The German capital is a very cool city. Here industrialisation meets classical architecture in a city so modern than graffiti is bona fide urban art and social document. Whether you’re interested in Berlin’s historical context or the city’s thriving creative culture, this is the ultimate hipster centre that parents and kids will love. Don't doubt it, Berlin with kids is a fantastic family holiday destination.
Known as the hub of artisans and other creative types, Berlin is surprisingly family-friendly too. Plenty of Germans are pushing prams about and hanging out in the same places as the trendy youths on their bikes and Segways. While no one in Berlin would ever do anything so uncool as wear a helmet, at the same time the city is totally unpretentious. Whether you want to get around in tattoos and piercings or your favourite 1980s heavy metal outfit, Berliners won’t even bat an eyelid making this a fun city for people watching.
Berlin is also the site of some of the most important recent Western history – from the Nazi power of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city is a living, breathing specimen of the culmination of several pivotal global events. And now, as the biggest powerhouse in the EU, it is here that many central European decisions are being financed.
For adventurous families, Berlin is the go-to European destination for it’s museums, fantastic public parks and welcoming family-friendly atmosphere (evidenced by the multiple families you will see on the trains with huge rucksacks, bicycle helmets and multiple children in tow, all carrying their own luggage).
(And while you’re there, make a game out of hunting for the Berlin Buddy Bear who makes random appearances all over the streets in his various incarnations.)
Berlin is a great city just to hang out in. Pick a local neighbourhood such as the area around Oranienburger Tor U-Bahn, around Eberswalde Strasse U-Bahn, Hackescher Markt, Savingplatz or north east of Warschauer Strasse and get wanderlust checking out the quaint restaurants, boutiques, tree-lined streets and suburban parks. This is the perfect way to get an insight into how life functions here and, in the summer, Berliners are out late – even mid-week – sharing coffees, meals or chatting in the streets.
Then there are the historical activities. Berlin has done a brilliant job of providing historical information throughout free displays, monuments and memorials all over the city and your level of interaction depends entirely on how much you want to immerse yourself. It can be as simple as a visit to free The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Cora-Berliner-Strasse 1, Berlin Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany,Tel.: +49 30 26 39 43 26) to walking the circuit of the old Berlin wall yourself or simply dropping into sites such as Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. Some old sections of the wall have been nicely integrated into public outdoor parks (such as that at Bernauer Strasse) so you can gain a sense of history while the kids just run. Most of these sites have enough free information in English for curious parents and children without the need to invest in a tour (unless you really want a very full experience).
Berlin also has plenty of museums particularly addressing (relatively) recent history. Museums such as the Mauer Museum (dedicated mainly to specifics about the Berlin Wall), Topography of Terror (about Nazi atrocities) and the Jewish Museum, Berlin (two millennia of German Jewish history) are all well put together and give an amazing insight into some of the extraordinary world events we only know about in theory.
Keep in mind the information you will be viewing at some of these sites, particularly at the museums. While some have age limitations for obvious reasons, others may not specify. But this doesn’t mean their content is appropriate for your kids. You still need to be mindful that words such as “Holocaust”, “genocide” and some of the graphics may not be suitable subject matter for children depending on their age and maturity.
For a chill out afternoon, pick any of the multiple open-topped Spree River cruises for an hour on the water. Particularly in the summer, this is actually a far more enjoyable experience than it might initially appear. While you can order beer aboard (and the kids order ice creams), you’ll gain some stunning vistas and a really useful perspective of how the geography of the city is laid out while doing nothing more than sunbathing.
Berlin is also home to several more kid-specific activities – the Berlin Zoo is said to be one of the most comprehensive collection of species in the world. The Labyrinth Children’s Museum – Berlin, The Barbie Dreamhouse Experience and Legoland are worth considering for sweltering hot or freezing cold days where the children just need some entertainment.
There are food options across every price bracket from the famed currywurst sausages (not as spicy as they sound) in the streets to Michelin-starred restaurants. German food is particularly kid-friendly: think lots of sausages, schnitzels and potatoes with very few greens in sight.
Particularly impressive is Café Am Neuen See in the gorgeous Grosser Tiergarten park. You can either opt for table service or to grab a table outside and queue up for food and jugs of beer yourself while the kids run around or play in the sandpit. The ideal way to spend a summer evening.
If you’re after fine dining, Rutz wine bar and restaurant is a brilliant option. The food is as refined and sophisticated as it’s one Michelin star warrants and they support small German and Austrian vitners so their wines are superb. But best of all is the restaurant is completely without pretension. Kids are more than welcome and the chef will even happily create a simpler schnitzel or noodle dish for junior so that the whole family can eat together. If you want a night out of sophisticated dining (with or without kids) this is not to be missed.
The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin is ideally located in the Potsdamer Platz, a perfect situation for doing self walks around the city, particularly if you are interested in seeing the most easy to access parts of the Berlin Wall. Their concierge service are experts at identifying what you want and recommending suitable sites and activities ideal for your specific family at your request. It has tiny vintage cars in the lobby, mini robes and strollers you can borrow (so you don’t have to bring your own) but sadly no kids English TV station so pack some DVDs.
Hollywood Media Hotel also boasts a central location on the Kurfürstendamm. It’s not a classy experience but filled with (tired-looking) movie memorabilia like statues, posters and themed rooms. It’s might be extremely cheesy, but if the parents can put up with the tackiness, the price savings might be worthwhile and the kids might get a bit of a kick out of it.
Be prepared for extremes of temperature and do your research before you pack. In the summer it can be very warm – over 30 degrees centigrade. Similarly, in the winter it can drop to freezing.
Navigation is quite simple and the subway, for instance, is easy to use. Buses, trains and trams are helpfully clearly marked as stroller- or bike-friendly and locals manage to lug an astonishing amount of stuff around.
Berlin is flat and theoretically quite stroller-friendly…if you have a sturdy stroller. This is Europe so the sidewalks are cobbled and uneven and lifts in public places (such as train stations) are often non-existent or not working, so be prepared for lots of bumps and heavy lifting.
Plan your toilet stops, (even when walking in the city) around museums, restaurants or hotels, especially with toilet-training toddlers. Using public toilets can be an expensive experience – especially at sometimes €1 per visit.
Shops generally do not open on Sundays so save those for museums or outdoor activities as you won’t get any retail joy.
For a fun day trip out of Berlin, investigate visiting The Spreewald by reading the suitcases&strollers story here.