As the German Capital, and a center of history and culture for centuries, Berlin is full of incredible things to do. You’ll probably never run out of things to see and new experiences to have in this city. I’ll admit: Berlin was not very high on my bucket list. I really only went because it was the cheapest flight from Venice. But I was so pleasantly surprised by Berlin, and by the end of the trip, couldn’t wait to return to the city (despite getting locked out of the airbnb in the freezing cold, and having to find a way to a seedy hotel in the middle of the night). I loved this city. So here are my recommendations of some can’t miss things to do in Berlin.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is made up of 2,710 stelae or slabs made of concrete, laid out over a field. They vary in size for no apparent reason, and the number of them is equally meaningless. The architect, Peter Eisenman, wanted the memorial to represent instability within a supposedly stable system, the loss of human reason. What I didn’t realize before visiting this memorial, was that this stark field of stelae, is literally only scratching the surface, the rest of the memorial lies under the moment.
But this is no ordinary museum. You won’t be inundated with facts about the holocaust or Nazi Germany. The memorial shows you the faces of the European Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Backlit photos in the dark rooms depict families who we completely annihilated, or letters mothers wrote to their children and children to their mothers after being separated. I won’t go into too much detail, and I have no photos from inside the memorial out of respect, but this is a must see for a visit to Berlin. This was definitely the most sobering experience I’ve had at a museum or memorial in my life, I found myself with tears in my eyes more than once. I made sure it was my first stop because I knew I didn’t want to miss this tragic piece of history while in Berlin.
The memorial is free to enter and is wheelchair accessible. I’d be cautious of bringing young children, some websites even state “not suitable for children under 14”. From April through September, the memorial is open from 10 AM to 8 PM, and from October till March, the memorial is open from 10 AM to 7 PM. Last entrance to the memorial is 45 minutes before closing.
The Berlin Wall - East Side Gallery
This one is pretty obvious but you might not know there are a few different areas where you can see the Berlin wall. The largest, and most popular is the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1,319 meter long collection of 105 different paintings by artists from all over the world. It’s incredible to behold, but be ready for crowds and be prepared to wait if you want to get a picture of any of the paintings without someone else in them. Even so, the East Side Gallery should definitely be on your list of things to do in Berlin.
Another section of the wall is located at Potsdamer Platz, a much more central location than the East Side Gallery, being only 1 kilometer from Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building. I’d recommend going here before the East Side Gallery, because of it’s location. Potsdamer Platz was historically a bustling intersection in Berlin, until the Berlin Wall split it in two, leaving the East Berlin side to become a steadily more desolate wasteland over the course of 28 years. It became a sort of sick tourist attraction for the Westerners, with stores on the West Side of Potsdamer Platz even selling souvenirs. A viewing platform was put in place where people could look over the wall to see the stark contrast in the West and East Sides. Potsdamer Platz was also one of the first sections of the wall to be breached when the Berlin Wall finally came down in 1989.
Checkpoint Charlie was perhaps the most well known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Featured in many movies and books, it quickly became a tourist attraction following the Cold War. Unfortunately, the guard shack that now sits where the American side of the crossing once was, as well as the famous sign reading “Now leaving the American Sector”, are only replicas. Nevertheless, Checkpoint Charlie is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Berlin today.
Berliner Dom - Berlin Cathedral
I’ll be honest. I’m a sucker for churches. Maybe it’s because I’m loving in Italy, maybe it’s because Rome was my first international trip. Either way, I always manage to find a gorgeous Cathedral to explore. The Berliner Dom did not disappoint. This church was incredible, both inside and out. As the largest Protestant Church in Germany, it also has quite the history. Beginning in 1453, the church was rebuilt several times until it reached it’s current design in 1893. But unfortunately, the reconstruction didn’t stop there. In world war II, Allied bombings partially destroyed the cathedral. Repairs were not completely undertaken until 1975.
The interior of the cathedral is breathtaking, and the view from the dome was the best I saw in Berlin. It was most definitely worth the climb. Plus, as far as staircases for cathedrals and specifically domes go, this was nothing compared to others (looking at you bell tower in Florence or St. Paul’s in London).
Also, there’s an audio guide, which I love, for just 5 euro. So you can learn all about the cathedral, it’s architecture, and it’s elaborate history.
The Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building is Berlin’s Parliament Building. I know, I know, I thought the same thing…why would I want to visit a parliament building? I almost passed it up but I’m so glad I didn’t. The building itself is gorgeous, and climbing the glass dome at the top provides an incredible view. Plus, as you climb the dome, if you look down, you can actually see into the parliament chambers! Visiting the Reichstag Building is free, but you have to book a time slot online. We just barely made it in time for sunset, which provided incredible views!
Vivid Grand Show at Freidrichstadt Palast
I cannot stress this enough, GO SEE VIVID. It is incredible. A combination of a musical and Cirque du Soleil style show…it is stunning. The costumes, the choreography, the singing, the acrobatics and talent…every single second was so incredibly engaging and breathtaking. I didn’t even want to blink, for fear of missing a single moment. This show was worth every single penny. Please don’t miss it! It was by far one of my favorite things to do in Berlin! Also, please respect the rules regarding taking photographs during the show, they’re only allowed during the finale!
It’s impossible to attempt to capture or explain the “plot” of the show, so I’ll let you read about it for yourself here. The website describes it as “a journey of self-discovery and a declaration of love to life”. You do not want to miss this incredible show while you’re in Berlin!
**NOTE: VIVID shows were cancelled through 31 December 2020, but are set to resume in January of 2021. The show is so popular, showtimes in January are already sold out! Check their website for the most updated information.
While this isn’t really something to do, it’s definitely worth stopping by and seeing. Brandenburg Gate has been standing since 1791, through Nazi Germany, and the Cold War, and is now seen as a symbol of peace, unity, and freedom. Brandenburg Gate is centrally located and an easy walk from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and other attractions.
I know what you’re thinking. Really, Savannah? A fast food place on a list of things to do in Berlin? You had four days in the city and decided a burger joint is one of the best things to do in Berlin? Yes.
This place is not only amazing, it’s unique, with it’s locations formerly being public restrooms. Yes, you read that right too. I’ll let Burgermeister tell that story themselves though. I’m just here to tell you that after two months of living in Italy and eating almost exclusively Italian food, this burger was incredible. There are four locations to try these amazing burgers at, with a fifth one coming this year!
While this is nowhere near a complete list of things to do in Berlin, these were my favorites and the things I definitely think should not be missed on a trip to Berlin! What are your favorite things to do in Berlin? Comment below and tell me what I missed!