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.
Arriving at Berlin Tegel Airport
Berlin’s compact yet functional Tegel Airport sits about five miles northwest of the city centre. On landing, passport checks and customs are usually relatively swift, and the airport is well integrated into the city’s public transport network, making it easy to travel to and from.
Four BVG (Berlin Transport Services) stops are located right outside Terminals A and B and the TXL Express Bus runs at six-minute intervals towards the city centre via Main Station (Hauptbahnhof) to central Alexanderplatz (it takes around 37 minutes, depending on the time of day). Zoologischer Garten, to the west of the city, can be reached in approximately 20 minutes by Express Bus.
If you want to change onto the S-Bahn (Berlin’s rapid transit railway system), the Express Bus TXL will take you to Beusselstrasse station in just 10 minutes, where you can take the circular line. The U-Bahn network (which runs mostly underground) is just five minutes away from the airport via the Express Bus.
Tegel also has a direct connection to motorway A111 (exit Flughafen Tegel) which then links it to the A10, A110 and A115, reaching out in all directions across the city. Taxis are easy to flag down and car hire is clearly signposted.
Being largely flat, Berlin is a bike-lover’s dream, and there are plenty of cycle paths, open green spaces and picturesque rivers to whizz alongside. Pedal to Tempelhof Field, an abandoned airport turned urban park to the south of the city, where you can glide down the runway at full speed.
Berlin is a city that also loves to swim. Outside, that is. From winding rivers and glassy canals, to crystal-clear Strandbäder (lake beaches) and vast Sommerbäder (large outdoor pools), there’s no excuse not to get your swimsuit wet. Strandbad Wannsee, an open-air beach lido on the eastern shore of Grosser Wannsee lake, is extremely popular, especially when summer temperatures rise towards 30C.
If you prefer to stay on land, there’s a wealth of beautiful places to jog around the city. Put on your trainers and head to Tiergarten for around 14 miles of smooth gravel paths. Go early to avoid selfie-taking tourists making their way to the nearby Reichstag and you’ll get a chance to soak up the manicured gardens, forests and statues with a bit of peace and quiet.
There’s so much to explore in and around Berlin, but these three spots, all under an hour from the centre of town, are well worth a visit.
A short walk from Südkreuz or Priesterweg S-Bahn stations, this abandoned railway siding is like a lost city deep in the forest, with ramshackle birdwatching towers, old sculpture gardens and rusting steam engines.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Just 40 minutes north of Berlin, Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp, is an important memorial to a harrowing part of German history. The Arbeit macht frei (Work sets you free) slogan is still emblazoned across the entrance gate and the gas chamber and prison cells still stand.
Spree Forest, Lübbenau
This beautiful Unesco biosphere reserve is an hour by train from the central Hauptbahnhof. Threaded with lakes and canals funnelled off from the Spree centuries back, here you can hire canoes and take a barge tour.