Berlin, Germany is a city so steeped in modern history we can forget that it’s still fascinating. That is to say, from the World Wars through the fall of the Berlin Wall (and countless references to both in film and television), Berlin was as important a city as any in 20th century war and politics. But it’s not a city only for the history books. Berlin is beautiful and fascinating, packed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, excellent architecture, and interesting culture. These are some of my top picks.
This is one of the UNESCO sites in Berlin, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. More specifically, it’s one island with five museums in the heart of the city, between the Spree River and the Spree Canal. Naturally it’s a striking area, and though it’s fairly large it’s also easy to navigate (in part because it’s the site of the old city of Colln). On the island you can explore the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum (perhaps the prettiest), and the Pergamon Museum (perhaps the most unique). It’s a lot to see in one area and makes for a wonderful day of exploration.
Located in Park Babelsberg near Glienicker Laker in the city, Babelsberg Palace has a strong argument as Berlin’s most beautiful building – though technically it’s just outside the city, in Potsdam. Designed in the English Gothic style and built in the mid-19th century, it’s an unusual structure in the Berlin area, rising out of the park like a semi-modern English castle. This is another UNESCO site, and though the palace itself is undergoing renovations and currently closed (as of late 2017), a stroll through the surrounding park is an excellent idea and even glimpses of the palace from a short distance are stunning.
This is a sight you can take in quickly, but one you certainly shouldn’t miss. Built late in the 1700s in the neoclassical style, it’s an imposing monument that calls to mind the strength and prominence of Berlin in European history. As is appropriate for any piece of neoclassical architecture, it truly looks like a slightly more modern version of ancient Rome.
The Reichstag Building was constructed late in the 19th century and still stands as one of the more impressive government buildings in all of Europe. Mixing Renaissance, Baroque, and Postmodern architectural approaches, it’s a visual wonder for those with an interest in such things. And though it has been damaged at times in history it has been flawlessly restored. What would look like an imposing and attractive building anyway is made uniquely picturesque by the glass dome at its center, which lights up at night.
More simply known as the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, this is primarily a football (soccer) venue that was built for the 1936 Summer Olympics. It’s quite an impressive stadium simply from an architectural standpoint, and is worth stopping to see even if you don’t get in for a match. That said, if the timing works out the football is itself an adventure. Early guides to the World Cup next summer indicate Germany is one of the favorites (yet again), and this is where the national team plays many of its matches. If you can see them on their home turf, the combination of excellent football and enthusiastic fans makes for a terrific experience.
Chorin Biosphere Reserve
This is another area that’s been recognized by UNESCO, and another place that’s just outside the city (to the north). But if you like to have a little bit of activity and adventure to your vacations, even in urban areas, it’s the perfect getaway. It’s essentially a massive, preserved forest ideal for a pretty hike on a nice day.