With such a rich history there’s something brilliant to check out practically everywhere you look in Berlin. Fortunately, many of this city’s most sought-after sights are also free to explore. From museums to music to markets, we have your guide to getting to know Berlin for free.
1. Stroll around the Tiergarten
At 210 hectares, this is the second-biggest urban park in Germany. Back in 1527 this park was built to serve as hunting grounds for the king. After about 200 years the new king lost his taste for hunting and turned the park over for public enjoyment, complete with baroque mazes, ponds and tons of flowers. Nowadays the heart of this beautiful park is dominated by the Victory Column, one of Berlin’s must-see sights. The park is also flanked by the Zoological Gardens, embassies and the Bundestag, so it’s a great place to take a rest after running around all day.
2. Take a free walking tour
Sandemans are legendary for their great free walking tours and of course they haven’t left out Berlin. If you’re new to the city and don’t quite know where to start, this 3.5hr English-language tour hits up the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, sections of the Berlin Wall, Museum Island and even Berlin’s historical cabarets. It meets daily at 11am and 1pm outside the Starbucks at the Brandenburg Gate.
Originally built in 1894 to house parliament, the Reichstag is a must-see example of grand architecture. This also happens to be the site of many historical events such as the proclamation of the first German Republic in 1918, the 1933 fire which led to Hitler’s emergency powers and the official reunification of Germany in 1990. After being heavily damaged in 20th century, it was restored in 1999 to once again be the home of the German parliament. Best of all, it’s totally free to explore, inside and out. Arguably, the most stunning aspect of the Reichstag is the enormous rooftop glass cupola where you can take in 360° views of Berlin. Definitely don’t miss it; the platform is open from 8am to midnight so there’s plenty of time to take in the sights.
4. Get into the museums for free
There’s an unbelievable amount of wonderful free museums in Berlin—more than 10, actually, plus several museums which offer free entry on certain days. Some of the most fascinating free museums include the Allied Museum on Clayallee, covering the Cold War. There’s also Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen, the site of a Nazi concentration camp, the Museum of Oddities on Crellestrasse and the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/ Bethanien on Mariannenplatz, featuring contemporary art with a political and social twist. Also check out the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, a modern art museum that’s free in every Monday; the first Sunday of every month is also free at the Academy of Arts on both Hanseatenweg and Pariser Platz.
5. Walk along the East Side Gallery
No trip to Berlin would be complete with a visit to the East Side Gallery, a preserved section of the Berlin Wall which is covered in an incredible array of murals depicting the history, culture and life of Germany. It serves as a memorial for freedom and is the largest open-air gallery in the world. These 105 paintings were originally done in 1990 and although around two-thirds are in a state of decay or have been vandalised, the murals have been restored bit-by-bit since 2000. It’s living history at its best.
6. See the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Skirting the eastern edge of the Tiergarten, just one block from the Brandenburg Gate, is this controversial memorial. It features 2,711 concrete slabs spread in a grid across 19,000 square metres. Underneath is an underground information centre featuring a permanent exhibition and the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims. The whole thing is free and there are even free guided tours available. If you’re heading there, make sure to also pay tribute at the equally-striking nearby memorials to all the homosexuals and Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis.
7. Take a photo at Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate is probably the most single-most well-known landmark in Berlin. Set right in the heart of the city near the Reichstag and the Tiergarten, it’s perfect for photo opportunities that are instantly recognisable, a lot like Paris’s Arc de Triomphe or the Golden Gate Bridge. Built in the late 18th century, this gate was damaged in WWII and then for decades it was completely isolated by the Berlin Wall. Since the fall of the Wall, the gate has been a symbol of a unified Germany and Berlin—and it’s particularly gorgeous at night.
8. Take in the art galleries at the Hackescher Markt
If you fancy some gallery-hopping—for free, of course—head up to Hackescher Markt. The area around this square is full of eclectic art galleries, especially on the side streets off of Auguststrasse. Even better, on Thursdays there’s usually a gallery or two serving free wine and snacks at a show opening, so you can get your culture in and get fed, too!
9. Visit Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The Gedächtniskirche was built in the 1890s but during an air raid in 1943 most of the church was irretrievably destroyed. All that was left was the iconic spire and entrance hall. A new, modern church was built around it in the 1960s but the remaining part of the original church is open free to the public. It features some beautiful mosaics and sculptures of biblical scenes, including a cross made of nails. It’s well worth stopping by.
10. See the Berlin Wall Memorial
This free and comprehensive memorial is set on Bernauer Strasse along the strip where the Berlin Wall ran. This was the site of the first death at the Wall and was quite famous for the East German residents who jumped to freedom from the West-facing windows of their apartments. The site has a visitor’s centre with an oral history archive and bookshop, a ghost station exhibition and an open-air exhibition open all year ‘round.
11. Go through Checkpoint Charlie
If you have any interest in Cold War history, Checkpoint Charlie is a great place to stop, grab a photo and try to imagine what the city was like back then. This was the most visible of all the Berlin Wall checkpoints and acted as a sort of symbol of the division of east and west during the partition. It also featured in a ton of spy novels and films, including 1983’s Octopussy. Nowadays you can head down Friedrichstrasse, one of Berlin’s main avenues, and check out the little wooden shed and the iconic sign for yourself, totally free.
12. Catch some jazz at A-Trane and B-Flat
Berlin is famous for the rich variety of music available day or night and if you fancy a bit of free jazz, you’ve come to the right place. Sister clubs A-Trane and B-Flat offer free gigs and jam sessions every Wednesday. Their respective locations in Charlottenburg and Mitte mean that no matter what end of town you’re in, you haven’t got far to go to hear some of the city’s best modern jazz, fusion, ethno jazz and more.
13. Stroll down Unter den Linden
This gorgeous tree-lined grand boulevard runs through the middle of the city and is a lovely walk no matter what the season. It runs from Lustgarten Park on Museum Island to Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. Grab a coffee and relax while you take in some of the city’s most picturesque sites from the wide pedestrian mall in the middle of the boulevard.
14. Marvel at the Sony Centre
Remember reading sci-fi stories as a kid about cities of the future where people would live in giant self-contained structures that had apartments, shopping malls and indoor parks, negating the need to go outside? Well, welcome to the Sony Centre. Not only are there luxury apartments, there’s two multi-lingual cinemas, a Legoland, offices, shopping and a whole bunch of cafés and restaurants. In the centre of it all is the natural light-filled Forum, a free public space where you can take in the atmosphere of this 132,500 square metre feat of architecture.
15. Explore the neighbourhoods
The Brandenburg Gate might be at the heart of Berlin but the city itself doesn’t have one specific city centre, as such; instead, there are a series of distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own personality and cultural history. Kreuzberg, for instance, is a multicultural area known for its punk rock and hip hop scenes as well as for being the centre of LGBTQ life in Berlin. Charlottenburg is an affluent neighbourhood containing a number of museums, theatres, historical buildings and the Zoological Garden. If you’re looking for the city’s best nightlife, head for Prenzlauer Berg, the centre of bohemian Berlin. As a part of East Berlin it was home to a thriving collection of artists, students and intellectuals; nowadays it’s a charming neighbourhood of little boutiques, cafés and nightclubs.
So if you’re heading to Berlin soon, don’t forget to take advantage of the amazing free stuff the city offers. You won’t regret it. And while you’re there, make sure you stay in one of our many great hostels in Berlin.