Berlin is Germany’s capital, and is located in the Northeast of the country. With 3.7 million inhabitants, it’s also the largest city in Germany, and visitBerlin calls it “The City of Freedom”, which is thanks to its openness and tolerance, so you can just be yourself! I visited Berlin in August 2020, and I’m excited to take you on a tour of this awesome city!
Things to See and Do
Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). Our first stop is Berlin’s most famous landmark, that was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, and built between 1788 and 1791. It’s 26 meters (85 ft) high, 65.5 meters (214 ft) long, and 11 meters (36 ft) deep. It was damaged during World War II, but thankfully, it survived. It’s Berlin’s only gate that is still standing today, and during the Cold War (1945 to 1991), it was a symbol for the division of Berlin into east and west. But this changed for the opposite with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and since then, Brandenburger Tor has been representing a unified Germany. Today, this spot is also popular for celebrating New Year’s Eve, with amazing fireworks and live music! The Berlin Tourist Information is only a few steps from Brandenburger Tor, and the staff will be happy to tell you about Berlin’s many other attractions, places to stay, and restaurants, and assist you with booking hotels and event tickets.
The Reichstag (Bundestag). This building is the home of the German parliament, and was designed by Paul Wallot, who took inspiration from the Memorial Hall in Philadelphia, USA. It was completed in 1894, and as per visitBerlin, is “an internationally recognizable symbol of democracy”. The Reichstag was in use by the parliament until 1933, when the Nazi party (NSDAP) took over, and it was neglected during the Third Reich, and badly damaged in World War II. After the war, West Germany’s parliament was moved to Bonn (the previous German capital), and the Reichstag building was only used sometimes for ceremonial events. In 1990, this site is where the official reunification ceremony takes place, and soon after, it was decided that the German parliament will work at the Reichstag again.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the Reichstag from the inside, listen to a plenary session (in German only), and even go up all the way to the dome and the roof of the building. But although admission is free, you’ll need to register online on the Bundestag website first, and if you want to miss the crowds, consider visiting this place on a weekday instead of on weekends. There’s also the Käfer Dachgarten Restaurant at the roof, and the food is supposed to be amazing (reservations are required). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go inside, but I was fascinated by the Reichstag’s unique architecture, and enjoyed taking a break on the grassy area, which is popular for having a picnic, spending time with loved ones, and soaking up the sun!
Tiergarten Park. If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, wander around this beautiful park for a bit. Founded in 1527, it was originally intended to be a private hunting area for Berlin’s ruling class, but since 1740, it’s been open to the public. Tiergarten Park is Berlin’s largest park (it covers 210 hectares), and is a popular spot for outdoor activities (e.g. BBQing, cycling, walking, relaxing, or playing football) with Berliners and tourists alike. Take the kids to one of the playgrounds, then refuel at the Café am Neuen See or a beer garden, and visit the Siegessäule (Victory Column), which has a viewing platform, to see Tiergarten Park and the rest of Berlin and beyond. If you like German literature or classical music, don’t miss the Goethe Monument, Lessing Monument, Beethoven-Haydn-Mozart Monument, and Richard Wagner Monument.
I highly recommend visiting the many memorials inside or close to Tiergarten Park, that were built to honour minority groups murdered under National Socialism. For example, the Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism, first opened in 2008, a concrete cuboid, wants to “set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians”, as per the Stiftung Denkmal. You can also watch a short movie of a same sex love scene, by looking through the black window of the cuboid. The Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe, Soviet War Memorial, and the Memorial and Information Site for the Victims of the “Euthanasia” Murders are worth a visit as well.
From top left to bottom: The Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism, film in the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals, entrance to Sinti and Roma Monument with candles, and open-air exhibition on the Memorial and Information Point for the Victims of National Socialist »Euthanasia« Killings. All photos by Marko Priske, © Stiftung Denkmal.
East Side Gallery. This is my favourite place to visit in Berlin! It’s a remaining section of the Berlin Wall, and is the longest open air art gallery in the world, at 1,316 meters (4,317 ft) long. I can’t get enough of the vibrant colours of these murals and the meaningful messages! You can find it in Berlin-Friedrichshain, right next to the banks of the Spree river. Soon after the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, 118 artists from 21 countries started painting the East Side Gallery, and it opened on September 28, 1990, with 106 murals to admire. Since the East Side Gallery is outside, it had to be restored and repainted since its initial opening. This was last done in 2009, when 87 artists participated in order to restore 100 paintings. Tours of this unique attraction (in German, English, or French) can be arranged with the Artist Initiative East Side Gallery e.V. online. You’ll learn about the history, restoration, and the artists involved with the East Side Gallery, and tours take 60 to 90 minutes. Please find more details here.
Impressive artistic murals at East Side Gallery. The sentence on the bottom right one translates to “You learnt what freedom means, so never, ever forget this”.
Alexanderplatz. Germany’s largest public square, also nicknamed “Alex”, is in Berlin-Mitte, and is only 10 minutes from Berlin’s main train station on public transit. This spot was named after Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who visited Berlin in 1805, and street fights happened here during the March Revolution of 1848. Also, peaceful protests occurred here just before the Berlin Wall fell for good, and a scene in “The Bourne Supremacy” (2004) was filmed at the Weltzeituhr (World Clock), one of the main attractions of Alexanderplatz. It was first installed in 1969, and shows the current time in many big cities of the world (e.g. New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Cape Town, Vancouver, and Lima). Alexanderplatz also has many shops, restaurants, movie theatres, and hotels. It’s busy with pedestrians 24/7, and there’s very limited parking, so I recommend getting there via public transit. There are many other attractions within walking distance from Alexanderplatz, including the popular Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral, and the Nikolaiviertel (Berlin’s historic neighbourhood).
The Weltzeituhr from different sides.
Another popular attraction nearby is the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), opened in 1969. According to visitBerlin, it’s Berlin’s “most visible landmark”, and at 368 m (1,207 ft) high, it’s Europe’s highest building open to the public. More than one million people visit this attraction every year. Don’t miss its famous viewing platform (at a height of 200+ m/656+ ft), and enjoy a 360-degree view of Berlin and beyond! Tickets can be bought online, and start at 24.50 EUR for adults, and 14.50 EUR for children (4-14 years), and children 3 years and under are free! You can also have drinks at the Panorama Bar or a tasty meal at Sphere Restaurant, and buy cool souvenirs at the Gift Shop. Unfortunately, the TV Tower has very limited access for visitors in wheelchairs or who have limited mobility. When its construction was planned in the 1960s, society wasn’t as open-minded about accessibility concerns as it is today, so physically handicapped visitors weren’t considered in evacuation plans. Please find more details about this here. The TV Tower is currently open daily from 11 am to 10 pm.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial). This memorial was designed by the New Yorker Peter Eisenman, and remembers the six million Jews murdered during the Third Reich (1933 to 1945). It is managed by the Stiftung Denkmal der ermordeten Juden Europas (Foundation Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe). Opened in 2005, this place covers 19,000 sq meters (4.69 acres), and 2,711 concrete slabs (stelae) of various heights are standing here. The Memorial is open 24/7, and you can enter from all four sides. As per visitBerlin, it’s “a place of contemplation, a place of remembrance and warning”.
The exhibition in the Information Centre under the Field of Stelae has several themed rooms about some victims and their stories. It’s separated into the Room of Dimensions, the Room of Families, the Room of Names, the Room of Sites, and more. Here you can look at journal entries, farewell letters, photos, personal documents, and listen to the names and short biographies of some victims. Moreover, this exhibition displays historic film and photo footage of the places where the killings occurred, and at the end, you can listen to interviews with holocaust survivors. Audio guides are available for rent, and group tours can be booked as well.
Room of Families (left) and Room of Dimensions (right). Both photos by Marko Priske, © Stiftung Denkmal.
Almost half a million people visit these memorial grounds each year, and the opening hours of the exhibit are 10 am to 8 pm (Tue-Sun, from May-Sept), and 10 am to 7 pm (Tue-Sun, from Oct-Apr). Admission is free, and tickets can be booked online. FFP2 masks or medical masks are mandatory (except for children under 6 years) at this time. The Holocaust Memorial is only a few minutes away from the memorials at and close to Tiergarten Park, so a visit of these can be combined, if preferred.
The Berlin Wall Memorial. This historic site at Bernauer Strasse, opened in 1998, is where the border strip of the Berlin Wall separated East and West Berlin. This street was all over the news in August 1961, when many East Berliners jumped or climbed out of their apartment windows at the last minute, to escape to the West Berlin side. Some of them succeeded, while many others did not. Today, this memorial site intends to commemorate the 140 victims of the Berlin Wall, and a large outdoor exhibit covers historic audio and photo material, a Visitor Center, and Observation Tower. But the most impressive part is the 70-metre (229 ft) stretch of high rusty metal bars, which stands at the former location of the Berlin Wall. Public tours and group tours can be booked as well, please find more details here.
Across the street, you can find the Visitor Center and Documentation Center, and the latter shows a permanent exhibit about the history of the wall (in English and German), stations with historic audio broadcasts from East and West Berlin, as well as a digital archive with original documents. The Documentation Center and outdoor exhibits are accessible for visitors in wheelchairs or with limited mobility as well. The Chapel of Reconciliation, formerly known as the Church of Reconciliation, that was destroyed by the GDR government in 1985, is at this memorial site as well, and nowadays, a memorial service for the victims occurs three times a week. Also, don’t miss the Window of Memorial, which tries to keep the victims of the Berlin Wall alive, by showing their photos. During my research, I stumbled upon this moving article by Deutsche Welle, which portrays the history of the Berlin Wall very well, and talks with two survivors.
The Documentation Centre and the Visitor Centre are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm, and the outdoor exhibition in the memorial area on Bernauer Strasse is open daily from 8 am to 10 pm.
From the top left to bottom right: Entrance to the Documentation Center and Observation Tower, border crossings and course of the Wall map, partial outdoor exhibit, and flowers to commemorate the victims.
Berlin also has lots of great shopping spots, such as the Mall of Berlin at Leipziger Platz, right in the heart of the city. It’s Berlin’s second largest shopping center, with four floors, and has around 300 shops and a large food court to offer! You can find many international/European chain stores here, like H&M, Zara, Douglas (perfumery), C&A (clothing store), Claire’s, Pandora, The Body Shop, and Saturn (electronics store), but also souvenir shops. The building has an impressive glass roof, and right next door, you can find more shopping opportunities at Potsdamer Platz, as well as theatres, cinemas, and restaurants.
If you’re in Berlin for at least two days and like to save cash, I recommend buying the Berlin Welcome Card. It allows you free travel on public transit (buses, trains, and streetcars), up to 50% off at many attractions and sights, and three children up to 14 years can join one adult for free. The pass can be bought online, and prices start at 24 EUR for Berlin and its city limits, and 29 EUR if you’d like the fare to nearby cities (like Potsdam) and Berlin Brandenburg Airport to be included. There are also other options, such as the Berlin Welcome Card all inclusive and the Berlin Welcome Card Summer Edition, which starts at 9 EUR for 72 hours (for Berlin and Potsdam), and savings of 25% to 50% at more than 180 partners in both cities.
Whew, what a busy day looking at Berlin’s attractions! But there are many more things to see and do, which of course, you can’t cover in such a short time. So I recommend checking out The 16 Best Things To Do in Berlin by Nomadic Matt, to learn more, as well as general tips about visiting Berlin.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re looking for budget, mid-range, or luxury accommodation, Berlin has a great selection of places to stay!
I’m staying at the 36 ROOMS Hostel in Berlin-Kreuzberg, which is 25 minutes from the main train station by public transit. I love that this hostel is a traditional townhouse (in German, it’s called Altbau), built in 1878, with four floors and high ceilings, and an easy going vibe. There’s free wifi, lockers, and luggage storage, but also a garden area, and no curfew! Guests can choose between private and dorm rooms (mixed and women only). A swimming pool, night clubs, bars, grocery stores, and restaurants are nearby, too. For COVID reasons, I’m booked in a single room, which is rather small, but has everything I need, including an “old school” door lock (with a real key, lol!). I like the colour combinations (white furniture and walls, black chair, and dark blue curtains), and it’s quiet at night. The staff is very accommodating as well, but sometimes, the bathrooms could have been cleaner… But to be honest, the room was pretty cheap, and I’m not too fussy, so it’s fine for me 😉 Unfortunately, there’s no breakfast, but you can choose between tons of restaurants with breakfast options close to the hostel.
The 36 ROOMS Hostel from the outside, and the single room I stayed in.
If you’d like a great selection of other hostels in Berlin, check out Nomadic Matt’s blog post on the 8 Best Hostels in Berlin! For hotel accommodations, visitBerlin’s Hotel guide throughout the city is very helpful.
Where to Eat
Of course, Berlin also has a huge selection of restaurants and cafés to choose from!
I’m having dinner at Dean & David at Mercedesplatz, which is a restaurant chain founded in Munich, Germany in 2007. Since then, more and more locations have opened in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland! Their menu consists of salads, wraps, Buddha bowls, sandwiches, soups, curries (all either with meat or vegan/vegetarian), juices, and smoothies. I’m having their Vegan Falafel Bowl and Super Green Matcha Smoothie, so yummy! At the Mercedesplatz location, you can sit inside or outside (great for people watching), and the service was great as well!
Van Long, a Vietnamese restaurant inside the Mall of Berlin’s food court, is a great lunch spot! You can choose between Thai and Vietnamese dishes with meat, and there’s an extra menu for veggie dishes as well. I’m having their Mango Lassi and Tofu Summer Rolls, and they are a great pick-me-up after walking around Berlin and shopping at the mall for a while!
For breakfast, I head to the Ramones Museum, Bar & Café in Berlin-Kreuzberg, where you can order tons of awesome veggie options! I’m having the Blitzkrieg Bop breakfast (two slices of bread with a few veggies, sliced cheese (a vegan spread can be ordered instead, if preferred), and veggie cold cuts), and a bottle of Club-Mate, a non-alcoholic caffeine drink often found in Eastern Germany. I wrote a separate blog post on my visit to this awesome museum in September 2020, which you can find here.
Please note that unfortunately, the Ramones Museum is temporarily closed. But I recommend keeping it in mind, and checking before your trip to Berlin if they reopened in the meantime 😉
As you can see, Berlin is a great spot for vegans or vegetarians! In fact, it is one of the most vegan friendly cities in Germany, with more than 800 restaurants in and around the city, as per Contiki. You can also find tons of other recommendations for vegan restaurants (including vegan donuts 😋), as well as a vegan-friendly hotel, and more things to see and do in Rebecca’s Berlin Vegan Guide.
Dinner at Dean & David, and the breakfast at Ramones Museum, Bar & Café.
How to get to and around Berlin
Like many other big cities, Berlin has a great public transit system. From other cities and towns in Germany, tons of regional and long-distance trains (EC, ICE, and IC) managed by the Deutsche Bahn and FlixTrain go to Berlin many times a day, same as buses, such as FlixBus. Within the city limits (and suburbs), you can choose between the S-Bahn (suburban trains), U-Bahn (subway), buses, Hop On/Hop Off buses, and the iconic yellow streetcars! Day tickets and 7-day tickets for public transit in and around Berlin are available as well. Moreover, there’s a special deal in June, July, and August 2022 all over Germany: The 9-Euro Ticket, that allows unlimited travel on local and regional public transit (in 2nd class) for a full month! Please note that the long-distance trains and FlixBus/FlixTrain are not a part of this offer.
Thanks to the good public transit system, it’s not necessary to rent a car in Berlin in my opinion, especially because traffic can be insane during rush hour! Taxis are of course available, but as usual, can be quite expensive. It’s also popular to explore Berlin by bicycle, and I found that the downtown area was very walkable as well, and there are tons of signs, which is very helpful! But if you’d like to visit places away from this area, I’d recommend biking or taking public transit, unless you have tons of time on hand!
You can also fly into Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which was opened in October 2020 (after 15 years of construction!), and it’s a 35 to 40-minute train ride to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main train station. (Airport) buses to Berlin and nearby cities (like Potsdam), as well as private transfers and taxis are available as well. Many flights from domestic and international destinations start and land here daily, and 35 to 40 million travelers are expected every year in the future.
Well, that’s a wrap on spending 24 hours in Berlin 😁 Thanks for joining me, and if you have more tips on Berlin, let me know in the comments 😉
Cheers and until next time!