Following my earlier interview with local Kristin Addis about how much it costs to visit Berlin and Paal Ringstad’s cheap eats guide to Berlin, I am excited to have another excellent post on Berlin from expat and professional travel blogger, Sam Wood from Indefinite Adventure who shares his top 15 free things to do in Berlin. Take it away Sam!
Berlin might be the perfect European capital for the budget traveller.
As the second biggest city in the EU and the capital of Germany, you might think it would be an expensive place to visit, and of course, like any big city it can be, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to save money in Berlin and of course many wonderful free things to do in Berlin, especially if you plan on visiting in summer, which I definitely recommend. Here are my top tips.
1. Hang out on Tempelhofer Feld
A former airfield right in the middle of the city, Tempelhof has been a public park since 2008 when it closed as an airport. You won’t find much shade here (it used to be an airport so the few trees there are are still very young!) but it’s a great place to cycle, rollerblade or even windsurf as well as have a barbecue, or just a picnic with friends.
2. Check out the flea markets
Berlin has many flea markets happening all over the city. Some specialising in antiques, others in art, but most are general flea markets with old trinkets, GDR memorabilia, records, furniture and the like for sale.
3. Watch outdoor karaoke at Mauerpark on Sundays
One of the largest and most famous flat markets is at Mauerpark, which takes place every Sunday from 7am to 5pm. One reason for its fame is the associated outdoor karaoke in an amphitheatre where brave souls can belt out their favourite tunes in front of a large crowd in the so-called bear pit. This starts at 3pm.
4. Walk through the Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg is famously where the Berlin wall first fell in November 1989, so any visit to Berlin would not be complete without a trip here. Nowadays you can walk through the gate freely of course and try to imagine what it must have been like to be there the day the wall came down.
5. Visit the Deutsche Guggenheim for free on Mondays
Yes, Berlin has its own Guggenheim museum, and it’s free if you visit on Mondays! The museum houses a collection of contemporary art and has frequently changing exhibits from artists from around the world.
6. Get lost in the Holocaust Memorial
Close to the Brandenburg Gate are two important memorials to victims of persecution under the Nazis. The more famous one, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is an area the size of a city block filled with grey concrete pillars set on a sloping field which you can walk between. Entering into the middle of the pillars, the sounds of the city fade away and you are surrounded only by grey, the effect of which is particularly haunting. Just don’t climb or sit on top of the pillars – you’ll get told off by the security guards.
7. Visit the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism
Across the street just inside the largest of Berlin’s parks, Tiergarten, is a lesser known but just as important Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. The memorial is a single concrete block with a window behind which images of same sex couples kissing are displayed on a screen.
8. Take a walking tour
There are multiple free walking tours on offer in Berlin, which operate on a donation basis. Try out the tour of the most famous sights such as Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial or check out the hip neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain to see an alternative side of the city. Also on offer are a tour of Potsdam, a city outside Berlin which was the former residence of the Prussian kings and a tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
9. Attend a chamber concert at lunchtime
Outside of the summer months, the Berliner Philharmoniker puts on free weekly concerts on Tuesdays at 1pm. The concerts are made up not only of members of the Philharmoniker, but also from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Places are limited, some come early to make sure you get in.
10. Walk along the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery
Right by the river Spree, the main waterway running through Berlin between Oberbaumbrücke and An der Schillingbrücke is the East Side Gallery, where you can see the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that still remains. In 1990, the city commissioned 105 different artists from around the world to create murals along the wall in celebration of freedom and the reunification of Germany, essentially turning the wall into an outdoor art gallery.
11. Get a view over Berlin from the dome of the Reichstag building
Nowadays the Reichstag building is the meeting place of the Bundestag, the German parliamentary body. In 1999, it was fully renovated after having stood is disrepair for many decades prior, and anyone can visit, the highlight of which is the glass dome on top designed to symbolise the reunification of Germany. From there, you can get wonderful panoramic views of the city, all you need to do is register in advance for a time slot. You’ll even get a certificate proving your visit afterwards!
12. Check out the gardens of Charlottenburg palace
Strolling through the gardens of the Charlottenburg palace, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in fact in a city like Paris rather than Berlin! The palace itself is the only surviving royal residency in the city and ticket to enter are quite expensive. However, you can visit the gardens for free at any time and fantasise about living the life of an 18th century royal!
13. Join a Meetup group
There is something interesting happening every day in Berlin on Meetup. From photography walks, yoga classes and group picnics to programming seminars, acting workshops and language exchanges, there’s surely something for everyone. Some meet ups are not free or request a donation, but the majority are free to join and open to everyone, whether you’re moving to Berlin or just visiting for the weekend. Many are also conducted in English. Here’s my post on how to use Meetup.
14. Relax by a lake on a hot day
When it’s hot in Berlin, take the chance to get out of town and immerse yourself in some nature at one of the many lakes surrounding the city that are accessible by public transport. Many even have beaches and places where you can swim. Check out this map for all the best ones and how to get there by U-bahn, S-bahn or bus.
15. Watch the sunset by the Landwehrkanal
On a warm evening, the green area along the south bank of the canal at Carl-Herz-Ufer is full of people hanging out, drinking beer and enjoying each others company while the sun goes down over the canal. Grab a spot amidst the group and soak up the atmosphere: the perfect way to end a day in Berlin!