Top 5 Christmas Markets in Europe

christmas markets

Trying to not sound like an X Factor contestant, Christmas hasn’t really been the same since my Dad left a couple of years ago and he seemed to take the magic with him as it just wasn’t the same any more and living in a house share that’s barely decorated it doesn’t even feel like Christmas in the December run up. Whilst we now celebrate with a crazy day at my aunt and uncles I still feel a bit bah humbug as everyone starts to get excited which is eased by the awesome Christmas markets that are held in London and small towns from the middle of November. I would LOVE to visit a Christmas market abroad, especially since falling in love with Berlin a couple of weeks ago but unfortunately my funds and ability to tolerate nob heads on budget airlines has seen me staying put for the time being but I’ve put this awesome list together for those who fancy a romantic weekend away, a shopping trip or a treat for their kids to really get in the Christmas spirit!

1 – London, England

winter wonderlandAs someone who mentally flies the Union Jack at every available opportunity (I’m proud to be British, don’t shoot me) and was born and bred on the mean streets of South London how could I not mention my beloved home town? Situated in the picturesque Hyde Park, just a short stroll from London’s famous shopping strip Oxford Street Winter Wonderland draws in thousands of excited visitors year after year with it’s vast Christmas market, array of bars, eateries and fun fair including a huge big wheel that gives spectacular views over the park lit up in all its glory. Visitors can book in to skate on the glittering ice rink or explore the Magical Ice Kingdom or simply enjoy the magic from a carousel bar that slowly turns (maybe not a good idea after too many mulled wines…) and for a real Christmas treat there’s the Zippos Christmas Circus which is performed in the biggest circus tent in London! It really is a magical place, I return year after year just to see the excitement on everyone’s face and shove my own in a bag of freshly fried churros dripping in chocolate fudge sauce. Yum. A word of warning though it’s quite expensive, expect to pay around £5-8 per ride and food/drinks are quite overpriced as you would imagine. The market itself is full of unique and quirky gifts and the usual London themed tat so if you have friends from overseas there’ll be plenty on offer to keep everyone happy. A great day/night out for all ages and in the heart of London to boot you’ll be mad not to pay a visit, even if you do have to take out a mortgage to buy a hot dog the Instagram likes will be well worth it.

2 – Hamburg, Germany

hamburg christmas marketThe place where it all began! I fell in love with Berlin a few weeks ago and was seriously debating on going back to explore a traditional Christmas market it all its glory but unfortunately funds won’t allow but if I was to go back, Hamburg would definitely be on my radar. Hamburg’s historic Christmas market is bursting at the seams with hand-crafted gifts and goodies from the Erzgebirge region and the bakers from Aachen will have your mouth watering over their delicious cookies and gingerbread creations. Hamburg town hall creates an enchanting, fairytale backdrop (especially in the snow) as old-fashioned carousels whirl with excited children and the occasional pissed adult still clutching a mug of GlühweinNot only does Hamburg have such an electric Christmas market there’s also the romantic Alster lake boat tour and for all you culture vultures there’s an array of Christmas exhibitions and of course the spectacular Christmas parade every Saturday during the run up to the big day. A must for little ones is the chance to see Santa doing his thing as he rallies his reindeer to fly above the market every day at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm telling the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. If you’re looking to tie in some last minute shopping with your trip Hamburg is home to elegant boutiques, department stores and shopping malls so take an extra suitcase and your credit card as everything is decorated like a Christmas wonderland and you won’t be able to stop yourself from buying that Swarovski encrusted angel… Germany of course is famous for its beer and bratwurst which are cheap, flavourful and available on every corner so don’t leave without sampling the local wares!

3 – Vienna, Austria

vienna christmas marketThe pretty squares of Vienna transform into a Christmas fairytale as the smells and sights from the beautiful bakeries create a wonderful, warming atmosphere that kids and adults alike will love. In the run up to Christmas the Rathausplatz becomes a shimmering wonderland as 150 or so stalls set up shop shop selling gifts, decorations and sweet treats that are festively decorated and bring the excitement of Christmas alive. Although I’ve never been I know that Austria is fairly expensive when it comes to basics like food and drink so Vienna is maybe not the best bet if you’re on a budget but the scenery is absolutely amazing and probably the largest market around. The trees in the surrounding City Hall pall are festively decorated to really bring the true spirit of Christmas to Vienna making it a top choice if you’re looking to explore somewhere a bit different. You also have the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz which is conveniently situated between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum which are well worth checking out on your trip. The romantic Christmas Village is full of handmade gifts and crafts and is a popular spot for locals to watch Winter games such as ‘ice stock sport’, a game similar to curling. A popular choice for kids is the winter market on Riesenradplatz that stocks the usual plethora of gifts and decorations but also a funfair, children’s activities and musical live acts and shows to keep them entertained.

4 – Prague, Czech Republic

prague christmas marketsI’m lucky enough to have been to Prague many times as my company has an office out there and every time I go I fall a little more in love with it. Everywhere you look there is beauty, not just in the architecture and parks but in the people too, the Czech’s are absolutely stunning and all look like they’ve just stepped off a photo shoot (as a city known for its huge porn industry it’s probably quite likely a lot of the beautiful girls have just stepped off a photo shoot…) so there’s that. Although the Winter months can be bitterly cold the breathtaking views from the Charles Bridge are what Christmas cards are made of as snowflakes delicately whisper around the historical statues that line the famous structure and are just a stone’s throw from the 2 main squares where the all the Christmas market action is happening. The markets take on the traditional wooden hut theme and are packed to the rafters with glassware, jewellery, metalware, ceramics, scented candles and a vast array of Christmas decorations and food. The Christmas markets in Prague have so much more to offer than just gifts as you can see and smell Czech’s most traditional food and drink made and prepared right in front of you from spit-roasted pork to delicately sugared pastries which fill the air with the spirit of Christmas. To accompany all the wonderful food on offer you must sample the famous Czech beer Pilsner Urquell or a mug of spiced mulled wine to warm you up after a hard day of sightseeing and alcohol is pretty cheap with local beer coming in at around 60p a pint just outside of the main tourist spots. For children, the market in the Old Town Square also has an animal stable where kids can pet goats, donkeys and sheep as well as explore a large Bethlehem scene housed in a wooden stable. Wenceslas Square is home to the huge Christmas tree which is beautifully decorated and makes for stunning pictures with the gothic architecture of Prague city centre as a backdrop making the atmosphere simply magical.

5 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt eröffnetThe adult playground of Europe, Amsterdam is so much more than just soft drugs and prostitutes but of course they’re there in abundance if that’s your thing and I’ve explored the city many times and had a bloody good time! There’s a certain magic about Amsterdam that I can’t quite put my finger on, and no it’s not just after visiting one of their delightful coffee shops but as soon as you make your way out of the train station you just get this feeling that there’s a lot of fun to be had. I’ve visited Amsterdam during the Christmas period and the seedy underbelly of the red light district and coffee shops are pushed to one side as the huge Christmas tree in the city centre brings a real touch of magic to a city with a reputation for such debauchery. Leidsestraat is home to various Christmas markets and stalls throughout the Winter months and they also have an ice rink which is open until late January so if you can’t escape until after the festive period you’ll still be able to grab a slice of Christmas magic. A little further out is the Christmas at Castle Keukenhof event which is one of the largest Christmas market events in the Netherlands and is the perfect choice for families as kids will be spoilt for choice with all the various entertainment and shows going on. Amsterdam also has the bonus of being a very short flight from the UK so the perfect choice if flying with kids who get a bit restless whilst flying, flights with budget airlines tend to be pretty cheap too.

The scent of Autumn is here

 

cat leaves autumn…and it’s not the fresh, crisp air that ruins your fresh blow-dry but the deliciously gourmand Red Musk by The Body Shop. Can you believe White Musk has been around since 1981? I absolutely adore The Body Shop’s fragrances and as a teenager I fondly remember generously coating myself in fruity body sprays and musky perfume oils until I smelt like a brothel. Beautiful. Whilst I’m not so keen on the sickly sweet fruity body mists (I don’t know why you’d want to smell like a mango tbh) their core EDT’s and EDP’s such as the Japanese Cherry Blossom, White Musk and Neroli Jasmine etc. are cheap, easy to wear and have real lasting power. Not interesting enough to wear on a night out or to an event but for everyday wear they’re absolutely perfect and I often receive compliments as they’re so light and inoffensive they cater to almost every nose.

Red Musk is brand new fragrance concept from The Body Shop as it’s the first scent they’ve released which contains zero floral notes, a husky base of tobacco makes this scent intriguing and slightly masculine whilst still being soft and pretty. From the first spray it’s deliciously addictive and I couldn’t help but inviting my partner to sniff me (I’m such a romantic) as it delicately teased my senses throughout the evening.

the body shop red musk

 

Comparable to Herme’s Eau des Merveilles with it’s deep, smoky, leathery base this is something completely different to any of the musk lines The Body Shop has released before and the perfect addition to your fragrance wardrobe as we descend into Autumn/Winter. Whilst my nose didn’t detect the tobacco note (so don’t worry about smelling like an old cigarette butt, ain’t nobody got time), even in the dry down there’s definitely something there that you can’t quite put your finger on but keeps your nose interested. The smoky tobacco is offset by the sweet cinnamon heart note which playfully ripples through the dry down in short bursts bringing a different dimension to the scent, almost as if you’re wearing 2 different fragrances entirely. The musk note IS there, almost as if you’ve layered a traditional white musk with your partners favourite leather-based aftershave, that’s the best way I can describe it but once you smell Red Musk you’ll know exactly what I mean! The top note is a delicate pepper which cuts through the sweetness of the cinnamon adding extra depth but unfortunately this seems to disappear quite quickly, so you’ll find whilst the dry down is gorgeous and extremely long lasting you’ll be reaching for another spray just to catch that burst of peppery goodness.

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

Not a scent for those who like sweet, sugary scents this is definitely one for evening wear and as it’s so different I feel it will have a real Marmite effect, such as the cult classic (which I also LOVE) Thierry Mugler’s Angel causing a real love-it-or-hate-it reaction. Crafted by fragrance expert Corinne Cachen the inspiration behind the sexy, scarlet bottle was Almovodar’s High Heels as he is known for his movies about women and often uses fusions of red to display their sensual femininity which works so well with this slightly masculine, provocative fragrance.

Available in-store and online from the 4th November priced at £20 for the 60ml EDP, £30 for the 100 EDP and £16 for the 30ml alcohol-free perfume oil (fabulous on a clean flannel placed on a radiator to scent a room!)

LED Teeth Whitening at Harley Street Allure Clinic.

A perfect smile is something that can make or break your entire appearance, how often have you seen a celebrity with crooked, missing, or yellow teeth? Never! One of the first things they fix on the road to stardom is your smile as it plays such a key part in how you look, remember Cheryl Cole-Verslingo-Ferdangdang before she became the ‘nations sweetheart’?

cheryl-cole-teeth-590x350

Not quite so perfect!

That show stopping smile is the result of expensive veneers but then I guess she’s worth it as are many members of the public who have undergone cosmetic dentistry for teeth fit to grace a magazine cover. For a full mouth makeover using veneers can you expect to pay at least £5k in most London private dentists and as the procedure is (rightly) classed as cosmetic there’s no way of getting help on the NHS. Coupled with the fact it’s an uncomfortable, lengthy process of having your teeth shaven in order for them to fit like a false nail, I knew veneers just wouldn’t be an option for me.

Whilst my teeth aren’t that bad, they’re not what I see when I flick through magazines or even read beauty blogs that are written by women that are just like me but here’s the kicker, I’m absolutely TERRIFIED of the dentist. I knew I couldn’t endure the painful process or expense of veneers but I knew I had to do something to give myself a little more confidence so I did a quick bit of research and found booked a routine check-up and session with a hygienist. Luckily, my dentist at Perfect Smile is lovely and after informing her I’m a ‘nervous patient’ she took the time to explain in detail what she was doing and if it was going to cause me any pain and if it did hurt, to raise my hand and she would stop so I could take a breather. After my treatment in which everything was fine I told her how I wasn’t happy with my teeth and after taking some pictures, x-rays and a detailed back history she informed me of what was on offer for me to improve my smile without resorting to veneers. She was actually quite against me having veneers as my teeth are pretty healthy, I’m just unhappy with the 2 gaps I have between my front two teeth (central incisor) and the teeth next to them (lateral incisor) and was always told when my wisdom teeth came through they would push these teeth together thus closing the gap. After inspecting my mouth, my dentist informed me I was one of the lucky ones who probably wouldn’t get wisdom teeth as by the grand ol’ age of 27 they should have at least started to come through by now. I know people who have been through hell and back with the pain of wisdom teeth but I bloody wanted mine!

jennifer lawrenceMy dentist recommended a totally painless composite filling to cover the gaps, and having had one before on an upper canine (through brushing my teeth too much!) I know that they are completely painless and involve no drilling, digging, shaving or pain so felt completely confident in booking myself in. A composite filling can be used to plug teeth that have holes/cracks through decay in the traditional use of a filling but as they are tooth coloured they can also be used in cosmetic treatments, as a sort of filler to make teeth appear healthier or in my case, to close a slight gap. As the composite filling is made to match the exact shade of my teeth my dentist advised me to get them whitened beforehand as this was also a concern of mine, years of drinking red wine and falling into bed too drunk to brush my teeth (don’t act like you haven’t done it) have taken their toll and my teeth aren’t as white as they used to be. I gave up red wine a year or so ago and am a slave to whitening toothpaste but apparently whitening toothpaste doesn’t actually make any difference, in face it can damage your teeth by gradually eroding the enamel.

Laser-Teeth-Whitening

She recommended LED teeth whitening as it’s quick, painless and can take your teeth up to 10 shades lighter in just one session which seemed perfect for me. The process is quite straight forward, you simply wear a gum tray filled with accelerator gel and kick back and relax whilst the LED light is beamed onto your teeth in two 20 minute bursts. After some extensive research on where to have the procedure (my dentist does offer LED whitening but it’s a lot more expensive than the deals I found…) I finally settled on the Harley Street Allure Clinic in Central London as it boasted a heavy discount of 70% and the reviews were glowing! I booked through Wahanda and I trust their reviews heavily, I know they’re written by real people (with the help of a £5 voucher – I’ve contributed a few myself) and being on the well-known Harley Street and so easy to get to it was a no brainer and I swiftly booked my appointment, the 60 minute LED Laser Teeth Whitening for £99. My transaction was smooth and fuss-free as usual and within half an hour my appointment had been confirmed by the clinic by email and I was all set to go.

The clinic is very easy to find, just a short walk from Oxford Circus station, across Cavendish Square and it’s on the corner of Harley Street, you’re given direct instructions in the confirmation email as each building tends to house several clinics and it can get a bit confusing for first time clients. I buzzed the door as instructed and was promptly shown in by a bubbly dental nurse decked out in the usual scrubs, I filled out a short consent form and was then sat in the treatment chair. When I think of Harley Street clinics I think of a fancy, non-clinical homely space with a vase of imported lillies in the corner, a silk chez lounge to perch on and some abstract art adorning the walls but sadly Harley Street Allure is more drab than glam which was a little disappointing but seemed clean and professional so that’s good enough for me! I was briefed roughly on the procedure although if it’s your first time I recommend you do some homework just so you know what’s involved as it’s not advised to have LED whitening if your teeth are damaged, broken or you have any cavities. The procedure can actually make these complaints worse and I can’t imagine the pain if it hits a nerve!

The dental nurse was lovely, I felt very comfortable with her which I think really makes a difference with something like this especially being someone who usually can’t stomach the sight of anything dentist related. After getting the OK from my consent form she then gave me a cotton bud that had been dipped in vitamin e oil to rub on my gums as apparently this can prevent them from becoming sensitive and although the website says you’re invited to brush your teeth beforehand, this wasn’t offered to me. I really wish I had brushed my teeth as around an hour beforehand I had drank a beetroot juice drink, rookie error! I also think it could be worth visiting a hygienist too just to make sure your teeth are in the best possible condition they can be in for maximum effect. The nurse then measured the whiteness of my teeth in their current state so we could compare results at the end and we were good to go. After wiping my gums I then had a bib wrapped around my neck and I was asked to put on red tinted glasses, the nurse filled a mouth guard with accelerator gel and I popped this in my mouth (pulling my lips over the edge, so attractive) and laid back as the LED light was then positioned in front of my mouth. The nurse made sure I was comfortable and then left me to relax, The Hulk was on TV and it actually felt quite relaxing to just lie there and close my eyes, I had read I might feel some discomfort or sensitivity but I felt nothing but the gum guard as I layed there. It did get slightly uncomfortable after the 10 minute mark as your saliva starts to mix with the gel and you can’t swallow, not that you would want to swallow what was now in your mouth (don’t be filthy) but it did take a little adjusting with my tongue to make the guard comfortable again.

As the LED laser started to beep indicating the 25 minutes was almost up my nurse was by my side in an instant to remove the laser and help me take the guard out without covering the whole of London in a slimy saliva filled mess. She gave me a paper towel and I pulled the gum guard out (it was exactly as gross as you imagine it to be) and I rinsed with a cup of water before we repeated the process again. I didn’t feel any sensitivity during the whole procedure, my only complaint is the gum guard can get slightly uncomfortable but the nurse is in the room the whole time so if you do find it to be unbearable I’m pretty sure they would be happy to assist you although taking a break might not give the same effect as completing the procedure as intended.

me smile 2After the second round was done and I was all cleaned up we did another comparison with the tooth chart and I was delighted to discover my teeth were now 4-5 shades lighter and they looked great! I was told how to care for them for the next 24 hours as apparently even after the procedure is finished the lightening is still working it’s magic and you can only eat white food and nothing that can stain such as tea, coffee, red wine, sugary drinks etc. and I was also advised to buy a sensitive toothpaste. It’s been just over a week and my teeth look amazing, I’ve not suffered any sensitivity and I would 100% recommend the treatment to anyone who’s tried every whitening toothpaste under the sun and it looking for something that really works. I struggled a little with the aftercare and ate a Pad Thai instead of something neutral coloured (oops… I was hungry and a plate of plain pasta just wasn’t going to cut it) but I don’t think it made a difference as my teeth still look awesome and I’m sure to rinse my mouth with water if I eat or drink anything that’s heavily coloured or loaded with sugar, just to prevent them from becoming stained again. Now that my teeth are whiter I can book my composite fillings with my dentist and hopefully I’ll finally be happy with my smile!

10 you must know before getting a tattoo.

I think it’s pretty fair to say I’m somewhat of an expert at getting a tattoo, at last count I have a full sleeve, my right bicep, both of my feet, my right calf, my left thigh, my hand and finger, the top of my back and my chest tattooed. All of my tattoo’s tell a story, some are deeply personal and some are just fun or dedicated to those I love or lost and I adore ALL of them and have zero regrets. All of them were designed by myself with the help of my chosen artist and a lot of thought and care went into choosing the final design but I know this isn’t the case for a lot of people and I’ve seen a massive boom in laser tattoo removal treatments over recent years, with my local tattoo studio even specialising in the treatment themselves. Thinking of getting your first tattoo or adding to your collection?

getting a tattoo

1 – RESEARCH YOUR ARTIST(S)! – Every artist has their own signature style and speciality so it’s worth putting the hours in to find someone who can bring your idea to life with the same vision as you and who will also enjoy doing it, there’s nothing worse than asking a bio-mechanical artist to draw a girly butterfly on your foot. A lot of the time a studio will house a few artists with different specialities so if you approach your chosen artist and he thinks his colleague will do a better job, he’ll hand you over. Always trust artists with this, they know their strengths and weaknesses and take incredible pride in their work but if they think another artist can do a better job they won’t let their ego get in the way of you getting the best tattoo possible.

2 – Think about your future prospects. Will a tattoo stop you from getting your dream job or further in your career? I would strongly advise to avoid areas that can be still be seen whilst wearing a long sleeved shirt and trousers such as the neck and hands unless you’re in a creative industry where such things won’t be too much of an issue. Whilst more and more companies and society as a whole is becoming more accepting of body art there’s still a huge stigma about tattoos in the workplace so think wisely before you get that huge black scorpion on your neck.

tattoo

3 – Be prepared to cough up – It’s common knowledge that in this day and age you get what you pay for so if Billy Bones is offering to do your full back piece for £50 I can guarantee you it’s going to be shit and you’re going to hate and regret it. An artist will give you either a quote for the full tattoo or if it’s a large piece, they will charge you by the hour. This obviously varies but if something sounds too good to be true, it is. A good artist is worth every penny when you see the final result, and remember a tattoo is for life… DO NOT BE CHEAP WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR TATTOOS.

4 – If something’s wrong, say so. An artist usually draws up the final design a day or so before your due to be tattooed and in the past I’ve been emailed the design to see what I think or if there’s something I feel needs to be changed and we can adjust it accordingly. It’s YOUR tattoo, on YOUR body and if you don’t like the way something looks, the colour of something or you think something could be done differently please speak up! Your artist will be more than happy to work with you on making any changes because once it’s there, it’s there for life and ultimately your artist wants you to be happy with what he/she has done.

5 – Mentally and physically prepare the day/night before you’re due to get tattooed. Get an early night, don’t go out partying so you’re tired and hungover because sitting in that chair whilst you’re sleepy and irritable is extremely frustrating and painful. Make sure you’ve eaten before your sitting, you’re going to be there for quite a while and you want your body to be in peak condition. DO NOT come in drunk, you’ll stink, your senses will be heightened and it won’t be fun for anyone involved plus alcohol makes your blood thinner so it’ll be pissing out everywhere. I stupidly got very drunk at a convention whilst I had a huge piece tattooed on my calf and let me tell you now I will never drink before/during a tattoo ever again. It seemed to go on forever, it hurt like a bitch and I constantly needed to go to the toilet and let’s not forget the sweating… I never knew my ass could sweat like that.

6 – THEY HURT. A LOT. Anyone who says getting a tattoo doesn’t hurt is lying to look like a hard bastard. Yes, some people have a higher pain threshold than others but even so it’s very uncomfortable having a needle jammed into your skin for hours on end, this diagram gives a rough idea of areas of the body that feel the most pain but of course it’s different for everyone. I personally found all my tattoos reasonably easy to handle, the only place I really struggled with was the inside of my bicep, I was sweating from every pore of my body and it felt like I was being burnt alive. You can buy numbing creams from eBay and other online retailers but they only work AFTER the skin has been broken and in my experience have only lasted 20 minutes or so. If you’re having a particularly sensitive area tattooed then maybe consider it just to help you soldier through but otherwise they’re not worth the expense, and everyone in the tattoo shop will think you’re a giant pussy.

tattoo discomfort

7 – Aftercare is very, very important and can affect your tattoo greatly. Don’t plan to go on a sun-drenched holiday just after getting a tattoo as the sun can disrupt the design and fade the ink quite dramatically if it’s exposed to intense sun a couple of days/weeks after being done and even so, ALWAYS cover up your tattoos or wear factor 50 to keep them vibrant and looking good for years to come. Also, don’t forget to moisturise daily and if an area needs touching up don’t be scared of contacting your artist to fill in an area that didn’t quite heal right, they’ll be more than happy to do this as long as you’re looking after them properly. There’s many ointments on the market for applying to fresh tattoos but I’ve always used Bepanthen and it’s worked like a charm, easy to get hold of and it’s fairly cheap. I also like to use the unscented Palmer’s Cocoa Butter for when my tattoo is almost fully healed but still peeling as the nappy rash cream can be a bit heavy.

8 – Don’t bring every Tom, Dick and Mohammad to the studio with you. Whilst it’s cool taking selfies in a tattoo studio and having your pals there for a bit of moral support you must remember it’s a place of work and your artist needs to be able to concentrate without any distractions.

9 – Bring your artist some food! Every time I’ve gone for a tattoo I’ve popped into a shop beforehand and picked up a bag of sweets or chocolate and a drink for my artist. They need to keep their stamina and energy levels up too and if they’re working on you for a number of hours it’s only fair that they’re going to need a little something to keep them going. It’s a really nice gesture and makes it less awkward when you can’t take no more and have to bitch out and take a quick 10 minute break, you and your artist can have a drink and discuss what’s next.

doughnuts

10 – TIP YOUR ARTIST! – Yes the tattoos cost a lot but think about the costs your artist has to pay out, working from a shop they usually have to either rent the chair or give the owner a cut which is usually 40-50% and then there’s the cost of their ink, gun, needles and other parts of their kit. An extra £20 or so means a lot, especially if your artist has gone above and beyond your expectations.

The ultimate tourist guide to Berlin.

To say I fell in love with Berlin would be a huge understatement, I was infatuated with the art that seemed to decorate every building and not just random graffiti scrawled on a disused office or shop that was only fit for being destroyed, major shopping centres and bustling skyscrapers had incredible art work from floor to ceiling, a particular favourite of mine was a huge image of a monkey with ‘monkey say, monkey do’ written underneath it on a fancy office block I spotted on my way back to the airport. I was going too quickly on the train to snap it myself and I’ve scoured the internet left, right and centre but with no luck! Hopefully I’ll be going back soon for the Christmas markets and I’ll make it my mission to find it but I think out of all the awesome, awesome street art I saw that monkey was the one that truly made an impact. As a huge art, history and culture vulture I knew Berlin was going to blow my mind and luckily my colleague is from the grand city itself so she thoughtfully drew up this AMAZING itinerary for me which came in extremely useful. We purchased the Berlin Welcome Card as advised but we bought the wrong one! Our one was for transport and discounts, NOT free entry into the museums and the person who served us wouldn’t refund or change it for us so we were stuck with it so if you do purchase a Welcome Card make sure you get the right one!

I was only there for 2 days and we managed to do pretty much everything on the list although I was pretty sick (I got struck down with a cold the day I flew out, gah) and as drinking wasn’t on the agenda we didn’t hit up any of the bars. The highlights of the trip for me was definitely the cathedral and all the little markets by the canal, sitting on a deck chair there with a German beer in the sunshine watching the world go by was beautiful. I really liked the socialist museum and the Jewish museum was a real eye opener, everything we ate was really good and fairly cheap, the currywurst sausages are available on pretty much every corner and there’s a huge Turkish community so if kebabs are your thing you’ll be spoilt for choice! The little flurry of shops and restaurants by the Anne Frank museum was probably one of my favourite places to just walk around and admire the street art that adorned every wall, everything seemed to tell a story and the talent of these artists is just incredible. The weather was amazing when we were there and I would strongly advise taking an open top bus tour, especially if the sun is shining and you’re only there for a few days as you get to see a lot more than you would on foot in just under 2 hours. The bus is really good value for money, it’s around 10 euro with the Welcome Card and you can hop on and off as you please, we viewed a lot of the big attractions (including the hotel that Michael Jackson dangled his out of, out guide was really excited to tell us this LOL) and we got the best view of the holocaust memorial as well as the TV tower and it’s interesting hearing a guide telling you a bit of background history as and when you go past.

The public transport system is fantastic, with the Welcome Card all your journeys are included, you simply stamp your ticket before you make your first trip on a train, tram or bus and away you go. There’s no serious security like here in London, they seem to trust people to pay unlike over here… The trains run every few minutes, they’re clean, comfortable and it’s very easy to navigate your way around the city although we did use Google maps a lot of the time to direct us exactly where to go.

If art and history are you thing, you MUST visit Berlin.

Berlin anne frank museum

Museums/Galleries

Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

A unique ensemble of five museums in Berlin’s Spree River, UNESCO World Heritage site

Walk from S Hackescher Markt or S Friedrichstraße

Pergamonmuseum Three museums in one (Collection of Classical Antiquities, Museum of the Ancient Near East, Museum of Islamic Art), the best one on Museum Island Am Kupfergraben 510178 Berlindaily 10-18, Thu 10-20
Bodemuseum Baroque Museum, art from the middle ages to the 18th century Monbijoustr. 310117 BerlinTue-Sun 10-18, Thu 10-22
Alte Nationalgalerie 19th century painting (Monet, Renoir etc.) Bodestr. 310178 BerlinTue-Sun 10-18, Thu 10-22
Neues Museum Egyptian Museum, Papyrus Collection, Museum of Pre- and Early History and Classical Antiquities (this museum displays the bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti!!!!!) Bodestr. 310178 BerlinMo – Wed 10 – 18,Thur 10 – 20Fr – Su 10 bis 18 h Uhr
Altes Museum Berlin’s oldest museum, Classical Antiquities collection, Greek and Roman holdings Am Lustgarten 110178 BerlinTue-Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thu 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Other museums/galleries:

Anne Frank Zentrum Safe house for persecuted Jews, Anne Frank’s Diary (German-born Jewish girl who wrote a diary while hiding with her family) Rosenthaler Straße 3910178 BerlinS Hackescher Markt (S5, S7, S75)Tue – Sun 10-185,- Euro, red. 3 Euro,
DDR Museum 40 years of GDR, how life was in socialism Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 110178 BerlinMon – Sun 10-20, Sat 10-22S Hackescher Markt (S5, S7, S75)7 Euro, red. 4 Euro
Checkpoint Charlie Chronicle of the Cold War Years, escape attempts made by GDR citizens to reach  the West Friedrichstr. 4310969 BerlinMon-Sun 9-2212,50 Euro, red. 6,50 Euro (you don’t have to go into the museum, just seeing the checkpoint from the outside is enough)U Kochstr./Checkpoint Charlie(U6)
Jewish Museum Berlin Two millennia of German-Jewish- history (impressive architecture!) Lindenstr. 910969 BerlinDaily 10 am – 8 pm; Mondays 10 am – 10 pm8 Euro, red. 3 Euro.U Hallesches Tor

Free Stuff:

East Side Gallery 1,3 km-long painted stretch of the former Berlin wall Mühlenstraße (near Oberbaumbrücke)10243  BerlinU Schlesisches TorU1U Ostbahnhof
Holocaust Memorial Memorial honouring and remembering up to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust (walk along the pathways into a claustrophobic maze!) Walk from S+U Potsdamer Platz, S Brandenburger Tor or U Mohrenstraße

Sightseeing tip:

You can easily see Berlin’s most important sights in one go.

Start your tour at U+S Alexanderplatz, where you can find the TV Tower (Berlin’s highest construction), the World Time Clock and the Fountain of Friendship amongst people.

Walk all the way down Karl-Liebknecht-Straße and you’ll pass The Neptune Fountain (Berlin’s most famous fountain), Berlin’s Red City Hall (home to the Berlin government and mayor) and Nikolaiviertel (Berlin’s oldest district).

Keep walking along Karl-Liebknecht-Straße and you’ll walk past the beautiful Spree river, on to Schlossplatz street and the Museum Island all the way down to the Brandenburg Gate (and the German Parliament is nearby too).

Just walk straight ahead from Alexanderplatz( first Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, then Schloßplatz, then Unter den Linden)

From Brandenburg Gate you can walk down to Potsdamer Platz (one of the most famous squares in the centre of Berlin) and pass the Holocaust Memorial. Another famous landmark is the Sony Center, also at Potsdamer Platz.

You can also discover Berlin by bus. The number 100 bus route is an ideal way to make your own sightseeing tour. Hop on the bus at Alexanderplatz and it will take you along Karl-Liebknecht-Straße towards the Brandenburg Gate. You’ll pass the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), Schloßplatz and Museum Island. Get off at “Unter den Linden” and enjoy the view of the Brandenburg Gate (really impressive at night!). And then walk to the Reichstag (German parliament).

Hop on the same bus at the “Reichstag/Bundestag” bus stop and travel past Bellevue Palace (residence of the President of Germany) towards the Victory Column (Siegessäule, monument to celebrate Germany’s victory over France in the Franco-Prussian war). The bus also takes you to Kurfürstendamm with the Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Ku’Damm (that’s how “Berliners” call Kurfürstendamm) is Berlin’s most famous shopping street (a bit like Oxford Street). The most prestigious department store “KaDeWE” is also on Ku’damm. The bus route 100 ends at Zoo (Berlin Zoologischer Garten).

Berlin transport:

Berlin has three fare zones: A, B and C. You can get tickets for AB or ABC. Most attractions are located in zone A and B, so I would recommend getting a ticket that allows unlimited travelling. Think about getting a Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island ABC (ABC since Berlin Schönefeld Airport is located in zone C), which includes unlimited travelling on public transport services for 72 hrs. This card also gives you free entry to the museums of the Museum Island. Also, you’ll get at least 25% and up to 50% discount for more than 200 tourist and cultural attractions. You can buy the Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island ABC at Schönefeld Airport (and you’ll get a free map and handy guide with the ticket). The ticket costs 40.50 Euros (about 31 pound).

Useful websites:

http://www.berlin.de/en/

http://www.berlin-welcomecard.de/en

http://www.exberliner.com/

Bars near your location (we stayed in Mitte)

Aufsturz Over 100 beers
Oranienburger Straße 6710117 Berlin

12-2 am

S Oranienburger Str.

S1 S2 S25

U Oranienburger Tor

U6

X-Terrain Bar Great little cellar bar (and the last authentic one on Oranienburger Straße) Oranienburger Str. 40
10117 BerlinS Oranienburger Str.S1 S2 S25U Oranienburger TorU6
Brauhaus Mitte Good cheap German beer Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 13S Hackescher MarktS5 S7 S75S+U Alexanderplatz Bhf
Wohnzimmer German for ‘living room’ (and this is exactly how it looks like) Lettestraße 6, 10437 Berlin,9 -4 amU Eberswalder Straße
Prater Garten Berlin’s oldes beer garden Kastanienallee 7-9,U Eberswalder Straße
Bar 3 Hipster arts bar Weydingerstrasse 20 (backstreet of Torstraße)U2 Rosa Luxemburg Platz
Le croco bleu Stylish cocktail bar Prenzlauer Allee 242U Senefelderplatz
Konnopkes Imbiss Berlin’s best currywurst Schönhauser Allee 42U Eberswalder STraße