Berlin’s tourism industry has been booming in the past 10 years, and with that so has the price of tours, sights and attractions. But what if I told you that there are numerous ways to explore and absorb the city, for free.
Awesome right? As a citizen of the city, I’ve found plenty of nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored. So if you’re ready to mix the tourist checklist with Berlin’s more secretive side, then look no further.
11. Spot street art
How to get there: S-Bahn to Hackescher Markt/S-Bahn to Ostbahnhof.
The street art scene in Berlin is on par with the likes of London and Paris. New city-dwellers will immediately notice the high capacity of spray-painted walls and graffiti tags occupying the streets. It all contributes to Berlin’s artistic and open-minded culture. If you love photography and/or are just interested in getting to know the real Berlin then do a DIY street art tour of the city.
A route I recommend is starting at Haus Schwarzenberg, beside Hackescher Markt S-Bahn. It’s one of the only squats left in the middle of the city and acts an artistic space, with both local and international street artists pieces on display.
Next, head to Bethanien Kunsthaus in Kreuzberg and check out the free contemporary exhibitions. Before checking out the spaceman on Skalitzer Strasse, and then Os Gemos beside Burgermeister. And finally the Blu mural on Oberbaumbrücke (beside Watergate nightclub) and ending at the East Side Gallery.
Along the way keep an eye out for my favourite street art piece, yogis! These are little figurines constructed from wine corks. You can spot them on top of street signs across Berlin.
10. Walk the East Side Gallery
How to get there: U1 to Washauerbrücke/S-Bahn to Ostbahnhof.
This 2km stretch of wall is the largest remaining section of the Berlin wall and completely free to visit and explore. On the west facing side of the wall you’ll see graffiti, and the east facing side you’ll find street art.
Look out for famous moments from history, especially from the Cold War. Such as ‘The Kiss’ and Checkpoint Charlie being depicted too. There are also more contemporary pieces from international artists. Don’t forget to check out the graffiti on the other side of the wall too.
How to get there? If you’re coming from the city centre then it’s best to catch the S-Bahn to Ostbahnhof. You’ll spot the East Side Gallery across the road from the station. Follow the wall all the way down to the Oberbaumbrücke bridge where you can explore the area of Friedrichshain or hop across to Kreuzberg.
9. Take in Berliner buskers at Warshauerbrücke
How to get there: U1 to Washauerbrücke.
If you looking for a break from sightseeing head down to Warshauerbrücke. The bridge itself is one of my favourite places to people watch in the city. From fishnet one-pieces to wizards and Berghainers you really see all walks of life here.
Grabbing a beer and checking out the acts outside the U1 station goes hand-in-hand with people-watching. There’s always at least one act on whether it be a band, an Irish rapper, or a random guy with a speaker and a trumpet. You never really know what to expect, but that’s part of the fun. Plus, it’s another great free thing to do in Berlin.
8. See Berlin’s historic sights for free
How to get there: S-Bahn/U8/U2/U5 to Alexanderplatz.
Despite the sheer size of Berlin, all of the must-see attractions are located pretty close to one another. From the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, you can walk past the Poseidon fountain and down Unter den Linden. This street is full of free things to do in Berlin, such as admiring the Berlin Dom both inside and outside.
If you’re there on the weekend you should check out the art market beside the German History Museum. Take a moment to check out Bebelplatz, the scene of one of the biggest book burnings in German history. The street is snowcapped by Brandenburg Gate and possibly the busiest Starbucks in the city.
If you really want to get into all of the history then hop on one of the many free tours companies across Berlin! Keep in mind, however, although the tour is advertised as free the guide only makes money from tips, so tip how much you feel the tour was worth.
7. Climb the Reichstag
How to get there: S-Bahn to Brandenburger Tor.
It’s not unusual to have to pay to get some of the best views of the city, right? Well put your wallet away as the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, offers visitors free entrance to its’ rooftop glass dome.
All you have to do register online before you go, well, way before you go. I think you can book up to 3-4 months in advance and I would book as soon as possible. The good thing is that it’s super easy to make a reservation, you can do it for free on their website. Plus it’s in English too.
If you’re wondering what the best time to go I would research what time the sunsets that day and go just before. Watching the sun disappear behind the cityscape is a gorgeous site. Plus the place is less likely to be filled with other people.
6. Topography of Terror
How to get there: U6 to Kochstrasse (Checkpoint Charlie).
If you want to learn a lot about the abomination that was Hitler and all his cronies then a visit to Topography of Terror is a must. The exhibition is sited as a documentation centre because of its insights into Germany between 1933 and 1945.
Inside you’ll find the stories, videos and documents from this time. So if you’re going make sure you give yourself a few hours to read and absorb everything.
The spot on which the centre was built once belonged to central institutions of Nazi persecution and terror. Nowadays it’s one of the most popular attractions, with over one million visitors annually. With the amount of information on offer, it’s one of the best free things to do in Berlin if you want to learn its history.
5. Take a Wander Through Tiergarten
How to get there: S-Bahn to Bellevue/S-Bahn to Brandenburger Tor.
The most beautiful green space in central Berlin offers visitors and locals alike a break from the bustling city ambience. It’s incredible how a few steps into the park you feel like you’re miles out of the city. But with 5kms of forest area to explore, where do you start?
There are two main tracks you could take either from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column. Or from the S-Bahn Bellevue station through to the Zoo in the west of the city.
These routes will allow you to see some of the park’s highlights such as Bellevue palace, the English rose garden and more historic statues then you can imagine. Keep an eye for the wondrous wildlife as the park is home to, hawks, hares and even boars call this massive park home.
4. Check out Berlin’s Harbour
How to get there: U6 to Ullsteinstraße station.
I feel like this harbour is one Berlin’ best-kept secrets. I’ve never seen it in guidebooks or had anyone mention it to me. I discovered it while browsing on Instagram and immediately decided to check it out.
As Berlin is inland, you can imagine it’s quite a cosy harbour. Taking a stroll along the wooden boardwalk, spotting boats from all over Europe and seeing fish in the water is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Although the harbour isn’t located in the city centre, it’s not hard to get to either. It takes about 20 minutes from Friedrichstrasse station so no need to miss out on this free hidden gem.
3. Hang out a Tempelhof Feld
How to get there: U8 to Boddinstrasse/S-Bahn to Tempelhof.
A trip to Berlin isn’t complete without venturing down to Tempelhof Feld. The airport turned park is one of Berlin’s best hangout spots, especially if you want to experience Berlin for free.
I love the fact that the crowds you see on the Tempelhof feld are so diverse. You’ll see folks working on their plot in the community garden. Wind-skaters whizzing their way up and down the runway. Families and groups of friends enjoying a BBQ and some beers on the grass. So head down, take a walk around the park and enjoy a few Berliner Pilsners in the greatest park in Europe.
There are two ways you can get to the Tempelhof Feld. You can take the U8 u-Bahn to Boddinstrasse station and walk through the leafy Schiller Kiez neighbourhood. Or grab the S-Bahn to Tempelhof station, walk across the road and you’re there.
2. Stroll Around Mauerpark Sunday Market
How to get there: U2 to Eberswalder station.
Mauerpark market takes place every Sunday from 9 am until 6 pm. Both appetising to the eyes and ears, Mauerpark market is a glorious combination of vintage clothing, miscellaneous objects and international food. The sights and sounds of the infamous market are what makes it one of the best free things to do in Berlin.
But very few people who come to Mauerpark actually come for the shopping. The atmosphere of a busy market day is what makes the experience very, dare I say, Berlin.
There is an ambience of free-spiritedness, between the athematic sounds of the karaoke crowds, the numerous musical acts dotted around the park and the crowds of stylish Berliners doing what they do best, chill out.
With the TV Tower soaring over the apartment blocks facing the park and the waves of people in black clothing a visit to Mauerpark is a sheer reminder you are in one of the coolest cities in the world. And you can experience all of this without spending a dime.
Take in the View from Viktoriapark
How to get there: U6 to Mehringdamm.
Viktoriapark is one of my favourite spots in the city. It’s about a ten-minute walk from Mehringdamm U-Bahn station in Kreuzberg. Ok so the climb may look a little daunting, but the hike is worth it!
From the top of the hill you get a magnificent view of Berlin, from the Grunewald forest in the west to the Soviet blocks of the east. I feel like this panoramic view is the perfect opportunity to see the effect of the Cold War in Berlin.
By looking at the shift in architecture you can truly see the city’s past in front of your eyes. It can be easy to forget the city only became whole about 30 years ago.