Things to Do on a Short Break in Berlin

Things to Do on a Short Break in Berlin

The staggering number of museums in Berlin alone could keep you busy for weeks, and add to that these historical landmarks, street art, and quirky spots. Your itinerary will surely be full.

The German capital may look a little austere at first glance, but dig deeper and there’s a wealth of cool things to see and do around Berlin’s diverse neighbourhoods. You could stay for weeks on end and not see everything of interest, but you can also tick many of the highlights off in just a couple of days. It might not be one of Europe’s famous medieval gems, and it may have a less than savoury history, but Berlin is a real gem just waiting to be explored. Here are some of the main things to enjoy on a short trip to Berlin:

1. Pass through the Brandenburg Gate

things to do in berlin

One of Berlin’s iconic landmarks, the Brandenburg Gate is a large monumental gateway that dates back to the 18th century. Each side has a different vibe—to one side you’ll find official buildings and a park, to the other there’s a buzzing shopping area. The impressive gate has inscriptions and carvings on its inner walls and a grand statue sits proudly on top.

2. Stand in front of The Reichstag

things to do in berlin

Another of Berlin’s most well-known pieces of architecture, The Reichstag is the home of the German parliament. You can register to take a tour of the inside, though it’s an impressive sight if seen from just the outside too. The German flag flies proudly from the top of the building and from tall flagpoles. Imagine back to the times when Hitler delivered powerful speeches and drew huge crowds to the courtyard in front of the building; it’s difficult not to let out an involuntary shiver.

3. Get a culture fix at Museum Island

things to do in berlin

Image credit: Daniel Mennerich

Culture- and history-lovers are sure to be enthralled at Museum Island. There are five top museums in a condensed area, and you could spend an entire day just visiting the top-class museums. The Altes Museum and Neues Museum teach visitors more about Berlin’s history and the Old National Gallery houses a beautiful art collection. The Bode Museum has even more art, with a focus on Byzantine works, and the Pergamon Museum lets you travel back in time for a peek into ancient civilisations.

4. Walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Often referred to as the Holocaust Memorial, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a large site, made more sombre and thought-provoking by its fairly simple design. More than 2,500 large slabs of concrete are arranged across the area, and you can walk through the maze-like grid created by the slabs’ layout. Constructed to remember the horrific plight of the nation’s Jews, and Jews in other countries, this site is where you can pay your respects and reflect on a terrible piece of the world’s history.

5. Walk freely around Checkpoint Charlie

It was once one of the world’s most notorious border crossings but today, visitors can walk the streets around Checkpoint Charlie completely unimpeded. A stark reminder of the city’s divided past, the crossing has been reconstructed and people dressed as soldiers stand alert. Information boards tell you about the area’s past and there’s an informative museum too.

6. Visit the Berlin Wall Memorial

The Berlin Wall Memorial is a preserved part of the infamous Berlin Wall, complete with graffiti from across the ages. The concrete has been removed, or weathered away through time, in some parts, leaving rusting metal rods standing as an ominous reminder. A watchtower still remains, once used to ensure that people didn’t try to flee across the wall, and there’s a visitor centre and information about the wall. A small chapel remembers those who lost their lives as a result of the infamous wall.

7. Step back in time at the Mauermuseum

Another Berlin attraction that deals with the city’s divided past, a small section of the Berlin Wall stands outside, one side stark grey and the other side a contrast of colourful graffiti. The museum shows the tools that enterprising, and desperate, people used to escape from East Berlin. The building started life as a place to tell the stories of people who had made it across the wall. Support was given to escapees and the museum, near Checkpoint Charlie, kept records of escape plans.  

8. Admire striking art at the East Side Gallery

Image credit: Olivier Bruchez

Walk along the stretch of standing East Side Wall and admire the eye-catching and thought-provoking scenes that now decorate the concrete. Artists were commissioned from around the globe to paint scenes with political, social, historical, cultural, and environmental messages; the world’s biggest open-air gallery, the painted wall serves as a memorial and a celebration of freedom. It expresses hope for the future.

9. Tour the Olympic Stadium

Image credit: Ryan Roberts

Built for the Summer Olympic Games of 1937, Berlin’s Olympic Stadium is still used for sporting events today. There’s a large swimming pool, running track, football pitch, and other sporting facilities, though a highlight is travelling up the tower for sweeping views over the area. There’s also a collection of historic photos that take you through a journey of the nation’s sporting past.

10. Admire the beautiful Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral is a gorgeous place of worship. Admire the grand dome, elegant facades, and interesting statues from the outside before going inside to feast your eyes on the ornate interiors and climb up to the dome for incredible vistas. The crypt is the final resting place of royalty from the past.

11. Snap pictures of the stunning French Cathedral

Image credit: Joan

Occupying one side of the square of Gendarmenmarkt, the French Cathedral is another of Berlin’s architectural treasures. Carefully restored after suffering damage during WWII, it’s impressive both inside and out. You can climb to the inside of the dome for great views and soak up lots of religious art and symbolism.

12. Compare old and new at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Image credit: Joan

The original Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was badly damaged during the WWII bombings of the city. All that remains today is a ruined tower. There’s a memorial at the bottom of the tower. A modern church can be found next to the ruins, standing almost in defiance, showing that religious spirit cannot be broken.

13. Spot statues of Buddy Bear

The German coat of arms shows a bear, and the animal has long been an important symbol of the German capital. Friendly-looking bear statues now stand along the streets, showing a loveable character known as Buddy Bear. Placed around the city in the early 2000s, Buddy Bear is now a much-loved part of the local art scene. You can purchase a wide assortment of Buddy Bear merchandise too.

14. Photograph street art

Berlin is a haven for fans of street art. You’ll find art around many corners, with solitary paintings to add interest to buildings and entire blocks covered with interesting imagery. Pay attention to your surroundings and you’ll notice that even things like rubbish bins, electricity boxes, gates, shutters, and storage boxes have been beautified.

15. Step into the Railway Station

Berlin Station is a gleaming construction of metal and glass. As well as being an important transportation hub, and housing a number of eateries and retail establishments, there are several interesting statues, sculptures, and other artworks within and around the station.

16. Ponder the array of sculptures

There are many fascinating sculptures and statues around Berlin, some offering messages of freedom and hope, others that tell stories of the city’s past, and those that show scenes of local life. Some are classical, some are contemporary. There are those that act as memorials, and those that are celebrated for their aesthetic appeal. Examples include the gigantic Molecule Man in the Spree River, the red and blue Boxers, the life-size nude statues of Three Girls and a Boy, which sits next to the river, a large metal candle memorial to the city’s Jews with a large string-tied bundle that represents the possessions lost by the Jews, and the symbolic broken chain entitled Berlin. There’s a sculpture showing Hans Conrad Schumann mid-leap, showing his famous defection from East to West, an incredibly moving statue showing a mother cradling her dead son, and more.

17. Admire ornamental fountains

There are many striking fountains around Berlin, each one offering something completely different. Some of the most famous include the Neptune Fountain, the Stag Fountain, the Indian Fountain, the Bull Fountain, the Wall Fountain, and the Schiller Fountain.

18. Explore Berlin by boat

Two major rivers run through Berlin, the rivers Havel and Spree, and the city also has a number of canals. Many bridges cross the waterways, and there are diverse boat trips that cater to different interests. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the views unfold as you traverse the waterways on a historical journey, take a ride to the charming town of Köpenick, enjoy a dinner cruise, travel through the arty East Side, and more.

19. Discover Charlottenburg Palace

The largest palace in Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace was constructed in the 17th century. Unfortunately, the outside was being renovated when I visited, but it was still easy to imagine the splendour. It would be even more impressive without the scaffolding! The insides are beautiful and, as you would likely expect, ornately regal. Different styles and time periods are represented in the opulent rooms, with grand furnishings and elegant décor. Take time to explore the gardens too, where you’ll find several peaceful walking trails, nature-filled woodland, and a lovely lake.

20. Ride to the top of the Fernsehturm

Image credit: diamond geezer

The Fernsehturm, or TV Tower, is Germany’s tallest structure. Visitors can ride to the top in fast-moving lifts for incredible views over Berlin. There’s also a restaurant and a bar up the tower, as well as the observation platform.

With more than 150 museums, a wealth of art, many historical sites, a world-class zoo, various lovely parks, excellent shopping opportunities, cuisine from around the world, and a thriving night scene, a visit to Berlin is sure to be a memorable time.

About Author

Sarah W
Sarah W

Sarah W is a travelling cat-lover who enjoys exploring places that are a little bit quirky or away from headline attractions. Favourite things include delicious falafel, snuggling under a thick duvet, (badly) belting out karaoke at the top of her lungs, and, of course, her family, friends, and furry pets.

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