Berlin, the capital city of Germany, has a rich, storied past stretching back through the Cold War, the two world wars, to the swinging 20s and beyond. Today it is the largest city in the European Union, yet at the same time, you’ll find that Berlin is surprisingly affordable when compared to other larger European cities.
In this article, we’ll run through some of the best places to visit in Berlin including its historical sites and attractions. Are you ready to explore this sprawling city of almost four million inhabitants based on my experience of living on and off in the city since 2008. As Germans say, “Los geht’s!”.
Things to do in Berlin, Germany
Visiting Berlin? Book your private airport transfer from the Berlin Brandenburg Airport. We love booking a private transfer when landing in a new city. The meet and greet service at the airport’s arrival hall makes for a seamless transfer in comfort to our hotel lobby.
This article about popular historic tourist attractions in Berlin was originally written by Berlin resident Thomas Carney. It has been updated and expanded for 2022 with fresh new Berlin tours and places to stay.
1. Visit the Reichstag
The Reichstag building is the home of the German Parliament. Famously, its burning in 1933 was a trigger for the Nazi’s consolidation of power. After German reunification in 1990, the rebuilt Reichstag was restored after years of neglect since World War II and today is one of the most popular sites in all of Germany thanks to free entrance to the glass dome on top that gives spectacular views of Berlin. The glass dome was created for more than just the view, it represents transparency and Germany’s united democracy.
You’ll have to register ahead of time to book a visit, and it’s important to bring your ID. Personally, my favorite time to visit is just before closing when you get a view of Berlin at night.
2. Stop by Brandenburg Gate
No visit to Berlin would be complete without visiting one of Berlin’s most famous gathering places. Located just five minutes’ walk away from the Reichstag building, you’ll find the famous Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s old city gate. It was in front of this monument that Regan issued an ultimatum to the Soviet leader, Gorbachev, to tear down the Berlin wall. To the east of the gate, you’ll find the Pariser square which leads on to “Unter den Linden”, a wide boulevard leading down towards Museum Island, which is lined with embassies, five-star hotels and high-end boutiques.
We took this Berlin Third Reich Walking Tour that visited all the major attractions and historical spots in Berlin. Meeting at Brandenburg Gate, we began the tour listening to the history of the final days leading up to World War II. We passed the rebuilt Reichstag and seat of the German House of Parliament, visited the Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten, The Holocaust Memorial and Hitler’s Bunker which is now a very unremarkable parking lot.
3. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Berlin is full of reminders of the crimes of the Nazi era from the brass-plated stones you’ll find in the sidewalks marking the last residence of victims on the Nazi regime to monuments such as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as The Holocaust Memorial is a monument is located centrally just beside Brandenburg Gate. It’s made up of 2711 rectangular blocks that descend deeper as you walk further into the memorial, giving you a sense of isolation and unease.
The Holocaust Memorial is free to visit and it is suitable for wheelchairs. Located underground beneath the memorial you’ll find an information center on the Holocaust with free entrance almost every day.
4. Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous border crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin featured in countless films such as Bridge of Spies. It was the top tourist attraction we wanted to see when visiting Berlin. (outside the Berlin Wall of course) The Wall Museum at Checkpoint Charlie, which provides information on the Berlin wall, is worth a visit. Read: Top 16 Fun Facts About Germany That You Probably Didn’t Know
We took a free walking tour in Berlin to see many of the historical sites in Berlin. We highly recommend free city tours as they are often hosted by a local and when the tour is over you only pay what you can to suit everyone’s budget. We recommend 10 Euros per person, but it really is up to you. We took the Original Free Berlin walking tour here.
4. Visit a Remaining Piece of the Berlin Wall
Remnants of the Berlin Wall that separated East Berlin from West Berlin still exist around the city. One such place is the Berlin Wall Memorial, where you’ll find a visitor center along with a remaining section of the wall. Another section of the Berlin Wall Memorial is that is popular is the East Side Gallery on the Spree river, which has many famous graffiti sections.
The Berlin Wall memorial is one of the top attractions in Berlin and there are several places to see its remains. We took a Street Art and Workshop in Berlin and it was amazing. Graffiti has a strong history in Berlin and is entrenched in its history. Learn about its origins and then have a lesson on how to make some street art of your own. This tour shows you how to create graffiti with spray paints (it’s harder than it looks) and then paint your graffiti on the original Berlin Wall where you’ll get a picture of your Graffiti on the historic wall. Get more details here.
5. The Berlin TV Tower at Alexanderplatz
East Germany built the TV Tower to be a symbol of the technological advances of the Eastern Bloc in 1969. Today the Berlin TV Tower is the highest vantage point in Berlin. You can take an elevator up to the 203-meter high observation deck and viewing platform where you’ll get the best view in all of Berlin. This being Germany, you can also enjoy a beer at the top at the bar or even eat at the restaurant that slowly revolves around to give you a 360-degree view of Berlin.
You can book tickets in advance here for fast track tickets and priority entrance to Berlin’s Television Tower at an exclusive window seat in the Sphere restaurant. From 200 meters (656 feet) above the city admire views of the Reichstag, Berlin Cathedral, the Olympic Stadium, and Potsdamer Platz. See more information here
6. Museum Island
Berlin is home to some amazing museums. Conveniently, you’ll find five world-class museums situated on Museum Island right in the center of Berlin. Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is located in the middle of the Spree River This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most frequented museums in all of Europe. As these museums on Museum Island have large collections, I personally would choose one to visit rather than trying to take in all five on one day.
Let’s break down the museums individually to help you decide which one to see. Hours: 8 to Midnight daily
Pergamon Museum – Perhaps the most famous on Museum Island the Pergamon Museum Art Museum has been undergoing renovations since 2013. (so expect exhibits to be closed and have long lines). In the Middle East Museum, you’ll find entire historical buildings such as the Pergamon Altar, Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and the Processional Way from Babylon. The Islamic Art Museum lets you discover artifacts from Muslim as well as Christian and Jewish groups and the Antiquity Collection houses one of the most significant collections of Greek and Roman Art. Book your entrance ticket in advance here.
Altes Museum – The Altes Museum has an amazing collection of Greek and Roman antiquities where you will immerse in the art and culture of the Greeks and Romans. There are monumental columns and a rotunda inspired by the Pantheon Tickets can be bought here.
Alte Nationalgalerie – The Old National Art Gallery houses Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Biedermeier, Impressionism, and early Modernity. Highlights include Sleeping Beauty and impressionist works by French Impressionists such as Manet, Monet, and Renoir. Discover Romanticism wotj The Monk by the Sea, the Group of Princesses and the Gothic Cathedral at the Water. Tickets here
Neues Museum – See three museums in one at the Neues Museum. It has exhibits from the Egyptian Museum, the Antique Collection, and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History. Highlights of the Neues Museum include the famous bust of Queen Neferti and Priam’s Treasure from the Heinrich Schliemann collection. Get your tickets here.
The Bode Museum houses the Museum of Byzantine Art and the Sculpture Collection plus one of the largest coin collections in the world. Get your tickets here. All museums are part of the UNESCO World Heritage designation.
7. Berlin Cathedral
When visiting any European city it is always worthwhile going into the city’s main cathedral. The beautiful Berlin Cathedral is topped by picturesque domes creating a striking scene. It is the largest cathedral in Berlin and is located near Museum Island. Like so much of Berlin, it was heavily damaged during World War II but has been restored. Make sure to climb to the top for views of the city, and don’t forget to visit the crypts below.
Take this boat tour – A boat tour is an amazing way to see the capital city from the water while enjoying a light lunch. See the government district, Bellevue Palace and Berlin Central Station on the 2.5 hour boat tour along the River Spree.
8. Stop by Gendarmenmarkt for a Coffee
Berlin was largely destroyed in the second world war, so many parts of the city lack the historical buildings of other European capitals. One exception is Gendarmenmarkt, a market square situated between Under den Linden and Checkpoint Charlie. It’s perfect for sitting out on a cafe terrace and enjoying a coffee before your next stop of the day.
Over the holiday season, you’ll find one of Berlin’s best Christmas markets in Berlin at Gendarmenmarkt, where you can sample mulled wine and German Christmas biscuits.
9. Oberbaum Bridge
Spanning the Spree River, The Oberbaum Bridge (The Oberbaumbrücke) is one of the most photographed places in Berlin. It was used as a checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the Cold War from 1961 to 1989 and has become a symbol of Berlin’s unity. It was. Built in 1895, the Oberbaum Bridge, this beautiful double-deck bridge spans the River Spree connecting the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. The two decks are for transportation, the upper carrying the U-Bahn with the lower being a roadway. It was used as a checkpoint
Tiergarten is to Berlin as Central Park is to New York. Spanning 519 acres it is the heart of the city bordering major attractions like Brandenburg Gate. It was once the royal hunting grounds but in the late 17th century was turned into a leisure park. After WWII many of the trees were cut down and used as fuel in the winter but in 1949 many trees were replanted from donations across Germany. Inside the park, there are treelined paths, a Biergarten, and Siegessäule (Victory Column). Note you can climb to the top of Victory Column for a birds-eye vie.
11. Berlin Zoo
While we typically don’t recommend zoos, but the Berlin Zoo has extensive breeding programs to reintroduce endangered species. It is located in Tiergarten, and it works to keep animals in natural environments as close to their natural habitats as possible.
12. Berlin Nightlife
Berlin probably has one of the most lively nightlife scenes in all of Europe and no visit to Berlin would be complete without going out at least once! We chose the nightlife scene in the artsy and bohemian district of Kreuzberg for our evenings out. Other hot nightclub areas in Berlin include Torstrasse in the clubbing district of Mitte, and the historic Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg (the oldest LGBTQ neighborhood). Berlin is famous for having everything from techno dance clubs to indie rock bars.
13. Charlottenburg Palace
Located a little outside the center of the capital city, Charlottenburg Palace is the largest palace in Germany. Take a tour to see the apartments of Frederick the Great. For something unique to do in Berlin, book An Evening at Charlottenburg Palace that includes dinner and a concert experience with the Berlin Residence Orchestra. Charlottenburg Palace was a former summer residence for the royal House of Hohenzollern. You can book your tour in advance here.
Kaufhaus des Westen (KaDeWe)
It’s the largest department store in continental Europe and has been welcoming patrons for more than 100 years. It was destroyed after WWII but reopened in the 1950s and has become one of Berlin’s top tourist attractions. It’s a great place for shopping for souvenirs and name brands all under one roof. This is also a good place to grab a bit to eat. Head to the 6th floor for some affordable and delicious German food. German Food: 20 Traditional Dishes To Try in Germany or At Home
Where To Stay to Make the Most of Your Berlin Trip
If you’re excited about Berlin and want to make a trip out of it, you then have the question of where to stay. Berlin is a sprawling city, so making sure you choose the right location to stay in will make a big difference.
As you may have noticed, many of the popular historical sites of Berlin are found in “Mitte”, literally meaning Center in German. If you have the budget this is a great area to stay in as it is within walking distance to many popular sites and attractions. Hotels along the “Unter den Linden” Boulevard are very centrally located but also among the most expensive in Berlin.
Accommodation around the “Volkspark am Weinberg” offers an excellent mix of locations as well as great surrounding restaurants and bars.
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How to Get Around Berlin, Germany
Berlin has a very efficient public transportation system. The best way to get around Berlin is by using the underground trains known as the U-Bahn. You can purchase tickets per zone and there are 10 different lines. Most of the tourist attractions in Berlin are located in zone A and B. Zone A spans the city center of Berlin, including the S-Bahn-Ring. Zone B begins outside the S-Bahn ring and goes to the city limits. The fare zone Berlin AB is used most by travelers.
The U-Bahn runs 24 hours on weekends and 1 am on weekdays. Before boarding the U-Bahn, make sure to validate your ticket in the machine. You can’t simply purchase a ticket and walk on, it must be validated beforehand.
You can download the BVG App to help you get around Berlin. We also use Google Maps to get around cities, you can easily follow the best transportation route on Google Maps.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Berlin, Germany
The best time to visit Berlin is from May to September. This is when the weather is pleasant, there are plenty of festivals and events and it’s great for patio season. In my opinion, the month of May is the best time to visit Berlin, as you’ll enjoy warm weather without overheating (Germans don’t do air conditioning as a rule). The city also feels incredibly vibrant as people awake from the long winter.
Berlin winters are long, cold, and dark. In mid-December, the light will start to fade around 3:30 pm. However, the Christmas markets with mulled wine and holiday decorations do offset the dreary winters.
April and October are also good times to visit Berlin and you can find better deals during the shoulder season.
Dave and I took our tours in Berlin with Get Your Guide. It is our go-to tour company when traveling. This highly rated Berlin Wall and Graffiti walking tour is a great way to explore Berlin’s alternative art and graffiti culture. We really enjoyed this graffiti-inspired walking tour along the streets of the Mitte, Kreuzberg, and Friedrichshain districts.
And there you have it, the best places in Berlin, Germany. If you are visiting the capital city, make sure to spend a few days discovering its history, culture and nightlife scene. Have you been to Berlin? Share your Berlin travel tips and advice in the comments below.