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Brandenburger Tor
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 16 best attractions in Berlin

The German capital can be a little overwhelming, so where do you start? These are the best attractions in Berlin

Written by
Anna Geary-Meyer
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While we’ve managed to keep this collection of the best attractions in Berlin to a concise 16, the German capital is a never-ending source of fascination, excitement and entertainment. Berlin is one of the modern world’s most important cities, a place whose reputation routinely sees it top bucket lists and best-ofs alike, as people from all over the world head here to see the famous buildings, explore the incredible museums and overindulge in Europe’s most exciting nightlife.

Berlin is a city that does it all and does it in an undeniably unique manner. This is Berlin, and don’t you forget. The restaurant scene is dizzyingly diverse, and shopping here is a white-knuckle experience all in itself. It can be easy to find yourself making plans to move to Berlin, but don’t forget to embrace your inner tourist and experience the classic attractions that this place has to offer.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Berlin

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Best attractions in Berlin

Brandenburger Tor
  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Mitte

The Brandenburger Tor (or The Brandenburger Gate if you're not so great with German) is an absolute must-see attraction if you're visiting Berlin. Fun fact: From 1814 until 1919, only the royal family and members of the aristocratic Pfuel Family were allowed to travel through the centre archway. Which wouldn't have been so fun for us normal folk. Now, it no longer causes divisions. It's said to represent peace and unity and is one of Germany's best known landmarks. 

  • Museums
  • History
  • Mitte

After a long period of restoration, from suffering severe damage during World War III, the Neues Museum got back up and running back in 2009. It's now arguably one of the best museums to visit from Berlin’s UNESCO-listed Museumsinsel (Museum Island). It's an unforgettable home for a whole host of different artefacts from ancient history to the present day. From Egyptian art to unique prehistoric objects. This museum will feed your curiosity and is a great way to expand your world knowledge.

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Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal fĂĽr die ermordeten Juden Europas)
  • Attractions
  • Monuments and memorials
  • Mitte

Architect Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is intentionally disorienting: it’s a striking sculptural statement that invites visitors in, only to create a feeling of unease. There’s no vantage point or overview; to fully engage with the structure you need to walk into it. It’s haunting in places, especially on overcast days and near the middle of the monument, where it’s easy to feel a sense of confinement. Early criticism often focused on the monument’s lack of specificity – there are no stars of David here, no obvious symbolism or recognition of German culpability – but it has since won grudging recognition from many former critics.

  • Art
  • Public art

Running along the River Spree for 1.3km (0.8 miles) from Oberbaum Bridge to Ostbahnhof is one of Berlin’s most photographed tourist sights. This is the largest remaining section of the Wall still standing, decorated with 101 paintings by international artists from 1990. Dmitri Vrubel’s striking portrait depicting Brezhnev and Hönecker’s kiss – a Soviet sign of great respect – is easily its most iconic image. In 2017, in an attempt to prevent the sort of vandalism that had plagued it in recent years, a metre-high metal fence was erected around the perimeter of the Wall, an irony not lost on visitors.

The riverside views are great, too, and best enjoyed with a cold späti beer. There aren’t many places in Berlin where you’re encouraged to engage in shameless, unironic photo-taking, so this is definitely the place to whip out the selfie stick.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • West

The Berlin Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum were landscaped at the beginning of the 20th century. Today it’s home to 18,000 plant species, 16 greenhouses and a museum. The gardens make for a pleasant stroll, but the museum is a bit dilapidated and there’s no information in English. Every Monday, they run a wild mushroom advice workshop, so feel free to forage away in the nearby forests.

First the site of a canteen for the Nazi social welfare organisation, this building housed a remand prison which the Soviets turned into ‘Special Encampment No.3’ and which the Stasi later expanded. Excellent guided tours are led daily by ex-prisoners; their personal testimony adds chilling immediacy to the bureaucratically spare interrogation rooms, the concrete ‘tiger cage’ in which 30 minutes of walking per day was permitted and the cramped cells where prisoners were forced to sleep in a mandated position. The museum houses a permanent exhibition, which reveals the stories of former prisoners, and there are also temporary exhibitions, often curated from the memorial’s own collection of 15,000 GDR artefacts. 

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Kreuzberg

Named as the largest Jewish museum in Europe (38,000 square feet of floor space to be exact), Daniel Libeskind’s beautiful, yet deliberately oppressive building houses a masterful museum devoted to the turbulent history of Judaism in Germany. It was opened in 2001, with a permanent exhbition that tells the stories of prominent Jewish figures and their impact. Here, you'll also be able to find out about Jewish holiday traditions, the difficult road to emancipation and more. Side note: this museum is a popular one so arrive in the morning to avoid long queues and crowds!

Philharmonie
  • Music
  • Tiergarten

Berlin’s most famous concert hall, home to the world-renowned Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, is also its most architecturally daring: a marvellously puckish piece of organic modernism. Designed by Hans Scharoun, the golden building with its distinctive vaulting roof opened in 1963. Its reputation for superb acoustics is accurate, but it does depend on where you sit. Behind the orchestra, the acoustics leave much to be desired, but in front (where seats are much more expensive), the sound is heavenly. The Berlin Phil gives about 100 performances in the city during its August-to-June season, plus 20 to 30 concerts around the world.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

One of Berlin’s most impressive public monuments, this memorial to Soviet soldiers killed in the Second World War (one of three in Berlin) and military cemetery is located in a peaceful park in the east of the city. It’s as bombastic and intimidating as you would expect. Treptower Park covers a huge area and is visit-worthy in itself, so combine your stop with a bike ride along the Spree or a stroll to the nearby Karpfenteich (carp pond). In summer, you can enjoy a riverside coffee at one of the park’s restaurants and cafés.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Kreuzberg

Once the flashpoint between East and West, today the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing offers tacky souvenir stalls, coach-loads of trippers and actors pretending to be US and Soviet guards, but it also features this fascinating little museum which is sure to please children and adults alike. The founder of Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, Dr Rainer Hildebrandt, opened it as a non-violent protest against the Wall, with the purpose of recording the events that were taking place at the best-known crossing point. He believed it was essential to be ‘as close as possible to the injustice itself, where human greatness fully unfolds’. Today the museum tells of heroic escapes, successful and unsuccessful, with great sensitivity. 

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Famous for its Nazi and Cold War history, Tempelhof airport ceased operation in 2008. Now, you can stroll down the runways where Second World War ‘Stuka’ dive bombers took off and where, during the famous Berlin Airlift after the Soviets blockaded West Berlin in 1948, 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 walkers, kite-surfers, cyclists, runners and skaters alike.

Rixdorf
Photograph: Courtesy flickr/cc/H. FĂĽller

12. Rixdorf

A short walk from the busy shopping street of Karl-Marx-Strasse in Neukölln, you'll find the iconic and charming village of Rixdorf, centred around Richardplatz. Here, you'll find an ancient church among beautiful early 18th-century buildings. Plus, there’s even a horse-and-carriage business still in operation which will allow you to take a lovely your around the grounds. There is also an annual Christmas craft market held in the square. So, plenty to do and see in this small but intriguing village.

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Berlin’s Natural History Museum will be a sure-fire hit with any under-10s. The biggest (literally) draw is the skeleton of a Brachiosaurus dinosaur, which weighed 50 tonnes at death and stands proud at four storeys high. But don’t miss the creepy ‘research collections’, which show off some of the museum’s store of over a million pickled animals suspended in jars of alcohol. Berlin’s most famous polar bear, Knut, who died in 2011, is also stuffed and on display.

KaDeWe, the legendary department store, is more than a century old and has stood at the heart of the city’s shopping scene through thick and thin. It stocks an impressive range of high-end designers and has tried to shed its stuffy image by bringing in upbeat younger labels. As opulent as ever, the space is also home to the quintessential luxury food-hall experience in a city otherwise teeming with budget supermarkets. With delicatessens, butchers, pâtisseries and grocers, and plenty of prepared foods to take away, the olfactory experience as you move between sections is a delight in itself. Head up another level to reach a cavernous glass-roofed restaurant with a fine view of Wittenbergplatz below.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Prenzlauer Berg

Temporarily closed

In the mid-16th century, brewing beer during summer was outlawed in Bavaria due to the drink’s rapid deterioration in the heat. Instead, brewers were encouraged to build cellars next to the River Isar in which to store beer for summer drinking, and thus, the Biergarten was born. Situated in leafy Prenzlauer Berg, Prater Garten is decidedly more Munich than Berlin and lures an appreciative crowd with beer, sausage and pretzels.

Spandau
Photograph: Pixabay

16. Spandau

There’s a running joke among Berliners (though not an especially clever one) that Spandau, the westernmost of the city’s twelve districts, isn’t really part of the capital. Whatever the case may be, this picturesque area is absolutely worth a day trip. Spread out along the River Havel, Spandau’s old town is the site of a gorgeous Christmas market each winter, and the medieval Zitadelle is one of Europe’s best-preserved fortresses.

Craving currywurst? Here’s where to head next...

The 15 best restaurants in Berlin
  • Restaurants
  • CafĂ©s

This city’s 28 collective Michelin stars speak volumes: from venerated institutions like Mitte’s Grill Royal to the burgeoning foodie scene in once-gritty Neukölln, there are some downright life-changing meals to be had here.

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