In recent years, travelers and residents have touted Berlin as the big European city of the moment. Not in terms of size, necessarily, but in terms of presence. Unlike many popular European cities, there aren’t a lot of “must” things to do in Berlin. Rather, the secret to getting the most out of this inspiring capital city is not to look for the popular sights, but to immerse yourself in the energy, creativity, and gritty originality that has won Berlin fans the world over.
1. East Side Gallery
The Berlin Wall stands as one of the most prominent symbols of the Cold War. There’s no better place to view it than at the East Side Gallery. Here you’ll find the longest and best-preserved stretch of the wall, now adorned with dozens of beautiful and thought-provoking murals.
Insider tip: The Berlin Wall pops up throughout the city. If you want to cover as much of it as possible, consider an organized bicycle tour that will cover more distance and lend some context to this fascinating but somber relic.
2. Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate is perhaps the most recognized and visited symbol of Germany – it’s definitely a must on your list of things to do in Berlin. This 18thcentury arch was built on the site of a former city gate in the western part of the city center. The structure is impressive during the day as it is at night, and its central location makes it the starting point for many of Berlin’s famous free walking tours.
Insider tip: Set aside at least half a day while in this part of Berlin to explore the gate, Unter den Linden, Reichstag building, and other monuments and museums in the area. Or combine a visit here with a free walking tour.
3. Free walking tour
Free walking tours are now common throughout Europe, but few are as celebrated as those in the German capital. With so much ground and history to cover in Berlin, most walking tours will focus on a few key regions or topics. The general introductory tours that leave from near the Brandenburg Gate are a good place to start. They’re free, though tips are encouraged, and you’ll explore the site of Hitler’s bunker, the Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, Checkpoint Charlie, and many other popular sites.
Insider tip: New Berlin Tours and Original Europe Tours offer two of the most popular free walking tours in the city. Pack a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a coat in winter, as each tour lasts upwards of two and a half hours.
4. Memorial for Murdered Jews of Europe
While somewhat controversial and often misunderstood, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is another important reminder of the Holocaust. There are many interpretations and attempts to understand the meaning behind the 2,711 concrete slabs, but a walk amongst the head-high coffin-like structures offers a good time to reflect on a tragic history.
Insider tip: Access to the memorial is free. A trip could take anything between 30 minutes and 2 hours depending on your preferences.
5. Explore Berlin’s café culture
Berlin takes its coffee culture very seriously, and there are now dozens of incredible cafés and coffee shops that are leading the way in the Third Wave Coffee movement. Most coffee shops in Berlin stray from the purely functional aspect of offering a quick kick of caffeine, and instead encourage you to sit back with a good book or your laptop and spend an hour or two soaking up the vibrant atmosphere and intoxicating coffee fumes.
Insider tip: Picking Berlin’s best coffee shop is an almost impossible task. Start at The Barn, and then move on to Five Elephant, 19grams, Röststätte, Silo, and Distrikt Coffee before asking around for more recommendations.
6. Dine out(side)
Street food and markets offer some of the best-valued and tasting food in all of the city. Most of the best street food action goes down in Kreuzberg – keep an eye out for markets such as Bite Club or the weekly Thursday food market gathering in Markthalle Neun, and be sure to take a trip to the ever-popular Burgermeister stand beneath the railway tracks nearby.
7. Take in a Berlin party
Berlin’s party scene is world-famous. Whether you’re looking for an all-night (and all-day) clubbing experience, or a few drinks in a quirky bar, the city has you covered. Clubs like Berghain, Watergate, and ://about blank may be as popular as they are notorious. If wild all-night clubbing isn’t your thing, there’s a good chance your neighborhood bar has an interesting crowd, cheap drinks, and a unique atmosphere to lift your spirits into the early hours.
Insider tip: Berlin clubs take their door policies very seriously. Make sure you abide by the relevant dress code (or lack thereof) and don’t arrive drunk or in a big group.
8. Abandoned Berlin
Berlin and its surrounds are home to dozens of beautiful abandoned buildings. Many are from a forgotten era, and all are begging to be explored and photographed. From supermarkets and gas stations to hotels, train stations, and paper mills, there’s something to excite even the most hesitant of urban explorers. Finding them can be tricky, but when you do you’ll be rewarded with a journey back in time like no other.
Insider tip: Abandoned Berlin is a useful resource for finding out more about the city’s most intriguing buildings. There’s also a print book for those who want to take their urban exploring research offline.
A trip to Berlin is like a trip to no other city in the world. Whether you’re seeking a greater understanding on the city’s tragic past, or simply want to immerse yourself in one of the most vibrant, relaxed, and creative cities on the continent, you’ll feel instantly at home in the German capital. And when you’re done ticking off all the things to do in Berlin, be sure to explore more of Germany by train.
Originally published on Eurail.com