Not sure where to start in the German capital? We’ve rounded up the best things to do in Berlin for you
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Is there anything Berlin can’t do? The German capital was the city of the 20th century and carried that momentum into the 21st century. What are the best things to do in Berlin? The diversity of the city center makes it a ‘something for everyone’ kind of place, with museums and galleries for culture lovers alongside 72-hour parties for buzz-chasers, um, the buzz. Not the best analogy, of course, but you get the point.
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If you want it, you can find it in Berlin. A plan is essential, because every inch of this modern metropolis is interesting, so follow our guide to the best things to do in Berlin and start planning. You are in for an amazing trip.
And if you’re looking for a place to stay? Check out the best Airbnb properties in Berlin and the best hotels in Berlin.
This neo-baroque building that houses the German Bundestag (Parliament) has survived wars, Nazis, fires, bombings and the dismemberment of the country, only to return as a symbol of a new era in German politics. A trip to the top of this open, playful and undeniably democratic space designed by Sir Norman Foster is a must, but remember you can’t turn up now: you now have to book in advance by filling out an online form. At visite.bundestag.de, at least three working days in advance.
Founded in 1951, Berlinale (officially called International Filmfestspiel Berlin) is the world’s most popular film festival in terms of number of participants. A staple of the global cultural calendar, it sees Potsdamer Platz transformed into a glittering stage that hosts the names of the film industry every February. Screenings also take place in other parts of the city, including the Zoo Palast Cinema in Alexanderplatz, the Tiergarten, and the renovated cemetery in Wed (a green and quiet Kulturquartier).
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Be a Berliner and stretch your legs by walking, jogging or cycling in the city’s most famous park, which comes alive in spring and summer. Whether you’re hunting for famous monuments, beer and hot dogs, or a spot for nude sunbathing, you’ll find what you’re looking for. This 5km (three mile) loop will bring you back to your starting point for your next adventure in about an hour. Don’t worry if you get lost – the park is full of maps with ‘you are here’ markers.
Mauerpark is one of Berlin’s largest and busiest Sunday flea markets, selling everything from local designer clothes to cardboard boxes full of black market CDs. Although the huge popularity of the market means that prices continue to rise, you can still find rare records and eye-catching vintage clothes. It is also home to Bearpit Karaoke, a very popular weekly outdoor singing session. Thousands of people flock to spend summer Sundays at the portable sound system in the mind of karaoke messenger Joe Hachiban.
Riding with the wind in your hair is an experience not to be missed in Berlin. Flat, with many open avenues, parks and canal paths, the city is best explored by bicycle. However, caution must be exercised. Stones, tram lines, aimless pedestrians, other cyclists and careless drivers all pose a risk. Some locals wear helmets, but it’s wise to keep one handy, especially if you’re used to walking on the left.
During the summer months, the city’s major public parks – the Volkspark Friedrichshain, the Hassenheide in Neukölln and the Rehberge in Weiden – reveal it.
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(Open Air Cinema). Grab a beer and some snacks, relax in the sun and enjoy a summer evening Berlin style. The titles are often bigger hits than the previous season, so try names like Neues Off, Odeon Kino or Moviemento for a more artistic feel.
Templehof Airport, famous for its Nazi and Cold War history, ceased operations in 2008. Now you can walk down the runway where World War II Stuka dive bombers took off and there, during the Berlin Airlift of 1948, after the Soviets blockaded West Berlin. Powers dropped supplies to the city’s 2.5 million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history. Today, the 368-hectare open space provides plenty of fun for runners, skaters and boarders, along with trails and grasslands. There are designated areas for dogs to run free, basketball courts, baseball fields, beer gardens and even small allotments where Berliners can grow their own vegetables.
In the late 19th century, 14 indoor markets were opened to replace the traditional outdoor markets and to improve hygiene standards. Local residents saved it from closure in 2009 and filled the stalls with locally produced vegetables and meat. It is also home to the excellent Heidenpeters Brewery and Sironi Bakery in Milan. The themed events, including the hugely popular Street Food Thursdays, are crowded but well worth the trip.
Brandenburg, the northeastern state surrounding Berlin, is known as the land of 3,000 lakes. Stunningly beautiful in winter and especially attractive in the warmer months, many lakes are easily accessible by public transport and each has its own character. Some may be good for swimming and some for sunbathing, but you’re sure to find something you like (just like the locals). Such idyllic scenes provide the perfect antidote to a wild night of partying in the middle.
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(New Year’s Eve) or the green Görlitzer Park in May, Berliners like to drink in public, demonstrate and distribute homemade shots to tourists. Beware of faulty cell service and ATM shutdowns on major holidays.
Germany is the international capital of avant-garde theatre, and the most famous of the state-funded theaters is the impressive Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz. A former cinema – built in 1928 in the Bauhaus style – it became home to the radical Schaubuhn group in the late 1970s and has been run since 1999 by the influential director Thomas Ostermeier. Schaubuhne names the top left from Germany and beyond – Switzerland’s Milo Rao and Britain’s Katie Mitchell are regulars. Like many German theaters, it operates a representational system, with productions from years ago returning frequently – Ostermeier’s gloriously anarchic Hamlet from 2008 is a regularly renewed old picture. The shows are mainly in German, but each month is subtitled in English or French.
Potsdam, the capital of the state of Brandenburg, just an S-Bahn train ride southwest of central Berlin, is an unforgettable day out thanks to the summer fields of Frederick the Great. In addition to touring the palace itself, guests can spend hours getting lost in its gardens and the ornate Bildergallery and Neue Kammern (‘new rooms’). After a few days of pounding the pavement in urban Berlin, a walk in the green is welcome.
Germany’s first “Premium Cinema” offers a luxurious cinema experience with welcome cocktails, concierge and valet parking. The cinema dates back to 1948 when a cafe was converted into a small screening room called Kino im Kindle or Kiki. It was reconstructed and renamed the Filmpalast and became one of the most classic cinemas in West Berlin. After a complete renovation and further name change, it’s still a classic example of the movie’s 1950s luxury, with an illuminated glass ceiling, comfortable seats and a gong to announce the film.
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In recent years, Berliners have broken out their forks and demanded more for breakfast than bread with traditional sausage and jam. Brunch may have paved the way for a mouth-watering hangover cure, but that doesn’t mean every cafe serving avocado toast is worth your time. Try Isla in Neukölln for a well-executed Rocket + Basil in the Tiergarten with a good conscience (the cafe aims to be zero waste and uses sustainably sourced seasonal ingredients).
The Safra River flows through the heart of Berlin and offers a different perspective of this once divided city. There is no shortage of tour operators offering trips along the river, the Landverkkanal or across the lakes, and some services are included in the city’s travel card. There are also several kayak rental services for do-it-yourself tour types. A variety of city center tours are offered to help you really get to know the city.
Whether your budget is five-star luxury or a trendy boutique, our selection of the best hotels in Berlin has you covered
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