Since the fall of its world-renowned Wall, Berlin has busied itself with becoming one of the most stimulating creative and cultural centres in Europe – one that truly offers something for everyone. Famous as a hub for hedonists and hipsters (parties here can go on for days rather than hours and the start-up scene is growing exponentially), it’s also a magnet for history buffs (the city was at the heart of much of the turbulent 20th century) and as a destination for families thanks to a wealth of green spaces such as the sprawling Tiergarten, the vast Grunewald forest in the southwest, and abundant outdoor playgrounds and attractions such as zoos and dedicated children’s museums. There’s also a lot on offer for business and well-heeled travelers too, from five-star luxury hotels, dapper boutiques and design stores and an increasing number of Michelin-starred dining spots. No wonder why visitors tend to return to Berlin again and again.
Best Things to do in Berlin
1 – Reichstag
This neo-Baroque edifice housing the German Bundestag (Parliament) survived wars, Nazis, fire, bombing and the country’s division, only to return as a symbol of a new era in German politics. A trip to the top of this open, playful and defiantly democratic space, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is a must, but note that you can’t just rock up any more: following a series of terrorist threats in 2010, you must book in advance by filling in an online form at visite.bundestag.de and suggesting three possible time-slots at least three working days in advance.
2 – Tiergarten
Live like a Berliner and stretch your legs with a stroll, jog or cycle through Berlin’s most famous park, which comes into its own during spring and summer particularly. Whether you’re hunting famous monuments, a beer and a sausage, or a spot to sunbathe naked, you’ll find what you’re looking for. This 5-km (3-mile) circuit will return you to your starting point ready for your next adventure within an hour or so. Don’t worry if you get lost, the park is full of maps with “You Are Here” markers.
3 – Tempelhofer Feld
Famous for its Nazi and Cold War history, Tempelhof Airport ceased operation in 2008. Now you can stroll down the runways where World War II Stuka dive-bombers took off and where, during the Berlin Airlift of 1948 when the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, the Western Powers landed supplies for the city’s 2.5 million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history. Today, the 368-hectare open space of runways and grasslands is much enjoyed by—among others—walkers, kite-surfers, cyclists, runners, skaters and goshawks. There are designated sections for dogs to run free, basketball courts, a baseball field, beer gardens and even small allotments where Berliners can grow their own veg.
4 – Bathing Lakes
Brandenburg, a north-eastern state that surrounds Berlin, is known as the land of 3,000 lakes and you can probably guess why. A vision that’s starkly beautiful in winter and effortlessly alluring in summer, the lakes are mostly accessible by public transport and each has its own character. While some lakes may be better for swimming and some for sunbathing alongside, you’ll be able to find your favourite (just as locals do). Besides, the idyllic landscape is a remedy to the (delicious) vices of Berlin: hoppy tankards of beer and endless amounts of fleshy sausage.
5 – Mauerpark
Mauerpark is of the biggest and busiest Sunday flea markets in Berlin, selling everything from local designer clothes to cardboard boxes of black-market CDs. Even if the market’s massive popularity means prices creeping higher, you can still stumble upon a trove of rare records or vintage clothing. It’s also the venue for the immensely popular weekly outdoor singing session, Bearpit Karaoke, brain child of karaoke courier Joe Hatchiban. Thousands flock here on summer Sundays to have a go on the mobile sound system.
6 – Cruise Berlin by boat
Winding through the centre of Berlin, the River Spree offers a different perspective on this once-divided city. There’s no shortage of tour operators offering trips along the river, the Landwehrkanal or across the lakes, and some services are included on the city travelcard. There are also multiple kayak rental services for the DIY sightseeing types.
A range of city-centre tours is offered by Stern und Kreis, Reederei Winkler and Reederei Riedel.
7 – Berlinale
Founded in 1951, the Berlinale (or Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, to use its official title) is the world’s most popular film festival, in terms of audience attendance figures. A major fixture on the global cultural calendar, it sees Potsdamer Platz transformed into a glittering stage of glamour, excitement and major movie stars each February.
Although Potsdamer Platz is the focus of the festival, screenings take place around the city, including at Alexander Platz, in the Zoo Palast cinema in Tiergarten and in a renovated crematorium (silent green Kulturquartier) in Wedding. In this way, the Berlinale offers the chance not only to watch undiscovered movies and rub shoulders with fellow film buffs and industry leaders, but to experience Berlin’s unique architectural and cultural heritage.
8 – Checkpoint Charlie
Many say a visit to the Checkpoint Charlie border crossing should not come without a visit to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie or the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.
Experts and travellers say the museum gives context to what’s left of the border crossing, and indeed you will find chilling stories of those who escaped from East to West via the Berlin Wall, as well as stories about those who didn’t. You’ll also get a thorough history of the Berlin Wall – its creation and eventual fall.
9 – TV Tower (Fernsehturm)
For the ever-popular panorama of the city, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) is a great place to go. Standing at more than 650 feet, it’s also the tallest structure in Germany, so you know you’ll be getting quite a view. Take one of two elevators to the top, and if the 40-second trip made you hungry, stop by the rotating Sphere restaurant and bar for some light refreshment.
Recent visitors said the panoramic views were a must-see, even if it is a little overpriced. You can save money by purchasing tickets in advance online. Those with the Berlin WelcomeCard will also receive a discount on standard tickets. Ticket prices range from 13 to 19.50 euros (about $14.50 to $21).