Berlin is such a funny place. It’s one of those cities that is really just
really cool – and knows it. When I first moved to Berlin from a mid-sized
German city, it was like going to the future – grocery stores open past 8PM,
public transit that runs late, there’s even so much
I don’t even know what to do with it, I need to cancel my data plan!
I immediately saw what Germans mean when they say that Berlin is a city like no
other in Germany. Not just in terms of conveniences, but attitude.
I love its diverse population and amazing food and culture of acceptance. I think this list reflects a lot of the best of Berlin. But first! Here’s what you should expect.
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What this is list is not about:
- Lots of museums. If I wanted that, I could list each of Berlin’s 200+ museums and be done with it. Boom! 200 THINGS TO DO IN BERLIN! Longest list out there.
- Lots of architecture and landmarks. You can find a list of Berlin’s most famous structures written by anyone who’s never even been to Berlin.
- Lots of essential “German” experiences. Any German will tell you that Berlin is not Germany, and vice versa. You can do some of these things anywhere in Germany, but most of them – do it in Berlin, baby.
What this list is about:
- Lots of food. Berlin is a foodie city with very affordable prices, and you should eat a lot.
- Lots of experiences, which will bring you in contact with real, live Berliners.
- Lots of local secrets and places you won’t find in a guidebook (or any other “things to do” list I found online – I checked, my list is the BEST ONE!).
Do I have your attention? Read on for 50 essential Berlin experiences that will help you fall in love with the city and might even convince you to stick around for a while. You’ll need much more than the standard 2 days in Berlin that so many tourists have, though I’m sure you can something fun to do on this list, whether you’ve got two weeks or just a few hours.
1. Eat a döner – Cheap eats abound in Berlin, and none is more iconic than the verenable döner (okay, this point is arguable, but more on that later). Be warned: not all döner is created equal. Look for a line and stand in it, or go to the supposed birthplace of the döner, Hasir in Kreuzberg.
2. Visit the Museum Island – The Germans take their museums very seriously, and there are a ton of great museums located on the Museum Island, right in the center of Berlin. You could spend a day or more hopping between them. If you REALLY like museums, pick up the three day museum pass.
3. See the original copy of Nefertiti’s bust at the Neues Museum – Possibly the most tantalizing attractions of the Museum Island. Earlier this year, hackers claimed to have covertly 3d scanned it, which was later said to be a hoax. Don’t try to take a picture of it, or a grumpy Museum Frau will scold you.
4. See the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) from all over Berlin – Whether you’re trying or not, you will see the TV tower while you hop around the city’s main sights. For a close up, pop by Alexanderplatz, just don’t stick around the area afterwards as it a bit lacking in shops or restaurants. Intead…
5. Check out the Hackescher Höfe, an open square just west of Alexanderplatz. Get lost in the courtyards and alley bars, pop into small independent boutiques, see a movie at the tiny Kino (try the German sweet popcorn and see if you like it!). Meander into Café Cinema’s colorful courtyard for a beer surrounded by street art and (if you’re lucky) live music.
Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) is a direct neighbor to the TV tower and the Rotes Rathaus.
6. Have a huuuuuge beer! Eine Maß Bier, bitte! Go big or go home, amirite? Not everywhere in Berlin offers the big ones, but you’re sure to find it at the Hofbräuhaus, a sizable beer hall modeled after the eponymous one in Munich. If you’re looking to experience Oktoberfest but find yourself in Berlin instead of Bavaria, here’s a sure bet for seeing a ton of people in Lederhosen singing traditional German songs. If you care more about craft, try Hopfenreich.
TIP I cannot say this enough: DO NOT ORDER BERLINER WEISSE. It is a terrible beer meant only for tourists. I am not a believer in the Reinheitsgebot (Beer purity law), but I do believe that beer is not meant to be florescent green.
7. Picnic in the Tiergarten – Literally, “Animal Garden”, Berlin’s Tiergarten is a massive park including lakes, lots of willows, plucky ducks, and a lovely beer garden. It’s 520 acres of nature, right in the middle of the city. Outsized in Germany only by Berlin’s own Tempelhofer Park and Munich’s Englischer Garten (English Garden), it’s called Tiergarten because the Berlin Zoo – the zoo with the most species in the WORLD mind you – is located at its feet.
8. And on your way back from Tiergarten, check out the Reichstag – The mighty German parliament comes here to spend their time walking around this cool glass dome. You can even take a tour and climb it yourself for a view over Tiergarten. However, the best view over the Garten is from…
9. Climb the Siegesäule for a view over Berlin’s Tiergarten – Located in the middle of a busy roundabout, the Siegesäule (Victory Column) might remind you of the Arc d’Triomphe – with the distinct difference that this one has tunnel access so you don’t have to risk your life running across trafic like you do in Paris. The stairs be narrow, but the view be worth it.
10. Drink cocktails with the monkeys! Whew! After all that climbing,
head to the nearby Monkey Bar for a fancy drink. The big draw
of this bar is the
people monkey-watching opportunities. Swing right
once you enter the bar for the best views over the monkey enclosure at the
There are monkeys down there. I saw them entertaining the zoo-goers.
11. Eat some traditional, German food – By now, you’ve worked up an appetite and deserve some serious eats. German food is the definition of harty, so make sure you have a friend to carry you home. Some recommendations:
- Schwarzwaldstuben: on Auguststrasse in Mitte, my favorite all-around restaurant for German food, is delicious and the least touristy choice.
- Clärchens Ballhaus: in the same neck of the woods, has a lovely beer garden, and apparently they filmed part of Inglorious Basterds here.
- Gambrinus trifft Bacchus: The lunch menu is a great value, Schnitzel with a side and dessert for less than 7 EUR. The dinner menu is, however, quite expensive.
- Max & Moritz: Bonus points if you research the creepy childrens story of Max and Moritz before coming here.
- Kalle Klein: The best spot for German food outside of Mitte (at least, that I’ve been to!). The interior is really nice, it has a wonderful location on the canal, and they have ice cream!
- Schnitzelei Mitte : Perhaps the best Schnitzel I’ve had in Berlin – this place is relatively hidden from the main street, and has a really great deal on Sundays where you can get a Wiener Schnitzel for only 12.12 EUR instead of the normal 18.50. Not a budget destination, but worth splurging for your one Schnitzel dinner in Berlin.
Schnitzelei Mitte – also has some delicious German craft beers on tap, in case you’re already tired of the Pilsner.
12. Climb the Kreuzberg for a panoramic view of the city – I would be remiss if I didn’t bombard you with recommendations in Kreuzberg (my own neighborhood, represent!). Ascend the hill in Viktoriapark until you reach the apex, where you’ll see a sweeping view of Berlin. See if you can find the TV tower, Gendarmenmarkt, and other famous landmarks.
Shop the camera bag I used when adventuring around Berlin.
13. Take a boat tour – Now that both my and my boyfriend’s parents have visited, it’s fair to say I know boat tours. If you don’t speak German, it’s a real toss up whether you’ll get anything out of the commentary, as some guides are more comfortable with the language than others. I recommend the Bridge Tour by Stern und Kreis.
14. See the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery – Do not, I repeat, do NOT go to Potsdamer Platz to see the Wall. Potsdamer Platz is ugly and soulless, whereas the East Side Gallery has the most famous pieces you’re expecting to see. Just don’t stick around the immediate area once you’re done, instead head back in to the Wrangelkiez and maybe grab a craft beer at previously mentioned Hopfenreich ;)
15. Go swimming in one of Berlin’s surrounding lakes – If you’re lucky enough to spent some summertime in Berlin and it’s sunny and warm, it’s practically a sin not to take a dip. Berlin’s got numerous surrounding lakes, including Müggelsee, Schlatchtensee, and many others (Check out this nice long list by the Berlin Tourism Office).
16. …and if it tickles your fancy, go naked! – Many of these beaches have also got an FKK Bereich (Free body culture area). Let it all hang out with the oldies and you’re on your way to a perfect tan. If you’re more of a spa kind of person, Vabali Spa Berlin will also offer you a chance to get naked with the locals in a slightly more private setting.
17. Rent a bicycle – Berlin by bike was meant to be. Bikes can be had for as little as 3 EUR a day outside the city center, and can run you 10 EUR or more the closer you are to Mitte.
18. Eat street food at Markthalle IX on Thursdays – This market is a busy one. All summer they host themed breakfast markets, and on Thursdays, a streetfood market where vendors from all over Berlin come and set up shop.
19. Go for wine at a pay-what-you-want wine bar – Berlin is so cheap, I LOVE IT. Der Weinerei on Veteranenstrasse, to me, the epitome of cheap Berlin. It works like this: you go in, you pay for your glass, you serve yourself from the open bottles at the counter or ask to taste something else, and off you go! It’s a great way to try wine before really committing to a glass – or just to drink a lot of wine.
20. Wander the cobbled streets of old town Berlin – Berlin is not like those quaint German villages you see in Rick Steve’s Europe, with criss-cross designs all over them, perched over the Rhine river. We’ll say, it’s not “traditionally beautiful.”
But there’s a small corner of the city that has this small town charm, called the Nikolaiviertel. Come here to see a reconstruction of the oldest settlement in Berlin from 1200.
21. Drink some third-wave coffee – I’m not sure what first or second wave coffee was like, but third wave coffee is delicious. I personally recommend two locations in Kreuzberg: Concierge Coffee and Chapter One. For more options check out this massive list of third wave coffee places by Stil in Berlin.
22. Go to bars so cool they don’t have a name – Walk along Weserstrasse in Neukoelln. If you don’t find any, there are a ton of bars that do have names on this street that will happily accept you off the street.
23. Spend an afternoon in a beer garden – Alas, one of my favorite pasttimes! Germany has got its beer game down, and nowhere is that clearer that in a garden expressly designed for the purpose of drinking it.
Restaurant Brachvogel as Germany played (and lost) to France in the Euro cup this year.
Here are some of my favorite beer gardens in Berlin:
- Cafe am neuen See: It’s like an oasis inside an oasis. Located on a lake in Tiergarten, you can sit at a bench right that is practically in the lake.
- Restaurant Brachvogel: This is a locals secret in the Bergmannkiez – the food is so-so, but the garden itself is completely surrounded by trees and you’d never know you’re actually in a residental neighborhood. Come here if a good sports match is on!
- Golgatha Biergarten: If you find yourself thirsty after climbing the Kreuzberg, simply climb back down on the other side and you’ll wander onto this biergarten. This place is a great spot to relax after a busy day of sight-seeing.
- Pratergarten: The godfather of Berlin’s biergärten, Pratergarten is a favorite of many located in Prenzlauerberg.
SEE ALSO: How to enjoy summer like a German
24. Get lunch at the Turkish market on the Maybachufer – On Thursdays the Turkish market sells fresh produce and delicious (and cheap!) meals. Grab a plate of something yummy and park yourself on the banks of the nearby canal.
25. Read inspiring quotes by Josef Stalin at the larger-than-life Soviet War Memorial – Over 5,000 Russian soldiers are buried at the memorial in Treptower Park. There are enormous statues of Russian soldiers and a mixture of German and Russian on every plaque. Come here to wonder at the sheer scale of this installation as a detour from your walk along the Spree river.
26. Head to the former center of West Berlin and (window) shop your heart out at Europe’s largest department store – For the luxury travelers out there, this one is for you. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even afford the shoe polish at the Kaufhaus des Westens (shortened to KaDeWe). Between 40,000 and 50,000 shoppers pass through eight floors housing more than 380,000 articles every day.
27. Go to “Thai Park” and eat tasty food cooked by Thai mamas – Just around the corner from KaDeWe is Preußenpark, which transforms into “Thai Park” on summer weekends. The grassy pitch is filled with tiny tables where Thai ladies provide home-cooked Thai food. The busiest day is Sunday, so get it while it’s hot!
28. Eat currywurst (also available vegan!) – Personally, I had one bad currywurst and that was enough for me. But a LOT of people swear by it, so I’d be remiss not to include it in the list. You can get a currywurst for a steal all over Berlin, so it doesn’t hurt to pick one up and see if the tantilizing combination of wurst, curry, and ketchup does it for you.
29. Watch crazy kite surfers in Tempelhoferfeld – Tempelhof has quite a history: first it was an airport, then it was used by the Nazis in WWII, and still has some leftover marble floors to prove it. For the time being, the buildings themselves have been converted into temporary housing for refugees from Syria. Outside, the decomissioned landing strip is used by gutsy kite surfers who can catch some serious air.
30. Grab a beer at the Späti and drink it with the hipsters on the Admiralsbruecke – Did you know that Berlin has more bridges than Venice? Enjoy some quality bridge time with the hipsters of Kreuzberg, watch the sun go down over the Landwehrkanal, and take in the gorgeous scene kissed by golden hour. If you have the patience, you can get some of Berlin’s best pizza from Il Casolare. Be warned, it will take at least an hour on the weekend and they will not be friendly, but dayum that pizza!
31. Take an underground tour – In preparation for the bombing campaigns of World War II, the German government built civilian shelters and bunkers which exist to this day. You have to see this to get an idea of what it was really like living in Berlin in the thick of intense bombings during the war.
33. Sing karaoke at the Mauerpark – Sing your heart out with a serious crowd! Every sunday, people gather in Mauerpark, mostly for the Flea market, but also for an impromptu karaoke festival. So pick up something vintage and head for the song pit!
33. Go swimming in the Badeschiff – A must for any list of Berlin to-do’s. If you’re lucky enough to be here in high Summer, you’d be remiss not to take a dip in this swimming pool that’s partially submerged in the Spree.
34. Take a train to Potsdam and see the Sansoucci Palace – Back in the day, Germany had kings and queens and all the finery that goes with it. Schloss Sansoucci (Sansoucci Palace) will remind you of Versailles in its lush interiors and gardens, and makes for a fun day trip of wandering around the grounds and climbing various structures.
35. See (and taste) the latest and greatest of urban gardening in Berlin at Prinzessinnengarten – This place takes “farm to table” to a whole new level. Come here for lunch and feast on food that was grown in the very ground you’re walking on! It’s amazing to see a place like this right in the middle of the city.
36. Try to get into the world’s most famous nightclub – Berghain is famous for rejecting people at the door for no reason, but if you get through, you’re greeted with the hottest club in the world. Just make sure you’re wearing enough black to pass the “cool test”. If you don’t like the idea of rejection, the Berghain Cantine next door hosts concerts and you can still dance as much as you want.
37. Pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial – Possibly one of the most striking views in Berlin, this memorial makes you feel lost and disoriented. For a historical look at how Jews came to Germany and their contributions to this country, don’t miss the Jewish Museum.
38. Browse flea markets all over town for your next treasure – While the flea market in Mauerpark is the best known, it’s surely not the only. Go there for vintage cameras, leather goods, and locally made clothing. Don’t miss the Art Market at Zeughaus or the Antiques Market at Straße des 17.Juni. There’s also the newer RAW Flohmarkt at Revaler Strasse, which hosts themed markets several times a year.
39. Sit in a Strandkorb at a beach bar – Berlin really wants to have sandy sea beaches, even though all it really has are rivers, lakes, and canals. Well, it doesn’t stop us from trying! Some of these beach bars have these funny beach-style loveseats where you can sit in the sun and enjoy an extraordinarily overpriced (for Americans) Corona.
40. Drink Glühwein at one of Berlin’s many majestic Christmas markets – Most people come to Berlin during the summer, but if you brave the winter cold you may be rewarded with Christmas market season, which basically lasts for the month of December. Some of the best markets in town are: Gendarmenmarkt, Schloss Charlottenburg, and the lesser known Richardplatz.
41. Peek in on the Berlin startup scene’s hipster programmers – St. Oberholz is infamous for providing shelter to legions of Mac nerds from the few stray rays of sunshine that happen to grace Berlin a few times a year. You’ll find them typing away in silence on their super secret startup ideas. Blend in with the crowd by bringing your shiny computer and indulging in some delicious cake. The surrounding area (Tor Strasse and Rosenthaler Platz) is lined with cool bars and restaurants.
42. Visit the Gärten der Welt (Gardens of the World) for cherry blossom season – One of the most beautiful places to see Spring in Berlin, there is accompanying music, dancing, theatre, and of course – food. These Flowers aren’t the only attraction of the gardens. There are also Chinese, Balinese, Korean, and Renaissance gardens, with an English garden also planned.
43. Build your own free art walking tour in Mitte – Although some of the better known galleries do charge admission, and are likely worth the entrance fee, it’s totally possibly to give yourself a free art tour.
44. Hang out with the Mitte-hipsters at Rosenthaler Platz – There are just tons of fabulous places to eat and drink in the area (as well as people-watching!). Be fancy and have fabulous Italian at Hartweizen or go grungy-hipster-style beers at Mein Haus am See. Continue up the bikes-only Weinbergsweg for a lovely and lively tree-lined street with even more bars and cafes galore.
45. Check out the street festivals happening year round – Berlin loves festivals for all occassions, and especially in the summer it seems like a different one is happening every weekend. Some well-attended festivals in Kreuzberg include the Maifest (May Day Festival) on May 1st, Karneval der Kulturen (Carnival of Cultures), and the most mature of them all: the Jazz festival!
46. See a movie in a Freiluftkino (Open air cinema) – Germans celebrate summer like no other people I know. One clear evidence of this is the concept of Freiluftkino, where the wonderful warmth is celebrated by showing films outdoors. Check out what’s playing this Summer
47. Drink a coffee in a cemetary – While not everyone’s taste, enjoying a coffee in a cemetary is bound to be very…peaceful. If you need somewhere super quiet to nurse your hangover after a wild night out, you’ll find no better cafe than Café Strauss.
48. Have a barbecue in the park – One of the many wonderful consequences of having no laws against drinking in public is how free you are to have a beer and beef barbecue in the park! Grab a blanket, brewskies, and some Fleisch and head to one of the BBQ-friendly parks.
Bargain barbecues can be found at any supermarket in the summer – so grab some coal and hit the park!
49. Rent a canoe on the Insel der Jugend (Island of Youth) and paddle around the Spree – In between Treptow Park and Forst Plänterwald (Plänterwald Forest) is a tiny island, connected to mainland Berlin by the oldest bridge of its kind in Germany. Come for a picnic, live music on Sundays, or to rent a canoe and go padding along the River Spree.
50. Rent an apartment and stay for a while! Because why not? Find a long term Airbnb, learn a few words of German, and see what all the fuss is about. Interested in making Berlin your home? Check out my guide to emigrating to Germany and places to check for startup jobs in Berlin.
Have you ever been to Berlin? What am I missing on my list of essential Berlin experiences?
Share your suggestions in the comments and I will DEFINITELY check them out myself!
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