Berlin is one of Europe’s cheapest and hippest cities. So what are you waiting for? Go now, and don’t miss these hidden gems within the city. Visit converted bunkers, dine in hidden restaurants, or even jump off a building (safely)—Berlin has all you need.
Maybe you don’t think of European cities as adventure destinations in the same way that you might think of someplace like Queenstown or Auckland. But if you’re in need of an adrenaline rush, Berlin has your back. The Park Inn by Radisson hotel towers over the Alexanderplatz area, soaring almost as high as the neighboring Fernsehturm (TV Tower). Enter the hotel’s lobby and sign a terrifying waiver absolving the Park Inn in case you don’t make it down in one piece. Pay €79, then ascend 37 floors in an elevator before climbing the last few floors on shaking legs. At the top, try to admire the panoramic views of the city while you’re strapped into a harness. Then you’ll be hoisted up over the edge—and dropped. You’ll fall more than 400 feet before coming to a controlled stop just a few feet from the ground. As scary as this can be for participants, it’s also scary for tourists below who are unprepared to see people screaming in terror as they fall from the top of the hotel!
Check Prices for Park Inn by Radisson Berlin Alexanderplatz in Berlin
See Berlin from top to bottom (literally) with an underground tour from Berliner Unterwelten. This nonprofit organization takes visitors underneath the city and through a labyrinth of tunnels, bunkers, and caverns. The fascinating tour will take you places that most people, even residents, don’t get to see. Led by knowledgeable guides (English-speaking tours are available), the tours take you to escape tunnels that were used by people trying to flee under the Berlin Wall rather than over it. You’ll travel through tunnels by foot and at some points emerge within a subway station. Learn about successful escape attempts and how the East German secret police foiled others, and see unique photos from the era.
The Boros Collection
Take a break from the crowds on Museum Island and head to Mitte for a visit to the Boros Collection. The structure itself is just as interesting as the collection—the bunker was originally built in 1942 by the Nazis as an above-ground air-raid shelter. Since World War II, it’s been used as everything from a Russian military prison to a fruit-storage facility to a techno rave club. Now it’s been reclaimed to hold an amazing ever-changing modern-art collection compiled by Christian Boros. You’ll need to book a tour in advance, and it’s only open on weekends, but it’s definitely worth the effort if you’re a modern-art fan—or if you just want to see inside a really cool air-raid shelter.
Forget Checkpoint Charlie—one of the most interesting Berlin Wall-related museums is the memorial at Bernauer Strasse. This street in Mitte was divided by the Berlin Wall almost overnight, with many houses on it becoming famous for escape attempts as people jumped out of the windows of apartments that were part in East Berlin and part in West Berlin. Walk along the outdoor Berlin Wall History Mile and see actual pieces of the wall and listen to audio recordings of former residents. Be sure to stop in at the free Berlin Wall Documentation Center, which features exhibitions and a viewing platform that overlooks the reconstructed “death strip” between East and West Berlin, complete with a guard tower.
You can’t book a flight here, but you should definitely add Tempelhof Airport to your itinerary. Just 15 minutes by bike from the heart of the city, this enormous 3-million-square-foot complex was once an airport that even had its own power plant. It was used during certain periods as a military airport and also as a commercial airport, but it eventually lost traffic to the newer Tegel Airport and was closed. It now has a new life as a city park and event center, and the grounds are open to all.
Berlin is full of hidden courtyards—small oases in apartment complexes just off of bustling city streets. Hackesche Hofe is the largest enclosed courtyard area in Germany and has been painstakingly preserved and restored. Explore the many restaurants, bars, and theaters in the area, or just admire the art nouveau decor.
Not up for the lines at the Fernsehturm? Get a view that’s almost as good (and much cheaper) from the Park Inn by Radisson’s Panorama Terrace bar. This secret spot overlooks the city and has lounge chairs and a bar, so you can relax and enjoy the scenery without the crowds. You’ll have to pay a cover charge of a few euros, but the drinks are fairly cheap. Plus, you’ll get to watch all the nervous base flyers taking the plunge from across the roof.
Cafe Am Neuen See
The Tiergarten is often called Berlin’s Central Park, but New York doesn’t have anything nearly as chill as Cafe am Neuen See. Tucked away by Neuen See (New Lake), this beer garden offers traditional German food and drinks and amazing views of the park. In nice weather, you could spend hours here (go ahead and stay late, it’s lit at night).
Ever wonder what Berlin was really like in the ’80s? The Asisi Panorama is the closest you’ll get to a time machine. The 50-foot-high steel rotunda aims to recreate Berlin on a fictitious fall day in the 1980s. The exhibit features audio sequences, video, and photography documenting the time period. Then step into the panorama, an amazingly lifelike, true-to-scale painting, and feel what everyday life was like on both sides of the wall. You’ll see not only the Berlin Wall and soldiers, but also typical families and normal scenes. Audio is integrated, so you’ll really feel like you’re back in time. Be prepared to feel disoriented when you step back outside and into modern Berlin!
Nordbahnhof S-Bahn Station
This subway station doubles as a free museum—here, you can learn more about Berlin’s “ghost stations,” underground train stations that were completely walled off during the time of the Berlin Wall. Trains from West Berlin still ran through these stations but didn’t stop. The exhibition here focuses on the border and ghost stations as well as the many escape attempts that were made using the tunnels.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The World’s 13 Best Places to Travel Alone
- Affordable Europe in the Spring Shoulder Season: Where and Why You Should Go
- The 12 Best National Parks in Europe
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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