Berlin, a heady blend of grit and glamour in the northeast of Germany is the country’s largest and most cosmopolitan city.
Although 92% of the capital’s buildings were razed to the ground by World War II bombs, it has rebuilt itself with remarkable results over the decades, making its memorials, museums and cutting-edge architecture ripe for exploring.
Rise early and get a handle of the city by seeing it from above. Book ahead for an early-morning lift ride up to the vertiginous dome of the Reichstag, and be sure to pick up an audio guide to plug in to the fascinating history of the buildings, landmarks and parks that stretch into the distance around you.
Around mid-morning head south on foot towards the Brandenburg Gate for the requisite photographs before exploring the contemplative maze of stone statues that make up the Holocaust Memorial on nearby Mitte. Descend underground to visit the solemn but stirring information centre, and learn about the stories of the estimated six million Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust.
Once back above ground, continue south to Potsdamer Platz, a canyon of skyscrapers where you can still find remnants of the Berlin Wall. Behind the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, you’ll find one of the longest preserved sections of the Wall. It’s along here that one of the most spectacular escape attempts took place 1965, when a Leipzig family attempted to take a home-made cable car from the roof of the East German ministries building over the Wall to West Berlin. The Topography of Terror documentation project nearby is a stark reminder of the risks that were taken by those attempting to cross.
First, head to Potsdamer Platz, a neck-craning collection of skyscrapers and high-rise offices that sits neatly across a former Berlin Wall wasteland. Pop into the fascinating Deutsche Kinemathek museum, for an eccentric and impressive history of German cinema.
Then walk across the street to Kollhoff Tower and whizz 25 storeys up the world’s fastest lift and feel on top of the world as you gaze upon the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, TV Tower, and nearby Tiergarten and Kulturforum.
In the afternoon settle in to one of the many cafés that spill across the streets for lunch before strolling over to the haunting, yet engrossing, Topography of Terror, a free outdoor-indoor war museum that sits on the former site of the Gestapo headquarters.
Then take the 15-minute journey by foot to the Brandenburg Gate, before meandering your way around the Holocaust Memorial nearby. Descend the stairs and browse the powerful information centre, which tells the stories of the Jewish people murdered during the holocaust.
Finish the day by taking a stroll around Tiergarten, one of Germany's biggest city parks, offering 520 acres of leafy loveliness.
Next morning take a lazy stroll around Kreuzberg to the south of the city centre to get an authentic feel for ‘real’ Berlin. Pick up a coffee from one of the many bustling cafés and potter around the banks of the canal, soaking up views of willow trees and artsy locals.
Hop on the U-bahn north to seek out House of Small Wonder in Mitte for lunch. A magical New York loft- style restaurant filled with succulents and distressed wallpaper, it serves American cuisine with a Japanese twist.
Dedicate a whole afternoon to Berlin’s museums. The Stasi Museum, a U-Bahn trip away in Lichtenberg, offers a fascinating, in-depth portrayal of life in former East Berlin. But you can while away hours at Museum Island, in the heart of the city. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s easily accessible via the U-Bahn and is home to the Neues museum, which hosts a fascinating collection of prehistoric and Egyptian artefacts, including a beautiful 134BC bust of Queen Nefertiti.
Get a handle on this fascinating city by exploring it on two wheels. The city’s many bike tours stop at major attractions such as the war bunkers, the Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate.
Then take a gentle wander towards Pariser Strasse, close to Mitte, to explore the area’s taverns, bars and nightclubs.
Pull on your walking shoes and head to the Platform 17 memorial (from central Berlin, take the S-bahn to Grunewald Station). It’s a stark but powerful memorial to the thousands of Jews who were sent off to the concentration camps from this station.
Next, take a 25-minute stroll to Teufelsberg – an abandoned Cold War listening station that’s now covered in graffiti.
A further 20-minute walk will get you to the fascinating Olympiastadion, built for the 1936 Summer Olympics.
The Mauerpark Flea Market, where hip locals and in-the-know tourists go to rummage, happens every Sunday. After browsing the aisles, hop on a tram to the Tiergarten in the middle of the city and explore its lakes and walkways.
As darkness falls, head to Kreuzberg in the south east for an evening ofbars, dance and theatre events.
Head to the Spree Forest for a jaunt in the great outdoors, 35 miles (56km) south of Berlin (trains leave Bahnhof Zoo station every two hours, taking 90 minutes). Take a punt along the waterways with an expert guide, or hike and bike the paths that snake their way through the forest.
Get a feel for the city with an hour-long boat tour along the Spree (departing from piers at Friedrichstrasse/Weidendamm in Mitte). Pass the Hauptbahnhof (main station), the beautiful baroque Berliner Dom and some of the city’s vibrant riverside bars.
Spend the rest of the day pottering around the collections on Museum Island, including the Altes Museum, with its mosaics, sarcophagi and striking Cleopatra portraits, and the Neues museum, where you’ll find a beautiful bust of ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.
For those keen to head a little further out of town (and with access to four wheels), drive to the fairytale bridges of Rakotzbrucke and the Bastei, take a stroll through the picturesque town of Gorlitz, and even cross the border into Poland. There’s no better way to see some of Saxony’s most beautiful spots.
Spend your last day at some of Berlin’s more ‘underground’ museums. Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is a powerful testament to the effect the Berlin Wall had on the city, with a collection of segments from the original wall, as well as tools used by desperate escapees.
The Jüdisches Museum, chronicling the history of the Jewish community in Berlin, not only has unique architecture (it has 1,005 separate windows, all of different shapes) but it’s also Europe’s largest museum of its kind.
For something lighter, end at Die Sammlung Berggruen: Picasso und Seine Zeit, a collection of one of Germany’s best-known art dealers, which includes paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh and Cézanne.