Museum Island Walking Tour (Self Guided), Berlin

One of the most visited places in Berlin, 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 out of it!

Tip: Though the entry fee for each separate museum is reasonable, consider spending on a 3-day pass which allows access to all (exluding the DDR Museum).
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Museum Island Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Museum Island Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Berlin (See other walking tours in Berlin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: derek
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Bode-Museum
  • Pergamon Museum
  • Neues Museum
  • Altes Museum
  • Alte Nationalgalerie
  • DDR Museum
  • Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)
1
Bode-Museum

1) Bode-Museum (must see)

At the northern tip of Museum Island, the Bode-Museum shines from afar with a majestic double-dome, surrounded by Spree River on two sides. While there is much to enjoy in the architecture, scale and layout at a glance, it has an equally impressive interior, with elegant stairs, tall ceilings and classical features making for a nice museum viewing experience.

The sculpture collection is one of the biggest in existence and has work dating from the early middle ages to the late 18th century, with a good selection of most European countries. Highlights include glazed terracotta figures of the Italian Renaissance period and half a dozen works by Tilman Riemenschneider that particularly stand out. There are not many places in the world to see such fine wooden sculpture and this is one of them!

The Byzantine art section has over 150 works from the 3rd to the 15th centuries and the coin cabinet has a valuable collection of Byzantine coins and medals. There is also an interesting section showing iconic art from the Orthodox Christian churches of Greece, the Balkans, Russia, and North Africa.

For those who feel the need to rest their feet or enjoy a coffee and cake during their visit, there is a nice café that overlooks the magnificent baroque-style foyer. In the back of the restaurant is also a book/gift shop with many nice items that are worth taking home.

Tip:
Bags must be checked in, but cameras are allowed so you can take as many pictures as you like during your visit.
Get the 3-day Museum Pass: pays for itself, and quickens the experience for the other museums on the island.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-8pm
2
Pergamon Museum

2) Pergamon Museum (must see)

Famous for its reconstruction of fragments of ancient towns, including its most prized possession – the gigantic Pergamon Zeus Altar (2nd century BC), this museum houses one of Europe's most comprehensive collections of antiquities, with many full-scale architectural objects on display. A massive expansion and renovation process is set for completion by 2026 but parts of the exhibition will be open to the public throughout. It's a huge place, and one can't see it all in one visit anyway!

The museum's treasures are divided into three main thematic sections, the most iconic one being the Antiquity Collection, which focuses on artifacts from the Greco-Roman period, including the entire Gate of Miletus as well as the aforementioned Pergamon Altar. There are also the Islamic Art Museum and the Middle East Museum, where visitors can admire the facade of an 8th-century castle from present-day Jordan, the Ishtar Gate (an absolute wonder and in itself worth the price of admission) and the Babylonian Processional Way together with some of the oldest written documents in the history of mankind, paintings, ceramics, wonderful old rugs, window frames et al.

There are plenty of other cool sights, special rooms, and photo opportunities that can satisfy even those who are not that much into antiquities. The Pergamon Panorama, housed in a separate building about 5 mins walk away and included in the ticket price, is quite stunning: a multi-level view of the Pergamon Altar that has to be seen to be believed!

Tip:
Buy tickets online – if you come during your designated time slot, you will not have to wait in line.
Free rental of audio guides in your native language to guide you through all the pieces inside.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-8pm
3
Neues Museum

3) Neues Museum (must see)

This delightful part of the Museum Island complex reopened its doors in 2009 and is well worth an extended visit. Its four floors contain a vast array of artifacts from each of the prehistoric eras (Stone, Bronze, Iron), amongst antique cultures like the Greek, Roman, Nubian, and most notably, ancient Egyptian.

Although pride of place here goes to the stunning bust of Egyptian queen Nefertiti – and you do need to see her elegantly rendered head from every angle – there is plenty more to see! Walk into the next room to find one of the more interesting displays, with valuable papyrus scrolls appearing by the pressing of a button. Also, be sure to look at the information cards in many rooms, which describe how they look currently, as compared to before being damaged in the Second World War. There is additional Egyptian art on this (the second) floor, and on the first, which houses a temple and a courtyard below.

Take time with the exceptionally well-organized and well-explained Bronze and Iron Age exhibits of weapons, tools, pottery and other artifacts and the photos and diagrams of the digs at which they were unearthed. One the most interesting exhibits is the more recently acquired Golden Hat, a beautiful and still-mysterious piece of Bronze-Age ceremonial headgear, one of several found in Northern Europe (apparently, whoever held the power that accompanied it could predict eclipses and other celestial phenomena). Other highlights include the wonderfully lifelike Berlin Green Head, mummies and sarcophagi, the re-creation of a Neanderthal's head from a skull, a magnificent collection from the ancient city of Troy, gold jewelry belonging to the "Treasure of Priam", and blue faience funerary objects in the shape of animals.

Tip:
Go as early as possible to avoid long queues and buy a Berlin Card or a three-day museum pass, as there is much to see.
It is best advised to start at the top and work downwards, either on your own with an audio guide or on a tour.

Opening Hours:
Fri-Wed: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-8pm
4
Altes Museum

4) Altes Museum (must see)

Built between 1823 and 1830 to house the Prussian Royal family's art collection, the Altes Museum (German for "Old Museum"), generally regarded as architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel's masterpiece, sits in a great location right next to the riverway with lots of photo-ops and people gathering on the front lawn to chill out.

Since it is a world-famous museum of antiquities, expectations are high. Starting with the Greeks, these expectations are met – archaic Greece is represented with major masterpieces, excellent vases, and good statues. Aside from statues of Greek deities exhibited in the central rotunda, the main items of interest would be the bronze Praying Boy, the Berlin Goddess, and sculptures of athletes (rendered as if they were in movement). The section on the Greek colonies in southern Italy displays their pottery which is somewhat larger and less restrained vases and kraters of mainland Greece.

Etruscans are on part of the 1st floor and mainly relate to grave goods and reliefs – a nice insight into this mysterious race. The better part of this floor is the Roman section, especially the carvings on the sarcophagi and large statues. There is also an extensive collection of portraits from the Imperial age, including busts of Caesar and Cleopatra.

The collection itself is peerlessly kept, with plenty of available information on both pieces and the period they refer to.

Tip:
Occasional temporary exhibits are held on the 2nd floor.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-8pm
5
Alte Nationalgalerie

5) Alte Nationalgalerie (must see)

The Alte Nationalgalerie houses one of the most important collections of 19th-century painting in Germany, including Neoclassical, Romantic, Biedermeier, Impressionist and early Modernist artwork, part of the Berlin National Gallery. Situated on Museum Island, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, the building – first opened in 1876 – impresses with its palatial layout, reinforced by the equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm at the main entrance.

The main highlight here is Romanticism, with a very impressive collection of Friedrich whose "Monk by the Sea" is on display amongst other great works, but even more valuable is the context: many (mostly small) paintings of lesser-known artists, which together provide a good picture of the century. For those keen on Impressionism, one of the central rooms on the ground floor presents paintings of several key French painters, including some well-known pieces by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, or Renoir. There is, of course, German art in this genre as well, with a good representation of Max Liebermann. The rest is, if not world-class spectacular, then pretty high-level art at the least.

Why You Should Visit:
Good navigation and very nice space – open and you can get very close to the artwork.

Tip:
Be sure to use the free headsets here – you will learn a great deal about German painting.

Operation Hours:
Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun: 10am-6pm; Thu: 10am-8pm
6
DDR Museum

6) DDR Museum

This small interactive museum gives a realistic picture of life in the former German Democratic Republic (DDR) – or East Germany; an insight into the culture of a people living in a strictly communist state, with a sense of nostalgia for a lifestyle that has disappeared forever. Situated in the former government district of the DDR, on the banks of River Spree, it lies opposite the Berlin Cathedral.

The director, Dr. Stephan Wolle created the museum to assess the culture of the four decades of German communism, with the aim of removing all stereotypes and cliches from the minds of visitors. Exhibits are interestingly displayed so as to objectively present facts and to subjectively record more personal experiences.

The permanent exhibition is divided into 16 areas of communist life in East Germany, with interesting collections relating to housing, work, leisure, fashion and culture (pay particular attention to the "house" of DDR design, equipped with DDR items). Additionally, it gives visitors the real-time experience of being constantly watched by the infamous secret police of East Germany called the Stasi, life in the typical prefabricated communist houses called the Plattenbau, as well as the experience of driving the small Trabant – a primitive two-stroke engine car with a 16-year waiting list.

Tip:
Consider combining with the Stasimuseum (on the former grounds of the headquarters of the DDR Ministry for State Security) to find out how bizarre life really was. For souvenir junkies, a visit to the AMPELMANN store nearby is a must!

Opening Hours:
Sun-Fri: 10am-8pm; Sat: 10am-10pm; Dec 24/31: 10am-4pm
7
Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

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

As such, Berlin Cathedral has never been a “cathedral” in the actual sense of the term, simply because Berlin itself has never been the seat of a Catholic bishop. Initially, this site was occupied by a Calvinist Supreme Parish Church built by Johann Boumann the Elder in 1747-1750. In 1893 that building was dismantled to make place for the current Supreme Parish and Cathedral Church. Commissioned to the project were father and son, Julius and Otto Raschdorff, who produced an exuberant Neo-Renaissance style edifice.

With no separation between Protestant church and the state of Prussia, King William II covered the entire construction cost of 11.5 million Marks. At 114 meters long, 73 meters wide and 116 meters tall, this was much larger than any other building previously raised in Berlin, and was considered a Protestant counterweight to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. On February 27, 1905, the cathedral was inaugurated.

Why You Should Visit:
The view from the dome is great and worth the steps – little bit narrow at times, but there are banisters to hold on to.
Inside the Cathedral is awe-inspiring with a magnificent organ, spectacular acoustics, precious works of art and sublime atmosphere.

Tip:
For a few €s, the audio guide offers plenty of interesting information (alternately, get a printed guide for just a few cents).
Follow signs to walk around all the cathedral's halls and be sure to climb to the roof terrace and go down into the crypt.
In the winter, come around 3pm to get the best of both daylight and dusk; the night illumination is absolutely beautiful.
In the summer, there is a large open lawn with a fountain across the street that would be great for a picnic.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-8pm; Sun: 12-8pm

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