"Go on a Trabi Safari - a trip in a real Trabant car"

The festive season is an ideal time to visit Berlin, with its winning triumvirate of culture, shopping and dining - not to mention the spicy glühwein at the German capital's sprawling Christmas markets. So where should you head first?

Travel back in time

Berlin is big on nostalgia these days - first came the film, Goodbye Lenin, then a series of Cold War-themed shops. The latest craze, and the best way to start your day in Ostalgie-crazy Berlin, is a Trabi Safari - a trip in an authentic East German Trabant car.

The tour eventually deposits you outside the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the original Berlin Wall. The famous image of the former East German political leader, Erich Honecker, passionately embracing Russian President Leonid Brezhnev remains the ultimate photo opportunity.

Staying around the city's ever-evolving eastern districts, stroll over to the DDR Museum, which documents everyday life in the East.

There are plenty of quirky exhibits, such as recordings of top pop tunes from the day. More sobering is the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, where the tragic tale of the 200 people who lost their lives attempting to flee across the Berlin Wall is recounted.

Finally, head for the 368m high Television Tower (Fernsehturm) on Alexanderplatz. Berlin's tallest building, the tower was once a symbol of the Communist state but, today, it's packed with tourists sipping cappuccinos in the viewing area on the top-floor revolving café. It's the perfect place to survey the city and plan your next move over a coffee.

A big night out

The Mitte district has evolved rapidly from a shabby-chic eastern suburb to become the epicentre of Berlin's cool nightlife. Milagro on Bergmannstrasse has been transformed from squat bar to chic eatery. For Michelin-starred food, Vau, the domain of chef Kolja Kleeberg, is minimalist, innovative and very cool - reservations are essential if you want to bag a table.

For a flavour of Berlin's cabaret age of Art Deco glamour and Marlene Dietrich torch songs, Clärchens Ballhaus has a huge programme of events and is sure to attract a multi-generational crowd.

A cultural morning

Start Sunday with a strong coffee at one of the excellent local cafés, then walk in the footsteps of world leaders. The Brandenburg Gate, the traditional gateway from East to West Berlin, has played host to President Obama among others. After marvelling at the huge columns, styled on the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens, head over to the Reichstag Building. Sir Norman Foster designed the modernist German Parliament, with its glistening glass dome, and the building symbolises the new, reunified Berlin. It also boasts the best view in the city - but arrive early to beat the queues.

Alternatively, embrace cultural Berlin with a visit to Museum Island, a collection of museums on the River Spree, of which the Neues Museum, with its collection of Egyptian and classical pieces, is the latest addition.

Finally, time to stock up on souvenirs before heading home. And the best place to start hunting is the Kurfürstendamm, the shopping landmark of West Berlin. This year the Ku'Damm (as locals call it) celebrates 125 years with a street exhibition to celebrate the anniversary. Otherwise, the plethora of Christmas markets across the city is a fertile hunting ground for last-minute gifts. The traditional Winterfeldtplatz market in the Schöneberg district runs from 27 November to 18 December this year, but also worth a look are the Winter World at Potsdamer Platz (from 29 October to 1 January) and The Berlin Environmental and Christmas Market in Sophienstrasse (from 26 November to 18 December).

Plan your trip

Up to 180 trains run to and from Manchester Airport every day, and the station is located within the terminal itself so it couldn't be easier to get away. Alternatively, take the train to Liverpool South Parkway where a regular shuttle bus will whisk you to Liverpool John Lennon Airport in no time.

You can fly to Berlin from both Manchester and Liverpool with easyJet, and if you book your train tickets in advance you can save over 50 per cent, and print them off at home ahead of your journey. So, what are you waiting for?

Visit now

Trabi Safari: trabi-safari.de

East Side Gallery: eastsidegallery-berlin.com

DDR Museum: ddr-museum.de

Museum Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie: mauermuseum.de

Berlin TV Tower: berlinerfernsehturm.de

Vau: vau-berlin.de

Clärchens Ballhaus: ballhaus.de

Reichstag Building: bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/index.jsp

Berlin Tourism: visitberlin.de/en

Places to stay

Located just behind Ostbahnhof in the city's rapidly changing Friedrichshain district, this Cold War-themed hostel offers budget travellers a glimpse of life before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Think retro-kitsch fittings and low-frills service.
Info: ostel.eu

Propeller Island City Lodge
As Berlin's most eccentric hotel, the 31 art-inspired rooms at Propeller Island range from an upside-down boudoir to a dwarf 'mini-me' suite, and are hand-crafted by the quirky artist and musician Lars Stroschen.
Info: propeller-island.de

Hotel Q!
Chic but still affordable, this striking design hotel is ideally located, just off the Ku'Damm. Try the lounge bar for the Q! signature cocktail and the Q! spa for its Finnish sauna and an indoor 'beach' with heated sand.
Info: loock-hotels.com/hotelq


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