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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital

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This comprehensive guide includes our personal favorites in Berlin. These are our top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital.

It is by no means final. 

One of our favorite cities, we will be back in Berlin again and again and will continue to add to the list. Have something to add? If you have suggestions and recommendations to be included in this guide – not-to-miss attractions, outstanding restaurants, walking tours or anything else – please leave your suggestions in the comments and we will add them to this ever-growing guide to Berlin.

You should start with this overview over the main things to do and where to stay in Berlin, and then read our other Berlin Quick Guides, in which we share our favorite places to eat and drink, neighborhoods you shouldn’t miss and the cities best parks, flea markets and other outdoor attractions:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin

berlin tv tower and church

An overview of Berlin

Berlin is a sprawling city and before you start exploring all the details and hidden quirks that make it truly unique, start with the main attractions – Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt, the Reichstag, Tiergarten. No matter your budget, the cheapest way to cover Berlin’s famous sights is taking a free walking tour. The two-and-a-half hour Sandemans New Europe Berlin Tour covers ALL of the sights you need to see, including the ones mentioned above plus the Memorial for the Jews, TV Tower, the site of Hitler’s bunker and a full overview of Berlin’s history and the divide between East and West Germany. The tour runs twice a day, every day and guides are only paid in tips, so don’t forget to tip your guide.

berlin reichstag dem deutschen volkeThere are also big bus tour companies if you prefer not to walk, but we’d recommend picking up a Berlin transit day ticket and hopping on a local bus to take a tour of your own. Two bus lines (the 100 and 200) pass by the main sights and drivers used to having tourists on board even do a bit of commentary. It’s almost like a hop-on hop-off bus, but at a fraction of the price. A single ticket is €2.60 paid right to the driver, or a day ticket costs €6.70. You can read more about this bus line here.

Alternative Berlin

Once you understand the gist of the city’s history, lay out and the overall vibe, now it is time for the excellent – and free – ‘Alternative Berlin’ walking tour, which covers exactly zero of the main tourist attractions. Instead, you discover the subcultures of Berlin, the places that you won’t find on your own but make up so much of the fabric of the city like street art and workshops, ethnic and creative neighborhoods of the city. Copycat tours have popped up, but Alternative Berlin Tours are the originals. They run twice a day and all you have to pay is the subway (get a day pass) and tip the guide.

Alternative Berlin Street Art

Bike it!

To get the most out of your time in Berlin, we recommend renting or buying bikes, depending on the length of your stay.

The city is spread out and can feel overwhelming, but the bike paths are excellent and in some places it feels like the whole city moves by bike. You can get anywhere in 30 minutes without having to figure out the U-bahns, S-Bahns, buses and where to change trains, and you can take your own detours to get to know different parts of the city.

Almost every hostel in the city is renting bikes these days, and you don’t have to stay there to rent one.

Cycling in Berlin

Berlin from above

Berlin doesn’t have a traditional skyline like many cities of the same size, so the best way to take in the eclectic mix of old and new, the remarkable amount of green space and its sheer sprawling size is to see it from above.

Panorama viewpoints

There are several ways to see Berlin from above, the most popular and priciest option is the TV Tower. It is €12.50 to go up and enjoy the 360° views of Berlin. Ironically, however, when you are atop one of the more iconic landmarks of the city, your views do not include the TV tower. Head up to the Panorama Terrace on 37th floor in the Park Inn Hotel right across from the TV tower instead for only €3 (open from 2-6pm on weekdays, from 12pm on weekends) for the best views of it. We opted for the Panoramapunkt on top of the Kollhoff-Building at Potsdamer Platz where, for €5.50 (open 10am – 8pm), you also get close-up views of Berlin’s biggest park, the Tiergarten, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Berlin ViewsReichstag Dome

For views from the heart of the German government, visit the new glass dome on top of the Reichstag. Visits here are free, but you have to register online first and show up with a photo ID on the day. You can even register on the same day, as long as there are time slots still available – choose up to three. When you get the confirmation with your time, you can just skip the line and walk right up to the entrance.

Berlin ReichstagOnce you are through security, you are led up into the building to the bottom of the dome, where you get a free audio guide that uses GPS to narrate the exact views based on your location within the dome. Standing inside such a futuristic dome (designed by Sir Norman Foster) on top of this historic building is worth the visit alone.

Welt Hot Air Balloon

Probably the most unusual way to enjoy the views over Berlin is the Welt Hot Air Balloon. The 20-min ride shoots straight into the air for €19. Just across the street is the impossible-to-miss Trabi World. The Trabbant car, lovingly known in the former East Germany as the Trabi, is a symbol of the GDR and Trabi World allows you to learn about them on site at the museum or take a Trabi Safari, cruising through the streets of Berlin packed into the most popular car before the wall came down. You are also right at the Topography of Terror (see below) and in walking distance from Checkpoint Charlie, the legendary border crossing that once separated the Soviet from the American sector.

Berlin from above TV Tower Welt Hot Air BalloonVictory Column

If you don’t mind climbing 285 steps, enjoy the views from the Victory Column in Tiergarten park (take the U-Bahn to Hansaplatz). Entry is only €3 and you will find yourself immersed in the miles and miles of green space that make up Tiergarten Park. You can combine it with a visit of Tiergarten, Berlin’s biggest park (see GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin:Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin).

Art and History in Berlin

If you have time to go beyond the main historic attractions, dig a bit deeper to understand Berlin’s role in world history. The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe deserves at least a couple of hours of proper exploration (the memorial includes an underground museum), and there are several spots where you can learn more about divided Berlin, including the Wall Museum (also known as Checkpoint Charlie Museum) and the Topography of Terror near by. This free open-air museum is located at one of the remaining parts of the wall with an interesting outdoor exhibition about the history of the site on which the headquarters of the Gestapo were located from 1933 to 1945 and SS High Command and the Reich Security Main Office during WWII.

Berlin HistoryWalk along Bernauer Strasse, a street where the wall divided east and west to be able to really visualize what life must have been like in a divided city. There are several bronze circles on the ground that point out both successful and failed escape attempts on the sidewalk, as well as information on how suddenly the wall was erected, how families it split dealt with it and and where escape tunnels were built. There is also one small point where the wall is still up and in its original form (no pithy intellectual street art decorating it, for example) and a small museum that helps bring much of this to reality. A good way to experience this with some additional information is via this self-guided walking tour along the wall.

The East Side Gallery is the largest still intact section of the Berlin Wall, stretching for a length of 1.3km (0.8miles). The wall is home to 105 murals painted by 118 international artists after Germany’s reunification and many of the murals are thought-provoking and an important reminder of recent history. Not just for street art fans!

berlin wall berlin graffitiMuseumsinsel (Museum Island) This is where you find some of Berlin’s best museums, congregated on one little island in the river. Museum Island itself has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. The museums you find there are Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Neues Museum (New Museum), Altes Museum (Old Museum), Bode Art Museum and Pergamon Museum.

Museums worth visiting to get a better understanding for the East-West division are the Stasi Museum where you can learn more about the political system of the former East Germany and the small, but fun interactive GDR Museum, where you can get a feel for what life in the GDR was like.

Berlin trabi

Where to stay in Berlin

Hotels

Our favorite hotel booking website, Booking.com, has over 1,000 hotels listed in Berlin, many of which are under $50 per double room per night and have excellent ratings & reviews!

Hostels

I stayed at the Cat’s Pajamas Hostel in Kreuzkölln, which is the cross-point between Neukölln and Kreuzberg and absolutely loved it. This is my favorite area of Berlin (if you book yourself into the Cat’s Pajamas hostel feel free to email me for a list of my favorite eateries, cafes and things to do there) and the subway is only a couple of minutes away, so it is easy to get around. This was one of the cleanest hostels I’ve ever stayed at, even the bathrooms were always spotless. There’s a kitchen, breakfast is available, the communal areas are designed in a super trendy look, there is an outdoor area. The rooms are spacious and my twin room even had a desk! The hostel had an 8.9 out of 10 rating on Booking.com when I booked it and I hope they can keep up the high quality. Rooms start at $17 for an 8-bed dorm, $19 in a 4-bed dorm, a twin room starts at $24 per person, a single room at $56.

I also heard great things about Plus Hostel (in Friedrichshain, Warschauer Platz 6, great location near the Badeschiff and East Side Gallery) and the Circus Hostel (Weinbergsweg 1a, right in Mitte at Rosenthaler Platz).Cats Pajama Hostel BerlinApartments

If you are planning to stay longer, it might be worth subletting an apartment. Many longer-term visitors opt for an AirBnB rental – which will be a nice place usually in a great neighborhood. However, they and other international vacation apartment rental companies tend to be three times as high as actual Berlin rents, which are surprisingly inexpensive for a European capital. Try to find a sublet, for example from students who leave for the summer or people going traveling for a while. We found a cozy little apartment on Wg-Gesucht.de and paid exactly the monthly rent that the tenants pay. Navigating the website can be hard without any knowledge of German, but the ad we responded to was actually in English, as are many others as well.

berlin kreuzberg houses
Beautiful Berlin Apartment Buildings
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24 Comments

  1. Great post! It comes at a perfect time for us. We were in Berlin briefly a week or so ago and realized just how much there is to do there! So we quickly got to looking up house sits and were fortunate to get one in Jan/Feb! This guide will be extremely helpful for us to explore the city in more depth. Thank you and greetings from Nuremberg!

    1. Jessica – so happy to hear that you’ll be returning to Berlin! We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it won’t be too cold for you guys to go out and explore more of the city 🙂 And YAY for the housesit! 🙂

    1. Andi, I have to admit that I find Berlin terribly depressing in the winter months, especially November seems to be just so grey. Trust me, the city has a completely different feel to it in the summer months! You’ll have to come back when we’re there 🙂 And make sure to bring Lucas 🙂

  2. So glad you got to do the free walking tour. Next time I am in Berlin I am going to try some of their other tours too. I have got to try the Trabbi safari too. That sounds like so much fun. My brother used to have a trabbi and I remember how fast you can go around the corners with it. The steering and gear changing was really tricky though from what I remember. But all part of the experience!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Goodbye Cambodia

    1. Tammy – YES, a great, great recommendation! Let’s do the Trabi safari together, I’d love to do it, too. My grandparents had a Trabi which they gave to my parents when they bought themselves a brand new Volkswagen after the world came down. We thought having a trabi was the coolest thing in the world, but I wonder how I’d feel about it when I am actually DRIVING it 😀

  3. Great little guide to Berlin! I had so much fun exploring this city for myself this past summer.

    One other thing I would recommend under the Art and History section – I took a (paid) walking tour all about the Third Reich with Insider Tour Berlin and it was AMAZING. One of the most interesting walking tours I’ve ever been on.
    Amanda recently posted..Imagining the Unimaginable at Auschwitz-Birkenau

    1. Thanks, Amanda! That sounds like a great way to get an overview of Berlin’s history, which can be quite overwhelming. We’ll have to check it out next time we’re in Berlin!

  4. We LOVED Berlin. This is a very helpful guide indeed. I would also recommend doing the ‘free’ walking tour where you just pay what you think it’s worth.
    We met a great group on the tour and ended up partying with them that night until 5am!

    1. Yes, we can’t recommend the free walking tours highly enough! We take them in almost every city we visit and always get so much valuable information out of it. Meeting other great travelers is another reason to take them 🙂

    1. Thanks, Gabriel! I was lucky to cycle by Brandenburg Gate that day, when the colors of the sky started changing after sunset… and I managed to take some really nice pictures 🙂 Also another reason for cycling – had I been on the subway, I hadn’t seen it, or on a S-Bahn I wouldn’t have been able to stop to take pictures 🙂

  5. The apartment buildings look lovely. We stayed somewhere similar the last time we went to Paris and we loved having our own little ‘home form home’ even though it was only for a long weekend.
    Thanks for the great round-up. I’d love to do both the walking tours if I ever make it here!
    Kathryn recently posted..Top ten things to do in Rome

    1. Thanks, Kat! I hope you’ll make it to Berlin one day!! Btw – We also had an apartment last time we went to Paris – right in the Marais neighborhood, it was gorgeous! 🙂

  6. Thank you so much for your insights. We are heading to Berlin for only a short period of time in March so I wanted to make sure we made the most of our time. Thanks to your recommendations I have booked as on a free tour and into the Reichstag dome today – potentially looking at the alternative tour as well. 🙂

    1. Tam – we hope you’ll enjoy Berlin as much as we did! Great to hear that you booked the Reichstag Dome – fingers crossed for clear blue skies when you head up there 🙂

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