As Germany’s largest, most happening city, Berlin’s lure is obvious. Its pace is frantic: new buildings sprout up; nightlife is frenetic, trends whimsical; the air crackles with creativity and graffiti is ubiquitous; even brilliant exhibitions and installations are quickly replaced. Love or loathe its concrete curves, this incongruous Eastern-bloc relic has the best views over the city. In this guide we have collected the best things to do in Berlin.
1. Go up to the heights of Fernsehturm
Overshadowing every building in the vicinity, the gigantic Fernsehturm, or TV tower, looms over the eastern Berlin skyline like a displaced satellite on a huge factory chimney.
The highest structure in Western Europe, the 368m-high transmitter was built during the isolationist 1960s, when the eastern part of the city was largely inaccessible to West Germans. It was intended as a highly visible symbol of the permanence of East Berlin and the German Democratic Republic. Once it opened in 1969 the tower soon became a popular stop-off on the East Berlin tourist circuit
2. Visiting East Side Gallery - the thing to do in Berlin for a street art
The Berlin Wall was always famous for its graffiti, and now, on the longest remaining stretch, vivid murals record its demise.
Trailing the banks of the River Spree is the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km stretch of surviving Berlin Wall painted with political and satirical murals that is now one of the city’s best-known landmarks. Originally painted just after the Wall fell the murals resonate with the attitude and aesthetics of the time.
Some murals are imaginative, some trite and some impenetrable, but one of the most telling – and often imitated – shows Brezhnev and Honecker locked in a passionate kiss, with the inscription, “God, help me survive this deadly love”.
Planning your trip to Berlin? Don't miss our guide to where to stay in Berlin.
3. Explore the halls of the Museum of Things
Kreuzberg is home to Berlin's artsy types, with street art, bookshops, cafés, and a definitively eclectic and liberal feel. Hidden away down the side of an apartment building just off Oranienstrasse you'll find The Museum of Things.
The museum displays a range of everyday objects from telephones to Casio watches, "documenting modern everyday life characterized by commodity culture". If you are interested in design or art history visiting Museum of Things is a thing to do in Berlin for you.
If this doesn't sound like your bag then take a wonder down Oranienstrasse anyway and pop into NGBK bookshop and exhibition space.
Visiting museums can be boring; in our list we've compiled the weirdest museums around the world, and Berlin Currywurst Museum is on that list.
4. Look at the glass dome of the Reichstag
Perhaps Germany’s most famous landmark, the muscular Neoclassical building of the Reichstag now has a magnificent glass cupola you can walk around for free and is definitely a thing worth experiencing in Berlin.
Directly behind the Brandenburger Tor a line of cobbles marks the course of the Berlin Wall where for 28 years it separated the Gate from the other great emblem of national unity, the Reichstag, which was restored as the seat of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, in 1999.
Skip the line to the famous glass dome of Berlin's beautiful Reichstag and enjoy sweeping views of the entire city from the roof with the Government Quarter tour and Reichstag dome visit.
5. Take a walk around the Gardens of the World
Looking for an oasis in the concrete jungle of Berlin? Look no further than the Gardens of the World. Located in the suburbs of Marzahn, this expansive space allows you to take a world trip from Italy to England and Bali to China. The Gardens are also used as an event space so watch out for their current announcements.
6. Delight your eyes with views of the Hackesche Höfe
A series of elegant early-twentieth-century courtyards filled with stylish cafés and boutiques.
One of the main draws of the Spandauer Vorstadt are the Hackesche Höfe, a series of nine courtyards (Höfe) built between 1905 and 1907 to house businesses, flats and places of entertainment. Restored to their Art Deco glory in the 1990s, the courtyards bustle with crowds visiting the cafés, stores, galleries and cultural spaces within.
The first courtyard, decorated with blue mosaic tiles, is home to the Chamäleon, at the forefront of the revival of the city’s interwar cabaret tradition.
7. Remember Berlin's historical past as you walk along Berlin Wall Memorial
Visiting the only remaining completely preserved section of the Wall forms part of a memorial to all the suffering caused by Berlin’s division is one of the things to do in Berlin.
A short walk north of S-Bahn Nordhof is the first of several buildings dedicated to the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial), the most moving of the city’s Wall memorials and the only one where it’s still possible to gain a true sense of how it divided the city.
Over the years, the facades of these buildings were cemented up and incorporated into the partition itself, until they were knocked down and replaced by the Wall proper in 1979.
A visit to the Berlin Wall is one of the free activities in German capital. Find even more free things to do in Berlin on our list.
8. Have a sobering experience at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
In the centre of Berlin, right next to Brandenburg Gate, sits the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (often referred to as 'the holocaust memorial'). Designed by Architect Peter Eisenman this memorial remembers the six million Jewish victims of the holocaust.
This is not your typical memorial, you can walk through it and experience it in a way that is completely unique to you. Each time I have walked through the towering, disorientating sculptures I have felt slightly different.
A trip to the Information Centre which lies directly below the memorial is well worth it; especially the Room of Dimensions which displays quotes and memoirs from Jewish people persecuted during the holocaust. A sobering experience.
9. Immerse yourself in the history of the Jewish people in the Jüdisches Museum
The stunning Libeskind-designed building in Kreuzberg is a worthy home for this affecting museum on the history of Jews in Germany.
A phenomenal silver fortress in the midst of residential streets once levelled by wartime bombing, the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin) is one of Berlin’s most exciting pieces of architecture. Uncomfortable angles and severe lines create a disturbed and uneasy space that mirrors the difficult story portrayed inside: that of the history and culture of German Jewry.
10. Taking a picture of Brandenburger Gate - a popular thing to do in Berlin
Portal to Unter den Linden, Berlin’s most impressive street and witness to several historical episodes: Napoleon stole the Quadriga; the Soviets built the Berlin Wall around it, then the world watched as the Wall tumbled down beside it. It's definitely a tourist attraction (Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are never far away) but don't let that stop you.
If you're interested in learning more about the adjacent Reichstag, consider booking a privately guided tour. Reichstag is one of the most modern and innovative parliament buildings in the world and your guide will explain more about its history and importance.
11. Escape for a day to Sanssouci
The prettiest of a series of fine Potsdam palaces that lie an easy day trip from Berlin.
Stretching west out of Potsdam’s town centre, Park Sanssouci was built for Frederick the Great as a retreat after he decided in 1744 that he needed a residence where he could live “without cares” – sans souci in the French spoken at court.
The task was entrusted to architect Georg von Knobelsdorff , who had already proved himself on other projects in Potsdam and Berlin. Schloss Sanssouci, on a hill overlooking the town, took three years to complete, while the extensive parklands were laid out over the following five years.
12. Wandering around the various markets - one of the best things to do in Berlin
Berlin loves its markets, with numerous food markets in each district and several weekly flea markets.
In addition to the usual malls and department stores that you can find all around Europe, Berlin has many small, interesting shops that are perfect for browsing. A remarkable number of quirky specialist stores are thriving; we’ve reviewed some of the more interesting and distinctive places. As a rule, the level of customer service is excellent – and if a shop can’t supply you with what you need the assistants will not hesitate to suggest alternatives.
A city is also an excellent place for secondhand shopping: if you like foraging you’ll love Berlin’s many flea markets and its interesting vintage clothes shops. Note that shops are closed on Sundays, with the exception of a handful of “special” shopping days each year.
13. Grab a bite to eat at Pizza Dach
Wühlischstrasse is choc-a-bloc with shops and restaurants. Pizza Dach is small, cosy, colourful and serves a pretty hearty pizza for a very reasonable price (with two pizzas and drinks costing under €20).
The music at Pizza Dach is less background and more really loud Europop, so this is the sort of restaurant you should visit for a quick bite before moving on to a bar, rather than for a romantic meal.
14. Trying one of Germany's favourite meals Currywurst - a thing to do in Berlin for foodies
Berlin snack bars serve every type of German sausage, but be sure to try Currywurst, their speciality.
The German term Imbiss was originally coined for little food stalls at medieval markets, and Berliners are certainly past masters in serving inexpensive food for eating on the hoof. The city’s immigrant population has built on the tradition, adapting recipes to produce quick portable meals.
The simple sausage has traditionally been the most popular Imbiss item and in Berlin it’s been transformed into the local speciality Currywurst – a chubby smoked pork sausage smothered in curried ketchup – often served with French fries (pommes frites).
15. Have breakfast at Café Einstein
If you're looking to splash out a little on a nice breakfast then look no further than Café Einstein, a classy café that is famous for its coffee and serves great food (I recommend the fruit with yoghurt and honey).
Housed in an elegant nineteenth-century German villa, with parquet floors and leather banquettes, this is about as close as you’ll get to the ambience of a prewar Berlin Kaffeehaus. On sunny afternoons make a beeline for the spacious garden and after dark hit the firstfloor Lebenstern bar for refined cocktails and cigars.
16. Have lunch at Café Nö!
Situated just off Unter Den Linden, Café Nö! is a haven away from the hustle and bustle of central Berlin, an intimate café experience with candles and a beautiful bar tucked away to the right of the entrance.
This wine bar-restaurant serves quality south German and Mediterranean food at very reasonable prices. The menu includes Flammkuchen (a type of thin-crust pizza, originally from Alsace) and the like, a huge mixed plate for two featuring almost everything on the menu.
If you're in the area and looking to explore Berlin more like a local, take a guided walking tour with a real Berliner. This small group tour allows for plenty of questions along the way to discover how Berlin turned into this cultural metropolis.
17. Have dinner at the Vietbowl
There's a couple of Vietbowl restaurants in Berlin but the one I went to was in the Friedrichshain area of Berlin, a tram ride away from the East Side Gallery. Vietbowl is one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Berlin. Not only do they serve fantastic food for casual diners but two starters, two mains and drinks costs less than €20.
18. Enjoying the famous Berliner Weisse - thing to do in Berlin you shouldn't miss
The standard beers found throughout Berlin are cloudy wheat beers (Weissen), Pilsners and dark beers (Dunkels).
One local quirk to look out for is the Berliner Weisse – a brew that is only just fermented and still quite watery and sour, and is traditionally drunk with a shot of fruity syrup, or Schuss. Ask for it mit grün and you get a dash of woodruff, creating a green beverage with a herby taste; mit rot secures a raspberry-flavoured drink that works wonders on a breakfast-time hangover.
For an introduction to Germany's beer culture, take a look at our beginner's guide to the best German beers.
19. Find yourself in the heart of Berlin's nightlife
You can party all night in Berlin’s bewildering array of bars and clubs; world-famous Berghain has been called the best club on the planet.
Since the days of the Weimar Republic, Berlin’s nightlife has had the reputation for being some of the best – and occasionally steamiest – in Europe. This image was fuelled by the savage caricatures of George Grosz and films like Cabaret. Even during the lean postwar years, West Berlin maintained a respectable ensemble of hangouts – the era during which the city’s famous late-night opening hours were established in order to keep the economy going.
After the Wende the inner city was again transformed into something of an adult playground as abandoned spaces were transformed into impromptu and informal cafés, bars, and clubs, often without official licences. The legacy of these places lives on in a slew of shabby-chic cafés, semi-dilapidated drinking dens and techno clubs that often continue until the next morning – sometimes longer.
20. After a busy weekend, head to Sunday brunch
Sunday brunch buffets are Berlin’s best hangover cure.
There dozens of cafes and restaurants in Berlin offering brunch menus. If you are looking for traditional meat-heavy German food visit Bräustübl Restauration.
You can head to Pasternak - a longstanding Jewish-Russian restaurant, named after the author of Doctor Zhivago, and best known for its incredible Sunday brunch (9am–3pm). Here you will find a regal spread of blinis, caviar, fish and much more. It’s so popular you’ll need to wake up early to find a seat (no reservations).
21. Take a walk around Tiergarten
A vast park full of attractive lakes and wooded nooks, and just steps away from many headline attractions.
The Tiergarten is a restful expanse of woodland and lakes that was originally designed as a hunting ground under Elector Friedrich III. Largely destroyed during the 1945 Battle of Berlin, after the war the park was used as farmland, chiefly to grow potatoes for starving citizens; since then the replanting has been so successful that these days it’s hard to tell it’s not original.
The German capital Berlin has plenty to offer: from historical sites to world-class museums and a vibrant nightlife. Enjoy our private tailor-made tour to explore a wide range of activities in Berlin and Potsdam.
22. Have a look at the Sony Center
Spectacular corporate architecture along the former Wall death strip directly on Potsdamer Platz.
Designed by Helmut Jahn, the striking, eco-friendly Sony Center occupies several glass-sheathed buildings grouped around a capacious, circular courtyard. Its rotunda, topped by a conical glass roof, is easily the most impressive showpiece in the area, open to the elements but at the same time providing a remove from the surrounding urban racket.
The centre houses shops for everything from cosmetics and jewellery to, of course, Sony electronics, as well as many cafés, bars and restaurants. Berliners have adopted the courtyard as a place to congregate for public events.
23. Take a trip to the museums on Museum Island
This cluster of world-class museums includes the Altes Museum with it antiquities collection, the Neues Museum with its Ancient Egyptian treasures, the Pergamon Museum with the world-famous Pergamon Altar.
The Museuminsel is home to some of the world’s greatest museums. It occupies the Spreeinsel, the island in the River Spree that formed the core of the medieval twin town Berlin-Cölln. From the fifteenth century onwards, due to its defensive position, the Spreeinsel became the site of the Residenz – the fortress-cum-palace and church of the ruling Hohenzollern family.
There are five museums in total, each worthy of exploration:
- the Pergamonmuseum, with its jaw-dropping antiquities;
- the Altes Museum, and its superlative Greek vases;
- the Neues Museum, specializing in Ancient Egypt;
- the Altes Nationalgalerie, full of nineteenth-century European paintings;
- and the Bode-Museum, one of Europe’s most important sculpture collections.
24. Go shopping in Kadewe
A gigantic, classy department store in Berlin City West on the Ku'damm street with an excellent food court.
At the eastern end of Tauentzienstrasse, the rather bland continuation of Ku’damm east of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, is the largest department store in Europe, KaDeWe. An abbreviation of Kaufhaus Des Westens (“Department Store of the West”), it opened in 1907 and quickly became a temple of luxury in a rapidly modernizing city.
- Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin
- The Circus Hotel
- St Christopher's Inn Berlin Mitte
Where to stay in Berlin:
The jewel of Berlin’s prewar luxury hotels was re-created in the 1990s in all its excessive splendour.
Sixty smartly appointed rooms, a secluded, ivy-covered courtyard, and a rooftop with excellent views. The hotel restaurant, Fabisch, serves fresh regional cuisine with a twist, and there’s a microbrewery across the road at the Circus Hostel.
This stylish boutique spot is tucked discreetly away inside a lovely nineteenth-century building and just 10min from the famous Mauerpark. Amenities are minimal but the staff are friendly, the rooms and apartments gorgeously appointed and there’s an associated café next door that serves great breakfasts and lunches.
This hostel is centrally located in Mitte, Berlin's culture and museum district. It offers free WiFi, a large outdoor terrace, a 24-hour reception, free city walking tours and hostel bar crawls.
Small, offbeat hotel on an attractive residential street in the heart of the lively Prenzlauer Berg scene. Themed rooms (Rome, Picasso, Safari) come with access to the Mediterranean garden.
Berlin may not be the best place for you to travel with children. In our guide we've compiled 30 best destinations to travel with kids of all ages where they won't have time to get bored.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Berlin without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
Ready for a trip to Berlin in Germany? Check out the snapshot Pocket Rough Guide Berlin. If you travel further in Germany, read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in Germany. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Germany and our local travel experts. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
Top image: Reichstag - parliament building, inside the glass dome. Berlin, Germany © Shutterstock
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