48 Hours in Berlin: A Complete City Itinerary
Berlin will always hold a special place in my heart. I lived there for 3 months while doing a research rotation, and I can honestly say every day was different. It's such a broad and unique city with an incredible amount of things to do. Even after all the time I spent there, I still have an itching to go back! From castles to WWII sites to parks made from abandoned places, all punctuated with obvious influences from the number of different countries that have occupied it, it's like the city has an identity crisis. But that's all what makes it so uniquely Berlin. When you look at a "must do in Berlin" list, everything is so spread out and slightly overwhelming that it's hard to nail down a itinerary. But after being a tour guide for multiple people as they came to visit me for weekend trips, by the third time, I pretty much had it down to a science.
arriving in berlin
If you fly into Tegel (TXL): Berlin has one of the best metro / public transportation systems I've experienced. It seems like everything is connected by the undergrounds or S-bahn trains.. besides this airport. So, upon arriving you'll need to take a bus to get you to the main area in Berlin. Luckily it's basically in the city, so the bus ride isn't long at all if you're staying on the northwest side of the city. I recommend checking out google transit before you get there to see exactly what bus you need to take. Most likely you'll have to take a bus to the S+U bahn stations of either Jungfernheide, Hauptbahnhof, or the Zoologischer Garten and go from there. Have some euros for the cheap fare; it makes your life a lot easier than trying to deal with machines. (Bahn means train in German)
If you fly into Schönefeld (SXF): Pretty soon this will be the only option. Since 2006, the city has been working to expand this airport and make it into the single international airport for the region. The downside is it's a lot further away from the city, but the S-bahn is connected so you don't have to worry about busses. There's really only two trains to choose from and that's the S9 or S45 that will take you back to the city center. It is in Zone C, so you'll have to buy an S-bahn ticket that includes this zone (especially important if you're departing from this airport). Plan for at least 30 minutes of travel time. If you're departing Berlin through this airport, I recommend planning for at least an hour.. you never know the types of delays that can happen.
If you take a train to Hauptbahnhof: You'll end up right in the center of Berlin at an S+U bahn station. Check Google Transit to figure out what trains / subways you need to take to get to your accommodations.
Day 1: Stadtmitte // brandenburger tor // east side gallery
Start your day by making your way to the city center or in German, Stadtmitte. The U2 line takes you directly to this stop, but there are a number of train stops around this area that may be more convenient, depending on where you're coming from.
Sites to check out in this region (in the most convenient order):
Checkpoint Charlie: former crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War
Topography of Terror: outdoor and indoor museum on the site of the SS Reich Main Security office and other Nazi groups headquarters during the Nazi regime of 1933-1945. The outdoor portion is free, and it is purposefully an incredibly intense monument.
Gendarmenmarkt: Square in Berlin that houses the Konzerthaus (concert house) and the French and German churches. They are some of the most beautiful buildings Berlin.
Ritter Sport ChocoWorld: right next to the Gendarmenmarkt, this shop has all of the famous monuments in Berlin made out of chocolate. Plus it's really good chocolate.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: famous Holocaust memorial located right next to the end of the Tiergarten (big park in the center of Berlin).
Brandenburg Gate: probably the most famous and classic monument in Berlin. It was a a symbol for both the divide and reunification of the city.
Reichstagsgebäude: home of the German Parliament. You can reserve tickets in advance to go up into the dome.
Berliner Dom (Cathedral Church): incredible cathedral. It is definitely worth sitting in the church and going up to the top of the dome and checking out the view.
Walking to all these sites will total about 3.5 miles, so make sure you wear shoes that are comfortable enough. You can choose to end your day a little further east at the Museuminsel or Museum Island, which is home to 5 unique museums. The most popular is the Pergamon Museum for it's Babylonian gates, and it typically has a little bit of a line. You can purchase a day pass for all 5 museums for 18 euros. I like to be outside and see more of the city, so I tend to not want to go into museums, but this is a must stop for those that are museum go-ers!
From the cathedral, walk up to the Hackerscher Markt and get either the S7, S5 or S75 to Warshauer Str to get to the East Side Gallery. Choose the side with the S7 heading towards Ahrensfelde and all trains go to Warschauer Strasse. There are also no open container laws, so if you want to grab a beer at Hackescher Markt (market) before you go, it's allowed. Walk from Warschauer Strasse to the East Side Gallery, which is a large part of the Berlin Wall that has been painted. Make sure to look at both sides of the gallery.
Once your done checking out the gallery, walk down to Markthalle Neun. It is this large indoor market and the oldest one still standing in Berlin. There's a ton of vendors inside for food options. If you're in the mood to check out a club, walk down to Badeschiff, which is a beach-like club on the side of the Spree River. Or - if you want to go more traditional German - check out a beer garden! Prater is awesome and the oldest beer garden in the city. Lemke brauhaus is a local chain of breweries that also has really good food. The Hofbrau Haus in Alexanderplatz is also a lot of fun, though it has become slightly mainstream, with locations in other countries as well.
Day 2: Charlottenburg // Tiergarten // Zooligischer Garten
On the second day, head to Charlottenburg for a quieter morning. The homes and streets here remind me of more traditional Germany, and it's such a peaceful area. Get there by either the Westend S-bahn stop or the U-bahn Sophie-Charlotte-Platz stop. Grab brot and a kaffee (bread and coffee) at Brotgarten on Seelingstraße (it's one of the best in the city) and head over to the Charlottenburg Schloß (castle). You can opt to pay the 10-15 euros for the inside tour, or you can do what I like to do, which is wonder through the affiliated park and gardens. Walk alongside the Spree river, and take in the scene.
If you're in the mood for a walk after checking out Charlottenburg, the path following the river takes you all the way to the Tiergarten. Or, you can take the U2 to the Zoologischer Garten stop. There are a ton of shops in this area, and enough people watching to preoccupy yourself for hours. If you're in the mood for some food or drinks, the Monkey Bar, located at the top of the Bikini Berlin Mall, offers a good view of the city and of the monkey exhibit in the zoo below. For at least one of the meals while you're in Berlin, you have to make sure that you grab a döner kebab sandwhich. Because of the large Turkish population in the city, these shops and kiosks are everywhere, and you really can't go wrong with any of them. I like ones that have a lot of toppings, so I tend to pick the larger shops. Unfortunately, longish lines are typically a tell tale sign that it's good, but these sandwiches are huge and cheap, so it's well worth it. For serious shopping, head to the Kaufhaus des Westens (KDW), which is the big shopping center that was only open to West Berlin at the time of division.
There are also two interesting tourist stops in this area that you shouldn't miss:
Siegessäule (Victory Tower): a high column that commemorates German victories in three wars in the 1800s. Because of their complex past, it's rare to see displays of German pride, and this tower is definitely a contrast to other monuments and memorials in the city. The deck offers really great views of the city, so I recommend spending the 5 euros it costs to go inside and up.
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche: ruins of a church built in the late 1800s that was damaged in the war. It serves as another reminder of the destruction and devastation of war. There is a small exhibit inside that gives an idea of what Berlin used to look like before the bombings. It's pretty incredible to see, especially after seeing a lot of the way the city looks now.
Once you're done checking out the area, grab dinner and/or a beer in the Tiergarten park. It has it's name for the zoo that is inside (tiergarten means zoo in German), but it's so much bigger than just the zoo. There are a couple great restaurants and beer gartens by the river to enjoy. If you're looking for a cheap but scenic option, stop in at Aldi or any of the grocery stores and grab some things for a picnic by the Spree. You won't be the only ones doing it!