No city in the world condenses the history of the 20th century as well as Berlin. With 3.5 million inhabitants, it is the most populated city in Germany, an a multicultural pole in which great landmarks of the past century are interwoven.
From the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, to the Holocaust Memorial, which commemorates the horrors committed by Nazism against the Jewish people.
At the same time, no city in Germany is as artistic, jovial and avant-garde as Berlin, which during the last decade seems to have become a great work of outdoor art.
Some of the must-see sights in Berlin are the Brandenburg Gate, the famous Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island, Alexanderplatz and the fantastic network of subway tunnels built by Adolf Hitler, which served as air-raid shelters during World War II.
Why trust me? I personally visited Berlin more than 5 times in the last 15 years, for work and holidays, and to visit some friends.
The old gateway to Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate, is perhaps one of the quintessential symbols to see in Berlin. It is located in Paris Square, near the Parliament and Potsdamer Platz [See map].
It is 26 meters high and was built between 1788 and 1791 by the architect Carl Gotthard Langhans. On its top is a magnificent bronze “quadriga” (a Roman horse-drawn chariot).
This gate witnessed key historical events in German history, from the parade of Napoleon’s troops and the passage of Adolf Hitler’s SS to the German reunification in 1991.
Everyone who visits Berlin must pass by Checkpoint Charlie, just to evoke the times when crossing between East and West Berlin was an impossible (and also deadly) mission. It is located on Friedrichstrasse in the Mitte district [See map].
This was the most important border crossing in the city between 1945 and 1990, and although it was demolished in 1990, ten years later one of the control booths was rebuilt with its original appearance. It is a site that evokes the darkest times of the Cold War.
Topography of Terror
A few meters from Checkpoint Charlie is the Topography of Terror museum, another of the places to see in Berlin that has a permanent exhibition on the birth, rise and fall of Nazism [See map].
Right here was located the former headquarters of the Gestapo, and the entrance to the German parliament building, the Reichstag, which at night illuminates its beautiful glass dome.
The Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall is perhaps the greatest symbol of the history of the twentieth century and surely you already have on your list of places to see in Berlin.
This wall divided Berlin into two parts: West Berlin, belonging to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), and East Berlin, controlled by the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
It was a fortified wall 4 meters high, also nicknamed “The Wall of Shame”, and it is estimated that more than 200 people died trying to cross it.
Some sections of the wall remain today, mainly in the East Side Gallery area, which have been artistically intervened, such as the legendary image of the two German presidents, Leonidas Brezhnev (FRG) and Erich Honecker (GDR) giving each other a passionate kiss [See map].
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, is a space of 19,000 square meters (204,514 sq foot) in which 2,711 concrete blocks were placed to remember the atrocities of the Nazis.
This labyrinthine work is a space of reflection and grief to evoke the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.
It was built between 2003 and 2004 by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It is located in the Friedrichstadt district, south of the Brandenburg Gate [See map].
One of the most important squares to see in Berlin is Alexanderplatz, home to the iconic TV Tower, which rises to 368 meters.
It’s a great idea to climb the tower to take in the views of the city or have lunch at its revolving restaurant. Other attractions of the square are its famous World Clock and the Fountain of Friendship between Peoples [See map].
Another of the city’s fundamental squares is Potsdamer Platz, which is now Berlin’s financial center. This site was virtually destroyed during World War II but was completely redesigned between 1990 and 2000 earning a place on our list of beautiful places to see in Berlin.
A curious fact is that the first working traffic light in Europe was placed here. Currently, part of the square is occupied by the famous Sony Center, a huge complex of buildings designed by architect Herlmut Jahn [See map].
At the Spree River Island is one of the most fascinating agglomerations of cultural and artistic heritage in the world and you definitely have to see in Berlin: it is the Museum Island [See map].
This complex houses six museums: the Old Museum, the New Museum, the Old National Gallery, the Bode Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the James Simon Gallery.
It is worth mentioning that the Pergamon Museum houses two invaluable archaeological treasures: a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the market gate of the ancient Greek city of Miletus.
Near the Museum Island is also the most important religious temple of the city: the Berlin Cathedral [See map]. This Protestant Cathedral is Berlin’s largest church and one of the major sights in the city center.
Located in the heart of the city with a beautiful dome that is hard to miss. If you are an architecture lover it’s a must-see and for the rest they will enjoy the amazing views from the top of the dome. You can see the city center, the Spree River, the Lustagarten and the whole Museum Island.
The Tiergarten Park is the second largest green space in Berlin (after the Grunewald). Its location is perfect, as it is framed by the Bradenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, Bellevue Palace and is very close to the Berlin Zoo [See map].
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, the massive Love Parade festivities have been held in the park every year.
One of the most exciting tours to do and see in Berlin is called “Berlin Underworld” and consists of a guided tour through the secret Nazi bunkers [See map].
This tour, which has been run by the Underground Worlds Association since 2001, costs about 7 euros and condenses two of the most important milestones of 20th century history: World War II and the Cold War.
The humid passages through which one slowly advances – traveled by some 90,000 people a year – are part of the kilometer-long network of subway bunkers that Adolf Hitler had built in 1941.
The place, which retains the original signage of 1942 and certain objects from the Nazi era, theoretically had the capacity to protect about 4,000 people from the constant Allied bombing.
If you still have days and want to know more beautiful places to see in Berlin, this German city has neighborhoods for all tastes.
Related: Where to stay in Berlin
In general, mass tourism chooses to stay in the Mitte district, where the main attractions are located. But it is not the only one or the most captivating, other highlights are: the elegant Prenzlauer Berg, the artistic Friedrichshain, the alternative Kreuzberg (also known as the Turkish quarter), the historic Jewish Quarter and two neighborhoods that are always in fashion: Neukölln and Wedding.