Berlin is a timeless city. It has a deep past and a painful history, but has emerged into a thriving cultural center with some of the best attractions in all of Central Europe. Now, people can party in old warehouses that used to house Soviet weapons and walk through the same gates that once divided the world. Even the empty expanses that once held formidable buildings are still some of Berlin’s best attractions. There is no shortage of history in Berlin – the history seeps through every cobblestone and gives the city its unique vibe.
There is so much to see and do in Berlin that someone could spend a lifetime exploring and still never see it all. Unfortunately, we can’t always spend as much time there as we would like. If you’re short on time in Berlin, then this article is for you. I’ve compiled a list of Berlin’s 10 best attractions to help you make the most of your time in this beautiful city.
Berlin’s Best Attractions
1. Brandenburg Gate/Reichstag
Unless you go to Berlin via car, there’s a very good chance your journey will take you to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main railway station). The Hauptbahnhof alone is a point of interest – it’s the largest train station in Europe. From there, the U-Bahn quickly takes people to the Reichstag or Brandenburg Gate. Follow the signs inside the Hauptbahnhof to the U-Bahn and get on it. The U55 line only has two other stops, so just get on and it will take you there.
I personally suggest going to the Reichstag first. The Reichstag is the main government building of Germany and was partially destroyed as a result of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Visitors are allowed inside but must have prior reservations. There is usually a will-call for people without reservations but the wait is very long and few people actually get tickets. If you can, try to get reservations beforehand because the inside dome of the Reichstag is stunning. It’s a bit of a hassle to get tickets inside since it’s a big Berlin attraction, but the free entry is worth it!
Just a few steps away from the Reichstag is the iconic Brandenburg Gate. It is one of the original gates to the city and was the backdrop to Ronald Reagan’s famous speech demanding Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. People are usually able to walk underneath the gate and marvel at its beauty. The gate does shut down during the World Cup and Reunification Day and won’t let people walk underneath. I learned that the hard way. Twice. There isn’t much to do other than look at it, but there is a cobblestone path in front of it that lets you stand in both East and West Berlin at the same time. It’s iconic outline makes the Brandenburg Gate one of Berlin’s best attractions.
2. Berlin Fernsehturm
Directly in front of the Brandenburg Gate lies a long thoroughfare that leads straight into the heart of East Berlin. Michael Jackson once stayed in the Hotel Adlon to your right and he famously dangled his son Blanket over the balcony. Berlin truly has seen it all. But past that is the Unter den Linden Straße. At the end of the long street is the uber-tall Berlin Fernsehturm (TV tower). It may look like a long walk to get there, but that walk is an incredible way to get a feel for Berlin and soak up the sights and sounds of the city.
The actual TV tower is open to visitors and it has a restaurant that offers brunch and other meals with a spectacular view of the city. More details can be found at its website here.
3. Berlin Cathedral
On your way to the Fernsehturm, you’ll come upon the green domes of the Berliner Dom. This beautiful cathedral is very famous in Berlin and is as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside. It’s the largest church in Berlin and even offers concerts, tours, and other events inside. In the 19th century, the ruling family of Germany didn’t think that the cathedral of the time was grand enough, so they commissioned the building of the current building. World War II damaged the Berliner Dom and was not fully reconstructed until 1993. Visitors can also climb to the top dome where it offers a beautiful view of the city and Museum Island.
4. Museum Island
Where else can you go to five incredible museums that are on their own individual island in the middle of a capitol city? Nowhere, Berlin claims that title. Just beyond the Berlin Cathedral lie the museums that make up the islands. These five museums have artifacts from around the world and are very popular to visit. If you plan on visiting more than one of these museums, there is a pass available to purchase that offers a discounted price for multiple entries.
UNESCO has even designated Museum Island as a World Heritage Site for the amount of historical artifacts and buildings.
5. Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous gateway from East Berlin to West Berlin. It once offered residents of East Berlin a glimpse of hope to freedom. During its operation, many people attempted to escape through the checkpoint. Many people lost their lives, but a few managed to escape to their freedom. My favorite story is about a man who removed the top part of his car, including the windshield, and then just sped underneath the arm of the gate. Unconventional, but he managed to escape and get his family to freedom.
Some people avoid Checkpoint Charlie because they think it is too touristy. I won’t disagree, it is a big tourists destination. However, I believe that it is a good place to visit and definitely consider it one of Berlin’s best attractions. For further information about Checkpoint Charlie, check out my previous post on it here.
6. East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still standing. Over the years, people have painted murals on it to express their feelings about the Soviet rule and world peace. The most famous mural is of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing, which was a very powerful statement at the time it was painted. Some people skip the East Side Gallery because it is a little bit away from the center of town but it is still very easily accessible by the U-Bahn. There are two stops you can get off at for the Gallery. One of them is Warschauer Straße and the other is Schlesisches Tor. I suggest choosing arriving at one and leaving at another so you can get a more authentic feel of Berlin.
Ironically enough, one of the murals at the East Side Gallery shows the man who escaped through Checkpoint Charlie that had cut his car top off.
The U-Bahn itself is something worth taking a ride on. Tickets do cost, but very few people actually purchase tickets. I have seen a ticket collector on the U-Bahn only once before, but I have never bought a ticket and have never been fined, so ride for free at your own risk.
Many U-Bahn stops still have the old subway tiles from many decades ago. Some of the trains are also very old (even though they still run just fine). In my opinion, you haven’t visited Berlin unless you’ve ridden on one of the U-Bahns.
If you’re interested in other fun transportation museums, check out the Trabi Museum which is dedicated to the iconic cars from East Germany. It’s only €5 for a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else!
8. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
At the end of an U-Bahn line sits Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, the closest one to the capitol of Berlin. The concentration camp was turned into an open-air museum after the end of World War II. Not very many people are aware this camp exists and it largely goes overlooked. Don’t let its distance outside of Berlin fool you, it just takes a U-Bahn ride and a little bit of walking to get there.
Sachsenhausen is a great place to experience, regardless of whether or not you enjoy World War II history. I firmly believe that everybody should visit a concentration camp at some point in his or her life because it’s important to remember the past. Sachsenhausen is a good choice because it can be done in half a day. Be sure to give yourself enough time for it, though. When I visited with my friend, we only had about two hours to see it before it closed and we felt too rushed. However, we were able to see virtually everything, we just moved very quickly.
9. Olympic Stadium
In 1936, Berlin held its very first modern Olympics. Adolf Hitler was chancellor at the time and ensured that his Olympics were unlike any others. That year, Jesse Owens won the gold medal for his sprints and Hitler famously refused to congratulate him and shake his hand. The stadium is still in use and visitors can go inside and also explore some of the other sites where competitions were held.
10. Einstein Café
If you’ve made it here all the way to number 10, then this is your reward. Einstein Café is my favorite place to eat in Berlin, and possibly the whole world. Ashamedly, I’ve only eaten one thing there – the Eggs Benedict. Pictures cannot do Einstein’s Eggs Benedict justice. They are so incredibly amazing they will possibly change your life. Everything on the menu looks incredible and I’ve never heard a bad thing about Einstein. Einstein is conveniently located on Unter den Linden and is directly on the route from the Brandenburg Gate to the Fernsehturm. This cafe alone is one of Berlin’s Best Attractions.
People of all ages are flocking to Berlin. There’s something alluring about the juxtaposition of the past and the present and the city is booming. The cost of living isn’t too high considering the standard of living available. Art is an integral part of Berlin and is found throughout the city, whether it’s in a museum or painted on a concrete wall. Tourists buzz around the popular areas but they add to the character of the city, not detract. Berlin has an abundance of things to do and see and I have yet to experience them all. Berlin’s best attractions aren’t only the ones outlined here; the city’s best attractions come from experiencing the feel of the city for yourself.
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