Top 20 free things to do in Berlin

Reichstag Dome, Berlin
Get 360 degree views of Berlin from the Reichstag Dome © Nikada / Getty Images

Berlin is still one of the best-value cities in Europe but, those euros can start to add up after days of museum-hopping and nights of clubbing. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to stretch your budget further by experiencing some top freebie attractions.

Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel and opening hours may vary. Check the latest guidance before departure, and always follow local health advice.

Introducing Berlin

 

1. The Reichstag dome

The Reichstag is home to Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, and a free lift ride to its roof terrace offers spectacular views over Berlin and close-ups of the glass dome, designed by Norman Foster. Pick up a free audio guide and learn about surrounding sights, the building and the workings of the parliament while moseying up the dome’s spiralling ramp. Book well in advance or hope for no-shows on the day of your visit.

'The Kiss' shows Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing East Germany President Erich Honecker on the Berlin Wall.
The parts of the Berlin Wall that still stand today are free to view, 'The Kiss' is one of the most famous artworks on display © turtix / Shutterstock

2. East Side Gallery

A colorful memorial to freedom, the East Side Gallery sits along the Spree River and is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. Shortly after its fall in November 1989, more than 100 artists from all over the world turned it into an open-air gallery covered in declarations of peace and other, often politically minded murals.

Museum Island on Spree river and Alexanderplatz TV tower in centre of Berlin.
Admission for Museum Island on the Spree river is free for under 18s © Jonathan Stokes / Lonely Planet

3. Museum Island

Museum Island is complex of five museums – Pergamonmuseum, Bode-Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and Altes Museum – that collectively enjoy Unesco World Heritage status. While you’ll need to pay entry to peruse artefacts within, strolling the island to take in the magnificent architecture costs you nothing.

4. City panoramas

For the price of a drink, rooftop bar Klunkerkranich sits atop a multi-storey car park in Neukölln, offering beautiful views and delicious refreshments. For a more idyllic setting, take a walk up the hill at Viktoriapark and enjoy a sprawling view from atop the peaceful waterfall, or make the trek out to Teufelsberg, a man-made hill constructed from the rubble leftover from WWII which was used by the Americans as a Cold War listening post.

Hackesche Höfe is a series of courtyards joined together to one large complex with multiple uses. The buildings are covered with white and blue tiles.
Think of the instas – Berlin's photogenic Hackesche Höfe main courtyard © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

5. Hackescher Höfe

A charismatic warren of eight beautifully restored courtyards in central Mitte, the Hackescher Höfe is the perfect place for an afternoon coffee, perusing indie Berlin fashion and design, taking a few Instagram pics with the eclectic street art.

6. Berlin’s comedy scene

The stand-up comedy scene in Berlin has exploded in recent years. While many shows are relatively cheap, some open mic nights are just as good with a donation-only cover charge, so you can pay whatever you want. Check out beloved stand-up hubs like Bar In A Jar or Comedy Café to see what’s on offer.

Cyclists and traffic in front of Berlin's Saint Mary church and the television tower (Fernsehturm) in the morning.
Cruise by some of Berlin's big-hitters on the 100 bus © RossHelen / Shutterstock

7. The 100 bus

Many of Berlin’s guided bus tours are affordable, but to save a few pennies you can take the trusty 100 bus, which is covered by regular transit tickets and travels through many of the key sites and attractions like the Siegessäule, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Zoologischer Garten, and Alexanderplatz.

8. Free walking tours

To get some insight on the city from the experts, many free walking tours are available focusing on specific districts, interesting parts of the city’s history, or Berlin’s iconic street art scene. The tours are free, but it’s expected to offer a tip to the guide if you enjoyed the experience.

An aged sign at Berlin's abandoned airport, Tempelhofer Feld. The background shows an expanse of dry grass, the old terminal building and people out cycling, jogging, walking dogs and having picnics
Locals often use Berlin's abandoned airport for picnics, cycling and jogging © Christina Webb / Lonely Planet

9. Picnic in a park

In summer Berliners flock to their favorite parks to tan, picnic and knock back a few beers. The Tiergarten is the sprawling central city park with lots of paths, ponds and romantic corners. For something unconventional, head to Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport turned public park. Grab a disposable BBQ and grill your bratwursts next to the former runway. Mauerpark, which was forged from the area once dividing the two Berlins, is another popular hangout, especially on Sundays when a flea market and outdoor karaoke kick into action. Be prepared for a capacity crowd cramming onto the bleachers of an outdoor amphitheater to cheer and clap for the brave singing souls performing in the "pit". 

10. Food markets

Check out what gets cooked up in local kitchens by taking in the gourmet delights at a farmers market. One of the best is artisanal Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg, on Thursdays and Saturdays. The colorful Turkish Market is held on Tuesday and Friday along the canal in Kreuzberg. Nearby, Markthalle Neun is a historic market hall that hosts produce vendors on Fridays and Saturdays but is most fun on Thursday evenings when fashionable foodies invade for a celebration of international street food.

Free Berlin - Street art artist El Bocho painted an artwork inside an underpass at the Holzmarktstrasse. The artwork is part of the 'Berlin Mural Fest'. Artists designed numerous facades in the city according to their ideas. The image is of two blonde female faces, with bold linework on a teal background.
Street art artist El Bocho's colorful artwork in an underpass at the Holzmarktstrasse © Paul Zinken / dpa / Getty Images

11. Street art 

Berlin is one of the world’s street art capitals with plenty of international players having left their mark on local facades, including Blu, Pure Evil, ROA, JR and Os Gemeos alongside local talent like El Bocho and Alias. Keep an eye out as you walk around, especially in eastern Kreuzberg, around Boxhagener Platz and the RAW Gelände in Friedrichshain, Kastanienallee in Prenzlauer Berg and Haus Schwarzenberg in Mitte. 

12. Topographie des Terrors

Right where once stood the most feared government institutions of Nazi Germany, including the Gestapo headquarters, the Topographie des Terrors exhibit documents the horrific chronology of the Third Reich. From spring to autumn, outdoor panels highlight how daily life changed for Berliners after the Nazi takeover. 

13. Sachsenhausen

The horrors of the Third Reich become all too real when walking around the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial, one of the first Nazi-built concentration camps on German soil. The most sobering stop is Station Z with its execution trench, crematorium and gas chamber.

Roses protruding from small spaces in the Berlin Wall.
Roses protruding from the Berlin Wall ©  Sven Hagolani / Getty Images

14. Berlin Wall Memorial

Germany’s central memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall, the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) stretches for 1 mile (1.4km) along Bernauer Strasse, along the actual course of the Wall. This is the best place to learn how all the elements of the hated barrier and "death strip" fit together, how the border fortifications were enlarged and perfected over time, and what impact they had on the daily lives of people on both sides.

15. Checkpoint Charlie

Although Checkpoint Charlie has mostly degenerated into a tourist trap, it’s still an essential place to visit. The principal gateway for foreigners and diplomats between the two Berlins, it was here where the world stood on the brink of WWIII when US and Soviet tanks faced off in 1961. A free outdoor exhibit chronicles milestones in Cold War history.

Free Berlin - Classic vertical view of historic Brandenburg Gate, Germany's most famous landmark and a national symbol, in post sunset twilight during blue hour at dusk in summer, central Berlin, Germany
Many of Berlin's best-known landmarks, like the striking Brandenburg Gate, can be viewed for free © canadastock / Shutterstock

16. Brandenburg Gate

Berlin’s most iconic landmark, the Brandenburg Gate, was erected in 1791 as the royal city gate, but spent the Cold War years abutting the Berlin Wall and thus becoming a symbol of the divided nation. Crowned by an elaborate sculpture of the winged goddess of victory piloting a chariot, it now serves as an potent symbol of German reunification.

17. Holocaust Memorial

The football-field-sized Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is located between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. It's made up of 2710 concrete stelae of even width and length, varying only in height. You're free to walk your own route among them, noticing how the ground rises and dips as you go. Visit the Ort der Information directly under the memorial, which documents the fates of some of the families and individuals who lost their lives.

Free Berlin - People enjoying the hot summer weather at Tegeler See lake in Berlin, Germany. People lie on blankets in and out of the shade and a few are paddling in the lake
Cool off at Tegeler See lake © PEER GRIMM / dpa / Getty Images

18. Schlachtensee 

On a warm day, join locals and jump on a train, lugging your swimsuit and a six-pack of beer, to cool off at a nearby lake. Schlachtensee lies on the fringes of the Grunewald Forest, 30 minutes from the city, with clear water and plenty of picnic spots. Just behind the Tegel airport is the beautiful Tegeler See, with its steamboat cruises and row boats for hire. 

19. Clubbing

While almost all of the nightclubs in Berlin’s iconic music scene charge an entry fee, a little digging can provide a few free options for the budget music fiend. Dunckerclub and Süss war Gestern are typical haunts for dancing on a shoestring.

Berlin Cathedral illuminated at night, seen from the Altes Museum.
Admission to the Berlin Cathedral is free during services © Jon Davison / Lonely Planet

20. Berliner Dom

Stand in awe of the lavish exterior of the Italian Renaissance-style former royal court church, the Berliner Dom. The interior brims with artworks but admission is only free during services.

Some more tips to save money in Berlin:

  • Check out popular hostels like The Circus Hostel, or look for short-term apartments in cheaper neighborhoods like Moabit, Wedding or Weissensee.
  • A steal for culture vultures, the Museumspass Berlin buys admission to the permanent exhibits of over 30 museums for three consecutive days. It costs from €29 (concession €14.50) and is sold at tourist offices and participating museums.
  • Shop at discount supermarkets like Aldi, Penny, Netto or Lidl for cheap groceries (not to mention beer!) to cook at your apartment or hostel.
  • Head to Thai Park on the weekends for cheap but delectable Asian food and a burst of culture.
  • Rock up to one of the city’s many brunch buffets on Sunday for a perfect all-you-can-eat hangover breakfast. Our favorites are at Südblock and Pasternak.
  • Berlin’s public transport system offers a lot of cheap options that are valid across trams, buses, trains and ferries, from a €8.60 day ticket to the €34 7-day ticket. Welcome Cards offer countless discounts for tourists, and the monthly 10-Uhr-karte offers a reduced cost but only allows travel after 10am.

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Article first published in September 2013, and last updated in November 2020. 

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