10 best free things to do in Berlin

  • 11.09.2023 16:58
  • Bruno Arcos
Germany Berlin

A small compilation of Berlin’s free tourist attractions and free places to visit to help you keep your budget under control when visiting the German capital. Find out what are the 10 best free things to do in Berlin.

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Considered one of the most underrated capitals in Western Europe, the once grey and damp Berlin has been rising in popularity over the past decade or so. While it’s true that most of Berlin lacks that picturesque “old-world” charm, the German capital more than makes up for it with some of the most interesting chapters in recent history.

Not the kind of history you see in grand facades, narrow cobblestone streets or trendy boulevards, but rather the gritty and poignant history of some of the 20th century’s most significant events. Moreover, with its youthful and alternative vibe, Berlin offers a pretty unique atmosphere.

When it comes to the cost of living, and although Berlin isn’t as friendly on the pocket (well, by German standards) as it was a few years ago, there’s still loads of free things to do in Berlin! After all, if there’s something I really appreciate about this city, is the fact that, unlike many other tourist hubs, visitors aren’t seen as walking cash machines!

10 great free things to see and do in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate

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Considered the greatest symbol and attraction of Berlin, visiting and passing through the Brandenburg Gate is completely free of charge. More than just a monument or architectural piece, this famous arch is one of the most iconic locations from the Cold War era and the spot where Ronald Reagan delivered the famous speech calling on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

Back in those days, this monument stood in a sort of “no man’s land”, off-limits to both West and East Germans, so the Brandenburg Gate has today evolved into the ultimate symbol of German reunification, and is usually the primary gathering point during celebratory events marking the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The monument also marks the beginning of Unter den Linden Avenue, Mitte’s (the city center) most famous boulevard, which cruises along some of the most beautiful buildings in Berlin, including the Berlin Cathedral, the Neue Wache, the State Opera and the recently reconstructed Berlin Palace.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Although the nation has been responsible for some of the greatest crimes humanity has ever witnessed, the reality is that there is no other people as willing to take accountability for their past mistakes as the Germans.

It’s a unique sight to see in a capital city – right in the heart of its historic center – a memorial that doesn’t commemorate the suffering of its own population but rather pays tribute to those who endured suffering at their hands. This is exactly what you’ll find in Berlin, in the form of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, this monument is simple yet profoundly impactful due to its sheer scale, extending 2711 concrete blocks across an area of 19.000 square meters. Unfortunately, some tourists see this memorial as an acceptable spot for their Instagram photo “sesh”, since it appears to have – and I quote – “the perfect lighting”. Needless to say, this behavior is not tolerable, as it’s completely detached from both history and reality. Don’t be that tourist. Don’t behave like an idiot.

East Side Gallery

While you can come across various remnants of the Berlin Wall throughout the city, I dare saying that no other surviving section of the infamous wall is as famous as the East Side Gallery.

Located in Friedrichshain – one of Berlin’s trendiest areas – and right next to the picturesque Oberbaum Bridge, the East Side Gallery is a genuine open-air art gallery, using a long stretch of the Berlin Wall as its canvas. The paintings on display change periodically and always carry a political and often grotesque message, in line with the history of the “monument”. The gallery is also where you’ll find one of the world’s most famous graffiti, depicting the kiss shared between former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and GDR President Erich Honecker.

In the same vein and also free to visit, you can explore the Berlin Wall Memorial located in the Mitte district.

Climb to the Dome of the Reichstag

In addition to standing among Berlin’s most beautiful buildings, the Reichstag is also one of the most important and historically significant in the city, housing the Federal Parliament of Germany. However, the building’s place in history was cemented after a massive fire inside its premises served as pretext for Hitler to legally consolidate an even more centralized and authoritarian power, leading to the tragic consequences we are all familiar with

Following the fire and the aftermath of war, the building was virtually abandoned until the reunification of Germany, when it underwent a complete renovation that included the remarkable addition of its futuristic glass dome. If you ascend to the dome, you can observe the German Parliament in session through the glass, symbolizing the transparency of German power and the idea that the German people are constantly monitoring the actions of their government.

Climbing the dome is completely free, but it is necessary to make an online reservation for a specific date and time. Just be sure not to book things last minute, as slots tend to go fast.

Topography of Terror

Built on the exact site where the central headquarters of the Gestapo and SS used to stand, the Topography of Terror is one of Berlin’s most sobering and well-organized museums. After an excavation revealed the grim cellars of these buildings, where political prisoners were held in custody, tortured and killed, the decision was made to transform the entire area into this remarkable, free museum.

Without concealing any sordid details, the museum depicts how Hitler rose to power democratically, utilizing populist rhetoric and hate speech. Furthermore, the main exhibition also highlights the violent and repressive methods employed by authorities to maintain control over an entire nation, particularly Berlin, through an endless list of crimes and massacres that extended across Europe.

Regardless of the ticket price, this would always be a must-visit location in Berlin. But the fact that it’s free, makes it even better!

Tiergarten

Although Berlin’s architecture is predominantly modern, a consequence of the massive destruction the city endured during World War II, one of the great things about the German capital is its almost absurd abundance of parks. Scattered throughout the city, both to the East and West, it’s hard to travel a few kilometers without coming across a green space.

Out of the vast collection, perhaps the most famous is the Tiergarten, which affectionately translates as the “Garden of Animals” due to its hosting of the city’s zoo. Not only is it the most central park in the city, but it’s also the third largest in the country, encompassing various memorials, statues and the unmistakable Victory Column (Siegessaule), another of Berlin’s iconic symbols.

Among other parks worth a visit, there’s the Mauerpark, famous for its flea markets and Sunday karaoke, and the Tempelhof, which occupies the grounds of a former airport, runway and all!

Charlottenburg Palace Gardens

For a quick taste of past Berlin, we recommend taking a stroll through the Gardens of Charlottenburg Palace, the largest royal residence in the German capital. While a ticket is required to explore inside the palace, the gardens themselves are completely free!

You can wander through the designated paths, admire the Orangery, the New Pavilion and the Belvedere (although you can’t go in), and take a seat by the lakeside, where the River Spree flows in. You can also take a quick look at the mausoleum in the gardens, where several members of the Hohenzollern royal family, the dynasty that once ruled over Prussia, Imperial Germany, and Romania, are buried.

If you’re interested in visiting other palaces during your getaway to Berlin, we recommend a quick trip to the neighboring city of Potsdam. Since it served as the seat of Kings and Kaisers in the region, Potsdam resembles an open-air museum, allowing you to freely wander the splendid gardens of the city’s most striking royal palaces: Sanssouci and Neues Palais.

Checkpoint Charlie

While it may have evolved into a bit of a tourist trap, being in Berlin and not visiting the iconic Checkpoint Charlie is like going to Rome and not seeing the Pope! By far the most famous of all the crossing points between West Berlin and East Berlin during the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie has become a symbol of that bygone era.

Gone are the days when American and Soviet tanks strutted their stuff on either side of the barricade, to no practical results (a staple of that period). Unfortunately, this historical landmark has somewhat turned into a caricature, not only because some parts are actually reconstructions, but also because, as is the case with most touristy sites, there’s just a whole lot of tacky. Actors started popping up dressed as border guards, someone put up fake signs and the whole quarter is just filled with run-off-the-mill souvenir shops selling trinkets made in China. Still, it stands as one of the best free things to do in Berlin!

After a quick visit to Checkpoint Charlie, take the opportunity to stroll through the Kreuzberg district or head further north to discover Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s main squares.

Alexanderplatz

Considered the bustling heart of former East Berlin, Alexanderplatz is a sprawling square where you can still find some of the city’s surviving historical landmarks. When you take a close look at the square, there’s absolutely no doubt about what side of the Berlin Wall it used to stand, with its wide, empty space and geometric, characterless buildings that have since become a hallmark of the countries previously concealed behind the Iron Curtain.

The most iconic feature of this square is the Fernsehturm, a colossal television tower and still the tallest structure in Germany. According to some rumors, it was built to give an impression of progress and technological advancement in East Germany, since the tower was clearly visible to West Berliners in the distance. Other notable attractions in the square include the Fountain of Friendship and the World Clock, with the Rotes Rathaus (Town Hall), the Neptune Fountain and St. Mary’s Church located nearby.

In the vicinity, we also highly recommend taking a stroll through the Nikolaiviertel, the only remaining medieval quarter in Berlin, having been reconstructed in 1987 following the devastation of the Second World War.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

We cap off our list of free things to do in Berlin with a visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Located along the vibrant Kurfurstendamm, a boulevard and former heart of West Berlin, you simply cannot miss the striking, semi-destroyed structure completely surrounded by modern buildings and luxurious boutiques.

Originally erected in the late 19th century, this church fell victim to partial destruction during air raids in 1943, with local authorities choosing to preserve its ruins and build a brand-new church right next to them. Consequently, this unassuming Protestant church has evolved into a symbol of Berlin’s resilience and its ability to strive and renovate.

Should you wish to explore what remained of the church, you have the option of joining one of the guided tours. These tours are offered free of charge, though they welcome a symbolic donation. In any case, you can always take in the exterior and appreciate one of the German capital’s most distinctive buildings.

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