Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I love Berlin. Since my first visit in 2017, I’ve been hooked on the city, with its diverse culture, street art, history and of course, its ties to David Bowie. My third visit was at the beginning of 2020, and I’m absolutely dying to get back there as soon as possible because I feel as though it’s truly a city that keeps on giving and with every visit I unwrap more layers of this incredible city. So here are the 10 best things you can do on your trip to Berlin (if anything, it was difficult to pick just 10!).
Visit the Reichstag
The Reichstag is the German parliament building, situated in the heart of Berlin. It’s completely free to book a tour of the building through their website, and I’d highly recommend it even just to get a glimpse of the amazing architecture from the inside. A free tour entails a walk around the building and an explanation of its history, from the suspicious fire that was a key factor in the rise of the Nazi dictatorship to the restored Soviet graffiti still present on some it’s internal walls, not to mention the countless architectural features, each one layered with artistic and historical meaning, and an explanation of the secret tunnels which lay beneath. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then I’d still recommend paying the Reichstag a visit, as you can book to visit the glass dome on top where you will see stunning panoramic views of Berlin, along with a bird’s eye view of the parliamentary chamber. There’s even a restaurant up there for a rooftop meal if you’re feeling fancy!
Victory Column is a close second to the Reichstag tour for my favourite thing I’ve ever done in Berlin – but it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart! Just a short walk down the road from the Brandenburg Gate, the 67m high tower which once represented Prussia’s victory in the Franco-German war now stands as a monument to the city of Berlin, along with becoming a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride since it has become the location for Berlin’s Pride parade. For 3.00 Euros you can enter the tower, read about its history and other select architectural history, and then start the 270 step climb to the top. Your legs will burn, you’ll be sweating buckets, but nothing feels more rewarding than stepping onto the open-air platform at the top to what (in my opinion) is the best view of the Berlin skyline. The TV tower at Alexanderplatz is taller, and the Reichstag view is more panoramic, but from the top of the Victory Column, you get a full view of the Tiergarten, Soviet monument and Brandenburg Gate, along with Alexanderplatz and the Reichstag too. On a windy day, it’ll take your breath away, and if you’re scared of heights it might not be for you, but it truly is the best way to see Berlin from above!
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
I could write a whole separate article just detailing the amazing and powerful exhibitions and memorials to the Holocaust and Soviet-era in and around Berlin, but it would feel wrong not to mention such an important memorial to the Holocaust and it’s Jewish victims* especially since the memorial lies right in the middle of the city, just a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and even the site of Hitler’s Bunker (which is now a car park). The memorial consists of 2711 concrete blocks of varying sizes and feels like a maze as you proceed through. The ground underfoot undulates and blocks become taller as you delve into the centre to think and reflect. The scale of the design brings with it a feeling of being overwhelmed. Beneath the Memorial lays a small Place of Information, in which visitors can learn about the atrocities inflicted on Europe’s Jewish population during the Holocaust, it’s a small centre, but important, particularly if you don’t have time on your trip to visit the Jewish Museum or Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. In the final room is a video feed where the names of murdered Jews are read out in a loop, it would take over 20 years to hear them all but just hearing some is powerful and profound. It’s definitely upsetting, but extremely important.
Street Food Markets
When talking about food, Berlin is famous for one thing, and that’s Currywurst! Bratwurst on a bed of fries with curry sauce, sprinkled with paprika, it’s just brilliant and I was thrilled to know that both veggie and vegan currywurst are very readily available in Berlin (in fact the whole city is excellent for vegetarians like me. Some of the best places to sample currywurst or other smashing Berlin street food is by visiting a street food market! My favourites by far have been Markthalle Neun and Kulturbrauerei, and they’re both must-dos if you’re a bit of a foodie!
Markthalle Neun is a regular market most days of the week, where you can pick up produce, fresh lemonade or bakery-style bread (German bread is amazing, by the way) but on certain days of the week (Thursday when I went, but I’d check the website first) they hold an enormous street food market, where individual sellers sell a variety of mouth-watering foods. Last time I tried both a pumpkin burger and black sesame ice cream!
As for Kulturbrauerei, it has a little more of a party environment. There’s usually live music, food trucks, and a really cool atmosphere to chill with your friends and have a beer (which has to be a Berlinerweiss). You can even book a yoga or dance class there! I had the best gnocchi of my life at Kulturbraurei, and would recommend it to anyone.
East Side Gallery/ Street Art
Berlin is home to some of the most phenomenal street art I have ever seen. On every corner is a masterpiece. Some of my favourite street art, however, has to be the East Side Gallery, the largest (1.3km) remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, which has since been turned into a walk through street art gallery, with art from 118 artists from 21 countries. There’s something for everyone, and it’s one of my favourite pastimes on a sunny Berlin morning to take a coffee and walk along the gallery, soaking in the artwork. On my first trip to Berlin, I was even lucky enough to view a beautiful 4:30 am sunrise over the East Side Gallery, and that was seriously a once in a lifetime experience.
Aside from East Side Gallery, the neighbourhood in which it’s situated (Friedichshain) is definitely a hub for some of Berlin’s coolest street art. There are even some photo booths (Photoautomat) that are covered in amazing graffiti – make sure to get a photo strip as a souvenir – they take forever to print out but they’re one of my most treasured memories from my most recent trip. Aside from Friedrichshain, Mitte and Kreuzberg are probably my favourite places to take in Berlin’s fantastic urban street art.
Now, this is actually an experience that’s on the list for my next trip to Berlin (I’m manifesting). Teufelsberg, which translates to Devil’s Mountain, is one of Berlin’s artificial hills, made from the remains of the city’s wartime buildings which were destroyed in the battle of Berlin, packed over with earth. The base of the mountain is a Nazi technical college building that it became easier to cover than demolish after the war. On top of the hill now lie several abandoned American Listening Towers from the Cold War Era, some of which you can visit for a small fee. There are several hiking tracks that run up the side of the mountain, which has recently become one of Berlin’s largest green spaces. Teufelsberg is Berlin’s highest point, along with being a magnet for street artists because of the abandoned towers, so if you’re a fan of abandoned buildings and a dark history, or just a lovely view and a hike in nature, then this seems like a great all-rounder! (I can’t wait to go!)
Ritter Sport Bunte Shokowelt
This one is an absolute must-visit for chocolate lovers! Just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, is Ritter Sport Chocolate World, which is a huge emporium filled to the brim with every colourful kind of Ritter chocolate. There’s a cafe on the top floor serving cakes and speciality drinks. I recommend the ‘genuss’ (indulgence) latte, which is a hazelnut latte with a shot of Ritter milk chocolate, although even if you just order water they serve it with complimentary mini Ritter bites. If that isn’t enough for you, then by the entrance there’s the opportunity to build your own Ritter bar, choosing from a range of delicious toppings and seasonal specials (the special when I visited was Biscoff cookies) then covered in your choice of Ritter chocolate, packaged up in your very own Berlin themed Ritter box. It’s chocolate heaven!
Now, this isn’t specifically a landmark, but I really wouldn’t be giving you a full recommendation of Berlin if I didn’t mention the array of fascinating tours available. Some of the best-guided tours I have ever been on have been in Berlin, as everyone who tours there seems to have an overwhelming passion for the city and a natural flair that only comes from really knowing and understanding a place. Whatever your interests, Berlin has a tour for that. You might take a relaxing boat tour down the spree to admire Berlin’s stunning architecture, or delve into Berlin’s autocratic 20th-century history with a walking tour (I booked a £10 one on Airbnb last year and it was by far the best tour I’ve ever been on), or even book a tour of the infamous Stasi Prison or Sachsenhausen Concentration camp. When you’ve had your history fix, there’s music tours (including a visit to the cafe where David Bowie wrote the Berlin Trilogy!) street food tasting tours, street art tours, and more! If you’re feeling especially wild I’d recommend the ‘Alternative Bar Crawl’ in which you can explore a number of Berlin’s alternative nightlife, from absinthe bars, to communist hangouts, to Burlesque clubs with porn karaoke. Berlin has such a rich and diverse culture and touring really is the best way to experience a taste of it for yourself.
A maybe less terrifying alternative to the open-air platform of Victory Column, Alexanderplatz Fernsehturm (Television Tower) is perhaps the most iconic feature of Berlin’s skyline. Book a ticket and ride the lift all the way to the top, where you have the whole of Berlin in panorama, all from a cosy viewing station that also happens to be a bar and restaurant. It’s a truly wonderful way to view Berlin from above, and you can really take in your surroundings. Information boards point out what you can see, and really you could spend hours up there, spotting everything from Brandenburg Gate to Teufelsberg. Maybe one of the most fascinating things to note is the areas in which you can see the differences in architecture between the former East Berlin and former West Berlin, it’s getting more difficult to spot, but once you notice the places where the wall once was it’s extremely interesting to notice the little differences.
Located in the middle of Berlin, close to the Berliner Dom and the Reichstag stands Museum Island, which really does what it says on the tin – it’s an island covered in museums! Some of the oldest and most grand Berlin museums are on the island, from the German national gallery to the Altes Museum. My personal favourite of the ones I have visited is the Pergamon Museum, which houses some of the largest remaining pieces of Babylonian architecture in the world. So if museums (or even just fantastic old buildings) are your cup of tea, you might consider investing in a Museum Island Pass, which is a ticket that allows the holder entry to all of the museums on the island (they also offer a student pass for a lower price). I hope one day to visit Berlin’s ‘Long Night of Museums’ event, where for one night in the summer all the museums on the island open all night and live orchestra music plays, allowing guests to see the exhibits in a different way. It sounds incredible, and is definitely something I want to experience one day!
There are so many other features of this amazing city to explore, but this is just a taste of a few of them which I thought were particularly worth recommending for different reasons. This could easily have been a ’50 things to do in Berlin’ list, but we’d be here all day!
*Berlin’s holocaust memorials often focus on specific groups, so while the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is perhaps the most famous, there are also monuments to German rebels/political prisoners, Sinti and Roma Holocaust victims, Homosexual victims, and disabled victims to name but a few.