It’s never easy to get to know a city when you’re jammed for time. But that doesn’t mean you should throw up your arms in defeat if you only have 24 hours in Berlin.
One thing you’ll need to realize when visiting the capital of Germany: You won’t get the full experience of Berlin in one day. The list of things to do in Berlin seems endless. And the best moments on your Berlin itinerary won’t necessarily spring from the pages of a guidebook.
Not sure how to plan just one day in Berlin? Start your first 24 hours exploring one of the most fascinating cities in Europe with this complete 1-day Berlin itinerary.
What to do in Berlin in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
In full disclosure: I, by no means, advocate spending only one day in Berlin. The German capital is an essential part of any European itinerary. It’s truly one of the world’s must-see cities. It’d be an injustice to deprive you of the love that flows from getting to know it better at a more leisurely pace.
But not all circumstances are in our control.
If you have a quick layover or are crunched for time, plan your first day in Berlin around the following activities. It’ll help maximize your time and get the most out of your visit. (As much as possible, try to fit your trip into these best times to visit Berlin.)
I’ve laid out this 1-day Berlin itinerary as a walking tour. With the excellent public transportation in Berlin, you may want to hop onto a tram on U-Bahn between itinerary stops to save time though.
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Etch your first impressions at Alexanderplatz
There’s no better place to start your first day in Berlin than Alexanderplatz. A major public space in the former East Berlin, Alexanderplatz is home to one of the city’s most defining landmarks, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower).
When you visit the Fersehturm, a massive 360-degree panorama awaits. To zip up the speedy lift, you’ll need to be willing to cough up a somewhat steep entrance fee. The cheapest tickets start at €15.50 to €17.50.
Walking west through Alexanderplatz, superb city views present themselves at every angle. The beautiful St. Mary’s Church and Neptunenbrunnen (Neptune Fountain) frame the perspective. They form a picturesque scene as you wander about, soaking up your first impressions of the German capital.
Getting ready to make the most of your one day in Berlin? Get started on the right foot with these passes:
- The Berlin Pass: Get FREE access to more than 60 attractions and a hop-on hop-off bus tour with this ultimate pass. Also includes an unlimited public transportation card.
- Berlin WelcomeCard: This 72-hour pass includes free entry to several museums and an unlimited transport card. You’ll also get discounts on hundreds of attractions throughout the city.
- Museum Pass: Perfect for culture vultures, this pass gives access to over 30 museums around the city for up to 3 days for one low price.
Peek behind the Iron Curtain at the DDR Museum
Through Alexanderplatz and the Marx-Engels Forum, it’s less than a 10-minute walk to the DDR Museum. This engaging peek behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany is a must, even if you only have 24 hours in Berlin.
Whenever I travel to Central Europe & Eastern Europe, I can’t get enough of Cold War museums. And the DDR Museum is one of the best I’ve visited.
The museum immerses you in the full DDR experience. You can grip the steering wheel of a Trabi. You can let the sounds of East German music beat against your eardrums in DDR-era model rooms. You can endure a mock Stasi interrogation or see propaganda posters and watch sporting event replays. It’s like “Goodbye Lenin!” coming to life!
Want to avoid the queue at this popular museum? I’d recommend picking up some Skip-the-Line DDR Museum Tickets before you go to save some time.
Can’t get enough of learning about Berlin’s Cold War era? Sweep back in time with one of these nostalgic tours:
- Red Metropolis Walking Tour: This private group tour immerses you in the former socialist sector of East Berlin and all its lesser-known stories.
- Trabi Safari: Hop into a Trabi, the official car of the DDR, for an unforgettable self-driving tour through Berlin’s top Cold War sites. Tour includes live commentary from a professional tour guide through the car’s radio. You’ll also snatch your own Trabant driver’s license as a souvenir!
- Berlin Wall & Cold War Bike Tour: This 3.5-hour tour traces along the former border of East & West Berlin. Stops include Mauerpark, Bernauerstraße, Brandenburg Gate, and Checkpoint Charlie.
- Red Berlin: Secrets of the Communist Capital: This excellent value walking tour digs deep into life behind the Iron Curtain. It’ll whisk you through all the sites in the former Soviet sector of the city.
View Berlin from above—and below—at the Berliner Dom
Cross the River Spree from the DDR Museum. Continue by entering the cavernous Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). This famous church in the middle of Mitte has had a storied past, to say the least.
Since the 15th century, the grounds here have been a site of worship. The current Berliner Dom is a reconstruction of the fourth reincarnation of the site’s church.
The cathedral was finished in 1905 and restored after WWII. The Berliner Dom is a stunning example of Neo-Renaissance and Prussian historicist architecture.
Inside, you can admire the incredible frescos, arches, and pillars. But this isn’t where your Berliner Dom adventure ends.
Power upstairs to the cathedral’s Dome Walkway. Atop the dome, you’ll enjoy fantastic panoramic views over Berlin. Or sink down to the Hohenzollern Crypt. Here, you’ll see one of Europe’s most important royal burial places. The crypt is bedecked with late-Gothic-style coffins and monuments.
Ready to get the most out of the Berliner Dom? Roll in with these convenient tours and passes!
- The Berlin Pass: This unlimited pass offers free entry to more than 60 attractions in Berlin, including the Berliner Dom. You’ll also get a free public transportation card.
- Top 10 Sightseeing Attractions Walking Tour: This two-hour walking tour sifts through the top sites in Berlin. You’ll get the low-down on everything from the Cathedral to Brandenburg Gate to the Gendarmenmarkt.
- Central Berlin Small-Group Walking Tour: This budget-friendly 3-hour small-group walking tour focuses on the key attractions of Mitte. It hits up top-notch places like the Nikolaiviertel, Berliner Dom, and the Reichstag. You’ll get a wide appreciation of the city’s illustrious and sometimes infamous history.
Peruse to your heart’s desire on Museuminsel
Berliner Dom sits on an island alongside Berlin’s biggest concentration of museums. The aptly-named Museuminsel (Museum Island) is a dream for travellers who love art & antiquities.
The museums you’ll find on Museuminsel include:
- Altesmuseum (Greek & Roman antiquities)
- Neuesmuseum (Egyptian art and artifacts)
- Pergamonmuseum (Greek & Roman art)
Although not on the island, the Deutsches Historisches Museum (focused on German history) also lies just beyond. You could spend the entire day perusing the collections. But with only one day in Berlin, you’ll want to limit yourself. More action awaits!
Built up an appetite? Detour back over the river towards Hackescher Markt for a snack. The distinctive red brick S-Bahn station and square below offers plenty of eating options. It’s a quick & interesting glimpse into pre-WWI Berlin.
Want to get the most out of Museuminsel? Don’t visit without one of these amazing passes!
- The Berlin Pass: This ultimate pass for the German capital offers admission to over 60 attractions. The list includes the top museums on Museuminsel.
- Berlin WelcomeCard: This 72-hour pass combines a transportation card with free entry to ALL the museums on the island. You’ll also get discounts on hundreds of other attractions elsewhere in the city.
- Museum Pass: This budget-friendly 3-day pass will get you into over 30 museums throughout Berlin. It includes admission to the museums of Museum Island.
Wander along Unter den Linden
From Museuminsel, stroll down East Berlin’s most famous thoroughfare, Unter den Linden, to push on with your 24 hours in Berlin.
Unter den Linden is named after the trees that shade its pedestrian pathways. The avenue has graced the city since the mid-17th century. There are plenty of interesting architectural distractions along the way. Keep on the lookout for the stately Kronprinzenpalais and Berlin State Opera.
Within a 20-minute walk, you’ll complete the less-than-two-kilometre stretch. At its apex, you’ll reach the most distinctive landmark in the city, Brandenburg Gate. The gate has hung around Berlin since the late 18th century. And it’s provided the backdrop for some of the mega events of modern German history.
Anyone who was alive during the Cold War will remember Brandenburg Gate on newscasts. It was here that Reagan demanded that Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall. And it was flickering in the background as the Wall fell and East and West Germany reunited. Clinging to these images and seeing where it all took place will make any visit here impactful.
At Brandenburg Gate, you’re also face-to-face with Berlin’s other most recognized landmark. Even if you won’t immediately realize it. The former Berlin Wall ran through Pariser Platz, the square in front of Brandenburg Gate. It was left firmly in West Berlin while (roughly) the rest of Unter den Linden rolled into the East.
While you won’t see any of the Wall here, don’t worry: it’s coming!
Loving what you’re seeing around Unter den Linden? Get the low-down on all of it by booking yourself on one of these great tours!
- Berlin Hop-On Hop-Off Bus: One of the most efficient ways to see the city, this bus tour rings around all the top attractions in central Berlin. It includes live commentary to complement the ride.
- Sightseeing City Tour: Dig into the top 20 attractions in Berlin with this 3-hour comprehensive walking tour.
- Classic VW Bus Sightseeing Tour: Unleash your inner flower child on this 2-hour 1965 VW bus tour. The bus winds through all the top things to see in Berlin in one day as well as many lesser-known ones.
Pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial
Cross back over into the East, walking south along Ebertstraße where the Berlin Wall once stood. One block from Pariser Platz lies one of the most sombre attractions in the German capital, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Also known at the Holocaust Memorial, the site is quite unusual.
Over 2,700 concrete slabs are set over a city block at varying heights. As you immerse yourself within the monument, the ground slopes downward. The deceivingly-large concrete pillars soon soar well above your head.
However you interpret the Holocaust Memorial’s meaning, be sure to treat it with respect. Far too many visitors forget and have used it as a parkour training ground or background for selfies.
(Read this interesting story for an idea of how bad this became and what one author is doing about it.)
Interested in learning more about Berlin’s WWII history? Check out the following excursions!
- Third Reich Berlin: Learn about the rise and fall of the Third Reich in Berlin on this history-rich tour through Berlin’s WWII sites.
- Hitler’s Germany: Berlin During the Third Reich & WWII: This 4-hour walking tour covers the city’s most infamous Third Reich sites.
- Under the Swastika Tour: This comprehensive tour fills in every aspect of the city’s World War II history. It includes lesser-known tales of the German Resistance against the Nazis.
Relive the Cold War at the former Berlin Wall & Checkpoint Charlie
From the Holocaust Memorial, continue walking along Ebertstraße to Potsdamer Platz. Pause at Potsdamer Platz to seek out the few small graffiti-laden sections of the Berlin Wall. Continue south towards Niederkirchnerstraße.
Turn left and walk east along Niederkirchnerstraße. Soon, you’ll find one of the longest remaining sections of the Berlin Wall in the city. The Niederkirchnerstraße swath runs between the Topography of Terror and Wilhelmstraße.
Not far away from here lies East and West Berlin’s most infamous border station, Checkpoint Charlie. I’ll admit: the area around Checkpoint Charlie has become increasingly kitschy since my first visit almost two decades ago.
Nevertheless, I still love returning to Checkpoint Charlie whenever I’m here to imagine it during the Cold War. (In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a Cold War fanatic.)
Pop into the Mauermuseum at Checkpoint Charlie for a deeper look into the East German border security system.
Fascinated by the Berlin Wall? Then you’ll absolutely love these tours!
- Cold War Walking Tour: Learn all about the Wall’s part & infamy in the Cold War on this informative 4-hour walking tour. It includes tales of failed escape attempts, the death strip, ghost stations, watchtowers, and spy points.
- Berlin Wall Tour: This guided tour walks along the wall’s original route from Gesundbrunnen to Prenzlauer Berg. It includes a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial. Here, you can climb the lookout to see a preserved area of the former “no-man’s land” between the divided city’s borders.
- Divided Germany City Tour: This 2-hour walking tour focuseson the most central sights of the former border. Highlights include Friedrichstrasse Station, Potsdamer Platz, Tiergarten Triangle, and Checkpoint Charlie.
Dabble into the city’s gritty side in Kreuzberg
Not long ago, nary a Berlin itinerary would have included Kreuzberg. Times are a-changin’. Along with Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg is one of the hippest neighbourhoods in the city. Why not see what all the fuss is about?
From Checkpoint Charlie, the heart of Kreuzberg is a short 20-minute walk via Rudi-Dutschke Straße and Oranienstraße. Among the best things to do in Kreuzberg is scoping out some of Berlin’s coolest street art. You’ll also love popping your head into vintage shops to beef up your record collection and wardrobe. Weave in and out of the streets off of Oranienstraße to dig into the district even deeper.
Worked up a hearty appetite? Test out Kreuzberg’s culinary scene. The area’s popular among Berliners for its diverse cultural fabric; some of the city’s best restaurants and street food await.
For a quick and filling snack, drop into Curry 36 (Mehringdamm 36) for some of its renowned currywurst. Or give Tadim (Adalbertstraße 98) a try. This Turkish restaurant deals out yummy döner kebabs and lahmacun that’ll always leave you craving more.
Want to experience more of Kreuzberg? Hop onto these awesome tours!
- Kreuzberg Culinary Food Tour: Experience the breadth of the area’s multicultural cuisine on this 3-hour guided food tour. It includes visits to 5 top-rated restaurants in Kreuzberg.
- Alternative Berlin by Bike: This 3.5-hour bike tour zips through Berlin’s trendiest & hippest neighbourhoods. The stops include Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg.
- Alternative Berlin Experience: This journey whisks through the city’s most interesting up-and-coming neighbourhoods. Areas include Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln. The tour digs into Berlin’s art scene, countercultures, and unique flavours.
Slip back into the Cold War at the East Side Gallery
Still got mileage left on your walking shoes? From Kreuzberg, it’s a 30-minute walk to one of Berlin’s most compelling attractions, the East Side Gallery.
(A quick U-bahn ride from Kreuzberg’s U-Kottbusser Tor or U-Görlitzer to U-Warschauer Straße will do the trip in less than 10 minutes.)
Following the reunification of Germany, artists from both sides of the border (and from around the globe) banded together here. They wanted to express with joy and optimism of the changing of the times. The result was the East Side Gallery.
This open-air art gallery is painted on sections of the former Berlin Wall. It’s one of the world’s largest of its kind. Much of what remains at the East Side Gallery are restorations. The originals have deteriorated over the years due to vandalism and natural damage.
Even if they don’t hold a candle to the originals, the feeling remains the same. No tourist attraction captures the euphoria of the fall of the wall and the collapse of communism in Europe better.
While at the East Side Gallery, look to the southeast to Oberbaumbrücke. This landmark is the most recognizable bridge in Berlin. It shows up distinctive Brick Gothic towers that give it an undeniable Eastern European feel.
Can’t get enough of Berlin’s street art? Get your fix on these awesome excursions!
- New Berlin Alternative City Tour: This tour takes on Berlin’s edgier side. It slips past a smattering of street art and tells stories about the German capital’s subcultures taking action.
- Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Tour & Workshop: This unique artist-led excursion not only digs into the city’s art scene but lets you become a part of it. After touring around to some of Berlin’s top street art sites, you’ll get a full tutorial on graffiti techniques. You can apply your newfound skills to an abandoned factory. You’ll become part of the city’s unique cultural fabric yourself!
- Berlin Street Art Bike Tour: Fit more street art into your day with this 3.5-hour bike tour. The tour covers some of the city’s more compelling graffiti, sculptures, and murals.
Step back into old Berlin at the Nikolaiviertel
There’s no better place to end your Berlin layover than at the Nikolaiviertel. It’s hard to imagine Berlin before World War II; there are, but a few pockets of architecture left to speak to the past of this grand city. Nikolaiviertel, the reconstructed quarter of Old Berlin, is the best of them.
Age in Nikolaiviertel is deceiving. On the surface, it appears as if medieval Germany has come back to life on the narrow alleyways.
Truth is, much like the rest of Berlin, Nikolaiviertel lacks the authentic origins of other European old towns. The 1980s reconstruction is nonetheless impressive. Nikolaiviertel buzzes with activity. It’s a great place for dinner and a nightcap.
For a traditional and hearty German dinner (or even just a beer) with a view, pop into the popular Brauhaus Georgebrau on the banks of the Spree.
Built up a hearty appetite during your first day in Berlin? Feed it on one of these yummy food tours:
- Evening Bike Food Tour: This unique tour moves from Mitte to Kreuzberg via Prenzlauer Berg. It stops at both historical sites as well as 3-4 cafés and restaurants to try out some of the city’s signature dishes.
- Secret Food Tour: This incredible food tour pos into a whopping seven stops. You’ll try dishes ranging between flammenkuchen, currywurst, and kebabs. Beer & wine tasting is also included.
- Culinary Tour of Old Berlin: This 3.5-hour private culinary tour combines visits to some of the city’s oldest buildings with tasting some of its most classic dishes. You’ll enjoy specialties like Berlin meatballs, beef roulade, and red berry compote.
Where to stay on a Berlin layover
The German capital’s one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe. You’ll need to choose where to stay in Berlin well ahead of time to snatch up the best rooms. For this 1-day Berlin itinerary, I’d recommend staying around Mitte. It’ll allow you to get front and centre to all the action. Here are a couple of the great hotels to start your search:
- Arte Luise Kunsthotel: This stylish hotel features unique artistic decor and a whole lotta pizazz. It’s located just 10 minutes from Brandenburg Gate.
- Boutique Hotel i31 Berlin Mitte: This sleek modern hotel rests upon hip designs and a quiet location close to the Nordbahnhof. The garden terrace provides a pleasant escape from the big city.
- Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin: This world-renowned 5-star hotel peers out upon Brandenburg Gate from its palatial rooms. It offers the ultimate in classic European luxury. You’ll love everything from the neoclassical indoor pool to its double Michelin-starred restaurant.
Recommended tours for one day in Berlin
Looking to squeeze more out of your Berlin itinerary? Here are a few of the best day tours in Berlin:
- Discover Berlin Half-Day Walking Tour: Get the low-down on the city’s history on this 4-hour walking tour through Mitte. It checks out top attractions like Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Holocaust Memorial. You’ll also visit Checkpoint Charlie, the Topography of Terror, and the Berlin Wall along the way.
- Berlin Bike Tour: See more of Berlin in one day with this exciting 4.5-hour bike tour. You start by breathing in major sites like the Berlin Wall Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and Brandenburg Gate. The ride continues along the Spree to the Tiergarten for some relaxation among the city’s best greenery.
- Berlin Sightseeing Cruise: One of the best ways to scope out the German capital is on the water. On this 3-hour cruise, you’ll snake through the city’s waterways and enjoy the city’s top riverside delights. Stops include Charlottenburg Palace, the East Side Gallery, and Oberbaumbrucke. Lunch and a drink is included.
Getting to Berlin
Berlin is served by the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER). Several major airlines fly into BER from destinations worldwide. Options include Lufthansa, easyJet, Eurowings, and Ryanair.
From the United States, return fares can run as low as $450 to 500 in the low season. Fares from Canada are a little more expensive at about C$750 to 800. Flights from elsewhere in Europe are much cheaper.
How to maximize your 1-day Berlin itinerary: Tips & tweaks
- Want a relaxing evening on the water? Embark on an evening cruise along the Spree, and see Berlin’s best architecture from a different vantage point.
- Need more of Berlin from above? Cruise up the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) for epic 360-degree views of the city.
- Money burning a hole in your pocket? Shop till you drop at Potsdamer Platz, on Friedrichstraße or along Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg.
- Craving more of the Wall? Take the U-bahn up to Bernauer Straße and visit the Berlin Wall Memorial. Pop over to the nearby Mauerpark, a buzzing green space on the former border of West and East Berlin.
- Stomach growling? Head up to Oderberger Straße in the Prenzlauer Berg district for a tasty selection of ethnic restaurants.