San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in the world with an endless amount of things to do. This city seems to have it all — lovely beaches, a thriving city center and a lot of history. It’s sunny all year, and you can surf, play beach volleyball, or just enjoy the sunshine during almost every season. On top of all the natural beauty, San Diego also offers a variety of cultural activities and family-friendly things to do.

San Diego is a city with something for everyone. San Diego has things to do for people interested in history, architecture, wildlife, and more. A vacation in San Diego can mean many things to different people, whether you’re looking for a city escape or a beach vacation.

1. Visit Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Image by Peter Thomas from Pixabay

San Diego’s Old Town is the historic center where the first settlement in San Diego was developed. Spanish missionaries established the Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769. San Diego became a city long before California became part of America, and the old town still has a lot of Spanish influences in its restaurants, shops, and architecture.

Many original buildings from the early days are still standing, and the city even relocated additional historic buildings here to preserve the look and feel of Old San Diego. One of the best ways to see Old Town is by taking the Hop-on Hop-off trolley. There are more than 100 points of interest and the narrated tour is the perfect way to take it all in.

Nowadays, visiting the old town is a fun thing to do in San Diego as it is full of specialty shops, museums, and restaurants. Old Town is well known as the perfect place to celebrate traditional Mexican holidays. If your vacation in San Diego takes place during Dia de Los Muertos or Cinco de Mayo, you should head to the old city.

It would be a great idea to check the events calendar for San Diego’s old town to check whether there are any festive things to do during your trip.

2. Spend a delightful and educational day in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is less like a Zoo, and more like an outdoor animal preserve. This is unlike any zoo that you might have seen before. Animals live outdoors, grouped together depending on their natural habitats in the wild. The Safari Park also includes predators like tigers and lions, although their enclosures are separate from other animals for quite obvious reasons!

In order to explore the Park, visitors can take different types of safari by car. However, it is possible to even zip line over the animal habitats. Imagine seeing these majestic animals from a bird’s eye view!

One of the most unique things to do at San Diego’s Wildlife Safari Park is to spend the night at the grounds. Doing so allows you to go on safari trips to see the animals after the day’s crowds go home. You can even spend the night in tents just outside the animal enclosures of the antelope, giraffes, rhinos, and much more.

One of the reasons we love the Safari Park is that the ultimate goal of the Safari Park is species conservation. One of the proudest achievements of the Safari Park was its role in renewing California’s critically endangered Condor population. In 1987, there were only 22 Condors found in the wild. Thanks to the breeding program, the San Diego Safari park introduced 191 Condors into the wild, and there are now 369 Condors found in the California wilderness.

3. Spend a Day Exploring Balboa Park

Balboa Park in San Diego

Photo by Zachary Sawchuk from Pexels

Balboa Park is the largest city park in North America, larger in fact than Central Park in New York. Most buildings in Balboa Park were built in 1915 for the Panama-California World’s Fair. The city later added more to the Park in 1935.

Balboa Park boasts an impressive botanical garden with many tropical plants. It’s an excellent opportunity to see a diverse array of plants in one place. Other popular destinations for visitors are the outdoor cactus garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Locals enjoy roaming throughout the historic buildings of the Spanish colonial era. Walking in Balboa Park is like walking in a completely different country! You can also find seventeen museums in Balboa Park.

Take a look at the Balboa Park events calendar to find fun things to do in San Diego. There are regular events and art exhibitions in public, like symphony concerts and free concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Balboa Park even has a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, where you can see live performances year-round.

4. Visit the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

Image by Curtis Yancey from Pixabay

Not to be confused with the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo was initially built as part of the California Exhibition in Balboa Park. It is the most visited zoo in America, with over 4 million visitors a year.

Visiting the San Diego Zoo is one of the best things to do in San Diego because it is the largest zoo in North America. It is home to over 3,500 animals from 650 unique species. The zoo pioneered the concept of natural enclosures, in which cageless barriers such as moats keep animals safe in their habitats. The zoo is also unique in how its efforts to recreate the habitats like they would be seen in the wild.

Its claim to fame is that it is one of the only zoos with a breeding program for giant pandas. At the heart of the zoo’s mission is its dedication to conservation and a focus on protecting endangered species. The zoo invests considerable time and money in conservation endeavors in 45 countries around the world. In fact, they have returned more than 44 species to the wild, including the endangered California condor. Don’t forget to get your skip the line tickets ahead of time online.

5. Board the USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum offers visitors the opportunity to board a retired aircraft carrier in San Diego Embarcadero. This ship was built shortly after World War II and was the largest aircraft carrier in the world until 1955. The vessel was used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm during the 1990s.

The museum now houses military aviation vehicles and other exhibitions. Visitors can see what life was like for an airforce soldier. You can visit bedrooms, engine rooms, control rooms and more.

Guests love the interactive displays at the USS Midway Museum, including a flight simulator. It is even possible to climb aboard some of the airplanes on display at the museum.

6. Stroll along the Embarcadero

Embarcadero means “landing place” in Spanish, which is why it is San Diego’s main port. The largest cruise ships arrive at the port in San Diego Embarcadero.

Not merely a harbor, the Embarcadero is an area along the water where visitors can see San Diego’s historic boats and museums dedicated to maritime history. The area also includes a public park with shopping, a fountain, and a sprawling waterfront lawn. If you’d like to see the Embarcardero from a different angle, a very popular thing to do is to take a Harbor Cruise at sunset. We have found great discount on fun activities on the on Tiqets website, like their 1-hour Harbor Cruise and Sea Lion Adventure.

Be sure to check out the events at Embarcadero during your vacation to find out about things to do in San Diego. The district hosts a food and wine festival, symphony concerts, and a Big Bay Boom celebration on The Fourth of July. The most famous festival held at Embarcadero is the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge and Art Expo.

7. Explore the Caves of La Jolla

La Jolla Caves in San Diego

Image by jpjenn26 from Pixabay

Unlike the sandy beaches in southern San Diego, the north coast consists of rocky cliffs, rocky shores, and numerous caves. La Jolla Caves is one of the more unique things to do on this part of the San Diego coast. Located near La Jolla Bay, most of the caves are only accessible from the water.

One of the fun things to do in San Diego is to take a guided kayak tour into the largest of the seven La Jolla Caves, the Clam Cave. Or, take a footpath to the only cave reachable by foot, the  Sunny Jim Gate. There are 145 steps, but the views at the end are worth it!

8. Get acquainted with the island lifestyle of Coronado Beach

Hotel Coronado in San Diego

Image by nathanhill0070 from Pixabay

Coronado Beach is located on Coronado Island near San Diego Bay. To get there, you must drive over the Coronado Bridge, which rises 200 feet above the Bay. Another fun way to get to Coronado is to use a Coronado ferry or a water taxi directly from the city center.

You will soon see that Coronado Island is like a mini-community in San Diego. The main street, Orange Avenue, is full of quirky shops. Don’t miss the Hotel del Coronado, a chic hotel that offers a beautiful setting at sunset. Fans of beer will enjoy visiting Coronado Brewing Company, an award-winning craft brewery on the west coast.

9. Breathtaking views at Cabrillo National Monument

A historical thing to do in San Diego is to visit the Cabrillo National Monument. The memorial is where the first Europeans encountered the west coast of America. Named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed here in 1542. If you’re visiting San Diego in October, you can even witness a reenactment of the historical events.

You can also visit the old army camps and the lighthouse, which has been in place since 1855. Even if you’re not drawn to the historical significance, the area is well worth a visit to take in San Diego’s gorgeous coastline.

Top things to do in San Diego

This amazing country has so much to offer and you will not be able to see all of India in just 2 weeks. However, this is a great introduction to the best of India, especially if this is your first trip.

To sum up, one has to experience both the northern state of Rajasthan, home to iconic royal palaces, as well as the southern state of Kerala, the hub of the Indian spice route with the wellness and jungle ecosystem you’ve been dreaming of. And no trip to India would be complete with seeing the Taj Mahal. You’ve surely seen pictures of this impressive structure from every possible angle, but there’s a good chance you too will fall under its spell when you see it in person and walk around the grounds.

First, a word about transportation in India

When backpacking your India route, driving is best left to the locals. The traffic is seemingly chaotic but there is actually a method to the madness, which takes expertise only earned by years of navigating the streets. We can’t stress it enough – do not even think about renting a car.

Hiring a driver

One option that we found well worth the time vs. cost tradeoff was hiring local drivers– it’s a great way to save on time, is a welcome escape from the chaotic streets, and is affordable. For multiple days with the same driver, the average rate is about $50 dollars a day which includes everything– gas, tolls, accommodation and meals for your driver, and of course their salary. Otherwise, many people use Uber for drives up to 2 hours. For the below itinerary, we would recommend having a dedicated driver for your first few days in the North until you fly to Udaipur, and then later booking as-needed in Kerala using Uber or Ola. For longer drives (3-4 hours) you can book ahead with Ola or goibibo.

Flights

Most domestic flights will be between 20-60 dollars and take an hour or two. Especially for journeys that would take 6+ hours overland, the flights are worth it. Air India is the major provider and has a mixed reputation. They are notorious for delays and unfriendly service, but their safety record is world-class and they serve some of the best Indian food you’ll have on your trip!

Backpacking in India Route via Train

You can’t talk about India without mentioning the iconic experience of train travel– if you want to experience this, it is best suited for a 3-4 hour journey between large cities. Trains travel about 50 km/hour, which means you won’t be faster than a car. If you are determined to travel by train in India, you may have to add a day or two onto the below itinerary.

Accommodation

India has the full spectrum of accommodation, from hostels, to guesthouses, to 5-star hotels. It’s worth researching ahead of time and reading recent reviews from other travellers. Be careful about going purely based on star ratings because some hostels and even hotels pay for fake reviews. Luckily, these are fairly easy to spot. We always had luck finding a great place to stay on booking.com, which allows you to filter by ratings, budget, and amenities.

Backpacking in India Route Week 1 – Northern India

Sites: Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur

Day 1 – Arrival and travel to Agra

If you’re flying internationally to India, it’s best to fly into New Delhi for this itinerary. The 22 million inhabitants of the country’s capital might say otherwise, but we actually recommend heading directly to Agra, site of the world-famous Taj Mahal. It’s about 3 hours away by car.

Sleep Agra

Day 2 – Taj Mahal, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri

Start your day early and visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. There are fewer tourists and the soft light of sunrise looks absolutely amazing on the Taj. The ticket booth opens at 5 am and you’ll receive a free water bottle and shoe coverings to use later in certain parts of the Taj.

Take your time, enjoy wandering around the surrounding gardens where you’ll be sure to spot a few monkeys and parrots. The ‘backyard’ of the Taj looks out over the river Ganges and is in itself breathtaking.

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

After the Taj, head to the Agra Fort. This was the longtime residence of Emperor Akbar and is an impressive example of Mughal architecture.

It’s time to leave Agra and head west. About an hour outside of Agra, visit Fatehpur Sikri, known as the abandoned city. This was the original residence of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, but was later abandoned due to the lack of a natural water source, which made the palace unliveable. We recommend getting a guide here to help explain the abandoned structures. The original tactics used for air-conditioning will amaze you.

Fatehpur Sikri Agra India

Fatehpur Sikri Agra India

Hit the road or the rails to Jaipur, it will be about a 3-hour journey by car or a 6-hour journey by train. Arrive Jaipur by nightfall and get a good night’s sleep.

Side note: If you somehow have daylight to spare, you can make a stop at the Chand Bawri Step Well in Abhaneri on your drive between Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur. It’s open daily from 8:30am-6pm.

Sleep Jaipur

Day 3 – Jaipur

Jaipur has so much to offer. All of the buildings were painted a sandstone pink in preparation for the Prince of Wales’ visit back in 1876, and the residents have kept the tradition. You can do everything in India’s Pink City in one day especially if you have a driver. Of course, you can spend a couple of days in Jaipur and have a more relaxed itinerary.

Morning

  • Amber Fort – start your day here because it will get hot later. This impressive palace is located up on a hill and many of the original features are still in excellent shape. You’ll see many offers for elephant rides and Elephant Villages happening here, but please don’t support this controversial industry.
Amber Fort Jaipur India

Amber Fort Jaipur India

  • Jal Mahal (Water Palace) – on your way back to old Jaipur, stop by Man Sagar Lake to see the Water Palace. It isn’t open to visitors, but the palace that seemingly floats on the water is an amazing sight to behold.

Afternoon

  • Hawa Mahal (Air Palace) – The rest of your day will be spent walking around old Jaipur which is the heart of the Pink City. You should start at the Hawa Mahal. The facade was originally built so that the queens and ladies of the court could watch the street festivals without being seen by ordinary citizens. Open daily from 9am-5pm.
Hawa Mahal Jaipur India

Hawa Mahal Jaipur India

  • City Palace – gorgeous Mughal architecture and a lavish royal palace.

Evening

  • Wander the Jaipur Markets – spend the rest of your afternoon and evening just wandering the alleyways and streets of Jaipur. There are districts for different goods like flowers, spices, shoes, jewellery, and even household tools so just plan to get lost in the mesmerising maze. The street food scene is also world-famous in Jaipur and you may want to circle back to see the Hawa Mahal at night.

Sleep Jaipur

Days 5 & 6 – Udaipur

We recommend taking an early 45-minute flight to Udaipur, which you can find for about 30 dollars if you book ahead of time. You can also travel this distance by car (7 hours) or train (7-8 hours).

Many people call Udaipur the most romantic city in India. Romance or not, we think Udaipur is downright gorgeous and a can’t-miss. (By the way, it’s the setting for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the oddly named 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy).

Udaipur is a small, walkable city with so much to offer. We recommend at least 2 days here. It’s also at this point of your trip that you’ll welcome a slower pace and you’ll enjoy not having to rely on auto rickshaw or Taxi to take you everywhere.

Day 1 – (half day because of travel time from Jaipur)

  • The Rose Garden – This is a European style city park but with tropical plants and Indian monuments scattered throughout. It’s a welcome escape from the hectic experience of the alleyways and streets of the city.
  • Sunset at Karni Mata Temple – take an auto rickshaw, hike, or (our personal recommendation) take the cable car up to the hilltop temple. Udaipur is so incredibly beautiful from above and from here you’ll have a perfect view of Lake Pichola with its 2 island palaces, Udaipur oldtown and the Royal Palace, and the distant Monsoon Palace.
  • Dinner at Charcoal. Indian fusion food with an amazing view. Portions are huge and the view is to die for. Did we mention Udaipur is simply stunning at night?
  • Jagdish Temple to end your day – you’ll probably hear chanting and singing at various times of the day, but the evening prayers and songs intensify around 10 pm. Visitors are completely welcome to enter the temple and be a part of the experience, just be sure to remove your shoes and practice basic respectful behaviour. Far from solemn, this is a joyous atmosphere that will be sure to end your day with a smile.

Day 2

  • The Royal Palace – best if you arrive first thing in the morning before the school groups show up. An Audio guide will suffice because the tourist path is well-marked and laid out. The palace has rooms showing what the royal life was like.
Udaipur City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

  • Afternoon Boat Ride on Lake Pichola – your palace ticket includes a discount for the boat ride. It’s a touristy thing to do, but still delightful. The boat will make a stop at the Jagmandir Island Palace, and we recommend disembarking for a quick picnic and a beautiful view of Udaipur. Bring snacks with you, or you can have some refreshments at the island hotel.
  • The Dharohar Folk Dance Cultural Show at the Bagore ki Haveli museum. This show has been running for decades and is always a party. Reservations can only be day-of in person starting at 6, so just head to the Museum around 6 to get tickets. While you wait you can get a coffee at Jheel, a short walking distance away.

Sleep 2 nights Udaipur

Backpacking in India Route Week 2 – Southern India

Sites: Munnar, Alleppey, Fort Kochi

At this point, you might find it difficult to leave colourful and rich Rajasthan behind, but it’s time to migrate south for the jungle experience in the Indian state of Kerala.

Day 8 – Travel Day from Udaipur to Fort Kochi to Munnar

Take an early flight from Udaipur to Fort Kochi in Kerala. Unfortunately, there aren’t usually direct flights so you’ll likely connect through Mumbai. Once you land in Fort Kochi, our recommendation is to keep the travel day going and head straight to Munnar by car.

Sleep Munnar

Day 9-12 – Munnar and its environs

It’s time to choose your own adventure in the Munnar region

Option A: Relaxation and unwinding in Munnar

We think it’s worth slowing your pace in the rolling hills of Munnar. You should book ahead at an eco-lodge, treehouse, or yoga retreat. After the stimulation of the North, you will welcome taking the time to soak in the natural beauty of India. Activities in Munnar include seeing a traditional Kathakali show, wellness treatments, spice walks, tea plantation tours, hikes and jeep rides to see the national parks.

Munnar India Tea Fields

Munnar India Tea Fields

Option A: sleep 3 more nights in Munnar

Option B: Munnar + Thekkady

Periyar National Park near the town of Thekkady is not far from Munnar. This is a good chance to visit a wildlife reserve in India and see some native species. There is a popular boat cruise through the reserve where you can spot water buffalo, Indian deer, some other small mammals, and many birds. There are also 40 Tigers and about 500 Elephants in the park, but it is extremely rare to spot them. If you do the lake cruise, be sure to be on the first boat in the morning to have the highest chance of seeing the animals come down to the waterfront to quench their thirst after the long night. There are other activities organized through the park such as bamboo rafting trips, Nature Walks, and jeep excursions.

Option B: sleep 1 more night in Munnar and 2 nights Thekkady/Periyar

Day 12 – Alleppey Backwater Cruise

Take an early car from either Munnar or Thekkady to Alleppey for your backwater houseboat cruise. Most houseboats depart at noon and will drop you back off at 9 am the next morning. We think one night is perfect to experience the backwaters. We had a great experience using Alleppey Houseboat Club to find a houseboat– they have detailed pictures of the boats and offer a reasonable price.

Houseboat Kerala in Alleppey India

Houseboat Kerala in Alleppey India

Sleep 1 night on the houseboat

Day 13 and 14 – Fort Kochi

After your houseboat docks in the morning, take an Uber to Fort Kochi. We recommend 2 nights here as your grand finale of the trip. The town is very walkable and you can see the Chinese fishing nets, the Dutch Museum which presents the history of Fort Kochi and the Spice Trade, shopping along Princess Street, and the Jewish Quarter with tons of antiques and cool artist factory spaces. Since 2016, Kerala has been a dry state so you won’t find a thriving nightlife, only certain 4-star hotels are allowed to serve alcohol.

Chinese Fishing Nets Fort Kochi India

Chinese Fishing Nets Fort Kochi India

Sleep 2 nights Fort Kochi

Day 15 – Fly home or on to your next stop!

Now, you may be asking, what about Darjeeling, Goa, and Amritsar? Those are for your next trip!

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Ultimate 2 Week Guide to India

Ultimate 2 Week Guide to India

The USA covers a huge area that is often underestimated. Perhaps because of the vast distance, the country lacks the train and bus infrastructure that is found in many other parts of the world, so the intrepid traveller is usually left with the option of renting a car to get around. Why not go a step beyond and rent portable accommodation as well? By taking an RV across America, you have flexibility, everything you need in a self-contained vehicle, and you will have experiences that wouldn’t be possible by just renting a car. Imagine enjoying the national parks once the daytime tourists have gone home.

Travel the US by RV and enjoy the US National Parks after the crowds go home

Enjoy the US National Parks after the crowds go home

What’s more, the benefits of travelling with an RV across America are not only great for camping and visiting National Parks. Road tripping and city hopping with an RV in the USA is sometimes the most practical way of exploring certain regions.

This article walks you through everything you need to know about RV travel in the USA, as well as some of the greatest road trips in the country.

Driver’s License Requirements for Renting an RV

You do not need a special class of license to rent an RV to travel across America. However, you must be at least 25 years old and your license must be valid for 12 months beyond the date that your rental contract starts.

Renting a Camper for your RV Trip

To rent an RV in the USA, you have a few choices. Cruise America is the most well-known company– if you’ve travelled in the USA you’ve surely seen these vehicles on the road. You can’t miss their branding. There is also a site called RVshare which functions as a sort of Airbnb for RVs. RV owners list their own vehicles for rent, which means you’ll have a large variety, often with cheaper options than renting directly from a large company.

How to Make Reservations for Campsites in the USA

Especially during the summer high season, it’s best to plan your overnight stops as far ahead as possible. In popular national parks, campsites are sometimes reserved a year in advance. If you dream of sleeping overnight in Joshua Tree or Yosemite, plan as far ahead as possible. Nowadays, you can easily book campsites using booking.com. You can filter by amenities, check out reviews from other campers, and reserve most places with free-cancellation policies. Or, you can visit the homepage of the National Park where you’d like to stay.

In the off-season and in the lesser-known national parks you should generally be ok with just showing up.

For city trips, it’s not impossible with an RV but once you get closer to the compact downtown you may have problems finding parking. It’s best to park in the outskirts of the city and then rely on public transportation. You can usually find RV-friendly parking lots like shopping malls or a subway station.

How to Plan your Budget for an RV Across America

Costs during your RV road trip adventure will come down to the RV rental costs, campsite fees, fuel, National Park fees, and food/drink. However, there are some tricks of the trade to keep your expenses low.

  1. Use your RV kitchen! Even when on the road, try to limit your restaurant pit stops.
  2. If you plan to visit at least 3 national parks (entrance fees cost about $30 per car), it’s worth investing in a national park pass. With it, you get a year of access to national parks for $80.
  3. Learn to love ‘dry camping’ aka parking for free wherever it’s legal. You won’t have hookups for water or electricity, but your water tank and generator should be enough for a night. Park on a friend’s property, on National Forest land, or in any Walmart parking lot– they allow parking overnight for free, as long as you ask the store manager’s permission.

4 Itineraries for RVing Across America

USA RV Itinerary #1: California Highlights (plus Las Vegas)

With this RV itinerary, you’ll hit the best national parks and major cities in California, plus take a small detour to Las Vegas. The camping sites along this RV itinerary range from forest sites to beach-side camping. This is a circular route, so you could start from any point.

Highlights: San Francisco – Monterey – Santa Barbara – Los Angeles – San Diego – Joshua Tree – Las Vegas – Yosemite Valley – Lake Tahoe – Napa

USA RV Itinerary #2: Iconic American Southwest

The American Southwest is full of National Parks where red sandstone has been carved by wind, water, and tectonic activity. These are some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the entire world. Even with all the major highlights, this RV route is surprisingly compact — most people choose to combine it with RV Itinerary #1 so that they can do California plus these desert landscapes in one trip.

Highlights: Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, The Wave, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park

RV camping near Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

RV camping near Monument Valley, Arizona

USA RV Itinerary #3 New England (plus some Canada)

The states are smaller in the Northeast, which means you can visit some world-famous cities and National Parks all in one trip. Plus, it’s not too far to drive to the French-Canadian cities of Montreal and Quebec City.

During half of this itinerary, you’ll be surrounded by pristine nature, but you can also visit major metropolitan areas like Boston, Manhattan, and Washington D.C.

Rather than navigate the busy cities in your RV, it’s best to park at a Subway station in the outskirts, and take public transportation into the center.

Highlights: Manhattan, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. Niagara Falls, Finger Lakes, Montreal, Quebec, Acadia National Park, Boston

 

USA RV Itinerary #4: The South

Camping in the South is a different type of trip. The focus of this RV itinerary is not national parks, but we think this region is best seen with a road trip. This region of the USA has a uniqueness that some of the larger cities in the rest of the USA have lost long ago. It feels like a completely different country from what you would experience on the West Coast or in New England.

Highlights: New Orleans – Memphis – Nashville – Charlotte – Miami – Key West

So there you have it, the essential information you need to plan your RV across America camping experience, as well as some great itineraries to explore. Last but not least, here are some websites you can use to plan your trip and make reservations online as you go:

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How to travel USA in RV

Incredible RV USA roadtrips

Regardless of your travel style, Berlin is a must when backpacking around Europe. This city has something for everyone: history buffs, night owls, foodies. But between the history and the infamous modern Berlin vibe, how can possibly decide what to do in Berlin in 3 days?

After living here for 5 years, I have put together a list of things to do if you only have 3 days in Berlin, to make sure you get an authentic impression of the city. I share it with my friends who come to visit! Berlin’s storied past is one of the reasons I love this city, but I’ll also provide some ways for you to get off the tourist trail and see a glimpse of the real Berlin.

1. Get an Introduction to Berlin with a Free Walking Tour

If you have 3 days in Berlin, it’s definitely worth spending at least half a day soaking in the history. There’s no better way to get an introduction to Berlin’s important history than with a free walking tour. Sandemans is the most popular, and for good reason. In about 3 hours you’ll learn about Berlin’s role during WWII and how the Berlin Wall later divided the city in two. The historical center of Berlin is compact, and this walking tour will hit all the major highlights. It’s one of the first things you should do while backpacking in Berlin in order to get your bearings. During your tour, you’ll see the major highlights of central Berlin including the Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, and Checkpoint Charlie.

Don't miss a stop at Brandenburg Gate while backpacking in Berlin

Don’t miss a stop at Brandenburg Gate while backpacking in Berlin

2. Explore the Reichstag and Tiergarten (by Bike!)

During your 3 days in Berlin, you should rent a bike to explore the areas around the Reichstag and the Tiergarten. You can walk the symbolic glass dome of the Reichstag, but you’ll need to make reservations in advance. Continue deep into the Tiergarten, don’t miss the Victory Column (Siegessäule). End your bike tour with beers and snacks at the Cafe am Neuen See Biergarten, where you can rent a rowboat for one of the kitschy fun things to do in Berlin.

Berlin Reichstag Parliament Building

Berlin Reichstag Parliament Building

3. Spend an Evening at a Local Watering Hole

Whether you want a swanky cocktail bar, a grungy dive bar, or an outdoor Biergarten, Berlin has tons of options. Over the years I’ve selected a few favorites that I always recommend to my friends.

I love Monkey Bar on the rooftop of the 25 hours hotel. The bar gets its name from its view over the monkey habitats at the Berlin Zoo. This place has artisan cocktails, upscale bar snacks, and an unbeatable view over Berlin’s skyline. It’s one of my favorite viewpoints in the city and should definitely be on your list for your 3 days in Berlin.

If you’re looking for a locals-style bar, you have endless choices. You can find a large concentration of great bars on Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg or the area around Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain. Some of my favorites are Mano Cafe, Das Hotel, Mein Haus am See. Keep in mind that most bars in Berlin still allow smoking inside, but if you do your research ahead of time, you can find some smoke-free options.

For an outdoor drink spot, my favorite place in Berlin is James Simon Park with its stunning view of the River Spree, Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island. You can relax in a Biergarten chair and try a Berliner Weiße (a beer mixed with fruit flavor). While in the area, wander over to Mombijou park to watch the locals dancing Salsa.

While Berlin isn’t particularly known for Biergartens (it’s more of a Bavarian thing), you still have some great options. Schleussen Krug in the Tiergarten boasts organic Biergarten fare, Prater Garten in the heart of Prenzlauer Berg was the first and still-largest Biergarten in Berlin, and BRLO Brewery is a modern interpretation of a Biergarten serving craft brews and modern food pairings.

4. Eat a Delicious Brunch

Take advantage of each day you’re in Berlin to check out some great brunch spots around the city. You’ll wish you had a full week in Berlin to try them all! I love Napoljonska in Prenzlauer Berg, Distrikt Coffee in Mitte, or Restaurant Bastard in Kreuzberg. Some of our other favorites are Hallesches Haus or House of Small Wonder (make a reservation).

5. Mauerpark Flea Market

If you happen to be in Berlin on a Sunday, be sure to visit the Mauerpark Flea Market in the afternoon. More than a market, it’s like a music festival every weekend with buskers, the popular karaoke amphitheater, and people from all over the world picnicking in the park. An afternoon in Mauerpark is one of the quintessential things to do in Berlin, and it’s not to be missed.

6. Take Your Pick of UNESCO Museums on Museum Island

If you have 3 days in Berlin, you should spend at least some time exploring Museum Island, which is home to 5 (yes 5!) UNESCO World Heritage Museums. The Pergamon is the most visited art museum in Germany and features Babylonian and Islamic exhibits. The DDR Museum is a living-history time capsule displaying typical East Berlin life. Both Museums are along the river where you can later take a Spree River Cruise to see East and West Berlin from the water.

Berlin Cathedral Berliner Dom

Berlin Cathedral on Museum Island

7. Stroll Around an Iconic Berliner Kiez

Berlin is famous for its Kiez-culture (Kiez = neighborhood). During your 3 days in Berlin, you can window shop, people watch, and mingle with the locals for an afternoon in one of the bustling neighborhoods in Berlin. My favorite areas are:

  • Bergmannkiez in Kreuzberg
  • The area around Kastanienallee, Eberswalderstrasse, & Oderbergerstrasse in Prenzlauerberg
  • Wrangelkiez in Kreuzberg.

8. Sample Berlin’s Best Restaurants

Berlin is home to a growing foodie scene, and there is something for everyone from takeaway Döner Kebab to Michelin Star cuisine. During your 3 days in Berlin, be sure to explore the restaurant scene. Great options are The Bird (Burgers), Zula (Israeli), but seriously… don’t leave Berlin without a Döner Kebab– they were invented here!

9. Walk the East Side Gallery

Nowadays, most of the Berlin Wall itself is gone, but the border is still marked throughout the city by a line of bricks. You’ll likely cross between former East and West sides of the city multiple times during your 3 days in Berlin! If you want to see the longest stretch of the Wall still standing, you should visit the East Side Gallery, which is basically an outdoor museum using the Berlin Wall as an ever-changing canvas for artists. After walking 1.3 km/.8 mile stretch of mural-covered wall, cross the red Oberbaumbrücke bridge into the heart of Kreuzberg. Meander along Skalitzer Strasse toward Oranienburgerstrasse, and you’ll encounter more famous Berlin street art and get a taste of Kreuzberg. End your afternoon at Markthalle 9, a culinary smorgasbord.

Berlin Wall Street Art Mural Graffiti with Trabi Car. A quintessential thing to do in Berlin

Mural of the classic East German Trabi on the East Side Gallery

10. Go Clubbing

Clubbing in Berlin may require recovery time the next day– you won’t be home before sunrise if you want to do it right. If you only have 3 days in Berlin keep in mind that one full day will be spent recovering.

To start your evening in Berlin, head to an outdoor bar near the Spree River. Badeschiff is a beach bar named after its swimming pool, which floats in the river and is actually a repurposed boat.

If clubbing is at the top of your list of things to do while backpacking in Berlin, keep in mind that the door policies differ from club to club. Be sure to do a bit of research ahead of time. People start to trickle in around midnight, but the real action gets started around 2 or 3. Most of the famous clubs are near the Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn stop. You can try your luck at the notorious Berghain or head to other favorites Club Zur Wilde Renate or Ritter Butzke. Just don’t get too dressed up because the vibe is decidedly black T-Shirt

Berlin also has a steady rotation of themed dance parties around the city (Dirty Dancing 80s, Balkan Beats, Electro Swing, etc.). If techno isn’t your thing and you just want to let loose and dance, you can probably find all sorts of theme parties happening all around the city. You’ll see posters for parties like this all over the city, or you can check out Facebook events to see what’s happening.

And More…

If you’ve already hit the highlights during your 3 days in Berlin, and you’re looking for something further afield, spend some time checking out these awesome parks and day trips.

Tempelhofer Feld

The site of the supply airdrops and airlifts for West Berlin, this huge expanse is now an open park where Residents have created ‘installations’ such as community gardens and pop-up mini-golf courses. Best explored with a bike because it’s HUGE, on a weekend you can spot kite-surfing skateboarders, or families having barbecues. The old airport building at Tempelhoferfeld is currently home to many refugees and the park is the site of a regular ‘Schön, dass ihr da seid’ (Good to have you here) welcome barbecue.

Teufelsberg

Translated as ‘Devil’s Hill’ Teufelsberg is the site of Soviet-era spy tower station where the Americans listened in on East Berlin. The hill itself is man made – it’s built from the rubble of the city after WWII. The buildings still standing at Teufelsberg are covered with street art, and you can get lost meandering through the rooms which lead to the roof. A popular room is the echo room at the top of the towers.

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A 3 day itinerary for things to do in Berlin