By Rhonda Carrier
More than 30 years after the Wall came down, this vibrant and diverse city is achingly cool and a particularly great place to bring teenagers, although all sorts of family holidays are possible here, from city breaks to longer family sojourns that also take in the neighbouring Brandenburg region and its fascinating capital Potsdam.
Berlin is also a surprisingly green city and one well set up for younger children, with some excellent playgrounds and a great choice of family-friendly cafés and eateries.
Things to do with kids in Berlin and Brandenburg
Head for Berlin’s largest park, the Tiergarten, where you can rent a paddle-boat or bikes. There’s a café in the middle for snacks. Berlin is a surprisingly green city, with a good picnicking park in every kietz (neighbourhood). For playgrounds, search Ihr Spielplatz (ihrspielplatz.de).
Venture to Kollwitz Platz, in the heart of leafy Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin's mecca for young families, with one of the biggest and best playgrounds in the city, featuring wonderful wooden play toys shaped like giant vegetables, a park, and table-tennis tables. Also check out pretty Helmholtzplatz, a park ringed by cafés and kids’ shops (including Mundo Azul children’s bookshop, with offerings in English), and the MACHmit! Museum, an interactive children’s museum including a wooden climbing maze.
Cycle along the perimeter of the Berlin Wall, independently or as part of a tour such as that run by Context Travel. An integral part of Berliners’ lives, it’s now largely a living art gallery. The tour covers about 9km, so make sure your kids are up to it before setting out.
Also with older kids, take a trip to the evocative Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which goes some way toward showing what life was like during the Cold War. It’s in vibrant, multicultural Kreuzberg, once home to Berlin's notorious squat scene and also to the Hansa music studios, where Bowie, Eno, Iggy Pop and others recorded.
Explore the excellent Natural History Museum and German Museum of Technology, both offering plenty of hands-on exhibits.
See the animals at Berlin Zoo, Germany’s oldest, or at the Tierpark Berlin, a second zoo. You can get joint tickets to the latter and the Zoo Berlin Aquarium, or there’s a second aquarium too, the Aquadom Sealife.
Get creative at Legoland Berlin, on Potsdamer Platz. Or head for Loxx, a ‘miniature world’ on Alexanderplatz.
Discover the eastern district of Friedrichshain, not just for its summer beach bars on the banks of the Spree and its classic Soviet architecture, but also for its huge Volkspark and its smaller Boxhagener Platz park, the latter host to another Saturday farmers' market and a Sunday fleamarket. Theater der Kleinen Form offers weekend puppet shows, occasionally in English.
Take in more puppet theatre (in German) at the Hans Wurst Nachfaren in Schöneberg, just south of Zoo station, where you’ll also find the Winterfeldtplatz farmers' market each Saturday.
Take a boat-trip, a good way to sightsee within Berlin, especially with younger kids – you can watch the landmarks glide by without overtiring little legs.
Get lost in KaDeWe (KaufHaus des Westens), which is to Berlin what Harrods is to London. Its toy section has an excellent collection of Steiff bears and cuddly toys and a big electric train section.
Discover Brandenburg, just outside Berlin but worlds apart in feel. Berliners flock here in droves at weekends. The Sorbs who live here still have a very distinct culture and traditions and it’s fun seeing their costumes and houses and watching them wood-carving. The Spreewald, a huge nature reserve with more 300 canals, dubbed the ‘German Venice’, has bike, rowboat, raft and even gondola hire.
Brandenburg’s crown jewel, Potsdam – where Frederick the Great hung his hat – is chock-a-block with baroque palaces and gardens, the most famous being Parc Sanssouci and Schloss Sanssouci with lovely open spaces and spectacular buildings. Potsdam is also home to the Filmpark Babelsberg, a themepark set on one of the world’s oldest film production sites, with film-themed offerings including a 4D Action cinema.
Also in Brandenburg, 60km south of Berlin, Tropical Islands is a ‘tropical holiday world’ with the world’s biggest indoor rainforest including a mangrove swamp with turtles, helium balloon rides above the trees, a tropical sea with a 200m sandy beach, Germany’s tallest water-slide tower, a sauna and spa complex, and more. You can stay on-site, in tents (indoor or out), lodges, apartments and hotels.
Berlin is rammed with family-friendly restaurants, cafés and ice-cream parlours, especially around Kollwitzplatz. Come to the latter on Saturday morning and you can also sample organic goodies at the local farmers’ market, next to the playground (see above).
Berlin’s Kindercafés (“kids’ cafés”), unique to the city, bring together hip décor with play-spaces and sometimes other facilities/activities, in areas popular with young families. Recommendations include Onkel Albert (Mitte – the centre), Café Schönhausen (Pankow), Kiezkind and Das Spielzimmer (Prenzlauer Berg), Knilchbar (Kreuzberg), Paul und Paula (Friedrichshain), and Kalimero (Schöneberg).
For more on eating with kids in Germany, see our destination guide.
When to go to Berlin and Brandenburg
Berlin is great for family holidays or breaks all year-round, although Christmas can be particularly wonderful here, with around 60 festive markets (the one at Charlottenburg castle being one of the country's most famous) and the annual Winterworld on Potsdamer Platz, with an ice rink and toboggan run in addition to craft and food stalls selling everything from sausages to glazed fruit, and from mulled wine and punch to hot choc. Stay on a little after Christmas and you can see in New Year (Silvester) at the Brandenburg Gate, with spectacular fireworks and live music. It’s preceded by the Berlin New Year's Eve Run, with clowns, musketeers, prisoners and devils taking to the city streets 12 hours before the year ends.
Whatever the season, don’t miss the Badeschiff, a floating swimming pool on the River Spree – open-air in summer and covered in winter, it also boasts saunas, a lounge bar and great views.
Accessible by low-cost airline and full of budget-conscious self-catering accommodation and well-priced family-friendly cafés, Berlin can be a very affordable option for family holidays and breaks, although the opportunity to splurge is there too.
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Flying time1.5hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.
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