Over spring break, our family traveled to Berlin for the first time. What a great city! We walked and biked all over the city, soaking in the history and practicing our high German. We loved the biking tour of the Berlin Wall, which kept the kids active and engaged while learning important things. The food market at Markhalle Neun made feeding the kids much easier. We balanced the sightseeing with silly fun for the kids, like the Spy museum with a laser maze. A good time was had by all.
This is just a little trip report to peak your interest. When traveling with kids, we try to have a good time and don’t try to “see it all.” A good formula for us is to go sightseeing in the morning, then something fun for the kids in the afternoon, and leave plenty of down time to hang at public spaces and parks. So the list below reflects this casual travel style.
We saw and did lots of fun and interesting things in Berlin, but this is not a definitive list of must-dos and we certainly aren’t experts on Berlin. So please see my Berlin with Kids Pinterest Board for lots of resources on visiting Berlin with kids.
We were in Berlin for four days over Easter, which was just the right amount of time for our family. We had cold weather and some rain, which wasn’t a problem because Berlin is packed with museums and other indoor activities to escape the weather. We took the night train there from Zurich, which you can read about this post. We stayed at MiniLoft, an apartment hotel, that was comfortable for our family of four and conveniently located to public transport.
Preparing Children for WWII History
Before visiting Berlin, I wanted to prepare my kids for the history of this city, so we could deal with awkward questions and possible emotions before our trip. So I read them a couple children’s books on World War II, the Holocaust, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall. These are tough topics for children, especially my nine year old, who had trouble understanding that these were not just stories, but real people who died and real monsters who killed them. My older son gets very emotional when we talk about death, so it was difficult for me to emphasize the seriousness of these topics without giving them nightmares. I’m so glad we did this prep work because these topics were front and center at every turn during our time in Berlin.
We read Simple History: A simple guide to World War II, which was pretty good. My boys found it interesting and the cartoon illustrations made it less scary, though the text is very clear about the facts. I found the explanations too littered with details (lots of names & dates), so I had to give overviews in my own words when my kids lost. But it was a good springboard for discussion.
See my Berlin with Kids Pinterest Board for more children’s books on these topics I was considering but didn’t have time to read.
Berlin Walking Tour
Our first morning, we did the Sandeman’s free walking tour and really liked it. We had a great guide, George, who was a good storyteller and very engaging. I was worried that my kids would bore quickly and wouldn’t last the whole tour, which was about 3 hours. But they listened intently and enjoyed the tour. Our guide made an effort to engage our kids, but this tour is not specifically designed for families (nor could I find one that was).
The walking distance was not a problem for my kids, particularly because each section is short before we stopped to talk again. The route was suitable for strollers, with some narrow city sidewalks near busy traffic where you’ll need to keep little kids close.
To be honest, Berlin is not a beautiful city like other European capitols. While I learned a lot on the tour and we stopped at the highlights like the Brandenberg Gate and the touristy Checkpoint Charlie, many stops were not particularly interesting visually. I hardly took any pictures. The tour was much more about listening than looking at stuff, which was different from my expectations.
The best stop on the tour was the Holocaust Memorial, which is the only place I wanted to revisit after the tour. I really appreciated the history and context our guide gave for this interesting and controversial memorial. The only downside is that kids immediately want to run around the blocks and play hide and go seek, which many kids were doing while we were there. I lectured my kids about the seriousness of this place before letting them wander, but kids are kids and I had to reign them in a few times. Good luck!
Biking the Berlin Wall
This bike tour was my favorite part of our visit. You can cover a lot more ground on a bike than on walking and we saw lots of different neighborhoods that we wouldn’t have necessarily explored on foot. Our guide, Bjorn, was very interesting, with lots of personal stories that made the history come to life. Now I want to do more bike tours in other cities.
A big part of this tour is at the Berlin Wall Memorial (Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin), which has old sections of the wall and lots of informational signboards. Our guide gave lots of good info here. But you can’t really wander around the memorial during the tour because you are listening to the guide, then immediately riding to the next stop. So definitely plan on going back to this memorial to spend more time wandering and taking pictures.
One downside of the tour is that you can’t take photos while riding. I stopped once to quickly take a photo and I had to ride very fast to catch up and not slow down the group. The guide was very good about keeping the group together and waiting at each turn for anyone that lags behind.
The first half of the tour had short biking sections and long stops at the points of interest, which worried me a bit because it wasn’t very active. But the second half of the tour had much longer biking sections, which was more fun. We would have definitely done more biking tours if we had the time.
About half the tour was on quiet neighborhood streets or bike lanes on sidewalks. The other half was on city streets. We were lucky to do this tour on Good Friday, when car traffic was extremely light. That was my main concern when biking with kids. My kids are used to biking on city streets, but they still veer into the middle of the road occasionally. It wasn’t a problem the day we went, but it’s something to consider. We always had one parent in front and one in back of the kids.
The bike company offers children’s bikes and children’s tandem attachments to adult bikes, which is the best option for smaller kids. They also provide helmets (child sizes too) and gloves.
We went with Berlin on Bike, which is extremely popular and has dozens of bikes, though there are many other bike tour operators in the city.
Pergamon & Museum Island
This is the most famous museum in Berlin, with an impressive collection of antiquities including enormous walls and buildings from the Middle East. If you only visit one museum, this is probably the best one. I’ll refer you to traditional travel guides for detailed info on this one.
I’ll simply say that our family liked this museum and spent about two hours wandering around before museum fatigue set in. The audio guide is free and our kids enjoyed it for about 45 mins before getting bored. A big part of the museum is under construction, so I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to make the visit worth it. Don’t worry. What’s there is amazing.
It is critical to reserve your ticket beforehand online, selecting a day and time slot. Otherwise, you will wait for hours in line to get it. We reserved the night before and danced past a couple hundred people in line, straight to the entrance. Hip hip hooray!
I was expecting Museum Island to have lots of public spaces for hanging out, which is not really the case. Better to cross over to the north side of the river, where you find a big grassy park, playground, and lots of cafes.
After the bike tour, our kids were a little cold and tired, so we went to the Spy Museum to warm them up. It was so much better than I expected. It has tons of spy gadgets on display and lots of interactive exhibits. There are tiny cameras and microphones, hidden recording devices, secret code machines, weapons hidden in everyday objects like an umbrella. One display explained how different animals were used for spying. For adults, there is lots of historical info in English about spies and how they were used in various countries and conflicts.
The best part for the kids was the laser maze, which they did a dozen times or more, trying to beat their times and get on the leaderboard. There are three levels of difficulty, so even very small children can participate. They loved it!!!
Computer Game Museum
During some heavy rain, we treated the kids to the Computer Game Museum, which again, was much better than I expected. It has tons of computer game consoles and games on display, fascinating for gaming enthusiasts and a novelty for modern kids. You can play lots of the old games on various screens throughout the museum. There is a vintage arcade with Pac-Man, Centipede, Asteroid, Frogger, Gaunlet and other classics. They have a few retro bedrooms and family rooms, designed to look like the 1970s and 80s when these games were popular, where you can play games like Pong on the original consoles. My kids loved it and I had much more fun than I expected. I even learned a few things.
I’m so happy my husband had researched this gem. Markethalle Neun is a market hall, filled with little food vendors, selling all sorts of yummy things to eat, from amazing bbq sandwiches, to mezze plates, to korean sandwiches, to fresh crepes, etc. On Sunday, more vendors joined in for brunch, offering lots of sweet and savory breakfast style options.
This style of eating is so much easier with kids because you can try lots of different things, instead of the whole family committing to one cuisine. Plus it was fast and affordable. We went twice! It’s a bit far from other attractions. So one time we took the train but the next time, we took a cab and it was totally worth the €10.
Prenzlauerberg Cherry Tree Promenade
I saw this gorgeous cherry tree promenade on several websites before going, but none of them told me exactly how to get there. It was not easy to find, so I’m going to help you out.
This promenade is in the northwest corner of the Prenzlauer Berg district, on Norwegerstr just north of Bornholmerstr, on the east side of the train tracks (52°33’24.0″N 13°23’54.8″E). It borders on a big park full of private garden allotments. The closest public transportation is S Bornholmer Str train station. The S2 train goes there from Brandenberg Gate. From the train station, you need to walk east past the train tracks, then north on the dirt path parallel to the tracks.
I walked there from Mauerpark, which was an interesting walk through a variety of parks and green spaces, though a little rough and tumble I must say.
What I would do differently
No matter how much research you do, travel is always a bit different than you expect.
- I should have reserved ahead for Reichstag Building. It’s free but requires a reservation and they were all sold out during our visit. Before going, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go but after the walking tour, I really wanted to. Just reserve, you can easily skip it since it’s free.
- I regret not going to Legoland Discovery Centre. The recommended age is 3-10, so I was worried my 13 year old wouldn’t fit in. But in retrospect, they would have loved it. Also, so many people online complained that it was too expensive and crowded and I was swayed by this opinion. I shouldn’t have listened to them.
- We did not enjoy East Side Gallery and I would call it a must-skip. It’s a long series of wall panels with political street art, but not particularly good quality. Also, it’s on a busy street on a narrow sidewalk filled with tourists, the art behind a chain link fence (at least when we were there). So it’s not a pleasant experience. Lastly, it’s far away from everything else and a bit difficult to reach on public transport from the west side of the city.
Have you been to Berlin? What’s your favorite thing to do there with kids?