By Rachael Funk
Berlin is known for its dramatic history, glamorous parties, and cutting-edge architecture. A trendsetting city in more ways than one, Berlin’s mixture of culture, food, and lifestyle calls to travelers of all interests. Regardless if you are a millionaire jetsetter or a backpacker on a gap year, Berlin has robust offerings for you to enjoy while you’re in the city. Here are some things you can do for free while you’re there!
1. Bring a picnic to the park
If Berlin does anything right, it’s an afternoon in the park! When the sun is shining, grab a blanket and a buddy and head for the outdoors. You can usually find a flea market and outdoor karaoke at Mauerpark, or head over to the Tiergarten for footpaths, ponds, and romantic corners to tuck into with a good book.
2. Check out the food markets
There’s nothing like feasting your eyes on the delicacies of the day at a food market. On Thursdays and Saturdays, you can stop by Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg. On Tuesday and Friday afternoons you can head over to the vibrant Turkish Market in Kreuzberg near the canal.
3. Dive into a flea market
On the weekends, you can peruse one of the many flea markets that are set up around town! Discover what strikes your fancy – whether it’s vintage clothes, old records, books, knick knacks, or sundry items, there’s a high probability you’ll be able to find it. Set out for Mauerpark for an eclectic mix of items, Arkonaplatz for a vintage selection, and Nowkoelln Flowmarkt for fashion and design.
4. Hunt down street art
As one of the street art capitals of the world, it’s practically a crime to ignore the street art scene in Berlin. Local and international artists have created breathtaking murals all over the city. Artists who have left their mark in Berlin include Kripo, Blu, Banksy, El Bocho, Sobr, and Jimmy C.
5. Hit the lake for goodness’ sake!
Schlachtensee is located about 30 minutes outside of the city, and very worth the S Bahn ride for its picturesque beauty and plentiful picnic spots. You could also take a jaunt to Tegeler See to enjoy a sunny afternoon by the water.
6. Learn about the Topography of Terror
The Topography is an indoor and outdoor museum, with free admission. The three permanent exhibitions are on police crimes during the Nazi regime, Berlin during the Third Reich, and the history of the site itself.
7. Pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial
A poignant reminder of the past, Berlin’s haunting Holocaust Memorial is made up of 2711 coffin-like concrete slabs which vary in height. As you walk through the labyrinth on the uneven ground, you can hear the shuffle of other people’s footsteps moving past, creating a very intense atmosphere.
8. Regard the architecture of Museum Island
A cluster of five museums which has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status located at the end of Spree Island, Museums Island is a gorgeous place to spend a quiet afternoon. While entry to the museums will require payment, walking the island costs nothing and is a worthwhile trip in itself.
9. Ride up the Reichstag’s Dome
The Reichstag is where Germany’s parliament is located and a ride to the dome is a way to get some of the best views of the city. You can grab a free audio guide to learn about the sights around the area and the parliament. It’s a good idea to book ahead, which you can do here.
10. See the East Side Gallery
Nestled on the bank of the Spree River, the East Side Gallery is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. After the wall fell in 1989, over 100 international artists convened to transform it into an open-air gallery covered in declarations of statements of peace and other political statements.
11. Snap a photo at Checkpoint Charlie
Though the area around the actual checkpoint is probably going to cost some money, the actual outdoor exhibit costs nothing and is a valuable experience. It chronicles milestones in Cold War history and helps bring a little more understanding to the events that unfolded in the area.
12. Take in a free concert
The Berliner Philharmonie offers free chamber music concerts every Tuesday at 1 pm. You can also catch free recitals several times weekly from students of the Hochschule fur Musik Hanns Eisler. You can also check listings magazines for free rock concerts at various venues around town throughout the week while you’re visiting!
13. Visit the Brandenburg Gate
Arguably the most iconic landmark in the entire city, the Brandenburg Gate went up in 1791 and became a symbol of the divided nation during the Cold War. Now, it stands as a symbol of German reunification. It's also a great spot for selfies!
14. Walk along the Unter den Linden
One of the most scenic streets in the city, this is the place to go if you’re looking for the perfect snapshot. The boulevard stretches all the way from Museum Island to the Brandenburg Gate. As you walk, you’ll pass Humboldt University, the Neue Wache, the State Opera, and other important sites.
15. Go on a walking tour
Berlin offers stellar walking tours in the city! Some cover the historical center, some focus on street art, others discuss the intricacies of the myriad subcultures you can find throughout the city. The guides are well-informed and this is a great way to get insider info about the city.
Hint: Tours themselves ARE free, but the guides make money exclusively from tips. Unless the tour is spectacularly crummy (unlikely), it’s good form to give your guide a nice tip at the end.