Berlin’s Top 5 Attractions Meet Its Top 5 Hidden Gems
Whenever you’re exploring a new city, there’s that desire to do it all. You want to make sure you hit its biggest attractions and see the main features of a city, but you also want to do the things that not everybody does, to find the secrets that not every traveler knows about it.
If you’ve got a trip lined up to Berlin, then this list will make sure you get the best of both worlds. We’ve got the five unmissable highlights the capital has to offer and how to make the most of them, along with five lesser-known spots that are sure to complete your trip. Enjoy!
Berlin’s Top Five Highlights
The Brandenburg Gate
The classic Berlin view, the symbol of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and one of the most spectacular sights in the city. The Brandenburg Gate is truly unmissable, but do your best to go early in the day. The rest of the time, the square is packed with people and you’ll be hard-pressed to get a good photo in front of it without nearly being run down by a rickshaw taxi.
YoorFact: Look up at the chariot statue on top of the Brandenburg Gate. This figure, known as the quadriga, is a likeness of the Goddess of Victory and was taken from the gate by Napoleon after defeating Prussia, as the area was then known. When the Prussians defeated Napoleon, the statue was restored to Berlin. During refurbishments, the quadriga was removed once again – and allegedly put back up at a slightly different angle, so it is now looking down at the French embassy just across the square. A last show of pettiness after centuries of war between the two countries. Take a look for yourself and see where you think the Goddess of Victory is looking.
The TV Tower
Another iconic part of Berlin’s largely flat skyline is the TV Tower. Having lived in Berlin for two years myself, I used to joke about the tower being an easy place to orient yourself in the city, no matter how lost you might feel. Walk until you see the TV Tower, head towards it, and you’ll come out on a major road eventually.
Don’t feel like you need to go up the tower to get the best experience. Views from afar, such as from across the square on Spandauer Strasse, often do the lofty tower more justice.
The East Side Gallery
Berlin is known worldwide for its street art, but the East Side Gallery takes this to a new level. Not only is it the longest stretch of the original Berlin Wall remaining, it also bears the skill and artwork of dozens of urban artists. Many of them have political messages relating to the times of division in Berlin, some even with modern messages relevant for today. Regardless, take your time to walk down this street and take in each work of art.
Once you’re done, wander around to the other side of the Wall. You’ll find one of the most picturesque stretches of the River Spree in the city, along with a view of my favorite bridge, Oberbaumbruecke.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
More simply known as the Jewish Memorial, these columns of different heights make up a huge and affecting memorial. The designer, Peter Eisenmann, wanted to create something that gave a taste of what the Jews of Europe went through during the Holocaust. As visitors walk further into the memorial, it becomes easier and easier to lose your way. At the very center, with huge, dark columns all around you, isolation, dread, and even panic can set in.
Although not on overall pleasant experience, it is certainly worthwhile to pay respects to one of the worst genocides that Europe has seen. If you are looking to learn more about the Holocaust, there is also an excellent museum dedicated to the subject below ground underneath the memorial itself.
YoorFact: While building the memorial, the engineer Buro Happold wanted to make sure that no one would be able to graffiti on the columns. In a twist of irony, the chemical they coated the columns with to protect them came from the same basic ingredients as were used to create the poison gas used in the Holocaust’s gas chambers.
If you’re anything like me, your first thought when you think of museums might be, too stuffy, too dusty, not for me. Berlin might just surprise you with its offering, then. The city’s Museum Island is open and filled with grassy courtyards. The paths leading between the different museums are lined with impressive columns, and the island itself, as you might expect, is surrounded by calmly flowing water. Even if you’re not a museum fan, it’s worth heading over to the island purely for its calm atmosphere.
Berlin’s Top Five Hidden Gems
Berlin has a reputation for its grungy, grey, urban feel – but there are select areas where nature still shines through. Volkspark Friedrichshain is one of the most charming city parks, with frequent mini-festivals in summer At any time of year, the rolling grass makes for a scenic stroll or perfect picnic spot. Grab a few beers from a nearby Späti (off-license) and enjoy the greener side of Berlin.
Street Art Alley
This spot is so hidden that you can’t find it on Google Maps. It’s just off Hackescher Markt; if you follow directions to the Anne Frank Center, you’ll find it – and you’ll immediately be glad you came. Every inch of wall along this narrow but winding alley is covered with stickers, graffiti, and huge murals. It’s constantly changing and adapting, so every time you visit, you’ll find something new. Venture in far enough and you’ll find a tiny outdoor bar at the end to get a drink or a snack to go along with the unique view.
Prenzlauer Berg’s Water Tower
Bang in the middle of one of Berlin’s most aesthetic-looking neighborhoods, Prenzlauer Berg, this red-brick water tower sits perched on the top of a park that spreads across two levels. Follow the winding paths around in circles to reach a flat stretch of grass on the top and you’ll be rewarded with picture-perfect views of pastel buildings. Bonus tip: the area around the park is full of amazing brunch cafes. Once you’ve had your fill of the view, head back down for a fill of the food.
When I tell you that next up is an abandoned airport, that’s going to sound scarier than it actually is. The city has converted this old airport into a huge park, even leaving the concrete runways for people to play around with scooters, bikes, and segways on. There are community gardens dotted throughout the park and dedicated spots to have a barbecue, so stock up on some snacks and drinks and enjoy the enormous leisure space.
YoorFact: The airport buildings have more recently been used to house the refugees that Germany opened its borders to in the last few years.
This final recommendation takes you a little way out of the city, so it will be easiest to reach if you have a car, although it does still have bus routes. Teufelsberg (or the Devil’s Mountain) is not actually a natural mountain, but is a huge hill made out of piles of old rubble from West Berlin after World War Two. These man-made hills are quite common across Germany, but this one is extra special because it has an old Nazi college buried underneath as well. Today, you would never think that the grassy mound has such history buried below and would only admire the stunning view of the city as you stand at the top.
Those are some of my top tips on what to do in Berlin, but if you are looking for even more ideas, why not listen to some local voices? Download the YoorToors app on Google Play and the App Store to buy tours written by locals. Explore the most Instagrammable locations in Berlin, or be walked through more of the main highlights step-by-step.