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Both Madrid and Berlin are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Madrid and Berlin, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Big, bustling, boisterous Berlin. Welcome to the beating heart of modern Germany. A city at once steeped in dark histories and creative culture, it's a place to strut between the ruins of the Berlin Wall seeing subversive graffiti murals, or to sip craft beers within eyeshot of Checkpoint Charlie.
At its best, Berlin should be seen as a patchwork of neighbourhoods with their own unique vibes. There's Mitte, with its must-see landmarks and sights, or Prenzlauer Berg, peppered with pavement cafés and jazz joints. Kreuzberg is a hodgepodge of art squats and Turkic grills, while Rixdorf is rustic, replete with cobbled lanes and leafy parks. And that's just scratching the surface of Berlin.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Berlin is one of those vibrant metropolises that always seems to have something extra up its sleeve. You could easily spend months here and not do everything you want. That's really a result of just how big it is – more than 3.5 million people call it home, and it's the largest city in Germany by a long shot.
That said, a weekend or a three-day break is often ample for a whirlwind tour of the capital's most iconic points of interest. Uber-efficient (no pun intended!) U-Bahn, tram, bus, and train links can help you hop from A to B with ease. But you'll also find that most of the mainstay attractions are close together, woven into the blocks of Mitte, Wedding and hipster East Central.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
It's simple: Spring to summer for Berlin. From May to October, the locals of Berlin seem to come out of hibernation. The street-side cafes of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg get into full swing, with jazz evenings and long lunches fuelled by cold German beer the name of the game. What's more, this is when you'll find the lovely Tiergarten, the Mauer Park, and the Volkspark at their green and vibrant best. Those who prefer cooler days should stick to May and autumn. Those who like daytime highs in the low 30s can come in July and August.
If you prefer exploring European cities with mysterious mists and dustings of snow on the streets, not to mention way fewer tourists around, winter is also a top option. You'll need to wrap up for December, but Berlin will reward with enchanting Christmas markets at the Charlottenburg Palace and on Alexanderplatz.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
If you're a city slicker with a soft spot for cool cafes (aka the coolest in Europe), great coffee, ethnic eateries, and urban vibes, then Berlin is arguably the place you should be for the rest of your life!
This is the epitome of a metropolis made up of individual neighbourhoods. Each has crafted its own unique character; some are hedonistic, others laid back and easy going, others packed with famous landmarks.
Those who want fresh air can escape to the Tiergarten and the beautiful Spreewald, but those are just supporting acts to the buzz of the downtown. It's not the place to be to attune yourself to nature, relax under the sun, or have swims in the sea.
48hours in Berlin
Does the perfect 48 hours in Berlin even exist? With so many museums and vibey neighbourhoods to get through, it's hard to pack the highlights of the German capital into just two days. Still, the Berlin itinerary below gives it a go, offering everything from ancient Greek artefacts to cool pavement drinkeries and more.
Day 1: Morning in Mitte. As its name implies (Mitte = Middle), it's the hub of Berlin. You can settle in for a refined breakfast in the hidden courtyards of the Hackescher Höfe. The area is brimming with independent boutique stores and elegant tearooms. A few steps to the south take you beneath the needle-like Berliner Fernsehturm. A relic of Communist times, it's home to the fastest elevators in the world, while the lookouts at the top have jaw-dropping panoramas of the city (tickets cost €16.50).
A quick people-watching session on bustling Alexanderplatz and then move west to Museum Island. Culture vultures should take their time here. The Pergamonmuseum is a real highlight, with its priceless Assyrian statues and even the blue-tiled gates of Babylon. A pitstop at the nearby German Historical Museum is one for those who want to unravel the tale of the nation, with particular highlights in the collections that chronicle the world wars of the 20th century.
From there, walk down Unter den Linden to encounter the main artery of Mitte. That takes you to the world-famous Brandenburg Gate, which stands next to the glass-domed Reichstag Building. A picnic lunch in the Tiergarten park can be followed by a sobering walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Past that is Checkpoint Charlie – a onetime gateway between East and West Berlin – and then the lively streets of Kreuzberg, with their ramen restaurants, jazz bars, and multicultural kitchens.
The mock gothic Oberbaum Bridge connects the eastern and western sides of Berlin and is prominent icon of the city’s unity.
Day 2: If you're lucky enough to escape a hangover courtesy of the Kreuzberg bars, then an early morning start in the area of Friedrichshain is in order. It's brimming with graffiti-scrawled coffee bars and breakfast joints.
On the south side of the district is the striking East Side Gallery. Once a bland concrete section of the Berlin Wall, it's now an artist's homage to the fall of the great divider in 1989. From there, go north to the green lawns of Volkspark Friedrichshain. Chilled and leafy, it's actually the oldest public garden in the capital. And it's got monuments to the Spanish Civil War next to volleyball courts and picnic tables.
Hugging that is the enchanting area of Prenzlauer Berg. This is the perfect place to end your 48 hours. It's not bursting with sights and attractions, but it's got a classic Berliner neighbourhood vibe. If you're unsure where to begin, check out Kulturbrauerei – an all-in-one complex of cinemas, theatres, clubs and beer halls.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
Getting around Berlin is a cinch. The capital has a super-efficient and well-linked public network of trams, trains and underground lines. You can purchase tickets at any S-Bahn or U-Bahn station, or at any establishment with a BVG sign. Daily and weekly passes for all public transportation are also available with slight reductions. A new smartphone app allows digital purchasing of tickets (search: FahrInfo Plus). All other tickets must be validated before use.
Violence of any sort in the capital is rare and police can be relied upon. Still, have your wits about you, especially if travelling through Berlin's lesser-known or rougher areas, like the ones bordering Kreuzberg, or the nightlife hubs of Alexanderplatz and Friedrichshain.
When it comes to searching for a hotel, there's a hard choice to be made. There are oodles of neighbourhoods here that are worthy of attention. It's really up to you to decide what you want. Generally speaking: Sightseers can't go wrong in Mitte, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are perfect for bar hoppers and foodies, and Neukölln offers something more local.