Must-See Attractions in Berlin for First Timers

Must-See Attractions in Berlin for First Timers

Planning your first time in Berlin, wondering what to prioritize during your trip, maybe even wondering when to visit Berlin? We’ve gathered the best Berlin travel tips for must-see sights, places to go and things to do in Berlin for first timers at any time of year.

Whether you want to visit museums, learn about the city’s rich history, want to hang out with local Berliners, visit the Berlin wall or get to grips with the city’s alternative scene, urban art, and sub-cultures, you will find ideas on our list.


1. Brandenburg Gate

The 26-meter-tall, neo-classical, sandstone Brandenburg Gate is a must-see on your first time in Berlin. Where once it was a marker of a divided Germany, this iconic Berlin attraction is now an emblem of reunification and peace.


First time to Berlin visitors at the Brandenburg Gate

The only remaining gate in the city, the Brandenburg Gate is a beautifully crafted imposing structure which looks particularly spectacular when illuminated at night.

It was constructed between 1788 and 1791 and has seen its fair share of remarkable and turbulent history, indeed it was literally at the centre of much of Berlin’s history: The Horse-drawn carriage which sits atop the structure was taken to France as a trophy by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1806, before being returned following Napoleon’s defeat, it was here the Nazi’s celebrated Hitler seizing power, where the Soviet flag flew from 1945 to ’57, and where Berliners gathered to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

You can find the Brandenburg Gate at Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin, Germany


2. Checkpoint Charlie

There is something a little bit cheesy, perhaps, about Checkpoint Charlie – what with the sandbags, replica guardhouse, and uniform-clad ‘American soldiers’ readily posing for pictures with tourists – but the history of this site is absolutely real.

During the Cold War, Checkpoint C, referred to by the Allies as Charlie, was a crossing point opened in 1947 on Friedrichstrasse. After the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, Checkpoint Charlie became the only crossing point between West and East Berlin for foreigners, diplomats and the Allied soldiers.

Tpurists on their first trip to Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie

It was here that World War III was nearly ignited in October 1961 during a tense 16-hour stand-off between Soviet and American forces which saw dozens of tanks facing each other on either side.

Checkpoint Charlie is also where Peter Fechter, an 18 years old East Berliner bricklayer, was shot and killed by GDR guards in 1962  when trying to climb over the wall and escape to the west – an incident which highlighted the inhumanity and violence of the conflict to the world and led to widespread riots and protests in the city.

Though it might feel a little less serious today, there’s no denying that Checkpoint Charlie is a hugely important and relevant historic site in Berlin, and a must visit during your first time here.


3. Reichstag Building

The Reichstag building is, in fact, one of the best places to visit on your first trip to Berlin simply for the view it affords, and because it’s a pretty gnarly looking building.


Berlin Reichstag building


The roof of the Reichstag, from which peeps out the characteristic glass dome, is accessible to the public and not only allows you enjoy a panoramic view of the Berlin cityscape but a unique view onto parliamentary proceedings in the debating chamber below too. The Käfer Dachgarten Restaurant is situated on the roof and, with a reservation, is a pretty distinctive spot for a bite.

You can also satisfy your hunger for art here too – with both permanent and changing exhibitions, the Reichstag building houses an impressive art collection.

When the weather permits, the expanse of lawn over which the Reichstag casts its shadow is the ideal place to chill out, have a beer or picnic, meet some local Berliners or just watch the world go by, berlin style.

The Reichstag Building is located at Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany


4. Berliner Dom aka Berlin Cathedral

Speaking of impressive, domed buildings, the Berlin Cathedral, also known as Berliner Dom, is another absolute must-see during your first stay in Berlin. It started out as a Baroque church in 1465 and underwent several phases of development throughout the ages until it was completed in 1905 as the wonderfully detailed building you see today.


Tourists in front of the berlin Cathedral, Berliner Dom

Despite its name, it isn’t a cathedral at all – it’s still a church, but in terms of its grandeur, style, and renown as an iconic Berlin landmark, everything about the Berliner Dom is cathedral-like, worthy of rivaling Notre Dame in its formal glory.

You can go inside too to marvel at the exquisite architecture; entry costs €7 or is free with the Berlin Pass – but, you can attend religious services here, conducted through German, for free. It is also a regular concert venue, renowned for its in-house the Sauer-Organ, brass ensemble, and church choir.

The Berlin Cathedral is situated on Museum island, which is another must visit on your first time to Berlin.


5. Museum Island

If you like museums as much as we do, you cannot miss Museum Island (or Museumsinsel in German). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the small island on the River Spree offers five of the best museums in Berlin; the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum), the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), the Bode Museum, and the Pergamon Museum.


Museum Island, Berlin, with the TV tower and city in the background

Each museum is home to a wealth of significant artifacts from all around the world. Some say it is possible to see ALL five museums in one day; if you are up for the challenge, we recommend you get a 24-hours-pass ticket online so you can skip the queues, saving precious time and money.


6. Holocaust Memorial 

However horrid a history it serves to recall, the Holocaust Memorial is an essential place to visit on anyone’s first trip to Berlin because the Holocaust is inherent to Berlin’s history, sociocultural identity, and a period of the city’s past that will never be forgotten.

Also known as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, this 19,000 square meters expanse holds 2711 concrete slabs and is dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The slabs are all different heights on a sloped ground, allowing you to fully immerse yourself into the abstract installation which, perhaps rather aptly, creates a sense of disarray and uncertainty and allows you to confront the subject in a rather personal way.

The Holocaust memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe

Here you can also visit the information center which serves to make this dreadful history a very tactile past rather than one of anonymity thanks to the sharing of individuals’ stories, diaries, pictures and letters, and biographies.

The Holocaust Memorial is located at Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany


7. East Side Gallery

The 1.3 meters long East Side Gallery, the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall, is arguably as significant artistically as it is historically. The remains of the wall that once divided East and West became an open canvas for artists, with over a hundred from around the globe contributing murals on the east side of the Wall, making it the longest open-air gallery in the world.


Berlin Wall East Side Gallery

These artworks are political statements and socio-cultural narratives of 1989 and 1990. We recommend spending a couple of hours to see every piece and there are plenty of amazing photo opportunities along with the gallery too.

The East Side Gallery is open year-long, is free and is certainly one of the best places to visit in Berlin. You can start your stroll at Mühlenstraße 3, 10243 Berlin.


8. Klunkerkranich

Do yourself a favor, wind down after a busy day and prepare for the exciting nightlife of the city by catching the best view of the Berlin cityscape at sunset the way the locals do; with a beer at Klunkerkranich, the immense rooftop bar on the top Neukolln Arkaden shopping mall.

It’s not easy to find - take the elevator to the 5th floor and follow the locals through the car parking lot - but it is worth finding. There is a small entrance fee to the bar of €3, but again, it’s not much for the atmosphere the bar offers and one the most breath-taking panoramas of Berlin.

The view of the city from this location is spectacular and unmatched. You can take countless beautiful photos of the city over some nice local Berlin beer or dinner. Klunkerkranich is located at Karl-Marx-Straße 66, 12043 Berlin.


9. Free Walking Tours in Berlin

And last but by no means least on our list of essential things to do on your first time in Berlin is a free walking tour. It’s the sure-fire, budget-friendly way to get as big a bite of Berlin as possible, learn all about Berlin in a short time, get orientated with the city, get an insightful overview to local history & culture, and get insider tips from your excellent, professional local tour guide to make the rest of your stay in Berlin ‘super geil’.

There are lots of choices covering many different themes and topics when it comes to free tours in Berlin. For example, free Third Reich tours, free Cold War tours, or a free Alternative Tours of Berlin to discover local sub-cultures, urban street art, unique views, and fascinating graffiti.


A Berlin city tour guide showing her group of tourists a point of interest on a free walking tour in Berlin

We highly recommend a general tour of Berlin for first-timers though. Most general free walking tours will stop at Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and Tiergarten, the TV Tower, Berliner Dom, and many more interesting and historically important, must-see places.

No matter how much time you spend here and whichever places you visit, Berlin will leave you amazed and wanting to return, because one time in the German capital just simply is not enough, it might be your first time in Berlin, but it surely won’t be your last. However, if you want to make your trip longer and more eventful, you can always find tips from online Berlin travel guide  - so you get the most out of your trip!
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