Essential Berlin Travel Tips for First Time Visitors

Berlin: a bustling city with a loaded history. A rough pearl, where you sometimes have to look a little further than the outside to see what really makes the city special. I’ve been there a few times now, and my favorite aspect of Berlin is not even the beautiful sights, but its very soul. The vibe is relaxed and loving, and it’s a city where anything is possible. To help you hit the ground running, I thought I’d put together all my best first time visiting Berlin travel tips, so you can fall in love with this city like I have.

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Berlin Travel Tips for Your First Visit

Make sure to visit these iconic sights in Berlin

First up, some of the sights you don’t want to miss on your first visit to Berlin! There are a lot of places to visit, but these are the ones you’ll always see associated with the city. If you want something more guided, try this half-day walking tour or this historical highlights tour.

Tiergarten

My favorite park in Berlin is the gigantic Tiergarten. With its 210 hectares, the park is considerably larger than, for example, Hyde Park in London. It is true that a number of roads run through it. I always like being there, although it is sometimes a bit sad in the winter months. In the summer months, it’s absolutely beautiful.

The construction of the park dates from 1527, and the name stems from the fact that in the past wild game was released on which the local princes hunted. This was actually their private hunting ground. In the 1742, Frederick II of Prussia, who hated hunting, ordered an architect to remove the fence and turn it into a landscape garden, ending its hunting history. It reminds me a lot of a forest, and I always find it hard to imagine that I am still in the busy center of Berlin!

Brandenburg Gate

This monumental gate is one of the main symbols of Berlin. I always try to pass by it. The gate dates from the end of the 18th century and was a city gate. It is the only remaining city gate in Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate was seriously damaged during WWII. Citizens on both sides of Berlin came together after the end of the war to restore it.

During the Cold War, the Berlin wall was built just behind the Brandenburg Gate, making it no longer a gateway. The special building ended up in no man’s land. At the end of 1989, after the fall of the wall, the gate was opened again. Since then, it’s been known as the Berlin sign of brotherhood. It is almost always busy with tourists. You will find the gate between Unter der Linden and the Tiergarten. The Reichstag is a stone’s throw away!

The Reichstag

The Reichstag is the recognizable parliament building of the German government. Parliament has been sitting here since 1999. The eclectic building has a glass dome on the roof that you can visit. I think it’s a really cool building, that combination of that classic with an almost futuristic sphere on the roof.

Tickets are free, but you must reserve a time slot (online or on the spot). This is possible at the counter opposite the Reichstag, but I would recommend booking in advance so that you do not have to wait or worry about your time slot being sold out. Make sure you are on time for the security check, and that you have your proof of identity with you (you are visiting a government building and this is mandatory!). The visit comes with a super interesting audio tour, and you really have a beautiful view of the city from the dome.

If you want an actual person as a guide, try this tour. You can also get coffee at the glass dome!

Alexanderplatz

It is not really a gem, but we stayed nearby in the area so it is not to be missed: Alexanderplatz. It is a large square with many shops, restaurants, and an important metro station. You will also find the Fernsehturm and the Kaufhaus there.

In the neighborhood you can find cheap hot dogs everywhere. (Important to know). This square has its origins as a market, and was named after Tsar Alexander I of Russia in 1805. The fact that the square is so ugly is because it was seriously destroyed during the WWII bombing, and then rebuilt in the traditional GDR style, where it was more about practicality than aesthetic.

Fernsehturm

It shines in the sun and disappears in the fog. It stands proudly on Alexanderplatz: the Fernsehturm. With a height of 368 meters, it is one of the tallest buildings in Europe and the tallest building in Berlin. In addition to being a TV tower, it is also the most important icon on the Berlin skyline. Unfortunately, it was closed when I was there with grandfather, but I also went in a few years ago, and the view is really special.

The Fernsehturm was built between 1965 and 1969 and then stood in East Berlin. At the top of the globe you will not only find a viewing platform, but also a slowly revolving restaurant. You can buy skip the line tickets here for a visit to the viewing platform.

Berliner Dom

You can’t miss the giant Berliner Dom. For €7 you can visit the church and see the tombs of former kings and queens. Apparently it was a stressful job, because most didn’t grow to very old ages. You can also climb the church and enjoy the view from the top of the dome.

The Berliner Dom is one of the most important churches in Berlin, and my personal favorite building. The Neo-Baroque design looks much older than it really is. Although there was already a Dom in the same place in 1750, the current church dates from the period 1894-1905. It was badly damaged in the Second War, but has been completely restored since 1992. By the way, did you know that maintaining and running the church costs as much as 15,000 euros PER DAY?

Don’t forget to visit the sobering Holocaust Monument

One of the most beautiful and somber monuments in the city is surely the Holocaust Monument. I always go there for a moment when I am in Berlin, to reflect on the dark sides of humanity and as a reminder of how important it is to never lose one’s compassion or ability to love. The monument from 2005 consists of 2,710 gray concrete blocks with different heights, and serves to commemorate the persecution of the Jews during WWII. Below the monument is an exhibition space, but unfortunately it was closed when I was there.

MAJOR TIP: Please behave respectfully at this monument. It is not your personal photo studio. An extensive photoshoot for Instagram is not ok here.

Check out Berlin’s Museums

Topograhy of Terror

Berlin has a number of impressive museums, but the most special one is the Topography of Terror. What an amazing museum. I came across the museum by accident when I was on my way to Checkpoint Charlie with my grandfather. All of a sudden we saw long pieces of wall, and something that looked like a museum. Upon closer inspection, the museum turned out to be about the Second World War, and Grandpa and I wanted to see it.

I was not sure how he would react to it, since of course he experienced the war himself. But he was very impressed, especially about how open the Germans were about their past. For me it seemed normal, but he comes from a time when people felt too much shame to discuss things openly.

If you are in Berlin this is my top place to visit. The documentation center was built where the Gestapo headquarters once stood. It’s a very impressive and free museum that mainly revolves around documenting the atrocities of the SS.

Checkpoint Charlie

The Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum is also referred to as the Mauer Museum and is about everything about the Berlin Wall and Cold War. The museum dates back to 1962. Nearby is the Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous border post between East and West Berlin.

The first time I visited Berlin (I was 15) I was incredibly impressed by the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. I remember almost crying. How there were escape cars and machines that were actually used in escape attempts across the wall between East and West Berlin and replicas that you felt were there for a moment.

The last time I was there, however, I found the museum actually disappointing. Yes, it was interesting, but it was very outdated, with yellowed information boards on the wall. So many letters that it takes years to read everything. And it’s pretty pricey … so I’m a little dubious now. Still very interesting, though. Skip the line with tickets here

A replica of the official checkpoint can be found right next to it, and in my opinion, it is really an embarrassing tourist circus.

Visit the longest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall

The most unexpected highlight of the trip was the East Side Gallery, which Grandpa also loved. And I thought that was beautiful again, because the kilometer wall is decorated with all kinds of mural artworks by artists. We walked past full of admiration. Very inspiring and great to see.

The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining piece of the Berlin Wall. It covers more than 1.3 kilometers of wall that is colorfully decorated with artworks from 118 artists from all over the world. Just about all street art has a political message.

Also nice: it is the longest open-air gallery in the world.

Walk along the Unter der Linden Boulevard

I think this is the best known boulevard in Berlin. Not surprising, because you can walk all the way from the Brandenburg Gate to Alexanderplatz. A nice walk that I have made several times. In the spring and summer the avenue seems to be beautiful because of the trees that are in bloom (although they’re not actually linden trees). Put on good walking shoes because it is two kilometers of walking.

You will find my favorite place of interest in Berlin on this avenue: the Berliner Dom. The street has been an important supply road in Berlin since the 16th century, when it connected the Berliner Stadsschloss with the Tiergarten. The Stadtschloss no longer exists: it was destroyed by the GDR after the war.

Visit Charlottenburg Palace

It’s a bit out of the way, but turned out to be one of the nicest things we did in Berlin: visiting the Charlottenburg Castle. The baroque building was built at the end of the 17th century by Frederik I as a holiday home for his wife Sophie Charlotte, who unfortunately could only enjoy it for a few years. Incidentally, the palace was only named after Charlotte after her death as a tribute.

You can visit the entire castle via an audio tour, and I would definitely recommend that. SO incredibly interesting. Each room is explained, and it is all decorated just as it would have in the past. Highly recommend!

If you are there in the spring or summer, it is also a good tip to discover the castle gardens. In contrast to the castle, the 55-hectare park can be visited free of charge.

Go to the theater at Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz is one of the most famous squares in the center of Berlin, with many high-rise buildings, where you will find a nice Christmas market in the winter. The square is not really a gem, but is known for its many theaters and cinemas. 

You can also see on the sidewalk tiles where the Berlin wall once stood, across the square (you will still find a number of panels). Did you know that this square was the first place in Europe with traffic lights?

Discover the Courtyards of Berlin: Häckesche Höfe and Heckmann-Höfe

An undiscovered miracle, right behind Hackescher Markt: the Häckeshe höfe. These are the courtyards of a number of buildings. If you go under the gate of the Art Nouveau building you will end up in a different, quieter, fairy-tale world. Very nice to wander through. You forget that you are in the middle of a world city. Anyway, I liked this very much about Berlin, that such a square is often hidden behind a row of buildings. I think my favorite is the quieter Heckmann-Höfe, a little further away, where you have a wonderful view of the shining dome of the Neue Synagogue.

Go Cycling in Berlin

Another thing that is really fun to do in Berlin is cycling. It’s a fun way to discover the city. I did a bike tour with Berlin on Bike, which takes you to the main sights in 2/3 hours. There are various tours that take you along, for example, the Berlin Wall, or alternatively, into alternative neighborhoods, so you learn a lot about the history of the city. I thought it was super fun!

Where to Relax in Berlin

After cycling, reward yourself with the sauna! I don’t go to a wellness center that often, so when I was invited to discover Vabali Spa Berlin, I agreed. Until I found out that it was totally clothing-free… That took some getting used to! But in the end you really get used to it, and it also has something liberating.

Vabali is a beautiful Balinese-style wellness center with furniture produced in Bali. There are different saunas, swimming pools, jacuzzis … it was really a small paradise. I felt totally relaxed after a week of running around Berlin, and my skin was super soft after a sauna experience with orange scrub. Big tip!

What to expect from Berlin nightlife

If, by the way. you are still looking for a nice place to go out, then I can recommend Mensch Meier. Of course you have to love it, and for me it was the first time, but I thought it was great to have experienced it. It is located in a sort of derelict factory hall, and has different spaces with various music genres.

You must tap the camera off your phone before you enter. Really a bizarre experience, haha, and when I was dancing at four o’clock in the morning at the pumping monotonous techno, I felt as if I had reached Berlin peak. But, boy, did I enjoy that night! By the way, Berghain seems to be the most famous club in Berlin, so it might be worth checking out.

How to Get to Berlin

I went to Berlin on the Deutsche Bahn train. It took about six hours from the Netherlands. Honestly, I think I would fly in the future. I thought it was very long, the network connection was very poor on large parts of the journey, and the trains were not nearly as good as, for example, the Eurolines or the Thalys (and I even traveled in first class!). Anyway, it is a lot better for the environment of course and if you live close to the border it is a good idea to just take the train!

What to Budget for Berlin

If you’re not sure how to budget for Berlin, I have a whole post on how much I spent there when I went with my grandpa for four nights.

Should you get the Berlin CitytourCard?

If you want to visit many museums and attractions, I can heartily recommend the Berlin CityTourCard (also free public transport!). I received one from VisitBerlin myself to be able to discover the city as extensively as possible for you.

All in all, I enjoyed Berlin as a city trip destination, and I also found it surprising how much there is to see in the city. To be honest, I expected a lot to be different because so much had, of course, been destroyed in the city.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my Berlin travel tips for anyone who’s new to the city!

Do you have any tips for first time visitors to Berlin?

General Travel Tips

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