What to do in Berlin for the ultimate city break

Berlin is one of those cities nobody visits just once. It’s the perfect European capital for a cheeky city escape that won’t break the bank, with legendary nightlife, mind-blowing food and no end of cool and unusual things to do – not to mention some award-winning hostels. So where do you start with a city this vast?

Well, if you’re wondering what to do in Berlin, whether it’s your first visit or your 50th, we’ve got just the thing. From how to see the main tourist attractions on a budget to how to cool off when the summer heat gets too much, here’s our guide on all the best things to do in Berlin.

1. BBQ On The Runway Of A Disused Airport

what to do in berlin tempelhof @ambi.dexCycling along the disused runways of Tempelhof Airport ?@ambi.dex

what to do in berlin tempelhof @gonzalojsaenz

Berlin’s historic former airport is the perfect place to relax ?@gonzalojsaenz

The Tempelhofer Feld is one of the best parks in Berlin; a huge expanse of green, perfect for a lazy weekend of BBQs and bike rides. On the edges of the park you’ll find community gardening projects and even art installations. But what makes this place so remarkable is the fact that it was once an airport; the runway markings and control towers remain intact.

But it wasn’t just any airport. Tempelhof is one of Berlin’s most historically significant sites. Originally built by the Nazis and used as an air raid shelter during WW2, the airport later became the setting for the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War – a staggering aeronautical feat which saw the Allies deliver millions of tonnes of essential supplies to West Berlin in response to the Soviet Blockade. It’s estimated that a plane landed on the runway every 63 seconds during this time, making it a popular spectacle amongst local children.

2. See The Berlin Wall As It Really Was

what to do in berlin berlin wall @emma.v.martell

A trip back in time! ?@emma.v.martell

The East Side Gallery and Checkpoint Charlie are the most famous relics of the Cold War in Berlin, and whilst they can be cool to visit, they won’t really help you understand what it was like to live in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

For one of the most moving history lessons you’ll ever take, head north to the Berlin Wall Memorial, where you can see the wall as it really was during the Cold War: a bare concrete monstrosity with death strip and watch towers. Simple brass plaques mark where the many escape tunnels were dug by desperate East Germans; they state how many escaped, how many died. An information centre with observation deck offers a wealth of factual information and personal accounts. This is definitely the best free museum in Berlin, and the only true way to understand the impact of the wall on ordinary people’s lives.

3. Cool Off In An Idyllic Berlin Lake

what to do in berlin teufelssee @tango_jonze

Teufelssee is one of Berlin’s post popular wild swimming holes ?@tango_jonze

what to do in berlin lakes @izabaltza

Prepare yourself for A LOT of nudity ?@izabaltza

There’s a luxurious feeling of space in Berlin that’s hard to put into words. Life is slow-paced, there’s no such thing as rush hour and there are parks and green spaces everywhere. It’s also incredibly easy and cheap to get ‘out’ of Berlin for the day. The city is surrounded by forests and lakes, many of which you can get to for just a few euros on public transport. The city can get really hot in the summer months, so if you’re wondering what to do in Berlin when things start to heat up, a day trip to one of the local lakes is a must.

Our favourites include the three located around the lush Grunewald Forest – Teufelssee, Wannsee and Krumme Lanke – which are all about an hour from Alexanderplatz on the S-Bahn. Or for something more central there’s Weißensee and Plötzensee, both around 30 minutes from the centre. A word of warning though: there will be a lot of naked Germans!

4. Visit The Serene Soviet War Memorial In Treptow

what to do in berlin treptow @werewolf_face

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow is truly impressive ?@werewolf_face

Tucked away in the often overlooked neighbourhood of Treptow, this memorial and cemetery is dedicated to the many Soviet soldiers who lost their lives in Berlin during WW2. The setting is perfect, surrounded by a wall of trees at the far end of Treptow Park, and the sheer size of it will leave you speechless. As you get closer, you’ll see the stories of heroism carved into the stone sarcophagi, and notice the crushed swastika under the feet of the huge soldier on top of the mausoleum.

This is a wonderfully tranquil corner of Berlin, and although you may not have the whole place entirely to yourself during busy times, it’s so big that you can happily be alone with your thoughts.

5. Creep Around An Abandoned Cold War Listening Station

what to do in berlin teufelsberg @karagra

Amazing graffiti at Teufelsberg ?@karagra

what to do in berlin teufelsberg @maeva_f

The views from the top of Teufelsberg are spectacular ?@maeva_f

Once upon a time, it was possible to sneak into Teufelsberg through a hole in the fence, and you’d have the whole place to yourself. Nowadays, it’s gotten a bit more popular – there are paid guided tours, and tighter security making DIY sightseeing a little more tricky – but it’s still one of the coolest things to do in Berlin. Teufelsberg is basically an abandoned Cold War listening station inside Grunewald Forest, built by the US government to spy on East Berlin. The hill it stands on is actually a giant pile of rubble from the ruins of WW2, and underneath it all there’s a half-finished Nazi training camp.

That’s a hell of a lot of history. But Teufelsberg is more than just its past: since it was abandoned by the US government, it’s become a hotspot for local graffiti artists and also boasts some pretty epic views from the top of the building. And if you make it all the way to the top and into the tallest dome, the acoustics are unreal.

6. Take The Unofficial Berlin Sightseeing Bus 100

what to do in Berlin @emma.v.martell

Peekaboo! ?@emma.v.martell

Major budget travel hack alert! As in most cities, the official tourist sightseeing busses in Berlin can be a bit of a rip-off, with most costing over €20 per person. But in a big, spread-out city like Berlin, a bus tour can be quite useful. Luckily for us broke travellers, there is an alternative and its name is Bus 100. Part of the official public transport network, this bus has the most epic route, taking in nearly all of the major tourist attractions in Berlin, including the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and Alexanderplatz with its TV Tower, to name just a few.

Because you get a 2 hour window from when you validate your ticket, you can hop on and off the bus whenever it takes your fancy. And at just €2.80 for a ticket, you’ll be quids in!

7. Eat ALL The Papaya Salad In Berlin’s Thai Park

what to do in berlin thaipark @yuvalw

Thaipark is ALWAYS a good idea ?@yuvalw

what to do in berlin thaipark @makemisohappy

Delicious and cheap street food at Berlin’s Thaipark ?@makemisohappy

For a street food market with a difference, head to Preußenpark aka ‘Thai Park’ in one of Berlin’s most unsexy neighbourhoods. The park itself is nothing special, but every weekend during the summer it becomes the delicious centre of Berlin’s Thai community. Elderly Thai ladies set up their makeshift food stands on top of cardboard boxes and plastic crates, and for just a few euros you can sample Berlin’s most authentic Thai street food. Grab a plate of fresh papaya salad or some heavenly banana fritters and find a spot on the grass to enjoy. It’s a good idea to go with friends and buy a little of a few things from several vendors, then go back to the best ones for more.

Don’t be alarmed if you spot small ladies standing on top of motionless bodies on the grass; Thai massages are also on offer in the park for the brave. Although it’s a little out of the way, this place has been growing in popularity for a few years now, so it will be busy, but not hideously so.

8. Get Cultured At A Berlin Museum

what to do in berlin neues museum @mischenfrau

Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island ?@mischenfrau

Berlin has an incredible amount of history, it can be almost overwhelming at times. So it’s no surprise that there are loads of museums – over 175 in fact. From Cold War politics to Ancient Egyptian art or Jewish culture, there’s a Berlin museum for every taste. To help you navigate the city’s diverse cultural landscape, we’ve put together a guide to the 20 best museums in Berlin, with tips on how to see them on a budget.

9. People-Watch By The Landwehr Canal

what to do in berlin landwehr canal @fepacheco

Berlin’s much-loved Landwehr Canal ?@fepacheco

what to do in berlin landwehr canal @massimiliano.rng

Learning the Berlin tradition of a ‘Wegbier’ ?@massimiliano.rng

If you’re at a loss for what to do in Berlin, then a wander along the Landwehr Canal is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Grab a cold beer or a Club Mate (a herbal energy drink loved by Berlin hipsters) and go for a leisurely stroll along the canal. The most interesting and popular stretch starts where the canal branches off from the River Spree near Schlesisches Tor station and leads all the way round until Hallesches Tor – it doesn’t really matter which side of the river you stay on, both are covered in interesting things to do and people to see. One time we stumbled across an intimate exhibition dedicated to dog poo in a falling-down caravan – true story! For a less busy but still cool route, branch East where the canal divides and walk in the direction of Sonnenallee station.

The Maybachufer section of the canal just East of Schönleinstraβe is home to two very cool markets: the Turkish Market, on Tuesdays and Fridays, which is great for extremely cheap street food and handmade accessories, and Nowkoelln Flowmarkt, arguably the best flea market in Berlin, taking place every other Sunday.

10. Get Your Vegan On

what to do in berlin @emma.v.martell (2)

STOP eating animals ?@emma.v.martell

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a committed vegan, or just love a bit of tasty plant-based grub, Berlin is an absolute paradise for cheap and healthy vegan food. You’ll find that most restaurants in Berlin have vegan and veggie options of a surprisingly high standard, and there are plenty of exclusively vegan spots too.

Our favourites include Brammibal’s Donuts for the best donuts in Berlin that also happen to be vegan, and feature flavours such as chocolate pb fudge & caramel and white chocolate pistachio; Let It Be for tasty vegan crepes with fillings such as beetroot carpaccio and sun-dried tomatoes, and burgers bulging with cruelty-free goodness; and The Bowl for raw, vegan and gluten-free bowls of goodness guaranteed to undo even the wildest Berlin night on the tiles.

11. Admire The Legendary Street Art In Berlin

what to do in berlin graffiti teufelsberg @rosemcculls

Teufelsberg is covered in awesome graffiti ?@rosemcculls

The street art in Berlin needs no introduction: it’s flipping epic, and an integral part of any decent trip to Berlin. It’s hard NOT to stumble upon some awesome street art when you walk around Berlin (yes, even West Berlin), but if you want to make sure you see all the most famous works whilst learning bit about the city’s street art scene, then you should consider joining a street art walking tour. Our favourite street art tours are organised by Alternative Berlin, and the best bit is that they’re completely free to join.

12. Sing Your Way Round A Berlin Fleamarket

what to do in berlin flea market @wanderlust.ben

The open-air karaoke at Mauerpark on Sundays is  MUST ?@wanderlust.ben

what to do in berlin flea market @emma.v.martell

Divine street food at the über-cool Nowkoelln Flowmarkt ?@emma.v.martell

For some people, the word fleamarket conjures up images of portaloos and grannies fighting over hideous crockery. But Berlin has managed the unthinkable: it’s made fleamarkets cool. Whilst you can still bag some pretty epic bargains, it’s more about the eating, singing, boozing and chilling at the fleamarkets in Berlin.

There are loads of great fleamarkets in Berlin. The most popular is the one in Mauerpark, a huge sprawling market with vintage clothes, street food, handmade trinkets and the famous ‘bearpit’ open-air karaoke. Yes, this place gets packed with tourists, but the fact that many locals still go here shows that it’s worth the squash. If it all gets too much you can always escape to the more intimate fleamarket on the pretty Arkonaplatz, just a few minutes’ walk away.

Another very cool, and significantly less touristy option is Nowkoelln Flowmarket, taking place every other Sunday along the banks of the Landwehr Canal. The vintage and second-hands clothes tend to be better quality, and there’s more of a neighbourhood vibe compared to the bedlam that is Mauerpark.

13. Modern Art In A WW2 Bunker

what to do in berlin mitte boros collection @n0ele

Cool AF art exhibits ?@nOele

If you love modern art, then a trip to the Boros Collection is a must. This spectacular private collection of modern art is housed in an enormous WW2 bunker in the centre of Berlin, not far from Oranienburger Tor station. To visit you’ll need to book a place on their guided tours, which are offered in English or German. The tours cost €12 per person, but it’s worth every penny.

15. Strut Your Stuff On Peacock Island

what to do in berlin peacock island wikipedia NoRud

The gorgeous Potsdam Schloß on the Pfaueninsel ?NoRud

Pfaueninsel aka Peacock Island is a pretty little nature reserve and UNESCO-listed spot on the southwesterly outskirts of the city. The island takes its name from the dozens of resident peacocks that rule the roost here, and if you’re lucky you’ll even spot a white one. The island was the former summer residence and extra-marital love pad of King Frederick William II, and the pretty castle / folly is one of the most beautiful buildings in Berlin.

You can get the S-Bahn from the centre to Berlin Wannsee station for €2.80, followed by a short walk to the ferry over to Pfaueninsel which will cost around €2 each way. If you’re feeling thrifty, it’s possible to swim the short distance across to the island.

14. Visit The World’s Coolest Shopping Centre

what to do in berlin @emma.v.martell

Refuelling with good things at Funk You inside Bikini Berlin ?@emma.v.martell

Forget everything you think you know about shopping centres. Located next to Zoologischer Garten station, Bikini Berlin is the coolest shopping centre you’ll ever visit, and along with the neighbouring C/O Berlin photography gallery, is at the forefront of the revival of West Berlin. The light and airy space is all glass and brushed steel, and houses a carefully curated selection of small local and some international brands.

There’s also excellent coffee, organic ice lollies (try the blueberry cheesecake one) and delicious and healthy food (try the raw zucchini tagliatelle from Funk You). There are floor to ceiling windows overlooking the baboon enclosure at the nearby zoo, and the roof terrace is a lovely place to watch the sunset.

16. Drink A Delicious Local Brew In A Beer Garden

what to do in berlin prater garten @ernesto.mayz_

Berlin’s oldest beer garden is a must ?@ernesto.mayz

A trip to Berlin, and indeed Germany, wouldn’t be complete without visiting a beer garden. One of the best and oldest beer gardens in Berlin is Pratergarten in Prenzlauer Berg. It gets pretty busy here at the weekends and on sunny days, so it can sometimes be a challenge to squeeze yourself onto one of the benches next to strangers, though that’s all part of the fun. For something a little less central, try one of the two beer gardens in the huge Tiergarten park: Cafe am Neuen See and Schleusenkrug are both picturesque and a great place to sample some local beer.

For more tips on where to drink in Berlin on a budget, read our guide to the best bars in Berlin.

17. Buy a £2 vintage photo strip

what to do in berlin photoautomat @ana_knapp

Strike a pose ?@ana_knapp

A selfie at one of these refurbished vintage photo booths is a rite of passage for anybody visiting Berlin. You’ll find them dotted around the streets of Berlin, though not so much in West Berlin. If you’re worried about not finding one, there’s a handy map on the website of the folks responsible for restoring them. This is the ultimate Berlin souvenir, and costs a very reasonable €2 per strip.

18. Spend An Evening At A Berlin Christmas Market

what to do in berlin christmas market charlottenburg @meganebenson

Twinkle twinkle ? ?@meganebenson

One of our favourite guilty pleasures, the Christmas markets in Berlin are pretty amazing and guaranteed to get you into the festive spirit. For a traditional experience in a stunning setting, try the one at Gendarmenmarkt or in front of Charlottenburg Palace. For a a more intimate Scandi-themed affair try the Lucia Christmas Market, located in the courtyard of a pretty red-bricked former brewery in Prenzlauer Berg. For something a little cooler, try to Weihnachtsrodeo at the Postbahnhof, a former train station turned nightclub in Friedrichshain, where you’ll find gorgeous design-led gifts you’ll actually want to buy. For more tips, read our pick of the best Christmas Markets in Berlin.

Despite their touristy credentials, a trip to a Christmas market can actually be one of the cheapest things to do at night in Berlin between November and December – provided you go easy on the mulled wine and gingerbread.

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What to do in Berlin

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