Berlin is a perfect weekend destination, whether you’re looking for culture, history or wild fun, shopping or relaxation, whether you’re traveling with children – who’ll appreciate the colorful museums and green areas, or with your sweetheart. What to do in Berlin: from the Brandenburg Gate to Checkpoint Charlie, top13.org has chosen the 20 best places to visit in Berlin.
Berlin is an energetic city, an experimental centre for art, fashion, music and design. A young, hipster, counter-trend, alternative destination. The cradle of clubs, discos, museums, cutting-edge festivals. Walk through its quiet streets, let yourself be enchanted by Alexanderplatz, visit the part of the Berlin Wall still standing, sip your aperitif along the Spree – the river that runs through Berlin – and go shopping in Scheunenviertel. The means of transport are efficient, the city is safe and the prices for eating and drinking are not exaggerated. So, what’s stopping you? This year too, Berlin is the city to visit.
Best places to visit in Berlin: The Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate completes the trio of iconic Cold War symbols, the backdrop to one of the images that went around the world and bulwark of the divided Berlin.
When the wall was torn down on the night of November 9, 1989, thousands of people gathered right in front of the door, which had been closed in that “no-man’s-land” between the two parts of the city since 1969. But the history of the Brandenburg Gate begins far away, when in 1788 William II, a great lover of Greek art and mythology, commissioned the construction of one of the 18 gates to the City of Berlin along the lines of the entrance door to the Acropolis of Athens. At the top of this majestic arch supported by 12 columns 26 meters high, stands a Quadriga depicting the Goddess of Victory on board a cart pulled by 4 horses.
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Like any monument of the best places to visit in Berlin, the sculpture above the Brandenburg Gate has its own troubled story to tell: in 1806 it was the spoils of war of Napoleon when he conquered the city, was taken and taken to Paris and then returned to Berlin in 1814, and during World War II was destroyed by bombing. The Quadriga we see today was recast in 1953 and placed on one of the most significant monuments in the history of the twentieth century.
Discover Berlin: East Side Gallery
A mix of art and history at the East Side Gallery in Berlin. In 1989 the Wall that divided the city was demolished. However, along the Mühlenstraße a 1.3 km stretch of it remained standing: this relic of twentieth-century history has become an open-air gallery, where artists from all over the world have painted 106 murals. The most famous are Birgit Kinder’s Test the Best, which depicts a Trabi breaking through the Wall, and Dimitrij Vrubel’s Mortal Kiss, which portrays Erich Honecker and Leonid Breznev kissing passionately. You will surely enjoy walking along this street and immortalizing your favourite works! East Side Gallery is definitely one of the best places to visit in Berlin!
Top destinations in Berlin: Museum Island
From the Brandenburg Gate winds the Unter den Linden, literally the avenue “under the limes”, the most famous boulevard in Berlin that stretches for over 1 km to the Museum Island, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO both for its architectural uniqueness and for the priceless heritage kept in its museums.
Would you ever have thought of finding an island right in the middle of the river that runs through the German capital? And not just any island, one of the best places to visit in Berlin, can boast of hosting 5 museums in a row, each with its own treasures that trace the stages of the history of mankind.
Not by chance “Old Museum”, one of the best places to visit in Berlin, was the first of the five to be built, between 1823 and 1830, which in the rooms on the ground floor houses collections of works and objects from the world of Ancient Greece, while the upper floor is dedicated to an extraordinary journey through time to discover the objects of daily life of the Etruscans and the evidence of ancient Rome and imperial.
Other finds from classical antiquity and the fabulous Egyptian works are housed in the Neues Museum, the “New Museum”, built just after the Altes. Its treasures include the stone bust of Nefertiti, dating back to 1340 BC, the Collection of Papyri and several works of European prehistory.
In the Alte Nationalgalerie, instead, there is the most important collection of German painting and sculpture of the nineteenth century and a collection of works of French and German Impressionism.
Named after the architect who designed it, was built in 1904 and boasts a splendid collection of coins with about 500,000 pieces, as well as evidence of Byzantine art and sculptures from the Classic World.
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What to visit in Berlin: Unter den Linden
“Unter den Linden”: under the lime trees. This is the name of Berlin’s main boulevard, one of the most famous in the world and one of the best places to visit in Berlin. A kilometer and a half of road, about 60 meters wide, surrounded on both sides by several rows of limes, whose planting dates back to the reign of Frederick William I of Prussia.
The monarch needed the route from the Royal Palace to the hunting lodge in the Tiergargarten district to be as shady as possible, so he ordered these trees to be planted. After Frederick William I, it was the turn of his son Frederick II of Prussia to embellish the avenue, ordering the construction of the National Opera House (Staatsoper) and the National Library. In the 19th century, the victory against France suggested the installation of several statues as a tribute to the courage of the generals of the Prussian army.
On the way you will find several other buildings of great value: among others, the Palace of the Crown Prince (Kroprinzepalais), the Armory (Zeughaus, see next point) and the University of Humboldt famous for having been attended by Karl Marx. World War II, and the subsequent division of the city into two, led to a rapid decline of “Unter den Linden”. This decline was averted with the reunification of the 1990’s, which, albeit on a new basis, in a mix of conservation and innovation, has restored centrality to this beautiful avenue that ends (or begins) with the Brandenburg Gate.
What to do in Berlin: Visit the Holocaust Memorial
Just a few steps from the Brandenburg Gate, in the heart of the city, you will find the impressive Holocaust Memorial, the memorial dedicated to the Jews of Europe who were victims of the Holocaust: a must see place in Berlin. Visitors walk through 2711 rectangular concrete blocks on a wavy surface to create a claustrophobic effect of great intensity and emotional participation. The work is by architect Peter Eisenman, and won the AIA (American Institute of Architects) award. Underneath the monument is an information centre.
What to see in Berlin: The Reichstag
Background of one of the most famous photographs in the world, which marks the fall of Nazism and immortalizes a Soviet soldier as he hoists the flag with hammer and sickle on its top. The Reichstag is the seat of the German parliament and like most of Berlin’s monuments, bears all the signs of World War II and has its own story to tell.
Born as a building to house the rooms of the German Parliament, it was from one of the windows of the Reichstag that in 1918 was proclaimed the birth of the German Republic, marking the decline of the monarchy and the dynasty of the emperors of Germany. In February 1933, a terrible fire almost completely destroyed the palace and during the Second World War it was used as a clinic for new births.
One year after the fall of the Wall, the official ceremony of the reunified Germany was held inside the building on October 2, 1990. Only in 1999, 66 years after the great fire, did the symbol of German democracy officially return, once again hosting the chambers of parliament. The beautiful glass and steel dome we see today was designed by the renowned English architect Sir Norman Foster, as a symbol of opening after the dark period of the division and through its windows you can see all of Berlin and the inner area of the parliament.
Best places to visit in Berlin: Gendarmenmarkt
The Gendarmenmarkt, literally gendarmerie market, is one of the largest squares in Berlin and is dominated by three historic buildings: the Konzerthaus, the French Cathedral and the Berliner Dom. The Konzerthaus, built in 1821 on the site of an older theatre, is by far one of the most important theatres in Berlin and is famous for its architectural splendour.
The Berliner Dom is a new baroque style cathedral and is the largest church in the city. In the crypt of the cathedral there are the remains of almost 100 illustrious men, including the Great Elector and Frederick I. The French Cathedral or Franzosischer Dom, was built in 1705 to house the community of Berlin Huguenots. From its 70-metre tower you can enjoy an excellent view over the whole city.
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Top destinations in Berlin: The Berlin Wall
“Mr Gorbachev, tare down this wall!” exclaimed American President Ronald Regan during his famous speech in Berlin in 1987. Only two years later, on the night of 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down and with it all the ideological and political barriers that for 28 years have materially and cruelly split into two Berlin and Germany.
In August 1961 the face of the city changed completely: 170 km of cement 10 m high marked the division of the world into two spheres, the American and the Soviet. Crossing the border was impossible, there are at least 136 people who died trying to escape to West Berlin, others used the most disparate and unthinkable means in a desperate attempt to cross the wall: hot air balloons, super-light aircraft and false documents with the header of the United Nations are just a few examples.
On November 9, 1989, President Reagan’s words became concrete when, following the fall of Communism, representatives of the government of the GDR announced that the East Berliners could cross the border and the wall fell under the blows of the Berliners’ hammers and picks. Only 1 km of concrete remained intact and in 1990 artists from all over the world celebrated the reunification of Germany with spray cans, painting the remains of the wall with colorful murals, some of which have become world-famous works such as “The mortal kiss” that immortalizes the kiss on the mouth between Honecker and Brezhnev, and the “Test the best” depicting the “official” car of East Germany breaking the wall.
These and many other graffiti make up what is now called the East Side Gallery, a real outdoor art gallery, protected by the German government as a monument to all effects.
What to see in Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie
The site of one of the hottest moments of the Cold War, the Checkpoint Charlie was one of the places of passage between East Berlin and West Berlin, armored and controlled by the American military, built in the stretch of wall where two of the main arteries of the city converge: between the Friedrichstraße and the Zimmerstraße.
It was here that on October 25, 1961, the Soviet and American tanks lined up in front of each other, in a forceful action that ended in favour of the American troops who secured the right to move freely around Berlin. With the city split in two, it was necessary to ensure that no inhabitant of the GDR tried to go to the west, so several checkpoints were installed that take their name from the phonetic alphabet of NATO: the Checkpoint Alfa separated East Germany from West Germany, the Checkpoint Bravo separated East Germany from the west of Berlin and the Checkpoint Charlie, the third in order, had the arduous task of watching the border between Americans and Soviets.
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Checkpoint Charlie was also dismantled with the wall and what we see today is a reproduction made in 2000, with the striking giant photographs of two soldiers: an American with his eyes turned towards East Berlin and a Soviet looking towards the West, and the famous sign that announced “You’re leaving the American sector – you are about to leave the American sector”.
The most passionate can also visit the museum “The house of Checkpoint Charlie”, where there is a permanent exhibition on the history of the Wall and are exposed the weirdest objects used for the most amazing escape attempts of the inhabitants of East Berlin.
What to visit in Berlin: Hamburger Bahnhof
If you love contemporary art and you are in Berlin you can’t miss this stage! The Hamburger Bahnhof is a collection of works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Anselm Kiefer and others. Since 1996 it has been the reference point for this type of art throughout Berlin. As its name suggests, the Hamburger Bahnhof is a former 19th century railway station converted into a museum. So immense that… be careful not to get lost! At night, the façade is illuminated by a lighting project by Dan Flavin. Permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, a well-stocked bookshop and a café!
Best places to visit in Berlin: Alexander Platz
Disorderly, frantic, with questionable architectural works, Alexander Platz has always been the most famous square in Berlin. Its name dates back to 1805, when, on the occasion of the visit to Berlin of Tsar Alexander I, the square that housed the cattle and wool market, Ochsenmarkt (oxen market, in fact), was renamed Alexander Platz.
The square was the scene of the main events in Berlin’s history and a crucial junction for the capital’s traffic: 20 tram and bus lines intersect at this point.
The aspect it preserves today is a clear testimony of socialist architecture, all surrounded by bulky buildings such as “The Teacher’s House”; “The Travel House”; “The Electronic Industry House”. But Alexander Platz’s iconic building is undoubtedly the Television Tower, which at 365 metres high, every metre for every day of the year, dominates the city from above and is the highest structure in Western Europe.
A lift that ascends at a speed of 6 metres per second takes visitors to the steel sphere at 203 metres above sea level, from where they can enjoy a spectacular view of the whole of Berlin. Finally, two iconic symbols accompany the square: the Urania Weltzeituhr, the clock that marks the hours of the main cities in the world, and the Brunnen der Völkerfreundschaft, the fountain that dominates the center of the pedestrian area of the square and is dedicated to friendship between peoples.
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Discover Berlin: The Cathedral
A stone’s throw from the Museum Island, stands the imposing sumptuous Berlin Cathedral, whose current appearance dates back to 1904, after Emperor William II ordered in 1894 that the previous cathedral be demolished, too simple and classic, to make room for a cathedral that adequately reflected the greatness of the Lutheran religion and the power of the royal dynasty.
In its baroque style with strong influences of the Italian Renaissance, the Berliner Dom is 114 meters long, 73 wide and 116 high, dominated by a majestic copper dome, whose interior is decorated with paintings depicting events of the New Testament and the period of the Reformation. Going up 270 steps, you also reach its top from which you can enjoy an enchanting view of Berlin. Even the Duomo has not escaped the fury of the bombing of World War II that seriously damaged the roof, to the point that initially was placed a temporary one to preserve what remained of the building and the reconstruction work began only in 1975. The cathedral was reopened in 1993, after 18 years, and fortunately still today you can admire the high altar, dating back to 1850, the Hohenzollern Crypt and the majestic Sauer Organ of 7000 pipes.
What to do in Berlin: Television Tower
In the 1950s, the GDR, partly out of logistical necessity and partly to magnify the fate of the socialist regime, erected a giant television tower in the centre of Alexanderplatz for the broadcasting of state programmes. After the fall of the Wall and the reunification of East and West Berlin, “Telespargel” soon became a symbol of the city.
Its popularity is based on two factors: on the one hand, the imposing structure (365 metres), and on the other, the fact that it is located in a historically important square such as Alexanderplatz (so called in 1805 in honour of the Tsar of Russia Alexander I). Today the Television Tower is one of the main attractions of Berlin.
At 203 meters in height there is a platform (reachable by lift) that on clear days gives a magnificent sky line, not to mention the presence of an exclusive restaurant (“Sphere”) that every 30 minutes rotates its axis making a complete turn on itself. It’s not over, because to avoid long queues the organization has decided to warn customers by text message. Don’t miss it!
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Explore Berlin: German History Museum
Almost 30 years after the fall of the wall, Berlin is a completely different city. So different that, while retaining many traces of that physical, political and psychological division, you risk, without guidance, to lose the thread of memory. In other words, we are unable to reconstruct the various stages of a fundamental event in German, European and world history. Therefore, a visit to the Deutsches Historiches Museum, inside the previously mentioned armory building (Zeughaus), is a must for those who are really interested in learning about the history of Berlin and Germany.
The history of the forty-year period 1949 – 1990, and the more specific history of the construction of the wall in 1961. This is not the end of the story, because the museum also traces the stages of the Nazi dictatorship and, backwards, those of the First World War and German unification in the nineteenth century. In short, this museum offers visitors an overview of German history, without giving up, however, to host temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are held in the wing of the building designed by the Sino-American archistar Ieoh Ming Pei, who also designed the Louvre Pyramid in Paris.
Top destinations in Berlin: Sony Center
One of the must-see stops in Berlin is undoubtedly Potsdamer Platz, which has always been one of the city’s main squares. Or rather, one of the main squares of the city until the bombings of World War II first, and the construction of the wall then, did not turn it into a sadly desolate place. It is therefore normal that the reconstruction of the 90s has covered in depth this area where they were able to try some of the greatest architects in the world.
From 1993 to 2000, dozens of buildings, streets and new squares were built all around Potzdamer. The most spectacular construction of all is the Sony Center, a complex of 7 buildings surmounted by an enormous steel roof in the shape of an umbrella, whose peculiarities include changing colour during the day. The complex, as the name suggests, was built by the multinational Sony, which however in 2008 sold it, while maintaining its headquarters here.
From a tourist point of view, the area is mostly made up of shops, bars and restaurants. Therefore, much of its charm comes from the merciless confrontation with what was before. Don’t miss the Panoramapunkt, the fastest lift in the world. It is located inside the Kollhoff Tower, one of the new buildings previously mentioned (named after the architect Hans Kollhoff) and in 20 seconds runs 100 meters leading tourists on a panoramic terrace with one of the most beautiful views of Berlin.
What to see in Berlin: Jewish Museum
The idea of building a Jewish Museum in Berlin predates the fall of the wall. The reason why he waited until 2001 was because he had to deal with two aspects in advance: the first had to do with the cut to be given to the exhibition; the second, perhaps more important, concerned the ownership of the museum itself. At first the government solution was advocated, but then the different formula of the independent foundation under the supervision of the federal government prevailed.
The museum illustrates over 2000 years of Jewish culture in Europe with contributions ranging from art to literature and religion. A large space, of course, is dedicated to the persecution of the Jewish people. Persecutions in Europe range from the early Middle Ages to the tragic events of the Nazi Holocaust. What is most striking about the Jewish Museum in Berlin, however, is its innovativeness.
Multimedia techniques, lighting effects, exhibition rooms with bizarre shapes: everything is designed to offer a spectacular view to the visitor without ever abdicating the popular function of the museum. Finally, a curiosity: the opening of the Jewish Museum in Berlin was initially scheduled for September 11, 2001. On that same day, however, there was an attack on the Twin Towers in New York and it was therefore necessary to postpone the inauguration for two days.
Best places to visit in Berlin: Charlottenburg Castle
The oldest and largest Prussian residence in Berlin is Charlottenburg Castle. Finely renovated, the palace offers many attractions, including a 50-meter-high central dome and an orange grove from 1712. Private tours are organized inside the palace, including a visit to the “New Wing”, i.e. the state apartments and reception rooms. Don’t miss the hall for state dinners and the Golden Gallery. In the park, be sure to visit the Mausoleum with its royal tombs, as well as the Grand Courtyard, where there is an impressive statue of Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, called the Great Elector.
Discover Berlin: Tiergarten and the Victory Column
The Tiergarten, literally translated as “animal garden”, has always been an important part of the city. Originally a hunting ground, it was transformed into a park in 1700. The Tiergarten covers about 2 square kilometers and is an ideal place to relax, walk and take a boat ride in the pond inside. The park contains a number of monuments and statues, the most important of which is undoubtedly the Victory Column, or Siegessaule, a 70-metre-high structure culminating in a gold statue representing Victory. You can climb up to the top of the column, along 285 steps inside the monument.
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What to visit in Berlin: Berlin Zoo
Last but not least, the Zoologischer Garten in Berlin. Europe’s oldest zoo (opened in 1844), and one of the world’s best-equipped zoos, with a capacity for around 14,000 specimens of 1,400 different species. Hippos, monkeys, rhinoceroses, pandas, penguins, lions, panthers, jaguars and butterflies: an impressive variety of wildlife bred with constant attention to both the physical and mental well-being of the animals and the safety needs of visitors. Visitors are hundreds of thousands every year, confirming the reputation of an activity that has over 160 years of history. Do not miss the Aquarium, which was built near the zoo but can also be visited separately. Here, too, there is a great variety: crocodiles, caimans, turtles, snakes, oceanic fish, sharks and much more.