I have no idea how it took me so long to visit Berlin: the German capital is just so COOL! And while it was an incredible city to visit, it was also shockingly affordable for Western Europe. In addition to the ever-useful student discount, there’s lots to do in the city that is completely free! If you’re headed to Berlin on a budget, this is for you: here are my top 8 free things to do in Berlin!
1. Topography of Terror
This vast museum is located at the former site of the Nazi secret police (Gestapo) headquarters. In addition to walking along a long stretch of the Berlin Wall, you can also see the remains of the prison cells below while reading about Hitler’s rise to power and his campaign of discrimination and genocide. Inside the museum is a huge, easy-to-follow exhibit on Nazi terror before, during, and after World War II, and the repercussions for the perpetrators. Both the outside and inside exhibits are completely free.
The Reichstag (the German Parliament) is one of the buildings that should be on any must-see Berlin list. But the highlight of the building is not just the ornate exterior—you can go inside and enjoy the views from the roof, and from the top of the dome! Make sure to book online in advance (the queues to get in on the day are never-ending) and bring your passport for ID. Both entrance and the audio guide tour are free.
3. East Side Gallery
This stretch of the Berlin Wall has been transformed into a lengthy piece of art, with both graffiti and more typical mural pieces. This is where you’ll get the best pictures of the Berlin Wall! It’s 100% free to stroll along next to it and snap away.
4. Checkpoint Charlie
During the years where Berlin was divided between East and West, Checkpoint Charlie marked the entrance to the American sector—aka West Berlin. While it costs 3€ per person to take a picture with the “guards,” it’s free to see the site and take a picture of the guards and the American flag from a distance. There is a long exhibit on panels across the street, explaining the history and significance of Checkpoint Charlie, which is free as well.
Central Berlin’s largest park, Tiergarten is absolutely beautiful on a sunny day and should not be missed on a trip to Berlin. It’s free to walk/bike around, or have a picnic in the park—drinking alcohol in public is legal in Berlin! You could easily spend a whole day hanging out here.
Berlin has paid tribute in many ways to the victims of its Nazi past—but none are more noticeable than the memorials that are dotted around the city (most are focused in and around Tiergarten). The Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) is probably the most well-known, but other memorials are worth visiting to gain a deeper understanding of the spread of Nazi atrocities: the memorial to the murdered Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, and the memorial to Victims of the Nazi Euthanasia Program at Tiergarten 4. There is also a large memorial to Soviet Soldiers, many of whom lost their lives in the battle for Berlin in 1945. All of the memorials are free to visit and pay your respects.
7. Kaiser Wilhelm’s Memorial Church
This church, built in 1895 to honor Kaiser Wilhelm I, sustained extensive damage from bombing during World War II in 1943. While only the tower has survived from the original church, there is a new church next door, built in a contemporary style with stunning blue stained glass. Both are free for visitors, although donations are appreciated.
8. Street Art
Besides the Berlin Wall, there is loads of free street art spread all over Berlin. The murals are beautiful and definitely give the city a different edge. Get gloriously lost in the neighborhoods and explore the different art!
Beyond these 8 things, I’m sure there are more lesser-known free things as well—and you can always see sites from the outside (such as the Berliner Dom or the Fernsehturm TV tower) instead of paying entrance fees to get inside. Berlin is an incredibly affordable Western European capital—and I know I’ll be returning someday!
Have you ever Berlin? Anything great free things I’ve missed?!