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Visiting Berlin for the First Time? Here’s What To See and Do

From Cold War monuments and world-class museums to beer gardens and street food, here’s how to make the most of your first trip to Berlin.

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Hi, I'm Zoë!

Zoë Smith is a British travel writer, editor, and digital content creator who has lived, worked, and traveled over six continents, and is currently based near Nantes, France. She has written for Rough Guides, CNN, and Culture Trip, and is digital editor at FrenchEntrée.

Berlin is a city of many faces. Travelers can explore its somber war history, broad collection of cultural attractions, bold culinary scene, and electric nightlife. But as one of the largest cities in Western Europe, there’s so much to see and do that Berlin can feel overwhelming for first-time visitors. You’ll need a solid action plan if you want to cram it all into a short trip—these recommendations will get you started.

1. Discover Berlin’s WWII and Cold War monuments

Soviet War Memorial in treptow park, berlin, germany
Berlin's Soviet War Memorial is located in Treptow Park.Foto: Matthew Figg / Shutterstock

Gain historical insight on a guided tour.

Reborn from the ashes of World War II and the Cold War, modern-day Berlin is scattered with monuments and memorials, nods to its dark past. Taking a walking tour or bike tour with a guide provides historical context as you explore the city’s most memorable landmarks. Learn more about Berlin’s troubled past as you visit Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial), creating your own itinerary on a hop-on, hop-off tour

2. Get your culture fix at Museum Island

pergamon museum, museum island, berlin, germany
There are five museums on Berlin's Museum Island, including Pergamon (pictured).Foto: Juan Carlos Oller / Shutterstock

Discover Berlin’s top museums.

With nearly 200 museums in the city covering everything from WWII history to video games, Berlin is a paradise for curious minds. The Jewish Museum and DDR Museum are popular choices, while UNESCO–listed Museum Island is the destination of choice for art and history buffs.

For the best value, a Museum Island Card provides access to the island’s five museums—Pergamon, Bode, Altes, Neues, and Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie)—along with public transport, or there’s free admission on the first Sunday of the month.

Related: A Non-Drinker’s Guide to Berlin

3. Admire views of Berlin’s skyline

skyline of berlin, germany
The Berlin TV Tower is one of the most notable structures in town.Foto: immodium / Shutterstock

Enjoy iconic views from landmark lookouts.

Like most great cities, Berlin’s skyline is even more dazzling when admired from above. Ride the high-speed elevator to the top of the Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm), Berlin’s tallest building, or take a ride on the Welt-Ballon, which affords views over the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, and Tiergarten Park.

Alternatively, take a guided tour of the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building, and climb the spiral walkway of its glass dome, enjoying an ever-changing panoramic view along the way.

4. Taste Berlin’s culinary melting pot

vendors cooking street food in berlin, germany
The culinary scene in Berlin ranges from fine dining to street food, serving dishes from countries around the world.Foto: astudio / Shutterstock

Dine like a local on a food-tasting tour.

Whether you’re chowing down on Mexican tacos and Chinese dumplings at a food hall, tucking into Bavarian specialties at a beer garden, or picking up sweet treats from an artisanal bakery, dining in Berlin is as diverse and delicious as you can imagine. From humble currywurst to world-famous doner kebab, street food is king in Berlin. A food-tasting walking tour is the ideal way to taste your way through the city’s neighborhoods.

5. Walk the Berlin Wall

berlin wall, berlin, germany
The Berlin Wall is now an outdoor art gallery.Foto: Luis Molinero / Shutterstock

Admire the city’s street art galleries.

Reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, modern-day Berlin still bears the scars of its divided past. Remnants of the wall are dotted throughout the city, so join a walking tour to visit the Berlin Wall Memorial or take the wheel of a traditional East-German-made Trabi car for a guided self-drive tour. Don’t miss a stop at the East Side Gallery, where colorful—and often thought-provoking—murals adorn the best-preserved section of the wall.

6. Sail down the Spree

boat in front of museum island, berlin, germany
The River Spree runs through Berlin for 27 miles.Foto: canadastock / Shutterstock

See Berlin from the water.

Winding its way past monumental museums, cathedral spires, and palatial edifices, the River Spree is Berlin’s lifeblood, running for 27 miles (44 kilometers) through the heart of the city. Getting out on the water is a fun way to see the city, so hop aboard a luxury yacht for a sightseeing cruise along the river or enjoy a 3-course dinner cruise and sail past landmarks, including Museum Island, the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom), the Berlin TV Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm), and the Reichstag.

7. Explore Berlin’s eclectic neighborhoods

street in berlin, germany
Berlin has numerous neighborhoods, each with its own personality.Foto: Mickis-Fotowelt / Shutterstock

Head to local hangouts in Mitte, Kreuzberg, and beyond.

Berlin’s neighborhoods each have their own unique character, from the buzzing urban hubs of the city center to the leafy suburbs and lakes of West Berlin. Unearth foodie hotspots, boutique galleries, and street art on a Kreuzberg walking tour, then head to culture-packed Mitte to explore farmer’s markets, art emporiums, and abandoned WWII bunkers.

Visitors should also check out the cosmopolitan and creative Neukölln quarter, the elegant shopping boulevards of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, and the boho art scene of Prenzlauer Berg.

8. Party until the sun comes up

Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum, berlin, germany
Parties can be found all throughout Berlin.Foto: SuperPapero / Shutterstock

Experience Berlin’s legendary nightlife scene.

From techno super-clubs like Berghain and Watergate to the hedonist wonderland of Sisyphos, Berlin’s nightlife is nothing short of epic. Techno is the soundtrack of choice for Berlin clubbers, but you’ll also find swanky cocktail bars, live jazz clubs, and everything in between.

Enjoy drinks at an Ice Bar, join a pub crawl around East Berlin, or experience a silent disco in the streets. Just don’t expect to get home before the sun comes up—Berlin’s nightclubs have no official closing time, so the party can (and will) continue as long as the good vibes are flowing.

9. Find your calm in Berlin’s green spaces

people sitting in a park, berlin, germany
When you need to catch your breath, relax in one of Berlin's parks.Foto: Norbert Braun / Shutterstock

Leafy strolls and summer beer gardens await.

When you need a break from Berlin’s bustle, the city’s parks and gardens provide an idyllic backdrop for some urban meditation. Snag a spot at a lakeside beer garden, enjoy a rickshaw ride around Tiergarten Park, or explore the Baroque gardens of Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg) on a guided tour. Visitors can also join locals for a walk, jog, or barbecue at Tempelhofer Feld, the former military ground and airfield that’s now a city park.

10. Watch a movie at Potsdamer Platz

busy street in Potsdamer Platz, berlin, germany
Potsdamer Platz is like city within a city.Foto: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Be dazzled by the neon lights and high rises.

Built after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the neon-lit entertainment complex of Potsdamer Platz symbolized a unified city and a futuristic vision. Presided over by the space-age “city within a city” Sony Center, it’s most impressive after dark or during the annual Berlinale Film Festival, held on the square each year in February.

Catch a movie at the gigantic CinemaxX multiplex, zip up to the top of the Kollhoff Tower for a view over Berlin, or indulge your inner child at the Legoland Discovery Centre.

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