Before visiting Berlin, I had never been to Germany and as someone pointed out to me, I had no idea or formed opinion of what to expect, what to do, what to see in Berlin or what I was going to find. However, already in Berlin I discovered many interesting things.
First, the city itself is not as old as many other capitals in Europe. But even so, in comparison to its “few years”, the number of important, determining and relevant events, not only for Europe but for the world, are many.
Second, Berlin is clearly marked by all these important events (3 world wars). Both in its culture and also in its buildings, structure and manners. You can see the mix of stories, moments, new buildings, old ones, rebuilt or remodeled. Nor is there only one center but several with different cultures and atmospheres.
Third, despite the above, within all that mix and collage I have noticed characteristics common to everything. A country with an incredible resilience based on its innate determination and efficiency. Distinguishing itself through structure, planning and perseverance. Showing in this new era a strong respect, high moral conscience and the desire to learn from the past.
Ultimately, Berlin is not only a beautiful city for its monuments, buildings, or attractions but also for what one learns beyond a culture or country. You learn something that encompasses all people.
To help you enjoy the city and discover for yourself, I leave you this 2020 travel guide with the best things to do in Berlin.
1. What to see in Berlin: Brandenburg Gate and the Unter den Linden.
The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is probably one of the best known monuments in the city. Furthermore, it is not only one of the most important symbols of the German capital but of the entire country.
Built in the year 1791, it was one of the entrance doors to Berlin in the days when the city belonged to Prussia. Since then, the Brandenburg Gate has witnessed important historical moments. For instance, when Napoleon entered victorious to Berlin, the construction of the Berlin wall or the parades of the political Nazi party.
The door is a symbol of the triumph of peace over arms. Built in a neoclassical style, it is 26 meters high and 65 meters wide. In the year 1795, a copper chariot was placed on top representing the Goddess of Victory in a chariot drawn by four horses in the direction to the city. However, the big statue that can be seen today is a copy made in West Berlin in 1969. Until the year 1918 only the royal family and some very important people could pass through the central door.
I recommend you visit the gate during the day but especially at night, when it looks spectacularly lit.
The Brandenburger Tor is located on Pariser Platz. This is at the end of Unter den Linden Avenue, one of the most important streets in the city.
Walk along Unter den Linden avenue.
Walking along this avenue is another of the interesting things to do in Berlin. This 1.5 kilometer boulevard runs from the Brandenburg Gate to the castle bridge (Schlossbrücke).
Along Unter den Linden sands some of the most important buildings in the Berlin. For example, the Berlin Opera or the Bebelplatz, a big square where is a monument on the ground in memory of the thousands of books burned in Hitler’s time. It also passes by the beautiful Cathedral of Berlin, the Royal Palace and Humboldt University. Then, passing the Schloss Bridge that leads to the Museum Island of Berlin, you can get to Alexanderplatz where is the huge Television Tower.
2. What to see in Berlin: Alexanderplatz.
Alexanderplatz is one of the most important squares in Berlin. Already in the Middle Ages, when it was known as Ochsenmarkt or “Ox Market”, Alexanderplatz was considered the center of the city. However, it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that it took its current name, when the Russian Tsar Alexander I visited Berlin. After World War II Alexanderplatz was terribly damaged by bombardment and battles.
The square is huge and located in the center of Berlin, very close to the river and the Royal Palace. Formerly Alexanderplatz belonged to the Soviet side during the Cold War.
It was at Alexanderplatz where they carried out the protests on November 4, 1989, in which half a million people demonstrated against the communist government. Five days later, on November 9, the government announced freedom to cross the Berlin Wall.
The most prominent building in the square is the 368-meter Television Tower (Fernsehturm). This is one of the tallest buildings in Europe which you can climb to admire Berlin from above. Also at the square you can admire the big World Clock which allows you to see the hours of many cities in the world. Other places of interest in Alexanderplatz are the Fountain of Friendship of the Peoples, the Neptune Fountain and the Park Inn Hotel Berlin, which you can go up to its terrace for € 4.
In the surroundings there is the oldest Church in the city built in 1380 called “Marienkirche”. And also you can visit the town hall “Rotes Rathaus or Red House”.
In the square connect with the metro, train and tram, making it easy to get to from anywhere in the city.
3. What to see in Berlin: The German Parliament (Reichstag).
The mixed old/modern Reichstag building is the German house of Parliament (or German Bundestag). It’s a historic building from 1894 built in a neo-Renaissance style but crowned by a modern dome that can be walked on.
The building was the seat of the parliament in times of the Second German Empire and later, served in the same way for the parliament of the Weimar Republic. However, after the big World War II, the parliament was destroyed and there was intense debate about its demolition or reconstruction. Finally, in 1956 they chose to rebuild it but without remaking its original dome.
Several decades later, in the 90s, there was a restoration of the building. This task was entrusted to the famous architect Norman Foster who gave him back his dome but much more modern. This new version represents the people above the rulers. And the fact that it is transparent reminds to the politicians that they are “watched” from above. Actually, the hemicycle is visible from the dome.
In order to get into the Parliament and climb up to its dome, it is necessary to book well in advance. If not, you will probably be left with the desire. You can book it directly here.
In addition to contemplate the magnificent architecture of the glass dome, you can also enjoy its terrace and see Berlin from above. There is even the possibility of having some coffee or drink in the parliament bar. Furthermore, upon entering Parliament, they provide us with an audio guide which allows to follow the exhibition of photographs about the history of Parliament.
4. What to see in Berlin: The Berlin Cathedral.
The Berlin Cathedral, or Berliner Dom, is the most important religious building in the city and the chair of the Evangelical Church in Germany.
The cathedral was built between 1894 and 1905 on the remains of a small Baroque cathedral from 1747. In the year 1944, like most buildings in Berlin, the cathedral was badly damaged by the bombs of war. Although the reconstruction work began in 1975, it was long and expensive and was not completed until 2002.
The exterior of the Church stands out for its neo-baroque style with a large central green dome, two side domes and a large entrance portico.
Once inside, the large altar, made of white marble, and its impressive organ are striking. It is also interesting to see the access that the imperial couple used when they went to the Berlin cathedral. The royalty had their own staircase with all kinds of luxuries through which they reached the Imperial Box.
You can also visit the Crypt of the Hohenzollern, with more than 90 sarcophagi in which several members of the imperial family of the Hohenzollern rest.
However, what stands out the most from the Cathedral are the views from the dome. After climbing 270 steps you reach the top of the dome from where you can enjoy beautiful views of Berlin with the river Spree in the background.
To enter the Cathedral you must pay an entry of € 7. Visiting hours are every day from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sundays and holidays from 12:00 to 20:00. Entry included in the Berlin Pass.
5. What to see in Berlin: Monument to the murdered Jews of Europe and Information Center.
The monument is one of the most interesting places to visit in the German capital, both for the importance it represents, and for the interesting things that the artist wants to reflect with his work.
The Holocaust-Mahnmal, as it is called in German, is an area of 19,000 m2 located in one of the most central areas of Berlin. In this immense space are 2,711 concrete slabs, with dimensions of 2.38 m long and 0.95 m wide. What varies is its height, since they range from 0.2 m to 4.8 m.
This Monument to the Jews killed in the Holocaust began to be built on April 1, 2003 and was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, at a total cost of approximately 25 million euros. The artist chosen to make the monument was the American architect of Jewish origin Peter Eisenman.
Despite at first glance suppose to be a sort of graveyard filled with tombs, there are actually several theories of what the artist wanted to reflect. The different heights of the concrete pillars create an uncomfortable atmosphere, since we find part of the work in symmetry and part of disorder. Some people suppose that he tried to transmit a supposedly ordered system that little by little legalizing measures he was subjecting the Jewish people, reason why the different heights represent how the Jews were receiving the different atrocities.
On the other hand, it is interpreted as a concrete sea in which there is no main entrance or exit or entrance. So, when you start walking on it, you feel the largest concrete blocks, uneven terrain, as if to suggest the disorientation that in many cases the victims of the Holocaust felt.
The monument can be visited at any time and is located at Cora-Berliner-Straße, 1.
The visit to the Information Center begins with a review and explanation of the National Socialist extermination policy carried out between 1933 and 1945.
The exhibition continues with testimonies of some victims as well as the history of different families before, during and after the persecution.
One of the most impressive rooms is the one with all its walls covered with names and date of death of victims of the holocaust. Reading the names and biographies of the way they are presented could take more than 6 years.
6. What to see in Berlin: Berlin Wall (East Side Gallery).
In times of the Cold War, the city was surrounded by a wall of almost 160 kilometers that delimited East Berlin (the Soviet side) from West Berlin (the Allied side).
Today the best preserved section of the wall can be found in the East Side Gallery. Through its 1.3 kilometers of wall along the Mühlenstraße, we can enjoy street art. An extensive gallery of murals painted by artists from all around the world. The murals painted express the feelings after the end of the cold war, freedom, hope and the future, for instance. Certainly, among the most famous and controversial images are that of the two communist leaders kissing.
In commemoration of the twentieth anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a program of reform and renovation of the works was carried out. However, there were some artists refused to repaint them.
7. What to see in Berlin: Topography of Terror Museum.
The Topography of Terror Museum is one of the most interesting things to see in Berlin. It shows how the repression system created by GESTAPO, the Secret Police of the Nazi State, worked. Through videos, images, stories and letters details the operation of Hitler’s security apparatus between the years 1933 and 1945.
The museum is located behind the remainings of the Wall where the former GESTAPO had its headquarters (Niederkirchnerstraße 8). In this same place, behind a piece of the wall that remains practically intact is the museum with a chilling history.
Those who opposed Hitler’s regime ended up there, where they were subjected to interrogation and continuous torture in the basements of the building.
Visiting the museum is a free activity that can be done in Berlin. Visiting hours are every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is worth clarifying that all the information is in English.
8. What to see in Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie.
Checkpoint Charlie was the border crossing point that divided the two Germanys from 1945 to 1990. It was not the only one, since there was also the Checkpoint Alpha, in the Helmstedt area and the Checkpoint Bravo. However, it must be said that Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous.
In particular, just the military, ambassadors of the allies, workers of the permanent delegation of the RFA and officials of the GDR could use this crossing between the US and Soviet.
In addition to the people who crossed the border on permission, there were many citizens who fled East Berlin by deceiving the military who controlled Checkpoint Charlie. Some were lucky and escaped, but some others were intercepted and killed.
One of the best known cases of failed escape attempt was that of Peter Fechter. In an attempt to cross into allied Berlin, the GDR military shoot him. Poor Peter bled to death under the helpless gaze of the West Berlin military and citizens who wanted to help him.
Since 2001, the Checkpoint Charlie control booth has been rebuilt where a military officer stands guard. You can also see a replica of the poster that years ago warned citizens: “It is abandoning the American sector.”
Right next door is the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, another point where you can learn a lot about the events that took place during the Cold War.
9. What to see in Berlin: Berlin tunnels, bunkers and underground world.
One of the most interesting activities to do in Berlin is to visit its underground world. The tour allows to visit World War II shelters, disused railway tunnels, vaults, or even abandoned brewery warehouses.
Berliner Unterwelten offers different tours such as “worlds in darkness”, more specialized in Nazi Germany or the “cold war nuclear bunkers” tour, focused on the conflict between the Soviets and the Americans. There is also the option of “Escapes under the Berlin Wall” where it tells the stories of the 70 tunnels built to escape.
Choosing one of these options and walking below the surface can give us another vision of Berlin and experience its history a little more.
Please note: There is the possibility of guided tours in different languages, but on certain days and times. You cannot book in advance, you have to buy the ticket on the day. For more information visit the web Berliner Unterwelten.
10. What to see in Berlin: Visit the RAW tempel and enjoy the alternative art of Berlin.
In the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg neighborhood, very close to the East Side Gallery, is the famous RAW Tempel (Reichsbahn Ausbesserungs Werk Franz Stenzer). It is one of the most interesting independent socio-cultural centers in Berlin.
It turns out that four years after the railway lines were closed, large numbers of young people began to come here to change it, taking up the track space and making it what we know today. Thus, in order to give a useful use to the old abandoned warehouses (very similar to the ruin bars in Budapest), RAW Tempel was born, a non-profit association that is responsible for managing the space.
Also, this space develop several projects related to painting, music and theater. In addition, this place offers all kinds of social activities such as exhibitions, concerts or art courses. You can also enjoy other activities such as climbing, skateboarding, food trucks, bars and clubs like Suicide Circus.
However, one of the strengths of RAW tempel is its “street art”. At first glance you can see the amount of graffiti and murals that cover the walls of all the warehouses, making it an ideal place to see art outdoors.
Both during the day, to better appreciate urban art, or at night to enjoy the relaxed movement of its bars and clubs, the RAW tempel is a good option to visit in Berlin.
The space is located very close to the Warschauer Straße underground station, on Revaler Str. 99. It is open all day.
Day trips from Berlin.
Just 30 minutes by train from Berlin you can visit the beautiful city of Potsdam. Tour its historic center and the impressive exterior gardens of the majestic Sanssouci Palace. Also the Church of Peace and the Nauen Gate of Potsdam.
Visit the beautiful city Dresden. You can explore its historic center, declared a World Heritage Site. Also you can visit the Zwinger Palace, the Bridge of Augustus and the Semperoper opera.
What to eat in Berlin.
If there is something traditional to eat in Berlin it is the famous Currywurst. Currywurst is a sliced sausage with a curry sauce that is usually accompanied with french fries. It is so popular that any restaurant or street stall has it on its menu. Even more, the Deutsches Currywurst Museum even has its own museum like the obwarzanki in Krakow.
Schnitzel is another very common dish in the German capital. A chicken schnitzel usually accompanied by mashed potatoes or French fries. Like currywurst it is very famous and the vast majority of bars and restaurants offers it on their menu.
Eisbein is a slightly more elaborate dish, a brine knuckle of pork served with mashed peas and sauerkraut (sour cabbage). To eat this dish we may have to go to a restaurant like the Hofbräu München accompanied by a good beer.
Döner Kebab, bread stuffed with meat, salad and sauce (not a German dish but a very common one). After the Second War, in the 70’s, Turkish immigrants began to arrive in Germany who began to popularize this dish until it became so common in the Berlin diet. They say the first and the best is Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap in Kreuzberg (although you probably have to wait in line for a while).
Where to stay in Berlin?
Choosing where to sleep in Berlin can sometimes be a difficult task given the large size of the city and the contrasts of its different neighborhoods. However, the large amount of accommodation options give opportunities to all kind of budgets and preferences. Also, the great infrastructure in public transport is very good allowing to connected the entire city in a couple of minutes.
Generally, Mitte is the neighborhood where people first look to book a hotel but it doesn’t have to be the best option for everyone. Much depends on what your priorities are, whether it is visiting the most famous monuments, shopping, seeing the most alternative Berlin, enjoying nightlife more, or staying in a quiet area. Whatever your choice, there are areas for all tastes.
As i said, the most recommended area to stay in Berlin si in Mitte, which is the city center. However, there are also several neighborhoods that surround Mitte such as Charlottenburg, Tiergarten, Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, or Prenzlauer Berg are good too.
In my case I chose to stay at the Holiday Inn Express Berlin City Center-West in the Tiergarten neighborhood. This Hotel is really close to the Bahnhof Wittenbergplatz and U Kurfürstenstr underground stations (also train). Very good option, quiet, beautiful, with breakfast and well connected.
I hope you enjoyed this article What to see in Berlin. Activities you cannot miss. If you would like to share others activities or have any doubt, you could leave it in the comments section. I will be happy to read them.