In the middle of the Spree River, located in the heart of Berlin’s city center, lies one of the world’s most unique, and impressive collection of museums. Known as Berlin’s Museum Island, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to five extraordinary museums and an absolute must visit for any Berlin itinerary.
Among them is the well-known Pergamon Museum, boasting a spectacular collection of art and architecture from the ancient and classical eras. Other sites in the area include the Berlin cathedral (Berliner Dom) and the City Palace, still under reconstruction. The nearby Gendarmenmarkt is Berlin’s prettiest square, and the site of its most famous Christmas Market.
The Charlottenburg Palace is one of the most visited landmarks in Berlin. The beautiful palace and gardens make for a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of central Berlin.
First constructed in 1696, the palace was almost completely destroyed in World War II, but has since been loving restored into its former Baroque grandeur. Visit its lavishly decorated rooms, artworks and silver collections before stepping out and enjoying the French-style baroque gardens and English-style park.
Like New York’s Central Park and London’s Hyde Park, Berlin has its own grand city park, the Tiergarten. Once the hunting ground of the Prussian dukes and kings, the Tiergarten park is Berlin’s most famous and expansive park, located right in the heart of the city center.
A visit to the Tiergarten should be on every traveler’s itinerary for Berlin, for here you’ll find beautiful forests, fields, and ponds as well as one of Berlin’s most famous monuments, the Victory Column. A 285-step climb leads up to a viewing platform where you can enjoy unimpeded views over the park and the city below.
City West – Kurfurstendamn & Surroundings
In the 1920’s the elegant, tree-lined boulevard known as the Kurfurstendamn became the center of Berlin’s wild nightlife scene. During Communism, it became the commercial heart of West Berlin.
Now, it remains a favorite destination for shopping, dining and cafes. At its east end, you will find the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church, a former church that was mostly destroyed in World War II. It now serves as a reminder of the evil of war. Other nearby sights include The Story of Berlin, an engaging multi-media museum that walks you through the entire history of Berlin and the Museum für Fotografie, home to some of the most famous works of Helmut Newton. Families and animal lovers can also visit Berlin’s excellent zoo.
Many of Berlin’s most iconic sights can be found in close proximity to each other. Most famous of all of them is perhaps the Brandenburg Gate. First built as a symbol of peace, it became the symbol of division during the Cold War, separating the East from the West.
The nearby Reichstag, with its glass, egg-shaped dome provides visitors with an opportunity to peer down on lawmakers of Germany’s federal parliament, while the futuristic Sony Center symbolizes a revitalized and modern Berlin. Also close by is the sobering Holocaust Memorial and the former site of Hitler’s bunker.
Checkpoint Charlie & Jewish Museum
The most famous Berlin Wall crossing between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was the main gateway between the two for anyone who was not German.
These days a replica border post now marks the spot, often with people dressed in Cold War era military uniforms with whom you can take a picture with for a few euros. Nearby, the Jewish Museum explores the fascinating history of Germany’s Jewish heritage in a strikingly modern building.
Hip Berlin: The East Side Gallery, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg
The district known as Kreuzberg has long had a reputation for being the hippest neighborhood in Berlin, famed for its diverse culture and alternative lifestyle. Across the river, however, the former industrial area of Friedrichshain now competes for the title of coolest Berlin neighborhood.
After communism ended, Friedrichshain revitalized into a young, dynamic, and multi-cultural neighborhood, and today, it is filled with cafes, restaurants, and pubs sporting artistic and creative flair. It is also home to the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, which also serves as the world’s largest and longest open-air art gallery.
The Television Tower & Old Berlin
Dominating Berlin’s skyline, the Fernsehturm Television Tower resembles a non-reflective disco ball impaled on an enormous concrete skewer. While it’s not exactly the most visually appealing architectural monument in Berlin, it does offer beautiful panoramic views over the city.
Ascend the tower in a super-fast elevator before exploring Alexanderplatz, Germany’s largest square. Make sure to visit the Marienkirche (Berlin’s oldest parish church), the displaced Neptune Fountain, the Red Town Hall and the massive Loxx model railway, that even non-model train enthusiasts will gasp at.
Courtyards and Jewish Berlin
While Paris can claim its wide, elegant boulevards and New York its dramatic skyscrapers, it is more difficult to identify an architectural feature synonymous with Berlin.
Perhaps the courtyard is the best answer. With booming 19th century population growth, nearly every unoccupied space in Berlin was filled by tenement buildings surrounding small courtyards. The Spandauer Vorstadt neighborhood is home to some of Berlin’s most beautiful courtyards. It was also around courtyards such as these that Berlin’s Jewish population once settled. Therefore you may also wish to explore the partially reconstructed New Synagogue, the former site of the Jewish cemetery and many hidden reminders of a once vibrant Jewish community.