No capital city in the world feels quite like Berlin, and maybe that’s because none has had a century as eventful. Here’s a city that was the party capital of the world in the Golden Twenties and was then razed and cut in two. One half rebounded as an economic juggernaut while the other languished in oppression and a sea of concrete.
And when the two halves were reunited a quarter of a century ago Berlin got a new identity as a fun-loving, disarmingly scruffy, cool and socially-conscious hotbed of ideas. And if you need photo-friendly sights Berlin has them in spades and they’re all permeated with the drama of the last hundred years.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Berlin:
1. Brandenburg Gate
Where Unter den Linden intersects with Ebertstraße stands what may be Germany’s most recognisable sight.
For first-timers in Berlin the Brandenburg Gate is obligatory, and it’s charged with real emotion and meaning, as an ever-present landmark during the destruction of the Second World War and the Berlin Wall when it stood at the divide.
This ceremonial monument was erected at the turn of the 1790s at the behest of the Prussian King Frederick William II, on the site of one of Berlin’s former defensive gates.
At the top is the Quadriga, a chariot pulled by four horses, all supported by 12 Doric columns forming five passageways.
Recommended tour: Discover Berlin Walking Tour
Another landmark that sums up the drama of the 20th century in Berlin is the Reichstag, the meeting place of the German Parliament.
This Neo-Baroque building dates from 1894 and housed the Imperial Diet until it was damaged in that infamous and historic fire in 1933. The ruins were merely maintained until after the Berlin Wall fell.
And as soon as it came down a restoration project by Norman Foster began to resurrect the Reichstag as an emblem of a unified Germany.
The plan included a new glass dome in which you can look down on the debating chamber and take in Berlin’s cityscape, all while hooked up to an audio-guide.
Available activity: Berlin Reichstag: Rooftop Dinner at the Käfer Restaurant
After scurrying around the big-hitting sights and museums the Tiergarten could be a peaceful interlude.
It’s a large belt of thick foliage, coursed by the Landwehr Canal and spreading west from the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag.
Like so many European city parks the Tiergarten was once a hunting ground (for the Electors of Brandenburg) before being revamped in the 1830s by the Prussian architect Peter Joseph Lenné.
Schloss Bellevue, the residence for the President of Germany, is in the Tiergarten.
Beyond providing some respite from the city the Tiergarten is woven with monuments like the Bismarck memorial, and pretty spots like the Luiseninsel and rose garden.
4. Victory Column (Siegessäule)
Where the roads converge in the Tiergarten there’s another big photo opportunity.
The Victory Column was built in 1864 after the defeat of Denmark in the Danish-Prussian War.
But it would also come to represent a slew of other victories in that era, over Austria and then France in 1870-71. Following these successes an 8.3-metre sculpture of Victoria was added to the top of the column, weighing 35 tons.
The whole monument once stood in front of the Reichstag, but was moved in 1938-39 to its current spot at the centre of a roundabout as part of Hitler’s ambitious plan to remodel Berlin as “World Capital Germania”. For a small fee you can tridge the 285 steps of the spiral stairway to watch over the Tiergarten and Berlin 51 metres above the park.
5. Museum Island
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Museum Island on the Spree is an ensemble of five world-beating museums.
These are the Altes Museum, Alte National Galerie, Neues Museum, Bode-Museum and the Pergamon Museum.
This little district, and the wider notion of a museum as a venue for public edification, is a product of the Enlightenment and plans were set in motion in the early 19th century.
The museums were also an opportunity to show off the richness and sophistication of the Prussian royal collections and the fruits of its 19th-century victories.
The first institution to open was the Altes Museum in 1830, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel who drew up several Neoclassical monuments around Berlin in that period.
The last was the Pergamon Forum from 1930, while the Neues Museum from 1859 was reopened in 2009 having been wrecked in the war.
Tip: If you’re planning to visit a few museums have a look at the Museum Pass Berlin: 3-Day Entry to Over 30 Museums
6. Neues Museum
Created in 1855, destroyed in 1945 and now reborn, the Neues Museum had been left to rot for the entire post-War period.
Finally, after reunification plans were put in place its treasury of ancient artefacts was finally moved from the Altes Musuem back to its rightful home in 2009. There are galleries for Ancient Rome and Greece, but it’s the Egyptian displays that pull in the crowds and none more so than the bust of Queen Nefertiti.
The 3,350-year-old sculpture was discovered at Amarna in 1912 and has been beguiling people ever since.
Still, Nefertiti is only one of many exhibits, from hieroglyphics to sarcophagi and two preserved ancient courtyards, one Egyptian and one Greek.
Paintings by Europe’s greatest artists up to the 18th century are in store at the Gemäldegalerie, one of the world’s top fine art museums.
For the sake of introduction, we’re talking about Botticelli, Albrecht Dürer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Hans Holbein, Raphael, Vermeer, Botticelli and many more than we can list here.
This wealth of painting wasn’t amassed by a single family, but was curated by the Prussian Government from 1815 as a cross-section of European art.
You have 1,250 works of the highest quality to see, by master after master, so don’t be surprised if you lose all track of time under their spell.
8. Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer
Some of the most memorable images from the early days of the Berlin Wall were recorded at Bernauer Straße where there’s now a memorial to this famous boundary.
A 70-metre length of the wall has been preserved here, including the Todesstreifen (Death Strip) in between, and a watchtower beside the street.
This whole section is closed off as a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives trying to cross between 1961 and 1989. Across Bernauer Straße is the visitor centre, which chronicles the wall, from when it was first enforced to its eventual destruction.
There’s also a five-storey observation tower giving you a true sense of the divide.
9. Pergamon Museum
At the Pergamon Museum you’ll come face-to-face with epic ancient monuments from the Near East, brought in pieces to Berlin from the 1910s and reconstructed in these galleries.
The 2nd-Century Pergamon Altar is the piece that gives the museum its name, a stairway and portico on a pedestal adorned with a frieze in high relief portraying scenes from Greek mythology.
Some other wonders are the colourful Ishtar Gate, rebuilt with the material discovered in its excavation, the Roman Market Gate of Miletus, the Islamic art of the Umayyad Mshatta Facade from Jordan and, oldest of all, the Mesopotamian Meissner fragment from the Epic of Gilgamesh.
10. Deutsches Historisches Museum
In the Zeughaus, one of the many palatial buildings on Unter den Linden, the German Historical Museum reveals 2,000 years of German history.
For this there’s an enormous exhibition of 7,000 artefacts arranged in chronological order.
These jump from precious pieces, like the iconic painting of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the elder or Napoleon’s hat worn at the Battle of Waterloo, to things that give you a hint of everyday life.
So you can also cast your eye over Weimar election posters, penny farthing bikes from the 19th century, intact American supply drops from the Berlin Blockade and home appliances from the GDR.
11. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Not far from the Brandenburg Gate is the solemn and powerful memorial to the holocaust, designed by the New York architect Peter Eisenman.
Set on what used to be the “death strip of the Berlin Wall” are 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights, in a grid pattern on an undulating open space that lends the memorial a wavelike form.
The blocks are on 54 north-south rows, and 87 perpendicular east-west rows.
The memorial encourages you to interact and reflect, and there’s also an underground gallery ; a network of themed rooms offers background on Jewish victims of the holocaust, with biographies, letters and personal effects of some of the victims.
12. Unter den Linden
Berlin’s oldest and most stately boulevard runs east to west from the Musuem Island to the Brandenburg Gate.
The route is as old as Berlin, and the lime trees that give Unter den Linden its name were planted in 1647. But it was only in the 18th century, during the reign of Frederick the Great that the boulevard took on its current grandeur.
The big sights like the Zeughaus, State Opera and Humboldt University all arrived in this period.
The list of alumni at the university includes Einstein, Marx, Engels and Hegel.
Many of the historic landmarks on Unter den Linden were levelled or badly damaged in the war and would take until after Reunification to be rebuilt or restored.
Contained by Charlottenstraße and Markgrafenstraße is a square exuding Baroque opulence and plotted by the architect Johann Arnold Nering in the 17th century.
The showpieces are the French and German Churches, facing off at the northern and southern ends of the plaza.
They are both fronted by porticos and crowned with regal domes.
Between them is the newer and very imposing Konzerthaus, erected in 1821, in front of a statue of the writer Friedrich Schiller.
In December the square gets a sprinkle of fairy dust when the Christmas Market sets up, while the Classic Open Air is a programme of concerts in summer.
14. Topography of Terror
Like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, the Topography of Terror stands as another sobering message for future generations.
On Niederkirchnerstrasse is the former location of the Gestapo and SS, two names that are instantly connected to possibly the most infamous period in European history.
The headquarters for these institutions were bombed in the war and then pulled down afterwards, before being abandoned on the course of the wall, which still stands here.
There’s an open-air exhibition on the excavated ruins of the headquarters, recalling life in Berlin during the Third Reich, the story of the SS and Gestapo, their key figures and the deeds that were plotted at this place.
Raised next to Alexanderplatz in the late-1960s, the Fernsehturm (Television Tower) was intended as a highly visible symbol of communist power in East Berlin.
Still the second tallest structure in all of the European Union, it is as much landmark for Berlin as the Reichstag or the Brandenburg Gate.
The Fernsehturm is also the highest building in Europe open to the public, and provided you plan ahead, the 40-second ride to the viewing platform 200 metres high is something you can’t turn down.
From this height you can zoom in on the minutest details with a telescope, and there’s also a revolving restaurant, which requires a bit of pre-planning if you want a table.
Suggested activity: Skip-the-Line Berlin TV Tower with VIP Dinner
16. Jewish Museum Berlin
On Lindenstraße the museum tackling the weighty topic of Jewish history in Germany opened in 2001 in an acclaimed Deconstructivist building by Daniel Libeskind.
From above, the museum’s plan resembles a bolt of lightning and has been compared to a dismantled star of David.
Once you start negotiating its zigzagging corridors there are empty spaces, 20-metre-high voids that express interrupted history and the sense of loss of the holocaust.
The permanent exhibition lays out the story of the Jews in Germany, starting in the towns on the banks of the Rhine in medieval times.
The hope and prosperity of the Jewish Emancipation of the 18th and 19th centuries gives way to National Socialism and the horrors that followed.
An alternative axis leads you to the Garden of Exile, and another to the Holocaust Tower, a hollow 24-metre silo.
17. DDR Museum
Believe it or not, “Ostalgie”, or nostalgia for the German Democratic Republic, is a thing in the former East Germany.
The DDR Museum opened just across from the Berlin Cathedral in 2006 and is a complete repository for the German Democratic Republic, documenting the good, the bad and the downright kitsch.
Among many things you can check out the decor and furnishings inside a typical flat in an East German “plattenbau” concrete tower block and see what it was like to drive a Trabant.
Across 27 themed spaces there’s memorabilia from the Free German Youth (FDJ), recordings of East German music, a reproduction of a classroom, but also information about the notorious Stasi and their efforts to pry into the lives of thousands of citizens.
18. Berlin Cathedral
Not strictly a cathedral, as it has never been the seat for a bishop, this temple on Museum island is still Berlin’s most important Protestant church.
It’s the fourth church at this setting next to the Spree, in a line that goes back to 1451. The current cathedral is in the exuberant Historicist style and was finished in 1904. Berlin Cathedral sustained damage in the Second World War when the lantern in the dome was destroyed, but the building never collapsed and has become another allegory for Berlin.
Restoration began in the 1970s and took until 1993. Through the portal there’s a profusion of goldwork, mosaics, sculpture and a mosaic hewn from marble and onyx by the 19th-century architect Friedrich August Stüler.
Below, enter the Hohenzollern Crypt, the resting place for the House of Hohenzollern, which produced Prussian Kings and German Emperors.
The largest square in Germany and an energetic transport hub, Alexanderplatz is one of the most dynamic and exciting corners of Berlin.
This former parade ground became the city’s main shopping district at the start of the 20th century.
It was completely obliterated in the Second World War and owes its appearance to a GDR project during the 1960s.
In those days “Alex” was the scene of many public gatherings, including the peaceful protests against the wall in 1989. The rate of transformation since the wall came down has been dramatic, and following developments like the Alexa mall, Alexanderplatz is a major shopping and entertainment destination once again.
A lot of the GDR’s concrete architecture remains, most famously in the unforgettable silhouette of the Fernsehturm.
20. Checkpoint Charlie
The intersection of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße is the site of the legendary border crossing between East and West Berlin.
This very place was almost the scene of a catastrophe in 1961 when American and Soviet Tanks stood off against each other for six days at the end of October.
Later, in 1962, it witnessed the death of Peter Fechter, a teenager shot trying to cross from East to West.
The name comes from the phonetic alphabet (Charlie meaning C), as Checkpoint Charlie was the third such border crossing set up by the allies in the city.
Now the guardhouse and sandbags in the centre of the street are worth a photo as you pass by.
21. Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)
Also harking back to the days of the wall is a hall at Friedrichstraße Station, the only westbound border crossing by train, U-Bahn and S-Bahn link.
West Berliners making short visits to the east would return home from here, and the name Tränenpalast comes from the tearful goodbyes that would happen in front of the station.
The old terminal has an exhibition using firsthand accounts by people who made the journey between 1962 and 1990, describing the stringent security measures and customs checks.
There are hundreds of original artefacts to bring the reality home, while the original signs and instruction panels have been preserved and are still in place.
22. Treptower Park
A quick ride on the S-Bahn takes you to Treptower Park next to the Spree in the southeast of Berlin.
Summer is when the park is at its best as you can amble beside the river for four kilometres or catch a boat for a cruise on the Spree.
The park was landscaped in the English style in 1884 and spreads over 84 hectares, composed of abundant lawns, tree groves and a rose garden.
Right after the war an immense memorial and cemetery was built for the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin.
It was East Germany’s chief war memorial and is a large ensemble of sculptures, including a central area lined with 16 stone sarcophagi, one for each of the Soviet republics.
This leads up to a 12-metre statue of a Soviet soldier holding a German child and standing on a smashed swastika.
The original Kaiser Wilhelm Church was built in the 1890s and had a Neo-Romanesque style.
The church was part of the Kaiser’s nationwide construction project to ward off the growing labour movement, and was named after his grandfather.
It was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943, and after the war there was a big debate about whether it should be pulled down or rebuilt.
In the end the architect Egon Eiermann designed a stunning modern church next to the ruins.
This new building has walls inlaid with more than 20,000 blue stained glass panels and consecrated in 1961. The surviving, damaged tower of the old church remains as a memorial, holding an anti-war exhibition with a crucifix made from nails collected from Coventry Cathedral, bombed by the Nazis in 1940.
24. Olympic Stadium
Few sporting arenas have seen as much world-changing history as Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933 they identified the upcoming 1936 Olympics as a propaganda opportunity, and Werner March was called upon to design a monumental stadium that would turn heads.
The result was a technical masterpiece and would be the arena where Jesse Owens took four gold medals, undermining any notions of Aryan supremacy.
Since then an immense steel roof has been installed, weighing 3,500 tons and the capacity has been cut back from 100,000 to 74,475. Visit for a tour during the week, or try to catch the famous atmosphere of a Bundesliga match when Hertha BSC play their home matches in the ground between August and May.
25. Berlin Philharmonie
The Berlin Philharmoniker is often voted in the top two or three symphony orchestras in the world.
So for classical music fans a night at the Philharmoniker’s home venue might represent a lifetime ambition.
The concert hall, noted for its tent-like roof, opened on the south side of the Tiergarten in 1963. In those days it was in a wasteland created by the wall, but is now at the green soul of the city and a member of the Kulturforum ensemble of important cultural venues.
An odd piece of trivia is that guns were used to test the acoustics during construction in the early 60s.
You might have your eye on an upcoming performance, but if you’d just like a taster there’s a free concert of chamber music every Tuesday at 13:00 in the foyer.
26. Deutsches Technikmuseum
A technophile’s idea of heaven, the German Technology Museum is a trip through transport and industry down the years.
Kids will be wild about the fleet of heavy-duty vehicles like steam and diesel locomotives and a gigantic aviation hall holding a V-1 bomb, an Arado Ar 96, the wreckage of a Stuka divebomber and Lancaster, a Messerschmitt Bf 110 and a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor.
As for industrial processes, the museum doesn’t just tell you how things are made; it shows you with live demonstrations of paper production and typecasting for newspapers for instance.
Kids can also get involved at the Science Centre, where wacky experiments will deepen their understanding of concepts like electricity, light and magnetism.
27. Charlottenburg Palace
The summer home of the imperial Hollenzollern family is an easy journey west on the S-Bahn, and is the largest and most refined palace in the city.
Berlin’s answer to Versailles was first built in 1695, and then expanded according to the taste of its owners over the next century or so.
And like Versailles, Charlottenburg could easily consume a day, as there’s so much to see at the palace and its various outbuildings, many hosting museums.
The baroque Old Palace has a magnificent porcelain cabinet, sumptuous tableware, the crown jewels and royal silver collection.
The Rococo New Wing has the state apartments of Frederick the Great, while the Hohenzollern mausoleum is where members of that prestigious family are buried.
The delightful Belvedere outside has a display of Berlin porcelain, while the old palace theatre has a museum for prehistory.
28. Kaufhaus des Westens
Shortened to KaDeWe, Kaufhaus des Westens is a department store without rival.
This eight-storey monster is the most famous shopping destination in Germany and the second largest department store in Europe.
If you’ve got money to burn the first three floors are all about high-end women’s and men’s fashion, and if you think you’ve seen it all before, the dazzling “Luxury Boulevard” on the ground floor is like a mini 5th Avenue.
But for the rest of us the show-stopper is the immense “Delicatessen” food hall on the 6th floor where scores of confectioners and bakers work their magic, and almost any specialty food under the sun is available.
Then above is the winter garden, setting the scene for KaDeWe’s 1,000-seat self-service restaurant.
29. Museum für Naturkunde
You can say hello to the world’s largest mounted dinosaur skeleton at the central hall of Berlin’s natural history museum.
Standing at 13.27 metres this beast, a sauropod, would have weighed 55 tons when it was alive.
Nearly all the material is from one animal, discovered in Tanzania in the early 20th century.
Tristan the T-Rex, and the groundbreaking archaeopteryx fossil (the missing link between reptiles and birds), are the other main events.
But there’s a lot more keep you rapt in the museum’s galleries: Take the 4,500 mineral specimens in the Hall of Minerals, a taxidermy of a dodo, and an exhibition illustrating the theory of evolution with perfect clarity.
30. Mauerpark Market
Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg is the setting for a shopping trip to remember.
The market is at its best in summer, when you can compare it to a small music festival.
In among the stalls are musicians playing gigs for little crowds, as and street food vendors selling international fare.
The stallholders themselves are mostly everyday people trying to sell stuff they no longer need.
But there are also professionals flogging antiques and collectibles like Soviet paraphernalia, and artisans selling handicrafts, clothing and art.
At 15:00 all attention turns to the amphitheatre where there’s a mass karaoke session in which anyone can take part, as long as they don’t mind singing in front of hundreds of people!
31. Alte Nationalgalerie
When the wealthy banker and art patron Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener passed away in 1861 he bequeathed his bountiful collection of 262 paintings to Prussia.
That collection would be the basis for the Nationalgalerie, and work began on a venue within two years.
Friedrich August Stüler’s came up with a stately Neoclassical temple that has a few Eclecticist flourishes thrown in.
As for the contents, the museum deals only with the 19th century.
We’re talking about the Romantic art of Caspar David Friedrich and his contemporaries, moving through Impressionism and paintings by Renoir and Monet, into the early roots of Modernism via Max Liebermann and Adolph von Menzel.
32. Konzerthaus Berlin
The grand concert hall on Gendarmenmarkt was actually a theatre for most of its history.
As the Königliches Schauspielhaus, and then the Preußisches Staatstheater, the most illustrious actors of the 19th century trod its boards.
It functioned in this capacity up to the Second World War when it was bombed out.
The ruins were left untouched until the building was revived as a concert hall and the venue for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra (Now the Konzerthausorchester Berlin). Check the season in advance and buy, beg, borrow or steal to get a seat, as the acoustics in the Konzerthaus are rated in the top five in the world.
33. Berlin Zoo
No animal attraction in Europe gets more visitors than the Berlin Zoo, which is enveloped in woodland on the southwestern corner of the Tiergarten.
At just over 1,5000 the array of different species is the largest on the planet, and the zoo toes the line between ethical animal treatment and crowd-pleasing exhibits.
All the big cats are present, along with chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos and gorillas: As of 2017 Fatou here is the oldest gorilla in the world at 60 years olc.
Though space is at a premium near the centre of the city, the inhabitants are kept in humane enclosures that resemble they’re natural environments.
The zoo engages in breeding programmes for rhinos, gaurs and various rare deer and pig species, while a pair of giant pandas arrived in 2017 on a breeding loan and are presented in a large glass habitat.
34. Potsdamer Platz
On the southeast corner of Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz was an empty no-man’s-land divided by the wall from the end of the war to the 1990s.
That was all a far cry from the Golden Twenties when the square had been the bustling centre of the city, an equivalent to Times Square for its transport connections, shopping, entertainment and nightlife.
After the wall came down developers were presented with a blank canvas to re-imagine a unified Berlin as a modern, forward-thinking capital.
Only a quarter of a century later Potsdamer Platz is a futuristic business district in the mould of La Défense or Canary Wharf.
Daimler’s Haus-Huth here was the only facade to survive the devastation of the war, and behind it lies a free museum for modern and contemporary art delving into movements from Bauhaus to Minimalism.
35. Sony Center
Maybe the showpiece for the new Potsdamer Platz is this building complex that went up during the 1990, designed by Helmut Jahn and Peter Walker.
The centre is a kind of plaza, encircled by arresting glass towers and sheltered by a tent-like canopy, which creates a real sense of spectacle.
Around it are shops, hotels, museums, cinemas, an IMAX theatre, restaurants and offices.
There’s free Wi-Fi on the plaza and sure to appeal to kids is the branch of the Legoland Discovery Centre, an indoor theme park based on the much-loved building toy.
36. East Side Gallery
Warschauer Straße station is the spot to start a walk beside the longest preserved stretch of the Berlin Wall.
Every patch has been adorned with art, turning this into the world’s longest outdoor gallery.
Some of the murals have gone down in history and are indelible, while others are constantly being replaced and updated.
Most of the work is bold, colourful and thought-provoking.
The lasting image depicts GDR leader Erich Honecker and General Secretary of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev locked in a kiss.
Painted by Dimitri Vrubel in 1990, it was restored by the artist in 2009 as part of an ongoing fight to preserve the most famous images in the face of erosion and tagging.
37. Museum of Film and Television
The Deutsche Kinemathek is Germany’s film and television archive, which unveiled its museum in 2006. If you’re enchanted by Weimar-era silent movies like Nosferatu and Metropolis, trailblazers in the horror and sci-fi genres, you owe it to yourself to come for the inside story at the museum.
There are vintage posters, costumes, scene sketches, photos and original props.
One of the biggest stars of the era, Marlene Dietrich has a special place in the exhibition, and there are artefacts from her breakthrough, The Blue Angel and a collection of her personal belongings.
The highlight of the television exhibition is the archive footage of momentous 20th-century events like the fall of the Berlin Wall or Germany winning the World Cup in 1954.
38. Prenzlauer Berg
Somewhere to try and grasp the dizzying speed of change in Berlin since Reunification, Prenzlauer Berg is a former East German neighbourhood.
As a residential area it escaped a lot of the wartime destruction that levelled the rest of the city.
So the dominating five-storey Neoclassical apartment blocks survived, falling into dilapidation on the socialist side of the border.
When the wall came down these blocks and their courtyards were taken over by squatters, whose radical ideals and rough edges have been gradually smoothed out over the last quarter of a century.
Still young, it’s a neighbourhood of leafy streets, artsy boutiques, hookah bars and trendy restaurant concepts.
39. Botanischer Garten
Planted with over 22,000 plant species, Berlin’s 43-hectare botanical garden is heaven on earth for horticulturalists, gardeners and anyone who needs to recharge their batteries.
The garden is in the residential area of Dahlem, having moved from the centre of the city between 1897 and 1910. At this time the largest of the park’s 15 greenhouses, the Große Tropenhaus (Great Tropical House) was raised in a graceful Art Nouveau style.
Its humid interior is 30°C all year, and supports a giant bamboo.
Outside you can get lost in a 14-hectare arboretum, which has the absurdly romantic “Arbour of Roses” at its heart.
And real scholars can immerse themselves in the Botanical Museum, teeming with plant trivia and exhibits like the Prussian royal specimen collection.
40. Stasi Museum
Berlin confronts another difficult period from its past at the former headquarters of the State Security Service for the GDR. At Haus 1 of the Ministry for State of Security, the museum is in a suitably oppressive-looking complex in Lichtenberg, some way east of the centre.
The full scope of the surveillance conducted by the Stasi on the GDR’s citizens and its efforts to infiltrate the west are laid bare.
Anyone who’s into espionage will get a kick out of the miniature cameras, bugs and concealable weapons, and there are explanations of the Stasi’s structure and recruitment methods.
Go upstairs and things get really interesting, as everything has been left exactly as it was in 1989. Desks, chairs, filing cabinets and safes are all in place, and you can step into the office of its head, Erich Mielke, the man known as “The Master of Fear”.
41. Bode Museum
The last of our Museum Island attractions is on the northern tip, and was named for its curator when it first opened in a Neo-Renaissance palace 1904. The focus is on classical sculpture, Byzantine art, Renaissance painting, liturgical art and a massive numismatic collection.
The Italian Renaissance halls are maybe the most accessible for first-timers, and are bursting with frescoes, glazed terracotta and sculptures by artists like Donatello.
Equally spellbinding is the Byzantine art from the 3rd to the 15th centuries made up of carvings, mosaics and painted icons from Greece, the Balkans, Italy, Turkey and Russia.
And as for that coin collection, only 4,000 pieces of the 500,000-strong reserve can be shown.
This was first assembled by the Brandenburg Electors in the 16th century.
Shooting west from the Gedächtniskirche is Berlin’s glitzy and upscale shopping avenue in the Parisian tradition, drawn up at the behest of Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s.
Framing four rows of plane trees are luxury emporia and flagship stores for international mid-market brands like Urban Outfitters and C&A. Next to the Gedächtniskirche is the Europa-Center, Berlin’s oldest shopping mall, beneath a rectangular 1960s skyscraper which is now a protected building.
In the Golden Twenties Kurfürstendamm was Berlin’s hottest entertainment district, and “Theater und die Komödie am Kurfürstendamm” are throwbacks to that era.
Café Kranzler harks back to before the war when it was known as Café des Westens and the haunt of bohemian Berlin’s intellectuals and writers.
43. Hackesche Höfe
Opening onto Hackescher Markt is a chain of eight connected Art Nouveau courtyards, conceived at the turn of the 20th century by the architect August Endel.
Between Rosenthaler Straße and Sophienstraße are bars, clubs, theatres, shops and a cinema, all on courtyards organised according to their occupants: So to explain, a lot of the entertainment is on Courtyard I and II, which stay open at all hours, while the quieter businesses and residential courtyards further back are closed off at night.
After the war Hackesche Höfe was neglected on the GDR side, though its heritage listing meant it couldn’t be torn down.
The courtyards and their beautiful Jugendstil motifs were restored in the 1990s and have become a dynamic testament to a unified Berlin.
44. Museum Berggruen
In 1996 the Jewish native Berliner Heinz Berggruen sold his astounding modern art collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation for a nominal sum.
This was a gesture of reconciliation after being forced to flee Berlin in 1933. He left at the age of 18 and became a prominent art patron in the intervening years, making friends with Pablo Picasso and having an affair with Frida Kahlo.
Picasso and Paul Klee are the two stars of his collection, represented by more than 200 pieces.
They are joined by celebrated artists like Seurat, van Gogh, Braque, Cézanne and Matisse Giacometti, whose monumental “Large Standing Woman III” greets you at the entrance.
Bounded to the east by the Spree, Kreuberg is a neighbourhood that was a little desolate in the 20th century as it was surrounded on three sides by the wall.
The low cost of living appealed to an eclectic mix of immigrants, squatters, anarchist communes, artists and musicians, and Kreuzberg became the centre of Berlin’s counterculture and gay scenes.
With the arrival of start-ups, gentrification has crept in over the last few years, but Kreuzberg still has that communal, creative spirit at shared gardens, cultural centres an markets.
There’s a multicultural mix of restaurants, shops you can’t find anywhere else and countless places to catch live music.
A little more polished, Friedrichshain to the east is packed with museums, and officially has the highest density of nightclubs in Berlin.
Recommended tour: 2.5-Hour Walking Tour through Kreuzberg 61
46. Landwehr Canal
Dug in the 1840s, the Landwehr Canal created a navigable route between Friedrichshain in the east and Charlottenburg in the west.
The canal cuts right through Kreuzberg, and its embankments are calm, green and walkable.
Along the Maybachufer on the south side of the canal there’s a Turkish market on Tuesday and Friday afternoons, which feels like a bazaar and has a cornucopia of Turkish produce and goodies.
Facing Maybuchufer from the north side is Paul-Lincke-Ufer, traced with canal-side cafes and bars, while Fraenkelufer has the vestiges of a synagogue, demolished by the Nazis and with one wing still intact.
47. Brücke Museum
Connoisseurs of Expressionism won’t mind going the extra mile to Dahlem by the Grunewald where there’s a fabulous museum for Die Brücke.
This group of Expressionists was formed in Dresden in 1905 and among its members were some of the most exciting painters of the period, like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde.
The museum opened in 1967 and was endowed with the private collections belonging to two of its members, Karl Schmidt-Rottluf and Erich Heckel.
The total reserve of 400 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings is shown in temporary exhibitions that home in on a specific theme or individual painter.
Within walking distance of the Olympic Stadium is the northern cusp of Berlin’s largest green area, sprawling across 3,000 hectares.
Berlin’s streets will seem far away once you’re on a peaceful trail in deep birch and coniferous forest.
And you can thank Berlin’s early-20th-century environmental movement for helping to protect the Grunewald from the city, which was expanding west at the time.
Pack a picnic in summer, as well as your bathing suit on the hottest days as swimming is permitted at Wannsee and Schlachtensee.
There are many more smaller lakes in the forest, like Grunewaldsee, which has the Renaissance Jagdchloss Grunewald on its shore, the oldest palace in Berlin.
It’s one of a host of historic residences either ensconced in the woodland or on its fringes.
In the northernmost expanse of Grunewald is the extraordinary Teufelsberg, a man-made hill cresting at 120 metres.
When Berlin’s streets were cleared at the end of the war, rubble from some 400,000 bomb-hit buildings was deposited in the forest.
The hill was started in 1950 and the last load of debris was dropped in 1972. That was all dropped on top of an incomplete Nazi military-technical academy, designed by Albert Speer.
Like a lot of Nazi concrete constructions the academy proved too difficult to demolish with explosives so was buried.
In the 1960s an American listening station was built on top, and urban explorers will love pottering around this abandoned site if they don’t mind paying a €8 fee at the gate.
50. Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz
In 1914 the pharmaceutical magnate Ernst Marmlier built himself a luxurious Neoclassical villa on the shore of Wannsee, to the southwest of Berlin.
Not long after this would come into the hands of Nazi-sympathiser Friedrich Minoux, who sold it to the SS during the Second World War.
And that’s how it was involved in one of the grimmest chapters in world history.
The Wannsee Conference in 1942 is where the plan was drawn up for the “Final Solution”. The museum at the villa has documents from the conference and multimedia outlining how the genocide of millions of Jews came about.
The exhibition goes into depth on deportation, concentration camps and life in the ghettos before the Final Solution was put into action.
Also on the lake, next door to the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz is the summer residence for the eminent German Impressionist, Max Liebermann.
Lovers of his work will be captivated by the garden, which shows up in around 200 of Liebermann’s paintings and has been restored to Max’s early 20th-century designs.
A terrace faces Wannsee, and this is framed by a lovely birch grove on one side and gardens with boxwood hedges on the other.
The artist’s studio holds a poignant exhibition about the Liebermann family’s persecution under by the Nazis, while the top floor has around 40 of Max’s later works and portraits of friends and important figures from the time.
52. Spandau Citadel
Billed as one of the best-preserved Renaissance fortresses in Europe, the Spandau Citadel also contains the oldest surviving building in Berlin.
Julius Tower is the symbol for the citadel, 35 metres high and a remnant from a medieval castle predating the Renaissance fortress by about 300 years.
The four-bastioned stronghold took shape around the tower in the second half of the 16th century, and was besieged by the Swedes in 1674 and taken by Napoleon’s troops in 1806. As you go in, you’ll see how gravestones from a medieval Jewish cemetery were reused in the citadel’s walls, and the Commander’s House chronicles the fortress’ eventful history.
In winter the vaulted cellars are a haven for hundreds of flying fox bats, and there are bat-themed tours for closer look of these harmless creatures.
53. Domäne Dahlem
A trip on the bus or the U3, Domäne Dahlem is a manor house and rural museum on the southwestern fringe of the city.
The oldest architecture in the manor goes back to the 1560s, while the land on its grounds has been farmed for more than 800 years.
Naturally Domäne Dahlem is just the setting for a museum about traditional agriculture and nutrition, dealing with its topics in a smart, creative way.
In the stables is the Culinarium, in which three floors of interactive exhibits and multimedia explain the history of nutrition in Europe, and where our food comes from today.
In the manor house there’s a recreation of a shop from the Renaissance, where a hologram merchant will assist you, and in the grounds is a real blacksmith’s forge and furniture workshop.
54. Schloss Köpenick
On an island in the Dahme River, just before it feeds the Spree, sits the only Baroque palace in Berlin to make it to the 21st century unchanged.
Another residence for the Hohenzollerns, Schloss Köpenick is often referred to as the Water Palace (Wasserschloss) for its picturesque waterside setting, and took on its current form under after a reconstruction ordered by the future Frederick I in the 17th century.
He turned a Renaissance hunting lodge into a plush Baroque residence, adorned with exuberant stuccowork by the Italian decorator Giovanni Caroveri.
Within there’s an exhibition by Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemusuem showcasing applied art from the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods.
55. Käthe Kollwitz Museum
You can pick up the Käthe Kollwitz thread once more at this museum dedicated to the female painter and sculptor.
In a Historicist villa on Fasanenstraße are some 200 woodcuts, paintings, sculptures, graphics and posters.
A member of the Expressionist and then New Objectify movements, Kollwitz spent a lot of her career in Prenzlauer Berg, which was a working class district at the time, and her art gave a voice to the downtrodden during industrialisation.
That empathy shines through in prints like “Brot!”, and the anti-war woodcut cycle “Krieg”. On the top floor, in a gallery drenched with natural light is a well-known two-metre sculpture of Kollwitz by Gustav Seitz.
56. Neue Wache
A good follow-up for the Kollwitz Museum is the Neoclassical temple on Unter den Linden.
The architect behind this monument was Karl Friedrich Schinkel who designed it in the 1810s as a memorial to the fallen soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars and specifically the German Campaign of 1813. The building was also employed as a guardhouse for the troops of the Crown Prince, up to the end of the First World War and the start of the Weimar Republic.
Since 1993 this solemn space has been dedicated to “Victims of War and Dictatorship”. Kollwitz’s sculpture Mother with her Dead Son is the centrepiece under the oculus where it is exposed to the elements to signify the civilian suffering during the Second World War.
You can recapture the spirit of the 1920s at a cabaret show in Berlin.
And while there’s no lack of options the Freidrichstadt-Palast (1919) deserves special mention for the incredible dimensions of the theatre and the lavish revues it puts on.
The stage floor of 2,854 square metres is claimed to be the largest theatre stage in the world.
And if the venue is palatial, the shows are an explosion of glitz and glamour.
The casts are huge, and the costume design, acrobatics and choreography are from a less restrained Las Vegas.
In 2017 the marquee event was Jean Paul Gaultier’s “The One Grand Show”, boasting 500 costumes, more than 100 performers and a multi-million Euro budget.
58. Bauhaus Archive/Museum of Design
The impact of the Bauhaus School (1919-1933) on architecture and design is impossible to overstate, and at the Bauhaus Archive you’ll be treated to the largest assortment of works from the movement.
The venue is from the 1960s and its futuristic appearance and serrated lines have made it a shooting location for movies like Æon Flux and V for Vendetta.
The exhibition meanwhile uncovers the origins of the Bauhaus movement and its key figures, and has models by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius.
There’s also art from the period by László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee , Kandinsky, Lionel Feininger, along with a complete library for the movement, furniture by Gunta Stölzl, Marcel Breuer and Josef Pohl, sketches, schematics and photography.
59. Hamburger Bahnhof
In 1996 the old terminal for the Berlin-Hamburg Railway reopened as a contemporary art museum.
The distinguished Neo-Renaissance hall became obsolete early on, when trains were re-routed to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof in 1884. After that it served as a museum of transport, which closed following damage in the war.
A donation of contemporary art by Berlin businessman Erich Marx set things in motion again, and there are noteworthy works by Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys.
Video art, particularly from the 1970s is prominent, along with contemporary photography by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Bernd and Hilla Becher.
60. Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island)
Pfaueninsel on the Havel River is part of a World Heritage Site that encompasses Potsdam and Berlin’s stately properties.
Excavations on the island have brought up evidence of occupation from the Iron Age, and in the 1600s it was the site of a royal-approved glassworks founded by the man of science Johannes Kunckel.
But what we see today is straight from the Romantic period at the end of the 18th century when Friedrich Wilhelm II commissioned a summer residence intended to resemble the ruins of a Romanesque castle.
The gardens are in the English style, which was in fashion at the time, and are littered with follies and grottoes, as well as an aviary.
The most famous inhabitants though are the many free-ranging peacocks that give the island its name.
Get there by S-Bahn and on a ferry, which is part of the fun.
61. Strandbad Wannsee
In Berlin’s westernmost borough of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Wannsee is a neighbourhood beside two lakes on the River Havel.
By Großer Wannsee on the southern limit of Grunewald is the Strandbad Wannsee, affectionately known as Berlin’s “bath tub”. On sunny summer days you can join the herd on the S1 or S7 and wallow in the clean, mostly shallow water and lounge in the sun on the beach.
At more than a kilometre long the lido has been accommodating bathers since 1907. The beach is traced by a promenade and there are sports facilities, boat rentals, playgrounds for little ones and a selection of bars, cafes and kiosks.
Tour starting here: 2-Hour Seven Lakes Tour from Berlin’s Wannsee
62. Tempelhofer Feld
Many of Berlin’s cherished landmarks and public spaces are still here because residents came together to stop developers getting hold of them.
And that is exactly what happened at the city’s former Tempelhof Airport after it was decommissioned in 2008. The airport is now a public park only a few minutes south of Kreuzberg: A generous flat space criss-crossed by former runways and taxiways that are a dream to cycle and skate on, and still commanded by a listed terminal building.
Tempelhof was where the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 was coordinated, and was the last of Europe’s great pre-war city airports to cease operation as a passenger hub.
63. Story of Berlin
On a jaunt down the swanky Kurfürstendamm you can brush up on the history of Germany’s capital.
Across 23 rooms you’ll be led on a journey through eight centuries, from the first recorded mention of Berlin to German Reunification in 1990. All the facts are relayed via multimedia displays, and if you’re with kids the museum’s short bursts of information and interactivity are ideal for young attention spans.
There are also some fascinating artefacts, like a genuine nuclear bunker from the Cold War, the GDR leader Erich Honecker’s Volvo limousine and pieces of the Berlin Wall.
64. Berliner Funkturm
You don’t need to be an architecture expert to know where the idea for Berlin’s 150-metre-high radio tower came from.
Its designer Heinrich Straumer clearly based his steel framework construction on the Eiffel Tower, and the Berliner Funkturm was inaugurated during the Great German Radio Exhibition in 1926. Not long after, during the 7th edition of the exhibition, Albert Einstein himself gave a speech from the base of the Funkturm.
The tower later made history in 1936 when it transmitted the world’s first regular television programme.
The observation platform is at 124 metres and has a view to rival the Fensehturm, precisely because the Fernsehturm is part of the panorama!
65. Markthalle Neun
This Baltard-style market hall in Kreuzberg first opened in 1891, getting its name from being the ninth of fourteen halls around Berlin.
After the war residents fought off developers for years to preserve this much-loved landmark.
In the end Markthalle Neun was sold to a trio of entrepreneurs who reopened it as a food market in 2011. The venue hosts delectable culinary extravaganzas throughout the year like a wine fair, a cheese festival and a wurst and beer event.
There are stalls selling produce and speciality foods on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and the rest of the week you can come for one-off establishments like an Italian bakery, craft beer microbrewery, an artisanal pasta maker and traditional butcher’s shop.
The third Sunday of the month brings a breakfast market, while Thursday nights are all about street food.
Included in this tour: 2.5–Hour Culinary Tour with East Side Gallery
66. Natur-Park Südgelände
After Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof shut down in 1952 its buildings and infrastructure dating back to the 19th century were left to rust and be reclaimed by nature.
The site slowly turned into an unofficial park, before it was properly landscaped in the 1990s.
What’s special about this place is how old industrial structures like a 50-metre water tower, a cavernous locomotive shed, tracks, bridges, a turntable and a DRB Class 50 engine mingle with the woodland and meadows.
The shed is used for markets, avant-garde performance art, and as an atmospheric shooting location for movies.
67. Marx-Engels Forum
A relic from a very different time, the pair of statues depicting Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels stand in the shadow of the Fernsehturm on the right bank of the Spree.
The statues were cast in 1986, not long before the wall came down, and after Reunification there was much discussion about whether to remove them or keep them as a reminder of the past.
Eventually they remained, which makes sense as these two 19th-century figures loomed large over life in Berlin until 1989. The park around it used to be a quarter of the Old Town before it was flattened in the war and it would be three decades before the ruins were cleared and a green space laid out.
The last of our run-down of Berlin’s postcard-worthy landmarks crosses the Spree between Kreuzberg and Frierichshain.
When Berlin was divided, the border between the former American Zone and East Berlin hugged the right bank of the Spree.
Oberbaumbrücke became an armed checkpoint, only allowing crossings in one direction from West to East.
And when the wall fell in 1989 some of the most memorable images were taken at this location.
Since then road and U-Bahn traffic has resumed, and the bridge has been restored to its 19th-century Gothic Revival appearance.
Movie buffs may also know Oberbaumbrücke from Run Lola Run and the Bourne Supremacy.
On the topic of films, if you’ve seen any movies about Berlin you’ll know that there’s always a scene at an Imbiss.
These are temporary snack bars set up on street corners or parks and cooking up comfort food.
In 1949 a German icon was born at an Imbiss on Charlottenburg, when Herta Heuwer poured a mixture of ketchup and curry powder over bratwurst to create the currywurst.
The sausage normally comes chopped up in the sauce and served with a side of French fries, and something like 70 million currywursts are enjoyed every year in Berlin alone.
The exact spot where Herta is said to have made her first currywurst is now marked with a plaque.
70. Street Food auf Achse
The courtyard in Prenzlauerberg’s evocative KulturBrauerei is the scene of a new culinary institution that arrived in Berlin in January 2015. Every other Sunday this space is filled with a cosmopolitan variety of food trucks, fitting for a city as multicultural as Berlin.
There’s food on the go from almost anywhere you can imagine, within reason: We’re talking local faves like currywurst, as well as Vietnamese, Thai, South Korean, Tex-Mex, Polish, Brazilian and almost anything in between.
The trucks show up in every season, rain or shine, but the experience is maybe most satisfying in summer when you can nibble at your own pace at the Frannz Club Biergarten, which has a laid-back atmosphere.
Related activity: Berlin: Evening Food Tour by Bike
71. Gardens of the World
In the eastern Marzahn-Hallersdorg district is a celebration of landscaping and horticulture from all over the globe.
There are gardens from Japan, China, the Middle East, Bali and Italy, faithfully designed, and tended with love and no little skill.
In 2017 a new English garden opened in time for the Internationale Gartenasstellung (International Garden Exhibition). Also installed for 2017 is the IGA Cable Car, which crosses the attraction and connects with the Kienberg U-Bahn station.
The individual gardens have been planted one by one since the Chinese Garden in 2000. There are seasonal events here, like the cherry blossom festival in April and the Chinese moon festival towards the end of summer.
72. Classic Remise
A U-Bahn ride west of the centre will bring you to a 1920s tram depot on Wiebestraße in Moabit.
This industrial building came through the war relatively unscathed and in 2003 became an amenity for storing classic cars.
Even though this facility isn’t actually a museum you’ll come close to a bewildering array of privately-owned Ferraris, Bugattis, Rolls Royces, Mercedes, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Porsches and many more prestige marques.
These are stored in two-tired, metal-framed glass containers, which regulate temperature and humidity.
Car connoisseurs can also tour the mechanic’s workshop to see these vehicles being serviced and restored.
73. Sanssouci Palace
A day out in Potsdam has to be on the cards, and you can reach this city in under half an hour by commuter train.
The first reason to make the journey is to see Frederick the Great’s UNESCO-listed summer escape, a Rococo palace embedded on a vine-decked hillside atop a terraced stairway . The king would get away from it all at Sanssouci, as the name “sans souci” (carefree) makes clear.
The palace is beautifully formed, but isn’t lavish in scale, which tallies with Frederick’s reputation as a self-effacing sort of person.
There are ten rooms on the tour and a uniting feature is the exuberant stuccowork by the sculptor Friedrich Christian Glume.
See the Voltaire Room, where the French philosopher would stay in the mid-1700s, and the Carrara marble columns in the main reception room, the Marmorsaal (Marble Hall).
Recommended tour: Potsdam: Sanssouci Palace Guided Tour from Berlin
74. Sanssouci Park
One explanation for the relatively modest size of the palace is that the king wanted to make the most of the outdoor space.
That vineyard in front of the palace was planted with vines from France, Italy and Portugal under Frederick’s orders, and beneath this is a Baroque parterre, modelled on Versailles and sprinkled with conical boxwood topiaries and marble statues of mythological figures.
After that you have the enormous expanse of the park to cover, and its fountains, ponds and groves of lofty mature trees.
All over the park are delightful follies of temples and miniature Rococo palaces, which were often used as accommodation to make up for the shortage of guestrooms in the palace itself.
75. Sightseeing by Bike
Germany’s public transport company Deutsche Bahn operates a bike-sharing system in Berlin.
You have to register in advance, but after that you’ll be free to hire a bike and pay by the minute or by the day.
There are also a few private bike rental companies in the city, including Rent a Bike on Grunerstraße.
There’s no reason to feel daunted about cycling in Berlin as the city has almost 1,000 klilometres of designated bike paths, as well as lanes on pavements and on the roads (you can track down plenty of maps online). There’s a deep-seated cycling culture too, and it’s safe enough that people don’t generally wear helmets.
For inspiration on two wheels, you can zip around the sights at Tiergarten and Potsdamer Platz if time is of the essence, or coast around trendy Kreuzberg’s cafes and galleries.