It’s never easy to get to know a city when you’re jammed for time. Especially when that city is Berlin. The capital of Germany takes time to get to know, time to digest. 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 at the onset: You’re not going to get the full experience of Berlin in one day. The list of things to do in Berlin seems endless. And the city’s best moments aren’t necessarily those that spring from the pages of a guidebook.
I make excuses to pop by Berlin as often as I can when visiting Europe. Yet, every single time it’s as if I’m confronted with a new city. I’m not going to claim that this Berlin itinerary is a perfect recipe for everyone. But here are some of my best suggestions for how to plan your first 24 hours in Berlin:
Table of Contents
- Only have 24 hours in Berlin? Follow along with this 1-day itinerary…
- Etch your first impressions of Berlin at Alexanderplatz
- Peek behind the Iron Curtain at the DDR Museum
- View Berlin from above—and below—at the Berliner Dom
- Peruse to your heart’s desire on Museuminsel
- Wander along Unter den Linden
- Pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial
- Relive the Cold War at the former Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie
- Dabble into Berlin’s gritty side in Kreuzberg
- Slip back into the Cold War at the East Side Gallery
- Step back into old Berlin at the Nikolaiviertel
- Where to stay in Berlin
- Recommended Berlin day tours
- Want to see even more of Berlin in 24 hours? Apply these 1-day itinerary tweaks…
- Finished your first 24 hours in Berlin? Here’s where to go next…
Only have 24 hours in Berlin? Follow along with this 1-day itinerary…
In full disclosure, again: I, by no means, advocate spending only one day in Berlin. Berlin’s one of my favourite cities in Europe, an essential part of any European itinerary, and truly one of the world’s must-see cities. And I’d be committing an injustice to deprive you of the love that flows from getting to know the city better at a leisurely pace.
In any case, I realize not all circumstances are in our control. If you have a quick layover or are crunched for time for whatever reason, plan your day around the following activities to maximize your time. (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. But with excellent public transportation in Berlin, you may want to hop onto a tram on U-bahn between itinerary stops to save time.
Etch your first impressions of Berlin at Alexanderplatz
There’s no better place to start your first 24 hours in Berlin than Alexanderplatz. A major public space in former East Berlin, Alexanderplatz is home to one of the city’s most defining landmarks, the Berlin Fernsehturm (TV Tower). A massive 360-degree panorama of Berlin awaits if you’re willing to cough up the somewhat steep entrance fee (cheapest tickets start at €15.50-17.50) to zip up the speedy lift.
Walking west through Alexanderplatz, superb views of Berlin present at every angle. The beautiful St. Mary’s Church and Neptunenbrunnen (Neptune Fountain) frame your perspective as you wander around, soaking in your first impressions of Berlin.
Peek behind the Iron Curtain at the DDR Museum
Through Alexanderplatz and the adjacent Marx-Engels Forum, it’s less than a 10-minute walk to the DDR Museum, an engaging peek behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany. Whenever I visit Central Europe & Eastern Europe I absolutely can’t get enough of Cold War museums, and the DDR Museum is one of the best I’ve visited.
Grip the steering wheel of a Trabi or let the sounds of East German music beat against your eardrums as you immerse yourself in the full DDR experience. Exhibits range from DDR-era model rooms and a Stasi interrogation to propaganda posters and sporting event replays. It’s like “Goodbye Lenin!” coming to life!
View Berlin from above—and below—at the Berliner Dom
Crossing the river Spree from the DDR Museum, enter into the cavernous Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). Berlin’s most famous church has 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. Finished in 1905 and restored after WWII, the Berliner Dom is a stunning example of Neo-Renaissance and Prussian historicist architecture.
Admiring the incredible frescos, arches and pillars of the Berliner Dom isn’t where the adventure ends. Power upstairs to the Dome Walkway for panoramic views over Berlin. Or sink down to the Hohenzollern Crypt to see one of Europe’s most important royal burial places, bedecked with late-Gothic style coffins and monuments.
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 those who love sorting through art and antiquities.
The museums you’ll find on Museuminsel include Altesmuseum (Greek & Roman antiquities), Neuesmuseum (Egyptian art and artifacts) and Pergamonmuseum (Greek & Roman art). The Deutsches Historisches Museum (German history), although not on the island, also lies just beyond. You could spend the entire day perusing the collections, but with only 24 hours in Berlin you’ll want to limit yourself. More action awaits!
If you’ve 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 with plenty of eating options, is a quick glimpse into pre-WWI Berlin.
Wander along Unter den Linden
From Museuminsel stroll down East Berlin’s most famous throughfare, Unter den Linden. Named after the trees that shade its pedestrian pathways, Unter den Linden has graced East Berlin since the mid-17th century. There’s plenty of interesting architectural distractions along the way including the the stately Kronprinzenpalais and Berlin State Opera.
Within a 20-minute walk, you’ll end the less-than-two-kilometre stretch at Berlin’s most famous landmark, Brandenburg Gate. Hanging around since the late-18th century, Brandenburg Gate has often provided the backdrop for some of the mega events of modern German history.
In my earliest childhood memory of anything beyond my own country’s borders, I recall Brandenburg Gate flickering in the background as I watched newscasts of East and West Germany reuniting as the Berlin Wall fell. Clinging onto these images and seeing where it all took place makes any visit here even more impactful.
At Brandenburg Gate, you’re face-to-face with Berlin’s other most famous landmark, even if you didn’t know it. The former Berlin Wall ran directly through Pariser Platz, the square in front of Brandenburg Gate. The gate was left firmly in West Berlin while (roughly) the rest of Unter den Linden rolled into East Berlin. While you won’t see any of the Berlin Wall here, don’t worry: it’s coming!
Pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial
Cross back over into East Berlin walking south along Ebertstraße where the Berlin Wall once stood. One block from Brandenburg Gate you’ll encounter one of Berlin’s more sombre attractions, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial). The memorial is unusual. Over 2,700 concrete slabs are set over a city block at varying heights. As you immerse yourself within the memorial, the ground slopes downward soaring the deceivingly-large concrete pillars 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 a idea of how bad this became and what one author is doing about it.)
Relive the Cold War at the former Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie
From the Holocaust Memorial walk along Ebertstraße towards Niederkirchnerstraße via Potsdamer Platz. Pause at Potsdamer Platz to seek out the the few small graffiti-laden sections of the Berlin Wall before continuing south.
Turning left and walking east along Niederkirchnerstraße, you’ll soon find one of the longest remaining sections of the Berlin Wall in the city. The short swath of the former Berlin Wall on Niederkirchnerstraße runs between the Topography of Terror and Wilhelmstraße.
Not far away from here lies East and West Berlin’s most famous border station, Checkpoint Charlie. I’ll admit: the area around Checkpoint Charlie has become increasingly kitschy since my first visit to Berlin over 12 years ago.
Nevertheless, I still love returning to Checkpoint Charlie whenever I visit Berlin 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.
Dabble into Berlin’s gritty side in Kreuzberg
Not long ago nary a Berlin itinerary would have included Kreuzberg. Times are a-changin’. Kreuzberg is, along with Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, one of the hippest neighbourhoods in Berlin. 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 are scoping out some of Berlin’s coolest street art and 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. Kreuzberg’s famous for its diverse cultural fabric; some of Berlin’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 will always leave you craving more.
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 former border (and from around the globe) banded together to express with joy and optimism of the changing of the times. The result was the founding of East Side Gallery.
This open-air art gallery, painted on sections of the former Berlin Wall, is one of the world’s largest of its kind. Much of what remains at the East Side Gallery are restorations due to vandalism and natural damage over the years. Even if they don’t hold a candle to the originals, the feeling remains the same; no tourist attraction in Berlin captures the euphoria of the fall of the wall and collapse of communism in Europe better!
While at the East Side Gallery, look to the southeast to Oberbaumbrücke. This landmark is the most famous bridge in Berlin with its distinctive Brick Gothic towers that give it an undeniable Eastern European feel.
Step back into old Berlin at the Nikolaiviertel
There’s no better place to end your first 24 hours in Berlin 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 all 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 the Berlin, Nikolaiviertel lacks the authentic origins of other European old towns like Prague, Riga or Tallinn. The 1980s reconstruction is nonetheless impressive. Nikolaiviertel buzzes with activity, and is a great, if a little expensive, place for dinner and a night cap.
For a traditional and hearty German dinner (or even just a beer) with a view, pop into the famous Brauhaus Georgebrau on the banks of the Spree.
Where to stay in Berlin
Berlin is one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe, so 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 Berlin Mitte to get front and centre to all the action. Here a couple top picks for the best hotels in Berlin:
- Arte Luise Kunsthotel: A stylish hotel featuring unique artistic decor and a whole lotta pizazz. Located just 10 minutes from Brandenburg Gate.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
- Boutique Hotel i31 Berlin Mitte: A sleek modern hotel resting upon hip designs and a quiet location close to the Nordbahnhof. The garden terrace provides a pleasant escape from the big city.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
- Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin: The ultimate in classic European luxury, this famous 5-star Berlin hotel peers out upon Brandenburg Gate from its palatial rooms. From its neoclassical indoor pool to its double-Michelin-star restaurant, everything at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski oozes with sophistication and grace.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
Recommended Berlin day tours
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 history of Berlin with this 4-hour walking tour through Mitte, checking out top attractions like Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, 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! Breathe in major sites like the Berlin Wall Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate before riding along the Spree to the Tiergarten for some relaxation among Berlin’s best greenery.
- Berlin Sightseeing Cruise: One of the best ways to scope out Berlin is on the water. On this 3-hour cruise, snaking through Berlin’s waterways, you’ll enjoy the city’s top riverside delights including Charlottenburg Palace, the East Side Gallery, and Oberbaumbrucke. Lunch and a drink is included.
Getting to Berlin
By air: Several major airlines, including the German carrier Lufthansa, fly into Berlin from destinations worldwide. From the United States, return fares to Berlin can run as low as $450-500 in low season. Fares from Canada are a little more expensive at about C$750-800. Flights from elsewhere in Europe are much cheaper.
Want to see even more of Berlin in 24 hours? Apply these 1-day itinerary 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 Berlin 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 Berlin 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 Berlin and East Berlin.
- Stomach growling? Head up to Oderberger Straße in Prenlauzer Berg for a tasty selection of ethnic restaurants.
Finished your first 24 hours in Berlin? Here’s where to go next…
- Munich: Whether you’ve got 10 days in Germany or a month, don’t leave without taking a swig at Bavaria’s capital. Beyond its famous Oktoberfest, there’s a ton of things to do in Munich for travellers of all ilk. Get start planning your trip with this complete guide for one day in Munich.
- Hamburg: Germany’s most important port city, lying just a couple hours from Berlin, might be one of Europe’s most underrated destinations.
- Dresden: From almost total annihilation to returning to its rightful place as one of the most beautiful cities in Germany, the Saxon capital is a sight to behold.
- Cologne: If your European travels are sending you due west, don’t miss out stopping in this 2,000-year-old North Rhine-Westphalian city featuring one of the continent’s most stunning Gothic sites, Cologne Cathedral.
- Prague: Whether you have 24 hours in Prague or a whole week to dig into it, you’ll love exploring Czech Republic’s capital, labelled by many as the prettiest city in all of Central Europe.