“When you are watching the setting sun from the Warschauer bridge, underneath the glowing train tracks and the TV tower in the background… there’s nothing compared to that.” – I said to a friend explaining what I love in Berlin. It’s not easy to pick what to see in Berlin, in a city which has so many faces – the chic Mitte, the hipster Kreuzberg, the green Bellevue and the authentic Wedding. There’s so much recent history, beautiful buildings and an alternative lifestyle that I guarantee that everyone will find a piece of Berlin to love. As for me, living there for 4 years, I love it all – especially in the summer when Berlin’s many waterways become the place to hang out. Watching the setting sun from the Warschauer bridge with street musicians playing is the best feeling in the world. The list is just a start of the many things to do in Berlin. Let me share what to see in Berlin.
History of Berlin
While the most common historical reference to Berlin is the World War, the city does have its story before it. The 12th century Berlin was a small town with fishermen and merchants. It enjoyed its own independence till the 1400s when Hohenzollern clan took over the town. They started off as the Bradenburg electors and graduated to the Kings of Prussia in the early 1700s with Frederick I ascending the throne. The rule continued further on even after the Kingdom of Prussia became a German empire with Wilhelm I as the ruler and the famous Bismarck becoming his Chancellor in the 1870s.
Unfortunately, the living conditions in Berlin did not keep pace with the growing kingdom. World War I took a toll on the people and post the war, the emperors were dislodged to give way to a new republic – Weimar Republic. This was the time when the Great Depression hit Europe. In the 1930s, came Hitler as the Chancellor and thus, the notorious persecution of Jews. Thousands of Jews got eradicated in Berlin and it stopped only after the 2nd World War. However, the war led to a different issue in Berlin – the division of the city into East and West by the famous Berlin Wall.
The East and West Berlin developed in different manners and a Cold War existed between the two. It was only after the wall came down, that Berlin emerged as a single unified city. Today, it is a key city to visit in Germany and has plenty more than just its history to showcase. Berlin is well-known among both the younger and older generations for different reasons. Berlin fought out its fame with a thriving clubbing scene and an alternative, chilled atmosphere among the young, while older people rather remember its dark, first Nazi then communist past. I believe the Berlin Wall features in almost every history book in the world and visitors can still see many memories from this era on the streets and in museums.
What to see in Berlin?
The best way to enjoy Berlin city is by neighborhood hopping. You’ll be surprised to see the different settings, almost as if they were completely different cities. If you want to get a snapshot of Berlin, visit both former East and West – they are still quite different in vibes and offer interesting things to see in Berlin.
The most famous East Berlin neighborhoods are Friedrichshain, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Lichtenberg; while in the former West Berlin they are Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Wedding, Schöneberg and Tempelhof. The good news is that most of these areas are along the former border, meaning that you won’t need to spend time traveling far out. You can simply walk (if you are a notorious walker), cycle on the extensive bike lane network as Berliners do or take the U-Bahn.
Just have less than 2 days to spare in Berlin and want to see the key sights? Consider booking one of the following tours through the links below. The booking will not cost you anything additional but will get me some commission to keep this site going.This Hop-on Hop-Off Bus tour takes you to the key sights of Berlin with live English commentary. The entire route takes around 2 hours with enough flexibility for you to get off and spend time at your will for one entire day. The canal and river cruise in Berlin is yet another way to take in the main sights of the city. This Boat tour with guaranteed seating is one option that you can book online. Segway anyone? Try this 2-hour segway tour of Berlin from the Berlin wall, through the Brandenburg Gate, past the Holocaust Memorial to the largest train station in the world. It includes a few more sights with a guide. Click through this for a Bike tour of Berlin. A guided tour that allows you to select your own bike.
Places to see in Berlin – Friedrichshain
Nowadays one of the coolest neighborhoods (besides Kreuzberg and Neukölln) boast a famous going out area. In the case of Friedrichshain, this is centered around Simon-Dach Strasse. So, if you want to blend in, just buy a beer bottle at a Späti (small shop selling mainly alcohol during the night) and drink it there on the bench.
3 things not to miss in Friedrichshain (Fhain)
It’s a super small and independent cinema, one of the few in Berlin. This one has a fun decoration and shows alternative films with subtitles. A must for cinema-fans!
A former train repair station where the buildings and spaces were converted into different units, such as bars, clubs and sports hall. Try Badehaus Szimpla for a Hungarian infused night!
The space in front of Warschauer Strasse U-Bahn station is often occupied by international street musicians who come and play to the international Berlin crowd. Take a beer from a nearby Späti (there’s one at the station) and sit down to listen to these artists. Some are seriously good! And if you happen to be here at sunset, well, check out the most authentic Berlin-style twilight!
Where to eat in Fhain
Datscha Friedrichshain – the Simon-Dach area is also great for Sunday brunch, and Datscha is one of the best here with a big selection.
Fitcher’s Vogel – it’s a place that I discovered recently and I instantly fell in love with its second-hand furniture.
Die Tagung – my favorite bar in the area is decorated with communist relics that give a very special atmosphere.
Mitte – an important part of the Berlin Attractions
Literally named “middle”, Mitte is the hipster-chic neighborhood of Berlin, where you’ll find independent shops, craft beer and international cuisine. If you fancy visiting the majestic Berlin Cathedral, seeing museums with great art, or just simply walking along the Spree and surfing your eyes on beautiful buildings, this is your place to be. In short, Mitte is your treasure trove of top must-see places in Berlin.
The top Berlin tourist attractions in Mitte
The Museum Island on the River Spree is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Known as the Museumsinsel locally, the isle is home to the important museums of the city, making it an unmissable part of the Berlin Sightseeing list. One can avail of the Berlin Welcome Pass to gain access to most of these museums.
The Pergamon Museum is the one that I recommend the most on the Museumsinsel. It houses such treasures as the Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon. The Neues museum treats you to the relics of Egypt, while the Altes museum is great for Greek and Roman Art fans. Besides these, you can also, visit the Bode Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and the Humboldt Palace.
Of course, you cannot return without a visit to the Berliner Dom or the Berlin Cathedral. The majestic building features on most of the Berlin memorabilia and will enthrall you with its architecture. Make sure you visit the Hohenzollern Crypt with its elaborate sarcophagi.
Germany’s parliament with a glass dome. The place has a free tour which is almost always full. Make sure you book for it well in advance, especially in summer.
Close to the Reichstag, is the Holocaust memorial – a dedication to the murdered Jews during the 2nd World War. The memorial holds many portraits, letters from the families and diaries of the long lost.
Unter den Linden
Get lost in the streets along Berlin’s biggest avenue, Unter den Linden: until you end up at the Brandenburg Gate. The gate has been the symbol of the many historical events that Berlin has witnessed. It is also, the icon representing the division of Berlin into East and West as well as its reunification. You can spend a moment or two capturing the sights before you walk to the TV tower (Fernsehturm). This is the highest building of Berlin where you can see an amazing sunset with the 360-degree view of the entire city.
Food in Mitte, Berlin City
Tajikistan tearoom: it’s a really special Central Asian style place for tea lovers. Order a tea ceremony served in a traditional samovar, the Russian way of drinking tea.
Shiso Burger: my favorite burger place serving Asian infused food in a little wooden case. Around dinner time it gets popular but the queue goes fast.
Clärchens Ballhaus: a former ball house with beautiful neoclassical decoration and huge mirrors. Every day there’s a different social dance to join – I often come here on Thursdays to dance swing. Before the actual social dancing begins, there’s a crash course, so complete newbies shouldn’t worry. Right around the dance-floor, is a restaurant that serves GREAT pizza!
Mein Haus Am See: “my house at the lake” is a bar in a stairs-like space with a lot of books and antique chairs.
Prenzlauer Berg – the family-friendly neighborhood of Berlin
These days, Prenzlauer Berg or P.berg as locals abbreviate it is the neighborhood of young, well-off families, so be prepared to see a lot of buggies and children-friendly places.
3 things to do in Berlin’s P.berg locality
This is a street of small shops and independent theatres. My favorite place around here is Weinerei, a wine bar where customers pay the amount they think the wine was worth.
Museum in the Kulturbrauerei
This is an interesting addition to free things to do in Berlin. The museum is about the communist past of Berlin. It’s a lot less visited than other similar museums that I will share later but is not less interesting.
Mauerpark is an iconic grotty park on the border between P.berg and Wedding. While not much is happening on weekdays, come the weekend and this rundown park fills up with street musicians, a huge flea market and a free karaoke in an open amphitheater. If you are an amateur singer, probably this is the biggest audience you will ever get. Get a drink from a Späti or one of the sellers, and watch, clap and have fun on a Sunday afternoon!
Places to eat in P.berg
Prater Biergarten: if you are into beer gardens or want to watch the football World Championship outdoors, this is one of the best in town. Although you won’t find the Bavarian 1-litre beer glasses here, you can still indulge in traditional beer garden food, such as pretzel and sausage.
Kreuzberg – a trendy addition to your Berlin itinerary
Probably the trendiest neighborhood of the city, Xberg (as locals often call it) has absolutely tons to do, so you could easily spend 3 days in Berlin only here. One of the main areas is Oranienstrasse, the other one is around Bergmannstrasse – both have a lot of unique bars, restaurants and indie shops.
3 things not to miss in Xberg
The palace-like building is occupied by artists workshops and a small, alternative gallery which you can visit for free.
This is a community garden with an eco-friendly bar and places to chill in the sun. At lunchtime, the bar serves vegan food and on some Sundays, there’s a flea market.
Canal at Paul-Lincke-Ufer
Berliners love sitting at the canal, usually with a bottle of beer or floating in their inflatable boat on the water. At Paul-Lincke-Ufer there’s a Turkish market on Tuesdays and Fridays, and a flea market on Sundays.
Where to get a drink in Xberg
Franken bar: it’s a rock and metal place, one of the first bars I started to frequent after moving to Berlin. Great music for those who like this style and an alternative crowd.
SO36: in this famous concert hall David Bowie used to play, and they still do a lot of great gigs.
Roses: it’s an inclusive gay bar, so no problem if you aren’t gay. The decoration is really unique with a lot of objects on the walls and a lot of mirrors everywhere.
Monarch: it’s a bar-club in the building across Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station, on the upstairs floor. It’s so close that you can literally look over to the station platform. Usually, there’s a small entrance fee and the vibes are great!
If you are looking for options other than just Berlin in Germany, consider visiting Munich. The center for the famous Oktoberfest has more than just a beer festival for you to enjoy. Read through the key things to do in Munich.
Neukölln – for parties and shopping in Berlin
Another trendy neighborhood with bars and restaurants. In the last years, this huge neighborhood has become more and more popular, but in the areas which are the furthest from the center, it has retained a shabby edge to it.
3 things to include in your Berlin trip from Neukölln
48hrs Neukölln festival
If you visit Berlin in June, don’t miss this art event in Neukölln. During a weekend all small galleries and independent shops open their doors to show their art and organize cultural events, such as live music, poetry nights.
When in Berlin before Christmas, go to this awesome, traditional Christmas market. Here you can buy handmade craft, try German Glühwein Mit Schuss (mulled wine with liquor inside) and wander among the gas lamps sellers after dark. The area is really charming with cobblestones, a small church and townhouses with gardens.
Stroll along this colorful cobblestoned street centered around a church and watch the typical Berlin diversity passing by.
Places to eat in Neukölln
Azzam: Neukölln is the neighborhood where Turkish and Arabic people moved to in the ’60s, so you’ll find the best falafel and Arabic food in this area. Azzam is my favorite.
Villa Neukölln: another nice, living-room-style place with comfy armchairs and lamps. What makes it special is the social dancing nights it organizes on weekday evenings.
Klunkerkranich on the top of Neukölln Arcaden: it’s the best rooftop terrace you’ll find in Berlin – sit on pallets and enjoy the setting sun with a view on the TV tower. On weekends arrive early to avoid the massive queue.
Wedding – an offbeat place to visit in Berlin
This upcoming neighborhood doesn’t feature on many itineraries to Berlin. However, if you want to see a real authentic piece of Berlin, Wedding is a great place to go.
3 things not to miss in Wedding
Did you know that there’s an extensive bunker system below Berlin? On a guided bunker tour you will learn all about the preparations for the cold war. The tour starts at Gesundbrunnen U-Bahn station.
Himmelbeet community garden
Similar to Prinzessinnengarten, but with a lot less people. It’s family-friendly and offers a nice time on sunny days. If you are here at the weekend, check out the flea market on Leopoldplatz.
It’s an anti-aircraft tower on an artificially made hill in Humboldthain. It’s a grotty place but locals often come here to watch the sunset while listening to music. It also offers a great view of Berlin.
Fun places to eat & drink in Wedding, Berlin
Panke: a bar-club in an old house at the riverbank of Panke. The entrance is from the inner yard and its garden is the best.
Stranero: this tiny place serves the best pizza in Berlin. Prices are reasonable too.
Eschenbräu Hausbrauerei: a very local beer garden serving delicious local beers, including IPA, stout and seasonal flavors. The garden part is actually at the inner yard of a flat complex, which closes for the night due to the noise – in this case just move into the bar.
Analog bar: Wedding’s answer to Xberg’s trendy, alternative bars with tape recorder deco. If you want to sit on a different sofa.
Berlin for history fans
Berlin is just full of history. So if you are a history fan, then here are the top places to see in Berlin.
East Side Gallery
Whenever I have visitors in Berlin, I always take them to the East Side Gallery first. This iconic piece of the wall contains 105 graffiti, from the times of the division, and more recent ones too. In fact, international graffiti artists are regularly invited to paint on the wall. This is where you get to see the popular art of Brezhnev kissing Honecker
Berlin Wall Memorial
This is where you’ll see another part of the Wall. Walking down on Bernauer Strasse on the border of Mitte and Wedding you’ll find a lot of information on the former wall that stood here dividing the capitalist West and the communist East until 1991. I especially like the many personal stories exhibited in German and in English. Walk until Ackerstrasse and climb up to a tower for a look into an original part of the wall. You can add this to your list of free things to do in Berlin
Tränenpalast at Berlin-Friedrichstrasse railway station.
This is the place where the floor was washed by so many tears. East and West Berlin were like two countries and Friedrichstrasse was the border station. Friends and relatives had to say goodbye at this point, and many of those fleeing from the East tried their luck here. While Friedrichstrasse is still one of the busiest rail stations in Berlin, the building used for border checks has been converted into a great (free) museum of the East- and West-Berlin period.
Considered as one of the best things to do in Berlin, a visit to the grand palace will take you a little away from the city center. This Baroque styled palace was made by Sophia Charlotte, the wife of King Fredrick I. From its exotic tea house to the Mausoleum and the stunning interiors, the Charlottenburg Palace will delight any history and architecture lover.
What to see in Berlin in the summer
Summer in Berlin is the best, there’s no question about that. The city is completely different, everyone is outside on sunny days. There’s so much going on in the summer that it’s hard to choose, but these are my favorites things to see and do in Berlin:
Live the Parklife
Go chill and picnic in one of the many parks of Berlin. If there’s water, like Treptower Park, it’s even better. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of beer!
Speed up on a bike on Tempelhofer airfield
It’s an airport that was used by the Americans in the cold war. In 2008 it got closed off and the people took it over. Now there are community gardens, cyclists, skaters, picnickers, and kite runners on sunny days.
Rave at an open-air
Open-air parties are very popular in the summer months. While it can be nearly impossible for tourists to get into famous clubs like Berghain, open-airs are usually more relaxed. I suggest Birgit and Bier or IPSE – both are near Görlitzer Bahnhof. If you don’t fancy alcohol but want to make it through the night, grab a Club Mate, the Argentine mate inspired fizzy drink popular in Berlin.
Watch a film with a beer in a Berliner Freiluftkino
Open-air cinemas are the thing in summer. There are numerous in the city and the films are on a wide range: from blockbusters to independent films there is a lot to choose from.
Kayak to Insel der Jugend on the Spree
Renting a kayak has been one of my favorite pastimes on nice days in Berlin. The many waterways mean a lot to explore on boat. Try the route from Treptower park until Jugend island, and dock for a beer.
Enjoy an unusual cup of coffee in Xberg
Have you ever drank coffee on a church bench? If not, you can try this in Kaffeepur at Paul-Lincke-Ufer. Sun worshipper-coffee lovers take over this place on any sunny day, even in winter.
Eat authentic Asian food in the Thai park
Imagine an ordinary park that gets taken over once a week by Asian women cooking delicious, authentic and very reasonably priced Asian food on their little stalls and camping cookers. You have it? This place does exist in Berlin at Preussenpark, and it’s commonly called the “Thai Park”. A super authentic experience!
Overall, I think the essentials for an authentic way to explore Berlin are:
- Let yourself get lost and just follow your nose and eyes through the neighborhoods you like
- Sit down for a beer in a park, a cute bar, a cafe or a Späti
- Soak in the eco-friendly, alternative atmosphere in a cafe, garden or flea market
- Relive the history of Berlin through its museums and monuments.
So, while you decide on your list of what to see in Berlin trip through this travel guide, pin this up as your ready reckoner.
The images in the post are creative commons from Pixabay. This guest post has been contributed by Anna. Anna is a curious traveler and travel blogger who focuses on eco travels, culture, food and local experiences. She recently backpacked extensively through South America: a life-changing adventure that she documents on Green Mochila with her travel partner, Anthony. When not traveling or hiking in beautiful nature, she immerses herself in the culture of Berlin, Budapest or soon Lisbon, or you can find her on the swing dance-floor. You can get in touch with her on Twitter – @greenmochila