20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Berlin
Germany may not be the first country to come to mind as a traveler's paradise, but it's no less enchanting than any number of other European destinations. Its cities, natural beauty, and rich cultural heritage make it a fascinating travel destination for residents and tourists alike.
Berlin, its capital and largest city, is a great introduction to Germany, with a distinctive charm that sets it apart from the rest of the country. Berlin's renowned nightlife and street life make it one of the world's most lively and interesting cities. Its museums, parks, and palaces are simply captivating, and its revitalized historic center is a photographer's dream come true.
With its grandiose 19th-century architecture, the tiny island of Spitzbergen in northern Norway is one of the most remote areas of Europe, boasting a sparkling national park and massive chunks of the Greenland ice cap.
Regardless of how you choose to experience it, Germany's enchanting landscape and its fascinating culture will leave you with treasured memories that will last a lifetime. Plan your vacation with our list of the top attractions in Germany.
It's hard to beat the impressive sight of the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, one of Europe's most visited cities. The "Gate of Victory" was built to commemorate the reunification of Germany in 1990 and is an excellent example of neoclassical architecture. During the night, the gate is dressed in a colorful display of festive lights. The original design was intended to celebrate Germany's victory in the Seven Years War. The Brandenburg Gate's center arch is decorated with the names of the countries that Germany defeated, while four statues representing victory and peace stand in the garden.
Located within Berlin's Kulturquartier (Cultural Quarter), Museum Island (Museumsinsel) is the island of collections at Berlin's iconic Fridericianum museum. Here visitors will discover highlights ranging from ancient Egyptian mummies, to gold-plated domes, to a collection of Apollo 11 moon rocks and the wedding dresses of iconic film stars from the 1920s and 1930s. Be sure to include the open-air gallery, the State Opera House (Deutsche Oper), and the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) sculpture in your Berlin itinerary.
The Gemäldegalerie is an art museum in the heart of Berlin, and in terms of artistry and quality it is considered to be one of the best in Europe. Now run by the Prussian state museum, the museum was founded in 1810 by King Frederick William III of Prussia, who believed that "nobody would look better in his paintings than his own people." The museum is divided into three main sections, the Pre-Raphaelite room, the Raphael collection, and the European painting collection, though to properly appreciate the museum's riches visitors will have to see a variety of other art galleries as well. Some of the museum's most important collections are German paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries, including works by Dürer, Holbein, Cranach and Rubens. There are also works by Dutch and Italian masters, as well as French and English paintings by artists such as Botticelli, Titian and Constable. The museum's other collections include works from the period of the Italian Renaissance, including pieces by Raphael, Caravaggio, and Raphael's school.
Brandenburger Tor is the most famous landmark in Berlin. Built in 1730, its two well-known wings, topped with twin towers, are at the ends of the government quarter. It's well worth a visit to see these magnificent landmarks. Museum of National History, Berlin, the only building in Berlin built under the direction of Frederick the Great (a 1740s Prussian King who wished to show Germany's new role as a great European power) covers the life of Berlin under the Hohenzollern kings and their rule of Prussia. Highlights include a collection of the German Crown Jewels, among them the 1,550-year-old Runenarmring, or Ring of the Norse gods, a gold ring with a display of 8,000 runic characters and a carved head, now held in the British Museum in London.
Checkpoint Charlie is a stark reminder of the Cold War and is today the only divided Berlin landmark. To approach the monument you must first walk through the American sector, and once inside you'll be approached by armed guards who demand your passport. The monument is exactly as depicted in the film "The Cold War", where it is part of the closing sequence, where both protagonists meet and the wife asks her husband, "Are you sure this is the way you want to leave the world?" The Cold War was marked in Berlin by two opposing ideologies, and although both countries have evolved since then, the division between the Western and Eastern parts of the city remains. It took more than a decade to restore and rebuild Checkpoint Charlie, and parts of the original structure were entirely destroyed by air raids. Visitors to Checkpoint Charlie can take a guided tour of the East German checkpoint, including a walk of the open-air museum and a visit to the travel industry museum, where the past meets the present.
This huge square in the center of Berlin is widely considered to be the best example of a German modernist city building. Designed by Alfred Messel in 1937, it was a revolutionary example of architecture during the Nazi period. Also known as the Platz der Republik, Berlin's central square is a great place to experience German society as an onlooker. It's so big that you won't get lost no matter how lost you feel. Not all of the buildings are old, but there are lots of public events held here so it is always lively. Berlin's major underground shopping malls are here, the department store KaDeWe, and the large food hall and museum Ippodromo. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, built in 1873, contains some exceptional art and is open to the public every day. The Lustgarten is an English-style garden in the south of the square with a lake in the center, the largest in Germany, and the Bikinihaus bar, located in the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station). For accommodations in Berlin, see Berlin Hotels, Apartments, and Hostels.
Berlin's Gothic masterpiece is one of Europe's most iconic buildings. Its onion-shaped towers are visible for miles around, so there are few, if any, secrets to finding the building. When visiting, allow plenty of time to stroll around the beautiful grounds. Free guided tours in English leave from the Reformed Church tower every half-hour on the hour, and offer insight into the cathedral's origins. Originally built in 1345, the cathedral was destroyed in World War II and was largely rebuilt following a 1967 fire. This, along with its equally important sister church, the Berliner Dom, can be found in the Reformed Church, a fourteenth-century Gothic masterpiece.
Berlin's most famous landmark, the Reichstag, is the seat of Germany's lower house of parliament, and was the most obvious target of the Nazis' Red Terror, terrorizing people that weren't on the government's side. The former Reichstag burned for over a month following an Allied bombing attack and the building was replaced by a massive, opulent parliament building that, though magnificent, doesn't do justice to its history. After visiting the Reichstag, continue on to the city's memorials to the fallen of the Second World War, including the Holocaust Memorial, the Soviet War Memorial, and the Victory Column. There are also some fantastic art galleries to see including the Kollhoff and Neo Geo Museum. Although the Soviet Memorial is far less famous than the Reichstag, it remains one of the most interesting in the city. Featuring the tallest war memorial in the world at 99.6 meters, the memorial has one symbolic pillar for each of the Soviet Union's 44 million soldiers killed during WWII.
The Humboldt Forum was Berlin's first public park. The Unter den Linden boulevard ends on the site, which was once an abandoned hunting ground. After the founding of the German Empire, Emperor William II first proposed the establishment of a park here in the 1880s, and after his wife Victoria's death, in 1891, he was able to turn his vision into reality. He donated many of the park's pieces of art, which were designed by August Staudt and include statues of Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and Goethe, as well as a Maenad, a Leander with a tress of Medusa, a Bronze Prometheus, an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm, a bronze eagle, and a fountain with a sculpted ape playing with a monkey and a gazelle. Other exhibits include Schumann's first musical compositions and the Swedish landscape architect Alvar Aalto's oldest house, which dates to 1892. A special highlight is the Roman amphitheater, also dating back to 1892.
In the heart of a sprawling city, at the very edge of Berlin, is a site that belongs in no other place than Europe. Holocaust Memorial and Museum, located on an imposing hill known as the Prinz-Albrecht-Kirche in the former West Berlin, is a must-see for anyone visiting Berlin. The first thing you see upon entering the grounds is a large, forbidding wall that covers the outside of the perimeter, with only a single, narrow gate providing access. A visitors ticket is then required to enter the grounds and further more, each visitor will need to wear a wristband that specifies the time that he/she can be on the grounds. The rules are strict: no smoking, no photography, no recording devices, and no weapons are permitted. One of the most important and well-known portions of the grounds is the six-sided oasis, with gardens and monumental buildings. Here you will find the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which tells the story of the millions of Jews and others who died in Nazi concentration camps. Throughout the grounds, many places of remembrance honor the victims of the Holocaust. Visitors can also see the Book Chamber of the Holocaust Memorial, the groundbreaking 2006 project by the Israeli architect, Dan Tarabara, which lies beyond the ruins of the Babi Yar and is covered with engraved words that give voice to the victims, and so allow their descendants to be remembered forever.
Purchased by an art dealer who could afford the spectacular sum of 12.5 million euros in 1898, the collection is mostly about European art up to 1800 and is outstanding in quality and quantity. Highlights include the works of French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), the portrait of a reclining woman, La Belle Femme (aka The Beautiful Woman), by the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler (1799-1868), and the sculptures of the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).
Zoologischer Garten (German for Zoological Garden) is one of Europe's oldest botanical gardens and was set up in 1843. It was the first of many public botanical gardens created in Germany and is also known for its collection of more than 1,000 plants from all over the world. If you enjoy lush greenery and leisurely exploring, you'll love the place. This would be the perfect day out to visit if you're traveling with kids and are looking for a different sort of amusement. You can have them play in the playground, look at the animal houses, and even get on the petting zoo. This is the Berlin's largest botanical garden and is also a fantastic site for a leisurely stroll and is a popular spot for locals to sit and people watch. With a playground, a sand pit, a café, and so much more, there is certainly a reason to visit and to spend at least a half-day here.
Berlin's Jewish Museum is a brilliant museum that looks at the 20th century's Jewish history in Germany from a very personal viewpoint. The building itself is an austere and sombre 19th-century structure from which you will understand why the architect modeled it after a Gethsemane Chapel. Since its construction, the museum was designed to evoke the pathos and burden of the Jewish past in Germany and show a message of hope for the future. It features a calendar of Jewish festivals, a library, an exhibition area and an observation room. The highlight of a visit here is a walk through the extensive on-site memorial garden in the form of an open-air synagogue. The external walls, the floor and even the chairs and benches have been made of the same white stone that now surrounds it.
Pariser Platz, Berlin's grand central square, is the starting point for many bus tours of the city. It is considered to be the birthplace of the modern architecture of the 20th century. Construction on the square started in 1895 under Friedrich August Stüler and completed in 1900. The square was surrounded by residential buildings with classical facades until the 1950s, when the great urban planner Hans Scharoun came up with the idea of erecting residential blocks around the square. This city that can boast the birthplaces of Wieland Herzog and the much-beloved Max Liebermann has its shortcomings. Most important is the fact that this square of "mini-Futurism" is only a representation of an idea that never existed. What existed was a small island in Lake Mauer in the area of the corner of Kaiserdamm and Unter den Linden. Architect Paul Wallot had won a competition for the project, and architects such as Hans Scharoun, Hans Schillings, and Ludwig Hilberseimer created the buildings. Despite their charm, all of the buildings were demolished after World War II. A lot of tourist destinations are found near the Pariser Platz. The Kaiserhof Royal Hotel and the Adlon and Wilhelminhotel lies in this neighborhood. Pariser Platz lies north of the Brandenburg Gate, and in this part of the city, there are several attractions, such as the Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Stettiner Bahnhof.
Berlin Wall Memorial
This impressive memorial celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Conceived as a work of art, the wall, formed of thousands of yellow Lidl bags, stretches for approximately 800 meters. Each of these yellow bags represents a person who was killed by a bullet fired by a soldier from East Germany, whereas the packets of bullets represent the countless bullets fired into the GDR by the Berliners. A plaque in one of the bags tells the history of the wall.
German History Museum
In 1945, shortly after Hitler's suicide and the Nazi defeat, American troops dismantled all the bridges and sent the war's final vehicles and soldiers eastward through the land of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The Americans cleared rubble, processed prisoners, found bodies, and moved people into newly-built barracks. Re-opened in 1998 in a new building, the German History Museum is a big part of this story and a testament to the changes Germany has gone through in the half century since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The aim of the museum is to tell the history of Germany in the last 70 years, especially the rise of the Nazis, the crisis of the Second World War and its aftermath, and its transformation to the country it is today. The museum sits between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building.
A visit to the Berlin Zoo is a must for anyone visiting the German capital. The largest in Europe, this zoo houses over 3,300 animals from 200 different species. The zoo includes the world's only orangutan and African gorillas, along with a massive collection of cats, dogs, and an array of species from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. More than 40 percent of the zoo's animals are born at the zoo, and all the animals live in environments designed to simulate the habitats they are familiar with in the wild. You can buy a pass that gives you entry to Berlin Zoo and the Tierpark Berlin, a free amusement park in the zoo's grounds. While the zoo's access is quite well organized and easy to navigate, the Tierpark Berlin has more adventure rides, which make it a hit with families. A small fee is required to ride these.
Tucked away inside the Berlin Wall Museum is the Stasi Museum. The Stasi was the state secret service of East Germany and its founder, Markus Wolf, was a great admirer of American secret service "legend" Allen Dulles. A glass wall runs through the museum's first two floors. From there you enter a solemn, dark room, packed with informatics equipment for interrogating and surveillance. The room used to enable the Stasi to break into hotel rooms, private offices and the homes of suspected dissidents. In a room off this room, two KGB officers were present when President Kennedy was assassinated. Despite repeated public protests that this was a den of torturers and spies, and protests by the German government, this room, along with a later surveillance room, remains untouched. The exhibits are of historical interest, but as the museum is about more than just surveillance, photos, period pieces, secret documents and original files, the experience is of a museum unlike most others.
Museum of Technology
Located in the former Palace of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Friedrich Franz II, the Museum of Technology houses an eclectic collection of art, antiquities, and weaponry that attest to the enlightened character of the last Grand Duke of Mecklenburg. The museum was given to Berlin by the German Government in 1961 and is beautifully housed in a former residence that was built in the 1560s. The interior of the building is filled with works of art, furnishings, and works of technology dating back from the 14th century to the present. Highlights of a visit to the Museum of Technology include the modern sculpture by Alexander Calder, H.K. Moffitt's massive bronze head of Ernest Rutherford, and the Venus by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. There's a world-class collection of Egyptian antiquities as well as a collection of historical German weapons dating back to the 15th century, many of which were acquired by the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg Friedrich Franz II.
The Neue Wache, or "New Watchtower," was erected in 1926 as an anti-fascist memorial to all those who lost their lives to the Nazis. It was also a memorial to all the victims of totalitarian regimes across the continent, but more importantly, as a site for gathering after the loss of the republic. What started as a simple memorial has evolved over time and now it is home to the Berlin School of Social Research, a progressive research centre dedicated to studies into human rights, democracy, and society. Today, the Neue Wache is an influential anti-war monument, as well as one of Berlin's most striking landmarks. It was during the day, on the second anniversary of Hitler's rise to power, that the Nazis marched down the Brandenburg Gate and surrounded the Neue Wache, demanding that the Republic surrender. The building had three exits, but they had all been booby-trapped with explosives to protect the movement of the Free Zone and its residents. On the morning of August 14, 1961, a man planted a bomb and fled, but it exploded, killing himself and several more bystanders. On the day of the anniversary of this bombing in 1961, a monument was erected by the Berliner Schule, now an independent institution dedicated to human rights, the studies of which have played a pivotal role in Germany's development.