Top 20 free things to do in Berlin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You might also like:
Article first published in September 2013, and last updated in November 2020.