A city where each building tells a story of its terrific past, a city that rose to its glory despite falling prey to the World Wars, a city that bustles along the leisurely flowing Spree… Berlin can’t fit in just one description. There is a massive influx of tourists in this historic city for its museums, ruins, Concentration camps, street art, parks and the Parliament building. You can even declare it as an open museum for a history buff. However, Berlin offers much more than just history lessons. I spent 48 hours in this city to explore the best things to do in Berlin beyond its historic sites. Undoubtedly, even some historic sites were equal fun and informative.
Before you go ahead with your exploration it is extremely essential to note the following points:
- Berlin is vastly spread on both its Eastern and Western side. It will be difficult for you to cover a few sites without the use of public transport.
- Berlin Welcome Card provides you free and unlimited usage of Public Transport including buses, trams, S & U-Bahns and discounts at many attractions in the city. The prices start from 20 Euros for a 48 hours card. I would advise you to definitely buy it if you are staying in Berlin for 2-3 days.
- You can either order a Welcome card online or can directly purchase it from the main railway & bus stations. In case you have ordered it online, you must collect and stamp it on your arrival.
- It might be difficult to use public transport if you don’t have a proper map in hand. So, don’t forget to take a copy of a free city map, public transport map and other useful brochures from the airport, Railway or Bus station.
- There are many migrants in the city who might not be too aware of the ways to reach a point or the trains to take. Thus, you must rely only on the help desk executive and of course, Google Maps.
- The attractions in the city centre can be covered on foot. Start early morning if you are keen on covering the museums.
- Most sites have an underground train station beside them, making your commute easier.
- Vegetarians have many options for both street side and restaurant food. Budget travellers can get burgers for as less as 1.50-2.00 Euros in McDonald’s. Turkish and Chinese Cafes serve meal boxes of noodles, cheese nuggets, salads, potato mash and some delicious curries. Spice lovers won’t be much disappointed in Germany. Germans love their food with spicy flavours.
- Germans are a bit reserved compared to the people in its neighbouring countries. Most of them might be hesitant to talk due to linguistic issues. However, Berliners are really helpful. If you are an English speaking person, you can approach the youngsters who are mostly well-versed with English.
Here are some of my favourite Fun things to do in Berlin beyond its Historic Sites
Berlin is NOT any fairytale city like other Central European towns. It was, once upon a time, a queen of artistic architecture. Its façade kept changing with the roles it had to play during Nazi and Communist rule. Berliners are quite open about their dark past and most of them can tell you the phases it went through to finally become a welcoming city bustling with modern infrastructure, companies, colleges, libraries, beautiful parks and of course the tourists from all over the world.
Scan Berlin’s Attraction from the top of its Parliament
Reichstag or the German Parliament building is an architectural masterpiece in its restored version. Architect Norman Foster gifted this really imaginative as well as mindful construction of a glass dome at the top of the German Parliament. One can reach the top of the Dome ceiling through an ascending pathway guiding you through your 360-degree view of Berlin. The free audio guide recognizes your location within the dome and explains you about the internal wonder architecture as well as the attractions visible to you from this 23.5-metre high dome located at the top of a historic Parliament building.
Brandenburger Tor as seen from the top of the Dome
Some of the beautiful sites seen within and from the Dome are:
- The 360-degree view of the city skyline that turns into an art-scape during sunset.
- The eco-architecture of the restored building that supplies enough light to the Plenary Hall throughout the day through a huge mirror covered cone in its centre. It isn’t only about the light. The audio guide would explain you in details about the wonders of science which utilizes even the hot air of the room to convert into energy. In short, it is not just a piece of architecture but an example of a mandatory building design of the future.
- The photographic exhibition narrating the making of the Dome and the building restoration.
- An enchanting view of the river Spree and the historic buildings located around it.
- A bird’s eye view of the Berlin City Centre.
One can either book the following of the three experiences in the German Parliament online on their official website:
- your guided tour in the Parliament building + Dome visit
- Only the Dome Visit with a free Audio Guide
- Witness the session when the Parliament is sitting.
The dome visit is absolutely free unless you also wish to book some delicious breakfast/lunch/dinner at the restaurant located at the rooftop. In case you are not so sure about the exact day of your visit, you can also stand in the queue (Carry your passport) and can get a ticket of your preferable time-slot right there and then. On weekends, this queue may cost you 2-3 hours of your precious time. Even on a weekday, I was standing in this queue for about an hour and a half. So, you can decide for yourself.
How to reach: Bus 100 and M41 are the most convenient options from most parts of the city.
Explore the Quirky Side of Berlin – Graffiti and Street Art
The city is full of the graffiti and street art left by the then soldiers and some by the German artists. They have well described the atrocities faced by the people of Germany during the Nazi rule. Whereas, some other paintings are a mere articulation of feelings, political scenes, war scenes and creative graffiti work.
There are many private walking tours that take you around this artful spots in the city. However, the following are some of the most famous sites to scan through Berlin’s Street Art History. These art-works are often called the Open-air Art Museums.
- East Side Gallery: It is one of the major parts of the fallen Berlin Wall. A walk along this wall on the bank of the River Spree is an excellent idea for a morning exploration.
- Intime Cinemas at Friedrichshain: The exterior of the cinema is a free-space for Graffiti and artwork. The designs might change each time you visit it as a new art covers up an old one almost every day/week.
- The Ruins of a Train Depot: Located outside the Warschauer Metro station, this once bombed out station is now a happening hub for restaurant and club lovers. Though the building is majorly destroyed, the walls stand sturdily playing the canvas for all kinds of artworks. From Murals, 3-D graffiti, abstract artwork to any unimaginable creation, you will find a variety of amazing street art that might be hiding a cool pub or restaurant within. Don’t forget to find the Disco set in a telephone booth when here.
- Kreuzberg District is another happening neighbourhood to take a glimpse of Berlin’s upcoming artists’ wall-arts.
- The topography of Terror Museum: It is an open-air museum that has free accessibility for all those who wish to know the terror forced upon the Germans during its dark era.
Go for a Photowalk from Brandenburg Gate to Museum Island
Taking a walk from Reichstag to Brandenburger Tor continuing towards the Museum Island of Berlin is can prove to be a great photography trail during the evening. The evenings of summers in Berlin can be termed the golden hours when everything is painted in the sunny hue studded with some man-made yellow lights. The city at this hour welcomes you with the most dramatic lights in and around its historic buildings.
Chill Outside Berlin Cathedral
While taking the long walk from Brandenburger to the Berliner Dom, you might want to take some rest in the public space around the fountain opposite the Dom. It is common to witness some music or dance performances after 6 pm (After the cathedral closes) that are open for all. You may cheer up the musicians and singers with some donation too. Grab a pint of beer or two on the way and enjoy the show.
The Berliner Dom is an iconic building in Berlin. You may opt to take an inside tour by paying an entry fee. The cathedral also maintains a choir group and a band of top-class musicians. If you wish to attend any of the concerts, you can book your tickets on the cathedral’s official website. Alternatively, you can just chill at the cathedral’s coffee shop.
Discover Egypt in Berlin
The two museums named The Neue Museum and the Pergamon Museum can be explored just beyond its artefacts. I have included these museums for its unique and cool collections. The Neue Museum’s bust of Nefertiti, the wife of Pharoh Akhenaten of Egypt lures thousands of tourists daily to this museum. It is believed to be the work of 1345 BC when even the word ‘technology’ wasn’t known. The museum may also uncover the hard truth behind the presence of such precious art of Egypt in the city of Berlin.
The Pergamon Museum can solely be visited for the copy of one of the earlier Seven Wonders of the World, The Ishtar Gate. Be one of the first ones to enter the museum and head straight away to the Ishtar gate. The sight would be all for you to devour without much public around. For a lesser crowd, you can visit this museum on a Thursday late evening when this museum is open till 10 pm.
Spend a sunny afternoon at Grunewald
Grunewald is a vast green field mounded at its centre. The hill Teufelsberg is nothing but a mound of Berlin’s discarded World War II debris. The hilltop is the best place to capture the skyline of Berlin without paying to climb up the crowded towers. The forest is also flanked by many historic ruins and monuments as well. Nonetheless, the beautiful picnic spot near the lake where the ducks and swans create a scenic beauty. You may have some beer in the Biergarten with a lake view. The only thing that a view-lover or a photographer should not miss is the abandoned listening station of US Secret Services.
If you are really keen on experiencing the best of Grunewald, you must give it at least a day.
How to reach: Hop on to bus M49
Enjoy Free Music Performances, Beer, Waterfall and more in the Parks of Berlin
The parks in Berlin turned into gathering spaces and sunbath spots on sunny days. However, I personally feel that the view in the garden would be more abstractly beautiful in autumn. Whichever season it might be, your exploration in the city would demand some time to relax and chill in some green space. Here are some suggestions for the best parks in Berlin right within the city.
Bird’s Eye View of Tiergarten
- Tiergarten: The Vast green field facing the German Parliament is Berlin’s favourite central park. You must spend some time here while heading to The Victory Column.
- Treptower Park: This was one of my favourites for is apt location right by the River Spree. One of the must do amazing things here is rumbling to an abandoned amusement park ‘Spreepark’.
- Victoria Park in the West Kreuzberg: is the city’s most popular park for its hilly terrain and a waterfall. Yes!! If you visit it anytime post winter, a lovely rambling waterfall is what you must look for in Victoria Park.
- Mauerpark: on a Sunday afternoon turns into a happening open-air green club of Berlin. There are famous bands performing for free in the park and the Biergartens. An open pub called Beer Pit also has live music and Karaoke.
Take a Day Trip to Potsdam
Potsdam is a contrasting town from its main city of Berlin. Potsdam is all about palaces, royal gardens and cute houses. It sings of the imperial powers and luxury providing much to explore for the tourists. Unarguably, it is one of the most frequented places by the tourists but its vast area and an end number of places to offer to the tourists don’t make it feel too crowded. The main highlights of Potsdam include:
- Sanssouci Palace for its location beside the vineyard terraces.
- The New Palace for its Marble Hall and Garden.
- Babelsberg Park
- Alexandrowka: Dutch and Russian Quarters
- Charlottenhof and the park right behind the palace.
Hope you would enjoy these fun things to do in Berlin beyond its historic sites. Also, let me know your favourite things to do in Berlin in the comments below.
Note: This blog is written in collaboration with ‘Visit Berlin‘. However, the views and experiences are of my own.
You may also want to read about other German cities
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