Top Attractions in Berlin
Berlin’s unique history, including the legacy of world wars and civic division, has given the city an enormous variety of things to do and see: the rebuilt Reichstag, reminders of the Berlin Wall, terrific museums, and surprising green spaces.
Berlin prides itself on its farmers’ markets, which take place every Saturday (and sometimes during the week) all across the city and often have a wonderful atmosphere along with top-notch local produce. The Saturday Winterfeldtmarkt on Schöneberg’s Winterfeldtplatz is one of the most impressive, with more than 100 stalls that sell flowers as well as delicious food. The Saturday bio market on Prenzlauer Berg’s pretty Kollwitzplatz offers an array of local organic goods—from fruits and vegetables to chocolates and fresh pasta—as does the food market at Friedrichshain’s Boxhagener Platz. To get a taste of Turkish Berlin, head to the Landwehr Canal’s Maybachufer on Tuesday or Friday, when the local Turkish community sets up stalls there selling food, clothes, textiles, and more.
Built between 1845 and 1850 according to designs by famed landscaper Peter Joseph Lenné, the Landwehr Canal stretches for more than six miles through Berlin, starting in Friedrichshain in the East and winding its way (parallel to the Spree River) to Charlottenburg in the West. A stroll passes through several key neighborhoods and includes a number of intriguing historical and architectural sights. One of the most interesting stretches is from the canal’s source near the Treptow border, where you can find one of Berlin’s only existing GDR watchtowers, up to Kreuzberg’s Paul-Lincke-Ufer, a street with cafés, restaurants, and a Turkish market (Tuesday and Friday). After you complete your walk, celebrate with a beer at the wonderful Schleusenkrug beer garden next to the Tiergarten.
Reinhardtstraße 20, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Only in Berlin could a hulking, aboveground World War II‒era concrete bunker, right in the center of the city, be turned into an art gallery. The structure—too bulky to be blown up after the war—was transformed in 2008 by collector-curator Christian Boros, who lives in a penthouse on top of the building. After extensive renovation, the lower floors house the Boros Collection, around 500 works of art spanning sculpture, installations, paintings, and photography. Works change every couple of years but always feature big international names such as Damien Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Elizabeth Peyton, Wolfgang Tillmans, Manfred Pernice, Ai Weiwei, and Michel Majerus. You can view the collection only on weekends, as part of a guided tour; book an appointment via the website.
Stauffenbergstraße 13, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Berlin’s German Resistance Memorial Center, close to Potsdamer Platz, recounts the city’s tales of resistance against the Nazis. The center is in the Bendlerblock, a historic military building where the expansion of the German navy was planned during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the role of the German army was reassessed during the Weimar Republic. In addition, several of those involved in the July Bomb Plot to murder Adolf Hitler and bring down the Nazi regime in 1944 were executed in the building’s courtyard. A permanent exhibition, spread across a couple of atmospheric floors, documents the bravery, as well as the diversity, of those who fought against the Nazi dictatorship.
Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin, Germany
The city’s official memorial to the Berlin Wall is along Bernauer Strasse, where the wall once divided the eastern districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte from the West Berlin district of Wedding. The half-mile stretch functions as a kind of open-air museum, peppered with large-scale photos showing how the wall once looked at relevant intersections; a reconstruction of the so-called Death Strip that ran between the wall’s two main barriers; and maps displaying escape tunnel routes. A touching shrine honors the 139 lives cut short by the wall’s existence (some while attempting to escape), and a documentation center has a platform with views over the whole memorial and an exhibition about the wall’s development and downfall. An associated bookshop is farther along the street.
Berlin is surrounded by lakes, and the star of the show is undoubtedly the Wannsee. Its waters lap at the Grunewald Forest and are dotted with yachting clubs and interesting cultural sights such as the House of the Wannsee Conference (where the Nazis planned the Final Solution) and the former villa of impressionist painter Max Liebermann, which exhibits his work and has a lovely garden café overlooking the lake. Nearby is the Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island), a former royal playground that’s now a pleasant park accessible by ferry. The most popular destination in summer, though, is the Strandbad Wannsee, a half-mile-long sandy beach jam-packed with locals and visitors.
14193 Berlin, Germany
The Tiergarten might be Berlin’s most famous park, but the sprawling, 7,400-acre Grunewald wins the prize for the city’s most impressive forest. Fringed by the Havel River to the west, it contains a multitude of pleasant hiking and cycling paths, lakes and sand dunes, and a surprising number of cultural, historical, and architectural sights as well. Besides the Teufelsberg man-made hill and adjacent Teufelssee Lake, there are great forest views from the Grunewaldturm, which also has a beer garden. Jagdschloss Grunewald, a 16th-century hunting lodge, has a café and a collection of old masters paintings. Close to the S-Bahn you can see a touching memorial to the deportation of the city’s Jews, who were sent from this station to death camps during World War II.
Teufelsberg, 14055 Berlin, Germany
Deep in Berlin‘s Grunewald Forest, Teufelsberg (literally, Devil’s Mountain; the name comes from the nearby Teufelssee, or Devil’s Lake) was once the site of a Nazi technology college. After the war, it was decided that the school would be buried beneath rubble and debris left in the city after the war, and the resulting man-made hill rose to more than 300 feet; during the cold war, American troops built a base on top from which to spy on East Germany. Since the wall fell, the base’s radar domes have become graffiti-spattered ruins and a haunting pilgrimage for urban explorers, street-art fans, and those seeking great views over the Grunewald and the Havel River. The hill is also used as a ski slope and sled run in winter; paragliding aficionados and picnickers enjoy it in summer. The website has official tour options.
20-24 Spandauer Damm
Berlin’s showpiece schloss is one of the main sights in the Charlottenburg neighborhood. Initially a country house built for (the future) Queen Sophie Charlotte in 1695, it served as a summer residence for Prussian kings throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The grounds hold several distinctive, impressively restored buildings, including the Altes Schloss, with the sumptuous apartment of Friedrich Wilhelm IV and the baroque rooms of Friedrich I and Sophie Charlotte. The Neuer Flügel features a superb collection of works by Watteau in the Concert Room, and the Neuer Pavillon, designed by noted architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781‒1841), showcases an array of decorative arts and romantic paintings (some by Schinkel himself). If you don’t care to traipse through the interiors, explore the lovely English-style gardens.
Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin, Germany
The most famous remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall gets its name from its location on the east side of the Spree River, as well as from its collection of political and satirical murals. Originally painted just after the wall fell, the murals were repainted (or in some cases painted over) in 2009 as a way of cleaning up the increasingly decayed originals and in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. Today, a fence partly protects the gallery to prevent vandalism of the murals, but people throng here nonetheless, especially in summer. A museum at the site tells the fascinating story of the structure through interactive displays, original newsreel footage, and filmed interviews with Berliners who lived on both sides.
Alt-Treptow, 12435 Berlin, Germany
Built as a green space for locals, Treptower Park came into its own during the city’s division, when it became one of East Berlin‘s most popular outdoor spots thanks to its riverside location and a nearby (now abandoned) theme park. Today the centerpiece is the gigantic memorial that commemorates the 300,000 casualties suffered by the Soviet Union during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Some 5,000 bodies are buried beneath the memorial, and part of the main statue repurposes marble from Hitler’s Chancellery. The harbor area makes for pleasant ambling and leads to the charming Insel der Jugend (Island of Youth) and the forested Spreewald farther along the Spree. You can also explore the Haus Zenner restaurant and beer garden for refreshment, or visit the Archenhold Sternwarte, an observatory with the world’s longest refracting telescope.
Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin, Germany
The architecturally striking Jewish Museum is the best place in Berlin to get an overview of German-Jewish relations and to understand the nature of the integration of the two cultures before the Holocaust’s horrors. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the building is clad in polished silver metal and features severe angles and thin window slits that create a deliberately jarring impression. The interior is equally intriguing, especially the three long, intersecting corridors that lead to installations addressing aspects of the Holocaust: a garden of pillars meant to disorient; a windowless Holocaust Tower; and a space filled with thousands of grimacing iron masks that grind together as you walk on them. Across the street, the Jewish Academy (open to the public) has a related research center, library, and educational institution.
Knesebeckstraße 1-2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Bauhaus—the German design, crafts, and architecture school founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius—is one of the most famous design movements of the 20th century, and this Berlin museum shows its impressive breadth and influence. Designed by Gropius himself and completed in 1979, the building holds a wealth of Bauhaus items such as furniture (lamps, chairs, tables), ceramics, photography, and theater pieces by an array of the movement’s most famous teachers and practitioners, including Gropius, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Note: The museum is temporarily located in the Charlottenburg district while the main building is being renovated and extended to pay tribute to the movement’s centennial.)
Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße 1, 10785 Berlin, Germany
It’s hard to miss the distinctive tent-shaped, yellow Berlin Philharmonic Hall, considered by many to be one of the world’s best concert halls. Designed by Hans Scharoun, it was built in the 1960s as a replacement for one destroyed in World War II. Scharoun’s forward-thinking design ensures not only excellent acoustics because of the sloping walls and specially constructed ceiling, but also stellar views since the orchestra is democratically positioned in the center of the main auditorium. The hall is home to the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s most sought-after orchestras. It also offers free lunchtime and online concerts as well as educational projects that seek to make classical music more accessible.
Once one of the busiest squares in Europe, Potsdamer Platz became a no-man’s-land during the cold war years when the Berlin Wall sliced right through it. It reemerged in the 1990s as the shiny face of the New Berlin, though its commercial glitz today tends to polarize visitors: Some feel it’s a charmless non-place, while others are impressed by its soaring starchitecture and bevy of entertainment options. Some of the local diversions include Deutsche Kinemathek, an excellent film museum that showcases everything from classic movies like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to a special exhibition on Marlene Dietrich; a large Legoland Discovery Centre for kids; and the neighboring Kulturforum, which offers several top-notch museums like the Gemäldegalerie (Portrait Gallery).
Berlin isn’t exactly short of impressive parks, but the 520-acre Tiergarten, stretching westward from Brandenburg Gate, is one of the city’s largest, most central, and most historic. The area, originally a royal hunting ground, became a park in the 18th century, and prominent landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné redesigned it in the 19th century with some English garden elements. Largely destroyed during World War II, the park was subsequently used to grow potatoes and other food for starving locals. Today’s replanted garden attracts strollers, joggers, bladers, and cyclists with its landscaped meadows, lakes and gardens, and winding paths. There are also several historic monuments and a couple of excellent beer gardens such as the Café am Neuen See and Schleusenkrug, both perfect stops for pre- or post-stroll sustenance.
By far the most recognizable landmark in the city’s skyline, the TV tower is the tallest structure in Berlin, and in Western Europe as well. The 1,207-foot transmitter, built during the 1960s, was a source of pride for East Germany, though over time it has become synonymous with the New Berlin values of tolerance, creativity, and independence. The 656-foot observation platform—reached by a fast elevator—offers views of up to 50 miles on a clear day; it also has a slowly revolving restaurant, Sphere. Because the tower receives around a million visitors annually, it’s worth buying a Fast Track premium ticket online so that you can skip the lines. A shop in the tower’s base sells posters, T-shirts, and other accoutrements featuring the iconic tower.
It may not be Berlin’s most enchanting public space, but Alexanderplatz can lay claim to being one of its most famous, thanks in part to Alfred Döblin’s 1929 modernist novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. The heady 1920s are long gone, and today’s “Alex” is an entirely different entity. Largely the product of 1960s GDR urban planning, the square today is tinged with tall and bleak prefabricated architecture (much of it landmarked) and studded with communist throwbacks like the World Clock, the soaring TV tower, and the Fountain of Friendship Between Peoples. It’s also still a bustling transportation hub, with the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and trams passing through constantly, and a good place to start a walking tour of Mitte and the Nikolaiviertel, the city’s reconstructed medieval heart.
Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Occupying a prominent space between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, this memorial (also known as the Holocaust-Mahnmal, or Holocaust Memorial) has almost 3,000 gray oblong pillars (stelae), arranged at varying heights, that form a kind of labyrinth intended to reference the disorientation felt by Europe’s hunted Jewish population. Designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman, it opened in 2005. The effectiveness of the labyrinth is arguable; you may see groups of teenagers playing tag and picnicking on and among the blocks. However, there’s no denying the power of the site’s underground information center, which relates some of the life stories of Holocaust victims. Several other smaller but related memorials are nearby, dedicated to homosexuals, gypsies, and victims of National Socialist euthanasia killings.
Am Lustgarten, 10178 Berlin, Germany
This immense—some might say immodest—neo-baroque cathedral opposite the former Royal Palace nods architecturally to St. Peter’s in Rome and served as the family church of the Hohenzollern dynasty up until 1918. The current building was completed in 1905 and has an interior every bit as dramatic as the outside. An outsize main hall features an ostentatious baptismal font, a mosaic by Guido Reni, and one of the largest organs in Germany, with more than 7,000 pipes. The crypt hosts almost a hundred burial monuments containing the remains of Hohenzollern royals and Prussian kings, notably Friedrich I and Sophie Charlotte. It’s worth the climb to the upper dome, accessed via 270 steps, for memorable views across the adjacent Museum Island and beyond.
Bombed to smithereens during World War II, the Neues Museum—inaugurated in 1855—reopened in 2009 following a slow and sensitive reconstruction by the office of British architect David Chipperfield; both the building and its inspiring contents are well worth the visit. The current structure, featuring delicately restored frescoes, beautifully renovated columns and doors, and deliberately preserved war damage, won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award in 2011. The museum’s collections comprise thousands of ancient artifacts from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the Museum of Prehistory and Early History, and the Collection of Classical Antiquities. Highlights include a 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, the famous Neanderthal skull from Le Moustier in France, and Heinrich Schliemann’s collection of antiquities from Troy.
Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin, Germany
One of the biggest stars of the five museums on Museum Island, the Pergamon was the last to open, in 1930. Built to resemble a Babylonian temple, it houses a trove of ancient treasures from the Middle East, with highlights that include the enormous Pergamon Altar, dating from around 170 B.C.E. and featuring a dramatic frieze showing a battle between gods and giants; the two-story Market Gate of Miletus, built by the Romans in 120 C.E.; and the equally impressive Ishtar Gate, from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th century B.C.E. Another poignant highlight, given the large influx of Syrian refugees into the city since 2015, is the 17th-century Aleppo Room, a reception chamber from a merchant’s house with exquisitely carved wall decorations.
Museum Island, Berlin, Germany
Visiting at least one of the five museums that make up Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must for any serious culture-seeker in Berlin. A pioneering concept, this ensemble of public institutions brimming with exquisite artworks and historical artifacts traces its origin back to 1810 and King Friedrich Wilhelm III’s decision to open a museum for his personal collection of royal treasures. Today, the original Altes Museum—located opposite the former Royal Palace—is joined by the Pergamon Museum, with its jaw-dropping Middle Eastern antiquities; the Neues Museum and its treasures from ancient Egypt; the Alte Nationalgalerie’s collection of 19th-century European masters; and the Bode Museum, which hosts one of Europe’s most important sculpture collections.
14-16 Unter den Linden
By far the best known of Berlin’s boulevards, Unter den Linden runs between the Brandenburg Gate and the former Royal Palace (currently being rebuilt). Its name, which translates as “beneath the lime trees,” comes from “Great Elector” Friedrich Wilhelm, who in the 17th century lined the route to what were his hunting grounds in the Tiergarten with lime trees. The current ones were planted postwar since Hitler hacked the originals down to make way for swastika-bearing flagpoles. Today the renovated avenue is a busy multilane road with car showrooms and slightly overpriced cafés, but there’s plenty of historical interest, too: pretty Bebelplatz, where the Nazis infamously burned 20,000 books, as well as the excellent German History Museum and the adjacent neoclassical Neue Wache, a war memorial.
Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany
Built by Kaiser Wilhelm I in the late 19th century as a gesture to parliamentarians, Berlin’s famed Reichstag came into its own during the Weimar era—Germany’s first attempt at democracy. The parliament building burned under mysterious circumstances in 1933, leading to the suspension of civil rights and Hitler’s ensuing dictatorship. Seized and shot to pieces by Soviet troops in 1945, then abandoned during the city’s division, the traumatized building reentered public life when the German government returned to Berlin following reunification. Today the Reichstag stands proud, topped by a glass dome designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster as a symbol of political transparency. Going inside the dome is very popular; you can look down on plenary sessions as well as admire sweeping city views.
Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Napoléon and his armies marched through it; revolutionaries and Nazis gathered beneath it; the Berlin Wall ran right behind: It’s safe to say that Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, completed in 1791, has pretty much seen it all. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, who drew inspiration from the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens, the gate is best approached via Unter den Linden, the tree-lined boulevard that runs between the gate and the former Royal Palace. You can combine a visit here with nearby sights such as the Reichstag, Tiergarten Park, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Since 2016, an impressive high-tech museum at the gate has offered a history of the city through the perspective of the iconic structure.
Molkenmarkt 2, 10179 Berlin, Germany
Opened in 2018, this contemporary museum showcases the notorious decade that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in the city: one that saw the joy of an unexpectedly sudden German reunion merged with a rush of young artists and techno ravers taking advantage of the capital’s slew of empty, cheap (sometimes free!) spaces. The organizers have reflected the hedonism of those years with a heady, sometimes chaotic mix of multimedia installations accompanied by specially commissioned street art, video interviews with those who were there (photographers, politicians, DJs, club owners, punks)—and a bass-heavy soundtrack throughout. The one moment of sobriety comes with a large room, deliberately ice-cold, that memorializes those who lost their lives to the brutality of the Wall itself.