There is a variety of reasons why I consider Berlin one of the best cities in the world, and why I feel a sting of jealousy every time somebody mentions they’re going there—or worse, moving to this beautiful city! Germany is not an expensive country overall, but it’s especially affordable in and around Berlin. A vacation in Berlin is likely to be cheaper than in any other big tourist cities in Europe, and same goes for living there as well. And even so, there are many things you can do for free. A true budget traveler’s dream!
Here are the best things you can do in Berlin for free.
Walk along the scenic Unter den Linden
Unter den Linden is maybe the most beautiful boulevard in the city. It stretches from east to west, from the Museum Island to the Brandenburg Gate. (Though I like to “lengthen it” a bit when telling people about it, and say it begins at the Alexanderplatz, which is not really untrue as it’s the same boulevard with a different name.) It’s especially nice in spring and summer because it really is what the name suggests: a street “under the linden trees”. Walking along, you’ll see the Humboldt University, the Neue Wache (New Guardhouse), the neo-classical building that serves as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship”, the State Opera and various embassies.
Take a selfie in front of the Brandenburg Gate
Your walk along Unter den Linden will bring you to Pariser Platz, a square where the Brandenburg Gate is situated, along with some embassies and the Adlon Hotel, where Michael Jackson infamously showed his baby daughter by dangling her from the balcony. The Brandenburg Gate is one of the best-known symbols not only of Berlin but Germany as well. It was built on the site of a former city gate, and today is a super popular tourist place.
Visit the lovely Reichstag Dome
Not far from the Brandenburg Gate is the building of the German Parliament—the Reichstag. Its huge glass dome is open to the public and offers some of the best views of Mitte, central Berlin district. The visit is completely free of charge, but you have to register online in advance for the specific time and date. It is also possible to enter without a registration, but in that case, you would have to rely on any visitors who might not show up and wait at least two hours, so it might be a good idea to reserve your spot!
Pay respect at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
If you come from Unter den Linden and upon passing under the Brandenburg Gate you turn left (the Reichstag is on the right!), after a short walk you will reach a monument made out of giant concrete blocks— 2,711 of them, to be exact. This is actually the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I have a love-hate relationship with this monument. It is beautiful and its quirky looks, somehow always make people jump from block to block, run around and take selfies and goofy pictures. A place that should remind us all of the horrors the Jews suffered somehow becomes a perfect background for a profile photo. And it does remind us if you allow yourself: the blocks are uneven in size and the ground is sloppy, so if you get lost in the labyrinth, you will be faced with an unpleasant feeling. That was what the architect Peter Eisenman had in mind when creating the Memorial: how to recreate the uneasy, confusing atmosphere.
Learn about history at the Topography of Terror
If you’re up for a history lesson, check out the Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror). The Topography is an outdoor and indoor museum, on the site where the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi regime. The entrance is free, with the outdoor museum, naturally, being accessible even after the closing of the indoor one. There are three permanent exhibitions: on the crimes by the police during the Nazi regime, on the capital Berlin during the Third Reich, and the history of the site itself.
Learn a lot at the Berlin Wall Memorial
I found the Berlin Wall Memorial by a mere accident but loved it so much that I had to come back. For those who aren’t quite sure about the whole Wall thing, here’s a brief explanation: after WWII Germany was divided between Russia (East), USA, UK and France (West), Brandenburg state “belonging” to Russia. Berlin is a separate city-state inside of the Brandenburg state area, so it was also divided between the East and the West. While West was going through rapid progress, the East was poor and under a very strict socialist regime, which caused people from the East to flee to the West. To prevent this, a wall was built in Berlin in the sixties. To learn more about this super interesting and heavy period of the Berlin history, you must watch The Lives of Others if you haven’t watched it already.
The erection of the Wall literally separated neighbors and relatives, and there was no way to just casually pass from one side to the other. Even windows were bricked at some point to stop people from going out and probably fleeing! Those who tried to climb the wall were brutally murdered. The Berlin Wall Memorial is an interactive exhibition scattered around Bernauerstrasse that will offer you a glimpse into the lives of common people separated by the Wall.
Take a photo at the famous East Side Gallery
The Wall was eventually taken down in 1989, and its official demolition started the year after. Now there are remnants of it around the city, and its longest remaining stretch along the river Spree (1316 m!) has turned into a gallery and an “international memorial for freedom”. After the fall of the Wall, artists from around the world gathered to make this stretch a piece of art, or more accurately, 105 pieces. The pieces are provoking, inspiring, interesting or just lovely. And they make good photos too!
Walk on a runway (yes, really) at Tempelhof
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to walk on an airplane runway, you can experience it in Berlin. Even if you haven’t, though, Tempelhof, the park that used to be an airport, is a great place for chilling, walking, jogging, flying kites, riding bicycles, skateboarding… or even barbecuing! Yes, there is a designated place in the park for barbecue, as well as areas where dogs can run free. It’s a lovely place to spend a free afternoon, especially in the sunny weather.
Enjoy a park
On a similar note: Berlin is full of parks, and a lot of locals opt for picnics in one of them, so why shouldn’t you? Tiergarten is the largest park and it stretches through a large portion of the city; it has open spaces, a lake, and even the Berlin Zoo. Treptower Park (Alt Treptow) is said to have some of the best running and biking options, and it also hosts the impressive Russian War Memorial. If you visit Viktoria Park in Kreuzberg, you might see a waterfall, and you can climb to the top of the park and enjoy the view of Berlin’s skyline. Görlitzerpark, also in Kreuzberg, is especially lively with the Turkish families enjoying a barbecue.
Admire the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
If you see this church and think it is unfinished, you’re only partially right. It’s not whole, that’s for sure; it was bombed in 1945 and severely damaged. The new church was built between 1959 and 1963, and the damaged spire of the old church has been retained. The church is today a famous landmark of Berlin, and the locals nicknamed it “the hollow tooth”.
Sing publicly… or just support the others at Mauerpark karaoke
Mauerpark is perhaps the most lively place in Berlin. It’s a park just next to the remnants of the Wall, and on Sunday it hosts a famous flea market where you can get everything from second-hand clothes to old cameras to toys to art pieces to handcrafted jewelry to century-old photos of Berlin to someone’s photo albums to furniture… you get the picture. But since we’re listing things to do for free in Berlin, you can just roam and have fun! The same place hosts the always-busy karaoke that is just the nicest karaoke ever. However the performers sing, they’ll always be greeted with an immense amount of support and cheering that it’s beautiful to watch!
Listen to classical music at the Berlin Philharmonic
Every Tuesday at 1 PM there is a free concert in the main foyer of the Berlin Philharmonie. The concerts are called “lunchtime concerts” and offer many fans of classical music the experience of great chamber music. Apart from these regular free lunchtime concerts, there are other at the same venue from time to time, so make sure to check the schedule, you might find something.
Have a local experience on a lake
Of course, this is only applicable during the summer, but it’s basically where the whole of Berlin moves during the day! Berlin has more than 30 lakes nearby suitable for swimming and sunbathing—some of them even for nudists (Plötzensee, Wansee). Hop on the local railway or S Bahn and opt for Schlachtensee, Wansee and Tegeler See.
See what it looks like to grow veggies in the city—in the Prinzessinnengarten
You don’t have to have a yard to grow your vegetables in Berlin. Not even a balcony! Those who like to know where their plants come from and require more space than a flowerpot can grow their veggies and herbs in Prinzesinnengarten in Kreuzberg. A former wasteland turned into a common place where people grow things and learn about organic food production. There’s also a café, with a kitchen offering lunch and dinner, made from the fresh produce from the garden, meaning it’s always vegetarian. If you’re only visiting the city and don’t want to grow anything, you can just take a walk around the garden and relax from the bustling city.
Enjoy a boat cruise
This item comes with a catch: namely, the ride is only free if it’s your birthday. If you do happen to be in Berlin on your birthday, I would highly recommend the cruise as it’s a beautiful way to see the city and take some great photos. This company is proven to offer free cruises, but feel free to check others as well.
Two Bonus Almost-Free Things To Do
Participate in a Walking Tour
There are amazing walking tours in Berlin: some cover the historical center, some focus on history, others on street art and Berlin subcultures. The guides are well-informed, communicative and funny, so each walking tour is actually a great way to get to know the city. But while these tours are technically free, you are expected to tip the guide if you liked it. As I said, the guides are really good, so the chances you’ll like the tour are quite high.
Visit a bustling street food market
Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg is a large indoor produce market throughout the week and it transforms into a great street food market on Thursday afternoons. Featuring Chinese, Taiwanese, Italian, Thai, Colombian, Spanish, Turkish… food, along with cheeses, wines, meat, vegan cakes that make your mouth water… this is a great place for people watching, seeing what’s popular in each national cuisine, but let’s be honest, for eating too.
Author: Tihana Smiljanic, of Wandering Polka Dot
A twenty-something girl in love with travel, writing, dogs, coffee and ice cream. If not scribbling away for her blog, you will find her wandering the streets of random towns and falling in love with them. They say home is where your heart is – in that case, she’s got a home in a lot of corners of the world.
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