Get out of the tourist traps and into authentic, offbeat Berlin. This list of 36 cool things to do in Berlin includes kitschy museums, secret tours, crazy monsters, cold war relics, graffiti all washed down with plenty of beer.
Why Explore Offbeat Berlin?
Why explore these unusual and fun things to do on Berlin? Because the offbeat, out of the ordinary, edgy and alternative are what makes Berlin so unique. The Weimar era of the 1920’s fostered a culture that embraced design, literature, film, an LGBT community and a decadent nightlife. Fortunately, many aspects of that culture survived both WWII and the Cold War.
They say that Austin is weird, but I think Berlin gives Austin some credible competition. I went to Berlin because it’s a major city for street art and seeing their graffiti for myself was very high on my bucket list. But while there, I was delighted to find a city that still has plenty of edge for the discerning traveler, who likes to inject her itineraries with a large dollop of quirk.
So, read on to discover alternative Berlin with recommendations from me and some of my well-traveled blogger buddies.
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Three Quirky Places to Stay in Berlin
For such a large city, you can still score a pretty great deal on lodging in Berlin. Furthermore, because of it’s quirky, artsy culture, there are tons of properties that have cool design features and staffing with an edge. Here are three such places that will house you in style while you explore all of the following fun things to do in Berlin.
Urban Glamping: Huttenpalast is a fun and funky budget lodging provider. In addition to normal hotel rooms, they have a bunch of adorable little indoor campers (with shared baths). See some pics and check reviews at Trip Advisor or book a deal on Booking.com.
Spacious Rooms and a BFF Front Desk Guy: The Dude Berlin-Mitte is a great mid-range hotel perfectly located in the sweet spot between Kreuzberg and Mitte. It’s on a quiet street and the rooms are light filled and spacious. The front desk guy is beyond friendly. He has a lot of opinions about what to do in Berlin and he’s not shy about telling you about it. Check reviews on Trip Advisor or book at deal on Booking.com.
Sleep in an Art Gallery: This unique AirBnB property is a private suite located inside of an art gallery. You have your own secure space but get the benefit of hanging out in the gallery anytime you like. Check it out on AirBnB.
If you’ve never used AirBnB, you can use my booking code to save $40 on your first booking plus a $15 credit for an AirBnB experience (several of which are mentioned below).
Please be mindful when booking an AirBnB in Berlin. Gentrification has been raising housing prices in what has historically been an inexpensive, artist-friendly city. Read the listings carefully and try to book with a host who is renting his or her own home, rather than with a property manager renting in bulk.
Five Unusual Places for Exploring Berlin’s Foodie Scene
Eat some Currywurst
Currywurst is a surprisingly delicious concoction of grilled bratwurst loaded with curried ketchup and served with the side of fries. It’s the most prolific street food in Berlin and you can find it anywhere, but check out this article for a list of some of the best stalls.
Get a Million Choices at Street Food Thursday
The Markthalleneun in Kreuzberg offers up a weekly Street Food Thursday which is quite a scene. During the event, there are more vendors than usual and the market stays open later in order to accommodate the after work crowd. It’s quite a happening with food ranging from the aforementioned currywurst to grilled cheese sandwiches, Thai food, crepes and Italian.
Tips for visiting: The normal farmer’s market is open Fri/Sat 10a-6p and the Thursday event is open from 5-10pm.
Be a Chocoholic at Fassbender & Rausch
(Recommended by Laura of Travelers Universe)
If you love chocolate, there’s no sweeter place in Berlin than Fassbender & Rausch. This is the largest chocolate shop in the world and their popular upstairs café upstairs is an amazing place to relax after a day of sightseeing. The café serves some of the best hot chocolate money can buy and if you visit Berlin during winter, this is the perfect place to warm yourself up.
Pop downstairs to buy a traditional marzipan chocolate heart and marvel at all the chocolate sculptures on display before hitting the Christmas markets.
In summer, well, you’ll have to make do with the 200+ varieties of filled chocolates, truffles, and delicious cakes.
Tips for visiting: Open Mon-Sat 10a-8p, Sun 11a-8p.
Take a Local Food Tour
Rather than taking my word for it, let a local be your guide to Berlin’s foodie scene. Do one of these tours early in your visit, then go back later and revisit your favorite place. Kreuzberg Food Tour: This is an AirBnB experience tour offered by Gökçen, who has been doing food tours for ten years. This tour explores Berlin’s immigrant history with 3-4 stops that are off the tourist trail. Book it here.
Craft Beer Tour: This is not a pub crawl, but rather an education in Berlin’s centuries old brewing tradition. The tour starts in Rosenthaler Platz and visits three brew pubs and beer bars with the opportunity to check out five beers. Book it here.
Three Cool Things to Do in Berlin that Explore the Cold War
Tour the Stasi Prison
The Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial is located on the site of the former Stasi Prison. It was used as a camp during WWII and was later converted into a secret prison. The Stasi was fueled by paranoia and they used the prison to interrogate and torture political prisoners prior to executing or transferring them elsewhere.
Their tours offer an informative, and very sobering account of the fragility of human rights and public discourse in East Berlin during the cold war.
Tips for visiting: They offer tours in English only at specific times of the day, check their website for the latest info. Give yourself at least :45 minutes to get out there on the tram.
Take a Cold War Berlin Architecture Tour
(Recommended by Abigail King of Inside the Travel Lab)
The Cold War in Berlin wasn’t just about the wall: architecture across east and west became ensnared in the ideological battle. On this Context Travel architectural tour (run by qualified academics), not only will you see a side of Berlin that most others miss but it’s also a quick and fascinating way to see Berlin in one day.
At the end of the World War Two, one of Berlin’s many problems included the 1.5 million people left homeless and in desperate need of accommodation. A housing space race began, with butch ceramics of the Soviet drive for conformity competing with individualistic design in the West.
The “East” side begins in Karl-Marx Allee, a broad, stern street with a small café that contains part of Stalin’s statue moustache. The west takes in the Hansa Quarter, an ambitious social housing project involving Alvar Aalto and Oscar Niemeyer.
Pro Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes as you cover a lot of ground. Also, ask them about the underground station tour. Book the tour here.
Channel Your Inner Bond at the German Spy Museum
The Spy Museum is pretty touristy, and I can’t see a local going there…but it’s worth a visit anyway. I expected a lot of kitsch, which it certainly delivers, but the museum is also stuffed full of hands-on exhibits demonstrating spycraft. They have stories about famous (and infamous) spies and the ingenious devices that they used to: listen in on, take pictures of and transport secret information. They even have a brassiere spy camera!
Tips for visiting: It’s easy to find on Potsdamer Platz and is open daily 10am-8pm.
What to Do in Berlin if You Like Edgy Art: 5 Crazy Spots
Take a Goofy Shot in a Photoautomat
These old school photo booths are littered across Berlin, just keep your eyes open and pop into the first available booth. It ain’t an Annie Liebowitz portrait, but it only costs €2 and it’s a fun souvenir.
See Wacky Creatures at the Monsterkabinett
The Monsterkabinett feels like the animatronic designers from Disneyworld took a maker class, did some peyote and then went to Burning Man. And…that’s all I’m going to tell you about it other than to demand that you go and see it.
Tips for visiting: They run a loose operation with an erratic schedule, usually from 4pm (or sometimes 6pm) to 9:30pm. Check their schedule here. Go early to the courtyard to buy tickets and then have a drink at the nearby bar while you wait.
Check out the Neurotitan Gallery
While you’re waiting to get into the Monsterkabinett, check out the Neurotitan Gallery. They specialize in edgy urban art and site-specific installations that blend sculpture, painting and street art. The stairwell leading up to the gallery is chock full of graffiti and there is also a cool boutique on the same floor.
Tips for visiting: Open Mon-Sat 12-8p.
Wander Through the Parliament of Trees
(Recommended by Corina of Another Milestone)
Located on the shore of Spree river in Berlin, across from the Reichstag building, the Parliament of Trees can easily be taken for a garden and overlooked by passers by. But it’s is actually a work of art created by Ben Wagin as a memorial for the victims of the Berlin Wall. 16 trees (for 16 federal states) were planted, symbolizing the unification of Germany.
The garden is bordered by a granite wall formed of authentic pieces from the Berlin Wall. The blocks are painted with scenes from the Wall’s history and it features the number of victims who died before the wall was finally demolished. Visitors can sit down on the bench and discover the different elements of the garden. It’s not popular, but it’s one of the more interesting places to visit in Berlin for those who want to know more about Berlin’s history.
Tips for visiting: This is an easy add-on if you are also visiting the nearby Brandenberg Gate.
See Contemporary Art at the Hamburger Bahnhauf
There are 200 art museums in Berlin. You could spend your whole itinerary hopping from one to the next. I’m calling out the Hamburger Bahnhauf as one of the more interesting places in Berlin, not only for its thought provoking contemporary exhibits but also its lovely architecture. The Neoclassical building used to be a train station, and was re-purposed into the museum in the 1980’s. They feature audacious contemporary works created since 1960 and have a large collection of sculptures, photography and paintings.
Tips for visiting: The basic exhibitions ticket is €14 but they upsell for special exhibitions at €8 each.
Eight Cool Places in Berlin for Exploring Urbex, Graffiti & Street Culture
Spotting Street Art and Graffiti
Checking out the graffiti and street art is the coolest of cool things to do in Berlin. The modern graffiti movement may have been birthed in New York City, but they have perfected it in Berlin. The city’s post-cold war economic dis-affectation, abandoned buildings and a bohemian culture provided the perfect fertilizer for Berlin’s street art.
There is no one district for street art because it’s spread all over the city, particularly on and east of where the wall had been. Look for it in Kreutzberg, on the East Side Gallery, near Urban Spree in Friedrichshain, Mauer Park, the alleys near the Monsterkabinett and on the streets in Schöneberg around the Street Art Museum (noted below).
Learn more about Berlin’s graffiti scene by taking a tour with Alternative Berlin. They have two tours (I took both) and each covers a different aspect of street art.
Tour #1: This one focuses on Urban Spree and Friedrichshain, which also includes a workshop where you can make your own stencil. Book it here.
Tour #2: This one covers a little of Friedrichshain but focuses more on Kreuzberg and Schöneberg (near the Urban Nation street art museum). Book it here.
Visit the Urban Nation Street Art Museum
Urban Nation has a long history of curating murals and street art festivals not only in Berlin, but also in places like Reykjavik Iceland. They have upped the ante in Berlin with the opening of the Street Art Museum on Bülowstraße street in Schöneberg. The museum celebrates both local and global artists, including pieces by artists like Shepherd Fairey and FinDac, They also have a stunningly complicated stencil on the exterior of the building created by Snik.
Tips for Visiting: The museum is free and open Tues-Sun 10a-6p. Be sure to leave time for wandering along the street between the Bülowstraße and U Nollendorfplatz metro stations because you’ll find a TON of murals there.
Crawl Around the Abandoned Teufelsberg Listening Station
If you like both graffiti and URBEX, then you should absolutely visit the abandoned Teufelsberg Listening Station- I found it to be one of the most cool things to do in Berlin. Teufelsberg is an old listening and broadcasting post used by the US during the cold war. They used the station to listen in on Eastern European signals and also broadcast US propaganda into the east. It was abandoned by the Americans when the cold war ended.
It’s been unofficially taken over by a collective of street artists, URBEX fanatics and entrepreneurs. You pay a small fee to enter and can then wander freely around the site. They even have a little barbecue joint where you can get food and drink.
Tips for visiting: It’s a 35 minute train ride into the suburbs and then a 30 minute walk through the woods to the site. Give yourself at least two hours once there.
Take a Tour and Learn About Secret Berlin
Berlin Underworlds Association Tours: These tours are recommended by Becki Enright from Borders of Adventure. Given Berlin’s huge alternative scene, it’s no surprise that underground’ tours are a thing – specifically relating to the Metro system. These tours are run by the Underworlds Association, whose aim it is to reveal the rich history beneath the surface of the city. Think war bunkers and air raid shelters, alongside escape routes for those trying to get to the other side of the wall – which is the tour I highly recommend for a different perspective of the city’s history. Learn more about the Berlin Underground Tours.
Hidden Spots in Tempelhof Airport: Get access to the bunkers and tunnels lurking in the former airport buildings at Tempelhof and learn about its role during WWII. Book the tour here.
Street Photography in Fredrichshain: This tour is hosted by an AirBnB guide who is a member of Berlin’s street photography collective. He’ll give you a primer on street style photography and take you around his home neighborhood. Book the tour here.
Changemaker Tour in Neukölln and Kreuzberg: Learn about how social impact and innovation entrepreneurs are creating community and battling gentrification in Berlin. Book the tour here.
Six Alternative Nightlife Options
Go to a Beer Garden that Isn’t the Prater
The Prater is one of the oldest beer gardens in Berlin and it’s very popular with tourists. Why not explore a few of Berlin’s many neighborhood beer gardens that cater more to locals?
The Republic Berlin is located just down the street from the Dude Hotel (above) and the Tresor club (below). They have tables as well as Adirondack chairs for lounging. They offer a rotating menu of food and plenty of craft beers on tap.
Birgit and Beer is in southern Kreuzberg. They have a guy making great pizza with have tons of tables and soft seating spread around a rather large area.
Restaurant Brachvogel Betrieb is right on the Landwehr canal. They have indoor and outdoor seating and an attached mini-golf course.
Drink for Cheap by Treating a Convenience Store Like a Bar
Like everywhere else in the world, Berlin convenience stores sell the usual deadly selection of cigarettes, snacks and beer. Unlike everywhere else however, at night they convert into sidewalk bars. Most of the stores have a picnic table or chairs set up on the sidewalk. You can simply purchase a beer from the cooler and hang out on the sidewalk drinking it. Much cheaper than a bar and great for people watching.
Go Techno at Tresor Nightclub
(Recommended by Dave Anderson of Jones Around the World)
Berlin is arguably the weirdest and wildest city in the world, especially when it comes to their nightlife industry. It’s a crazy scene out there, and I truly believe that if you haven’t been out to one of the dozens of techno clubs, than you haven’t fully experienced the essence of Berlin! I’ll never forget my first time going out in the city, and being truly amazed at this popular techno club called Tresor.
At Tresor, the “headliners” of the evening don’t start until 5A.M, and there was nothing but heavy Germany industrial techno blasting from the speakers. Then when I tried to leave, I accidentally stumbled upon their basement stage that felt so surreal like it was a movie set with the DJ playing behind prison bars, dancers in cages, and so much smoke you could barely see.
Tips for Clubbing: Tresor is one of the main Berlin clubs which is a bit easier to get into for tourists. However, the hardcore techno fans looking for a weekend filled with debauchery try to get into the infamous Berghain club (where it’s common for people to arrive on Friday night, and leave on Monday morning).
Learn About Berlin’s Sexual Identity
Prior to WWII, Berlin had a rich history as a sexually permissive town. That sexual freedom ended with the Nazis. But Berlin rebounded and this tour explores it’s sexual identity, the “Institute of Sexual Science”, how the AIDS epidemic affected Berlin, and the LGBTQ community. The tour is run by Jeff, a sociologist and student of gender, queer studies and sexuality. Book the tour here.
Three of the Kitschiest Museums Ever
Hang Out with The Hoff at the David Hasselhoff Museum
(Recommended by Jonathan Sacks of Everybody Hates a Tourist)
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. That summer, David Hasselhoff’s “Looking for Freedom” topped the German charts. The Circus Hostel has commemorated this shared history by opening the free David Hasselhoff Museum. The museum features Hoff memorabilia from throughout his career, including Knight Rider, Baywatch, his musical career, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It only takes 5 minutes to see, and worth it if you are near Rosenthaler Platz.
Tips for Visiting: The museum is in the basement of the hostel and it’s open 24/7, so you can visit after a late night out.
Find Vintage PacMan at the Computerspiele Museum
(Recommended by Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet)
Berlin is full of crazy sights and activities, and one of my favorites is the Computerspiele Museum on Karl Marx Allee, which also happens to be one of my favorite streets in Berlin.
This museum is dedicated to video games. It includes the very first games developed in the fifties, with nothing but blinking lights, to the most modern VR affairs with special goggles. There are exhibits and information panels detailing the history and development of gaming, plus plenty of games you can just play at will…whether you want to have a go at the original Super Mario in a replica 1980s bedroom, or prefer to play some new football or racing game.
Nostalgia lovers should make a beeline to enter the replica arcade, with true vintage games like Frogger and PacMan. Spending a day at the Computerspiele Museum is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Berlin in winter!
Tips for Visiting: Avoid the weekend when it’s full of families and plan to spend at least a half a day there playing the games.
Get Sedated at the Ramones Museum & Cafe
(Recommended by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan)
You probably wouldn’t expect the first and only museum dedicated to the Ramones, an American punk rock band, to be in Berlin. It makes a bit more sense, though, if you know that the Ramones bassist, Dee Dee Ramone, grew up there. In fact, Berlin is mentioned in a number of their songs.
This small museum manages to cram in more than 1,000 pieces of Ramones memorabilia spanning more than two decades, from 1975 to 1996. It also sometimes serves as a concert venue, and C.J. Ramone himself has even performed here.
Once you’ve seen the museum exhibits, visit the attached Ramones-themed vegetarian café and bar that serves up yummy cakes and sandwiches. There has always been a connection between veganism and punk rock so other than the cheesecake, most of the other cakes in the cafe are vegan. Plus, Berlin has quite a reputation as a top foodie destination for vegan travelers. Even if you’re neither vegan nor a Ramones fan, you’re sure to agree that the chocolate mint cake there is a winner.
Tips for visiting: The museum is open everyday from 10a-10p. It’s in Kreuzberg, not far from Street Food Thursday.
Two Secret Places for Taking a Chill Pill
Hang Out on the Landwehr Canal
The Landwehr Canal bisects Kreauzberg and Schöneberg like a green chill machine. All along the canal are walking paths, trees and green spaces which are perfecting for hanging out. There is a particularly nice stretch in Statthaus Böckler Park. You can have a drink in the Brachvogel Betrieb beer garden or on one the restaurant barges which are parked along the canal.
Tips for Visiting: Perfect for a warm summer evening and bring something to sit on.
Take in the Baths at the Liquidrom
(Recommended by Inma Gregorio of A World to Travel)
Liquidrom is a wellness complex that includes several saunas, spa, and an impressive flotation room with underwater music.
Like many German baths, you must enter the saunas naked but you’ll find a fairly respectful audience and very clean and well-maintained facilities. I also recommend that you leave quite some time to enjoy the large flotation pool (with a bathing suit). It has a relaxing, spacey vibe and is perfect for for Berlin in the winter.
Tips for Visiting: It costs €20 for a two hour visit in the spa and sauna.
One Way to Get Great Berlin Views if You Can’t Get Into the Reichstag
The rooftop garden at the Reichstag offers fantastic views of Berlin…if you can get in. It’s free but they require reservations that book up way in advance. If you can’t get a reservation for the Reichstag, go to the Berliner Dom instead. Berlin’s Catholic cathedral has a beautiful interior, but even better, you can climb up one of the domes for a 360′ view of Berlin.
Tips for Visiting: The ticket is €7 and their opening hours vary, so check their website for current info.
Getting Around Berlin
Berlin’s public transportation system is excellent and inexpensive. While they do have Uber there, using a combination of trams, buses and trains will be the best way to get around this sprawling city.
They run on an honor system. This means that you need to have a valid ticket, but you don’t need to tag on/off when you use the public transportation. However, they do spot check and they will ticket you if you aren’t carrying a valid ticket. They have zone pricing and everything on this list of cool things to do in Berlin are within the “ABC zone” ticket.
A single ticket is €2.80, however it will be much more convenient if you purchase an all-day or multi-day ticket. You can purchase a single day ticket for €7. On my recent trip, I was there for six days and purchased the 7-day €30 ticket. I used public transport ~4 times per day, which means that the pass paid for itself on the third day of my visit.
Enjoy all of the weird that Berlin has to offer and habe Spaß (have fun).
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