The German capital city of Berlin is the largest in the country and, arguably, one of the most important. It’s a city filled to the brim with somber history, street art, nightlife, and culture for days. There is no shortage of things to do in Berlin – here are some of our favorites.
Berlin is a gorgeous capital city rife with history, and a great place to visit during all seasons. No matter the time of year, there are plenty of things to do in Berlin. It can get quite cold in winter and pretty warm in summer, so be sure to refer to a Berlin packing list before your trip! Also, if you are going in the cold months check out these things to do in Berlin during the winter.
Table of Contents
1. Admire the Beautiful Berlin Cathedral
Located on Museuminsel, and backed by the River Spree, Berlin Cathedral is one of the best things to do in Berlin. This ornate building is known for its intricate architecture, epic history and is one of the most magical places to visit in Germany.
Regrettably, the Cathedral underwent some damage during WWII, but restoration efforts began on the structure shortly after the Berlin Wall fell. Today, you can enter the cathedral and admire the Baroque style interior, see the Hohenzollern crypt (the final resting place of the Hohenzollern royal family), and explore the cathedral’s onsite museum.
Don’t miss the incredible views from the roof, overlooking Berlin’s historic center! Berlin is sheer magic for all lovers of history.
2. See the Abandoned Berlin Tempelhof Airport
One of the best things to do in Berlin is paying a visit to the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport. This was one of the first airports in Berlin and many important events happened here. One of the Wright brothers actually held a flight demonstration here! The airport’s building is very impressive and is considered an architectural masterpiece. However, the airport has been closed for more than ten years.
Nowadays, “Tempelhofer Feld” is the largest public park in Berlin. You can go biking, skating, flying kites, or a number of other activities! All the things you can do here make this former airport a great place for everyone. The best part is that you can do this on a real runway. Not to mention, it’s free! It’s a great pit stop, even if you’re only spending one day in Berlin.
3. Smell the Roses at Botanical Garden Berlin
The Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum in Berlin is a magical place that will sing to all of your senses. With over 20,000 species of native and non-native plants, you’re sure to discover something new and beautiful. It is one of the largest and most extensive botanical gardens in the world, and certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in Berlin! Relax by the lake, meander down the picturesque trails, or simply admire the impressive amount of plant species in the gardens.
4. Check out Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic monuments. It is not only the city’s sole surviving historical gate, it also symbolizes the former division of East and West Berlin and its subsequent reunification.
There is a sculpture on top of the gate, a chariot drawn by four horses. This Quadriga statue was taken from the gate in 1806 when French emperor Napoleon took the city. The statue was transported to Paris as a trophy of sorts of Napoleon’s victory. A few years later, in 1814 after Napoleon’s forced abdication, the statue was returned to Berlin where it has remained on the Brandenburg Gate ever since.
5. Take a Photo at Checkpoint Charlie
Particularly suitable for history buffs, Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known crossing point from East to West Berlin during the Cold War. The sandbags, booth, and flag are all based on the original site. While it is a very popular tourist site in the city, it’s still worth a quick stop. The name Checkpoint Charlie comes from the NATO alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.). Checkpoint Charlie (or, Checkpoint C) was the third checkpoint operated by the Allies.
In 1961, Checkpoint Charlie was the site of a confrontation between American and Soviet tanks. It was also a popular escape site, for those trying desperately to leave East Berlin and head West.
6. Increase your Awareness at the Holocaust Memorial
Contribution: Nicole, Go Far Grow Close
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a massive outdoor interactive structure in the middle of Berlin. It is a place of remembrance and commemoration for the six million Jews who were murdered in Europe during the Holocaust. It was officially opened on 10 May 2005, although planning for the memorial began in 1988.
The monument consists of the Field of Stelae designed by Peter Eisenman and the underground Information Centre. The Field of Stelae consists of 2710 steles (concrete blocks of various sizes) that stand on 19,073 m² (4.7 acres) of gently lowered land. You immerse yourself in this fully walkable structure from all four sides, the wave-like shape of which is perceived differently from each location.
The exhibition in the Information Centre documents the persecution and extermination of the Jews and the historical sites of the crimes. It’s a must-do for anyone who wants to learn more about the atrocities that were committed against the Jews during WWII. The outdoor memorial is suitable for any age, although children should be respectful and not climb any of the steles. The indoor exhibition is not suitable for anyone under the age of 14 years old.
Admission is free to both the Memorial and the Information Centre with free daily guided tours in English and German.
7. Visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Much more than just a church, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church serves as an ominous reminder of the perils of war. The church was initially built in the late 19th century, a tribute to Wilhelm I, the first German Kaiser. It had five bells that rang so loudly the wolves in the zoo would howl each time they rang. During WWII, the bells were melted down for munitions.
Air raids destroyed much of the church in 1943, and the church’s main spire broke completely off. Afterward, the Allies did not want to reconstruct the church since it had been emblematic of excessive national pride. Eventually, the ruins of the original church were incorporated with a new design. This fusion of old and new serves as a memorial and a symbol of peace and reconciliation.
8. Get Lost in Kreuzberg
Kreuzberg is a trendy, hipster-ish neighborhood in Berlin. There are a lot of students, artists, and alternative crowds. It’s also a popular immigrant neighborhood, leading to its reputation as one of Berlin’s most multicultural neighborhoods. Visit Kreuzberg for the eclectic cafés and restaurants, second-hand stores, and punk-rock vibes of the neighborhood’s nonconformist history. Be sure to visit Curry 36 for some of Berlin’s best currywurst.
9. Grab a Bite to Eat at Markthalle ix
Berlin, Germany – July 29, 2019: Markthalle Neun, Market Hall Nine. It is a historical market with street food in Kreuzberg borough
Markthalle Neun is a wonderfully unique market that offers a ‘different’ kind of shopping in the city. Its location in Kreuzberg perfectly suits its eclectic sense of community. The Markthalle places high emphasis on sustainability, local and seasonal ingredients, and a cohesive community. There are a number of street food-type vendors where you can grab a quick lunch to-go or with friends, emphasizing the importance of small-scale food production values.
10. Peruse Mauerpark Flea Market
The flea market at Mauerpark is a must-add item to your Berlin itinerary if you’re into shopping and vintage goodies. Head to the park on Sundays when the legendary Berlin attitude can be felt in the air as people amble through the stalls of vendors. Flip through old records, check out vintage clothes, or even get yourself an old-school bicycle to take to the streets of Berlin.
Photo & Contribution: Nicholas, Rambling Feet
In the heart of Berlin’s Mitte district is the Museumsinsel or Museum Island. It is a collection of museums that were established in the 19th Century to house Prussia’s enormous collection of art and antiquities. One could think of it as that kingdom’s answer to the Roman Forum. The collection, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprises the Berlin Cathedral, the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, the Pergamon Museum, and the new Humboldt Forum. A single-day pass to visit all of them costs 18 euros and a three-day pass 11 euros more. Or, try the Museuminsel Welcome Card, which gives you 72 hours of access to the museums as well as discounts at other attractions, restaurants, and free public transportation.
Art and history buffs will enjoy seeing the collections that feature treasures from the ancient world. There is no guarantee that all the current exhibits will remain in Berlin forever, however, because the countries that they came from are requesting their return. The most famous include the bust of Nefertiti from Egypt in the Neues Museum, the coin collection of the Bode Museum, and paintings by Monet and Manet in the National Gallery. The highlight, however, has to be the Pergamon Museum, which was specially built to house the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Visitors thus get to see and appreciate the full scale of these massive archeological finds.
12. Tour Old Nuclear Shelters
An abandoned prison in an underground bunker. A former Soviet cold war bomb shelter. The sealed door of the bunker. Pipes and valves. Low light condition. Bunker of fear and nightmares.
Contribution: Dzangir, Dr. Jam Travels
One of the most interesting things to do in Berlin is taking a tour of the nuclear shelters. In the Cold War geopolitical tensions rose between the Soviet Union and the United States with Allies. It spanned from soon after WWII, 1947 until 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. Both sides accumulated huge stores of nuclear bombs. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) discouraged a pre-emptive attack by either side. But still, there was the imminent threat of nuclear war. Many countries took measures in the event that this happened.
Today, you can tour some of the nuclear shelters that were established in Berlin. You will see everything from old air-raid shelters that were modified in the early ‘50s to shelters found in metro stations that were built as late as the ‘70s.
Despite local authorities hoping to ease the minds of the general public, the capacity of these shelters was still restricted to a mere 10% of the population.
13. Take a Workshop at Prinzessinnengärten
Berlin’s ultimate urban garden is conveniently located in the ultra-hip neighborhood Kreuzberg. The garden, once a desolate wasteland, was transformed into a welcoming community garden in 2009. In addition to practical cultivation spaces, Prinzessinnengärten is also home to events and workshops. These focus on things like bee-keeping, food preservation methods, and composting, among others.
14. Take in City Panoramas at the Reichstag Building
Contribution: Kenny, Knycx Journeying
As the capital of Germany, Berlin is filled with landmarks and museums that reflect the unique history of the country in the last century. One of the most iconic architectures is the Reichstag, i.e. the parliament building. It’s located in the heart of the city, within walking distance of the train station and the Brandenburg Gate.
The parliament was originally built in 1894 and then refurbished in the 1960s after being seriously damaged during WWII. This is the location where the German reunification ceremony took place on Oct 3, 1990. A year after, it was once again the parliament of the country when Berlin was designated Germany’s capital city. The building features a large glass dome that opens to the public and offers a panoramic view of Berlin.
Access to the dome is free, however, visitors must sign up for a guided tour beforehand. This is a sought-after attraction and so it is recommended to register at least a few days in advance. The tour includes entrance to both the dome and the roof terrace, with an informative guided audio tour and a photo display regarding the history of the building. The entire experience lasts about an hour.
If you enjoy viewing a city’s unique skyline and want to know more modern but lesser-known observation decks around the world, check out the Lesser-Known World’s Best Observation Decks.
15. Stroll around Sanssouci Park
Photo & Contribution: Daniel, Urban Abroad
When in Germany and looking for the best things to do in Berlin, Sanssouci Park should definitely make the cut. The gardens which surround the Sanssouci Palace are an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. And you’ll also find numerous museums as well as places to sit, eat and relax. With over 3,000 fruit trees and vegetable gardens on display, the site is reminiscent of one of the many urban gardens in Berlin. However, the sheer scale and attention to detail of the gardens here are on another level. You could literally spend the full day walking around the gardens exploring all the different sections.
Getting here from Berlin is simple via the train system and it takes less than an hour. Alternatively, you can take the bus if you want to see more of the city along the way. All in all, Sanssouci Park is a landmark you definitely will regret not visiting, especially if you have more than a few days to spend in Berlin.
16. Check out the Berlin Soviet War Memorial
Photo & Contribution: Tom, Travel Past 50
The Berlin Soviet War Memorial is a military cemetery in Treptower Park in the former East Berlin.
Many people know very little of the Soviets’ role in the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Most are also unaware that, of the 50 million people killed in World War II, approximately half of them were Soviet citizens. Or that the final battle on the European front of the war, the Battle of Berlin, was the Russians vs. the Germans and that the Americans and British were still a long way away from Berlin.
If you know a little about that battle, you know that the Germans defended their capital ferociously and that more than 80,000 Red Army soldiers were killed in the final battles of the last month of the war. Seven thousand of those Soviet soldiers are buried in this expansive, somber site.
Yakov Belopolsky built the memorial in the Socialist Realist style to commemorate 7,000 of the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin. The monument is the largest Soviet war memorial outside of the former Soviet Union.
Visitors walk past a small statue of a grieving woman representing the Motherland to two giant granite Soviet flags below which two grieving kneeling soldiers stand guard. Sixteen stone sarcophagi represent the sixteen Soviet republics just pas the flags. A 12-meter-high statue of a Soviet soldier standing atop a crushed swastika is the centerpiece of the monument.
17. Check out Street Art on the Remains of the Berlin Wall
BERLIN, GERMANY June 01, 2015: Street art at the Teufelsberg Site in Berlin
Berlin is the ultimate city destination to explore some of the best street art around the world. There are a number of areas in the city that showcase this raw, urban talent. Raw Gelände in Friedrichshain is a personal favorite, a large urban area with a beer garden and epic street art murals to admire. To combine street art with living history, head to the East Side Gallery. Here you’ll find amazing street art adorning the longest remaining piece of the Berlin Wall. There are so many great opportunities to see Berlin street art, they’ll be hard to miss.
18. Hike up to Teufelsburg
One of the most interesting things to do in Berlin is to visit the site of Teufelsberg, an abandoned NSA Spy Tower on the outskirts of the city. It borders on dark tourism, and you can find Teufelsberg in the Grunewald Forest. The name translates to ‘Devil’s Mountain’ and reaching the site requires some hiking through the forest trails. It takes a little more than an hour to reach the site from Berlin’s city center with public transportation or you book a Teufelsberg tour that includes transportation.
Entry to the defunct spy tower costs 8€ and today the grounds are full of street art and vendors. Every wall of the massive building is covered in vibrant murals which you can scout as you ascend the tower. At the upper level is a listening station which offers a great view of the city and the surrounding forest.
The plateau on which the tower was constructed came to be when the rubble was cleared from West Berlin after World War II. Occupying Allied forces used it as fill to cover a planned Nazi military-technical college. It was never completed but was covered when efforts to blow up the Nazi building failed. Because they weren’t permitted to dump the rubble in Soviet-occupied East Germany, this was their only solution. The origin story has also spurred urban legends of secret technology found on the site which was confiscated by Cold War America. One matter of certain truth is that Teufelsberg is a great way to spend time hiking, seeing street art, and learning about the history of Berlin.
19. Topography of Terrors
The Topography of Terrors is among the most visited museums in all of Berlin. It is located on the site of the former Gestapo headquarters and tells the hauntingly somber account of what Berlin was like as the capital of the Third Reich. The museum also teaches various aspects of German national socialism, the different organizations that were considered key players (the SS, Gestapo, Reich Security), and the dire consequences of Nazi rule. Some of the exhibitions and content in the museum are quite graphic, and not intended for the faint-hearted. However, for anyone interested in history during this time, it should be high on your list of things to do in Berlin.
Admire the TV Tower
The Berlin TV Tower belongs to one of Berlin’s top attractions and serves as a good landmark for Berliners and visitors alike. If you need to know in what direction Alexanderplatz is, just look for the pointy tower.
The TV Tower, which was built in the 60’s, offers magnificent views of the city. It’s recommended to come during the day, ideally a sunny one, for the best experience. An elevator will whisk you swiftly to the height of 203 meters within 40 seconds, from where you’ll be able to enjoy not just the views from the observation deck, but also a drink in a bar. Right above, on a separate floor, you can find a revolving restaurant. It rotates slowly, making a full 360-degree turn in 30 minutes. Having a meal and observing the lovely Berlin from all sides is quite the experience.
Visiting the TV Tower can be a bit tricky since you need to plan ahead and reserve a ticket in advance for a specified time slot. You can purchase it online – a ticket for an adult currently costs €22.50. Alternatively, you can reserve it on the spot for €18.50 per adult, but it’s unlikely you’d be able to get in immediately.