10 Best Free Things to Do in Berlin

Have Fun in Berlin on a Budget

Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller
23 Nov, 2018

The list of free things to do in Berlin is heavily weighted towards museums in this city full of history. Berlin played a major role in global events throughout most of the 20th century and the many museums and memorials to those events are free to access, helping to ensure their stories live on.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Berlin, and it doesn't need to cost too much. The German capital is already considered a pretty good-value destination, by European standards, but the following experiences will help you fill your time without emptying your bank account.

1

See the city from the Reichstag Dome

The iconic Reichstag building is the seat of the German government (the Bundestag) and an extremely impressive building. The beautiful glass dome was added to the roof in 1999 and gives unrivalled views of the surrounding city. It was built as a statement and promise of open democracy, constantly under the eyes of the people being governed, so you can also see down into the debating chamber. Access to the dome is free (it wouldn’t be very democratic if they charged for it!), but you need to book a place in advance on the building’s website.

Location: Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany

Open: Daily from 8am to 12 noon

Phone: +49 (0)30 22732152

  • History
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2

Visit the East Side Gallery

This creative re-purposing of a large section of the old Berlin Wall hosts 105 paintings by local and international artists. When the wall fell and Berlin was reunified in 1990, artists flocked to the wall from around the world, now able to do their expressive works without the risk of being shot in the process. Unsurprisingly, many of the resulting artworks had strong political messages, while many more appealed for peace. A 1,316-metre-long section of the now strikingly decorated wall became the East Side Gallery. Some of the paintings have sadly deteriorated over the years while others have been covered by graffiti, though efforts are being made to preserve and restore them.

Location: Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin, Germany

  • History
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3

Pass through the Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is effectively the symbol of Berlin and, by extension, the whole of Germany. It’s an elegant, columned structure, based on the Acropolis in Greece, and is topped with a statue of the goddess of victory in a chariot pulled by four horses. As the name suggests, this was once one of the gateways into the city, from when it was ringed with defensive walls. The Brandenburg Gate is at one end of Unter den Linten – a beautiful, tree-lined boulevard which leads to the City Palace.

Location: Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin, Germany

  • History
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4

Walk among the stones of the Holocaust Memorial

Fully known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the striking installation near the Brandenburg Gate is made up of 2,711 concrete slabs, as well as an underground “Place of Information” with the names of 3 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Roughly coffin-sized in length and width, the slabs vary in height from about knee-high to well above head-height. They create a wave-like effect down the slope of the hill. The designer intended the effect on people walking among the slabs to be one of discomfort and disorientation – a reminder of the brutal and inhuman suffering wrought by the Third Reich.

Location: Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany

Open: The outdoor memorial is always open. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 8pm (closes at 7pm in winter. Closed on Mondays)

Phone: +49 (0)30 2639430

  • History
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5

Experience the Topography of Terror

Built on the site of the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Third Reich, Topography of Terror is a free museum and memorial to those horrifying years of recent history. The main attractions (if you can call them that) include many pictures and documents detailing the rise of the Nazis and the work of the German secret police and associated organisation between 1933 and 1945. While the original buildings were destroyed by aerial bombing during the Second World War, the cellars and former prison cells were excavated and can now be explored, along with a section of the Berlin Wall.

Location: Niederkirchnerstraße 8, 10963 Berlin, Germany

Open: Daily from 10am to 8pm

Phone: +49 (0)30 2545090

  • History
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6

Cross Checkpoint Charlie

The famous crossing point between East and West Berlin has become something of a tourist trap, but is still worth a visit for its iconic place in the city’s history. A line of cobblestones marks the former course of the Berlin Wall and the checkpoint buildings resemble those first built in 1961. Check out the gallery walls along Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, showing the history of this Cold War Icon. There’s an interesting museum nearby, detailing the many imaginative methods which East Germans came up with to escape to the west, but entry is not free.

Location: Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10117 Berlin, Germany

  • History
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7

Visit the Berlin Wall Memorial museum

The Berlin Wall Memorial commemorate the 28 years that Berlin was divided for, as well as the many people who died as a result of the division. The museum grounds extend along 1.4 km length of the original boundary, including a preserved section of the wall and its defences. Between this and the attached museum, you get a very real sense of the scale of the barrier and its intimidating nature. This is one of the best places to see physical evidence of a period of recent history filled with paranoia and politics. Don’t forget to check out the Border Stations and Ghost Stations in Divided Berlin exhibit, showing how the division affected the city’s U-Bahn and S-Bahn services.

Location: Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin, Germany

Open: Open-air exhibits open daily from 8am to 10pm. Visitor's centre open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 6pm (closed on Mondays)

  • History
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8

Sing for a crowd at the Mauerpark karaoke

If you like a bit of karaoke, Sundays in Mauerpark are the ultimate test of your skills. Essentially a giant open-mic session, you can sing along to your favourite tracks in front of a massive crowd. The outdoor amphitheatre is known as the Bearpit, and it’s absolutely packed every weekend. The crowd is usually very forgiving, even if you’re not an outstanding singer. If you get stage-fright, check out the flea market also held on Sundays. It’s free to look around, at least.

Location: Gleimstraße 55, 10437 Berlin, Germany

Open: Sunday 12 noon to 7pm (the park is always open)

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photo by Nicolas Vigier (CC0 1.0) cropped, calibrated, blurred

9

Take a walk in the park on a runway

Berlin has many impressive green spaces, several of which have unique attractions beyond just fresh air and open fields. Perhaps the most unique is the old Tempelhof Airport, which was once the only port of entry into West Berlin. It’s now a very chilled-out park, popular with locals for weekend barbecues and walking the dog along the old runways. The airport buildings now contain a museum and there are several restaurants and sports facilities around the outskirts of the park. If you really want to get away from the city’s busy atmosphere, many locals take the short train ride to the Grunewald Forest for a refreshing dip in one of the lakes on a hot summer day.

Location: Tempelhofer Damm, 12101 Berlin, Germany

Open: Daily from 6am to 9.30pm

  • History
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  • Unusual
10

Listen to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

A performance by a leading orchestra would ordinarily be a luxury, with a luxury price tag to suit. However, you can enjoy the experience at the Berliner Philharmonie for free once a week, when they do a special lunchtime performance. It’s a popular event, so you’ll have to get there early to secure a seat and hear the melodious tunes. Alternatively, the students of the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler do free recitals several times during the week.

Location: Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße 1, 10785 Berlin, Germany

Open: Tuesdays at 1pm

Phone: +49 (0)30 254880

  • Couples
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