Vibrant and alive, Berlin is one of the few cities we have visited multiple times. Each time we add new and often unusual things to do in Berlin. Of course, our Berlin itinerary is much more than just the off-the-beaten-path sites.
The capital of Germany is a city steeped in history, a once-divided city with a sordid past and a bright future. As a result, Berlin is a phoenix rising and a fascinating place to visit.
Unified in 1990, the Berlin we know today is a single city providing an eclectic blend of modern and historical sites intermixed with quirky fun.
Therefore, while we enjoy plenty of unusual things to do in Berlin, we also include the classic sites on our visits.
Below you will find historic monuments, quirky museums, impressive street art, government buildings, and a host of unusual things to do in Berlin.
Build your Berlin itinerary with these classic and unusual things to do in Berlin
- Contemplate the Berlin Wall
- Appreciate Berlin’s architecture from the river
- Be uplifted by the vibrant street art
- Never forget at the Holocaust Memorial
- Be in awe of the views from the TV tower
- Photograph iconic sights
- Have a day of family fun at the Berlin Zoo
- Indulge at a food market
- Go museum hopping
- … and more
Contemplate the Berlin Wall
A highly condensed version of history tells us that on August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was quickly erected, instantly dividing the city and leaving only those in the west with their freedom.
It took nearly 30 years, but the wall finally came down on November 9, 1989, and the East and West unified in 1990. Only a section of the wall remains, standing as a memorial and a stark reminder.
The first time I visited Berlin (1978) the wall still stood, and the process of crossing the border into the East was both cumbersome and a bit frightening. The visual contrast between the two sides was quite dramatic.
In West Berlin, our city guide told us her story. While visiting a friend on August 13, 1961, the new wall separated her from her family. Instantly, as a wee girl, she was free, her family was not. A tear formed as she told us that she hadn’t seen her own family for 17 years.
In her honour, almost 40 years later, our girls stood at the end of the remaining piece of the Berlin Wall, one girl on each side. They thought about what life would have been like if they had been standing in the same spots on August 13, 1961. They would have been separated for nearly 30 years.
Appreciate Berlin’s architecture from the river
Cruising down the River Spree is possibly the best way to see Berlin, it’s certainly the most popular. And, as a bonus, we got a glimpse into both the classic and unusual things to do in Berlin. The added value from the english commentary helped us to better understand and enjoy what we were sailing past.
While there are plenty of boats out there, we looked at reviews before making our choice. In the end, it came down to the 1-hour or 2.5-hour option.
- 1-hour river cruise
Note that the 1-hour cruise option sails from either Friedrichstraße or Nikolaiviertel in only one direction. The highlights included sailing past the Reichstag, Bellevue Palace, Victory Column, Central Station, Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island, and a few unique locations like the building above that was once used to house horses. Reserve your one hour cruise here.
- 2.5-hour river cruise
The longer cruise returns to its starting point, sailing past the same sights as in the 1-hour cruise plus Charlottenburg Palace, Westhafen Canal, the Berlin-Spandau Ship Canal, the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs, and Hamburger Bahnhof. Reserve your 2.5-hour river cruise here.
Be uplifted by vibrant street art
Now that the Berlin wall is down, it seems that every available wall in the city is covered in street art.
Be sure to check out thefree-to-visit East Side Gallery, an impressive and quirky collection of street art on a remaining section of the Berlin Wall.
If you are like me, you will want to find the best, so check out this free Berlin street art map.
Never forget at the Holocaust Memorial
Entitled the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is a powerful reminder of a history that never should have taken place.
The memorial covers 4.7 acres with 2,711 concrete stelae, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field.
The stelae are 2.38m by 0.95m and vary in height from 0.2m to 4.8m. They quite effectively produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, as was their aim. The whole sculpture strives to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.
Even more powerful was the underground museum, which focused on individuals who perished in the Holocaust, making the Holocaust Memorial a much more personal experience. In retrospect, I would agree with the recommended minimum age of 14 and wish I had listened in the first place.
Be in awe of the views from the TV tower
Germany’s tallest tower offers unobstructed 360° views from the top. It’s a super popular attraction, often with long queues that can be avoided with advance tickets. Reserve your fast track entrance tickets here.
Photograph iconic sights
When creating our Berlin itinerary, our goal was to intermix theunusual things to do in Berlin with the traditional. While there is plenty to pick from, the four must-see classic sites are:
- Check Point Charlie
Taking a photo at the entering or leaving the American sector sign is on nearly everyone’s Berlin itinerary, and we are no exception (I just didn’t put it here). While the area is now quite touristy, we found the Check Point Charlie museum to be very informative and interesting.
- Brandenburg Gate (image at the top of page)
Now a symbol of unity, the Brandenburg Gate was once part of the division between the East and West. A must-see, the Brandenburg Gate is one of the city’s most recognizable icons.
- Berliner Dom
We saw this intricate protestant cathedral on our river tour (photo above).
The current key German parliament building, the Reichstag is also a place to uncover more of Berlin and of Germany’s history.
Have a day of family fun at the Berlin Zoo
As sometimes happens on long term travel, half of our family had some sort of flu on the day we planned to go to the zoo. Therefore I missed it, but one of our girls took a few shots reporting back that she was disappointed to find so many of the animals still in smaller enclosures, rather than the large open spaces simulating their natural environment that we are used to seeing at large zoos.
As we haven’t returned after this experience, and the zoo’s webpage doesn’t make it clear, we are unsure what it’s like today. However, it is the oldest and most frequently visited zoo in Germany. More importantly, the Berlin Zoo houses the largest variety of species of any zoo in the world.
Indulge at a food market
While markets are found all over the world, both the HotlzMarket 25 and Markthalle Neun are among the unusual things to do in Berlin.
- HolzMarkt 25
Spawned on the location of a 300-year-old timber market, it is a cooperative endeavour bringing food, music, art, and more to the banks of the Spree river.
- Markthalle Neun
This 120-year-old historic street food market in Kreuzberg borough features local producers and specialty products from all over the world.
Go museum hopping in Berlin
With over 30 museums in Berlin, there is something for everyone.
A must-see destination on most Berlin itineraries, Museum Island is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
There is a Berlin Welcome Card that includes entrance to all five of the galleries on Museum Island along with city transport and other discounts. It’s one of several Berlin pass options listed below.
The five galleries on Museum Island:
- Pergamon Museum
This is the city’s most visited museum (and one of my two favourites). Amongst other artwork, it is home to three massive and important examples of ancient architecture: the Hellenistic Pergamon Altar, The Babylonian Gate of Ishtar, and the Roman Market Gate of Miletus. Reserve Pergamon Museum entry tickets here
- Neues Museum
My other favourite Berlin Museum, Neues, is the home to the famous bust of Nefertiti, with no photos of it allowed. Also there we found many more Egyptian sculptures and papyrus, pre and early history artwork, and classical antiquities.
- Bode Museum
Another stunning museum, this one focused on unique sculptures mostly from the middle ages to the 19th century, along with both a Byzantine Art and a Numismatic collection. Reserve Bode Museum entry tickets here.
- Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery)
Standing tall like a Greek temple, the museum houses sculptures and paintings from several periods: Classicism, Romanticism, Biedermeier, Impressionism, and the early Modern Age. The art collection is often referred to as one of the most comprehensive from the time period separating the French Revolution and WWI.
- The Altes Museum
This collection of classical antiquities includes sculptures, jewellery, coins, and more, all housed in the oldest building on the island, built in the 1830s. Reserve Altes Museum entry tickets here.
- Gemäldegalerie Art Museum
A classic art museum considered by some to house the world’s most important European painting collections. Artworks are predominantly German and Italian paintings (13 – 16 centuries), and Dutch paintings (15 – 17 century).Reserve Art Museum entry tickets here
- Hamburger Bahnhof Museum
A contemporary art gallery housed in the historic buildings of the former Hamburger Bahnhof. Includes works by Andy Warhol. Reserve Hamburger Bahnhof Museum entry tickets here
- Neue Nationalgalerie
The new national gallery features Classical Modernism from the 20th century. Reserve your Neue Nationalgalerie entry ticket here
Museums that are among the unusual things to do in Berlin
- Disgusting Food Museum
Not only will you discover 90 disgusting foods from around the world, but if you head to the museum’s Tasting Bar, you can try out some of them. It’s certainly one of the more unusual things to do in Berlin. Reserve Disgusting Food Museum entry tickets here.
- Jewish Museum
The largest Jewish museum in Europe, it outlines Jewish history in Germany from the Middle Ages to the present day. Entry is free. It is one of the most visited museums in Germany, so popular in fact, it often gives out all of its daily timed-entry tickets, therefore reserve in advance. Reserve your FREE timed-entry ticket to the Jewish Museum here
- German Spy Museum
Discover a bit of spy history and test your spy skill at some of the interactive activities like the laser maze. Reserve Germany Spy Museum entry tickets here
- The Wall Museum
An emotional journey through the history of the Berlin Wall is displayed through film, documents, and interviews. Reserve Wall Museum entry tickets here
- DDR Museum
A hands-on opportunity to see what life was like in East Germany – the former German Democratic Republic (GDR in English or DDR in German). Reserve DDR Museum entry tickets here
More unusual things to do in Berlin
If some of the above didn’t satisfy your need to discover some unusual thing to do in Berlin, check out these:
Swim in a pool in the river
Badeschiff translates to bathing ship, which is a great way to describe this public swimming pool in the Spree River. It seems the perfect solution to a non-swimmable river, although it’s only open from May to September. The surrounding area is all recreation.
See the contrast of life in both East and West Berlin in the 1980s as you sit on a bus and take a virtual reality tour back to life in 1980. I didn’t do this VR adventure, as I saw the dramatic contrast first-hand in the 80s. Reserve your virtual TimeRide here
Watch a jugger match
Oddly, Berlin is not the first place we have encountered the medieval-looking sport of jugger (we watched jugger in La Coruña, Spain). However, it is much more popular in Berlin, even supporting a Jugger Berlin webpage. It seems that the oldTempelhofer Feld airport is one of the best places to observe the seemingly organized madness.
An Instagrammer’s paradise, this is definitely one of the more unusual things to do in Berlin. With 30 interactive installations, you can create your perfect shot. It’s more of an entertainment than a museum. Reserve Selfie Museum entry ticket in advance.
City passes and combinations to save you money in Berlin
We opted for a city pass that no longer exists. If I were to choose today, I would either take the Easy City Pass, or the Welcome pass discussed above, which gets me into all of the galleries on museum island and includes transportation.
Save on your trip with these resources
These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or VRBO (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
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Do you prefer to add classic or the unusual things to do in Berlin to your Berlin itinerary?
Photos on this page are either shot by our team and watermarked as such, in the public domain, or some stock photos were supplied by DepositPhotos.
Fantastic pictures, Berlin is on my ‘Bucket list’,
Fantastic guide! I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin, and love visiting unique places, so this is perfect for me.
There’s always something fascinating to learn at your blog!
Thanks for this wonderful guide – hoping to make it to this part of the world pretty soon. Definitely saving your post for future 🙂
Lydia C. Lee
Great tips. I loved Berlin so much!
Very informative post. I have been wanting to visit Berlin. I would love to see all 5 galleries on Museum Island. WOW! That would be incredible.
This is such a great post! I went to Berlin a few months ago but unfortunately it rained non-stop the whole time I was there! Definitely need to book another visit and ill be saving this for then!
I live in the US/Mexico borderlands and have worked for many years in the border town of Douglas/Agua Prieta. It would be fascinating to contemplate the Berlin Wall! Great post. Thanks for sharing
Germany is filled with so much history to learn about. Berlin is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, so I really enjoyed reading this post! I would love to see the Holocaust Memorial and the Berlin Wall.
I’d love to travel to Berlin. I too like to include unusual and the typical touristy things to do while traveling. Learning about some of Berlins history was truly a somber experience. Great suggestions on where to go and what to experience while visiting.
This is such a great post. We were not able to make it to Berlin during our trip to Germany, but I hope to visit on our next trip. I would love to see the architecture from the river like you mentioned and to see the Berlin Wall in person. Thanks for a great post!
I love Germany and this post has made me want to explore so much more, as I’ve not been to Berlin yet. Thanks for sharing so much detail!
Due to a train strike, I travelled straight through Berlin & never got to see the Berlin Wall. It’s been on my list ever since. I hope I’ll be able to visit one day! Thanks for sharing your tips & experiences!
The Jetset Boyz
A must-do when in Berlin is treat yourself to some currywurst! It was invented in 1949 as an affordable but filling meal for the people of Berlin at a time when food was in short supply.
And you’ll find the best at the Fritz & Co currywurst stall on Wittenberg Platz in the Schöneberg area of Berlin. It’s one of our foodie must-dos whenever we’re in Berlin.
And when you’ve finished your oh-so-tasty currywurst, why not pop along to the Currywurst Museum?
Currywurst is much more than just a huge economic factor in Germany: Favoured by politicians, athletes, and celebrities, thematised in literature and film, and sung about by songwriters, it’s a part of German cultural and social history.
Yes, I do remember trying a currywurst when in Berlin. I vaguely remember being told it was a cold war recipe as you only needed ketchup, curry powder, and sausage to make it.
It’s kind of scary thinking about how Melissa and I would’ve been standing in different countries not too long ago in that first photo.
My parents were actually living in Germany when the wall came down! I have a small piece of it as a souvenier. I was in Germany that Christmas and we went across the border in the “East” … and it was almost like time had stood still. I still think of that time period in black-and-white because it was so bleak over there.
I remember when it came down, never been. Those graffiti walls could be in a number of cities but somehow fitting to be there. Thanks for the reminder of how life has been and now is in other places of the world.
Carrie-Anne Foster (thatdizzychick)
Great photos. I especially love the one with your two girls on each side of the line. Crazy how things used to be.
Carrie~Anne at That Dizzy Chick
I was there last month and going back next month. We didn’t go to the wall monument this time, but to the outdoor wall museum where there’s a replica of what the inner walls looked like (The actual wall and the no-man’s zone.) It’s chilling that people would do this to other people. I became obsessed after our walking tour and bought a book about it. It’s all so unbelievable.
Great B! Would love to visit Berlin someday!
Such an important piece of history. Thanks for the reminder.
A to Z: writingforpeanuts.com and deborahdera.com
I wish I had seen it. I remember its end vividly.
The photo of the two girls (yours?) is very profound. It was such a part of the culture for so long – in a terrible way – that it’s almost hard to imagine life without it. So glad a part of it remains, for history’s sake. And lucky you, seeing amazing places in the world like it.
If that wall could speak…..
The Berlin Wall is a great choice for “B”! I would love to see it for myself one day. 🙂
T. A. Miles
Wonderful images. So much history to be seen and shared the world over.
It’s amazing how much sadness is contained in the history of Berlin; definitely a surreal experience the first time I visited. I love the amount of street art, though, and the amazingly decorated pieces of the wall on display.
I am surprised to see how thin the wall actually was. I never knew that.
S. Katherine Anthony
Wow, it really hit me reading the picture with your girls standing on either side. What a fascinating city, maybe someday I’ll go with the hubby. Great pictures as usual 🙂
Oh yes, Berlin is a very fascinating city – with east and west, new and old… Really loved it every time we have visited:-) And what a great moment when that wall came down! Awesome. Enjoy traveling around with you- great pictures and interesting to read – I will come back for more:-)
I’d love to visit there someday! Love all the shots! 🙂
I was three when the wall came down, so I don’t remember any of that part of history, but my family has a lot of stories pre- and post-wall…
I’ve never been to Berlin. I remember watching news reports of the Wall being torn down. The closest I came to Berlin (other than airports) has been Switzerland, where my mother was born.
Berlin is one of my favorites cities in Germany. I’ve been there a couple of times and every time you can discover something new. Something not everyone knows is that the West part of the country (the “rich” one) has the so called solidarity tax (deducted from your salary) that is aimed for the East (the “poor” people).
Love the graffiti! Nice trip!
Vicki @ Knocked Up & Abroad
Would love to visit it one day. What a great historic marker.
I also remember the day the wall came down. A very historical place for many different reasons.
Hi Rhonda .. I’ve never been to Berlin, but would hope to see the monument sometime .. I was in Prague and Brno in the 1970s and experienced East Europeans at work there and in London …
Have you seen the film Goodbye Lenin! … it’s a good tragi-comedy … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_Lenin Our film society highly recommended ..
Rhonda, My entire family loves Berlin as well. Sobering thought, separated by inches…Great B!
I was only six when the wall came down but I kind of vaguely remember hearing about it. It didn’t mean anything to me at the time but now I can see how important it was.
Hey how nice is that, you reminded me of my Berlin times!!
Tina from The Sunny Side of Life
I love this! Berlin was certainly one of my favorite cities when I visited way back in 2005- and it’s where I fell in love with graffiti and street art! The wall especially really gave me a sense of history- it’s such a unique aspect to the city that’s incomparable to anywhere else.
I got to see a small piece of the wall on display once. These pictures are great, and I’m so glad you shared them with us. I was young when the Berlin wall came down. I remember it happening, but I was too little to understand the significance of it at that time.
Fantastic pictures! Berlin is on my ‘Bucket list’, the wall coming down was one of the first historical events I saw in real-time. Such a tragedy that so many families were torn apart for so long.
I just went back and read your post about the Aqueduct. Didn’t realize you’re so far ahead of us here in the USA! Can’t wait to see more pictures and read all about your world travels 🙂
We have literally just come back from Berlin. It was strange to think that I could simply walk around unconscious of whether I was in the east or the west but years ago this would have been impossible. The way that they divided the city seemed so strange and places unfathomable. When the GDR put the wall up I can’t understand why they would not extend it to there own war memorial just metres down the road!
I loved looking at how they have added artwork to the wall that remains today – making it part of their culture – but in a different way (old meets new). It was a great city to walk around, potentially one of the best city breaks in Europe that we have done.
That picture’s very powerful, a historic shot. Interesting that their graffiti is accepted as art. It does look much more respectable than graffiti in the states.
Be well, Rhonda.
Hubby was in Germany during the Vietnam war. He saw the wall. I’ve never been to Europe. I want to see America first. That’s what’s on my bucket list.
Have a fabulous A to Z Challenge. You’re off to a great start. 🙂
Alex J. Cavanaugh
I remember when the wall came down. That was a very big deal!