Museum Island in Berlin has thousands of years of history and tens of thousands of extraordinary artifacts packed into five museums on a small island in the middle of the city. The five museums, surrounded by the Spree river, each focus on a different period of history and all have fascinating exhibits. It would take days to fully explore all the museums, so it’s worth planning your visit ahead of time, to be able to see all the exhibitions that interest you.
Museum Island. Image Nigel’s Europe, via Flickr
The museum, named after the Pergamon Altar housed inside, is the most visited museum in Berlin. It holds full-size artifacts from around the world, which have been uncovered, transported to Berlin, and rebuilt in the museum. Exhibits come from around the ancient world: Greece, Babylon, Rome and Asia Minor. The Pergamon Museum also holds the Islamic Art Museum inside, with ancient and modern art from the Islamic world. Don’t miss the 1500-year old Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon, or the enormous Pergamon Altar itself, with its sculpted frieze showing the battle of the gods and giants.
The Bode Museum is on the tip of Museum Island, and can be seen from afar. The museum houses an eclectic collection of coins, sculptures and Byzantine art. The 500,000-strong coin collection is one of the biggest in the world, although it is temporarily being held at the Pergamon Museum (the museums on Museum Island tend to lend exhibits to each other on a regular basis, as reconstruction of the island continues). The sculpture collection is just as comprehensive, and covers the best sculptors of every period in European history.
Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie)
The National Gallery is now based in six different buildings around Berlin. The most famous are the New National Gallery, near Potsdamer Platz, and the Old National Gallery on Museum Island. The old gallery houses thousands of neoclassical, romantic, impressionist and early Modernist works of art, including collections of the French Impressionists Monet and Manet, and the German painters Caspar David Friedrich and Adolph von Menzel. The actual building of the Old National Gallery is a work of art in itself, modelled on a Roman temple.
Old Museum (Altes Museum)
The Old Museum was the first museum to be built on the island, and was originally meant to be a symbol of the cultural and artistic supremacy of Germany. When the entire island was declared to be a cultural center, and other museums were built, this became known as the Old Museum. It now holds part of the Classic Antiquities collection (the other half is in the Pergamon), especially Greek and Roman artwork. Don’t miss the exquisite bronze ‘praying boy’ statue on the first floor!
New Museum (Neues Museum)
The New Museum was built to house ancient artifacts that wouldn’t fit in the Old Museum. It now has some of the most famous exhibits of ancient art in the world, including the bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and many other artifacts from ancient Egypt, as well as collections of Roman, Greek, and even Stone Age art. An underground tunnel connects the museum to the Old Museum.
Visiting Museum Island
The five museums of Museum Island form an incredible cultural center, and were deservedly recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site. The buildings were badly damaged during the war and reconstruction continues until today, so some exhibitions are temporarily closed, or move around between the museums. The Pergamon Museum has a model of the Museum Island as it is planned to be when construction is finished.
Entrance to each individual museum costs 10-12 Euro, but it makes more sense to buy a combined ticket to all the museums on the island. A one-day pass costs 18 Euro, and a three-day pass costs 24 Euro. Children under 18 can enter for free. The extended Welcome Card for Museum Island includes free entrance to all the museums on the island, free public transport, and discounts at hundreds of attractions around Berlin. A 3-day Welcome card costs 34 Euro.
The museums are open 10am – 6pm, and are closed on Mondays.