‘Berlin is a city of leafy boulevards, grand Neoclassical buildings, world-class art, glitzy shopping arcades, and funky graffitied neighborhoods with gourmet street food. It’s big and bombastic – the showcase city of kings and kaisers, of the Fuhrer and 21st-century commerce.’ – Rick Steves
Berlin is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. At least, 14 million people visit this city every year. More than half of these are international tourists. Naturally, it is not the easiest task to pick the most interesting places in Berlin in just one article. But we will give you a short insight view of, what we believe, is the must-see list in the German capital. Here is our Walkative-list of TOP sights and places if you only have 2 or 3 days in Berlin.
The Museum Island is a magnificent place in the heart of Berlin. In fact, it is the very historic core of the city. The first two town-like settlements mentioned in the documents - Berlin and Kölln - were located in the area. Over time, they merged into one bigger city that became known as Berlin. During the 19th and in the first half of the 20th centuries, a number of cultural institutions and other important buildings were constructed here. As a result, this island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. Five huge museums are located here: the Old Museum (Altes Museum), the New Museum (Neues Museum), the Pergamonmuseum, the Bode-Museum, and the National Gallery (Nationalgalerie).
Apart from that, you will see one of the largest churches in Germany - the Cathedral Church (Berliner Dom). By the way, you can climb it and have a good view of the city centre (Mitte district). The so-called “Garden of Pleasure” (Lustgarten) is to be found in front of the church. Furthermore, the reconstructed Royal Palace (Königliches Schloss) is also on the island. It used to be the residence of the most famous German dynasty in history - the Hohenzollern.
Bonus: If you are in the area, you can walk some 5-7 minutes north-east to the Nikolai Quarter (Nikolaiviertel). It is the historical heart of Berlin. There you will find some restaurants and bars in a traditional German style. The quarter was nicely reconstructed in the 21th century. It also preserved one medieval building - the Nicholas' Church (1230).
Alexander Square (or simply “Alex”, as it is called by the locals) is one of the busiest transport hubs in Berlin. Do not expect to see many nice buildings or beautiful architecture here. It is a busy square with many supermarkets, dozens of coffee shops, and imposing communist blocks of flats around. But one thing that will definitely catch your attention is a huge tower in the south-western part of the square. This is a famous Berlin TV-tower (Berliner Fernsehturm). It is almost 370 metres (approximately 1200 ft) high, which makes it one of the highest structures in Germany. Surprisingly, you can climb this landmark of Berlin within less than a minute. Why so fast? It has one of the fastest lifts in Europe. On the top, you can enjoy the view of Berlin from the observation deck or have a costly meal in a revolving restaurant.
The Brandenburg Gate is known as the symbol of the German unification which took place in the 19th century. It was at the beginning of that century that Napoleon troops occupied the Prussian capital. The French invaders stole the Quadriga (a sculpture of a race chariot drawn by four horses) from the top of the gate. The fight for freedom became a national drive for the Germans. After the German military success, Quadriga was returned to Berlin.
Almost two centuries later, during the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe, the Gate again became important to the German history. It was here that the U.S. President Ronald Reagan “asked” the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov to “tear down this wall”. Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell. In short, the Brandenburg Gate was historically one of the hotspots of the German reunification.
Just two minutes walk from the most iconic tourist attraction of Berlin - the Brandenburg Gate - you can find a vast green place. “Animal Garden” (the translation of the German name) is located in the very centre of the city. There are some pavillions, monuments, flower beds, lakes, and cafés in the park. We recommend you to see a nice English garden with a thatched tea house.
On the way from the Brandenburger Gate, you will also see a big and imposing Soviet memorial dedicated to the victory over Nazism in World War II. A couple hundreds meters further on you will bump into the Victory Column. This monument is actually dedicated to the German victory… or rather Prussian victory over the Danes in the 19th century.
The German Parliament building is a truly impressive building that was constructed in the late 19th century. The word Reichstag literally means “Imperial Diet” and refers to councils or assemblies of leaders of the Holy Roman Empire; some of them were held here until 1933. A monumental inscription “Dem Deutschen Volke” (“To the German People”) above the main entrance is telling and powerful. It was from one of the balconies of the building where the democratic German Republic (Weimarer Republik) was proclaimed on 9 November 1918. Most of the building was totally destroyed during the Battle of Berlin in World War II. The renovation took place in the 1960s and then continued after the Reunification of Germany in the 1990s. As a result, today this Deutscher Bundestag (the German Federal Parliament) building serves again as the seat of parliament… Parliament of a new - federal, democratic, and unified - German Republic (Bundesrepublik Deutschland).
By the way, you can visit a massive glass dome at the very top of the building. In some cases, even during the parliament sessions...
Anyone who has ever experienced Kreuzberg can prove that it is one of the most interesting and atmospheric neighbourhoods in Berlin. This quarter will definitely help you feel the vibe of the German capital. Numerous bars, falafel and kebab places, coffee shops, restaurants and clubs are at every corner here. Everything is accompanied by ethnic diversity of Kreuzberg. You can walk or jog along a cozy artificial canal. Relax at a shisha bar with friends. Or go into the rabbit hole of Berlin’s night clubbing. In other words, Kreuzberg, which by the way means "cross(ing) hill", is a marvellous synthesis of life and activities in Berlin.
Just like Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg is a district of Berlin. Just like Kreuzberg, it is located very close to the city centre (just a few tram stops east-north of Alexanderplatz). Just like Kreuzberg, you will find many nice bars, cozy cafes and restaurants in the area. Interestingly, at first glance when you get off the tram in Prenzlauer Berg it might seem very different. There is no sign of the drugs, street art, and squats often associated with Berlin districts and their alternative cultures. But with a closer look through the modern building facades you can see the shadows of the district's more rebellious past.
Starting from the 1960s and for several decades, Prenzlauer Berg had been a place of the East German Gegenkultur (counterculture). It was a hub for numerous artists, bohemians, and gay people. But then gentrification happened and changed the face of the neighbourhood completely. As a result, today Prenzlauer Berg is considered one of the most prestigious neighbourhoods in Berlin. But it does not look super fancy as people might think. In fact, plenty of cool Berlin-like places are still here. They just no longer look that shabby xD.
Named after the Prussian king Frederick I (in German Friedrich), this street is one of the most famous in the city. It can be called the “central street”, since it runs through the busiest part of Berlin’s Mitte (German for Middle) district. In 2020, a portion of the street was pedestrianized. You will find plenty of coffee shops, bookshops, and simply shops here, as well as palaces of culture and business centres.
Check-Point Charlie is one of the must-see places for many tourists. However, it is often called “one of the most disappointing sights in Europe”. In any case, one of the border checkpoints between East and West Berlin was here. The place witnessed the most intense incident of the Cold War confrontation in Europe (known as the Berlin Crisis of 1961) when both American and Soviet combat-ready tanks faced each other.
The East Side Gallery is the longest art gallery in the world! You may enjoy dozens of wall murals, graffiti, and small texts here, beautiful and not really. Over 1.3 kilometres (4,300 ft) long open-air gallery along the Spree River is history. Why? Because this is the largest remaining part of the infamous Berlin Wall. The so-called "socialist fraternal kiss" of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker is one of the most recognizable graffiti paintings on the wall.
The Berlin Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße is another open-air place of education in the city. It tells you everything you need to know about the history of the Berlin Wall and some of the victims of the communist GDR regime. The memorial complex includes a remaining 60-metre (200 ft) long part of the Berlin Wall, a Chapel of Reconciliation (Kapelle der Versöhnung), and a Documentation Centre. There is also a visitor centre. Do not miss the so-called window of remembrance in the wall.
Besides, a nice Mauerpark (literally "Wall Park"), which used to be part of the Wall and its Death Strip, is located within a short walking distance.
The Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a vast area full of hundreds of dark concrete slabs. It was designed by an American architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial was opened in 2005 after decades of plans and discussions and was chosen from among dozens of other projects. The whole idea was to commemorate the murder of around six million Jews in Europe during World War II. Besides, the memorial was to be located in a visible spot. That is why you can find it so close to the most recognizable sights of Berlin - the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate, just 5 minutes walk from there.
A beautiful 17th-century Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace) is a real jewel not only of the Charlottenburg district, but of the entire Berlin! This palace served as the main royal residence of German kings and emperors. Besides, many other rulers (including Napoleon Bonaparte) loved this place very much.
Sophie Charlotte was the wife of the Prussian King Friedrich I. It was this powerful and incredibly influential lady who ordered to construct a huge palace in Baroque style (with Rococo elements) in the area. Subsequently, a settlement with housing for the palace servicemen emerged nearby. Today it is part of the former town of Charlottenburg which, in turn, became part of Berlin in 1920.
If you are in Charlottenburg, do not miss an impressive Schlossgarten (Palace Garden) behind the palace. You will find many charming structures, like towers and pavillions, scattered around the park area. Besides, it is a curious fusion of different urban park styles: English and French.
The mere name of this square - Gendarmenmarkt (marketplace of Gens d'Armes *) - already reflects the fact that here you can find something about an important chunk of Berlin's history. Why? Because it is French. In the 17th century, thousands of Huguenots (French Protestants who were persecuted by the Catholic Church) were received by the German emperor. These refuges settled in different parts of Berlin. As a result, about a quarter of city's population was French. That was the beginning of the famous Berlin's tolerance and incredible ethnical diversity.
* Gens d'Armes, or "armed people" was the name of the French regiment that had its stables at the square during the 18th century.
Here, in the former independent suburb of Berlin (Friedrichstadt), the Huguenots built a lofty church. They called it Temple de la Friedrichstadt, but a much more common name for it is used today: "French Cathedral"*. The German population of Berlin "responded" with a nearly identical Christian temple across. Today this New Church (Neue Kirche) is mostly known as Deutscher Dom (or "German Cathedral"*). Besides, there is a "temple" of music on the square - a famous Konzerthaus Berlin (concert hall). This neoclassical building was constructed in the 1820s. Until World War II it served as a theatre. A nice statue of Friedrich Schiller, one of the most prominent German poets in history, is in front of the concert hall.
Basically, Gendarmenmarkt looks like a typical European city's central square. Nice. Neat. With street-side terrace cafés and coffee shops. With beautiful buildings and other structures around. Two big twin cathedrals* (French and German) and a concert hall (Konzerthaus) constitute one of the most interesting architectural ensemble of Berlin.
Treptower Park is located alongside the Spree, the main river in Berlin. Undoubtedly, one of the most visited recreation spots for people in Berlin, this area has plenty of things to offer. There is an impressive Soviet War Memorial in the park. It commemorates the Soviet soldiers who perished during World War II (about 80,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Battle of Berlin which took place in April and May 1945).
Do not miss a lovely Island of the Youth! It is connected with Treptower Park by a nice Abbey Bridge. Sports ground with equipment, restaurants, beautiful views from the love bridge and the island itself. The list of why-you-should-see-this-spot reasons can go on...
BONUS: There is also a separate and a more wild green space if you walk further. It is known as Plänterwald (German for timber forest) and it looks like a continuation or even part of Treptower Park. Moreover, the Matryoshka idiosyncrasy of the area does not stop here, since there is another, smaller park in this forest. It is called Spreepark and it is an amusement park... Actually, a former one, since it was abandoned in 2001.
A massive forest on the outskirts of the city is known as the “Green Forest” (Grunewald in German). It is the largest green space in Berlin. With its numerous pathways, some roads, and nice bathing lakes, Grunewald is a wonderful recreation spot. Besides, some interesting and curious sights are to be found in this forest. Among them are the Renaissance hunting lodge (Jagdschloss) or an abandoned GDR listening station of the Cold War Era. The latter is located on the artificial hill of Teufelsberg (Devil's Mount/Hill).
The word “Feld” means “field” in German. Not so long ago, the Tempelhofer Feld was a normal airport. By the way, the third largest airport in Europe in the interwar period (1920s and 30s)! Today, it is a city park that covers a vast area of 350 ha. The most important thing is the atmosphere that reigns there. It is a vivid place of human mingling and various activities: skating, frisbeeing, cycling, reading, meditation, drinking... In short, Tempelhofer Feld is a real paradise of social lubrication. It is hard to find any other place in Berlin that exposes the city’s vibe so strongly...