This article was originally posted June 30, 2018, and has been updated March 27, 2019.
Berlin, Germany is a fascinating place to visit, with lots to see and do. Our Berlin travel guide will help you make the most of your visit.
Travel to Berlin, the capital of Germany, and be entertained from dusk ‘til dawn and ‘til dusk again. No matter what your preference, from museums to nightlife to fun with the kids, this centuries-old metropolis is one of the most vibrant, open cultures in Europe. Make the most of your trip with our Berlin travel guide!
The 2015 thriller Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks, was filmed here. It was also here that President Kennedy gave his famous speech, Ich bin ein Berliner (which, some say means “I am a jam doughnut” instead of “I am a Berliner”…oops!).
The city is home to countless beer gardens in the Tiergarten, chic shopping boutiques, and outdoor markets. It is definitely one of the best cities to visit in Germany, even with their notorious Berliner Schnauze, which literally translated means “Berlin snout”. This slang word aptly describes how Berlin natives can at times come off as abrupt and gruff with a wickedly oddball sense of humor.
With so much to do in the country’s capital, use this Berlin travel guide to steer you to all the best spots. Read to the end to uncover our insider tips to help you make the most of your Berlin vacation.
No trip to the capital of Germany would be complete without taking in the iconic remains of the Berlin Wall. In 1944, the Allies divided Berlin into four sectors. For many years, these were governed jointly by the Allied powers. As relations between the East and West began to deteriorate, the Soviets withdrew from the alliance to govern their sector independently.
Over time, more and more people began leaving the Soviet sector for the Western sectors. In 1961, virtually overnight, the “anti-fascist protection wall” was erected. It remained in place until 1989, when people from both sides of the city descended upon the wall with hammers and reunified their city.
During this joyous period, the wall was almost totally destroyed, and in many parts of the city, you can see double rows of cobblestones where the wall once stood. Today, there are several unmissable parts that remain. They should be on everyone’s list of what to do in Berlin.
Another sight you can’t miss in Berlin is Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz. The Gate was built in 1791 as a gateway to the city. Today, it remains the most iconic image associated with the capital of Germany. After the Berlin Wall, this is the top pick on our Berlin travel guide. During World War II, every single building around Pariser Platz was destroyed by air raids. The only structure left standing was the Brandenburg Gate.
Later, when the cities were divided, it fell within the Soviet sector. The Gate was situated in the massive exclusion zone which made way for the Berlin wall. Therefore, the Gate was inaccessible until the wall came down. Now, it is the undisputed symbol for a reunited Berlin.
The Checkpoint Charlie Museum was founded shortly after the Wall was built in 1961. Checkpoint Charlie itself was originally designed as a center for protest against the East German restrictions. Further, it was intended as a resource and safe house for defectors and refugees. Initially a 2 ½ room apartment, it later moved to its current site as the first building after crossing into West Germany. While it doesn’t have to be the first building you see on your German vacation, it definitely is worth a spot on our Berlin travel guide.
From their vantage point inside, aides could monitor the border crossing and welcome escapees inside. Today, you can see a sampling of escape objects used to defect, including a hot air balloon, planes, cars, and even a mini-submarine.
The museum is open year-round, and you can book guided tours and purchase tickets at their website, http://www.mauermuseum.de/.
East Side Gallery
In 1990, over 100 artists from around the world used this stretch of the wall as their canvas. Here, the “Fraternal Kiss”, an 11-foot-high mural of Leonid Brezhnev kissing Party Chairman Erich Honecker, adorns the remaining portion of the wall. It is such an iconic image that you really can’t travel to Berlin without seeing it. And while you’re there, be sure to check out other nearby tourist sites from our Berlin travel guide.
Potsdamer Platz has almost always been one of the biggest economic centers in Berlin. It was laid to waste during World War II and bisected by the Berlin Wall, and therefore left to neglect during the Cold War.
Since German reunification, Potsdamer Platz has been the site of major redevelopment projects. Here, you can dine in a variety of restaurants, visit museums, or pause for a moment of remembrance at the Holocaust Memorial.
Centrally located, it is quite close to the Brandenburg Gate or the Reichstag, and Tiergarten Park. For a more detailed description or to take an online audio tour, visit the official website at https://potsdamerplatz.de/en/.
Berlin Wall Memorial
When the wall finally came down in 1989, it was here that the first bricks were broken off. An observation tower, audio tours, indelible images, and a visitor’s center tell the story of the Berlin Wall from start to finish. This is one of the must-see locations on our Berlin travel guide.
You can peer through the gaps of a 70-meter wall under the gaze of a watchtower. Or, you can learn how residents climbed down ropes in the first days after the wall’s construction to escape to the West.
Admission to the open air exhibit is free. For more information on guided tours, you can visit the official website at http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de.
Seeing the Wall on Two Wheels
When deciding what to do in Berlin, you might want to consider seeing the wall on a bike. The Berlin Wall Cycle Route covers over 160 kilometers along the path that was patrolled by border guards and customs officials. To plan your own cycle tour during your Berlin vacation or sign up for a guided cycle tour, visit https://www.visitberlin.de/en/berlin-wall-bike-tour for suggested routes.
Bicycling is also quite popular in many countries in Asia. If you’ve grown tired of Berlin or Europe, perhaps you’d like to take a tour through Asia on your holiday? We have a complete guide, Top Tips and Advice for Planning An Affordable Asia Tour.
When you travel to Berlin, be sure to visit the Reichstag. In 1933, a massive fire ripped through the Reichstag, home of the German Parliament. Referred to as the Reichstag Fire, this provided Hitler with a convenient excuse for suppressing dissent under his rule. The building fell into complete disrepair and became unusable after targeted bombings by the Allies.
Since those days, the Reichstag has been completely refurbished. Once again, it allows the capital of Germany to provide a home to German Parliament. It is open for guided tours, where you can see perfectly preserved graffiti left by creative Russian soldiers. You can also take a meal at the Käfer Dachgarten Restaurant on the Reichstag rooftop. Reservations are a must, though, as this eatery is extremely popular among tourists and locals alike. Just another helpful tip for readers of our Berlin travel guide!
In general, weekends are the busiest time for the Reichstag, so if possible, try to visit during the week to avoid the lines. For more information or to book a guided tour visit https://www.visitberlin.de/en/reichstag-in-berlin.
Pick a clear, sunny day when you take a trip to the TV Tower. Soaring 1,207 feet into the sky, the TV Tower was opened in 1969. It was erected by the East German state in just four years. The tower was primarily a symbol of the communist system’s superiority and their ability to build a better future. Once associated only with East Germany, the TV Tower is now a symbol of reunified Berlin.
Today, the TV Tower is the highest building in Europe which can be accessed by the general public. The viewing platform at the top of the tower gives a stunning 360-degree view of Berlin and the surrounding countryside. If you’re interested in other European landmarks, you can check out our Top Tips, Advice, and Destinations for the Best European Tour.
The revolving Sphere Restaurant is situated atop the tower. This is a must-see pick almost every Berlin travel guide, including ours. You can enjoy many different international cuisines, and there is a children’s menu as well. As you can imagine, this is heavily frequented attraction and reservations are a must.
Lines for the tower are much shorter in the mornings, so get there early and don’t waste time standing in the queue. The TV Tower is pretty close to Museum Island (see below) and the Brandenburg Gate, so you can head over to one of those to see more of Berlin once you’ve feasted on the view.
For more information or to book tickets and reservations, visit their website at www.tv-turm.de.
The Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most beautiful public squares in Berlin. It is hard to believe that it was once the site for military parades! In the summertime, the square is host to the Classic Open Air concert series, which plays lively music on the steps of the Konzerthaus in the light of the setting sun. The festivities don’t end when the weather gets cold, either. In the winter time, the square is transformed into a perfect winter wonderland! A classic Christmas Market is featured through much of the holiday season.
For more information on the history of the square and the surrounding buildings, check out the Berlin travel guide to the Gendarmenmarkt at https://www.visitberlin.de/en/gendarmenmarkt.
Berlin Travel Guide – Shopping
If this is the first time you will travel to Berlin, and you want to go home with some European fashion or just do some incredible window shopping, hop on down to the Kurfürstendamm, the most expensive area with the most exclusive brands in the entire city. Here you can find Europe’s largest department store, KaDeWe on just off Kurfürstendamm on Tauentzienstrasse (known locally as the Tauentzien).
Often missing from a Berlin city guide is a concept mall called Bikini Berlin. It is cleverly designed with “boxes” that can be rented for a maximum of one year. This ensures that the vendors and inventory stay fresh and unique. Boxes are occupied by a diverse mix of pop-up shops, flagship stores, novelty shops, and unique eateries. So, if the Kurfürstendamm isn’t your speed, Bikini Berlin is sure to be more your style. While there, check out the not-to-be-missed rooftop terrace, which allows you to see directly into Zoo Berlin.
To find out which shops currently occupy the Bikini Berlin boxes, go to their website at https://www.bikiniberlin.de/.
Berlin Travel Guide – Museums
There is no shortage of museums in Berlin. With 170 and counting, culture vultures can take their pick of everything from the unquestionably weird to the classic antiquities on their Berlin vacation. Some museums worth mentioning are:
- Currywurst Museum – quirky museum dedicated to the ubiquitous fast food, the spicy curry sausage
- Zuckermuseum – celebrating all things sugar
- DesignPanoptikum – technology and design at their finest
- Computerspielemuseum – every gamer’s paradise in this museum devoted to computer games
- Lippenstiftmuseum – everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about lipstick
But, if traditional culture and education are what you’re after, take a day – or two or three – and spend it on Museum Island, an attraction listed on almost every Berlin travel guide. It didn’t take long after the fall of the Berlin Wall for refurbishment to begin. Within 10 years of the fall, all five museums on the island began refurbishment projects. Additionally, the Neues Museum, which was decimated in World War II, was rebuilt almost entirely.
Described as Berlin’s most popular museum in the Berlin City Guide, the Pergamon, which contains the incredible Ishtar Gate, the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, and the Museum of Islamic Art is here on Museum Island. While current construction plans show the museum will not be fully complete until 2025, it is still open with most of the attractions available for viewing.
This museum is an art lover’s paradise! If features a mass of sculptures created in the medieval period to as recent as the late 18th century. Further, the museum of Byzantine Art, as well as the Numismatic Collection, are both spectacular. By 2005, refurbishment activities were complete. Today, the splendor of the Bode-Museum shines bright, and is well worth a visit.
During World War II, bombings and warfare left the Neues in decay. However, by 1999, refurbishment of the museum began. Now, you can check off a major item on your museum bucket list at this museum, the bust of Nefertiti. Further, the museum houses many other objects from the Egyptian Museum, the Papyrus Collection, the Collection of Classical Antiquities and the amazing Museum of Prehistory and Early History. Therefore, it is a must-see on our Berlin travel guide.
This museum, which opened in 1876, holds both paintings and sculptures from the 1600’s to the mid-1800’s, as well as works of impressionism and early modern art. Works from artists such as Claude Monet, August Renoir, Edouard Manet, Caspar David Friedrich, and Max Liebermann are on display.
The Altes was the first museum on the island. Fronted by a neoclassical façade and Ionic columns, it was a quite a feat of architecture and construction when it opened in 1830. Today, the newly refurbished museum houses permanent exhibits from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. It also holds the largest collection of Etruscan art outside of Italy.
Children and young adults 18 and under enter most Berlin museums for free. For tickets or to book a guided tour, you can visit the site dedicated to the island on the Berlin City Guide at https://www.visitberlin.de/en/museum-island-in-berlin.
Berlin Travel Guide – Insider Tips
Berlin’s Welcome Card
Berlin is easily one of the best cities to visit in Germany, and one of the best ways to do it is with the official tourist ticket for the city, the Welcome Card. Starting at 19 Euro, it gives the holder free public transportation, up to 50% discount on over 200 attractions, and a free guidebook. For more information or to purchase, visit https://www.visitberlin.de/en/berlin-welcome-card.
Museum Pass Berlin
If museums are your focus of what to do in Berlin, the Museum Pass Berlin is a must. Starting at 29 Euro, the pass gives you 3 days of free admission for 30 of the most popular museums. This includes all five on Museum Island. You can purchase a card at any of the participating museums or online at https://www.visitberlin.de/en/museum-pass-berlin.
Adidas BVG Sneaker
The German athletic wear company has partnered with the Berlin Transit Authority to offer a pair of sneakers with a year-long ticket sewn in. The outside of the shoe cleverly includes the mottled design seen on the seats of the BVG. The shoes cost 180 Euro, but they only made 500 pairs. Cross your fingers that some are still available!
Berlin is clearly one of the best cities to visit in Germany. Our Berlin travel guide only begins to scratch the surface of the ways that you can enjoy your Berlin vacation. If this is the first time you will visit, our travel guide to Berlin will give you the must see’s so that you can make the most of your time in the capital of Germany. Happy traveling!
Before You Go, Don’t Forget These Important Items…
Famed travel guide Rick Steves takes you on a self-guided tour of all the major sites in Berlin in this handy guidebook. It’s a perfect complement to our Berlin travel guide. It offers tons of information on all the sites we’ve mentioned here, in handy, portable guide form.
These days, many prefer smartphone maps over paper maps. Nevertheless, many tourists still see value in having a backup paper map on their trip. Roaming cell phone data charges are also an excellent reason for a paper map. The handy, annotated travel map from National Geographic covers all the major tourist destinations in Berlin. It’s also quite durable – it’s tear-resistant and waterproof!
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