As Europe’s hippest city, there’s no denying that Berlin holds a special place in the world today. The city has a dark and rich history and is unarguably the cultural hub of Germany, if not, the entire European continent. People are flocking from all over the world to the city, trying to get their own piece of the Berlin story.
Before ever visiting Germany, I had always wanted to see Berlin, see the Brandenburger Gate, see the remainders of the wall. But it wasn’t until I finally made the trip that I realised that Berlin is not meant to be seen, it’s meant to be experienced. Here are my top recommendations on what to do in this unique and eclectic city.
1. Swim in a cargo container in a river
The Badeschiff, a floating pool which was created from a huge cargo container, is a symbol of this modern, creative city. It’s basically a pool inside a river. What started as an art project in 2004 has now become one of the best places to be on hot summers’ day. You can enjoy your drink by the pool, in the river, with panoramic views of the city centre!
2. Grab a Döner at Mustafa’s
Berlin is believed to be the city where the first Doner Kabab was invented. With so much hype, you could easily mistake Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap as a tourist trap. Let me tell you, it isn’t known as the best Doner in Berlin without reason. Most visitors only know of their flagship stand in Kreuzberg where the wait is never less than 30 or 40 minutes long. Unbeknownst to most people, they have another stand in Friedrichshain where you will, almost all the time, get served immediately.
3. Visit the Brandenburg Gate
During the Cold War and the division of Germany, this landmark stood between East and West Berlin, clearly marking a divided nation. When the wall fell in 1989 and Germany was reunited, the Brandenburg Gate became the iconic landmark of a new Germany. It is now recognised as a symbol of peace and unity, and is a sight not to be missed.
Image: Around the Globe
4. Walk along the East Side Gallery
As one of the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall still standing, the East Side Gallery is an international memorial for freedom. After the Fall of the Wall, artists have turned it into the largest open-air gallery in the world.
5. Sit in the Park with Other Berliners
When the sun is out, find yourself a späti (a 24-hour corner shop), pick up a few drinks and head to the closest park in the area (Berlin has plenty). You’ll be sharing the afternoon with other Berliners doing the exact same thing. Trust me, no one does sitting in the park like Berliners.
6. Have a Riverside Coffee in Front of the Berliner Dom
Grab yourself a table right by the river and enjoy a coffee and with a view of one of the most magnificent structures in Berlin. If you’d rather be on the river, try taking a cruise to catch all the best sights.
7. Shop on Mulackstrasse
One of the most fashionable streets in Berlin, you can find young independent boutiques, selling everything from streetwear to highly conceptual avant-garde clothing to feminine high-end French fashion.
8. Discover the Nightlife
Relatively cheap entry, world class DJs and a unique vibe you’ll only find in in Berlin. The clubs stay open around the clock and let’s be honest here, it’s not a night out in Berlin if you don’t stay out until at least 12 in the afternoon the next day.
9. Karaoke at Mauer Park
Open-air Karaoke that runs during Sundays in the summer time. It essentially feels like a festival! Anyone in the audience is welcome to sing. Most of the time the performers are tone-deaf but that’s what makes the event so good. It’s all about having fun and not worrying about what people think!
10. Go to a nightclub in the day time
Aside from going at night and leaving in the afternoon, try going to a club right after breakfast on Sunday. There will still be people from the night before plus post-breakfast club goers. It’s a unique experience that can only be found in Berlin.
11. Strandbar Mitte
A bar with real palm trees and beach chairs in the middle of Berlin. It’s the perfect way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing. You can have pizza, sip cocktails and relax in the sun while listening to music and watching the tango dancers on the riverside dance floor. The view of the river and Museum Island doesn’t hurt either!
12. Grab a bite at Markthalle Neun’s Street Food Thursdays
The mother of all street food events in Berlin, and still the most popular one. People from all over the city converge at this market hall on Thursday nights to get their street food fix from a wide assortment of vendors selling food from all over the world. It can get pretty packed, I’m talking crowds spilling outside of the hall packed, so it’s best to arrive early.
Image: Visit Berlin
13. Enjoy a Riverside Beer with Electronic Music
There are plenty of canal-side clubs in Berlin but one of the first and best is Club Der Visionäre. There’s a small dance floor and an open-air area stretching out across the water. You can sit right on the river, enjoy a beer and listen to great electronic music. Dropping by in the day or night is a great way to find out what makes Berlin so special.
14. Enjoy a Cultural Rooftop Garden
Klunerkranich is a hip bar at the top of a parking garage in Neukölln. Full of young people from all over the world – both tourists and locals. This bar is a melting pot of cultures. It’s a bit out of the city centre but you’ll get amazing views.
15. Sneak into Abandoned Places
Many buildings in East Berlin were abandoned after unification, leaving behind thrilling places for adventure seekers to explore. If you’re visiting this city, you must visit at least one of the abandoned sites. My favourites are Spreepark, an abandoned theme park, and the abandoned hospitals. If you’re not into trespassing, a legal open-to-the-public place to explore is Teufelsberg, a former American spy station during the Cold War, which features stunning street art at every point you look.
16. Shop at KaDeWe
The Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) is, at well over 100 years old, a true Berlin institution, and is currently the second largest department store in Europe. It’s the epicentre of luxury shopping in Berlin and you must check out the gourmet food court on the top floor. Whether you buy something or not, it’s great entertainment.
17. Try a Currywurst and Expect to Be Underwhelmed
Currywurst is a pork sausage that is steamed, fried, sliced, and then served with ketchup and curry powder with a side of fries. They’re on every street corner in the touristy areas and there’s even an entire museum dedicated to it (complete with a currywurst-shaped sofa). You’ll likely not be blown away but it’s something you just gotta do when in Berlin.
18. Admire the Architecture at Gendarmenmarkt
One of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, with the Konzerthaus, Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom. There’s also a very fancy Christmas Market in Winter.
19. Take a Photoautomat selfie
You’ll notice these old fashioned photo booths scattered around the city. They make for the perfect souvenir!
20. Try Club Mate
Club Mate is Berlin’s most famous soft drink. Its distinctive taste and extremely high caffeine content make it a drink of choice for everyone from hipsters to techies to all-night partiers. It’s basically like Redbull on crack.
21. Pay Your Respects at the Holocaust Memorial
An indescribably uncomfortable feeling will overcome you, but it’s something you must do.
22. Wander around Hackesche Höfe
It’s the largest enclosed courtyard area of Germany and was put under a preservation order in 1972. The area surrounding it is lavish with numerous bars, restaurants, and clubs which makes it a hotspot when it comes to nightlife.
23. Make a Short Stop at Alexanderplatz
It’s not the most attractive area, but it still holds a lot of sights for you to soak up including the TV tower, world clock, and Fountain of International Friendship.
24. House of Small Wonder
A quaint little cafe with a beautiful aesthetic and a lot of natural light. Definitely, an Instagram-worthy place and the brunch is excellent!
25. Explore old town Berlin
Nikolaiviertel is a small area on the Eastern shore of River Spree that was destroyed by bombing in 1945 but has been rebuilt to create a medieval village. It’s one of the few neighbourhoods with mainly old buildings and is part of Alt-Berlin (Old Berlin). It’s a lovely place for morning coffee or an afternoon drink.
26. Take a Train to Potsdam and Wander through the Royal Gardens
Sanssouci Palace and its extensive park and grounds are UNESCO World Heritage and a must-see sight in Europe.
27. Explore the City by Bike
With the vast number of attractions, renting a bike makes visiting the city much more manageable. Berlin is bicycle friendly so you’ll feel very safe riding around.
28. Bargain for Used Polaroid Cameras and Other Knick-Knacks at a Flea Market
Berlin is never short of flea-markets and you can find some really interesting antiques that you totally don’t need and will probably not even fit in your luggage. My favourites are the Flohmarkt in Mauer Park and Neukölln.
29. Have a dance at Ballhaus Clärchens
Situated in the side wing of Clärchens Ballhaus, a dancing venue established in 1913 in Wilhelmine shortly before World War I, there is a hidden gem even unbeknownst to most Berlin inhabitants, a mirrored ballroom (Spiegelsaal) which still captures the spirit of a long-lost era. It’s also a lovely place for dinner.
30. Go to the Best Bakery in Berlin
Zeit für Brot is known for having the best cinnamon scrolls in Berlin. They have a wide range of delicious breakfast and brunch foods but you really can’t skip their scrolls! There is a large assortment of them and you really can’t go wrong! Please get a scroll, I’m telling you!!!
And if you decide to venture out into the city on your own, have a look at this unique Berlin Map it will help you to navigate Berlin like a local!