Thursday, 13 December 2018

A festive weekend in Berlin

In December 2017 I went to my first Christmas Market abroad and I was blown away by the festive attention to detail. After we left Munich, I remember saying to Stuart that I’d like this to be our yearly tradition now and here we are a year later, feeling very Christmassy after a weekend at the Berlin Christmas Markets.

Flying to Berlin from London Stansted Airport on the 30th November 2018


We flew to Berlin on Friday 30th November and arrived at our hotel (Hotel Gat Checkpoint Charlie) in the late afternoon. The hotel was literally 2 minutes walk from the famous German landmark and Friedrichstraße: one of the most well-known roads in Berlin. We  dropped our bags in the room and headed straight out to the Reichstag, where we had a reservation for the Dome in the early evening. On route to the Reichstag we spotted our first Christmas Market of the trip: the Friedrichstraße Christmas Market. It was a little market right outside the vast Berlin train station and it was attracting crowds of people for bratwurst, spiced fries and cookies. We purchased some of the fries as a quick snack before continuing onto the Reichstag for our reservation.

Nativity Scene at Friedrichstraße Station Christmas Market, Berlin

It was pouring with rain and very dark when we took the lift up to the Reichstag so the views weren’t fantastic, but it was still great to go up the top of the historical German building. We could see the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market from the dome which was pretty exciting as that’s where we were headed for the evening.

Rain on the windows of the Reichstag Dome, Berlin

By the time we reached Potsdamer Platz the rain was tipping it down, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves. There was a fantastic stall selling bread and pastry snacks, so I picked up a pretzel from there for dinner. The lady even heated the pretzel up for me, making it the perfect snack for a cold and wet evening. Stuart purchased his first Bratwurst of the trip at this particular market and with our tummies full, we continued on down the road to the best section of the market - the craft stalls! There was a stall dedicated to wooden Christmas decorations and I picked up a little star decoration featuring the Brandenburg Gate, which is now placed on our Christmas tree. When we couldn’t take the rain anymore, we sheltered in a shopping arcade for a little while, before heading back to the hotel to dry off and get an early night.

Cookies at the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market in Berlin


The following day was dedicated to museums and more markets. We had breakfast at a bakery near Checkpoint Charlie and then headed to the Topography of Terror Museum for opening. Reading all of the horrific stories from wartime made me incredibly sad so we didn’t stay too long, but it was an important museum to visit whilst we were in Berlin.

Outside the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin

The museum was walking distance from Potsdamer Platz, so we headed there afterwards to see this market again during the day. It was a lot nicer walking around the market without the heavy rain! Once we’d seen it all again, we set off on foot for the Museum Island, via the spectacular Brandenburg Gate.

It was about 1pm when we reached the city’s Museum quarter so we stopped for some lunch at Alexanderplatz before continuing our history tour of Berlin. Neither of us had been to the DDR Museum and after seeing it featured on Channel 4’s Travel Man, we knew we had to visit. The museum was fascinating as you were able to walk inside a recreated East German flat and see what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. The interactive elements of the exhibition made it one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. If you’re in Berlin anytime soon, make sure you visit!

Outside the DDR Museum in Berlin

During the late afternoon we headed to Alexanderplatz Christmas Market, where I got to have a Wintery hot chocolate in a souvenir glass. Alexanderplatz was so busy and much bigger than the other markets that we’d visited, but the atmosphere was incredible!

Hot Chocolate at the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market in Berlin

Our last stop of the day was the Gendarmenmarkt: aka the postcard-worthy Christmas Market. It was about 20 minutes walk from Alexanderplatz and on the way back to our hotel, so we’d planned our walking route for the day well. We joined a queue at the Gendarmenmarkt but we were quickly able to get inside and soak up the festive atmosphere. There were carol singers and dancers performing on a stage, as well as food, drink and gift stalls. I enjoyed walking through all of the gift tents and drinking a non-alcoholic festive fruit punch.

Drinking a non-alcoholic festive fruit punch at the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market in Berlin

After spending an hour or so at the market, we headed back to Checkpoint Charlie. Visiting the Christmas Market at the Gendarmenmarkt was such a perfect way to end the day!

Christmas lights near Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin


On Sunday morning it was time to fly home and it was quite a struggle finding space for our Christmas Market souvenirs in the hand luggage case. Nonetheless we made room and we left for the airport with lots of festive goodies to take home!

What a wonderful Christmassy weekend in Berlin. The city really is a dream during December.

Have you ever been to Berlin? What did you get up to?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Saturday, 8 December 2018

Christmas Markets to visit in Berlin

Berlin has many Christmas Markets and it’s nearly impossible to see them all in one weekend. On the 30th of November we headed to the German capital for a festive weekend and during the 48 hours that we were in Berlin, we managed to tick off 4 of the markets. Both Stuart and I thought that this was an ample amount of markets to visit in one weekend, leaving us enough time to also visit some museums and the spectacular Reichstag Dome during the daytime whilst we were in Berlin. In today’s post I’m going to summarise the different markets that we visited and share what makes each of them unique. That way, you should hopefully at least be able to tell which of the markets would be right for you and plan your Christmas Market trip accordingly.

Food stall at the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market in Berlin


Ferris wheel at the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market in Berlin

Let’s start with the big one which is next door to the Museums on Museum Island. Alexanderplatz provides a huge open space for a market and in contrast to the other markets that I’m going to talk about, there is room for much more stalls, a ferris wheel and an ice rink. There are food, drink and gift stalls and groups of people gather around high tables, drinking ‘glühwein’ and eating bratwurst. We visited the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market when the sun started to go down and even at 3-4pm in the afternoon on a Saturday, the market was packed. A top tip for Alexanderplatz would be to visit earlier in the day as I can imagine that the crowds would quickly become unbearable later on.


Friedrichstrasse Station Christmas Market during the late afternoon, Berlin

Far smaller in comparison, we stumbled across the Friedrichstrasse Station Christmas Market as we were walking to the Reichstag. The Market has cosy undercover seating, filled with long benches where you can sit, enjoy your food and shelter from the cold (or rain) on a Wintery night. There are gift stalls, a musician playing a traditional German instrument and a large Nativity scene. It’s not as lively a market as Alexanderplatz, but if you’re near Friedrichstrasse, you should definitely stop by for a traditional German snack.


The Christmas Market at the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin

The Christmas Market at the Gendarmenmarkt is my favourite market in Berlin. It’s located near Stadmitte U-Bahn station and a queue forms down the street when the market is open, as the market is a ticketed event and it gets very busy! In the evening dancers and carol singers perform on the stage, whilst guests are shopping and eating to their heart’s content. Wherever you turn at the Gendarmenmarkt you will smell festive favourites such as glühwein (mulled wine) and hot chocolate, and if you choose to purchase one of these drinks it will be served to you in a souvenir mug which you can take home. Mine has the year and the name of the Christmas Market on it, making it the perfect keepsake from our time at the Gendarmenmarkt.

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market at night, Berlin

Outside the Potsdamer Platz train station, you will find a sprawling Christmas Market that surrounds the entrances of some of the skyscrapers in the square. Full of charm during the day and at night, the market at Potsdamer Platz is popular because of it’s central location and proximity to the city’s shopping malls. There is a toboggan run at the market so it’s not just an area for food and shopping; you can take part in some Winter activities too! Out of all of the markets that I’ve mentioned, Potsdamer Platz was definitely the most open market as the stalls were positioned on the walkways leading out of the square and not in one enclosed area.

Each of the markets that I have discussed in today’s post are easily accessible from central Berlin by foot or train. There are many Christmas Markets across the city and I have only mentioned a handful of them, but it’s important to not cram your weekend too much so I’d suggest visiting 5 at most during your time in Berlin. Make sure you plan your time carefully and arrange your trip so that you get to visit the markets and also see some of Berlin’s history too. Berlin is a fantastic city that becomes so festive during December.

Have you ever been to Berlin? Did you visit the Christmas Markets?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 6 December 2018

Cruising down the Danube in Budapest

When I think of Budapest, the Danube is the first thing that comes to mind. The river is the core of the city as it runs through the two sides of the Hungarian capital and it's covered in spectacular bridges that locals are exceptionally proud of. Boats sail up and down it daily, carrying Budapest tourists who want to see the city from the river and tourists travelling from further afield on international cruises. We boarded one of these boats on the Saturday night of our trip and joined a Legenda evening sightseeing cruise: an hour cruise on the Danube, taking in all of Budapest's spectacular sights. With it being October, it was almost pitch black outside when the cruise started at 7:30pm and the banks of the Danube came alive with lights as soon as we departed the boat dock.

Nighttime view of the Parliament Building from our boat on the Danube, Budapest

Dock 7 was the starting point for the cruise and it was a 10 minute walk from Vigadó Square in the center of Pest. The tour followed a loop, heading South of the boat dock to begin with and then going back up to the Parliament building and Fisherman's Bastion towards the end of the tour. This route meant that we could see the prestigious sights at the very end of the tour when the sky was completely black; the contrast with the lit up buildings was spectacular!

Legenda Cruises boat dock, Budapest

Whilst we were on the boat, we listened to an audioguide all about Budapest and the banks of Danube. We were also served a complimentary drink which made the evening river adventure feel even more luxurious. For a fee you can actually have dinner on one of the evening cruises, but it was a bit out of our price range this trip.

The Chain Bridge and river at night, Budapest

The cruise seats are very comfortable and there are plenty of them indoors. On our evening cruise we didn't get cold once and that was lovely considering we were visiting the city in Autumn.

After an hour we were back at Dock 7, ready to disembark and enjoy an evening stroll back through Pest. We vowed to come back at some point when we have more money and upgrade to the evening dinner cruise.

Have you ever been to Budapest? Did you go on a Danube River Cruise?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 29 November 2018

Must-do experiences in Budapest

In early October we went to the Hungarian capital for a long weekend of sightseeing. It wasn’t my first time in the city as I’d previously visited when I went interrailing in 2016, but it was a chance to take Stuart to Hungary and show him the city on the Danube that I always rave about. It was an action-packed 2 days full of sightseeing and strolls along the banks of the Danube and I tried to cram in lots of Budapest ‘must-dos’ into the short time we had there (lessened by airport delays on the Saturday morning). This ultimately leads me onto the theme of today’s post: my short list of must-dos for a city break in Budapest.

Parliament Building, Budapest

Go up to the top of the St Stephen’s Basilica.

Kat Last looking out at the rooftops of Budapest from the St Stephen's Basilica observation deck

For 300-600 forint (£1-2), you can take the lift up to the top of St Stephen’s Basilica for tremendous views of the Budapest skyline. You get to see the Parliament building on the edge of the Pest side and highlights of Buda in the far distance, as well as look down at the cafe and restaurant street culture in the squares beneath the Basilica. It’s the best value attraction in Budapest in my opinion and a great place to get photos of the city from above; just remember that it closes early so you won’t be able to get a nighttime view from the Basilica observation deck.

Take a river cruise down the Danube.

The boat dock for Legenda Cruises on the Danube, Budapest

The Danube river is the heart and soul of Budapest. The river divides the city geographically into Buda and Pest and hosts some of the city’s major historical buildings on its banks. To really experience the city and get fantastic views of both sides, I recommend booking a spot on a Danube river cruise. You will see so much in your time slot whilst sipping on a complimentary beverage and listening to Budapest city history on your audio guide headset.

Walk along Fisherman’s Bastion.

Fisherman's Bastion in Autumn, Budapest

One of the architectural wonders of Budapest, Fisherman’s Bastion should be top of your sightseeing list. You can take a walk up the hill on the Buda side to reach it or catch the funicular and be at the top of the hill in seconds, before continuing up the path through Buda old town to the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. The Bastion architecture is absolutely fascinating so make sure you put some time aside to wander around it and properly explore. The arches are probably some of the most photographed in Budapest as they look out onto the Danube and the bridges below.

Try rose-shaped ice cream near the Basilica.

Gelarto Rosa's rose-shaped ice cream in front of the St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

If you like having unique food experiences, stop in at Gelarto Rosa near the Basilica for rose-shaped ice cream. These ice creams are so clever that they’re basically an art form in themselves and almost everyone that visits the shop leaves with their phone or camera in hand so that they can get that perfect photo before their ice cream melts. The ice creams look too good to eat, but trust me they taste delicious and should be a food priority for your time in Budapest.

Take in views of the city at the Citadel site.

Views of Budapest from the Citadel site

I recommend getting a bus to this location as it’s quite high up on the Buda side, but head to the Citadel site to see the Liberty Statue which overlooks the entire city. There are food stalls and a craft market on the grounds of the Citadel so you don’t have to rush back down the hill if you want to see the statue and then make the most of the incredible views over the city. It is the highest point in Budapest and visiting the Citadel gives you a real sense of perspective of where everything is and how the city is laid out.

This list is only a starting point for visiting Budapest. I have tried to pick a mixture of historic, tourist attraction and food recommendations seeing as all of these things are important to me when we travel. If you visit Budapest anytime soon, make sure you dedicate some time for the Danube and looking at the city from both sides of the river. Budapest is a Central European metropolis which should be high up on your city break bucket list. There is just so much culture and history in the city!

Have you been to Budapest? What are your must-dos for any trip?

Thanks for reading my blog today.