Berlin can be discovered in many ways and one of them is to do it through a small cruise on the river that runs through the city. You can choose between different options by selecting the experience that best suits your plans and your travel style.
1. The best river cruises in Berlin
If you decide to try the experience of a boat ride in Berlin, these are the top choices I can recommend:
2. One-hour boat ride through the center of Berlin
This option is ideal for an overview of Berlin and its history. The one-hour Spree river cruise features audio commentary. It departs from the Nikolai district in old Berlin; it is a very central location, so you will have no difficulty walking or taking public transportation from your hotel or any other key location in the city center.
A positive point is that, at most, you will be 20 people taking the cruise at the same time, so you can forget about the typical image of a crowded ship with tourists shooting pictures all around; this is more of a relaxed tour of the city that can serve as a first contact with Berlin or as a last look before ending your trip in the German capital. I summarize below the main points of your itinerary.
Nowadays it is the seat of the German parliament in Berlin, but it is probably more familiar to you for being the building where the Weimar Republic was proclaimed after World War I or for being the place where a suspicious fire occurred in 1933. The audio commentary will tell you more in detail about the historical significance of the Reichstag, but don't hesitate to visit inside to enjoy its impressive modern dome. You won't be disappointed.
It is so-called because it brings together many of the most important museums in the world: the Pergamon Museum, the Old Museum, the New Museum, the Old National Gallery, and the Bode Museum. You will need a whole day if you want to see them all, but for the moment during this walk, you will contemplate the views of the whole and hear about each museum in particular, so afterward you can visit the one that interests you the most. Get your camera ready as you approach the island.
Crowned by its green dome, the cathedral is probably the most representative building of the city of Berlin. When you see it from the boat you will feel like lying on the lawn in front of it to enjoy a picnic or a relaxing time; after enjoying the view from the river that is.
Also known as "the golden donkey" (pay attention to the audio commentary and you will find out why), it is another symbol of the German capital. If you don't want to leave the city without enjoying some great panoramic views, set aside time during your trip to climb this 220-feet-high monument.
Center for contemporary art
Art in Berlin doesn't end at the museum island. The modern half-moon building you'll see from the ship is the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a contemporary art center dedicated primarily to discussing art in non-European cultures. Don't miss the building lit up at night.
It is the official residence of the president of the Federal Republic of Germany. Enjoy its exterior views because seeing the interior can become mission impossible as visits are very small and waiting times are several months long.
The television tower
Wherever you are in Berlin, you can always get your bearings by finding the television tower on the skyline, the tallest building in the city located on Alexanderplatz. Its construction is not accidental: it was made to show the superiority of communism over capitalism during the years of the wall.
3. Two and a half-hour boat ride through the center of Berlin
If you are attracted by the idea of the boat ride and have time and desire to enjoy the city at your own pace, the option of the two and a half hour cruise through Berlin is the most complete. Groups are limited to a maximum of 30 passengers and you will have audio commentary during the tour in several languages. When booking online you can choose between different times throughout the day to do the activity.
The departure is from the pier located next to the Friedrichstraße bridge; you have an underground and bus stop with the same name located in the center of the city and you can also walk from the Brandenburg Gate.
If you choose this experience my advice is the following: the length of the tour will give you time to take pictures and listen to the audio commentary, but make sure to just enjoy the views without paying attention to anything else.
- Museum Island: one of the most important museum complexes in the world where part of the buildings were damaged during World War II
- Berlin Cathedral: the city's most emblematic building
- Nikolai Quarter: an area full of bars and taverns with a great historical attraction
- Berlin Central Station: the largest railway station in the European Union
- Federal Chancellery: a building considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern architecture
- Charlottenburg Palace: a 17th-century palace which was the summer residence of Queen Sophie Charlotte and had to be rebuilt after the bombings of the Second World War
- Old railroad terminus: today used as a museum of contemporary art
- Berlin Museum for the History of Medicine: a must-see for doctors!
- Spreebogen Park: one of the German capital's many green spaces
- Tiergarten: Berlin's main park in the city center
Ana's Traveller Tip
In winter temperatures drop considerably in Berlin; although it is beautiful to see the snow-covered city, make sure to wear warm clothes to best enjoy the river cruise.
4. Berlin boat tour + sightseeing bus tour with free stops
This experience includes two activities: a one-hour boat ride on the Spree River and a pass for the sightseeing bus tour of the city. The latter can be used to take a complete tour of Berlin's sights with audio commentary included (just like the boat ride) or to get around the center of the German capital.
You can choose to combine the boat tour with a sightseeing bus pass valid for 24 or 48 hours depending on your travel plans. Both on the boat and the bus, audio commentary is available in several languages.
As for the schedule, when you book your place for this experience you will be able to choose which day and time you want to take the river cruise. The sightseeing bus pass, on the other hand, can be activated at any time. Once you make your reservation online you will receive an email with all the details, but I'll give you a preview of the operation and route of the tourist bus so that you have it clear if you have never used this service before.
About the bus
It is a bus with panoramic views and audio commentary that passes through the most emblematic sites of the city of Berlin. While your pass lasts, you can take this bus as many times as you want from the stop of your choice; the frequency is 15 to 20 minutes and the operating hours are from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm.
- Kudamm Avenue
- Kaufhaus des Westens shopping center (KaDeWe)
- Potsdamer Platz
- Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition center
- Checkpoint Charlie
- Berlin Cathedral
- Unter den Linden
- Holocaust Memorial
- Brandenburg Square
- Berlin Central Station
- Berlin Center for Contemporary Art
- Victory Column
- Zoologischer Garten
- Café Kranzler
Ana's Traveller Tip
The audio commentaries are an interesting guide to what Berlin's main buildings house; use them as support for planning your visit.
5. Take a boat tour of Berlin with the Berlin Pass
The Berlin Pass includes a City Cruise among its more than 50 activities. You can take a Berlin cruise with the Berlin Pass: plus you can enjoy Berlin to the fullest with free admission to the Berlin Wall Museum, the Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum, and many others, plus it includes a trip to the Berlin Cathedral, a sightseeing bus tour of the city, walking tours and admission to Legoland.
Before you buy the Berlin Pass I recommend you to read about its advantages here: Berlin Pass.
6. Useful tips for choosing the best Berlin Cruise
The Berlin boat tour is similar on all cruises that cross the part of the Spree River that passes through the center of the city. Therefore, the differential factors that you have to take into account when booking online one or the other option are:
- Price. Perhaps before the experience of a boat ride was reserved for those travelers with better economic conditions, but today you will find prices adapted to all budgets.
- Duration of the tour. The tours can last from one to three hours. If you have little time to visit the city and you just want to experience the river, a short ride will suit you. On the other hand, if you want to relax and learn about the different monuments away from the rush and crowds, you will enjoy a longer tour.
- Number of travelers. It is not the same to share the experience with a small group than with a large group; always inform yourself about the maximum number of passengers allowed for each option.
- Extras. Since boat tours are a very popular experience in Berlin, you will find packs that combine them with other activities (as is the case of the sightseeing bus pass) and so you can save money.
7. If you're interested in a boat tour in Berlin, you'll also be interested in...
During any of the boat tours in Berlin you will have the opportunity to enjoy on the one hand the views of the city and on the other hand audio commentaries that will put in context the different points of interest. You can do the same, from another point of view, if you hire a guided walking tour of the most important points of the city or if you buy a pass for any of the sightseeing buses that run through the city of Berlin.
If what you enjoyed most about the boat ride was learning historical facts through the audio commentary, you can delve even deeper into the history of the city on a guided walking tour. There are different types and they are usually organized by neighborhoods. In this post about Berlin Tours you have all the necessary information; I tell you in advance that this is one of my favorite experiences in any city.
If instead you have done the boat ride on the Spree river and what you enjoyed most were the views, take a look at this other article about Hop on Hop off Bus Tours. You can buy a pass to access the Berlin sightseeing bus for one or several days and besides being able to take different tours around the city you can also move freely between the different points of interest with the option of free stops.