Some cities capture you with beautiful buildings and quaint town squares. Others reel you in with friendly biergartens and oom-pah bands. Berlin is not one of those places. Berlin is not a beautiful city on the outside. You can see the complicated layers of history in Berlin. Unlike many of the cities in Germany that have meticulously recreated their Altstadts (old towns), Berlin seems to have embraced their complicated past leaving bits and pieces of the story throughout the city as they are as they continue to build around them. Underneath the construction is a very vibrant culture of art, and food, and cultures, and sprawling green spaces.
So what can you do in 3 days with two little kids – A LOT!
Day 1: Berlin TV Tower, Berlin Wall & East Side Gallery
Day 2: Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten Park, Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie
Day 3: Deutches Technikmuseum (or another museum of interest), Cruise River Spree, Museum Island & Berliner Dom
Berlin is a huge city! There are a ton of great options for families traveling with small children and we had no intention of seeing everything in one weekend. Traveling with young kids necessitates breaks and honest assessment of everyone’s current state. Like most toddlers, my son loves all things that go and Berlin is a great place to experience trains, trams, and boats along with a wonderfully educational museum on the subject. Our children do not dictate our itineraries, but we do consider their interests and tend to avoid museums and other “quiet” places unless they are onboard.
We chose to stay in Alexanderplatz for our first visit because we knew there would be restaurants and shops right outside our hotel. If you’ve ever traveled with littles you know that grocery stores and quick grab food are essential to keeping them happy. Although we would probably choose to stay out of the main tourist zone on our next visit, it worked out great this trip because we stumbled upon the Festival of Lights– early bedtimes often keep us from enjoying nightlife, but the boys were happy out walking with all the people and seeing the lights.
Berlin TV Tower
The TV Tower is visible from most anywhere in the city and our son was obsessed. We arrived about noon on Friday and were in line when they opened Saturday morning because all we heard for the preceding 12 hours was “Go up up up, tower! Yes, I want to.” This is a great stop at the beginning of your visit to get your bearings in the city.
Berlin Wall & East Side Gallery
On one side of the remaining Berlin Wall artists have created a gallery of artwork as a way to commemorate the fall of the wall and reunification. On the other side of the wall is a large green space facing the river and graffiti art. Walking along both side of the wall I couldn’t help my mind from thinking about how crazy life must have been to live next to a different world, separated only by a concrete partition.
Brandenburg Gate is iconic Berlin and consequently extremely busy. We went first thing in the morning in shoulder season and it was busy. If you want to get great photos, plan on getting up early, like 6 am early. Several free walking tours leave from this area as well.
Walking through Tiergarten
This park is as big as it is interesting. We started walking from Brandenburg Gate without any real concept of how big the park was. The space is beautifully maintained with trails, statues, monuments, and lakes dotting the way. We spent several hours meandering and exploring and eventually made our way to the Siegessaule (Victory Column).
The Holocaust Memorial (or Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe) is a very interesting stop. It is located very close to the Brandenburg Gate. When I first walked up to the Memorial it almost felt like a city park with people taking artistic selfies in front. As we began to walk deeper into the pillars, the terrain slopes down and the outside world quickly begins to fade away as the pillars tower over blocking sunlight and sound. You see the light between the precisely cut pillars and begin to emerge from the darkness back onto the city streets. At the time of visiting I wasn’t sure what to think of the memorial, but as I’ve sat with it after the fact I believe there is a whole lot of complex symbolism built into this seemingly simple memorial.
Another humbling moment in Berlin is Checkpoint Charlie. Signs remain indicating where the boundary between East and West Berlin existed not too long ago. The Mauer Museum is there and provides free pamphlets on the street in multiple languages documenting the history of the area.
Museum Island & Berliner Dom
We tend to avoid museums and other “quiet” places so we didn’t actually go in any of the museums, but the island is still worth walking. The grounds at the Cathedral are a wonderful spot to rest and enjoy sunshine. Across the river on the weekends, there is an Art Market with local artisans.
TIP: Many museums are closed on Mondays in Germany, so make sure to check opening hours while planning your trip.
Stiftung Deutches Technikmuseum – This is an amazing museum. If you have a kid who loves all things that go (which we do) this museum is fantastic. We were a bit disappointed because a large part of the navigation exhibit was under renovations. We typically don’t eat at museums, but we were nearing lunch time (aka cranky baby hour) so we stopped at the Tor Eins Cafe to grab a snack before leaving and discovered a beautiful park (Park am Gleisdreieck) with several playgrounds for the kids to burn off energy.
Festival of Lights
The Festival of Lights is an annual art celebration in Berlin where the city is transformed at night into a glowing art gallery. If you will be in Berlin in October, check it out! You can book special river cruises, light-seeing buses, or just walk the streets and enjoy your first gluhwein of the season!
River Spree Cruise
Sightseeing by boat is an option in many European cities, and usually worth the money to relax and see the sights from a different perspective. Many of the Berlin boat tours are 2.5 hours which was out of the question for our family (I know my limits in confined spaces) so we found a one hour cruise. It’s not an absolute must-do in my opinion, but it bought us an hour of entertainment where we could actually sit and enjoy a cocktail without chasing a toddler!
Berlin’s public transit is incredibly easy to use. There are trams, buses, trains, and a metro. We tend to travel by foot around cities because we notice more while walking. I love finding small cafes to pop into a pick up a pretzel and coffee or local independent markets that may be missed by traveling direct to your location. However, Berlin is a very large city, little feet get tired, and toddlers love trains.
TIP: If you’re going to be in the city for a few days, consider getting the Berlin Welcome Card which allows you to use the public transit along with discounts on major tourist attraction tickets.