For all its reputation as the capital of cool, Berlin makes a fabulous family destination. Berliners are generally tolerant of children, public transport is easy, cheap and fast, and the city brims with parks, playgrounds and lakes. Queues for the main attractions are usually shorter than in many other cities thanks to Berlin’s relatively small population (3.6 million) and impressive wealth of cultural delights, and it’s usually possible to beat the queues for big sights like the Reichstag and the TV Tower by simply booking online.
Kids won’t want to be dragged round endless rooms of Renaissance portraiture and Greek sculpture at museums such as the Gemäldegalerie or the Bode Museum, but many other big-hitters are geared to families. My eight-year-old son is a fan of the Naturkundemuseum (€8, family ticket €15), and not only for its original skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex and the preserved remains of Knut the polar bear; those who understand German can take a torchlight tour between October and February. He would also very much recommend the sprawling 25,000-square-metre Deutsches Technisches Museum (€4, family ticket from €9), especially the planes suspended from the ceiling, large collection of locomotives and sailing boats and displays spanning computers, radios and cameras. There’s also a large park with windmills and a watermill, and daily demonstrations, activities and guided thematic tours.
Don’t want to expose the kids to the more emotionally wrenching second world war memorials or cold war sites? Check the Anne Frank Museum (€5, families €12), an accessible place for kids to learn about the holocaust, as is as the highly interactive DDR museum (from €8.50 adult, €4.50 child), which my son also loves for its wealth of buttons to press, drawers to open and the Trabant that you can sit in and virtually drive.
For something more niche, try the Computerspiele Museum (€9, child €6, family €21) on historic Karl-Marx-Allee. The first museum in the world dedicated to computer games, it has around 300 objects to browse, including interactive exhibits, reconstructions of 1980s arcade games and even some splashy multimedia art. For younger kids, the adorably offbeat Puppet Theatre Museum (from €4 adult, €3 child) in Neukölln has annually changing exhibitions that include glove puppets, marionettes and cartoon characters from far-flung corners of the globe, as well as guided tours, performances, workshops and lectures (in German).
If you can’t be bothered to plan, head to Prenzlauer Berg, a child-friendly district with shops, kindercafes (see below) and the excellent MACHmit! Museum (€5.50, under-3s €3,50), a creative and educational space inside a converted church that has regular exhibitions, play areas and creative activities and workshops.
Where are all the other kids?
Berliners tend to take full advantage of their city’s generous sprinkling of lakes, parks and woodlands. I often take my son to Tiergarten, the most famous and central park, for a picnic, a bike ride or a stroll; visit the child-friendly beer garden and restaurant at Cáfe am Neuen See, and row a boat around the cafe’s lake. The vast Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport that’s now a recreational space popular with rollerbladers, cyclists and kite-flyers, is another favourite, as is the large Grunewald forest in the south-west of the city. This has the advantage of being close to Wannsee beach and lido (the largest in the city), as well as the charming Pfaueninsel, or Peacock Island, where peacocks do indeed roam free around the kitsch 17th-century castle and various historic and art installations.
While West Berlin’s Zoo and Aquarium and its eastern counterpart Tierpark are frequented by locals, they can be expensive and busy. Try instead one of the city’s Kinderbauernhöfe. These urban farmyards for children are smaller, cheaper and more hands-on, where kids can stroke and feed domestic animals and join in workshops and activities. The Kinderbauernhof auf dem Görlitzer in Kreuzberg’s Görlitzer Park or Pankow’s Pinke Panke – both central and within or next to parks and playgrounds – are two of our favourites.
Many cafes and restaurants offer the usual basic children’s menus (chicken nuggets, fries) or can make smaller portions. A few places, namely kindercafes, are especially geared to families – with dedicated play areas for babies and younger kids. In warmer weather, the city’s beer gardens are mostly family-friendly too. All have simple snacks (sausages, meatballs, pasta), some even have playgrounds, and in the case of Kreuzberg’s Brachvogel there’s mini-golf and a decent Sunday brunch (€9.90 adult, €5 child). A trendier choice is the Markthalle 9, which runs celebrated events such as the weekly Street Food Thursday, a monthly Breakfast Market with options ranging from eggs benedict to Vietnamese porridge (€4-10), and occasional sweet markets that are free for kids.
One of the best areas for families is Prenzlauer Berg; local letting agency Oh-Berlin has a good selection of attractive properties here (and in other areas), including this two-bedroom flat (above) sleeping six close to Friedrichshain park from €400 for two nights. Brilliant Apartments has a selection of places – some of which sleep six from €135 a night – that are close to the Mauerpark (flea market on Sundays), numerous cafes and restaurants, and the Berlin Wall memorial. Mitte is also a very convenient area; try Miniloft, which offers free stays for kids under two, a 10% discount on second apartments and amenities for children (high chairs, pushchairs, baby bedding and activity packs).
Check expat blog berlinforallthefamily.com, the Family sections of Tip and Zitty, and look out for free copies of Himbeer magazine around town.
Paul Sullivan is the editor of Slow Travel Berlin