Last Updated on December 16, 2019 by Dani
This Berlin travel guide includes my personal favorites in Berlin. These are my top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital – especially if you don’t have a lot of time. The sights listed are the main things everyone should see when traveling to Berlin, and we included some tips on finding short and long-term apartments as well.
Berlin Travel Guide
One of my favorite cities, I 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 I 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 my 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:
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 every Berlin travel guide mentions – 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.
There 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.
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 and that you won’t find in a Berlin travel guide, but that 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.
Berlin Travel Guide: Biking in Berlin
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. Berlin also has several bike sharing systems now. Donkey Republic has bikes all over the city, and you can read on their website how it works, then download the Donkey Republic app and you’re all set!
See Berlin from above
When you travel to Berlin, you’ll quickly notice that the city 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.
Berlin’s Best Panorama viewpoints
There are several ways to see Berlin from above, the most popular and priciest option is the TV Tower. It is €16.50 to go up and enjoy the 360° views of Berlin. There’s also a 360 Panorama restaurant, and the prices are actually not too bad. A window seat for the popular TV Tower Sunday brunch is €45.50, for example – but make sure to book way in advance, as tickets sell out quickly. 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 €4 (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 €7.50 (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.
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.
Once 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. I visit the Dome every time I travel to Berlin and show someone around who hasn’t been to Berlin yet – I love the Reichstags Dome and it’s incredible that it is free to visit!
Hot Air Balloon in Berlin
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.
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) which is mentioned in every Berlin travel guide as a place you shouldn’t miss.
Art and History in Berlin
If you have time to go beyond the main historic attractions when you travel to Berlin, 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. In my opinion, a place that everyone traveling to Berlin should visit, even though it is a somber museum.
Walk 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 – this place is mentioned in every Berlin travel guide for good reason.
Museumsinsel (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. Art and history lovers will likely spend more than an entire day in several of the museums on Museum Island.
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.
Where to stay in Berlin
Hotels in Berlin
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. If you are, like me, a fan of small, unique and hip hotels, make sure to check out this excellent list of boutique hotels in Berlin.
Hostels in Berlin
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).
Renting an Apartment in Berlin
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.
For another long-term stay in Berlin, I used Craiglist Berlin and found a spare room in an apartment for a great price. You can look at the currently available sublets in Berlin (rooms) or entire Berlin apartments for rent.