The winters in Berlin are cold in temperature, but warm in spirit. Christmas is an especially magical time to visit the German capital: there are a number of huge Berlin Christmas Markets to stroll through with a mulled wine in hand. Even outside of the festive season the city has plenty to do when it’s below zero outside: Berlin has wonderful infrastructure that doesn’t fail with snowfall and there’s plenty to do indoors, with galleries, museums, and other cultural touchstones galore. If you’re keen to push the boat out a little, (or as much as you can when the lakes are frozen over) you can even have a go at some more obscure winter sports!
A Berlin winter has plenty to do; just read ahead to find out how to make your visit to the German capital as magical as possible.
Take it all in at Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market
Lasting from late November until Christmas Eve, the market at Potsdamer Platz is the largest Berlin Christmas market by far, and definitely the most iconic. Admission is free to this sprawling collection of artisan craft tables, delicious food stalls, and jam-packed bars. Aside from these common Christmas market highlights, there’s a whole host of other activities that make this Berlin Christmas market special.
Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market has a massive skating rink in the heart of the complex, as well as a tobogganing run, so you can get a more bucolic winter experience without leaving Berlin. At the weekends the atmosphere livens up a bit as the young, working crowd come out, and there’s usually live music and free-flowing mulled wine.
Potsdamer Platz is about as centrally located as anything can get in Berlin. The market usually closes around 10pm, although on Christmas Eve it shuts down much earlier, around 4pm.
Visit the Enchanted Schlachtensee Lake (and maybe walk across it)
This idyllic lake is in the heart of a forest in Berlin’s southwest. During summer it’s one of the local’s favourite places to take a quick dip, and there’s also a boardwalk surrounding the water so you can take it in from all angles. Although seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it’s incredibly easy to get to via public transport, with its own S-Bahn station: S Schlachtensee.
Although it might not seem like a great winter destination, if you head here during the colder months you get to see the sparkling, crisp water reflecting the frost and snow that surrounds it.
The scene is reminiscent of a fairy tale, and things only get more mesmerising when it gets colder (especially in late January and February). Around that time the lake freezes over, making it great for ice skating, or even just taking a few tentative steps on. Ice should be around 10cm thick before you step on it, but if you’re in doubt follow the locals and stay close to the edges. However, even if you don’t fancy taking a risk, it’s worth visiting for the views alone.
Stay Warm by Museum Hopping on Museum Island
Sandwiched between the banks of the Spree and in the shadow of Berlin Cathedral lie multiple incredible museums at which you can waste weeks, let alone just a day. The northernmost museum in this little chain is the Bode Museum, which is home to numerous Byzantine artefacts and sculptures. South from there is Pergamonmuseum, which focuses more on antiques and ancient art. This is right next to the Museum of Islamic Art, which is exactly what it says on the tin. The final two museums are the Neues Museum (again focusing on archaeology) and the Museum for Prehistory and Early History, which offers a fascinating look at Germany’s storied natural past.
The Berlin Cathedral is also worth walking through; a stunning, towering structure, it’s as laden with history as any of the actual museums in its vicinity.
Marvel at the Magical Christmas Lights in the Botanical Gardens
No Berlin Christmas would be complete without heading to the Botanical Gardens to see them lit up in all their festive splendour. Known simply as The Christmas Garden, visitors get to stroll through an increasingly beautiful series of light arrangements, all complementing the amazing fauna they’re draped around. Although popular, the walk tends to be quite serene, but it can also be very bright; there are over ten million points of light spread throughout the walk.
Tickets for the Gardens cost EUR 18 (GBP 15.30), and they are open until 10pm, from November 19th until New Year’s Day (bar some public holidays, including Christmas Eve). You get a thirty-minute slot to get in from the time on your ticket, but if you’re a few minutes later than that you’ll usually be okay. With that said, we’d recommend getting there as quickly as you can; once you’re in, you won’t want to leave.
Take a Trabi Tour
If you want your Berlin Christmas trip to cover the city but you hate being out in the cold, then you’re in luck. The famous Trabi tours take you around the eastern part of the city in around 75-90 minutes, showing you all the highlights of the former Soviet quadrant of the German capital. The Trabis themselves are repurposed cars from Communist manufacturers, given delightfully gaudy paintjobs that allow them to stand out against the bleak grey and white of industrial Berlin in winter.
This is a fun and educational attraction regardless of weather, but during a Berlin Winter it’s doubly beneficial as you get to experience the city without having to deal with the biting cold.
There are numerous different tours and vendors available, but our favourite is the Trabi-Safari Berlin Compact tour. At EUR 49 (GBP 41) you get to swing through Karl-Marx Alle, the quarter Kreuzberg, and many others – sites practically drowning in history. A must do for anybody interested in the recent past of this wonderful city.
Have Some Liquid Warmth at a Brewery Tour
Germany is famous for its beer and the capital lives up to the hype. There are loads of different microbreweries and brew-pubs dotted throughout the city, and each one has its own drawer. The Craft Beer Tours tend to be dearer but offer a higher quality (and usually higher strength) of beer, while most others focus on the rich lagers that Germans are famous for producing. All you need to know is that once you’ve had a few, you’ll be feeling a lot better about the cutting winter wind. A definite one to put on the list for any Berlin beer lovers, or anybody who wants a taste of local produce in the most fun way.