Berlin. The vibrant, cosmopolitan capital of Germany is a mecca for travelers all around the World. In this guide, I am going to talk about all the best things to do in Berlin. This is a city I have been fortunate enough to visit many times throughout my life. Yet, somehow every time I return, I discover something new to do in this incredible city. Honestly, you will never run out of things to do in Berlin. It is a city which caters for all tastes.
Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.”Hiroshi Montomura
In this guide, I will take you through how to get the most out of your visit to Berlin. Firstly, we will start by looking at the fascinating history of this city. Trust me, even those who don’t find history that appealing, will not be able to be anything but fascinated with Berlin’s history. After that, we will talk about all the top sights and attractions. Including the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and of course, the Berlin Wall. Along with some other incredible places.
History of Berlin
Berlin has been at the epicenter of many world famous historical events throughout the years. The city was first noted in the history books as far back as the early 12th Century, where reference is made to settlements in the city. Since then, Berlin has been the site of the Thirty Year War, the home of the Nazi party during the Second World War and the border of the former East and West Germany. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, the city has seen unity and peace. Nowadays, the city welcomes people from all over the world to enjoy the delights that this awesome city has to offer.
Throughout this guide, as we discuss the top sights in Berlin, I will elaborate more on the history of each place!
Getting to Berlin
Much like the rest of Germany, Berlin is incredibly well-connected to the rest of Europe and the World. Firstly, if you are travelling by air, you will travel into the Berlin Brandenburg Airport. This is a new airport, and since my last visit, the two airports (Tegel and Schoenefeld) serving the city have since closed. However, the new airport is well-connected with flights from much of Europe and further afield.
Additionally, you can easily get to Berlin via it’s Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station), which connects the city to the rest of Germany and further afield.
Getting Around Berlin
Before we dive into the best things to see and do, let’s talk about getting around. As previously mentioned, the city is served by it’s Hauptbahnhof, which connects to Germany’s S-Bahn and U-Bahn (kinda like the Subway or Underground). Berlin is a fairly large city, but despite it being big, it is very well-connected. In fact, every time I’ve visited, I’ve stayed outside of the city center. This is because it’s cheaper, but it’s never more than a five minute walk to the nearest metro!
In order to get the most value out of your visit, I’ve found the ‘Berlin Welcome Card’ to be an excellent option. This handy card provides you with free use of public transport, as well as free/reduced entry to many top attractions. There are several options, depending on the length of your stay etc. If you want to know more, click here.
Best Things to See and Do in Berlin
As previously mentioned, there is an abundance of incredible things to see and do here. In order to get the most out of your time in Berlin, I recommend spending at least 3 full days here. Although, I always recommend at least 5 days, this allows for a day-trip and time to fully enjoy this awesome city.
#1- Brandenburg Gate
First up, we are heading to the glorious Brandenburg Gate. This neoclassical, 18th century gate is a trademark of the city! Whilst this is an impressive gate to admire, the real greatness lies in it’s history!
Built as the entrance to the former Royal City Palace of the Prussian monarchy, this center gate was only allowed to be walked through by the Royal Family! However, in the 1930’s, history took a turn for the worse and saw the rise of Hitler and his National Socialist party. Here, many party rallies took place, where hatred was spewed to the masses. Despite the devastation of WW2, the gate survived the bombings of the Allies.
Once the war was over, Berlin once again rose to global prominence. This time, the Soviet Union and it’s ‘Iron Curtain’ had spread across much of Eastern Europe. Germany became a divided state- East and West Germany. As a result, the Berlin Wall was built, which divided these two new states. The Brandenburg Gate became one of the border crossings for the two states.
Famous Speeches at the Brandenburg Gate
During the occupation of East Germany by the Soviet Union, many US Presidents visited the West German part of Berlin. Most notably, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Here, the both gave some incredible speeches at the Brandenburg Gate which have been remembered in history.
JFK famously said “Ich bin ein Berliner” to all the crowd. He thought he was saying to the crowd that he was a ‘Berliner’, but actually said ‘I am a doughnut’. Berliner is the German word for a type of doughnut! The city still affectionately remembers this speech, with many souvenirs with the famous quote on it. (I’ve got a mug and fridge magnet!).
Later on, Ronald Reagan traveled to the Brandenburg Gate and gave an incredible speech. You can watch to whole speech here, but he said the famous lines:
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”Ronald reagan
Getting there- U-Bahn lines U5 and U6 to Unter den Linden, S-Bahn S1 and S2 to Brandenburg Tor.
#2 Checkpoint Charlie
I remember a conversation with friends before visiting Berlin. They rolled their eyes as I mentioned how much I looked forward to visiting Checkpoint Charlie. “It’s just an over-hyped tourist destination.”. But, as a life-long history buff, I knew Checkpoint Charlie was a must-see place in Berlin. In fact, I go every time I visit the city!
So, what is Checkpoint Charlie? When the Berlin Wall built in 1961, there were several checkpoints established. However, Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous. When communist East Germany took over, residents in East Germany were not allowed to travel over to West Germany. But, this didn’t stop them! This was the only checkpoint where you could cross into East Germany- but only if you were an Allied Diplomat, military personnel or a foreign tourist. Due to this ‘weakened’ checkpoint, many East German’s successfully escaped into West German this way.
The Checkpoint that you see today is actually the much smaller American one. The Soviets had a much larger one further back. The Checkpoint was also the site of one of the only standoffs during the entire Cold War! You can learn more about it here!
Getting there- U-Bahn U6 to U Kochstrasse/Checkpoint Charlie
#3- The Wall Museum
Right next to Checkpoint Charlie is the Mauer (Wall) Museum. It only makes sense to visit the museum after seeing the Checkpoint. This comprehensive museum takes you through the history of Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. This is a fantastic museum to visit. Entrance costs €14,50. I recommend staying here about 2 hours.
Alternatively, there is another excellent exhibition over the road from the Checkpoint called ‘BlackBox Cold War’. This offers a much more comprehensive insight into the Cold War era. In fact, this was my favourite museum in Berlin! The museum is open daily, 10am til 6pm and entrance is €5. I recommend about an hour here.
#4- Topography of Terrors
Next up, the Topography of Terrors. This is a place of remembrance, and embodies the message of the aftermath of Holocaust. “Never Again”. This memorial is set upon the former headquarters of the institutions which inflicted so much suffering throughout Europe. Including the Gestapo (Secret Police), and the SS.
This is one of the most important memorial sites in all of Berlin, and serves to tell the story of the horrors of the Holocaust.
The museum is open daily from 10am until 6pm. There are two permanent exhibitions, as well as other temporary ones which change regularly. I recommend spending between 1-2 hours here.
Getting there- a 5 minute walk from Checkpoint Charlie
#5- The Reichstag
Okay, now we are heading towards the Reichstag! This is the home of German Parliament. This beautiful, historic building is where German history has been written over the years.
On a summer’s day, you can sit on the immaculate greens and admire the stunning building. Additionally, you can book tickets to take a fascinating guided tour inside the Reichstag or even climb up the dome and roof!
Getting there- U-Bahn U5 to Bundestag or a 5 minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate.
#6- The TV-Tower
So, this is my FAVOURITE place to visit when in Berlin, and is a must for all travellers! No matter where you go in the city, you will probably see this iconic landmark. Standing high above the city at an impressive 368m in the Alexanderplatz area of Berlin.
Fun fact- this is the tallest building in Europe that is open to the public!
I’ve visited the TV Tower several times, and each experience has been different. My first time here, it was my 21st birthday, and we enjoyed a 3-course meal in the fine dining restaurant which does a full 360 degree rotation of the entire city. The views were incredible! However, my last visit to the TV-Tower was my favourite. We visited Berlin’s Christmas Markets, and decided to venture up for cocktails at night time. We were treated to 360 degree views of Berlin’s Christmas markets whilst sipping pina coladas!
The Tower is open daily, but please note that queues to go up can get quite big. We always book our tickets in advance to avoid this. Also, if you want to eat in the restaurant, you will need to book too. More information can be found here.
We paid €16,50 each for our tickets to go to the observation deck. Restaurant prices vary. It is more expensive than most places to eat in Berlin, but honestly, it’s worth it for a once in a lifetime experience!
Getting there- U-Bahn lines to U2, U5 and U8 to Alexanderplatz or trams 12, 50 M1 and M2 to Alexanderplatz.
#7- The Memorial to the Murdered Jews
This is an important site, right in the heart of the city. Just a short-walk up the road from the Brandenburg Gate. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews is one of the most poignant and powerful tributes I’ve ever seen. Opened in 2005, the memorial consists of 2,711 concrete slabs over a site which is approximately 19,000 sq feet. All the slabs are different sizes, and the ground is uneven, making many visitors feel slightly disorientated walking through.
The concept behind the design is open for interpretation, and I personally believe it is designed that way on purpose. Everyone who visits will experience the eerie silence of the memorial. Some visitors think the slabs remind them of a cemetery, to remind visitors of the millions of Jews murdered without a grave.
Please treat this site with respect. I have witnessed people climbing and posing on these slabs for Instagram photos. This is a memorial, and should not be disrespected with mindless acts of stupidity.
The site is open year round, and free to access 24 hours a day. Make sure you visit and spend some time reflecting on the atrocities of the past.
Getting there- a 5 minute walk from the Bradenburg Gate
#8- The Berlin Wall Memorial
On the 13th August 1961, the communist German Democratic Republic built a wall around Berlin. The wall separated East Germany from West Germany, designed to prevent ‘corruption’ from the West to the socialist state. The Wall stood, dividing a nation until it’s fall on November 9th, 1989. East Germans stormed the Wall, knocking it down and reuniting with friends and family in the West once again. 2 million German’s reunited in the streets, drinking beer and partying. It was named the ‘greatest street party in the World’.
Nowadays, a memorial stands where the Wall once stood. The memorial pays tribute to the victims of the communist regime but also represents unity in Germany now.
Getting there- S-Bahn lines S1, S2, S25 and S26 or tram 12, 50 M8 or M10 to Berlin Nordbahnhof.
#9- East Side Gallery
So, how does visiting the longest open air gallery in the world sound? All visitors to Berlin, must visit the East Side Gallery! The site of the former Berlin Wall, is now a massive 1.3km mural. Not only is there some incredible artwork to admire on the wall, but the wall is also a protected memorial.
Some of my favourite, and most iconic pieces on the Wall you must see include the Trabi breaking through the wall and the Fraternal Kiss.
Getting there- S-Bahn lines S3, S5, S7 or S9 or U-Bahn U1 and U3 towards Warschauer Straße
#10- Charlottenburg Palace
Next up, the stunning rococo Charlottenburg Palace. The palace was built in 1699 by King Fredrich I for his wife, Sophie Charlotte. Not only was she the first Queen consort of Prussia, but she was also a talented musician and singer. The lavish estate was originally called Lietzenburg Palace, and was the Queen’s summer estate. Even the King could not visit the palace, unless personally invited by the Queen! Unfortunately, she passed away age 36, and so her King renamed the palace and the surrounding town Charlottenburg in her honour.
The palace is open Tuesday to Sundays, and audio-guides are available for tours. I recommend purchasing a combi ticket for €17,50 and explore all the delights of the palace. I recommend spending approximately 2 hours here. Although, you may spend longer admiring the beautiful gardens!
Getting there- the Palace is about 30 minutes from the city centre, there are numerous ways to get here. I recommend checking Google Maps in advance, depending on where you are coming from.
Extend Your Time in Berlin
As with all my travel guides, I recommend staying a while and exploring the area more. Berlin is no exception. If you are able to extend your time in Berlin, these are some additional things you must do!
Take A Trabi Safari
Now this is probably the most unique experience you can have in Berlin! The Trabi, or Trabant, was a tiny car produced by the former East German car manufacturer VEB. This pint-sized car is a symbol of the former divided nation. Nowadays, you can tour the city in one of these cars! Take to the roads of Berlin in this self-drive, guided tour of the city.
The tour will take you past many of the sights we’ve discussed in this post already, but what a unique way to see them! Tours start from approximately €50. So, if you’ve got a manual driving license, and a sense of adventure then this is the tour for you! Book here with Viator.
Book a Day Trip
As always, I recommend taking a day-trip from Berlin if time allows. Below are several options of day-trip to take. Depending on your preferences, there are different typs of trip. Although, for me, I recommend visiting Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Personally, I recommend everyone visits a concentration camp at least once in their life. Located in the town of Oranienburg, an hour and half north of Berlin, lies a poignant reminder and memorial. For me, Sachsenhausen was a quiet reminder of the terrors of the past. I do not want to put anymore information on here about the tour, as you should experience it first hand.
Additionally, if you want to visit Sachsenhausen, then I recommend going with an expert guide. For us, we booked through ‘The Original Berlin Tours”. Not only was the tour guide OUTSTANDING, but also the tour was excellent value at €18 each. This included transport and entrance.
Tick another German city off your list and join a guided tour to Dresden! Not only is this city absolutely stunning, but it sits along the River Elbe and offers stunning views of the city. Book a tour here.
Spend Time Exploring More Museums
Berlin has an abundance of museums. For some, this may be a bit boring, but for others it’s a goldmine. As you know, Berlin has a long and fascinating history. Much of which is explored further in one of the many city museums. Other fantastic museums include:
- DDR Museum- learn more about the former East German Government and what life was like for it’s residents.
- German Spy Museum- learn all about the history of one of the oldest professions in the World- being a spy! This is a really cool museum!
- Museum Island- Spree Island in the heart of the city plays host to 5 impressive museums built by the Prussian leaders. Read more here.
- Berlin Underworld Museum- learn about Berlin’s underground world of WWII bunkers, ‘ghost’ stations and how East German’s tried to escape to the West.
Where to Eat in Berlin
Berlin is a multi-cultural city, meaning you will spoiled for choice here! Despite your culinary preferences, you will find something to enjoy here! However, you shouldn’t leave Berlin without trying two trademark foods of the area.
Many Turkish expats moved to Berlin years ago, and so they bought with them their delicious food! Honestly, you cannot leave Berlin without enjoying a Doner Kebab. As a fellow Brit, who knows a good kebab, Berlin knocks it out the park!
Next up, you MUST try Currywurst. German sausages are divine. But, the Currywurst is the KING for me. There are many places throughout the city where you can purchase one of these delicious sausages.
Where to Stay and Budget
Berlin is a fairly large city, and incredibly well-connected by public transport. Therefore, you can stay pretty much anywhere in the city and getting around won’t be a problem. For example, you can stay in the ‘alternative’ neighbourhood of Kruezberg if you want lively nightlife and bars. Or perhaps trendy, upscale Charlottenburg. Wherever you stay, you will have lovely hotels, bars and restaurants and never be too far away from a U-Bahn!
Much like all my guides, I don’t like to recommend a budget because everyone travels different. However, Berlin is a city which caters for all budgets! For example, there are many hostels in the city. Also, I recommend eating and drinking outside of the city centre. I’ve spent many a Berlin night in a small, local bar drinking cheap beer and eating street food instead.
Final Thoughts on Berlin
Berlin is a city that will welcome any traveler all year round. I’ve visited Berlin in the summer and during the winter at their awesome Christmas markets. For me, Berlin encompasses everything needed in a city break. Culture, history and good times. Make sure you enjoy a trip to Berlin at least once in your life, although Berlin is an addictive place!
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