Berlin’s Museum Island: The ‘It’ Place for Art Lovers!

It has certainly been a while since I spent this much time in art galleries and museums! Now that I travel with Sam, my travels are mostly centred around local food and outdoor activities, however, there was a time when my idea of travel was going to an art gallery, people watching at an outdoor cafe, popping over to a history museum, and then making my way to yet another cafe…

This past week I had one of my friends visit me in Berlin and I reverted back to my old ways. Rebecca flew in from London and on one particularly rainy Friday, we decided to go museum-hopping around Berlin’s Museum Island all day long! My feet were aching by the end of it, but it was nice to have an entire day devoted to history and art.

If you’re an art lover, then Berlin’s Museum Island might be the place for you. Here’s what to expect:

Visiting the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin's Museum Island

Alte Nationalgalerie

From the exterior this gallery looks a lot like the Acropolis found in Greece, which may lead you to think it focuses on Greek and Hellenistic art, however, once you set foot inside you’ll find that the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Galery) focuses on 19th century paintings and sculptures.

The gallery encompasses pieces from the French Revolution to the First World War, and you’ll find the works of artists like Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Caspar David Friedrich, Paul Cézanne, and Auguste Rodin among others.

My favourite part, however, were the sculptures by Johann Gottfried Schadow. If there’s a man who could turn a block of marble into the most angelic of figures, it was Schadow!

Neues Museum

The Neues Museum, or New Museum, was a pretty cool place to visit because it houses both the Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History.

I got to see sarcophagi, busts of pharaohs, and hieroglyphs, however, the crowning jewel was the gallery which holds the bust of Nefertiti – the great Egyptian queen who enjoyed unprecedented power.

Staircase at the Bode-Museum in Berlin's Museum Island

Bode-Museum

I really enjoyed visiting the Bode-Museum because the building itself is a thing of beauty. Reaching the galleries on the second floor involves going up a grand staircase clothed in red carpet, and the dome which towers above is also quite eye-catching.

Inside, the collection is very diverse and includes a section dedicated to sculptures which range from the Early Middle Ages to the late 18th century. There was a mixture of works by world-renowned sculptors like Donatello and Bernini, as well as pieces by lesser known artists. Many of the pieces housed here were religious in nature – altars, crucifixes, and sculptures of saints.

This museum was very quiet in comparison to some of the others I visited on the Museum Island – I saw one artist working on a sketch and another young man reading a novel in an empty gallery – but for the most part I had the place to myself.

Pergamonmuseum

With an estimated 1 million visitors each year, this is by far one of the most popular museums in all of Germany! This one building houses the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Middle Eastern Museum, and the Museum of Islamic Art.

The highlights, for me, included seeing the Pergamon Altar of Zeus (which was brought back from an ancient Greek city and put back together piece by piece inside the museum!) and the Ishtar Gate (which was one of the 8 entrances to Babylon). The wow factor of the Pergamonmuseum is the fact that it houses these massive ancient structures which once functioned as gates, markets, and palaces!

I do have to warn you and say that this museum gets very crowded. It’s particularly popular with student groups, so some areas were very much push-and-shove.

Altes Museum

The Altes Museum, or Old Museum, houses a permanent exhibition on the art and culture of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans…and this is the only museum that I didn’t get to visit! I have to admit that I was pretty wiped out after walking through the previous 4, so I’ll leave it to you to do the exploring.

The Princesses by Johann Gottfried Schadow, in Berlin's Museum Island

More info:

  • The Museum Island, also known as Museuminsel, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This small island sits on the Spree River and it houses 5 of Berlin’s top museums.
  • While you can pay for individual admission at each of the museums, it’s certainly worth getting a pass if you plan on going to more than two. A day pass to visit all 5 museums on the island is 18 Euros.
  • If you’re going to be visiting a lot of the main attractions in Berlin and you decide to obtain the Berlin Welcome Card (worth 38.50 Euros), then admission to the museums on the island is already included in the price. That might be a better option as opposed to trying to cover all 5 museums in 1 day!
  • Many of these museums and art galleries on the island have little restaurants and cafes, which means you can enjoy a bite to eat while you rest your legs.

Have you been to Berlin?
What are some of your favourite museums in the city?

Join the Conversation

23 Comments

  1. says: Katy

    I’m coming to Berlin in less than a month! I can’t wait to visit the city.. it was a last minute addition to my itinerary and I have no idea what I was thinking in the beginning when I didn’t plan to go there!

  2. says: Ailsa Ross

    I remember my first visit to Museum Island back in 2007 (God, 2007! That makes me feel old). On the roof of one of those grand old buildings I glanced at the words ‘MODERN ART’ in pink neon.

    “Yes!” I thought to myself, “I guess this gallery is Berlin’s version of the Tate Modern or MoMA. Can’t wait”

    I paid the entry fee and walked past busts of Tutankhamen and ancient Egyptian jewelry, confused as hell until I got outside and read the pink neon sign properly: ‘ALL ART WAS MODERN ONCE’

    Ohhhh. The beauty of visiting the Neues Museum by accident? A new found love of all things ancient and Egyptian. It’s good to get outside our comfort zones.

  3. says: Sam

    With all the times I’ve been to Berlin, it’s surprising I’ve never been to the Museuminsel, as I’ve never thought of Berlin as a good city to appreciate old stuff when there’s so much new, cool stuff too! But you’ve made me reconsider: next time, eh?!

  4. says: Jeff

    I am a fan of history. Museums being the only place i can get rich history, i do spend the days exploring and reading like you guys did.

  5. says: Claudia

    Hi Audrey,

    Thanks so much for this really nice post! It’s a perfect summary – I haven’t been at Museum Island for a while, so it’s a great update too 🙂

    All the best,
    Claudia

  6. says: Mike of Mapless Mike

    I’m not a huge museum person, but I do enjoy going in them from time to time, especially when I know something about the pieces in them. While I haven’t been to Berlin, or Germany for that matter, I’m hoping to get there this next year while I’m living in Spain. This guide will definitely come in handy as it explains what all the museums offer. Thanks!

  7. says: The Guy

    Thanks for the review Audrey, it sounds like you had a great time. I must admit though that I’m like you and hate it when it goes overcrowded. I prefer museum visits to be around an hour to two hours long and no more. Also for the temperature to be reasonable inside rather than too hot.

    The exhibits sound great. For some reason reading this reminded me of a museum I visited more than a decade ago in Budapest. I dare say regional influence would be a factor.

    How long is the Berlin Welcome Card valid for? A week?

  8. Can’t wait to visit Berlin. I went on a whirlwind tour of Europe and missed it in 2008. Terrible! I missed many cities to be honest though…. Can’t wait to go! I’ll definitely visit some of these museums 🙂 Some of the buildings look as spectacular and the art inside. Europe is awesome for that. Love the architecture.

  9. says: Julika

    Great overview, Audrey! I’ve been to Berlin in March and I visited three of the mentioned museums in a row — my feet were killing me in the end, but it was so worth it! Berlin is such a fantastic city for art and archeology geeks!

  10. I don’t do a lot of museums when I travel but when I was in Berlin I had to visit the Pergamonmuseum. The Pergamon alter and Ishta gate were both incredible and I really enjoyed the ancient Greek artifacts.

  11. says: Dennis Kopp

    You are certainly right Audrey, all five museums is way too much for one day! It’s still a shame you didn’t make to the Altes Museum, the once royal museum, built by the most prominent German architect of the 19th century, Karl Friedrich Schinkel. While you will find other buildings of his throughout Berlin, I would recommend that you also visit the Neue Nationalgalerie. It was built by the most prominent German architect of the 20th century and once director of the famous Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, one of the great masters of modern architecture. So even if “less is more” is the design principle, the visit at the Neue Nationalgalerie will be well worth it, for the building as well as the art… 🙂

  12. says: Myra Jonson

    Thank you so much for dedicating an entire post to museums. Museums perhaps make for one of the most curious travel attractions. There are people who almost find it to be the “in” thing to travel a famous museum but aren’t actually able to immerse themselves in the “history” …. 🙂 Your post is such a welcome relief

  13. says: Ryan

    Normally I wouldn’t have an interest in a museum post, but anything about Germany entices me! Though I don’t step foot in museums often, I do love the architecture and the art and the sculptures in this. Beautiful!

  14. says: Heather

    I’m a history nerd and love visiting museums! I didn’t realize Berlin had so many great ones. And it’s nice they’re all in one spot so you really can make a day of it!

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