10 Free Things To Do In Berlin, Germany
Berlin is an amazing city, full of entertainment, great food and bursting with history. There is definitely loads to do, and it is usually just a case of trying to find the time to do it!! My partner and I have recently returned from Berlin, having saved up for ages to go. We actually had funds left over when we returned! Amazing!
Overall, Berlin is a super cheap place to go on holiday. My partner and I spent in total £650 for a full week, excluding flights and accommodation. We had a great time, ate out and went to the pub every evening and saw loads of sights. The amount we spent was inclusive of travel and paid attractions, but we also made sure to visit some of the freebies that Berlin had to offer!
This hub will provide a list of things to do in Berlin that wont cost a penny. I have also included a little map at the very bottom as an idea of where everything is located. Bear in mind that this is not inclusive of eating or transport, so a small budget will be required for that. A weekly travel ticket costs about £26, and you can buy it at any station. We got ours at the Airport Tourist Information centre, who ensured it was validated for our trip- be sure to validate your ticket!
1- Wander & Discover
There are so many places to see in Berlin, it can be tempting to use public transport to go directly there. In doing so, you risk missing out on so many quirky sights across the city, so if you have some free time, I would recommend just having a little wander.
It's quite difficult to get lost in Berlin, as there is always a piece of transport around any corner, so you can always get your bearings and easily get back to base.
While on foot, you can take in the architecture and sculptures, as well as some of the more skilful graffiti across the city. You can discover some quirky little shops, or even a hidden gem of a restaurant off the beaten path. There is a lot to be said about having a walk around and discovering things for yourself.
If you would like the walk, but with more of an itinerary in mind, you can take one of the many free walking tours which start off at Brandenburg Gate each day. No booking is required, although the groups may be limited numbers, and while the tour is free, a tip for the guide is expected, so keep this in mind.
2- Brandenburg Gate
This really is one of the main images that come to your head when you think of Berlin. It is used often in advertising, postcards, tourist information leaflets and websites worldwide, so it really is easy to recognise. However, when you are actually standing in front of it, as it tower over you, it really becomes a thing of beauty.
Completed in 1791, The Brandenburg Gate was constructed on the site of a former city gate that marked the beginning of a road from Berlin to Brandenburg an der Havel. It has truly seen the highs and lows of Berlin, and as a reult of various historical events, had a full restoration completed between 2000-2002 (I did wonder why it looked so new).
I would recommend visiting both day and night if you are able to. If you must choose one option, I would go at night time. Not only is it quieter, but the photo opportunities are amazing. For some reason, your holiday snaps transform into professional looking magazine shots!
3- Checkpoint Charlie
Dating back to the days of the cold war there were only a certain amount of crossing points between East and West Germany. Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin was really the most well known and popular crossing point, and a replica of the building stands today as a reminder, long after the wall has fallen.
I would definitely say that it is worth a visit if you are in the area, and there is also a free museum across the road which will explain the significance of such a tiny little building in the middle of the road, and why it still remains. You can also see parts of the Berlin wall dotted around the area, so keep your eyes peeled.
I must point out that the checkpoint is now more of a tourist attraction, and you can have your photo taken with actors for a fee. If you would like to see the original building, you can do so at the Allied Museum, Berlin. This is a little further out of the city centre, but with Berlin's excellent public transport services, you will reach it in no time. While I haven't been there myself, it is definitely on my list for my next visit, and is also a free attraction.
4- Memorial Of The Berlin Wall
Located at the former border strip in the Bernauer Strasse is a piece of the Berlin Wall with border strip and watchtower still intact. The facility shows how the border facilities were constructed and imparts to the visitor a lasting impression of the construction, which once divided the entire country.
A long stretch of steels are also placed along a stretch of 1.4km where the original wall stands. It is difficult to imagine a wall in it's place because it is so easy to walk past, or even walk through. But the resounding message is there when you can stand on one side, your loved one on another. How terrible that must have been for the people of Berlin to deal with. We are lucky now that we can actually see through it, hold hands through it, take selfies standing beside it. A tourist attraction has definitely hit home for me and linked back to the historical significance, as many attractions around Berlin do.
5- The Berlin Wall
While the majority of the wall was brought down in 1989 onwards, there are still large sections of the Berlin wall that remain intact. Left as a reminder, these colourfully decorated blocks of concrete are dotted all over the city, and you don't have to go far to find one.
Of course, there are pieces that re more famous and a quick google search will give you results on where to find them, especially if you want a photo at one particular piece.
6- Holocaust Memorial
The Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. Likened in resemblance to a cemetery, it is made up of rows of stones, in various sizes, to form a grid. This grid is about the size of a housing block.
Walking through the memorial can be somewhat intimidating yet awe inspiring as the stones tower above you at points, while the ground simultaneously moves away from you. It can be slightly disorientating, but I'm sure that (among other things) is the point!
I would recommend a visit as it is already so close to the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate, and really is a sight to behold.
7- The Reichstag
Located a stones throw away from Brandenburg Gate and the Jewish memorial, it would just make sense to come and see the Reichstag Building while you were in the area. Such an important building should be on the top of your list. Not only does it oversee all major decisions for the whole country, but I am told that you can almost see the whole country from the dome at the top.
Ok that may be a slight exaggeration, but you definitely get a great view over the city. This is also free of charge unless you pay someone to walk you to the building and take you around.
Unfortunately I was not able to appreciate this sight as I left it a tad too late to book a tour of the dome- don't be like me! You can book in advance on the Reichstag website, and I will be sure to do this well in advance the next time we visit.
8- The Fuhrerbunker
Tucked away behind some shops sits a rather insignificant looking parking lot. Only, you will notice groups of people standing at various points around it, often listening to a tour guide. This is because the parking lot is actually on top of the Fuhrerbunker. The place where Hitler had waited out his last days of the war and is reported to have committed suicide.
In all honesty, it isn't a particularly impressive attraction, but as I was already in the area with the Holocaust Memorial, I thought I would take a walk past. Again this is an attraction for the history buff, and it is quite interesting if you are able to visualise the layout as it is sitting below your feet.
9- Topography of Terror
Built atop the old foundations of the SS HQ, this museum really demonstrates how easily the world was taken in with the propoganda that the SS and hitler were initially pushing to peoplee
You can see the recruitment techniques and posters used for SS officers; copied artefacts and documents showing death orders; personal documents of the highly ranked officers. You are also told of the terrible atrocities to befall the victims during and after the war, with photos and testimonies from those who were there.
It is truly an eye opening museum that shows how easily masses can be influenced to turn against a given group of people. It may be upsetting for some, but if you decide you would like to see more, I would recommend that you take a good hour or two to look over this museum, and even then there may be some exerts that you miss.
10- Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
This was not the first thing we done while in Berlin, but it was certainly one of the things I had planned to do since we had decided we were going there. This is not for the faint hearted as the mass scale of events can be a little overwhelming to comprehend.
You may be tempted to pay someone for a tour, but we found that having the time to explore for ourselves really was the best option. Don't be too daunted by this- if you have grasped the public transport system, you will be able to find it easily. Also worth mentioning is that if you have the a,b,c travel ticket, your trip to Sachsenhausen will be included in this.
I would recommend setting aside a full day for this, and to wear comfy shoes as there is a fair bit of walking! I would also recommend packing some lunch and refreshments as there isn't much out there.
My first impression of the camp was how big it was. Surprisingly, Sachsenhausen is by no means the biggest of the camps, but to me, it was huge! We spent 4 hours there, looking over artifacts and reading stories about prisoners kept there. We got to see an actual cabin that had been rebuilt using the same wood as the time, and also got to see the layout. We read about how the camp changed when the Russians took power, and got a chance to see the Russian block- still intact after all of these years.
I was impressed that all of the exhibits had an english description, as well as German. There was also the option to have an audio guide, which was available in lots of languages, so please don't let a possible language barrier stopping you from coming to see this.
The camp gives a shocking look at history, gathered from documents, testimony and photos from the era. It is a very well put together historical site and an essential attraction for those interested in history.
How To Get There
While the attractions on this list are free, travelling to them is not. They may seem all very close together on the map, but a bit of forward planning is essential in order to fit as many sights into your trip as possible.
Use the map below to give yourself an idea of how everything is grouped together (I printed it off before I went) and think realistically about the amount of time you would like to spend at each attraction.
Familiarise yourself with the travel systems and plan in advance. An A,B,C area travel ticket will get you everywhere you need to go, as well as back and forward to the airport. I also found it to be a much cheaper option than the Berlin tourist passes- save your cash and book any paid attractions online and you will see the same, if not better discounts than using one of the tourist passes. You can find out more tips for travelling in Berlin here.
© 2016 Lynsey Harte