiful Weihnachts Pyramide, or Christmas candle pyramids.
Biggest Bargain: Beer lovers will appreciate the cheap brew everywhere, and strict laws on production mean it’s all good. As for food, Eleanor suggests going out to brunch or a late breakfast; these enormous meals are great value for money. Laden with traditional meats, sausage, eggs, cheeses, bread, juice and coffee, they will fill up your family till dinnertime.
When to Go: All seasons are wonderful in Berlin but winter creates a fairytale wonderland. If you go in December, you can’t miss the Christmas fairs and markets all over town, making the city sparkle with ornaments, candles, food and Christmas magic. Glühwein-sampling (mulled wine) for mom and dad is a must. Check out the list of festivals before you travel. Check out Visit Berlin and Berlin Life for more information.