There are so many free things to do in Berlin that I was shocked. As the capital of one of Europe’s most prosperous countries I expected Berlin to be an expensive destination, but it’s far from it. As well as having so many free and cheap things to do and see, I was also surprised by how inexpensive food and drink (beer especially) was. It really isn’t a joke when they say beer is cheaper than water here!
All the above makes Berlin a low-cost city to visit, and one that’s overflowing culture and history – although you can’t avoid that some of it is quite dark. Still, if you’re a lover of culture and history then you’re spoilt for choice in Berlin.
Yes, many of the city’s museums and attractions do cost money – and are worth paying for, such as the DDR Museum and the Mauer (Wall) Museum – but you may be surprised by how many iconic and interesting attractions you can visit for free.
Here’s our guide to some of the best things to do in Berlin for free…
1 – Take a free walking tour around Berlin
Regular readers will know I love a good free walking tour, as in my opinion they’re the perfect way to get your bearings and a feel for a city when you first arrive. I’ve done them on most of our city trips now, including Copenhagen, Oslo, Tallinn and Madrid – where our guide ended up giving us some great tips on where to eat in the city.
And my free Berlin walking tour didn’t disappoint. We booked a spot online (you usually have to book onto a tour in advance) via Free Tours, and our tour provider was Generator Tours. We met our guide at 11am sharp at Lustgarten, next to the Berlin Cathedral and Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Altes Museum, and I’d started learning about the city before I’d even taken a step. Pointing to the sites around us, our guide explained that the Lustgarten was once the Prussian royal family’s garden when they held extravagant parties and that – very surprisingly, Berlin was 1,700 bridges, which is more than Venice.
Over the three hours of the tour (there was a short coffee break halfway through) we visited many of Berlin’s sights, including Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate and Bebelplatz. This is where you’ll find the first ever public library, which was opened by Frederick the Great in 1661, and it’s also the spot where the awful book burning took place during WWI.
Unsurprisingly there were lots of mentions of the World Wars and Cold War, including a stop by a stretch of the Berlin Wall and also on top the purported spot of Hitler’s bunker. But rather than focus on the darkness of this, the stories more often focused on the city and its people and how they both survived and rebuilt from these dark times.
If you’d like to learn more about this tour I recommend reading Laura’s post all about her experience on a free walking tour in Berlin.
2 – Visit the Aqua Dom at the Radisson Blu Hotel
The Aqua Dom (aqua dome) is one of the citys little hidden gems and is well worth checking out if you’re in the area and looking for free things to do in Berlin.
The world’s largest – by volume – cylindrical aquarium, the 25m high Aqua Dom is hidden away inside the Radisson Blu Hotel, which is also next door to the Aquarium Berlin. Guests can even go for a ride on the built-in glass elevator, so you can immerse yourself even more in this epic marine environment, which is home over 1,500 different fish – and daily divers that clean the giant tank!
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t largely advertised (as the hotel doesn’t want to be inundated with people walking in and blocking reception just to check it out) but if you act like you belong there you can pop on it and take a look. We sneakily followed a guest into the glass lifts so we could get a much better look, but if you want to be a little less underhand, why not order a drink and the bar and spend some time enjoying the impressive view from the hotel’s bar?
Check out the short video (excuse the formatting, it was taken for Insta Stories!) I took of the aquarium while taking a ride in the glass elevator!
3 – Check out the David Hasselhof museum
If youre looking to rather quirky free things to do in Berlin, then why not take a trip to the David Hasselhof museum?!
This fine establishment is found in the basement of the Circus Hostel in the north of the city, and has even been visited by the Hof himself! He’s always had a huge following in Germany, and this shrine to the Hof includes tonnes of David Hasselhof memorabilia and a massive mural to the main man, with ‘lifelike’ chest hair…
4 – Visit the Reichstag building’s dome and rooftop terrace
The Reichstag’s glass dome and rooftop terrace are open to the public – and are free to visit – but you must register online in advance. Also, spots fill up very quickly, so if you want a chance to check it out for yourself I’d book your timeslot as soon as you’ve booked your flights to Berlin!
When you arrive you’ll need photo ID, such as your passport or driver’s licence to be admitted and then you’re taken up in groups to the huge glass dome, which looks down into the Plenary Chamber. If you book a slot at the right time, you might even get a chance to watch Parliament in session. You can get a free audioguide, which is well worth doing, as it’ll tell you lots about the building, the German government and also point out some of the sights you can see from the rooftop. And speaking of which, there’s also a rooftop restaurant!
A visit to the Reichstag Building isn’t just for fans of politics; it’s a really impressive building and well worth a visit if you’re interested in learning more about Berlin city’s present, as well as its past.
5 – Take a guided tour of the German Parliament building
When Parliament isn’t in session you can also register online for a free guided tour of the Reichstag building itself. Again, you’ll need to book a couple of months in advance for a chance to nab a spot, so don’t waste any time as places are limited.
The guided tour talks about how the German Parliament works as well as the history and architecture of the building, and also includes a trip to the dome and rooftop terrace. If you’re travelling with children they also have more family-friendly versions of the tours that will keep the younger ones engaged.
6 – Visit the Berlin Wall Memorial
The Berlin Wall Memorial extends along 1.4km of the former East/West Berlin border strip. As well as one of the last stretches of Berlin Wall here you can see the grounds behind it, showing the awful conditions people had to get past is they attempted to cross the wall.
Here you’ll find a visitor centre, a viewing platform an open air exhibition and the memorial grounds, helping visitors to really start to grasp what life was like when Germany was divided.
7 – Stand at Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous military checkpoint along the Berlin Wall, a spot where only governmental officials and foreigners could pass between the East and the West of the city. When tensions were at their worst during the Cold War era, there was a standoff here between US and Russian tanks. Now, sadly, it’s a bit of a tourist trap.
Street sellers abound, trying to sell you military outfits and fake pieces of the Berlin Wall. Some nefarious types will even tell you it’s illegal to have your photo taken there without paying them – ignore them, it’s just a scam.
Also it’s worth knowing that both the Checkpoint Charlie sign and guardhouse are replicas put in place for tourists – the originals can be found in the city’s Allied Museum.
Even though the area’s become a bit tacky, it’s still an interesting spot to visit and a great photo op. It’s also where you’ll find the Mauermuseum – a museum dedicated to the history of the Berlin Wall and tells some amazing stories about the lengths people went to get loved ones into the West. Think zip lines, hidden compartments in cramped Trabant cars and even sewing soldier uniforms to wear as a disguise!
8 – Reflect on past horrors at the Topography of Terror museum
The Topography of Terror is an indoor and outdoor museum that tells the dark history of the Nazi’s SS and Gestapo, and is actually located on the spot where the headquarters of the Gestapo, the high command and security service of the SS, and the Reich Security Main Office once stood. The museum also has one of the city’s longest stretches of still-standing Berlin Wall.
A permanent exhibition tells visitors about the history of these institutions and also the crimes they permitted, while special exhibitions are also displayed here – at the time of writing one was focused on civil servants of the Nazi state and another on the Warsaw Uprising – something we learnt about when we visited Warsaw a few years back.
It’s a tough place to visit, but like many other dark tourism sites, such as the S:21 prison and Killing Fields in Cambodia, I like to think these places are important, as they remind us of past atrocities in the hope we’ll learn from them and stop history from repeating.
9 – Walk along the East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is actually a stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into the world’s largest open-air art gallery. Over 1,300m of concrete slabs that made up the wall have been turned into ‘canvases’ that now make up over 100 pieces of art.
Many pieces are highly thought provoking, and several have become hugely iconic, including Birgit Kinder’s mural of a Trabant smashing through the wall and Dmitri Vrubel’s ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’ – a painting of that famous moment Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker embraced.
10 – Take a moment to remember those lost at the Holocaust Memorial
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a thought-provoking site made up of undulating concrete slabs.
Designed by an architect Peter Eisenman, the ground is sloped and the concrete blocks different lengths. You can walk through the maze-like structure, which is designed to give visitors a feeling of confusion and discomfort.
Do take the time to visit and explore the memorial, but please be respectful – even though there were signs requesting that visitors don’t climb the concrete blocks we still saw too many people standing on and jumping between blocks, smiling and getting selfies…
11 – Step through the Brandenburg Gate and wander along Unter den Linden
I actually didn’t know until I visited Berlin that the Brandenburg gate was actually the spot of another of the Berlin Wall checkpoints. I still find it hard to think that this stood in my lifetime…
Now though, looking down the open boulevard of Unter den Linden it’s hard to image it was one there. Why not take a moment during your trip to admire the beauty and history of the gate and then wonder down this iconic street, which happens to be the oldest in the city. This main road cuts right through the centre of Berlin as is a great place to spend an afternoon strolling along, checking out sights like the Zeughaus and Neue Wache memorial as well as stopping off at some of its pretty shops, cafes and restaurants.
12 – Explore street art at the Urban Nation Museum
If you’re after an art museum with a difference, why not check out Urban Nation? This museum – the only one to make my list of free things to do in Berlin – focuses on contemporary urban art and street art and you won’t be able to miss it when you make your way there – the building itself is a piece of art!
The street is then essentially ‘brought inside’ as you can get close up to some of the most impressive street art out there, with regularly changing exhibitions taking place both inside and out.
13 – Experience a Berlin flea market
The best flea market in Berlin takes place every Sunday at Mauerpark. It’s so much fun to wander past people’s stalls, and here you’ll find everything from second hand clothes and knick-knacks through to food and art.
It’s a very popular site – especially in summer – but a really fun way to while away a sunny Sunday morning or afternoon.
14 – Take part in an epic karaoke session
There’s another special event that takes place in Mauerpark on summer Sundays – Bearpit Karaoke. This event began as a small gathering but has turned into an epic crowd pleaser, with people flocking to cheer on a wide range of random people take to the ‘stage’.
Come early and grab a seat in the stone amphitheatre for this feel-good event – however good the singers are the crowd always cheers them on!
This video from Dave on Arrival gives you a real great feel for the atmosphere, check it out…
Consider picking up a Berlin WelcomeCard before your visit
If you’re looking to keep down costs on a visit to Berlin then I highly recommend buying a Berlin Card before your trip. It gives discounted entry to 200 of the city’s paid attractions, but the biggest benefit is that it offers free transport across the city.
Berlin’s a big place, and we used the S-bahn and U-bahn everyday of our trip, so we definitely got our money’s worth. It’s even more of a bargain if you’re travelling with children, as each WelcomeCard allows one child under the age of 16 to travel for free with you.
Free things to do in Berlin – Pin for later!
I hope you enjoyed my guide to the best free things to do in Berlin. Why not save one of these pins for future reference?
I was provided with a complementary WelcomeCard for my visit to Berlin. However, as always, all views are my own.