Experiencing the best things to do in Berlin proves that if the twentieth century could crown a capital, it would be Berlin.
As you wander among the top tourist attractions in Berlin, it’s obvious that no city had such a profound impact on modern world history as Germany’s capital. From digging up Nazi secrets in East Berlin to reigniting your inner Cold War kid while driving in a Trabi, figuring out what to do in Berlin is always fascinating. Whether you’re a history buff, culture lover, art enthusiast, or aimless wanderer, the top places to see in Berlin will check all the boxes.
Need some insider tips for where to go in Berlin? Plan your ultimate Berlin sightseeing experience with this guide to the best places to visit in Berlin…
What to see & do in Berlin
Whether it’s cliché or not, no serious Berlin itinerary can leave out the city’s most (in)famous landmark: the Berlin Wall.
Truthfully, even though it’s one of the top things to do in Berlin there’s not much left to see.
The Berlin Wall once divided Soviet-occupied East Berlin and West Berlin. In the present day, most of it has been torn down. Only a few isolated sections and cobblestones remain to mark its stretches in most areas.
Want to catch a glimpse of the original wall? Seek out the 80-metre section on Niederkirchnerstraße near the Topography of Terror. Art lovers will love the wall murals at the East Side Gallery near Oberbaumbrücke. You’ll also find small sections of graffitied wall remaining near Potsdamer Platz.
The most compelling stretch of the former wall, however, lies at the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße.
This section of the Berlin Wall isn’t all original. Its reconstruction is quite interesting though. It includes guardtowers, border lights and a preserved section of the “death strip.” The “death strip” was the no-man’s zone between the inner and outer walls. Trespassers crossing it would be shot on sight.
No other area in Berlin recreates the atmosphere of Cold War Berlin quite like the Berlin Wall Memorial.
How to get to the Berlin Wall
The remaining sections of the Berlin Wall are all easily accessible by public transit and walking. For Niederkirchnerstraße, take the U-bahn to U Kochstraße/Checkpoint Charlie. To get to the East Side Gallery, travel to U Warschauer Straße. The Potsdamer Platz sections are accessible via the station of the same name. For the Berlin Wall Memorial, exit Bernauer Straße U-bahn and walk west along Bernauer Straße.
East Side Gallery
While the Berlin Wall Memorial tells a story of the past, the East Side Gallery hits it from a different angle. It paints a picture of the Cold War mindset better than any of the best things to see in Berlin.
The East Side Gallery is a 1.3-kilometre section of the former Berlin Wall along Mühlenstraße. It’s one of the world’s largest open-air art galleries. The gallery is decorated with over 100 paintings by renowned international artists.
Unfortunately, restorations and graffiti have sullied the originals. Still, the artwork at the East Side Gallery summons the jubilation and hopes of a bright future. It’s an interesting look at the optimism that accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
The East Side Gallery’s most famous painting is “Fraternal Kiss” by Dmitri Vrubel. The mural capture a kiss between Leonid Brezhnev (USSR) and Erich Honecker (GDR). Its caption, “Mein Gott, hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben” (“My God, help me survive this deadly love”), is bound to grasp your attention.
How to get to the East Side Gallery
The Warschauer Straße S-bahn and U-bahn station is about a 5-minute, one-block walk from the beginning of the East Side Gallery. When leaving the station walk south on Warschauer Straße until you reach Mühlenstraße. The East Side Gallery starts on the southwest corner of the intersection. It’s located to the right of Oberbaumbrücke.
Since the 18th-century, every impactful historic event seems to trace a connection to Brandenburg Gate.
The famous gate was the backdrop for Napoleon’s triumphant march into Berlin 1806 after defeating the Prussians. It sat by as the Nazis ratcheted up their propaganda machine. At the gate, Ronald Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down the wall. And after the fall of communism, it became the symbol of the euphoria & hope of a new future. Brandenburg Gate has always been front and centre in Berlin’s history.
Reimagining the events that took place in front of one of the best places to visit in Berlin isn’t its only perk. Brandenburg Gate is also a grand piece of architecture.
Brandenburg Gate was badly damaged during WWII. What you’ll see today is a reconstruction. Still, you’ll love beholding its majesty. The gate is propped up by 12 Doric columns and divided into 5 separate passages. You’ll also see a distinct quariga mounted atop.
The best views of Brandenburg Gate fall at night. As the sun sets, the columns and quadriga become swathed in a gentle warm light that highlights its architectural details.
How to get to Brandenburg Gate
To get to Brandenburg Gate, take the U-bahn or S-bahn to Berlin Brandenburger Tor station. The gate is on the western edge of Pariser Platz.
The Holocaust Memorial
Walk one block south of Brandenburg Gate. You’ll stumble upon one of most harrowing places to see in Berlin: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (or simply “Holocaust Memorial”).
Unlike typical monuments, the Berlin Holocaust Memorial is an immersive experience. And it’s ripe for interpretation.
The memorial consists of over 2,700 concrete slabs laid out in a grid pattern over uneven ground. As you walk through the rows, the concrete slabs appear to rise up slowly. In its midst, you’ll reach a point where you become completely disconnected from the outside world.
Various interpretations exist to explain the Holocaust Memorial’s meaning. Some see the Holocaust Memorial as a descent into the depths of human unreason. Others see it as visualizing the structured bureaucracy that drove the persecution. Some interpret it as an unmarked and desecrated graveyard.
Whatever your own interpretation, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is worth visiting to pay your respects.
How to get to the Holocaust Memorial
Once at Brandenburg Gate, walk one block south down Ebertstraßse. From Potsdamer Platz, the Holocaust Memorial is less than a 10-minute walk north.
Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower)
Watch any movie set in Berlin. You’re bound to scope the Fernsehturm (Berlin TV Tower) peeking into the camera. The Fernsehturm was built off of Alexanderplatz in the late 1960s. Today, it’s still the most recognizable structure poking above the skyline. Thanks to its remarkable socialist-styled design, the TV Tower tops many lists of what to see in Berlin.
The architectural feel is more Eastern Europe than Central Europe. With a quick look upwards, you might even think you’re in Moscow!
But there’s more to the Fernsehturm than letting it pop in to say hello in your travel photos. Zip 203 metres up the elevator to the observation deck (€13) for 360˚ views of Berlin.
For a more leisurely experience at the Berlin TV Tower, reserve a table at the rotating Sphere Restaurant. To be sure, you’ll find better food elsewhere in Berlin, but the sweeping vistas are hard to beat.
How to get to the Fernsehturm
Make your way to Alexanderplatz via S-bahn or U-bahn. The Fernsehturm towers over the western edge of the square.
Culture vultures will have their day at Museumsinsel (Museum Island). Located on the banks of the Spree River, this island is among the best places to go in Berlin for having a gander at ancient history & art.
The swath of Museum Island north of Unter den Linden is home to some of Berlin’s best museums.
Can’t get enough ancient history? Hit up the Altesmuseum, a stunning collection of classical Greek and Roman antiquities. Or if you’re more enchanted by the pharoahs, drop into the Neuesmuseum. Take a peek at Berlin’s finest gathering of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including the Nefertiti Bust. This 14th-century BC sculpture remains one of the most famous antiquities from ancient Egypt.
Further north on the island you’ll find a couple of Berlin’s most famous art museums including:
- Bode-Museum (Byzantine art)
- Pergamonmuseum (Roman, Greek and Islamic art)
- Alte Nationalgalerie (Romantic, Impressionist and Modern art)
How to get to Museuminsel
From Alexanderplatz or Friedrichstraße stations, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the heart of Museumsinsel. It’s west of Alexanderplatz and east of Friednrichstraße.
The easiest way to get to Museuminsel to first find your way to the Berliner Dom via Alexanderplatz. Start off at the Altesmuseum on the northside of field in front of the cathedral.
The Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is one of the most recognizable symbols in Berlin. It’s a must-see attraction while sauntering through Mitte.
A long and storied history predates today’s Berliner Dom. Since the mid-15th century, three buildings have come and gone. The final design, built in 1905 under Wilhelm II, was Prussia’s answer to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Unlike other churches in Berlin, the Berliner Dom escaped total destruction in WWII. (The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, for one, wasn’t so lucky.)
Even with its damaged dome, the church remained mostly intact.
The current restoration, started under the guise of East Germany’s communist government. It simplified the original 20th-century design by removing the undamaged northern wing (Denkmalskirche).
The cavernous interior of the Berliner Dom is adorned with marble columns and ornate ornaments. It’s quite the sight to behold. The real highlights of the church for many, however, lie upstairs—and down.
Get your cardio in gear and traipse up 267 steps to the dome viewing gallery. At the top, you’ll enjoy a stunning bird’s-eye view over Berlin Mitte.
Prefer a history lesson over a panorama? One of the best things to do in Berlin is to slide down to the Hohenzollern Crypt in the basement of the Berliner Dom. In the crypt, you’ll peer upon the eerie and elaborate sarcophagi of Central Europe’s most important royal dynasty.
How to get to the Berliner Dom
Walking from Alexanderplatz to the Berliner Dom should take no more than 15 minutes. Wander through the square at Alexanderplatz, passing by the beautiful Neptunbrunnen fountain. Cross over Spandauer Straße into the Marx-Engels-Forum. Get your daily dose of East German nostalgia and head across the river via Karl-Liebknecht Straße to find the church.
No museum in Berlin is a better playground for Cold War kids than the DDR Museum. This blast-from-the-past flips the boring historical museum model on its head. The DDR Museum teems with fascinating and interactive exhibits. They’ll place you back into the heart of the former East Germany.
The €9.50 entrance fee is well worth the change to catch a rare glimpse into life under socialism in East Germany. You can test your driving skills behind the wheel of a Trabi on your way home from work. You can relax in a socialist living room. Or you can prove you have nerves of steel during a Stasi interrogation simulation.
The DDR Museum is about the best dose of Cold War nostalgia you’ll find anywhere. It’s also one of the coolest places to visit with kids in Berlin.
How to get to the DDR Museum
The DDR Museum is on the east side of the River Spree across from the Berliner Dom. The closest U-bahn stop, Alexanderplatz, is about 10-12 minutes by foot.
Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas Quarter)
Getting a sense of Berlin in centuries past isn’t always easy. One remaining taste of bygone Berlin lingers in the Nikolaiviertel.
This reconstructed historical quarter of Old Berlin isn’t grand, but remains one of the most interesting things to see in Berlin.
Like much of the city, Nikolaiviertel laid in ruins following World War II. After decades of neglect, a reconstruction project launched in the 1980s. It aimed to rebuild Nikolaiviertel in time for Berlin’s 750th anniversary in 1987.
Today, the area is as much a slice of Old Berlin as you’ll find. Wander through its network of cobblestoned streets and alleyways. You’ll stumble upon a barrage of traditional German bars & restaurants. They’re a great place for a bite and a drink, even if a bit touristy.
Be sure to poke your head into Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church). This 13th-century church holds title as the oldest in Berlin.
Try to grab a traditional German snack and a dunkelbier at Brauhaus Georgebrau. You’ll enjoy relaxing to the beautiful views onto the River Spree.
How to get to Nikolaiviertel
The Nikolaiviertel lies just south of Alexanderplatz and the Marx-Engels-Forum on the banks of the Spree. From the Alexanderplatz U-bahn station, it should be no more than a 10-minute walk south into the heart of Nikolaiviertel.
Ever hear travellers claim that Berlin is one of Europe’s hippest cities? The reputation probably stems from a jaunt around Kreuzberg. This edgy district is one of the most interesting places to go in Berlin.
Unlike the tourist-pleasing streets of Nikolaiviertel, Kreuzberg has got the edge that Berlin is known for. Whether you dig it or not, Berlin’s coolest neighbourhood leaves an impression that won’t soon be forgotten.
Even within Kreuzberg itself, there’s a distinct division between sub-neighbourhoods.
To the west, Kreuzberg looks much like the rest of West Berlin. It’s even home to a few major Berlin attractions like Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum. The east is a different story.
In a city of rising rents, East Kreuzberg became the alternative district in Berlin, attracting a host of immigrants and young artists. Even as far back as the 1970s, world-renowned artists like Iggy Pop & David Bowie frequented the hip and ever-changing Kreuzberg.
Today, Kreuzberg sports a mish-mash of cafés, restaurants, bars and vintage shops. They’re scattered among streets where graffiti and the best street art in Berlin reigns.
The best place to start exploring Kreuzberg is from Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin’s famous red-brick bridge. The distinctive bridge screams of influences further east. Enter the neighbourhood on Skalitzer Straße. Veer right onto Oranienstraße to pierce into the heart of Kreuzberg.
Refuel the tank with street eats at Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36). It’s Berlin’s most famous currywurst shop. Or grab a bite at Tadim (Adalbertstraße 98). This Turkish eatery is home to some of Berlin’s most mouth-watering lahmacun and döner kebabs.
How to get to Kreuzberg
For East Kreuzberg, take the U-bahn to U Schlesisches Tor (for Oberbaumbrücke) or U Görlitzer (for Oranienstraße). The tourist attractions in West Kreuzberg are best explored starting at U Kochstraße/Checkpoint Charlie.
Where to stay in Berlin for sightseeing
Berlin is one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe. Be sure to choose where to stay in Berlin well ahead of your trip. To experience all the best places to visit in Berlin, stay in & around Mitte. Most of the top tourist attractions & choices for what to do in Berlin lie here.
Here are a few of the best hotels in Berlin to start your search…
- Arte Luise Kunsthotel is a stylish hotel featuring unique artistic decor. It’s a wonderful choice for your Berlin sightseeing experience that won’t break the bank. Brandenburg Gate is just 10 minutes away by foot.
- Boutique Hotel i31 Berlin Mitte is a modern hotel featuring hip & sleek stylings in quiet location near the Nordbahnhof. You’ll love the garden terrace to escape from the trappings of urban Berlin.
- Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin is the most famous luxury hotel in Berlin. This elegant 5-star property is located within a stone’s throw of Brandenburg Gate. It offers palatial rooms and sensational amenities. Extras include a neoclassical indoor pool and a double-Michelin-star restaurant.