Berlin is the largest city in Germany with approximately 3.7 million people, and it is also the capital. When you think of Berlin, you may conjure up thoughts of World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall. The city has a fascinating history of poetry, music and education in the 1700 and 1800’s and was followed by a series of horrific wars and millions of lives lost in the Holocaust. And rather than being quiet about their sordid past, Berlin seems to embrace it, to learn from past mistakes and ensure they don’t happen again.
Today you’ll find a culturally diverse city bursting with energy and life. This colorful city is filled with delicious food, lively nightclubs, dark speakeasy bars, graffiti art on every surface, quaint boutiques, and people that are open, accepting, and super friendly (but this is Germany so they are still serious rule-followers). We think you’ll find that 24 hours isn’t nearly enough but if you have to make it a quick trip, follow this 1-day whirlwind itinerary to get the most out of your time in this spectacular city!
The Basics of Berlin
A few things to know before you go:
- Germans rarely jaywalk. Even if there isn’t a car around for miles you’ll find loads of people waiting for the little man on the pedestrian light to turn green. If you do jaywalk in front of children you’ll risk a scolding from a stranger.
- Even though you’re not likely to be asked for your train ticket while using the trains in Berlin, it’s better to pay the small price for a ticket than the big fine if you get caught.
- Because Berlin is so culturally diverse, the predominate language spoken is English. So if you haven’t brushed up on your German lately, no worries here.
- The public transportation system in Berlin is massive. You’ll have no problem getting anywhere fast!
- The tap water is safe to drink and you should fill up on it often – water is more expensive than beer in Germany!
- You’ll likely have to pay to use any public toilet in Berlin so be sure you have some small change.
- If you’re on the prowl during your 24 hour trip, we’ve got good news for you! Germany will actually pay you to have children if you live here! That’s right, you’ll receive a check for each child that you have, every month, until they’re 25. And you can qualify for maternity/paternity leave pay even if you’ve never worked in Germany a day in your life! And in case you DO work in Germany before having kids, their maternity/paternity leave laws are top notch. So save some time to find yourself a German partner before you depart!
Accommodations in Berlin
Berlin is a massive city and it can be quite overwhelming to deciding where to stay. The best neighborhoods (in no particular order) are Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Mitte, Charlottenburg, and Friedrichshain. You really can’t go wrong staying in any of these areas as they are all full of great eating and drinking options while also providing easy access to Berlin’s main attractions. Here are a few of our favorite hotels in the city:
Hotel am Steinplatz, Autograph Collection – If you are looking for a luxurious 5-star hotel complete with spa and wellness center in a fantastic central location, Hotel am Steinplatz, Autograph Collection is absolutely the best-of-the-best in Berlin! It’s pretty spendy but if you’re only staying one night, it’s worth indulging yourself.
Hotel Augusta Am Kurfürstendamm – This property offers unique, colorful rooms, a delicious breakfast spread, and the friendliest staff. Located in the trendy Charlottenburg district, you’ll be surrounded by cute boutiques and great restaurant options and super close to the U-Bahn!
Hotel AMANO Grand Central – The popular Mitte district is right smack dab in the heart of the city and Hotel AMANO Grand Central offers the most amazing city views from their green rooftop terrace. With sleek, modern rooms and plenty of drinking and dining options, you may never want to leave! But book this one well in advance – it fills up fast.
Sundays in Berlin:
If your visit to Berlin happens to fall on a Sunday, you’ll find that pretty much everything in the city is closed all day. But fear not! Head to Mauer Park for delicious street food options and a market filled with everything from used furniture to original art to hipster jackets and everything in-between.
Wander around the park to find a variety of strange and fascinating happenings; sing-a-long karaoke in the “bear pit”, all sorts of live music on the grass, graffiti artists leaving their mark on the Berlin Wall, and an actual EDM rave to name a few. Buy a beer from one of the vendors and wander around, soaking in all of the crazy sights!
24 Hour Berlin Itinerary
8:30am – 9:30am: Fill up on a Photographic Brunch
Serving up classic brunch as well as exotic concoctions, House of Small Wonders is a hot spot for locals and tourists alike. The classic spiral staircase leading to the second floor is a favorite photo op for Instagrammers.
Try the eggs benedict (assuming they haven’t sold out) and the yummy sandwich, soup, and salad combo. It’s the perfect way to start your day – you’ve got a lot of exploring to do.
Hop on the S1, S2, or S25 from the Berlin Oranienburger Straße station for your 10 minute ride to the Brandenburg Gate for your next stop!
10:00am – 1:00pm – Get a lay of the land
I generally don’t love walking tours when I visit new cities because they make me feel like a nerdy tourist, but the free 3-hour walking tour and history lesson offered by Sandemans is truly worth every minute. You’ll meet at the Starbucks by the Brandenburg Gate where you’ll hear about the history of the gate and you’ll begin to learn about the destruction that the many wars waged in this city caused.
You’ll also wander through the controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is controversial for a few reasons… first of all, it’s quite confusing to understand what the artist was attempting to convey as it is a collection of cement blocks of varying heights, equally spaced in a large but uneven area. And there is no information to accompany it. Kids love to play here which can be quite disturbing.
Adding to the controversy, each block is coated with an an anti-graffiti substance developed by the Degussa company. This company produced the Zyklon B gas that was used in gas chambers in Hitler’s death camps.
Take your time wandering through the site – it can feel a bit emotional when you’re deep inside.
You’ll stop at a nondescript parking lot which is only significant because below it is the bunker where Adolf Hitler committed suicide as the city was being invaded by Soviet troops. You’ll learn that not only did he eat a cyanide pill but he also shot himself in the head to make sure the act was completed. He also left instructions for his body to be burned because he knew that it would be humiliatingly dragged through the streets (this also meant that it took some time to identify what was left of the body to ensure he didn’t escape). It’s a controversial stop on the tour as most would rather not acknowledge the spot or the man at all.
But the best story of the tour is how the Berlin Wall accidentally came down at the end of the Cold War – you’ll have to ask your guide to tell you that gem!
From here you’ll see the Topography of Terror, an outdoor/indoor museum that contains a preserved section of the Berlin wall along with several exhibits focused on both the Nazi regime during World War II and the division of Berlin during the ensuing Cold War.
Next is a quick stop at Checkpoint Charlie where a harrowing 16-hour showdown took place between 10 M-48 United States tanks and an equal number of T-55 Soviet tanks after US diplomat Allan Lightner was denied entry to East Berlin to attend the opera. World War III was narrowly averted by a delicate phone call between US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
You’ll pass through Gendarmenmarkt square where you’ll find the Konzerthaus of Berlin (if you have time later, catch a show!) as well as the matching pair of the French and Germany churches – the Französischer Dom and Deutscher Dom. If you happen to be visiting in December you’re in luck because Gendarmenmarkt is home to one of Berlin’s best Christmas markets!
Your tour will end in the middle of the Bebelplatz (Bebel Plaza) the infamous site of the Nazi book burning ceremony held on May 10, 1933 in which about 20,000 books were burned. There is a memorial in the center of the square – a clear square on the ground through which you can see empty bookcases below your feet that are large enough to hold the missing 20,000 books. Be sure to thank your guide with a cash tip!
1:10 – 2:25: Prost at a Traditional Beer Garden!
No trip to Germany is complete without a stop at a beer garden for a pint with a side of boiled pork knuckle! There are no shortage of options in Berlin but Brauhaus Georgbraeur is just a short 10 minute walk from Bebelplatz. If you have time, Prater Garten is the oldest and most famous beer garden in Berlin (but keep in mind that they close for the winter).
You’ve got a short, 5 minute walk from Brauhaus Georgbraeur to Museum Island.
2:30pm – 4:00pm: Museum Island
Berlin has no shortage of museums and lucky for you most are generally in the same area so it’s relatively easy to check them out if you have extra time. Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing 5 spectacular museums for your viewing pleasure:
- If Greek Classical Antiquities is your passion, check out the Altes Museum (Old Museum), built in 1830.
- If Egyptian artifacts are more your style, head to the Neues Museum (New Museum) which was destroyed during World War II but rebuilt and reopened in 2009.
- If you love Neoclassical, Romantic, Impressionist, and early Modernist artwork, Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) will be right up your alley!
- If you prefer to spend your time viewing sculptures, Byzantine art, coins, and medals, the Bode Museum is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
- If you want to see the most visited art museum in Germany and one of the largest in the country, showcasing an antiquity collection, a Middle East museum, and a museum of Islamic art, check out the Pergamon Museum.
4:00pm – 5:35pm: Climb the Berliner Dom
The Berliner Dom is a gorgeous cathedral on museum island. After viewing the cathedral, climb the 270 steps to the outer walkway of the dome for spectacular city views.
If you’re feeling hungry, just a few blocks away you’ll find the cozy and delicious Cocolo Ramen. The salty, delicious broth will help to get you hydrated for your big night out on the town! But make it quick – you’ve got a 25-minute train ride to your next destination!
Jump on the S3, S5, or S7 at S Hackescher Markt toward the East Side Gallery.
6:00pm – 6:30pm: Check out the East Side Gallery
This outdoor East Side Gallery consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world. It was originally painted in 1990 but has had several rounds of reconstruction due to vandalism. Every painting is beautiful and interesting in it’s own way but the most famous is painting #25 which shows Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing with the words “My God, help me to survive this deadly love”. The painting is a pretty straightforward reproduction of the photograph of the embrace when Brezhnev visited East Germany in 1979 to celebrate the anniversary of it’s founding as a Communist nation.
If you’re in the mood for an afternoon snack, grab a quick currywurst to-go from a local street food vendor to keep you going. Speaking of currywurst, if you have extra time in Berlin they have an entire museum dedicated to this classic German delicacy.
Head to Berlin Ostbahnhof to catch the S3 or S5 toward Klunkerkranich. You’ve got a 30 minute commute ahead of you.
7:00pm – 8:00pm: Sunset City Views
When you’re walking through the Neukölln Arkaden shopping center parking lot on your way to Klunkerkranich you’ll probably think we’re nuts for sending you here. That is until you find this trendy rooftop bar filled with locals and tourists alike – lounging on couches and listening to live music. Grab a bier and a table with a view and relax while the sun sets over the busy city below!
8:00pm – 11:30pm: A Speakeasy Bar Tour
There are few things as exhilarating as walking up to a nondescript door at an abandoned-looking building, ringing the doorbell, and hoping that the bouncer peering through the peephole will like the look of you and let you inside.
- Beckett’s Kopf – the only thing marking this bar is a portrait of Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett in the window. Ring the bell and if they have space they’ll welcome you into this small, quiet bar with delectable cocktails and naughty paintings on the wall.
- Buck & Breck – ignore the “closed” sign above the door and ring the bell. It’s a small bar so if you go on a weekend you may have a bit of a wait to get in. The interior has low lighting, interesting decor, and expert bartenders. You’ll have to leave your purse at the front and their “no photographs” rule is strictly enforced.
- Reingold Bar – this one is tricky as it is impossible to tell if they are closed or if you are simply being denied entry. Once you ring the bell someone inside will supposedly peer through the peephole and determine whether or not to let you in. You’ll either stand outside, vaguely confused for a while or be rewarded by sipping cocktails in this lavish hidden gem.
11:30pm – 8:00am: Dance the Night Away
Berlin is known for having a wild nightlife scene (just google Kit Kat Club if you don’t believe me) so you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to at least have a drink or two out on the town! But first, make sure you note the “rules of the road” so to speak to avoid any embarrassing mishaps:
- Most bars in Berlin don’t open until late in the evening and many stay open until the wee hours of the morning. Don’t plan on going to a nightclub before 11:00pm.
- Check the hours before you go – many bars are closed on Sundays and/or Mondays. Some are even closed all winter long.
- Bring cash!
- Nudity and even public sexual acts can be common in bars around Berlin. Check with the bouncer if you think this will make you feel uncomfortable.
- Check the dress code before venturing out for the evening. Some nightclubs expect costumes while others may expect your Sunday best. Being overdressed can also be a problem. Regardless, bouncers may deny you entrance for no reason whatsoever.
- Smoking is still allowed in most bars, pubs, and nightclubs in Germany.
- 5%-10% or just a rounding up of the bill is an acceptable tip for the bartender. Tip by saying the amount you want to pay in total when actually paying rather than after you’ve been given your change.
Popular Berlin Nightclubs:
- If you want to visit a famous techno club, head to Tresor. But act casual (and sober) while waiting in the queue to get in.
- If you want to see an intense light show while famous DJs spin accompanying EDM sets, check out Watergate.
- If you’re looking for a lively, diverse crowd and good music, head to Old CCCP Bar.
- If you’re looking to try a variety of different absinthe concoctions, try Druide Absinthe & Cocktail Bar.
- If you like themed nights like “Porno Karaoke” or “Circus Burlesque”, or even just want to play pingpong in a strangely decorated bar, head to Toast Hawaii.
- If you really enjoyed Klunkerkranich, head back that way to watch it transform from a chill sunset spot to a lively nightclub.
- If you want to party all night long with the young and hip kids of Berlin, check out Kater Blau Nightclub but expect a long wait in line.
Now go home and get some zzzzzzzs… You’ve earned them!