The Best Things To do in Berlin in One Day
Is it possible to see Berlin in one day? Well, for a complex city with a complex past, you can do a lot in 24 hours without feeling rushed. How? Through some strategic choices and inside tips. Though I'd heartily recommend you give the city more time, here's how to spend one day in Berlin.
How to Arrange One Day in Berlin
Overall, focus on the sights and attractions that don't involve a queue. Berlin's history is written in her streets, from the holocaust memorials to the Imperial grandeur of the Brandenburg gate, the Soviet-style architecture and the creative hipster cafes.
Queuing for attractions will slow you down and isn't the best use of time. Also, many of Berlin's key icons can be seen from afar. Should you take a tour? That depends. They can cut down on time wasted as you try to navigate the metro system. But they remove your independence if you want to speed past something you're not interested in.
Which kind of Berlin do you want to see?
Modern, sexy, creative Berlin? Cold War Berlin with talk about the Berlin wall? Do you want to explore World War Two Berlin and the events that led up to it? Or classical, Imperial Berlin? One day I shall write a one day itinerary for each of these sides of the city. For now, let's try to hit a bit of each for our one day in Berlin.
The Modern Berlin Wall
My experience with women my age who grew up as the wall came down. Both sides of the wall. Both sides of the story.
The Best Things To Do in Berlin If You Only Have One Day
Around the Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate
As one of the icons of Berlin, this beautiful 18th century neoclassical monument helps orient you in Berlin.
It may have been built for Prussian King Frederick William II to celebrate one military activity or another (the temporarily successful crushing of the Batavian Revolution) but today it's as modern as anything else.
In its Imperial shadows, you'll find tourist touts, street performers and young cool kids in search of a place to hang out.
It was here that Reagan implored Gorbachev to tear down the wall. Today, watch out for men in communist soldier costumes dancing Gangnam style...
Beautiful at dawn and captivating at night, it's also pretty central and makes it easy to see Berlin in one day.
The Brandenburg Gate (Tor) sits at the junction of Unter den Linden and Ebertstraße, immediately left of Pariser Platz.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Another poignant place within quick reach on foot from the Brandenburg Gate is the holocaust memorial, or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Quick Detour to the Reichstag Building
From the Brandenburg Gate, you can take a quick detour to see the Riechstag Parliament Building. A fire here played a key role in Hitler's power grab and its restoration following "reunification" took on a symbolic role. The glass dome is said to reflect the need for transparency and daylight in government as well as providing a great view of the city (and the real government's debating chamber.)
Registration is required to visit and queues can be long so it's probably best to see from afar if you only have one day in Berlin.
The Berlin Wall Memorial Museum
The physical geography of the Berlin Wall was as convoluted as the events that led up to its existence. Although people talk about "east" and "west," the divisions within the city itself were nowhere near as neat as far as cartographers were concerned.
The Berlin wall wiggled and squiggled around the rather hastily drawn boundaries of the Allies at the end of World War Two. As such, there is no single Berlin Wall to visit. In some places, the wall still stands, in others you'll find a memorial and elsewhere in the city you'll find nothing at all.
A good place to get your bearings, therefore, is at the Berlin Wall Memorial Museum. This places the events of the situation into context and helps you to understand what you'll find in Berlin. It extends along 1.4km and also includes the last piece of the wall with preserved ground behind it, giving more of an impression of how things were.
The East Side Gallery: Inside Tip
The more famous side of the Berlin Wall is the East Side Gallery, described as the largest open air gallery in the world. The remains of the wall display street art that cries out for freedom. However (and this is not a popular view) if it's the Cold War you wish to learn more about instead of current street art, the Memorial Museum will suit you better. It's also easier to get to if you're trying to see Berlin in one day.
That said: take the U-bahn to U-Warschauer Straße if you really want to go.
Around Potsdamer Platz
The Topography of Terror
Housed in the former Gestapo HQ, this exhibition examines the horror of the Nazi party and gives an insight into Berlin during World War Two.
It is, unsurprisingly, heavy going.
The Currywurst Museum & Checkpoint Charlie
Lightens the mood a little and brings you from the past to the present through the medium of food. Currywurst is Berlin's signature dish and it's born from the cultural mix left in the city at the end of WWII. Plus, the museum is just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie in case you want to make a quick detour there. Although famous, it's a little kitsch and touristy. The other places on this one day Berlin itinerary will help you understand the context of the city a little more.
Fernsehturm Viewpoint - The TV Tower
Ach. Most Berlin itineraries mention this as a highlight and I kinda see why. It's part of the iconic skyline. It's high.
But if you really only have one day in Berlin, I'd suggest you give this a miss. Yes, it gives a great view of the skyline of Berlin. But a bit like climbing the Eiffel Tower, you're missing the main event. The main part of the skyline of Berlin IS the Fernsehturm Tower.
You need to queue to go up, even thought you can buy tickets in advance, and, at the risk of sounding obnoxious... Cities from a great height all start to look like one another.
No city on earth has the Berlin Wall. If pressed for time, stay at ground level and see that.
If You Have Time...
Cafe Cool in Kastanienallee
Browse for vintage clothes and records, stop for tea or indulge in a full lunch in this quirky part of town. Once considered cool and off limits, today I read that it's seen as a tourist haunt. Hey ho. So the record turns and turns.
It's still a good place to visit to see the other side of Berlin, away from the iconic sights and inventory of 20th century misery.
Berlin in One Day tours
I'm not normally one for a tour. But I love, love, LOVE context tours. Run by academics they take an in-depth, unusual look at a city's landscape and history and sometimes it seems as though Berlin only exists to provide rich material for a Context tour.