Travel doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think, and even some of the most expensive destinations in the world have some amazing free sites and activities to keep even the tightest of budgets happy.
Despite only being 20 years since the fall of the wall, Berlin is one of Europe’s most popular destinations for world travellers, and for good reason too. With so many popular and alternative tourist attractions, the famous Berlin nightlife, a pounding underground club scene that is famous around the world, surprisingly amazing food, an edgy creativity and more recent historical and cultural attractions than anyone can fit into a short visit, it’s not hard to see why travellers and tourists flock here. Fortunately given Europe’s generally high prices for everything else, a lot of the best sights and attractions can be seen for free.
See the remains of the Berlin wall.
Technically this sight is just a stretch of concrete wall, covered in graffitti and the occasional meaningful painting, located on Eastside Gallery on Mühlenstraße in the central suburb of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. It is not until you realise that this is a part of what is left of the iconic Berlin wall that you begin to take in the full ramifications of just how important this structure was to German – and in many ways world – history. This wall was part of what once split the entire city into East and West, and the scenes of it being torn down in 1989 – sans David Hasslehoff of course – are some of the most iconic scenes of the latter half of the 20th Century.
Visit the Reichstag.
As important to Germany as the Houses Of Parliament are to Britain or the Whitehouse is to the U.S, the Reichstag has seen some of Germany’s most important historical events, including the reunification in 1990 and Hitler’s gaining of emergency powers in 1933. It is free to enter and explore, and is well worth seeing to soak up some of the history. Climb the glass dome to get some amazing views of the city.
Stroll around the Tiergarten.
This vast public park stretches through central Berlin and is a perfect solace from the bustle of the city. Once a hunting ground for royalty it is now free for anyone to use. Stroll through the manicured formal gardens or lakes, enjoy the vast lawns and stretches of forest, stop at one of the many beer gardens and top it off with viewing the victory column and the Brandenburg Gate, two of Berlins must see sights. Flanked by the Zoo, the Bundestag and numerous embassies it really is a picturesque way to spend a few hours.
Visit the Holocaust memorial.
WWII is still a touchy subject for many Germans, but you cannot visit Berlin without at least acknowledging some of the many museums and memorials to this pivotal moment in recent history. Perhaps one of the most poignant is the memorial to the holocaust, a short walk away from the Reichstag. The monument itself is a strange and disorientating mass of 2,700 concrete slabs arranged in a grid which I admit I don’t understand or feel represents the holocaust, but the information centre underneath is a more fitting tribute to the memory of the murdered Jews. A sombre, but essential addition to any Berlin itinerary.
Visit the museums.
Like all great cities, Berlin has a fantastic array of museums that are completely free, or offer free entry on specific days. Many are devoted to the recent history of the world wars and it is good that many people in Germany are now feeling able to talk about that period in history without feeling a personal connection (although many of the older generations still do.) A great example of this is the aptly name Topography of Terror, a museum built on the site of the former headquarters of the SS and the Gestapo. The Berlin Wall Memorial – which features the only unadorned stretch of the wall that still remains – is also free and another absolute must for any visitor to Berlin.
Take a walking tour.
Berlin offers a free walking tour of the capital every day at 11.00 and 13.00 hours starting at the Starbucks by Brandenburg Gate, and at 10.30 and 12.30 hours in front of the Dunkin’ Donuts by the Zoologisher Garten. They are all completely free, English language tours and take you past checkpoint charlie, the Gendarmenmarkt and museum island and the old royal gardens. Well worth the roughly three and a half hours of your time that it takes.
I hope you are enjoying this ‘free things to do in …’ series and find it useful, if you have any specific requests then please let me know in the comments section below. If I have been there then I’ll add it to the list!