|The Reichstag is one of Berlin's most popular free attractions. Photo: Jonathan|
One of the hottest tourist destinations in the world right now, Berlin is happily also one of the most affordable European capitals. Still, there are always extra costs to consider and some sights are so popular that a little advance planning is advised.
From insider tricks for saving money on admission, to free days to visit and ways to make your visit go more smoothly, here are our best tips for saving money and time at Berlin’s top 10 sights.
1. The Reichstag
Long an empty shell in the Mauerstreifen (the military zone between the east and west side of the Berlin Wall),the Reichstag was extensively renovated and modernized when the government moved back to Berlin in 2000.
Today, the Reichstag is home to the German parliament and open to visitors. The building’s glass dome roof, designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster, offers a great view over the city. To get inside, you need to register in advance. You can learn about the process on the Visit Berlin website.
- The good news is that visiting the Reichstag is free of charge. Just be sure to organize everything as far in advance as possible, since this is a very popular attraction. Book ahead of time to enjoy this building’s rich history.
- To explore the dome and terrace, book admission at www.bundestag.de.
2. Brandenburg Gate
Nothing says “Berlin” quite like the Brandenburg Gate. Built in 1791, this gate has become a symbol of German unity after years of division between east and west. Take a stroll across swanky Pariser Platz, home to the French and US embassies, as well as the luxurious, upscale Hotel Adlon.
- Although the boulevard Unter den Linden is definitely worth a stroll, the restaurants and cafes you’ll find there, or anywhere around the Brandenburg Gate, will most likely be touristy and overpriced.
- To save those precious euros for more worthy pursuits, pack a picnic and head to the Tiergarten park to the west of the gate.
3. Berlin Television Tower (Fernsehturm)
Rising to a staggering 1,207 feet, the Berlin TV Tower is by far the tallest building in Berlin and can be seen all over the city. The tower also has an interesting history: It was opened on October 3, 1969, shortly before the 20th anniversary of the GDR, and was designed to be a symbol of the might and superiority of East Germany and other socialist societies over the West. Travel to the mirrored sphere at the top for breathtaking views over all of Berlin.
- The Berlin WelcomeCard will save you 25% on the price of admission.
- The revolving restaurant at the top is expensive, but you can be a true Cheapo and just order a couple of drinks and an appetizer. The food might not blow you away, but the view will!
One of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, if not Germany, Gendarmenmarkt is a must-see for any visitor. The square is flanked by two cathedrals, Französischer Dom (French Cathedral) on the northern side and Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) on the southern side with Konzerthaus (Concert House) behind it. Be sure and say “guten tag” to the statue of Friedrich Schiller, the famous German poet and playwright, located at the center of the square.
- If you’d like to see the inside of one of the cathedrals, opt for the French Cathedral. Its admission is just €3 (€4 less than the price for the German Cathedral).
- Take free guided tour of the Concert House, designed by the famous German neoclassical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
5. Berliner Dom
Located on Museum Island (see below) directly on the Spree River, the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is Berlin’s largest Protestant church and is a wonderful example of High-Renaissance Baroque architecture. The cathedral is also steeped with history and is tied very closely to the Hohenzollern dynasty. It was closed during the GDR era and reopened in 1993 after extensive renovations.
- The Berlin Pass offers free entry to the cathedral (normal price €7).
- You can also enjoy it from the outside. Snap a few photos, then stretch out and relax at nearby Lustgarten.
Affectionately called “Ku’damm” by Berliners, Kurfürstendamm was West Berlin’s glitzy main shopping street, and stood for cosmopolitan elegance and sophistication for decades. The street begins at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and extends into the upscale neighborhood Halensee. Europe’s biggest department storeKaDeWe and Zoological Garten, Germany’s oldest zoo, are both nearby and definitely worth a visit.
- As with Unter den Linden, you should probably avoid restaurants and cafes directly on Ku’damm.
- But you can find more affordable food nearby: There are many inexpensive Indian restaurants on Grolmanstrasse and cheap Chinese places on Kant Strasse, including the amazing Lon Men’s Noodle House.
- To get a glimpse of student life in Berlin as well as a meal at a very nice price, you can also eat lunch at the TU Mensa, the cafeteria for Berlin’s Technical University.
7. Schloss Charlottenburg
Located just outside of the center of Berlin City West, Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace) is a beautiful baroque palace located in the middle of a large, picturesque garden at the banks of the Spree River.
- Unless you’re an absolute palace junkie, it really isn’t necessary to pay the €10 entry fee to go inside the palace. Instead, take a stroll around the beautiful gardens.
- Seek out the bridge over a small lake – a romantic photo opportunity that has been used in numerous films and television shows – as well as the Queen Louise’s mausoleum and the Schinkel pavilion, a small house commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm II.
8. Museum Island
An UNESCO world heritage site, Museum Island is also home to many of Berlin’s most important museums including the Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum, Alte Museum (Old Museum), Neues Museum (New Museum) and Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery).
- To save on museum admission fees, you should definitely consider buying either the Berlin Museum Pass orBerlin Welcome Card Museum Island.
- If you’re not one for museums, be sure to take a stroll around the island and soak in the quaint history of the place, which is, of course, free of charge.
9. The Berlin Wall Memorial and Documentation Center
Located between the districts of Wedding (former West Berlin) and Mitte (former East Berlin), the Berlin Wall Memorial honors those who lost their lives trying to cross the Berlin Wall. A section of the wall and a guard tower remain standing, which offers a good feel for what the border felt like for decades. Cross the street and check out the Documentation Center to learn more about the wall’s history.
- Both the Memorial and Documentation Center are free of charge. Read, listen, and learn about Berlin’s history as a divided city and the tragic consequences it had for the lives of many.
- Keep an eye on your wallet: Pickpockets are often active in this area, so a little extra precaution is advised.
Related: Memorializing the Berlin Wall
10. Potsdamer Platz
Once a bustling commercial center, Potsdamer Platz became a dormant no-man’s land after World War II and until the fall of the Wall. Soon after, skyscrapers – as well as the Sony Center and the mall Potsdamer Platz Arcaden – sprung up out of the ground practically overnight. In February, the square is also home to the Berlinale,Berlin’s international film festival.
- Again, it’s best to avoid the touristy restaurants around Potsdamer Platz.
- If you’d like to see a film in English, be sure to check out some of the smaller original language movie theaters in Berlin (check out this list) before shelling out bigger bucks at SonyCineStar.