10 Best Things to do in Berlin
Berlin is one of the most exciting cities to visit in the world: the battle scars of the most turbulent events in 20th century history pockmark its streets; its clubs, legendary temples of techno, don’t close for days on end; indie shopping boutiques populate idyllic hidden courtyards; and an affordable and diverse gastro scene is exploding. But it’s a tough city to wrangle. Its big, for one thing, and decentralised (one legacy of the Cold War) – a Kiez (neighbourhood) city where each area has its own special quirks and flavours. Don’t let yourself feel intimidated, Berlin favours the brave, and we at Essence of Berlin have pinpointed 10 of the best things to do in Berlin to get you started.
Built by a triumphant Prussia after it had unified Germany by force, burnt down mere months after Hitler’s rise to power, and rendered obsolete by the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag is now the home of modern Germany’s parliament. A visit to Sir Norman Foster’s glass dome atop the building, an architectural mission statement for transparency in government, gives sweeping views across the city centre. And it’s free. Be prepared though – the Reichstag has become extremely popular in recent years, and you are required to book a slot online in order to visit. Make sure you do so at least a month in advance here: visite.bundestag.de
Take a Tour
Berlin was the city of a monarchy that plunged Germany headlong into the First World War, the dark heart of Nazi Germany, and the frontline of the Cold War in Europe. Getting to grips with its recent history can be tricky, because of the depth, complexity and magnitude of events that emanated from here. Taking a tour with one of our professional and experienced guides is the best way to immerse yourself within, and understand, Berlin’s turbulent past – and we can tailor the tour to you. Find out more here.
Live the Park Life
Don’t fight the weather. 16% of Berlin’s surface area is green space, and on sunny days you won’t find Berliners in stuffy museums, you’ll find them out in numbers in the city’s numerous parks – kicking back, picnicking, and enjoying a beer or two. The Tiergarten is a vast maze of meadows, memorials, lakes and gardens, and is especially striking in fall as the leaves change. Tempelhofer Feld – formally the airstrip of the US occupied airport – is the best place to catch a sunset and do some cycling, while Treptower Park wins out for waterside walks with its riverside promenade.
Be a Night Owl
Berlin’s after hours scene is dynamic and diverse, and appeals to all tastes – whether you’re committed to a multi-day shape-throwing odyssey or keener for candlelight and conversation. The techno clubs are stuff of legend: Berghain is the most famous, and hardest to get into; Kater Blau has a riverside shanty town vibe; while Sisyphos is an adult adventureland. For speakeasy-style bars, head to Neukölln – the streets around Schillerpromenade and also Weserstraße are good areas to hit. A-Train, out west, B-Flat, more central, and Edelweiß, only Tuesdays, are for the jazz heads, and hundred-year-old Clärchens Ballhaus is a must-do in Mitte – a Weimar style dancehall where young and old alike swivel the night away together.
Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park)
Few places in Berlin can match the Soviet Memorial for ‘wow factor’. Enter via a stone archway inlaid with the hammer a sickle, just off Puschkinallee in Treptower Park. Mother Russia weeps for her fallen, pointing the way to two huge red marble gateways (built with stone sacked from Hitler’s New Reich Chancellery) beyond which is a huge sunken courtyard punctuated at the end by a 50-foot high soldier, cast in bronze, cradling a child in one arm and a sword in the other, a broken swastika at his feet. For first time visitors, walking into this one is a genuine jaw hit floor moment. Especially striking in the snow.
Berlin on a Sunday is teeming with flea markets, and Mauerpark is chief among them. On any given Sunday thousands will stream to browse the open air rabbit warren of stalls – clothes, antiques, knick knacks, arts and crafts, food – or lounge in the adjoining park next door listening to the broad array of street musicians looking for an appreciative crowd. Head over to the amphitheatre to show off your karaoke chops in front of a crowd of thousands (literally), that spills onto the basketball courts nearby.
Summer temperatures can get pretty toasty in Berlin, and when the mercury rises the Berliners head for the hundreds of lakes that are dotted around the city’s outer regions. If you’re after a seaside-style experience head for Strandbad Wannsee, complete with a man-made beach and pleasure boats for hire. For something with a bit more foliage Schlachtensee is perfect – easily accessible via S-Bahn and surrounded by forest. For those in search of both grandeur and serenity, there’s the Heiliger See in the shadow of the Marble Palace in Potsdam’s New Gardens – watch out for the nudists.
Known as the ‘Versailles of Germany’, Potsdam is where the Prussian kings and German kaisers splashed their cash on lavish, palatial summer residences where they could escape the stresses of ruling in Berlin. Nowhere is the pomp and grandeur of the Hohenzollerns more apparent than here. There’s a lot to visit, but here are a couple of the must-sees: Sanssouci, spiritual home and refuge of Frederick the Great, with its terraced vineyard and Cecilienhof, where Stalin, Truman and Churchill decided the fate of post-WWII Germany and Europe at the Potsdam conference. Potsdam is a short ride from Berlin on either the S-bahn or regional trains, and you’ll need an ABC transport ticket to get there.
As a result of labour deals struck up by West Germany, Turkish immigrant labour poured into West Berlin in the 1960s. Now the German capital is home to the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey. Districts like Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Wedding especially have a distinct Anatolian feel. Every Tuesday and Friday on Maybachufer in Kreuzberg, there’s the opportunity to experience this other side of the city at the bi-weekly Turkish Market. It’s a sensory smorgasbord – a cacophony of shouting vendors and crackly music, a riot of fabrics, fresh produce, and sizzling street-foods. Runs until around 4-5pm. Come late for the bargains.
Give yourself a license to roam – especially in summer. In the warmer months Berlin’s cultural, culinary and party scenes spill out onto the streets, into the parks, and beyond. Wander along the canal in Kreuzberg, perusing the restaurants on Paul Lincke Ufer and then grab a lazy beer with those lounging on the Admiralsbrücke. Alternatively you can head to pop-up street-food fest Bite Club – which takes over Arena on Sundays in the summer – for tasty treats and techno. Keep an eye out for impromptu open airs in the hip districts Kreuzberg, Neukölln, and Friedrichshain, too. Go on, dive in.