When visiting Berlin, one can’t help but imagine all the things that once took place in that city. You can feel in every corner, that you’re in a place where history has left a mark. Where the iconic Berlin Wall divided its population for a long time, and still today you can see the differences between both sides of the wall.
Berliners themselves will tell you that Berlin is different from the rest of the country. They will say that even being the capital, it’s the least German city of all. And I couldn’t agree more: if you have travelled around Germany, you may have noticed that Berlin is different than the rest. It’s authentic, exceptional and unique.
Below, you’ll find a list of, which I consider, are the top 18 things to do in Berlin. A bunch of sights you can’t miss if you have the chance to visit this cosmopolitan and modern city.
Brandenburg Gate is one of the main symbols of Berlin. It was built between 1788 and 1791, during the reign of Frederick William II of Prussia, following the model of the Acropolis gate in Athens, and it was one of the gate entries to the city wall (not the Berlin Wall we all know, or the Game of Thrones’ Wall, but the wall before the Berlin Wall...).
I wouldn’t want to bore you with much history facts, but these are 5 important historical events linked to this gate:
Ever since, the gate has become a symbol of the city and one of the most visited attractions by tourists from around the world. You can find it in the heart of the city, in the Paris Square, surrounded by other attractions I’ll mention very soon.
When we talk about the Reichstag, we’re talking about the Parliament of the Weimar Republic, and nowadays, only the building is called Reichstag. Even is in the same building, the current parliament it’s called Bundestag, and every 5 years is here where is elect the president of Germany. So Reichstag is the building and Bundestag the institution.
A little history about it. It was designed by the German architect Paul Wallot and erected between 1884 and 1894. Years later, in 1933, the Reichstag suffered a fire, that still today remains unknown what or who caused it. During WWII it was seriously damaged and around the 1960s it was partially restored.
Two years after the fall of the wall, in 1991, it was agreed for it to become the German Parliament again. In the 1990’s it was remodeled again. This time in style, as Norman Foster does. He is the responsible for the magnificent glass dome (3,000 square metres of glass!), spectacular not only architecturally speaking but also because of the great effort made at the level of energy efficiency and sustainability of the building.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend visiting the glass dome. It is free if you have previously registered in the Bundestag website. They give you a free audio guide which explains you all kinds of interesting facts of the building, past and present. The views from the top are not to be missed. You can see all the green of Tiergarten, the TV Tower or the Philharmonic from 131 feet high (40m). While you’re walking up the ramp on the glass dome, you can see the blue Parliament chairs below your feet.
Selling cattle was the main activity in the origins of Alexanderplatz, however, times change and nowadays is one of the most important and busy squares in Berlin together with Potsdamerplatz. With the train and metro station by the same name, is one of the busiest transport hubs in Berlin.
Located near the Spree river, it is a very wide square which preserves a socialist aesthetic and is surrounded by tall edifications, such as the TV Tower or the Park Inn Berlin, which is actually the highest hotel in Berlin. It is a very lively square, meeting point for locals and tourists, shopping area with Alexanderplatz and Galeria Kaufhof shopping centers and full of bars and restaurants. Be careful with the tram, whose trajectory passes through the middle of the square!
One of the main attractions in the square is the World Clock. A clock which continuously shows the time of 148 important cities in the whole world. Go take a look at it (and a picture) and check the time in your home city!
Fernsehturm, which in English is simply “television tower”, is a communications tower located very close to Alexanderplatz and with a height of 1,207.45 ft (368.03m) is the highest tower in Germany and the second tallest in the European Union.
The tower was built between 1965 and 1969 by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) as a symbol of strength and efficiency of the communist Berlin. Nowadays, it is part of the famous skyline of Berlin together with the Brandenburg Gate.
Its main function is the TV and radio emission but it is also a popular attraction to visitors. It has a viewing point with a bar at 666 ft high (203 m) and which 1 million tourists visit every year making it one of the most visited attractions in the whole country. A little bit higher, at 679 ft (207 m), there’s a revolving restaurant, which rotates 360 degrees every hour, allowing you to literally enjoy a 360 degrees view of Berlin while you sip a glass of wine.
Potsdamer Platz is one of the most important squares in Berlin, together with Alexanderplatz. By the end of WWII it was left in ruins but after the fall of the Wall it was agreed to renovate it and a bunch of modern buildings were erected in the surroundings, representing the modern Berlin. One of the elements that still remain intact today is a traffic light. Not just any traffic light though, this is the first traffic light there was in Europe and which had a manual functioning. There are also remains of the original Berlin Wall in which I don’t know why, people covered them with chewed chewing gums along the years…
Potsdamer Platz, like Alexanderplatz, is a very lively area due to train and metro station, an important transport hub and the Sony Center. Its characteristic marquee, built by German architect Helmut Jahn in 2000, covers a shopping mall with restaurants, shops, cinemas, an IMAX theatre, a conference room, hotel and offices. Come take a look by night time and you’ll see the the marquee illuminated in many different colours.
If you’d like to see the Sony Center from above, you have the chance to do so from one of the tallest buildings in the square, the Kollhoff. It happens to have the fastest elevator in Europe in which you are lifted 328ft (100m) in 20 seconds all the way up to the Panoramapunkt. This is the top viewing point from where you’ll have amazing views from the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column in Tiergarten.
For the cinephiles (like myself), just mentioning that every year around mid February, this is where the famous Berlin International Film Festival, the Berlinale, takes place. And, nothing to do with the Berlinale but, I remember an episode of Homeland taking place in here, in Potsdamer Station. Intense!
Even though today is one of the city’s main tourist attraction, between 1945 and 1990, Checkpoint Charlie was an important border crossing of the Berlin Wall.
The name’s origin is simpler than one could imagine, it comes from the third letter of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet and which, of course, gave name to other crossing borders such as Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo, at least.
Unfortunately, very tragic events took place here, mainly to people that were trying to runaway from the East part of Berlin. One of the saddest events and with more repercussion, was the death of Peter Fechter, who was shot while trying to cross to the other side and left bleeding out in front of hundreds of people. Very close from where he died, a memorial column was erected on Zimmerstraße 26-27.
The current Checkpoint Charlie, the touristy one, is an honest reconstruction of the original. Standing in each side of the barraque there are the pictures of the last two soldiers that were in it. Nowadays, actors dressed as military, entertain and joke around with the visiting crowd.
It is the memorial to all the fallen Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. It was designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman and it was inaugurated in 2005. Located very close to the Brandenburg Gate, it covers an inclined area of 19.000 square metres in which there are 2711 concrete blocks, each and every one different from another. There are no identical blocks.
Despite being a very popular attraction, where it is hard to take a picture without catching somebody on the background, the solemnity of the place stays intact. The shape of the grey concrete blocks reminds me of a huge cemetery. The more you walk into the blocks, the higher they get, creating a labyrinthic atmosphere in which you can advance in each direction without knowing if you’ll find an exit.
As a prominent incident, in 2003 there was controversy because it was discovered that the company Degussa, the manufacturer of the anti-graffiti product, it had been linked to different forms of persecution against the Jews.
Although there were a few discussions and Jewish organizations were opposed to the company’s involvement with the memorial, finally it was decided to keep working with them. The decision was made because, among other reasons, the cost of not doing it, would have been much higher since a lot of blocks were already treated with their product.
Personally I love this place. I find it sobering, respectful, elegant and modern. You have to be there to know what it feels like to walk through it.
Do you like street art? You can’t miss this! The East Side Gallery is the longest section of The Berlin Wall still standing, with 0.8 miles (1.3km) long. It is painted all along with more than 105 murals made by artists from around the world. Most of them were painted back in the 1990’s and are vindicatory, trying to express through images the changes that Berlin suffered after the fall of the Wall.
Two of the most famous paintings are the kiss between Leónidas Breznev (Russian leader) and Erich Honocker (Democratic Republic of Germany leader) and the painting where a soldier is deserting, jumping over the fence in a checkpoint. Both paintings are based on real events which caused much controversy at the time. Filed pictures served as inspiration to make both murals.
This section of the wall stands parallel to the Spree river on the East side of the city, and it begins more or less by the Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum Bridge). So, kill two birds with one stone, go by metro to the U-Bhf Schlesisches Tor, cross this beautiful bridge and enjoy the Spree view before starting your walk down the artsy wall.
The bridge was built around 1700’s with a wooden structure, which gave it the name Oberbaumbrücke, which means “bridge over a tree”. Even though the two story version of the bridge that you see nowadays dates from 1896. In the 1990’s, since the bridge needed a remodelling, the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava was the responsible of it (and I thought he only built white stuff :p).
The bridge connects Friedrichshain with Kreuzberg, two areas which were separated by the Berlin Wall. It was a border crossing between East and West and nowadays is one of the symbols that represents the reunification after the fall of the Wall.
Friedrichshain is a very lively area by night, you can find various night clubs such as Watergate, Matrix Club, the famous Berghain, Kater Blau or Tresor.
The Berlin Wall Memorial commemorates the German division (from 13th August 1961 to 9th November 1989) and all the deaths it caused in this particular spot. It was created back in 1998 and it is located right in Bernauer Straße. It consists of the Memorial Grounds, the Window of Remembrance, the Visitors Centre, the Documentation Centre and the Reconciliation Chapel.
The Memorial Grounds are divided into fours parts: The Wall and the Death Strip, Destruction of the city, Building of the wall and “It happened at the wall”. It preserves one of the observation towers and a 200 ft (60 m) piece of original wall that helps remember and suggests you a distressing feeling of how the city was.
In the documentation center one can find the history of the site construction and a wide repertoire of images from that time.
It is part from the “Berlin Wall Foundation” and has a Visitors Center, built in 2009, to access the memorial totally free of admission.
The Museum Island, as its name clearly suggests, is a small island located in the center of the city on the river Spree, which houses 5 important museums: Pergamonsmuseum (Pergamon Museum), Bode-Museum Neues Museum (New Museum), Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and Altes Museum (Old Museum). If you have such bad luck to be visiting Berlin under the rain, it might be a good choice.
Given that it is a place of great cultural and architectural significance, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and houses great works such as "the Nefertiti" or "Pergamon frieze".
I’ll give you a few hints of each Museum:
Pergamonmuseum: with around 1 million visitors per year, it is the most visited museum in Berlin. Its main attractions are "the Pergamon frieze", "the Gate of Miletus", "the Ishtar Gate" and the impressive collection of Islamic art among others. Fun fact is, the museum wasn’t built to house art, but the art was brought first and the museum was built around it.
Bode-Museum: with one of the largest collections of sculptures in the world, it contains "the Museum of Byzantine Art" and "the Numismatic Collection".
Neues Museum: it is another of the important museums in the island. It was closed for many years due to a reconstruction and it reopened back in 2009, a fact that today makes it one of the most visited. One of the areas that attract more public is the Egypt part, in which there are hundreds of objects, mummies and in which the most outstanding work of the museum is the bust of Nefertiti. On the other hand, it also contains the part of "Prehistory and Early History" with objects of the time that complete a museum that is worth visiting.
Alte Nationalgalerie: if you like paintings this is your museum. Built around 1876 and even though is not the best museum of all, houses a gallery of art from the 19th Century with works from Classicism, Romanticism, Impressionism and early Modernism from important artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, Edouard Manet, Renoir, Max Liebermann, Menzel, Karl Blechen or Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Altes Museum: opened in 1830, is the oldest museum in the island. During the reconstruction of Neues Musem it housed important works of art such as the bust of Nefertiti, but with the reopening lost the crown jewel. Still, it houses a great classic antiques collection from the ancient Greece to the Roman Empire, including busts of Caesar and Cleopatra.
Is the most important religious monument of the city. Located near the Spree river, it is easily recognizable because of its majestic appearance and green dome.
You will find it in the middle of the Musems Island and is it one of the main temples of the protestant church. One of the highlights is the Hohenzollern crypt, which contains 94 sarcophagi of this imperial family from the 16th until the 20th Century.
The dome can be visited climbing just a few 270 stairs, from which one can enjoy a good view from the city centre.
You can also take a guided tour which provides you with an audio guide to appreciate the cathedral to the detail.
Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most beautiful squares in the city and is worth a visit and walk around. The square houses the Konzerthaus (a concerts venue) and what makes it special are the twin churches on each side.
The purpose of the square was to put the market but in the end it served as stables for the regiment of armed men (Gens d’Armes) and it was decided then they would call it Gendarmenmarkt (in the end German language makes sense!).
In the centre of the square, the Konzerthaus, with a rich agenda of concerts, is the headquarters of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin (Berlin Symphony Orchestra), one of the biggest symphony orchestras there are nowadays, directed by the Hungarian Iván Fischer.
In both sides of the square you’ll find the two identical churches. On the north face there’s the Französischer Dom (French church) and on the South face there’s the Deutscher Dom (German church).
The construction of both churches started in 1701, when Frederick I of Prussia granted a place of worship for the Lutheran community (German church) and another for the French Reformed community (French church). The construction of the French church was finished first but the domes of both churches weren’t built until years later, between 1780 and 1785.
In the middle of the square there’s a statue of Schiller (1759-1895), considered one of the most important playwright of Germany.
It is a neo romanic church also known as Gedächtniskirche (church of memory). No special attention was drawn to it until a bomb impacted on it during WWII, leaving the church half destroyed.
Since the damage was considerable, the original plan was to completely demolish the church, but thanks to the citizens’ protests it was finally decided to restore it with the remainings. In this way, it would serve as a commemorative monument and a reminder of the destruction caused by the War.
Together with the restoration of the original church, a construction of the so called New Church started next to it. With an octogonal plant and an hexagonal tower, is built with blue crystal bricks which produce a beautiful light in the inside.
It is surprising how old and modern suit each other, one representing the past and the other representing the present and the modern world.
The Victory Column or Siegessäule in German, is a monument of about 226 feet (69 m) tall located in the middle of the Tiergarten Park. It can be reached by metro or by a nice walk through the park from the Brandenburg Gate / Reichstag area.
The reason of its erection was the celebration of the Prussian victory against Denmark. But by the time it was inaugurated Prussia had also defeated Austria and France, so they decided to add a Victory Bronze statue on top of it. In the beginning it was located in front of the Reichstag, but during the Nazi era, it was relocated to where you can find it today.
I really recommend getting here walking through the park. You can find various other sights along the way. If you walk on the Spree river side you can find the German Chancellery where the president does his/her thing, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the Schlöss Bellevue, the president’s official residence. If you walk on the other side of the park you’ll find nice green grass to lie down, watch the rabbits play around until getting to the Victory Column.
I hope you’re not too tired of walking because now comes the hardest part. You gonna have to climb 285 stairs up the tower to be rewarded with a beautiful 360º view of the Tiergarten with the Berlin city centre skyline on one side and the neighbourhoods on the other side.
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Is one of the biggest Jewish Museums there are in Europe and I highly recommend visiting it. Personally, one of the best I have ever visited.
The building design was commissioned to the Jewish-Polish architect Daniel Libeskind and it is really amazing. The museum counts with 3 main parts: the museum building, the Holocaust Tower and the Exile Garden.
In the museum's permanent exhibition, the history of Jews in Germany from the middle ages to today, is reviewed in an interactive and very entertaining way. Highlighting celebrities such as Einstein and, how could it be otherwise, devoting a special area to the black period of the Holocaust.
Regarding the Holocaust Tower and the Exile Garden I’d rather not do any spoilers nor give more details. They are two parts of the museum you have to experience yourself, so you better go, see it, and take your own conclusions with you.
Children: free under 6
The Tiergarten, with an area of 520 acres (210 hectares) is the most famous park in Berlin and one of the biggest urban parks in Germany. Its name, “garden of animals” in English, comes from years back when it was a hunting place for the Prussian aristocracy.
It’s a big green lung in the city centre, a perfect place to take a walk, jog, lie down on the grass or have a picnic when the weather allows it, and to disconnect from the stress of the city in a space surrounded by nature.
We walked all the way from the Brandenburg Gate straight to the Siegessäule, which takes 20 to 30 minutes depending on your pace. On our way back we walked along the Spree river side and there we saw the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (The House of the World’s Cultures). It is a space for contemporary art exhibitions, theatre and dancing, focused on non-European cultures. It has a flashy architecture, with kind of an oyster shape, and is commonly known among Berliners as the “Schwangere Auster” (pregnant oyster).
Very close from here there’s also the building of the German Chancellery, with the main function of supporting the chancellor in the govern activities. This one’s also a special building, which Berliners has baptized as the “Washing Machine”, since it has very straight lines with a huge circle in one of the facades. It is a very Instagrammed spot. We concluded our walk in the Reichstag.
I highly recommend spending some time around here, specially on a sunny day!
You can’t leave Berlin without trying the most famous food, currywurst. It is a quite simple fast food dish, very delicious though, consisting on a sausage cut into little pieces with some curry sauce on top with a side of bread roll or fried potatoes.
You can find several places selling currywurst in the city, but with no doubt, the most famous place is Curry36. They have two shops in Berlin, the most famous located at Mehringdamm 36 in the Kreuzberg area. A very modern, artsy and lively neighbourhood. And another one in the train station Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten.
Their offer includes wiener, rostbratwurst, knacker, boulette, but the star is currywurst. There’s so many kinds now: classic, vegan, gluten free, and for just 5$ (4€) you can enjoy 2 sausages with curry or mayo.
Truth be told, the place is so famous that there is always a line so you’re gonna have to wait and then eat your currywurst standing. If you don’t want to wait I highly recommend going to Konnopke's Imbiß, located in Schönhauser Allee 44B and opened since 1930. They also have a wide variety and it is just as delicious!
Another great park in Berlin is the Treptower Park. In here you’ll find a memorial to the Soviet soldiers fallen in the fight against the Nazi Germany and where are buried more than 7000 soldiers from the red army.
It was inaugurated back in 1949 to pay homage to the Soviet soldiers who lost their lives in the war. At the entrance, two kneeling soldiers receive you next to two large granite walls with the sickle and hammer of the Soviet flag engraved on it. Once you pass them, you found a massive park in which there are 16 marble tombs on each side. They have reliefs of struggle, sacrifice and suffering of the Soviet army along with Stalin's phrases in each one of them.
At the end of the park, an impressive 3.2 feet tall (12m) sculpture represents a liberator Soviet soldier, holding a child on one arm and a sword on the other, which goes through a swastika symbol that lies at his feet (as a sign of victory).
Maybe you wouldn’t fit this spot in your top 10 if you visit Berlin for a short period of time, but personally I was really impressed by it and it was definitely worth a visit.
Hi! I’m Txell, a part time traveller and full time foodie who wants to share my experiences with you, through travel guides and restaurant reviews.