Cool, amazing, cheap, creative, diverse, unforgettable… All these adjectives can certainly be used to qualify how vibrant and exciting a visit or a long stay in Berlin can be. The German capital has countless attractions, sights and landmarks to keep you busy any time of the year.
However, like in every big city, some places can be real money-greedy lures and worth skipping. Let’s be honest: they do not deserve even a peek!
So, if you want to take the best of your “Berlin experience”, we selected some of the touristic places you can avoid while visiting our lovely city. We also propose at least one trap-free alternative for each one of them. Here are Berlin’s tourist traps and how to avoid them!
Taking a selfie at Checkpoint Charlie.
Checkpoint Charlie takes the cake as the mother-of-all-tourist-traps! Today, everything about this historical site is fake: the guardhouse standing there is a replica, the soldiers wearing U.S. Army uniform are actors and even the picture of the so-called Charlie officer is a trickery. ALSO…for the record…the name of the checkpoint (the real one that no longer exists) used by foreigners and diplomats during the Cold War era, was taken from the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha for A, Bravo for B, Charlie for C…) and not from a soldier whose name was Charlie!
None of the original structures at Checkpoint Charlie remain. This Disneyland-ish place is just a selfie factory, surrounded by cheap street food vendors and souvenir stalls. In case you want to see the original guardhouse, it is exhibited at the Allied Museum, in the southwestern neighborhood of Dahlem. You will realize that the reality was way less charming than it looks today…
And if you are interested in the Cold War era historical sights, check out our list of the Best Berlin Cold War Sights.
Buying fake pieces of the Berlin Wall and military Soviet caps.
Is it possible to believe that, nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, small parts of it can be sold as a relic? No, the answer is definitely no! Don’t be bamboozled: the piece of concrete they try to sell you was probably taken from one of the many construction sites in Berlin!
Searching for the best skyline view atop the TV Tower.
The view from the top of the highest structure in the Berlin seems to be perfect place to have a panoramic view of the city, right? But it is not. If you are up top, you will miss one of the most emblematic constructions in Berlin, with its beloved retrofuturistic “disco ball”: The TV Tower itself!
To admire the skyline of Berlin and avoid waiting in the long queues to have access to the observation deck of the TV Tower, head up to the Panorama Terrace at the neighboring Park Inn hotel. Located on the 40th floor of the building, which is one of the highest skyscrapers in Berlin, the panorama terrace is the closest you can get to the TV Tower! Also, check out more options on places to see Berlin from above.
Browsing through the East Side Gallery.
Along the Spree river, the 1.3 Km stretch of the original Berlin Wall is the world’s longest open-air gallery. Even though the mix of art and history is still impressive, the more than 100 “freedom thematic” murals are far from what we would consider edgy street art. But if you do decide to visit it, make sure to explore “the back” of the Wall, facing the river. There are quite a few interesting open-air exhibits hapenning throughout the year.
For more interesting street art, go to the Revaler Strasse/Urban Spree area. It is just a 10 minute-walk from the East Side Gallery and you will also be able to enjoy a cool skyline view of the city center from the Warschauer Brücke on your way there! If you are into street art, check out the many articles we wrote covering the subject!
Shopping for trinkets at the flea market at Mauerpark.
We love a Sunday stroll at Mauerpark, blending Berlin Wall monument, public hangout and karaoke shows. But the weekly flea market does not deserve your attention. All you will find are pricey furniture/trinkets and East Germany memorabilia offered along with counterfeit phone chargers…
Just skip it. And before or after your Mauerpark exploration, head to the flea market at Arkonaplatz. Located 1 Km away from Mauerpark, on the border of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, the sellers offer vintage furniture and artworks from local artists and designers, with more affordable prices. The market is open every Sunday from 10 to 16h.
From the last weekend of November until end of December, Berlin offers more than 60 Christmas markets, spread all over the city. So there is no reason to visit the Christmas market at Alexanderplatz, with its crowded alleys, overpriced mulled wine and craftwork of doubtful taste.
If you want to enjoy a popular and authentic Christmas market atmosphere, pay a visit to the one located at Richardplatz in Neukölln (only during the first weekend of Advent) or venture out to the one in the old town in Spandau with its traditional small village vibe!
Shopping at Alexa or at Mall of Berlin.
We all agree that having a row of shops in a covered area makes shopping easier when the weather outside is “moody”. On the other hand, we also know that we cannot experience real life inside a shopping mall.
All the high street fashion brands present on the two main shopping malls in Berlin also have shops at Ku’damm, the City West shopping mile, which is, in our opinion, a more pleasant shopping alternative. And if you really like a shopping mall ambiance, next to Ku’damm, the “concept mall” Bikini Berlin will provide you with a more “Berliner shopping experience”.
Taking one of the City bus tours.
The hop on, hop off tour buses are very convenient and let you easily discover the most famous landmarks of any city. But in Berlin they are unnecessary: regular bus lines, like the 100 and the 200 pass through the most famous sights of the German capital. On the double-decker public buses – without taped or live guides – you will admire Unter den Linden, the Museum Island, the Brandenburger Tor, the borders of Tiergarten, Ku’damm, the Zoo and City West.
Plus, you will save money, since the regular bus ticket is five times cheaper than a ride on a city bus tour!
At first sight, you may find that a museum dedicated to the most famous Berliner street food is an amazing idea. But think twice: why would you go to a museum if you can have an authentic Currywurst tasting experience in one of the most emblematic luncheonettes in Berlin, the Konnopke’s Imbiss.
The location, beneath the rail tracks of the U-Bahn station Eberswalder Strasse, in Prenzlauer Berg, is the perfect spot to enjoy the cult snack: a curry-flavored sausage, served with French fries and a bread roll. And don’t forget to put mayo on your fries if you want to look like a local!
Queueing for a Döner Kebap at Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap.
Another legendary Berliner creation, the Döner Kepab is a Turkish bread filled with grilled meat and salad. It is certainly the food to have after a fun night out. Almost every busy corner in Berlin has a Döner stand, but Mustafa’s got the reputation of being the best one for reasons nobody can explain!
At any time of the day, there is always a queue of tourists in front of this ultra-famous stall, facing the U-Bahn station Mehringdamm, in Kreuzberg. For a late night snack, head to Doyum (at Kottbusser Tor) and avoid excessive waiting time. The restaurant and the take away parlor are open late.
Going for a beer on Simon-Dach-Strasse.
Friedrichshain is one of the most bohemian neighborhoods in Berlin and Simon-Dach-Strasse gathers hordes of tourists looking for fun and cheap beer. We have nothing against people willing to have fun and spending little money (we also do it!), but the establishments on Simon-Dach-Strasse are often overrated and overpriced.
For a more local experience check out our selection of cool spots around the nearby Boxhagenerplatz and avoid paying more for less!
Queueing in front of Monsieur Vuong.
Any time of the day, you will find people waiting for a free spot in one of the banquettes at this Vietnamese restaurant in Mitte. It seems that its main attraction is tourist people watching (locals don’t go there!), since the food itself is just okay and the prices are above average, even for this hip area of Mitte, on Alte Schönhauser Strasse.
Right around the corner, we prefer Qua Phe, for more authentic and inspired Vietnamese dishes. And if you are really into people watching, walk towards Rosenthaler Platz and queue for a table at the Thai/Indonesian bar and restaurant Transit. The tapas-style dishes are good – and cheap at least!
Partying at Watergate.
Your night highlight at Watergate will certainly be the view of the Spree river from the dance floor. But is that why you are going out? The nightlife options in Berlin are infinite, so there is no reason to queue – on purpose – for hours to get into Watergate, pay for expensive cocktails and dance to tacky tech-house if you can have a techno blast at the legendary Tresor or at the world renowned Berghain.
Article written by Domingos Lepores and edited by Tulio Edreira.