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
- What to do in Berlin in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
- Etch your first impressions 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 & Checkpoint Charlie
- Dabble into the city’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: The best hotels for a Berlin layover
- Recommended tours for one day in Berlin
- How to maximize your 1-day Berlin itinerary: Tips & tweaks
What to do in Berlin in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
In full disclosure (like all the city itineraries on Treksplorer): I, by no means, advocate spending only one day in Berlin!
The German capital is one of my favourite cities in the world to explore, 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 it better at a more 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.
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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 former East Berlin, Alexanderplatz is home to one of the city’s most defining landmarks, the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). A massive 360-degree panorama 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.
Don’t want to wait in the queue at the Fernsehturm? Skip the often ridiculous line-ups with the TV Tower Fast-Track Entry skip-the-line ticket. The pass also includes an inner circle reservation at the Sphere Restaurant atop the tower.
Walking west through Alexanderplatz, superb city views present themselves 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 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: A 72-hour pass that including free entry to several museums, an unlimited transport card, and 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 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 travel to 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!
If you 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: A brand-new private group tour that immerses you in the former socialist sector of East Berlin and all the lesser-known stories that come along with it.
- Trabi Safari: Hop into a Trabi, the official car of the DDR, for an unforgettable self-driving tour through Berlin’s top Cold War site with live commentary from a professional tour guide through the car’s radio. Includes Trabant driver’s license as a souvenir!
- Berlin Wall & Cold War Bike Tour: A 3.5-hour tour tracing along the former border of East & West Berlin including Mauerpark, Bernauerstraße, Brandenburg Gate, and Checkpoint Charlie.
- Red Berlin: Secrets of the Communist Capital: An excellent value walking tour that digs deep into live behind the Iron Curtain days as you make your way through the former Soviet sector of the city.
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). This famous church 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. 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 the city. 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.
Ready to get the most out of the Berliner Dom? Roll in with these convenient tours and passes!
- The Berlin Pass: An unlimited pass offering free entry to more than 60 attractions in Berlin including the Berliner Dom as well as a free public transportation card.
- Top 10 Sightseeing Attractions Walking Tour: A two-hour walking tour that sifts through the top sites in Berlin from the Cathedral to Brandenburg Gate to the Gendarmenmarkt.
- Central Berlin Small-Group Walking Tour: Focusing on the key attractions of Mitte, this budget-friendly 3-hour small-group walking tour hits up top-notch places like the Nikolaiviertel, Berliner Dom and the Reichstag to give you 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 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 one day 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.
Want to get the most out of Museuminsel? Don’t visit without one of these amazing passes!
- The Berlin Pass: The ultimate pass for the German capital offering admission to over 60 attractions including the top museums on Museuminsel.
- Berlin WelcomeCard: A 72-hours combining a transportation card with free entry to ALL the museums on the island plus discounts on hundreds of other attractions elsewhere in the city.
- Museum Pass: A budget-friendly 3-day pass that’ll get you into over 30 museums throughout Berlin including those on Museum Island.
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 the city 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 the most distinctive landmark in the city, 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 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 recognized landmark, even if you won’t immediately realize it.
The former Berlin Wall ran directly 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 with 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 winding through all the top things to see in Berlin in one day as well as many lesser-knowns.
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 you’ll encounter one of the more sombre attractions in the German capital, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (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 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.)
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: A 4-hour walking tour covering the city’s most infamous Third Reich sites.
- Under the Swastika Tour: A comprehensive tour filling in on every aspect of the city’s World War II history including the 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 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 Wall in the city. This swath on Niederkirchnerstraße 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 over 12 years 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 including failed escape attempts, the death strip, ghost stations, watchtowers, and spy points.
- Berlin Wall Tour: A guided tour along the wall’s original route from Gesundbrunnen to Prenzlauer Berg that includes a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial where 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: A 2-hour walking tour focusing on the most central sights of the former border including 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’. Kreuzberg is, along with Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, 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 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. 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 will 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. Includes visits to 5 top-rated restaurants in Kreuzberg.
- Alternative Berlin by Bike: A 3.5-hour bike tour through three of Berlin’s trendiest and hippest neighbourhoods—Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg.
- Alternative Berlin Experience: A journey through the city’s most interesting up-and-coming neighbourhoods including—Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln—that digs into the 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 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 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 recognizable bridge in Berlin with its 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: A tour that takes on Berlin’s edgier side with a smattering of street art and stories about the German capital’s subcultures taking action.
- Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Tour & Workshop: A unique artist-led excursion that 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 that you can apply to an abandoned factory to become part of the city’s cultural fabric yourself.
- Berlin Street Art Bike Tour: Fit more street art into your day with this 3.5-hour bike tour covering 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 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 city, 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 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: A unique tour from Mitte to Kreuzberg via Prenzlauer Berg stopping 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: An incredible food tour popping into a whopping 7 stops where you’ll try dishes ranging between flammenkuchen, currywurst, and kebabs. Beers & wine tasting is also included.
- Culinary Tour of Old Berlin: A 3.5-hour private culinary stop combining visiting to some of the city’s oldest buildings with some of its most classic dishes like Berlin meatballs, beef roulade, and red berry compote.
Where to stay: The best hotels for a Berlin layover
As 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 to get front and centre to all the action. Here a couple of the great hotels to start your search:
- Arte Luise Kunsthotel: A stylish hotel featuring unique artistic decor and a whole lotta pizazz. Located just 10 minutes from Brandenburg Gate.
- 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.
- Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin: The ultimate in classic European luxury, this world-renowned 5-star 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.
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 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 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, snaking through the city’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 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.
Looking for cheap flights to Berlin? I’d recommend searching for airfare deals on CheapOair! It’s my new favourite flight search engine with better prices & more frequent deals than other OTAs like Skyscanner or FlightNetwork.
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 Prenlauzer Berg district for a tasty selection of ethnic restaurants.