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The 16 best things to do in Berlin right now

Not sure where to start in the German capital? We've got you covered with the absolute best things to do in Berlin

Written by
Anna Geary-Meyer
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Is there anything Berlin can’t do? The German capital was the city of the 20th century and has carried that momentum into the 21st. What are the best things to do in Berlin? The diversity at the heart of the city makes it a ‘something for everyone’ sort of place, with museums and galleries for the culture vultures next to 72-hour parties for the buzz-chasing, erm, buzzards. Not the best analogy, clearly, but you see the point.

If you want it, you’ll find it in Berlin. A plan is a must, as this modern metropolis fills every inch of its territory with interest, so follow our guide to the best things to do in Berlin and get planning. You are in for one incredible trip.

And if you are looking for somewhere to stay? Check out Berlin's best Airbnb properties and Berlin's best hotels

Best things to do in Berlin

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Mitte

This neo-Baroque edifice housing the German Bundestag (Parliament) survived wars, Nazis, fire, bombing and the country’s division, only to return as a symbol of a new era in German politics. A trip to the top of this open, playful and defiantly democratic space, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is a must, but note that you can’t just rock up anymore: you must now book in advance by filling in an online form at visite.bundestag.de, at least three working days in advance.

Founded in 1951, the Berlinale (officially called the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin) is the world’s most popular film festival in terms of sheer numbers in attendance. A major fixture on the global cultural calendar, it sees Potsdamer Platz transformed into a glittering stage that plays host to film-industry names each February. Screenings also take place in other parts of the city, including Alexanderplatz, at the Zoo Palast cinema in Tiergarten and in a renovated crematorium (silent green Kulturquartier) in Wedding.

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Tiergarten
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

3. Tiergarten

Make like a Berliner and stretch your legs with a stroll, jog or cycle through the city’s most famous park, which comes into its own during spring and summer. Whether you’re hunting famous monuments, a beer and a sausage, or a spot to sunbathe naked, you’ll find what you’re looking for. This 5km (three-mile) circuit will return you to your starting point for your next adventure within an hour or so. Don’t worry if you get lost – the park is full of maps with ‘you are here’ markers.

Mauerpark is one of the biggest and busiest Sunday flea markets in Berlin, selling everything from clothes by local designers to cardboard boxes brimming with black-market CDs. Even if the market’s massive popularity means prices keep creeping up, you can still stumble upon rare records and eye-catching vintage clothes. It’s also the venue for the immensely-popular weekly outdoor singing session, Bearpit Karaoke. Thousands flock to the mobile sound system, the brainchild of karaoke courier Joe Hatchiban, to have a go on summer Sundays. 

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Cycling through Berlin with the wind in your hair is an experience not to be missed. Flat, with lots of clear routes, parks and canal paths, the city is best explored by bike. That said, caution is required. Cobbles, tram lines, aimless pedestrians, other cyclists and careless drivers all pose hazards. Few locals wear helmets, but you’d be wise to get your hands on one, especially if you’re used to riding on the left.

Freiluftkino
Photograph: Arte Sommerkino Kulturforum/Potsdamer Platz

6. Freiluftkino

During the summer months, the city’s largest public parks – including Volkspark Friedrichshain, Hasenheide in Neukölln and Rehberge in Wedding – unveil their freiluftkino (open-air cinemas). Grab a beer and some snacks, relax in the sun and enjoy the summer evening Berlin-style. Titles are mostly bigger hits from the previous season, so try the likes of Neues Off, Odeon Kino or Moviemento for a more arthouse experience.

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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 Berlin Airlift of 1948 after the Soviets blockaded West Berlin, the Western Powers dropped 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, skaters and goshawks. There are designated sections for dogs to run free, basketball courts, a baseball field, beer gardens and even small allotments where Berliners can grow their own veg.

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs

During the late-19th century, 14 covered markets were opened to replace traditional outdoor ones and improve hygiene standards. Local residents saved this one from closure in 2009, filling it with stalls serving locally sourced veg and meats. It’s also home to the excellent Heidenpeters microbrewery and the Sironi bakery from Milan. The themed events, including the hugely popular Street Food Thursday, get crowded but are well worth the trip.

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Brandenburg Lakes
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Qype User

9. Brandenburg Lakes

Brandenburg, the north-eastern state surrounding Berlin, is known as the land of 3,000 lakes. Starkly beautiful in winter and especially appealing in the warmer months, many lakes are easily accessible by public transport, and each has its own character. While some may be better for swimming and others for sunbathing, you’ll certainly be able to find one that’s right for you (just like the locals). Such idyllic scenes offer the perfect antidote to a hard night’s partying in the centre.

Discover the best bathing lakes in Berlin

 

Take to the streets
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Michael A.

10. Take to the streets

Political demonstration or street festival? In Berlin, it’s often hard to tell. Whether lighting firecrackers on Silvester (New Year’s Eve) or swarming Görlitzer park on May Day, Berliners love to exercise their right to drink in public, demonstrate and hawk homemade shots to tourists. Beware of patchy cell service and defunct ATMs on big holidays.

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Germany is the international capital of avant-garde theatre, and the most renowned of its many lavishly state-funded theatres is the striking Schaübuhne am Lehniner Platz. A former cinema – built in 1928 in a Bauhaus style – it became home to the radical Schaübuhne ensemble in the late ’70s, and has been run since 1999 by influential director Thomas Ostermeier. The Schaübuhne plays host to first-rate leftfield names from Germany and beyond – Switzerland’s Milo Rau and Britain’s Katie Mitchell are notable regulars. As with most German theatres, it operates a rep system, with productions from years back frequently popping back into circulation – Ostermeier’s gloriously anarchic 2008 ‘Hamlet’ is a regularly-revived oldie well worth catching. Performances are mostly in German, but every month a solid smattering are subtitled in English or French.

Frederick the Great’s summer grounds make for an unforgettable day out in Potsdam, the state capital of Brandenburg, just an S-Bahn ride southwest from central Berlin. As well as touring the palace itself, guests can spend hours getting lost in its gardens and the ornate Bildergalerie and Neue Kammern (‘new chambers’). A trip to the lush grounds is welcome after a few days of pavement-pounding in urban Berlin.

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The first ‘premium cinema’ in Germany offers a luxury cinematographic experience, complete with a welcome cocktail, doorman and valet parking. The cinema dates back to 1948 when a café was converted into a small screening room called the Kino im Kindl or KiKi. It was redesigned and renamed the Filmpalast and became one of West Berlin’s classiest kinos. After thorough renovations and another name change, it’s still a grand example of 1950s movie-going luxury, with an illuminated glass ceiling, comfortable seats and a gong to announce the film.

Brunch at Isla
Photograph: Isla Coffee

14. Brunch at Isla

In recent years, Berliners have slammed down their forks and demanded more for breakfast than the traditional cold cuts and bread with jam. Brunch may have taken off, making way for some mouth-watering hangover cures, but that doesn’t mean that every café serving avocado toast is worth your while. Try Isla in Neukölln for a gorgeous breakfast with a good conscience (the cafe aims for zero waste and uses seasonal, sustainably sourced ingredients) or the rightfully-hyped Rocket + Basil in Tiergarten.

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Winding through the centre of Berlin, the River Spree offers a different perspective on this once-divided city. There’s no shortage of tour operators offering trips along the river, the Landwehrkanal or across the lakes, and some services are included on the city travelcard. There are also multiple kayak rental services for the DIY sightseeing types. A range of city-centre tours are offered to help you really get to know the city.

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