15 Berlin Adventures Your Whole Family Will Love
With miles of bike lanes, quirky pop-up museums, a massive hotel boom, and some of the world’s tastiest street food, Berlin is drawing a new breed of traveler: families.
Berlin is likely to evoke vastly different images depending on when you came of age: the concrete and barbed wire of the Berlin Wall (1960s to '80s), Mike Myers's über-bored performance artist Dieter on Saturday Night Live (1990s), or a hipster paradise of avant-garde art galleries, after-hours dance parties, and cheap rent (2000s). But it's safe to say that few people would have predicted Berlin's latest claim to fame. Beyond the roving burlesque shows and underground supper clubs, this sprawling metropolis has become one of the best places on the continent to have—and be—a kid.
Berlin's softer side has been nurtured from many sources. For one thing, it has good, kid-friendly bones, in the form of abundant parks and sidewalks wide enough to accommodate most baby-stroller traffic jams. Add that to the government's pro-family work-life policies and the laid-back vibe that's accompanied its rise as the "Silicon Allee" of Europe and you end up with a youthquake unlike anything the city has seen in decades. With a massive new international airport opening this year, the crowds will undoubtedly keep coming.
View our slideshow of Berlin's best all-ages attractions!
The city is already experiencing the kind of tourism explosion most destinations only dream of. In 2010, hotel stays in Germany were up 11.9 percent, with Berlin accounting for 41 percent of the bookings. In fact, Berlin has passed Rome to become the third-most-popular European city for visitors, after London and Paris. So what happens when an epicenter of cool is overrun by vintage 1960s Silver Cross prams? How do you explore this edgiest of European cities with kinder in tow? Here are some of our favorite stops in the new Berlin—all grown up, and ready for the whole family.
1. PICK UP A BIKE
About half a million Berliners take to their bikes each day, so you'll be in good company on one of Berlin on Bike's rentals. Choose from city, touring, and trekking bikes, all of which come with rear baskets. Even the kids can get a set of wheels, with three sizes of smaller cycles as well as child seats and trailers (reserve in advance) and helmets for all. A free route planner on bbbike.de helps you map paths through the city based on your desired speed, road surface, and the availability of designated bike lanes, of which Berlin has some 400 miles. Kulturbrauerei, court 4, berlinonbike.de, $13 for 24 hours.
2. MAKE THE MOST OF BREAKFAST
Breakfast is to Berlin as dinner is to Barcelona: an opportunity to dress up and visit with family and friends over an endless parade of tempting little dishes. Only here, you don't have to stay up late to partake. A true Frühstück is no small-scale continental affair: It's a cornucopia of savory salads, cold cuts, eggs, cheeses, fruit, and freshly baked breads and pastries piled high on a tiered tray. For a classic version that's as beautiful as a Renaissance still life, head to Anna Blume, a café-cum-flower shop in Prenzlauer Berg. On weekends, arrive early to claim a table on the leafy terrace (the people-watching is worth it), then let your morning meal stretch into the afternoon just like the locals do. If the kids get antsy, you can always take them to the playground at Kollwitzplatz, one block away, to clamber over wooden structures shaped like enormous vegetables. Kollwitzstrasse 83, cafe-anna-blume.de, Frühstück for two $23.
- BERLIN TRANSIT TIP: FLYING IN This year, the Berlin Brandenburg Airport will make its debut, replacing Berlin Tegel as the city's international airport and nearly doubling its passenger capacity. (Both of the city's existing airports, Tegel and Schoenfeld, will close once Brandenburg is operational.) AirBerlin, Lufthansa, and other airlines plan to boost their traffic to coincide with the opening, including new nonstop routes between Los Angeles and Berlin, and a 20-minute rail shuttle will connect Brandenburg's terminals with downtown.
3. SEE THE WRITING ON THE WALL
For almost 30 years, the most potent symbol of the Cold War was the 96-mile Berlin Wall. Today, less than a mile of it remains, and it's all at the East Side Gallery (eastsidegallery.com), a freedom memorial that runs along the Spree River in Friedrichshain. Originally completed in 1990, many of the more than 100 paintings have recently been restored by their creators (with more updates scheduled). Yet while Wall art is (thankfully) a dead art form, wall art is everywhere. Berlin is an urban canvas, full of fences, façades, and subway cars featuring the graffiti of local taggers and international artists alike, some of whom (Banksy, Swoon, Blu) sell similar work on the world art market. Online magazine Berlin Graffiti (berlingraffiti.de) keeps tab of the newest tags, while Benjamin Wolbergs's Urban Illustration Berlin: Street Art Cityguide ($30, Gingko Press) contains artist interviews, a pull-out map of key pieces, and snapshots of over 500 of the city's most compelling works.