Day at the Museums: Berlin’s Museum Island (+Photos)

Whenever I visit a city for the first time, I like to dedicate a full day to at least two well-known museums. Depending on the place I’m in and the museums on offer, these could range from archaeological museums to art museums to 4D simulation experiences.

While it’s common for museums to be in the tourist centres of each city, there are few cities that have as many world-class museums, let alone an island dedicated to them. Enter Berlin’s Museum Island.

Located in the heart of the city along the River Spree in the Mitte District, this manmade island is home to five of Berlin’s most famous museums: The Altes Museum (Old Museum), The Neues Museum (New Museum), The Bode Museum, The Pergamon Museum, and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Galerie).

I spent three months living and studying in Berlin, and within three days of arriving in the city, I had already visited Museum Island. It remains one of the highlights of my time in the city, and it is safe to say I returned time and time again.

In this post, we’ll cover:

Getting to Museum Island

Getting to Museum Island

Each year, millions of tourists visit these five museums, which are conveniently located for a single-day visit. Not only do the collections held in each museum draw in art and history fans, but the buildings themselves are among the most impressive in the city.

The museum complex, also known as Spree Island, is easily accessible by the city’s efficient public transport system. You could take the underground, hopping on the U5, U6, or the overground (called the S-Bahn) on lines S1, S2, S5, S7, and S25. These trains will stop at the Hackescher Markt station, just a fifteen-minute walk from the island. There is also a tram stop (Kupfergraben) that services the M1 and M12 tram lines, just a few minutes from the island.

Transport in Berlin is affordable and on time. The city is divided into three fare zones, with a one-way journey within the city costing €3.50. If you’re only taking the train or subway three stops or less, you pay a reduced price of €2.40.

Buses are convenient for shorter distances, and visitors can catch the 100 or 200 bus, which both stop at the Lustgarten bus stop just off the island.


Berlin Island

If you’re a history buff like myself, you’re going to want to visit the Jewish Museum, German Spy Museum, and Museum fur Naturkunde (The Natural History Museum) in Berlin, all of which aren’t on the island.

I’d recommend purchasing a museum pass, which allows you to access another thirty museums across the city! The ticket costs €32 full-price (€16 reduced) and includes a three-day consecutive pass to just about any museum you might want to tick off your list.

On the first Sunday of each month, most museums open their doors for free admission. But be warned, these days are the busiest at Berlins museums, so you might prefer to stroll the halls on a quieter day.

The museums on the island are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am until 5 pm during winter and until 6 pm during summer. All museums are closed on Mondays. There are facilities for disabled visitors, including ramps and lifts, across all five museums. At the moment, the Pergamon Museum is temporarily closed for renovations.

A Slice of History

Slice of History

Germany pretty much sits front and centre of world history, having played a huge role in the World Wars and Cold Wars over the past couple of centuries. Naturally, Museum Island has seen its fair share of history, too.

The first museum, the Altes Museum, was opened in 1830 and was one of the first places to publicly showcase art at the time. Following in its steps, the next four museums were built on the same island. The museums were built to show the evolution of art over the course of the century. At the time, this was a massive step for urban public reform in a time when art was typically privately owned.

The Neues Museum was destroyed during World War Two and reopened in 2009. Today, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its incredible cultural heritage and architectural importance.

Coffee and Lunch

Museum Island Restaurant

Also on the island, you can stroll the gardens of Lustgarten Park and the Berlin Cathedral and enjoy lunch at one of the museum restaurants. I personally opted to walk out of the main tourist area for lunch in Berlin Mitte, but the best options on the island are Baret, which is a pricey fine-dining option, and Bistro Lebenswelten, for a more casual alternative.

Midway through my museum visits, I took a pause and enjoyed a coffee and a croissant on the lawns. I walked three minutes across the Werderscher Markt bridge to my favourite coffee shop, quite literally called ‘The Coffee Shop’, which had a basic selection of pastries and a cappuccino for around €3. There are, of course, coffee shops on the island, but they don’t have great reviews, so I decided to go for a trusted coffee shop.

Altes Museum

Altes Museum

The first museum on the island, The Altes Museum (The Old Museum), was commissioned by the King of Prussia and is a masterpiece of neoclassicism. It looks similar to the Pantheon in Rome, just longer and much, much bigger. It was opened in 1830 and is located in the northern part of the island.

Altes Museum

The museum covers a huge variety of artefacts and art, including sculptures, pottery, old coins, and jewellery that offer a glimpse into what the art, culture, and everyday life were like for ancient civilizations.

Altes Museum

The highlight of this museum is the statue of the Green Goddess Athena, along with an incredible collection of vases from ancient Greece. Having studied anthropology and archaeology, I found the Ancient Worlds exhibition on Ancient Greece, Rome, and the Etruscans to be one of the most educational.

Neues Museum

Neues Museum

Just across the road towards the northern corner of the island, the Neues Museum (The New Museum) is famous for its collections focused on Ancient Eqypt, along with countless other prehistoric artefacts and objects.

By far, the most important artefact here is the bust of Nefertiti, which is located in the North Dome Hall of the Ancient Egyptian collection. Surrounded by a collection of ancient scrolls of papyrus, mummified coffins, and burial chambers dating as far back as 2500 BC, this is one of the most impressive Ancient Egypt collections in the world.

Neues Museum

The museum also includes exhibitions of prehistory and early history, along with a collection of classical antiquities. If you’re as interested in ancient civilizations as I am, plan to spend at least two to three hours here.

Alte Nationalgalerie

Alte Nationalgalerie

After dousing myself in ancient history, it was time for a bit of modern culture. The Alte Nationalgalerie (The Old National Gallery) is home to over two thousand paintings and just as many sculptures and statues.

Alte Nationalgalerie

The permanent exhibitions include Europe’s finest art of the 19th century, with a focus on romanticism, impressionism, and even realism. Stare into the works of Manets ‘In the Conservatory’ – a true masterpiece of German Romanticism, Caspar David Friedrich’s impressionist ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ and a plaster version of the bronze sculpture ‘The Thinker’ by Auguste Rodin.

Bode Museum

Bode Museum

The Bode Museum is set in a Baroque-style building at the northern tip of the island. I spent around 45 minutes here as I was already running low on energy, but you could easily dedicate two hours to this museum.

The museum is a bit overwhelming and big, with plenty of large halls with well-spread out art and sculptures. It’s home to an impressive collection of Byzantine-era art, ancient coins, and sculptures from across Greece and Rome, as well as a medieval and Renaissance gallery.

Bode Museum

My favourite exhibition here was the coin collections originating from Rome, Greece, Persia, and Egypt to the Middle Ages, as well as rare and unique modern coins. Coins are an exciting way to learn about economic and political history, as well as the cultures and societies of the ancient world.

Pergamon Museum

Pergamon Museum

Arguably, my favourite museum of the five, the Pergamon Museum, is home to the life-sized reconstruction of the Pergamon Altar, after which it is named. Most impressively, it also holds the original reconstructed Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market Gate of Miletus.

The Ishtar Gare is arguably one of the most famous architectural masterpieces of the ancient world. Initially built in 575 BCE, the gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon (modern-day Iraq), which at the time was the entrance to the most sacred part of the city.

Pergamon Museum

After the fall of Babylon and following centuries of neglect, the gate fell into ruin and was only recovered in the late 19th century.

Reaching 47 feet high, the gorgeous blue and yellow tiles have been painstakingly reconstructed from a pile of rubble to recreate one of the ancient world’s most exquisite gates.

Although I was inside a museum in Berlin, surrounded by guards, tourists, and high walls, it almost felt as if I were standing at the gates of Ishtar myself.

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