13 Chill Things to do in Berlin in Winter

by Silke Elzner

After many, many years abroad this is my first real winter back in Germany. Sure, we have been on vacation in Germany in the past, mostly to visit family for Christmas, but this has only ever been a taste of what it meant to be in Germany in winter. As it turns out, I enjoy Berlin in winter much more than I ever thought possible. Despite the darkness and the cold temperatures. Or maybe even because of the dark and cold weather?

Be it as it may, I am positively surprised how well I cope in Berlin under these extreme conditions. I think the major reason for this is because there are plenty of exciting things to do in Berlin, even in winter. This article shall give you some tips and ideas on how you can visit Berlin in winter and still have a good time. Or maybe you are an expat living in Berlin and are looking for some new ideas to experience the city in winter? Then read on!

This Berlin Santa looks a little bit as if he was potty training. Christmas time makes Berlin a pretty special place to visit, but January and February can be equally exciting.

This Berlin Santa looks a little bit as if he was potty training. Christmas time makes Berlin a pretty special place to visit, but January and February can be equally exciting.

By the way, this article may certainly contain affiliate links to my partners Amazon.com, Tripadvisor and Booking.com. These links have been clearly marked with an asterisk*.

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Face Berlin’s Cold Weather the Best Way Possible

One thing to remember when visiting Berlin in winter that it’s only fun if you don’t freeze to death in the process. You will probably know that Berlin can be pretty cold in particular from December to February with chill winds hitting the squares and alleys all the way from Sibirian Russia. Because of this, I would like to suggest to stock up on some fashionable travel gear before you embark on your trip to the German capital.

Beanie: You cannot expose yourself to a Berlin winter and not wear a warm woolen hat. A beany or hat will protect your ears from the cold winds and won’t be blown off easily by a sudden breeze like a hood would. May I suggest you have a look at the fashionable Lethmik Merino Wool Slouch for girls and boys. Click here for prices and more information*

Ear Muffs: If you are keen to keep your hair-do in order you may prefer ear muffs over a beanie. They can be a great alternative to keep your ears warm in cold temperatures. Check out these cute fleece ear muffs which don’t even require a support but still keep your ears toasty. Click here for prices and more information*

Arm Warmer: The elegant hand and lower arm warmer is made of fake fur and is also known as a muff. A trendy alternative to the more convenentional pair of gloves, perfect for a romantic walk with your partner in a snowy park. Click here for prices and more information*

Kidney Warmer: To keep your waist nice and warm, no matter how strong the winds, have a look at this great Cashmere kidney warmer. It fits neatly in any travel bag. Click here for prices and more information*

Berlin offers a whole range of wonderful Christmas markets to choose from, from traditional markets like the one at Gendarmenmarkt to cool and alternative versions like the one at Holzmarkt.

Berlin offers a whole range of wonderful Christmas markets to choose from, from traditional markets like the one at Gendarmenmarkt to cool and alternative versions like the one at Holzmarkt.

Berlin in Winter: The Best Tips

The following tips are compiled to help you get your Berlin trip in winter organised. I hope that you will find plenty of useful ideas with the following places and attractions. At the end of the article I will also share with you some recommended accommodation options.

Visit one of the many Berlin Christmas Markets

Most cities in Germany will have at least one Christmas market in December, but in Berlin you will find at least two dozen. Besides the traditional Christmas markets with their craft stalls and food stalls there are also changing alternative Christmas markets and speciality markets which may only operate for a limited period of time.

The following classic Christmas markets are among my favourite in Berlin

  • Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt – romantic and with great craft shopping,
  • Christmas market at Alexanderplatz,
  • Christmas market at Charlottenburg castle,
  • Winter world at Potsdamer Platz, and, last but not least,
  • Christmas market in Spandau old town.

Over certain weekends in December or for a limited time only there will also be a handful of alternative Christmas markets which are definitely worth a look. We are in Berlin, after all, where anything can happen. I strongly recommend checking out

  • the alternative Christmas market at Holzmarkt25,
  • the fairytale Christmas market at Grunewald hunting lodge,
  • Lucia Christmas market at Kulturbrauerei,
  • Historical Christmas market at RAW-Gelände,
  • Asian Christmas market at Birgit & Bier, and
  • Weihnachtsrodeo at Kühlhaus.

You will find a complete list with all dates here.

I don’t think I need to point out here that there are plenty of reasons why we Germans love and cherish our Christmas markets so much. It is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of mulled wine (glühwein), a hearty meal, and see the festive decorations all around. Christmas markets are also great to buy Christmas presents for a loved one.

Even though this guy is skating in the "wild" at Rummelsburger Bucht, there are many places around Berlin where you can rent a pair of skates to skate on the ice.

Even though this guy is skating in the “wild” at Rummelsburger Bucht, there are many places around Berlin where you can rent a pair of skates to skate on the ice.

Go Ice Skating

Ice skating is great fun for kids and adults. Once you master standing upright it is hard to not have a good time on the ice. In Berlin, there are plenty of options for ice skating in winter. There are permantent indoor arenas as well as pop-up ice rinks in frequented locations all around the city. Usually, these places will allow you to rent a pair of skates if you happen not to have a pair in your luggage.

The following ice skating locations in Berlin are very popular with the locals:

  • At the Christmas Garden you will find an open-air ice rink which is surrounded by enchanting Christmas light installations. Magical! (Botanischer Garten, Entrance Königin-Luise-Platz, 14195 Berlin)
  • The ice rink at Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz is free to use. Right next to it, the toboggan ramp charges 1.50 Euro.
  • If you prefer ice skating in nature, check out Eisstrand in Friedrichshagen. The 600sqm ice rink is made using frozen water from nearby Lake Müggelsee. There is also a snackbar selling french fries and mulled wine. The ice rink is opened until well into March. (Müggelseedamm 216, 12587 Berlin)

Visit the Three Gifts for Cinderella exhibition at Moritzburg Palace

Even though not located in Berlin, I need to include this winter activity as it is such an iconic thing to do while in Germany. I am, of course, talking about the Three Gifts for Cinderella exhibition at Schloss Moritzburg near Dresden.

This Czech-East German movie production from the 1970s is one of the most popular Christmas movies in Germany, shown in high rotation for a full week over the Christmas holidays. It’s as popular as the Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, or Love Actually. Part of the movie was filmed at Moritzburg Castle near Dresden, and this is where you can go if you would like to the see the original costumes and props. The castle is very pretty to look at too and is surrounded by an amazing Baroque garden which will be so romantic when covered in snow.

Relax in a Spa

When temperatures drop in Berlin there is no better place to be than in a spa. There are quite a few to check out in Berlin, and even more if you can make it to the surrounding countryside. Beware that saunas in Germany are generally clothes-free and may not necessarily be seperated by sex.

  • The Liquidom is located near Potsdamer Platz and resembles a little bit a circus tent. Visitors love the underwater music, and from time to time you may also get to enjoy a DJ set. There are also four saunas to choose from. (Möckernstraße 10, 10963 Berlin)
  • Therme am Europa-Center is another centrally located spa which is convenient to reach. It is located high above the roofs of Berlin and offers a beautiful saltwater pool. If you prefer, you can also book a relaxing massage session.  (Nürnberger Str. 7, 10787 Berlin)
  • If you don’t mind venturing out, have a look at Spreewald Therme in Burg, about two hours outside of Berlin in the beautiful Spreewald area. The water here comes from a depth of 1.300 metres and is used in a number of wellness and health treatments. A sauna, a restaurant and a variety of wellness options ensure that you can easily spend all day at this spa. (Ringchaussee 152, 03096 Burg (Spreewald))
A romantic walk in nature is perfect to stock up on some vitamin D. Perfect of course, if there is fresh snow.

A romantic walk in nature is perfect to stock up on some vitamin D. Perfect of course, if there is fresh snow.

Enjoy a Winter Walk at Sanssouci

Without a doubt, Sanssouci is one of the most romantic places to visit in Berlin and surrounds, in particular in winter. And I am not saying this because this is the place where my husband sort of proposed to me. There are many great things to see in this UNESCO listed park with its many palaces, pavilions, hedgerows and old trees. With the special light that kisses the scenery on a rare sunny winter’s day this place is just magical.

While Sanssouci is not exactly in Berlin but in nearby Potsdam, the trip there couldn’t be easier. Just buy a ticket for transport zones ABC and take the RE train from Central Station to Potsdam Main Station. Some trains will even drop you off at Sanssouci without the need to change trains. More information on how to get to Sanssouci can be found in my article.

If Potsdam is too far for your liking, try Charlottenburg palace instead. The entry to both parks is free.

Get Enchanted at the Christmas Garden

I already mentioned Christmas Garden as a place to do some ice skating, but there is so much more to see here. Unfortunately, the event always finishes in early January, so it is something to consider in the pre-Christmas season rather than later in winter.

At Christmas Garden, a section of the Botanic Gardens park is decorated with colourful light illuminations which you can explore during a relaxing walk after dark (around 4pm, yikes). Afterwards, try a scrumptious cheese fondue at Santa Clause. Make sure you order your tickets in advance as this will save you the time waiting in line at the cashier booth.

This is a great family-friendly activity in Berlin. If you are looking for more things to do with the little ones, have a look at my comprehensive Berlin with kids guide!

Make use of the constant darkness in winter. In particular in the pre-Christmas season you get to enjoy the elaborate Christmas light decorations.

Make use of the constant darkness in winter. In particular in the pre-Christmas season you get to enjoy the elaborate Christmas light decorations.

Enjoy the Elaborate Christmas Lights Everywhere

Thanks to the early sunset in winter, light installations are an important part of the pre-Christmas decorations in Berlin. The city council puts a lot of effort into presenting the city in a romantic light every year. This applies in particular to areas of commerce, for example around Kurfürstendamm oder Potsdamer Platz.

But you are also sure to find some twinkling lights along Unter den Linden, which is a great incentive for a stroll among the grand historic buildings such as the State Opera, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Russian Embassy.

Join a Cruise to see the Illuminated Berlin

Instead of mourning over the early winter sunsets, make the best of it and take part in a romantic river cruise! It’s a great way to see the many Berlin attractions on the riverfont such as the Reichstag, the Bode Museum, and the Berlin Cathedral. I have joined Spree cruises conducted by Reederei Riedel in the past and am happy to recommend their services.

Get your Fill at a Local Food Market

Yum, yum… Who cannot resist the temptations of a proper food market with lots of good stalls? In Berlin, you will find a huge selection of markets to choose from, each one of them with ever changing food vendors. Here you can taste not just hipster stuff like jackfruit burgers with miso mayonaise, but also traditional favourites and exotic dishes from around the world. The best thing about this: Some of these markets are indoors or tugged away in protected courtyards, making them a perfect destination no matter whether rain or shine. The following Berlin food markets must be counted among the best of the city.

  • At Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg you can travel around the world by eating your way through the amazing food stalls. Every Thursday afternoon and night, young chefs, most of them without an own restaurant, show their talents to the hungry crowd. Doors open at 5pm. More info can be found here: Street Food Thursdays. (Eisenbahnstr. 42/42, 10997 Berlin)
  • In the courtyard of the historic Kulturbrauerei brewery food trucks from all around the city come togehter to celebrate meals on wheels. Street Food auf Achse, a food truck festival, happens here pretty much every Sunday all year round (except on Sundays leading up to Christmas). A cosy and shielded location where good vibes are guaranteed. (Schönhauser Allee 36, 10435 Berlin)
  • Lesser known Arminiusmarkthalle in Moabit may not be as hip and trendy as Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg. But this doesn’t mean that it’s not an excellent choice for gourmets and culinary adventurers. From West Africa to Alabama, there is always something new and exciting to discover. Mondays to Saturdays from 12 to 10pm. (Arminiusstr. 2-4, 10551 Berlin)
Hot drinks like tea or coffee taste so much better when temperatures are dropping. No better past-time than sipping a cup of hot chocolate in the warmth of a Berlin cafe.

Hot drinks like tea or coffee taste so much better when temperatures are dropping. No better past-time than sipping a cup of hot chocolate in the warmth of a Berlin cafe.

Warm up With a hot Drink

Nothing beats a nice cup of a warm drink of your choice on a cold and miserable winter”s day. The following cafes and restaurants are perfect to enjoy a relaxing cup of tea, hot chocolate, or coffee.

  • Hot Chocolate: The arguably best hot chocolate in Berlin can be had at Rausch Schokoladenhaus on Gendarmenmarkt. If you want to add some decadence to your order, try one of the beautiful mini cakes. There are several to choose from, for example mini Frankfurter kranz, mini Sacher tart, or mini mango tart. (Charlottenstr. 60, 10117 Berlin)
  • Tea: A huge selection of tea is part of the experience at the Tea Lounge of the high-end Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Patrons can choose among 40 different tea varieties from around the world, carefully selected by a dedicated tea sommelier. For example, you can try a tea that has been infused in lotus leaves overnight.  (Potsdamer Platz 3, 10785 Berlin)
  • Coffee: Good coffee can be found in many places in Berlin. However, let me introduce you to one Berlin cafe in particular: The small Silo Coffee in Friedrichshain is hugely popular with the locals thanks to the freshly brewed coffee creations and the delicious dishes. The place is so popular that you should book a table. Since this is an Australian cafe, try an Aussie favourite, avo on toast, with your coffee. (Gabriel-Max-Str. 4, 10245 Berlin)

Visit a Free Museum

Most of Berlin’s world-famous museums charge entry, in particular if you have a look at the museums and galeries on Museum Island. However, there are also a number of lesser known museums, memorials and art galeries that are free to visit. Surrounded by art and culture, there is no better place to escape the arctic temperatures of a Berlin winter.

  • Urban Nation: This is a street art museum in Schöneberg which is one of my most favourite museums in Berlin. You can see young and upcoming artists who are bound to leave a lasting impact on the art scene. Sometimes a bit naughty, sometimes provocative, this new art is fresh and exciting. Highly recommended! (Click here for A Self-Guided Street Art Tour of Berlin)  (Bülowstr. 7, 10783 Berlin)
  • Berliner Mauer Memorial: This memorial covers a certain section of the former Berlin Wall and is located in Bernauer Strasse. It’s the perfect place to learn more about the history and the impact of the Berlin Wall. The memorial consists of three separate parts: the park in the former death zone, the visitor centre, and the observation platform which overlooks the site. (Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin)
  • Tränenpalast: The Palace of Tears (that’s the literal translation) is the former departure hall of the GDR, the place where families and friends separated by the Berlin Wall would say their farewells. A touching exhibition with lots of useful information on the German-German history. Centrally located right next to Friedchstrasse Station. (Reichstagufer 17, 10117 Berlin)

Click here if you would like to hear about more free things to see in Berlin: Berlin on a Budget!

Hunt for Bargains at KaDeWe

KaDeWe is Germany’s biggest department store. It is fantastic place to visit, no matter whether you intend to spend money or not. I really love dropping by in December though, when the store is decorated with Christmas lights and tinsel. For kids, there is a small Christmas Market on the 4th floor, and a live piano player adds some festivity to the experience. Families can do crafts together or bake cookies, there are magicians present, and a gift wrapping service. The gourmet department is also a great place to visit just before Christmas, but also on any other day of the year. (Tauentzienstr. 21-24, 10789 Berlin)

Discover cool street art and unknown treasures in Berlin by joining a guided tour.

Discover cool street art and unknown treasures in Berlin by joining a guided tour.

Join a Guided Walk and Explore the Capital

There are plenty of guided tours one can join in Berlin. Every single aspect, every story can be explored further with a local guide. Visit Berlin in winter and you will be able to join much smaller city tours, which makes for a more intense and more intimate experience.  Just make sure you dress appropriately so that you won’t freeze to death while listening to the explanations (see my recommendations for Berlin clothes in winter above).

The following guided tours sound very promising and are perfect for winter:

Accommodation Options for Berlin

There are many great places where you can spend the night in Berlin. The following hotels and hostels consistently receive positive reviews by former guests.

Budget:

Cat’s Pajamas Hostel: Cheap hostel in trendy Neukölln, centrally located and clean. Accommodation options range from beds in dorms to private rooms with ensuite bath. Click here for rates and photos..* (Urbanstr. 84, 10967 Berlin)

Generator Hostel Berlin Mitte: Popular hostel in a central location in Mitte. The Museum Island as well as many other well-known Berlin attractions can be easily reached by foot. The common areas are populated with an international crowd and offer a cosy environment in which you can easily relax. Free Wifi. Click here for rates and photos..* (Oranienburger Str. 65, 10117 Berlin)

Medium-Priced:

Vienna House Andel’s Berlin: Four-star hotel just east of the city centre with great views over the rooftops of Berlin. It is also home to a Michelin starred restaurant. In winter, guests will particularly enjoy the warmth and cosiness of the wellness area with eco sauna and whirlpool. Click here for rates and photos..* (Landsberger Allee 106, Lichtenberg)

Titanic Chaussee Berlin: Just ten minutes from Berlin Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and the perfect choice for a stay in Berlin, the Titanic hotel has a big wellness area with indoor pool, perfect for a few relaxing moments after a long day of sightseeing. Thanks to the in-house breakfast cafe and burger restaurant there is no need to step out in the cold if you feel tired during your stay. Click here for rates and photos.* (Chausseestr. 30, 10115 Berlin)

Luxury:

Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof: Located in Mitte, Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof offers a wellness area with heated pool and sauna. The generously sized rooms are equipped with a comfortable bathroom. The buffet breakfast is served until 12pm on Sundays. Click here for rates and photos..* (Budapester Str. 25, 10787 Berlin)

Hotel Adlon Kempinski: World-famous luxury hotel with classic rooms in the best location of the city just opposite the Brandenburg Gate. The restaurant received two Michellin stars. There is also a spa with indoor pool.  Click here for rates and photos..*

Are you looking for more Berlin hotel recommendations? Have a look at the honest guest reviews on the TripAdvisor website where you will also find candid guest photos and rates.*

Now, tell me – Do you know feel adequately prepared for a winter day in Berlin? I hope that you found this article inspiring and useful. As you can see, there is no reason to shun Berlin in winter. If you are looking for even more tips and ideas, try some of the following links below:

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