Things to do in Berlin
Quirky Berlin Trivia:
- It was in Berlin at the Hotel Adlon on Pariser Platz where Michael Jackson dangled his baby from a window over a crowd of startled onlookers
- There is an annual tax of €150 to own a dog in Berlin
- The very first bomb dropped on Berlin by the Allies during World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo
- Imported coffee was banned by Friedrich II in order to encourage sales of the local beverage: beer!
- Every year (around July time) a huge water fight called the Wasserschlacht Battle breaks out between the two neighbourhoods that sit on either side of the River Spree.
The German capital is a big city – almost nine times bigger than Paris – and there are so many things to do in Berlin that it can almost be overwhelming to get around to all of it. If you’re on a short trip in particular, take heed of this round up of the must see places and the most interesting things to do in Berlin.
Things to do in Berlin: Marvel at Historical Monuments and Points of Interest
- Brandenburg Gate
S-Bahn: Unter den Linden. Bus: 100 U55 – Brandenburg Tor
The Brandenburg gate was commissioned in the late 18th century (1788 to 1791) by King Frederick II as a symbol of peace. Its design was inspired by the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens.
The Brandenburg Gate became an East-West crossing point after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. The crowning Quadriga statue, a winged goddess in a horse-drawn chariot, was once kidnapped by Napoleon and briefly taken to Paris but is back in its rightful place now.
The Brandenburg Gate was the only structure left standing after all of the buildings around the Pariser Platz were turned to rubble by the air raids and bombings of World War II.
- The Reichstag
Daily 8am – midnight (no entry after 10pm)
S-Bahn Brandenburg Tor: S1 & S2, Bus: 100
The Reichstag is the seat of the German Parliament and one of Berlin's most historical landmarks.
On February 17, 1933 a fire broke out in the Reichstag. Historians still debate whether or not it was caused by the Nazis, but the German Communist Party was officially blamed. Hitler used the fire as an excuse to gain control by manipulating the parliament and passing new laws which helped him to eventually establish his dictatorship.
The Reichstag was all but destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II when the dome was blown up. It was rebuilt in a simplified form between 1961 and 1971. Today the Reichstag is once again the home of the country's parliament and is crowned by a new glass dome. The new dome is made of glass to signify to the German people that the government will never operates behind closed doors again.
Tip: Go through the west gate for an elevator ride up to the dome and via a spiral staircase, where you’ll be presented with a sweeping view of Berlin. Queues can be long so try and go early.
- Checkpoint Charlie
9am - 10pm
Train: Bahnhof Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station or Lehrter Bahnhof Station.
Underground: U6 Kochstrasse or U1 Stadtmitte.
Checkpoint Charlie is one of the ultimate symbols of the Cold War and Berlin as a divided city. Shortly after the Berlin Wall was built, President John F. Kennedy ordered the U.S. forces to build three checkpoints at different points in the wall through which diplomatic corps and allied forces could enter West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous of these. The name Checkpoint Charlie itself came from the American military alphabet (the first checkpoint was named Alpha, the second Bravo and so on.)
Tip: There is a museum nearby that tells the story of some of the more spectacular attempts from East to West – many people were killed during their attempts.
- Hitler’s Bunker
Corner of In den Ministergarten and Gertrude Kolmar Strasse near the Potsdamer Platz.
Hitler’s Bunker was an underground safe-haven built under Hitler’s chancellery office. This is where Hitler and his wife Eva spent the last few weeks of the war – and their lives – they both committed suicide here on April 30, 1945.
The Soviet soldiers blew up most of the bunker in the 1980s, and the foundation and walls were filled with rubble.For decades Berlin officials refused to mark the site fearing it would become a meeting place for neo-Nazis. It was not marked publicly until 2006.
The site is still very discreet with absolutely no trace of the bunker. It has been transformed into a parking lot so you could walk past and be completely unaware that such a huge part of Berlin’s history had taken place under your feet. It’s still well worth a visit to the site for those that are interested though.
Berlin City Guides on Amazon:
- Siegessaule / Victory Monument
9:30am - 6:30pm (April – October)
9:30am - 5:30pm (November - March)
Underground: Hansaplatz; U9 (In the north of the district runs ring train S41/42, in the south U1 and U2)
In order to reach the monument you have to go through an underground tunnel and there are 285 steps to the top.
The Siegessaule is the golden statue of victory. It was built as a national monument to Germany’s ‘Wars of Unification’.
The gilded figure at the top is locally known as the ‘Golden Else’ representing the Goddess of Victory and was added after further Prussian victories in wars against Austria and France.
It weighs a massive 35 tons and is 69m tall. The top of the Siegessäule has an observatory, offering great views on Berlin. Looking eastward, you can see the Reichstag, the Brandenburger Gate and the Fernsehturm.
- Fernsehturm / TV Tower
09:00am - 12:00am (March - October)
10:00am - 12:00am (February - November)
Metro: Alexanderplatz; S5, S7, S75 & S9; U2, U5 & U8
The Fernsehturm is a television tower in the city centre. It is also affectionately known to the locals as the toothpick, the asparagus or the discoball. It has become a symbol of Berlin and is a great landmark for finding your way home after a few too many German beers(!)
At 368 metres high, the tower is the tallest building in Germany and the second tallest in Europe. A 43 second elevator takes you up the tower to the visitor platform for amazing views of Berlin.
Tip: There is also a rotating restaurant in the middle of the sphere but you need to book at least a week in advance if you want to eat there.
Museums on Museum Island:
- The Altes (Old) Museum was the first building on Museum Island and the first public museum in the Prussian state. It was originally built to display the treasures of the royal family but today it houses ancient Greek and Roman artifacts.
- The Old National Gallery has one of the largest collections of 19th century sculpture and paintings in Germany.
- The Neues Museum houses a collection of Greek and Egyptian works of art. The museum's most famous artifact is the bust of Queen Nefertiti.
- The Bode Museum features an imposing neo-baroque dome and massive entrance hall. Each room is individually styled to the exhibit and there are three main collections; Museum of Byzantine Art, Collection of Sculptures and Coin Cabinet.
- The Pergamon Museum is the most well-known and youngest member of the museum island family. Here you’ll find a collection of Greek and Babylonian antiquities, including the impressive Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the enormous Pergamon Altar.The Pergamon museum is visited by approximately 850,000 people every year, making it the most visited art museum in Germany.
Things to do in Berlin: Browse Museums and Observe Memorials
- Museum Island
10:00am - 6:00pm (10:00pm on Thursday)
U-Bahn: U6 (Friedrichstraße) S-Bahn: S1, S2, S25 (Friedrichstraße); S5, S7, S75 (Hackescher Markt) Bus: TXL (Staatsoper); 100, 200 (Lustgarten); 147 (Friedrichstraße)
Of all the things to do in Berlin, there are of course many museums in and around the city. It would be virtually impossible to list them all here but if museums are your thing and you want to visit a ‘sanctuary of art and science’ then just head over to Berlin’s Museum Island. It is literally on an island in the middle of the River Spree that runs through the city.
- Soviet War Memorial
S-Bahn station Treptower Park. Cross over the Puschkinallee into the main section of the park, and keep walking (it's a pleasant stroll) until you come across an ornamental fence. Follow this in either direction and you will come to an entrance gate.
Bus: 166 / 167 to stop Herkomer Straße, which is opposite the main entrance gate.
The Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park is one of several war memorials in Berlin erected by the Soviet Union to commemorate its war losses, particularly the 80,000 soldiers of the Soviet armed forces who died during the Battle of Berlin in April and May 1945. This was to be the final battle of WW II.
Tip: Behind the memorial there is an outdoor museum showing photographs of the construction of the memorial and it also gives a guide to other memorials in the Berlin area.
- Berliner Holocaust Memorial (The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe)
Field of Stelae is open 24hrs
Information Centre - 10:00am - 8:00pm (April - September (closed on Mondays)/10:00am - 7:00pm (October - March)
By Bus: 100 U-Bahn: Line U2 Potsdamer Platz or Mohrenstraße
S-Bahn: Line S1, S2, S25 Brandenburger Tor or Unter den Linden
In May 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the fall of the Nazi regime and the end of World War II, the city of Berlin dedicated a Holocaust Memorial to commemorate the murder of six million Jews at the hands of Hitler and his forces.
A competition for the memorials design was announced in Germany's major newspapers in 1997 and the winning architect was Peter Eisenman. The memorial is a 4.7 acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs, varying in height and arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. It also includes statues of non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust at its corners.
According to the architect the slabs are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere as you walk through them to parallel the feeling in the air during the Holocaust and Hitler’s reign.
Underneath the south-eastern corner of the memorial is the Information Centre, and in a sense this is where the true memorial lies.The history of the Jewish families and what became of them during the holocaust is laid out bare and horrifying. Powerful and unique, this memorial is a must see.
Things to do in Berlin: Visit the Zoo
- Zoologischer Garten
9:00am - 7:00pm (March - mid September)
9:00am - 6:00pm (Mid September - mid October)
S-Bahn: Zoologischer Garten; S5, S7, S75 & S9; U-Bahn: Zoologischer Garten (U2 + U12 + U9)
Berlin Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the world and has been a popular tourist attraction since it opened more than 150 years ago. It was first opened to the public in 1844 by German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt and African explorer and zoologist, Heinrich Lichtenstein.
After entering the Zoo through its Elephant or Lion Gates, you’ll be greeted by more than 15,000 animals representing around 1,400 species. Cages are rare, with most animals roaming free in recreations of their natural habitats.
Tip: There’s also an excellent aquarium adjacent to the zoo (combo tickets are available). Here you'll find not only fish but also insects, amphibians, and reptiles. There is also a children’s zoo where the kids can pet the animals.
By no means a complete list of things to do in Berlin, this will give you an idea as to just how many things there actually are to see and do in the great German capital. If you have visited Berlin yourself, please feel free to keep adding to the list in the comments below.