Berlin is big and bold and dramatic, with history fluttering on every corner, but it also has an irrepressible sense of humour, and has always welcomed independent spirits.
A good place for families then? Of course. There are parks everywhere (kitted out with enviable playgrounds), English is widely spoken, the transport system is easy and extensive, and at weekends the city lets out a collective sigh and relaxes – sunny Sundays are wonderful for cycling around, with few cars in sight.
And there are lots and lots of sausages. Every family should squeeze into a Photomat booth and gurn for a selfie, try currywurst – the local fast food snack – take a whirl around the revolving Fernsehturm TV Tower for a bird’s eye view and try to spot bullet holes from World War II.
Berlin has a lot of museums – everything fromcurrywurst to Bauhaus. If you only visit one, make it this one, which details life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s actually a lot of fun. It’s full of cupboards and drawers to bang open and shut, a driving simulator of the Trabant, the classic tinbox car of the East, and a fully furnished 1970s apartment, a vision in brown and orange. If the children misbehave, threaten them with the Stasi interrogation cell, or boiled pork knuckle in the restaurant.
More info: ddr-museum.de
This is an eccentric Berlin survivor, which opened in 1913, was bombed in World War II, but re-opened in 1945. With its wood panelling, candle-lit tables and glittery Phoenix Nights-style stage, it’s been used as a film set by Quentin Tarantino and Tom Cruise, and attracts everyone from bearded hipsters and families to sequined former East Berliners reliving their youth by waltzing around the dancefloor. Try for the Sunday afternoon dance session, where children can easily join in. Take a peek upstairs at the spooky ballroom, which was once used for illicit sword fights.
More info: ballhaus.de
Loxx Miniatur Welten Berlin
To get a bird’s eye view of the city you can either head to the top of the TV Tower or here, to the third floor of the Alexa shopping centre, where Berlin has been lovingly made in miniature. This incredible model town is populated by thousands of tiny people, and has 150 trains running at any one time. You can spot all the major sights, but peer a little closer and you’ll see the Mad Hatter and Alice roaming the Tiergarten, the chocolate factory manned by Santas – and watch out for the giant spider.
More info: loxx-berlin.com
Berlin’s first airfield, which opened in the 1920s and played a key role in the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War, is now being redeveloped as the city’s latest park. Urban gardeners have dug in, and wildlife is returning.
More info: tempelhoferfreiheit.de
Part of the Berlin Wall still stands here, but this grassy area is now known for its chaotic Sunday flea market. Long and winding lanes of stalls sell everything from Playmobil figures, Asterix comics, T-shirts and, well, just junk, while busking musicians provide the soundtrack – West African percussionists, rock drummers and a band of funky regulars called Rupert’s Kitchen Orchestra.
More info: mauerparkmarkt.de
Me Collectors Room
This relatively new art gallery was inspired by the Cabinets of Curiosities of the Renaissance era, eccentric collections of art, natural objects and the downright weird. But it’s also one of those galleries where the shop is as fascinating as the exhibitions, so after you’ve spotted a stuffed Nile crocodile, tiny skulls and a narwhal tusk (or is it a unicorn’s horn?), you can shop for insects, starfish and strange shells, as well as build-your-own kaleidoscopes, origami sets and Berlin-designed jewellery.
More info: me-berlin.com
Fans of the recycled, the vintage and the ethical will love Berlin. This Kreuzberg concept shop was set up a few years ago by Sylke Rademacher and Nicole Bednarzyk, who wanted to showcase the best in sustainable design. The pair source products from all around the world, from cork iPad cases to beautiful teak and rosewood radios handmade in Indonesia, as well as organic garden boxes for children and seed bombs if you fancy a spot of guerilla gardening.
More info: shop.schoener-waers.de
While away an afternoon browsing the independent and vintage-chic shops of Prenzlauer Berg’s Kastanienallee and the adjoining Oderberger Strasse. Drop into Uhranus for quirky souvenirs, watches and the occasional robot, and Upcycling Deluxe for zoo animals made from old flip-flops and wallets made from rice sacks. VEBorange is a real magpie’s hoard. Step into the back room for a kitchen filled to the brim with collectable East German plasticware. At the very least, pick up a map of Berlin before the Wall fell.
More info: weborange.de
Where to stay
From your terrace at the Circus Apartments, you can spy the needle-like spire of the TV Tower, then check the in-room iPad for local recommendations before strolling to leafy Weinberg Park. If you’re staying a few nights, these smart new apartments are a splendid idea. They’re spacious, and the fridge can be stocked ahead of arrival. The Scandi-fresh Kitchen Café below does tasty all-day food, with squeeze-your-own orange juice for breakfast. The nearby Circus Hotel and Hostel are also worth considering. Both are affable, open-plan spaces with Pop Arty design and a can-do attitude (and pushchairs and sitters for hire).
Price: Apartments from £113 per night; double rooms from £77 per night (child’s bed extra £10, cot bed free).
More info: circus-berlin.de
Hotel Am Steinplatz
The Steinplatz was something of a starlet from the 1920s to the 1950s, when Brigitte Bardot and Alain Delon stayed. Last Christmas it was reborn as a boutique hotel with shiny Art Deco design, chandeliers like spaceships and video screens showing silent-era Berlin street scenes. Set on a quiet square off Berlin’s main Ku’Damm street, this hotel is well positioned for the zoo and the famous KaDaWe department store, as well as the arty cafés and small galleries of the Charlottenburg district. The restaurant specialises in German cuisine, but children can go ‘off menu’ – the chef isn’t above rustling up sausages and chips.
Price: Double rooms from £118 a night.
More info: marriott.co.uk
Berlin has some of the quirkiest accommodation around, but one of the most inspired ideas is a caravan park – indoors. It’s a former vacuum-cleaner factory in the hip Neukölln district, which has been turned into an outside-inside space, complete with trees, plants, benches, folding chairs and several retro caravans. There are also a few wooden beach huts and normal guest rooms, but it’s best to camp, waking in the morning to walk, towel over shoulder and toothbrush in hand, to the bathroom, then heading out for a coffee and croissant in the café. If you’d prefer more conventional accommodation, the Brilliant Apartments are in leafy Prenzlauer Berg, across the road from Mauerpark, an area filled with interesting
shops and cafés.
Price: Caravans from £52 per night and apartments from £75 per night.
Where to eat
25 Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
In-the-know locals head to this new west Berlin hotel, part of Design Hotels, for early evening cocktails on the 10th-floor terrace, but it’s also a smart spot for lunch. Set on the loft-style top floor, the Neni restaurant resides in what looks like a country greenhouse – green and lush and with floor-to ceiling-windows. The food basks in the warmth of the Mediterranean, including small plates of falafel with fresh mint, houmussy, caramelised aubergine and couscous, and almond-crusted chicken strips with sweet potato fries. Leaveroom for the chocolate fudge brownies. From here you can see right into the monkey enclosure at the zoo. Outside, there are a couple of hammocks for your own little monkeys.
More info: designhotels.com
The cool-as-a-gherkin Kreuzberg district, south of the River Spree, is tailormade for a lazy Sunday cycle safari – or a Saturday one, if you want to catch the shops open (Oranienstrasse is home to some of the best). When hunger strikes, head to Nest, a local favourite, and sit at one of the communal tables outside. On Sunday, there’s an extensive buffet lunch, a colourful spread of Middle-Eastern-meets-German mezze, cured meats, cheeses and yogurts.
More info: cafenest.de
I Due Forni
Berlin’s love affair with the pizza is best expressed at this chaotic restaurant, which pummels brick-ovenfired dough with a no-nonsense punk attitude (and decor). It’s got all the ambience of a German beer hall, so you can be as noisy as you want and the staff won’t raise a pierced eyebrow. The thin-crust pizzas have every topping under the sun, though your children may want to skip the Pferdefleisch (smoked horse meat). You can also head to sister restaurants Il Casolare in Kreuzberg or Il Giradischi, which conveniently has its own ice-cream shop next door.
More info: Address – Schönhauser Allee 12. Call – +49 30 4401 7373
Travel time: A flight from London to Berlin takes 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Fly with: Germanwings.com flies to Berlin from London Heathrow three times daily, from £33 each way.
Price: A Berlin WelcomeCard costs from £15 for 48 hours and offers free transport, free entry to certain museums and discounts at various shops and restaurant.