I went to Europe's biggest tech show for the first time and made 2 crucial mistakes

IFA sign outside the Messe hall in Berlin
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

IFA is one of the world’s largest tech events, with nearly 2,000 exhibitors spread over the 160,000 square meters (1,700,000 sq ft) of Berlin’s Messe, and boy did my feet know it!

The iconic building, which has been extended to include 26 halls since it was built in 1936, plays host to all of the biggest global tech brands for IFA. But it just as warmly welcomes hundreds of start-ups who are just getting their feet off the ground — most boasting an ingenious bit of kit that makes you think "how is this only being invented in 2023?". In fact, here's our Best of IFA 2023 Awards celebrating the best things we saw at the show this year.

IFA’s uniquely earnest venue gives you the sense that you’ve accidentally walked behind the scenes at what could otherwise have been a very pretentious technology conference, and that’s to its credit. This breeds a sociable atmosphere despite the conference’s enormous scale, however navigating the venue also brings its fair share of challenges.

Refreshingly, I found IFA to be an authentic celebration of innovation rather than a profiteering exercise for the tech giants — this is evident in the rich variety of exhibitors. Equally, IFA’s commitment to reducing e-waste was clear, with its Sustainability Village filling an entire hall and offering free onsite device repairs at a ‘mend and repair shop’ run by volunteers.

But with so much to do and so little time, I can only describe IFA as the Glastonbury Festival of tech conferences. It’s mammoth, overwhelming and darn right awesome on so many levels! In fact, with 180K visitors even the crowd is nearing the same magnitude. So where did I go wrong while attending IFA?

Mistake #1: I got lost

IFA attendees visit the Samsung Gaming Hub at IFA 2023

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

My main warning when visiting IFA; you will get lost. I spent two days traversing IFA, and for the majority of that time I was trying to find exhibitors and staring at the map. Messe’s endless halls and passageways are bewildering, so if you’re planning a visit be sure to plot your route around ahead of time — and include a well-timed stop at IFA Outdoors where the best food can be found in a series of trucks and stands.

It can take half an hour to walk from one side of the venue to the other, but there are a number of shuttle buses available across the site. You just have to know where to find them. And if you’re planning to meet up with a friend or colleague, good luck!

As I unintentionally walked around the same hall for the fifth time my Apple Watch clocked 23,000 steps. No wonder I felt exhausted — that and the fact I'd unknowingly caught Covid somewhere along the way.

Mistake #2: I went on the wrong day

IFA attendees visit the Honor booth at IFA 2023

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Make sure you’re attending on the right day. From what I've heard from my colleagues the crowds on Saturday were “insane” and made it difficult to get around, meanwhile Friday was a relatively quiet day in comparison with many of the exhibitors still setting up for the five-day stint. IFA requires planning, and details of the scheduled events and showcases for each day can be found in the IFA schedule on the official app.

IFA should be a social media editor’s paradise, with trending and TikTok-worthy tech around every corner along with enthusiastic founders, engineers and reps ready to discuss their product’s specs. Unfortunately for me — the social media editor for Tom’s Guide —  my mistake was expecting the exhibitors to be fully set up on the press days, the Wednesday and Thursday before it opened to the public on Friday September 1st. While this is more of a problem for the media specifically, I thought it was worth mentioning nonetheless as I'm told the same unreadiness tailed into Friday.

The big players, namely Samsung and Panasonic, were there to announce their launches to the press before the crowds poured in and there was still plenty to see, but for the most part the halls were filled with construction crew working at speed to assemble hundreds of stands from endless piles of plywood, and stacks of LED displays.

In fact, on arriving in Berlin following a 6am flight from London I was surprised to find that IFA’s event space more closely resembled a building site than a world-leading tech conference. Where were the humanoids? (they arrived on Friday apparently). More importantly, where was the cutting edge consumer tech — including the Honor V Purse, a phone questionably disguised as a purse? The answer; still in the box.

As you can imagine, this was not ideal for getting picture-perfect Instagram and TikTok content. However, it endeared me to IFA’s spirit as I watched thousands of tech-minded people working together to make it happen. So yes, I didn’t get to experience IFA in full force but I’m sure I felt the beating heart of it. 

Will I be returning to IFA to celebrate its 100th year in 2024?

All being well, I can’t wait to attend the conference again for the full five days. If you’re someone with a passion for finding tech that enhances your day to day, IFA has something to improve every aspect of our tech-driven lives and you can guarantee you’ll leave feeling inspired. 

My favorite part of the show: Samsung’s mahoosive hall full of smiling representatives, photobooths, and a huge range of their products that they patiently let me test.

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Milly Vincent
Social Editor

Milly is an editor at Tom’s Guide managing all things social media. Besides the daily running of Tom’s Guide’s accounts, Milly stays on top of emerging viral tech and news trends.

Milly joined Tom's Guide in March 2023 and is based in Bath. 

Before joining Tom's Guide, Milly worked as a journalist for Press Association, Reach, and MailOnline, covering everything from current events to technology. She has a Journalism BA from City University, London. When she’s not trying the latest viral TikTok hacks, Milly enjoys getting a workout on her Peloton, and walking her (very cute) dog in the countryside.