Berlin Introduction Walking Tour, Berlin

Berlin Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Berlin

Known for its turbulent past, today's German capital is a global city for international affairs, creative industries, popular media and diverse cultural tourism. The first written records of settlements in the area of present-day Berlin date from the late 12th century, when the region came under German rule as part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, founded by Albert the Bear in 1157. Berlin itself, as a town, was mentioned for the first time in 1251.

The origin of its name is uncertain. Folk etymology, however, connects it to the German word for bear, Bär, which also appears in the coat of arms of the city bequeathed by Albert the Bear.

In 1701, the first King of Prussia, Frederick, made the city his capital. As Prussia grew, so did Berlin, encouraged, in large part, by the Prussian kings' determination to build a great military power. Under Bismarck, Chancellor of the united German Empire (from 1867-1871), Berlin became the center of European politics. In the early 1900s, the Imperial government succeeded in making the city "a marvel of civic administration", the most modern and perfectly organized.

After WWI, when Germany turned into the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Berlin remained its capital. The postwar hardships, further exacerbated by the Great Depression of the 1930s, severely damaged the city's economy and fomented the rise of Nazism. During the infamous Third Reich (1933–45), Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer made plans for the new Berlin to become a world capital comparable with Ancient Egypt, Babylon or Rome.

During WWII, the concerted efforts of Allied forces destroyed much of the city. After the war and its subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies, the city was split in two, with its Western part becoming a West German exclave, surrounded by the Berlin Wall (1961–89), and its East part becoming capital of East Germany (GDR).

Divided during the Cold War, the only surviving city gate – the 18th-century Brandenburg Gate – was seen as a symbol of reunification, along with the stately Reichstag Building, arguably the most iconic German landmark. Following the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensued reunification of Germany in 1990, Berlin once again emerged as the capital of a unified country.

While Paris Square is without a shadow of a doubt the most popular local destination, Gendarmes' Market Square is where visitors flock to admire historic buildings, like the German Cathedral. Also found in the city’s old center is the famous Unter den Linden boulevard, renowned for its elegance and many heritage landmarks there and nearby. Reminders of the not-so-distant history of Germany include the Holocaust Memorial and the TV Tower constructed in the 1960s as an emblem of GDR's capital.

To find your way around this plethora of landmarks and not get lost, follow our self-guided introductory walk and enjoy the best of times in Berlin!
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Berlin Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Berlin Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Berlin (See other walking tours in Berlin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Reichstag (Parliament Building)
  • Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
  • Pariser Platz (Paris Square)
  • Holocaust Denkmal (Holocaust Memorial)
  • Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees Boulevard)
  • Bebelplatz (Bebel Square)
  • Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum)
  • Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)
  • Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church)
  • Fernsehturm (TV Tower)
1
Reichstag (Parliament Building)

1) Reichstag (Parliament Building) (must see)

One of Berlin's most iconic landmarks, the Reichstag building has a rich history and stands as a symbol of Germany's political evolution. Originally constructed between 1884 and 1894 in Neo-Renaissance style by architect Paul Wallot, it was initially intended to house the German Imperial Parliament during the German Empire. In 1916, much to the displeasure of the last German Emperor, Wilhelm II, the words "Dem deutschen Volke" ("To the German People") were prominently carved on the frieze above the entrance, and two years later, the German Republic was officially proclaimed here. However, in 1933, a catastrophic fire, allegedly set by a Dutch communist, destroyed the main hall, an event promptly exploited by Adolf Hitler to consolidate power.

Following German reunification in 1990, the Reichstag underwent a remarkable transformation under the innovative redesign by architect Norman Foster. The addition of a striking glass dome not only offers panoramic views of Berlin but also serves as a powerful symbol of transparency and openness in government. Visitors can ascend the dome and observe parliamentary proceedings below, making it a unique experience that embodies democratic principles.

The Reichstag building continues to function as the seat of the German federal parliament, the Bundestag, where elected representatives from across Germany shape the nation's legislative agenda. Sessions are open to the public, allowing visitors to witness the process firsthand. Additionally, a permanent exhibition within recalls key events in German parliamentary history, making it an engaging destination for those interested in the country's past and present.

Why You Should Visit:
Free attraction offering a unique combination of history, politics, architecture, and sweeping views of Berlin's skyline. The lift takes you up to the top floor where you can freely wander around the dome and take photos.

Tips:
Plan your visit in advance, as security measures require booking and a valid ID for entry. Consider reserving a table in the Käfer DACHGARTEN to skip queues, and remember to dress warmly otherwise, as the dome's "windows" are open, and it can get chilly up there.
2
Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

2) Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) (must see)

The sole remaining city gate of a series that once encircled Berlin in the 18th century, this magnificent Neo-Classical structure, designed by Carl Langhans and completed in 1795, stands as the quintessential symbol of the German capital. Its design, inspired by the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens, features a commanding Doric colonnade flanked by two pavilions, originally occupied by guards.

The gate's bas-reliefs depict scenes from Greek mythology, and its crowning glory is the Quadriga sculpture – the goddess of victory atop a four-horsed chariot, originally regarded as a symbol of peace. Interestingly, the Quadriga's history reflects the shifting fortunes of Europe. In 1806, during the French occupation, Napoleon ordered its dismantling and transport to Paris. However, upon its return in 1814, it was declared a symbol of victory, and the goddess was adorned with the Prussian eagle and the iron cross, symbolizing triumph.

The structure has stood witness to many pivotal events in Berlin's history, from military parades to the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler's ascent to power. It also holds poignant memories of the Russian flag's raising in May 1945 and the tragic events of June 17, 1953, when 25 workers protesting for improved conditions were killed. During the Cold War era, from 1961 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the gate stood in no-man's land between East and West Germany, serving as a defining symbol of Berlin's division and eventual reunification.

Why You Should Visit:
Besides the photo opportunity, this gate’s historical significance alone should be enough a reason to visit. It marks the monumental entry to Unter den Linden, the famed boulevard lined with linden trees that once led to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs.

Tip:
Consider visiting at night when the gate is beautifully illuminated and less crowded, allowing for contemplation of its storied past and symbolic importance.
3
Pariser Platz (Paris Square)

3) Pariser Platz (Paris Square)

Once the outskirts of Berlin, this grand square now pulsates with life and activity, serving as a vibrant hub at the city's core. Originally laid out between 1732 and 1735, it was later named after the French capital, commemorating the victorious alliance over Napoleon and the subsequent occupation of France by the allied forces, including the Prussian army, in 1814.

Initially, the square was flanked by remarkable structures around its perimeter, including the French and American Embassies, the Academy of Arts, and the legendary Adlon Hotel (once Berlin's finest). The ravages of heavy artillery fire and bombing raids during World War II left only the Brandenburg Gate standing; however, following German reunification, the square was redeveloped.

Twin buildings now flank the Brandenburg Gate, with the north side featuring the Dresdner Bank building and the French Embassy, while the south side houses the US Embassy, the DZ Bank head office, and the Academy of Fine Arts Komische Oper. To the east, the legendary Hotel Adlon has been rebuilt, reclaiming its status as a symbol of Berlin's hospitality.

Why You Should Visit:
The best spot to get a good photo of the Brandenburg Gate and also the starting point of the famous Unter den Linden Boulevard. Whether you're drawn by the architecture, history, or the atmosphere, it's a destination that won't disappoint.

Tip:
Consider visiting early in the morning or late at night to enjoy the place in solitude. Alternatively, sneak into the DZ Bank to get a glimpse at some fascinating architecture or visit the Max-Liebermann-Haus next to the gate to view exhibitions with paintings from the 1920s.
4
Holocaust Denkmal (Holocaust Memorial)

4) Holocaust Denkmal (Holocaust Memorial) (must see)

Officially the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, this striking sprawl of concrete near the Brandenburg Gate serves as a powerful symbol of remembrance for the individuals who fell victim to the Nazis in concentration camps during the period from 1933 to 1945.

Unveiled to the public in 2005, it was designed by American architect Peter Eisenman and comprises 2,711 concrete slabs (or "stelae") of varying heights and sizes, arranged in a grid-like formation across a gently sloping terrain that covers some 19,000 square meters (4.7 acres). As visitors venture into this maze-like structure, the ground gradually descends, evoking a disconcerting sense of disorientation and isolation. The underlying intention is to impart the profound unease and confusion endured by the Holocaust victims. The stark and impersonal nature of the concrete slabs serves as a stark reminder of the dehumanizing and brutal aspects of the Holocaust.

Visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the site's evocative and symbolic design. It stands as a solemn tribute to the atrocities of the Holocaust and underscores the critical significance of preserving the memory and educating future generations about this harrowing chapter in human history. The adjacent subterranean Information Center offers a comprehensive wealth of knowledge about the Holocaust and the stories of its victims, further enhancing the memorial's role as a site for reflection and education.
5
Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees Boulevard)

5) Unter den Linden (Under the Lime Trees Boulevard)

One of Berlin's most renowned thoroughfares, Unter den Linden has a storied history dating back to its origins as the path leading to the royal hunting grounds, which would later become the Tiergarten. In the 17th century, it was planted with lime trees, from which it derives its name; however, during World War II, many of these were felled for firewood, and the present-day trees were replanted in the 1950s.

Throughout the 1700s, the street evolved into the main artery of the city's westward expansion and gradually became filled with prestigious structures, many of which were restored after the ravages of World War II: the Berlin Opera House, the Russian embassy, Alexander Square, museums, statues (such as that of Frederick the Great), and more. Today, you can also find several cafés, restaurants, upscale shops, and even luxury car dealerships like Bentley and Mercedes-Benz. Often teeming with tourists and students exploring the book stalls around Humboldt University and the State Library, Unter den Linden also serves as the backdrop for many outdoor events.

Taking a leisurely stroll along this broad avenue is a fine pastime that offers a good feel of both German history and contemporary trends. So, lace up your walking shoes and immerse yourself!

Tip:
If you visit in September or October, be sure to catch the Festival of Lights, which transforms landmarks and buildings across the city through the use of illuminations, luministic projections and 3D mapping.
6
Bebelplatz (Bebel Square)

6) Bebelplatz (Bebel Square)

After ascending to the throne in 1740, Frederick the Great took a personal interest in planning the buildings that grace this square. Initially dubbed "Forum Fridericianum" or Frederick's Forum, it was later renamed in honor of August Bebel, the 19th-century founder of Germany's Social Democratic Party, and is now surrounded by an array of impressive structures, including Humboldt University and Library, Saint Hedwig's Cathedral, the State Opera House, and the swanky Hotel de Rome.

Unfortunately, this spot is eternally associated with one of the most infamous attempts to erase history and knowledge in the 20th century. On the evening of May 10, 1933, under the direction of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, members of the SA, SS, Nazi students, and Hitler Youth gathered at this site to set ablaze books from the university library that they deemed objectionable. Whipped up into a frenzy, the Nazis burned nearly 20,000 books that night, including the works of renowned authors such as Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, and countless others.

At the heart of the square now stands a poignant memorial by Micha Ullman, consisting of a glass-enclosed viefw into an underground chamber with empty bookshelves. Nearby, an inscription features a prophetic line from Heinrich Heine, which translates to: "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people."

Visiting particularly in the evening or late afternoon offers an opportunity to reflect upon this tragic history. The illumination enhances the visibility of the memorial on the ground, reminding visitors of the profound consequences of intolerance and hatred.
7
Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum)

7) Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) (must see)

The German Historical Museum offers a fascinating journey through Germany's rich history, showcasing a diverse collection of art, military artifacts, and crafts. It is housed in two distinctive buildings: the historic Baroque-style Zeughaus and a modern exhibition hall designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, which opened its doors in 2003.

The Zeughaus, originally an arsenal built in 1706, is a true gem of Baroque architecture in Berlin and stands as the oldest structure on Unter den Linden. A magnificent edifice, its wings envelop an inner courtyard and its exterior is decorated with sculptures. Since 1952, it has been home to the Historical Museum, hosting a permanent exhibition of over one million objects that provide a modern perspective on German history since early medieval times. It also houses the Zeughaus Kino theater, offering a diverse selection of films, including German and international works, both historic and modern.

Complementing this historical treasure, the museum's modern building features dynamic and sometimes politically provocative rotating exhibitions spread across its four floors. The structure itself boasts a striking glass-and-steel lobby and a graceful winding staircase.

Why You Should Visit:
Clearly worth a few hours' investment for those intrigued by in-depth German and European history. Exceptionally structured and presented, avoiding excessive focus on a single era, and captivating with its array of historical portraits. Comprehensive explanations for the exhibits are available in both German and English, meticulously presented for your understanding.

Editor's Note:
The Zeughaus is closed for essential renovations and the renewal of the Permanent Exhibition since June 28, 2021. It is expected to reopen to visitors at the end of 2025.
8
Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

8) Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) (must see)

Despite its name, the Berlin Cathedral has never functioned as a true "cathedral" in the conventional sense because Berlin itself has never served as the seat of a Catholic bishop. The site has hosted a church since 1536, but the colossal Neo-Baroque iteration we see today dates back to 1905, earning its distinction as the largest 20th-century Protestant church in Germany. With dimensions of 114 meters in length, 73 in width, and a towering height of 116 meters, it dwarfed any previous structure in Berlin and was regarded as a Protestant counterpart to Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The entire construction cost of 11.5 million marks was covered by King Wilhelm II.

Until 1918, the royal Hohenzollerns worshipped within these grand walls, marking the end of that era when Wilhelm II abdicated and departed Berlin for Holland. Fast forward to the aftermath of the World War II chaos, and the massive dome found itself in dire need of a makeover, a task that didn't wrap up until 1982. Then, to put the cherry on top, the interior received its finishing touches in 1993, emerging as a true gem known for its magnificent organ, exceptional acoustics, priceless artworks, and transcendent ambiance.

Ascending to the dome provides a rewarding vista, and the journey is facilitated by a roomy stairwell, plenty of landings decked out with vintage snapshots and models, and even a few seating areas for those who like to take it easy. Meanwhile, down in the crypt, you'll find 94 sarcophagi of Prussian royals – it's like a history nerd's dream come true, and you can practically hear them whispering their secrets.

Tips:
Consider investing in the audio guide for a nominal fee, providing a wealth of fascinating information, or opt for a printed guide at a modest cost. During the summer, a generous open lawn with a fountain across the street offers an ideal setting for a picnic.
9
Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church)

9) Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church)

Converted from its original Roman Catholic denomination to a Lutheran Protestant church, Saint Mary's lays claim to being among the oldest churches in Berlin, with origins tracing back to the late 13th century. The unassuming fusion of architectural styles somehow renders it one of Berlin's most appealing churches, its simplicity a reminder of the city's humble village beginnings. Once hemmed in by neighboring buildings, Saint Mary's now stands in solitude, casting its shadow beneath the imposing TV Tower.

The interior – an excellent place to escape the buzz – reveals a rather austere Gothic design punctuated by notable Baroque embellishments. Of particular note is the pulpit adorned with elaborately carved cherubs wielding trumpets and the baptismal font supported by three black dragon-shaped legs. In terms of carving and gilding, the restored organ tops it all off, and visitors can enjoy rousing recitals on Thursdays and Fridays, typically accompanied by an invitation to closely examine the 18th-century instrument.

Upon entering, brace yourself for a surprise: a 22-meter-tall frieze titled "The Dance of Death", commemorating the plague epidemics that wreaked havoc during the Dark Ages. Note that it is undergoing restoration and may not be open for public shenanigans.

Why You Should Visit:
A tranquil medieval oasis nestled in the heart of Berlin. The early Gothic hall design enriched with opulent Baroque elements renders it one of the city's most captivating churches.

Tips:
Photography enthusiasts can find an ideal vantage point with a reflective fountain layout in the square just behind the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), offering a perfect reflection of the church on the water's surface. Additionally, on the roadside of the church, pause to admire the striking statue of Martin Luther, with his right hand touching one of the Bible's pages, as if uttering his renowned phrase, "by faith alone".
10
Fernsehturm (TV Tower)

10) Fernsehturm (TV Tower) (must see)

A product of the same architectural school responsible for the World Clock ("Weltzeituhr") in front of the nearby Alexanderhaus, the TV Tower was erected in the 1960s and stands as an enduring symbol of Berlin. Dubbed "the toothpick" by locals, this towering structure soars to a height of 368 meters, making it a prominent landmark visible from much of the city, as well as some suburban districts.

For those relishing the prospect of ascending a city's highest point to capture envy-inducing photos, the TV Tower is an absolute must, as the views it offers are unique and can extend up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) on a clear day. If you have a mild fear of heights, fear not—the elevator whisks you to the top in a mere 40 seconds. You can also opt for a more adventurous ascent via 985 steps, bearing in mind that this ranks as the 4th tallest structure in Europe, surpassed only by Moscow's Ostankino Tower and the TV towers in Kiev and Riga.

Inside, enjoy the authentic Sputnik-era ambiance (complete with period-appropriate decor and finishes), explore the sphere to savor the vistas or ascend a flight of stairs to reach the restaurant. If you have specific dietary preferences, particularly as a vegetarian, it's advisable to peruse the menu on their website before making a reservation. The dining experience itself is quite lovely otherwise, comprising a starter, main course, and dessert, plus a glass of sparkling wine and two glasses of red or white wine, along with unlimited water. Moreover, the restaurant rotates slowly, affording you a comprehensive view of Berlin, making it an ideal setting for photography. A full rotation takes about half an hour, offering ample opportunity to capture the city from a bird's-eye perspective while sipping a coffee.

Walking Tours in Berlin, Germany

Create Your Own Walk in Berlin

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Creating your own self-guided walk in Berlin is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Alexanderplatz Walking Tour

Alexanderplatz Walking Tour

One of Berlin’s cosmopolitan hearts, Alexanderplatz (or Alexander Square) is a true hive of activity. There is always something going on here: Christmas markets, Easter fairs, buskers, performances, Oktoberfest, and the list is countless. Easily accessible, with lots of transport connections and all manner of drink and food outlets, it’s a great place to hang around, take photos, and enjoy...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 Km or 1 Miles
Museum Island Walking Tour

Museum Island Walking Tour

One of Berlin’s most visited attractions, the Museum Island ("Museumsinsel") complex was established by order of King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841 and houses several world-famous museums kept in close vicinity of each other. The island itself is spectacular for a walk, with wonderful architecture, statues, gardens and trees, so enjoy the atmosphere and make at least a day...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Tiergarten Walking Tour

Tiergarten Walking Tour

Known for the huge park of the same name, which once was a royal hunting ground, the central district of Tiergarten (German for “Animal Garden”) is home to the Berlin Zoo, the Victory Column with its winged statue and the lively, lakeside Café am Neuen See.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Berlin Food Walking Tour

Berlin Food Walking Tour

While Berlin may not be considered a typical foodie destination yet, recent years saw a growing number of decent places to eat, serving both German and international cuisine. At some point, the city has even earned itself the title of a vegetarian capital of the world, contrary to what one may have expected. Amid all this renaissance in creativity and culture, coupled with the influx of the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles
Third Reich Walking Tour

Third Reich Walking Tour

The “Third Reich” and “Nazi Germany” are the common English names for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when it was a totalitarian state led by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. For any visitor to Berlin, the Nazi surrender that ended World War II is still a point of interest, but matching locations to those moments of history can be a challenge. On this special...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles

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