Describing Berlin is nigh on impossible –at best (and least), it’s a crazy, hustling, bustling metropolis and melting pot of culture, history and all out wackiness. With approximately a third of its 3.5 million residents hailing from international waters, the social and cultural climate of the city is expansive and inclusive, complete contrary to the stereotype of the cold, snappy Berliner. In addition to this Berlin also considers itself to be a bilingual city, which makes it perfect for English speaking travellers. It is also still comparatively cheap compared to other Western European capitals (think: London, Paris, Rome), so you can get quite a few bangs for your hard earned bucks Euros.
As a result, not including Berlin as a stop in your European trip would be a huge shame – which is where this handy guide comes into play. If you only have 24 hours to play at being poor and sexy, here is your perfect list of the classic must-see (mostly free) items that you can easily get through in one day (repeatedly tried and tested).
In addition to this, I’ve slotted in some cheeky optional (highly recommended) pit stops if you’re feeling the need for just a little bit extra, or if you want to satisfy your hunger cravings with some local favourites.
You will need:
- A BVG day ticket (you will probably get tired of walking about halfway through). An AB ticket costs just 7 EUR, and you can buy it either at a ticket machine at any station, or from a bus/tram driver. It runs from the date of purchase til 3 am the following morning. And don’t forget to validate it!
- Comfy shoes – Berlin is not a city for heels.
- Water (or assorted other beverage – grab yourself a Fußpils (a beer for the road) from a Späti (corner store) if you’re feeling frisky and Deutsch.
- A reliable transport app, just in case (I highly recommend City Mapper).
- 4 to 6 Hours
Without further ado…
Potsdamer Platz is the perfect place to begin your journey – prior to WWII, Potsdamer Platz was the busiest intersection in Europe. It was then laid waste to in WWII, sliced in half by the Berlin Wall, left a desolate section of no-man’s land during the Cold War, and has since undergone extensive redevelopment to be christened as the ‘new centre’ of a reunified Berlin. Notable events that have occurred here include playing host to the internationally televised ‘the Wall’ concert to commemorate the end of division in Germany in 1990, and its function as the base of the annual Berlinale film festival.
If you’re already bored and would rather spend the day shopping, it is also just down the street from the Mall of Berlin with a whopping 300 shops to tickle your fancy (and both the Arkaden and Sony Centre nearby should your credit card need an even more thorough thrashing).
Currently Berlin’s hub for media and commerce, it also serves an excellent purpose as the starting point of your tour. Whether you’re coming from inside Berlin, or from the airport/another city – it is easily accessible by:
- U-Bahn (U2)
- S-Bahn (S1, S2, S25, S26)
- Regional Lines (RE3, RE4, RE5, RB10)
- Various IC/ICE lines
Have a wander round the new buildings, and check out some of the original pieces of the Berlin Wall (don’t worry though, you’ll see plenty on your trip).
Time to take: 5-10 minutes
Address: Potsdamer Platz, 10785
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls – you lucky ducks get the chance to see Hitler’s secret hidey hole! This is where he spent a lot of time plotting during the last few weeks of WWII, got married, and eventually ended his own life. The only (minor) problem you may encounter is that this little slice of history has been demolished by the East German government and there is now a car park on top of it. It’s literally just a car park with a sign detailing the old lay out, function, and history of the Führerbunker. However, if you’re interested in checking it out, it’s very handily located near the Big 3 (Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and the Memorial to Murdered Jews). You’ll know you’re there when you see a bunch of people standing in front of a large sign, and an irate person in their car trying to move the crowd out of the way so they can park.
Getting there: Walk 5 minutes from Potsdamer Platz
Time needed: 3-5 minutes
Address: In den Ministergärten, 10117
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Get ready to encounter one of Berlin’s most iconic and controversial monuments – the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by New York architect, Peter Eisenmann, the memorial consists of 2711 coffin-like slabs of concrete, all of differing heights and slight angles (though they look roughly the same at street level). These are arranged in a maze-like grid on uneven ground, where visitors are encouraged to walk the wavering paths between the blocks, and confront the topic of remembrance. The memorial invokes emotions of uncertainty and unease physically in the sense of being lost amongst the slabs, and is odd in that it doesn’t address the standard intent of a memorial in a conventional manner. There is no central point or purpose that you are guided to observe. Each person has a slightly different experience, and therefore takes a slightly different meaning from the abstract space.
Getting there: Walk 3-5 minutes from the Führerbunker
Time needed: 10 minutes
Address: Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117
Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism
The area that you’re in is chock full of memorials – if you want to check out another with an unusual twist, head back across the road and into Tiergarten, where you can visit the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism. Outside, there is extensive information listed about the persecutions during the Third Reich for violating the law forbidding homosexuality. You can also peek through a window in the large concrete cube, and watch a short film of two men kissing (recently two women have also been added – which is interesting, as actually women were not included in the law forbidding homosexuality) against a backdrop of real-life pictures of victims being punished or executed under the Nazi regime – all for the crime of love.
Getting there: Walk 2 minutes from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews
Time needed: 5 minutes
Address: Ebertstraße, 10557
The Brandenburg Gate
You may have already glimpsed the famous Brandenburger Tor from down the road. Pro tip: if you don’t care that the horse sculpture on the top is facing the wrong way, take your snaps for the gram on the road side (not the public square side) – it’s still busy, but there are far fewer tourists to compete with in jostling for a photo. Walk through the gate and gaze down the long tree lined boulevard, Unter den Linden from its entrance.
This neoclassical monument is considered a symbol of European unity and peace after a wild ride throughout German and European history. It was originally used as a majestic gate for Prussian Kings to officially enter Brandenburg, but then ended up having to survive extensive damage during WWII. During the Cold War it was siphoned off into East German No-Man’s Land, and when the Berlin wall finally fell, it acted as a major crossing point during reunification – this gate has seen everyone from Napoleon, to Hitler to Bon Jovi pass through it. It is a beloved symbol not just of Berlin, but of Germany as a whole.
Getting there: Walk 2 minutes from the Memorial to Persecuted Homosexuals
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Address: Parisier Platz, 10117
Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism
The other memorial in Tiergarten worth checking out is the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism (just opposite the Brandenburger Tor/Reichstag). Half a million Sinti and Roma people died under the reign of Nazi terror – the only other ethnic genocide in Europe during that time, and this memorial is dedicated to their plight and suffering. Again, you can read about their persecution as you observe the memorial, a dark circular pool of water, with a single flower replaced daily on a triangular central stone.
Getting there: Walk 4 minutes from the Brandenburger Tor
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Address: Simonsweg, 10117
Right about now you should be smack bang in front of the Reichstag (officially the Deutscher Bundestag) – the German parliament building. The Reichstag is worth checking out for the history – in the last century alone it survived burning, sacking, abandonment, and eventual restoration and reconstruction. Nowadays, it is the centre of the German federal parliament.
If you’re feeling organised ahead of time, head online to the official web site and pre-book a time slot to head up to the massive glass dome and surrounding terraces on the roof of the building. Unfortunately you have to register first (no spontaneity with the German government of course!) and the slots usually book out 1-2 weeks in advance (especially in summer) – but you can always try your luck and register for a spot on the day. However it’s 100% worth it – it’s completely free – and offers stunning 360 degree views of Berlin.
Pro Tip: If you can’t get a slot but you like the sound of those views, book a place at the rooftop restaurant at the top of the dome – you will have to pay for a meal or a drink, but you will also get the chance to explore the dome and terraces to your heart’s content as well.
Getting there: Walk 1 minute from the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims
Time needed: 3-5 minutes for the overview, 45-60 minutes if you go up to the dome
Address: Platz der Republik 1, 1101
OPTIONAL FOOD PIT STOP: Mustafa’s and Curry 36
Snack time! If you’re after something substantial to keep you going, I can do no further but point you in the direction of the city’s local cuisine – in arguably the best spot to get it (watch this space). When you emerge from the U-Bahn, you will be greeted by the two most famous snack huts in Berlin – Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap, and Curry 36. Both humble in origin, both substantial, cheap and delicious, the Döner Kebap (a bunch of spiced rotisserie meat – usually chicken and/or roast veg, sauce and salad in Turkish sandwich bread) and the Currywurst (Bratwurst, sliced and slathered in a sweet curry ketchup) both have hallmark status in Berlin – and both are quintessential street fare. All the guidebooks hail these two joints as the best to try each respective snack, and not without reason – but be prepared to wait up to 40 minutes in peak eating times, especially at Mustafa’s.
Tip: The pros usually go in pairs – one to wait in line at Mustafa’s for Kebaps, the other to pick up Currywurst in the considerably shorter queue at Curry 36. Both patrons then eat and enjoy their Currywurst entrée while waiting in the Mustafa’s line, leaving them free for kebaps by the time they’re at the front.
Super Tip: If you don’t want to wait forever in line for Mustafa’s, and want an even tastier (in my opinion) Kebap – pop over the road to Yorck’s – you won’t regret it.
Getting there: Walk from the Reichtstag to Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn (or catch the 100 Bus to save yourself 10 minutes, direction Alexanderplatz) and take the U6 (direction Alt-Mariendorf) to Mehringdamm. The whole journey should take 20-30 minutes.
Time Needed: 30 minutes on average – about half waiting, half eating.
Address: Mehringdamm 32, 10961
Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known crossing point through the Berlin Wall, and one of only a few (read: 3) official checkpoints to cross from West to East Germany during the Cold War. It was through this checkpoint that many people tried to escape from East Berlin (and Soviet Occupancy), and into the West. Many people died attempting this, but several also succeeded, by risking their lives in crazy schemes so that they could live free from Soviet oppression.
You can pass through the original checkpoint without any of the death-defying stress – make sure to check out the free, informative outdoor exhibit just north of the crossing (by the Black Box museum), which gives a pretty thorough, easy to read overview of what happened at the checkpoint.
Getting there: Get back on the U6 (direction Alt-Tegel) and ride two stops to Kochstrasse (Checkpoint Charlie). This should take about 15 minutes.
Time needed: 10-20 minutes to look at the checkpoint and read the outdoor exhibit.
Address: Friedrichstrasse 43-45, 10117
OPTIONAL FOOD/CHOCOLATE STOP: Rausch & Fassbender
If you are a chocoholic, it is 100% worth taking some precious minutes out of your day to head to the Rausch Schokoladenhaus. On the ground floor is an amazing chocolate store – not only can you stock up on the good stuff, but you can see the world’s longest chocolate bar, and giant replica Berlin monuments weighing several hundred kilos made out of – you guessed it – chocolate. But even better (my favourite thing to do), head one floor up to the café. Here you can settle down with a nice view over the Gendarmenmarkt, and an Iced chocolate (we’re talking to die for levels of chocolatey goodness). Or if you’ve really got that cocoa craving, you can just order a straight up molten cup of chocolate.
Getting there: From the checkpoint walk 5 minutes up Friedrichstrasse and turn right.
Time needed: 5-10 minutes. 30-40 minutes if you’re also going in for a treat at the café (do it).
Address: Charlottenstrasse 60, 10117
AND/OR Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt
If you’re after even MORE chocolate, if you found Rausch too fancy, or if you just straight up want a hand in the creative process yourself – you can opt for the Rittersport store. Here you can try new and unreleased flavours of the popular quad, visit the café (also has killer chocolate drinks), or even build your own bar – you are free to load it up with all the flavours and toppings your heart (and wallet) desires.
Getting there: 3 minute walk from Rausch, or if from the Checkpoint, 8 minutes up Friedrichstrasse and turn right.
Time needed: 5-40 minutes depending on if you stay for a treat or build a bar.
Address: Franzoesische Strasse 24, 10117
The Gendarmenmarkt is just a nice square, home to the Konzerthaus, and the French and German Lutheran churches – so a whole lot of nice old architecture (but like most other nice old architecture in Berlin – it’s all restored post WWII damage). However, if you are lucky enough to be in Berlin over the festive period, it is also home to the city’s largest Christmas Market. Do yourself the favour and pay the 1 EUR entrance to lose yourself amongst the decorations, lights and delicious smells of spiced nuts and glühwein for an hour or two.
If it’s not Christmas (boo) – or even if it is, head one square further to Bebelplatz. Here there is a memorial to commemorate the book burnings that took place under the Nazi regime – a small window set into the ground shows rows and rows of empty shelves reference the huge amount of banned literature burned by students in the 1930s.
Getting there: 1-5 minute walk from your respective chocolate stop.
Time needed: 5-10 minutes – but if it’s Christmas Market time, lets round it out to an hour.
Address: Gendarmenmarkt/Bebelplatz, 10117
Image c/o Capri by Fraser
Home to the Berliner Fernsehturm (just look up), and the old centre of East Berlin, Alex, as it is fondly referred to by locals, is worth briefly stopping at. From the square you can see the hustle and bustle of the giant station, and old socialist influence clash with urban aesthetic (wander down to the graffiti-ridden Fountain of Friendship between Peoples for a good example of this conflict expressed through street art). There are a couple of large department stores (Galeria Kaufhof has a Sephora for those make-up deprived ladies out there) – but nothing too crazy.
For a whopping 25 EUR you can head up the TV tower (or again, book a seat in the restaurant where you will spend a minimum of 25 EUR). It’s the second tallest structure in the EU, a symbol of former Communist strength, and now of Berlin (for example, check the Berliner Luft bottles). The TV tower is visible throughout central Berlin and affords a great view – but in my opinion there are far cheaper and equally as wonderful places you can scope out the city from on high (watch this space).
Getting there: From Gendarmenmarkt or Bebelplatz, walk to the U2 at Hausvogteiplatz (direction Pankow) and take it to Alexanderplatz.
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Address: Alexanderplatz, 10178
Berliner Dom/Museum Insel
The otherwise unassuming island in the middle of the river Spree is home to some of the best museums in the world (it’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the huge Evangelical cathedral of Berlin (if cathedrals are your thing –but you will have to pay an entry fee). The Prussian style architecture of the buildings are beautiful – and nearby Monbijou park overlooking the island is a great place to stop to chill out (you can even grill there in summer) and take it all in. If you’re in Berlin for longer and want to check out one of the museums – my recommendation would be the recently re-opened Pergamon, home to the gates of Ishtar (Babylon) and a huge collection of classical antiquities from Europe and the Middle East.
Getting there: Walk 10 minutes from Alex, or catch the tram M4/5/6 (direction Hackescher Markt) one stop.
Time needed: 15 minutes for a look around
Address: Museum Insel, 10178
Image c/o Claudia Hechtenberg
Hackescher Markt is home to an array of crazy unique shops – you won’t find any chain stores here, but unique Berlin based designers co-existing amongst small bars, art galleries and independent bookstores. Brave the labyrinth of Hackesche Höfe (8 courtyards joined together in a maze of unique spaces) and see what you can find. This is also a great place if you love street art – in particular have a look at the courtyard of Haus Schwarzenberg (one of the original artists squatters houses) and check the ever changing, creative graffiti adorning its walls.
Getting there: Walk 10 minutes from Museum Insel, or catch the tram M4/5/6 (direction Hackescher Markt) for 4 minutes.
Time needed: 10-60 minutes
Address: Hackescher Markt, 10178
OPTIONAL PIT STOP: Holzmarkt
By now you’re probably feeling that you deserve a beverage or at least a nourishing slice of pizza – head to Holzmarkt on the Spree for an amalgamation of shipping crates and wooden containers playing host to one of the funkiest, free outdoor chill spaces in Berlin. It’s perfect in Summer, as it’s right on the banks of the Spree next to popular club Kater Blau. This urban oasis is a great place to hang out with the locals – and they usually have some form of free festival or event going on for you to check out. They also have an excellent, clean and FREE public toilet here. I repeat, free AND clean.
Getting there: Take the S3, 5, 7 or 9 to Ostbahnhof (10 minutes). Then walk to Holzmarkt (5 minutes)
Time needed: 15 – 30 minutes
Address: Holzmarktstrasse 25, 10243
East Side Gallery
The last stop, and one of the most impressive on your tour – the East Side Gallery is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall. The entirety of the 1.3km stretch is painted with murals, mostly political in nature – yet expressing messages of hope, peace, freedom, and the euphoria of a united world. Probably the most famous image is Vrubel’s mural depicting former Soviet leader Brezhner and former East German leader Honecker sharing a kiss – this one always has a bunch of people eagerly snapping away. Walk the length of the wall all the way up to the Oberbaumbrücke and check out the messages and art along the way (and also take time remark that actually it is quite high, and would have been quite tricky to just boost yourself over – it doesn’t look too bad from a distance, but up close is a different story).
Getting there: Walk 5 minutes to Ostbahnhof
Time needed: 15 – 30 minutes
Address: Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243
And now you should be at Warschauer Strasse – probably knackered, hopefully satisfied with what you’ve seen today. You’ve covered the big guns – the core pieces of history that make up the city. If you want to continue into the night take the U1 to Schlesiches Tor, grab yourself a well earned Burger from Burgermeister (another local hotspot – located in an old public toilet below the station) and head to one of the many bars in the area. Or follow the Spree further into Friedrichshain and see what debauchery you can get up to in one of the many techno-fuelled establishments you can find on its banks.
By no means is 24 hours enough time to spend in Berlin – the city is expansive and varied enough that you can delve into whatever holiday niche you may feel like fulfilling – museums, shopping, history, architecture, hiking and swimming, chilling, dancing, mischief making – you name it, Berlin’s got it. The capital is full of grit, creativity, interesting people and intense history – hopefully this brief tour will inspire you to spend a little more time exploring this wonderful city.