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The 11 best tours in Berlin for a hit of history

Want to see the city’s underside? The best Berlin tours take in everything from Bowie’s studio to a Cold War radar station

Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Fiona Laughton
Contributors
Ed Cunningham
,
Alex Floyd-Douglass
&
Talia Stanton
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Maybe you’re into history and politics. Perhaps you’re a foodie. You might just want to meet some fellow travellers – or, who knows, even a local. Whatever you want to see in a city, and however you want to do it, the best Berlin tours have you covered. 

This German capital’s rich, chequered past makes it as ripe for a casual wander as it is for a hardcore history lesson. Whether you’d prefer to see Berlin from the perspective of a street artist, a Syrian refugee or 70s-era David Bowie, our run-down of the best tours in the city will help you see this marvellous place in a fascinating new light. 

One thing we will say: make sure you don’t overlook the city’s more obvious attractions, museums and things to do (because they’re darn good too). 

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Best Berlin tours

Tempelhof Abandoned Airport

Here’s a chance to explore an integral yet rarely seen part of German history: the abandoned Tempelhof airport. It's a glorious example of mid-century architecture and the largest architectural monument in Europe. During the Second World War, prisoners were forced to build weapons here, while shortly afterward allied forces flew in 2.3 million tonnes of food, coal, fuel and medicine following the Soviet blockade of the city.

Time Out tip: Public tours take place daily, except Tuesdays. Bookable private tours are also available.  

2. Teufelsberg

Like Tempelhof, Teufelsberg too played a part in the Cold War. This man-made hill in Grunewald – Berlin's second-highest ascent – once served as a listening station of the US Army. Now derelict, it provides a huge canvas for striking street art, which you can see if you join one of these torch-lit tours. 

Time Out tip: Climb the highest dome for fantastic 360-degree views. 

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3. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Not the activity if you're looking for something light-hearted; over five hours you’ll learn about the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which the Nazis built in 1936 and where they imprisoned more than 200,000 people during the war. The Sachsenhausen Memorial reminds visitors of the victims’ suffering and commemorates the thousands of lives lost. All takings go towards the upkeep of the memorial.

Time Out tip: Don't miss Barracks 38: a small camp that now houses a museum showcasing what life way really like for Jewish prisoners. 

4. Refugee Voices Tours

This unique take on a city tour provides, in the organisers’ own words, ‘a platform to those who are so often talked about but rarely listened to’. Syrian refugees living in Berlin lead these tours, drawing comparisons between their unfortunate experiences of conflict and those of other minorities during Germany’s inter- and post-war years.

Time Out tip: You must reserve a spot before attending the tour, either through Facebook, WhatsApp or by email. 

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5. Berlin Secret Food Tour

Taste your way around the city by visiting the small restaurants and local eateries that makeup the capital's secret food scene. Wander through some of the city’s best under-the-radar spots, trying everything from currywurst to German beer, wine and kebabs on this boozy Berlin food tour. 

Time Out tip: Your first stop, Mustafa Demir's Gemüse Kebap, has a vegan option for non-meat-eating members of the group. 

6. Queer Berlin

Berlin is quite easily one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in Europe. Find out why on this comprehensive tour, which explores the storied streets of gay districts Schöneberg and Kreuzberg. Learn about the historic criminalisation of homosexuality in Germany, and hear stories about Berlin’s oldest gay bar and one openly gay Nazi officer.

Time Out tip: Don't miss the Holocaust memorial dedicated to all homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. 

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7. Alternative Berlin Street Art Tour and Workshop

Forget the galleries and take to the streets to discover Berlin’s wealth of urban art. Your guide – an artist, of course – will discuss the origins of this artform as you walk, revealing secret codes of conduct between artists and the political messages hidden in certain works.

Time Out tip: A metro ticket is required for this tour. 

Hansa Studio

Any self-respecting muso is aware of Berlin’s influence on the work of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. So don’t miss the chance to poke your head into the studio in West Berlin where the pair recorded (along with many other renowned acts). Because it’s a working studio, you can’t get in everywhere, but you’ll still be able to see a good chunk of the building. 

Time Out tip: There are dedicated David Bowie tours in Berlin that include Hansa Studio in their itinerary. 

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9. Bundestag Guided Tour

Various public tours of Berlin’s parliament, the Bundestag, can be booked when MPs aren’t in session. Visitors can explore the architecture and history of the imposing Reichstag building, as well as the more modern Paul Löbe and Jakob Kaiser wings next door.

Time Out tip: This is a great tour for those who want to explore the Reichstag's dome, as tickets include free entry. 

Berlin Highlights Free Walking Tour

Put your money away, you won’t be needing that where we’re going. At least, not if you follow one of the Berlin Free Tour guides, who venture out come rain or shine to show willing walkers a ‘best of’ glimpse of the city. This includes the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate and the site of Hitler’s Bunker.

Time Out tip: You don't have to worry if your tour will be cancelled on account of bad weather, as it's committed to running come rain or shine. 

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Tired out your poor old feet by traipsing all over Berlin? Well, here’s one solution. Make the most of Berlin’s 180 kilometres of waterways by touring the city by catamaran. This boat tour is a particularly good one, not just because it takes you through sights such as the East Side Gallery and Museum Island, but because it’s also both quiet (noiseless, in fact) and environmentally friendly.

Time Out tip: Personal audio guide devices are available in six different languages. 

Want to see the sights on your own terms?

  • Attractions

While the most compelling historic sites are concentrated in Mitte, the city’s physical centre, don’t forget Berlin’s beloved Kieze (often translated as ‘neighbourhood’, the Kiez is actually a smaller cluster of residential streets) – made up of attractions in their own right. Read on for our pick of the best. 

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