Ah, Berlin. You know that wonderful feeling you get when you arrive somewhere and it feels like…home? Even though it’s not home, and even though you don’t live there, and even though there’s so much about it you don’t know…yet somehow it feels comforting, a safe place, a comfortable place. A place you enjoy coming to time and time again because you feel a connection to it. Well, that’s Germany for me, and Berlin in particular. If I had to live anywhere in the world that wasn’t my actual home, it’d be this great city.
You can’t really see all of Berlin in just 2 days, you can’t really see Berlin in a week, or even multiple visits. But you can make a start, and 2 days is better than no days! Though to really appreciate its history, food, culture and people, you need longer. I’ll tell anyone who will listen to spend time in Germany, but I really, really mean it when I say if you can give Berlin longer, do it.
But if you really, really can’t give it longer – here are a perfect 2 days as a tourist in this wonderful city.
Day 1 – The main tourist sites
A. The Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg gate was built in the 18th century, over the location of the initial city gate. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Berlin, and the best place to start your visit in the city. During the cold war it was on the East side of the wall, with the East German flag flying. It saw reunification in 1990 and is a real symbol of the city. The gate lies at the end of Unter den Linden which is a beautiful, open street, great for shopping.
At the Brandenburg Gate
B. The Holocaust Memorial
The memorial to the victims of the Holocaust is thousands of grey concrete slabs, which makes for a really sombre atmosphere – to me it felt like being in some sort of cold, clinical graveyard. I wonder if that was the intention, to represent the organised horrors of the Nazi regime.
C. The Reichstag
This is the place where the German Parliament meet. It’s over 100 years old and has been destroyed by fire and fallen in to disrepair before being restored after re-unification. Its amazing dome is absolutely beautiful from the inside, and you can climb up it on to the roof, and even eat in the rooftop restaurant. Be warned though, this does all take pre-planning if you want to do it as bookings including passport details are required in advance. The view is totally worth it though!
D. Tiergarten, including the Victory Column
Take a stroll in to the huge park in the city – the Tiergarten. This park is home to the Berlin Zoo, beautiful lakes and walks, and I really recommend Cafe am Neuen See for a spot of lunch by the lake. You probably won’t have time to visit the zoo, but a visit to the Victory Column in the park is a must.
The victory column commemorates the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian war of the 1800s, and it also symbolises victories in Austria-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars which followed. The sculpture on top represents the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria. Nowadays, climbing the column is an experience which provides incredible views out over the city.
E. Topography of Terror
You can’t come to Berlin and not learn a bit about Germany’s war history, and the Topography of Terror is a good starting point as it only needs an hour or so of your time to get an overview. It’s an outdoor history museum explaining the rise and atrocities of National Socialism in Germany, and is built on the old site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters.
F. Checkpoint Charlie
This is the site where you could cross between East and West Berlin during the times of the Cold War. It is a bit commercialised now (spot the McDonald’s in the background), but still worth a visit. You can even get your passport stamped and photos with the guards (for a fee, of course!)
G. Eat some traditional Bratwurst for dinner
A German tradition….and an excellent one at that. You absolutely have to eat Bratwurst at some point on your visit. I personally always go for Currywurst and you can’t beat it. There’s even a Currywurst museum next to Checkpoint Charlie if you really want to go all out! Finish the day off with a few German beers and you’ll be ready to collapse in to bed for a good night’s sleep before your next day of sightseeing.
Day 2 – Delve a little deeper in to Berlin
This is actually my favourite area of town; a beautiful square with stunning buildings like the Concert Hall, and even better when the Christmas markets are on. If you stay at the Hilton on Gendarmenmarkt, you can get a beautiful view out over it. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants nearby as well to grab breakfast or a snack.
Bebelplatz is another picturesque square, which is also incredibly historically significant as it is where the Nazis burnt hundreds of books. There is a plaque in the middle marking the spot which I think is important to acknowledge.
C. Berlin Cathedral
From Bebelplatz head to the iconic Berliner Dom. It’s well worth going inside the cathedral, as well as admiring it from the outside. Built from 1894 to 1905 by order of German Emperor Wilhlem II, the church is the largest Protestant church in Germany and one of the most important dynastic tombs in Europe.
C. Museum Island
The Cathedral sits on Museum Island, which is another must visit when in the capital. Now, Museum Island is full of amazing museums. And on one trip to Germany, I spent a full day in just the German Historical Museum, and another day visiting The Pergamon. But you don’t have time with only 2 days in the city, so pick one and limit yourself to a couple of hours:
- The Pergamon – Anyone with an interest in ancient history needs to visit this museum, which focuses on the history and lost treasures of the ancient East. The museum today consists of three wings housing the Antiquity Collection, the Islamic Art Museum, and the Middle East Museum.
- German Historical Museum – this museum tells the story of Germany from ancient time to the present day; which is quite a story – from Holy Roman Empire, to 2 world wars, to the Cold War, to re-unification. As I did, you could easily spend the entire day here.
- The Altes Museum – A collection of classical antiquities, its main floor provides an impressive panorama of the art of ancient Greece from the 10th to 1st century BC.
- The Neues Museum – this collection houses two galleries; the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, and the Museum of pre-history and early history, which displays a selection of European and Asian archaeological pieces dating from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages.
- The Alte Nationalgalerie – The one to choose if you’re in to art, housing over 2,000 paintings and almost as many sculptures.
- The Bode Museum – which exhibits sculpture collections and late Antique and Byzantine art collections.
D. Spree river cruise
After the museum overload, relax and take a Spree river cruise. Board one of the boats from Nikolaiviertel and then enjoy the sites of Berlin from the river. It’s a lovely way to relax and see the city from a different perspective.
You may not have time for this stop if you’ve gone crazy in the museums, but Alexanderplatz, named after the Russia Tsar Alexander I, is a large public square and according to some studies the most visited area of Berlin. Whilst here, grab a snack, or do some shopping, check out the Rotes Rathaus (city hall), Nikolaiviertel (Nikolai Quarter) and then head up the TV tower, our next stop.
G. TV Tower for dinner and drinks
Whenever I visit a city, I always like to go up high. Which is no good when my better half is terrified of heights. I have to find glass panelled, secure places for him to venture skywards. The TV tower is one such place – providing panoramic views out over the city. There is also a restaurant up there, which makes for the perfect spot for dinner and drinks to watch the sunset whilst slowly rotating around Berlin’s skyline. The perfect treat to end your stay.
I’ve seen itineraries that put most of the above in to one day, but it’s honestly just not physically possible. There is so much to do in this city, and there is no point rushing it all to the point you don’t enjoy any of it or take it in. If you have the bonus of longer than 2 days then here are some of the things you could do:
- Explore more in the city – this could be more museums (such as the Jewish Museum, Currywurst Museum or DDR Museum depending on interest), a food tour, a walking tour, or a trip to the famous East Side Gallery.
- Take a trip to the historic Olympic Stadium -home of Hitler’s Olympics in 1936 where Jesse Owens won his gold medals, and in 2009 where Usain Bolt ran 9.58 to break the world 100m record. It’s worth half a day of your time.
- Visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp – this is a full day trip 30 minutes outside the city centre to visit one of the first Nazi concentration camps.
- Visit Potsdam – another full day trip outside of the city to an historic city home to Prussian palaces and WW2 treaty signings.
Thank you for reading and I hope you’ve found this post helpful if you’re planning a trip to the German capital. Stay safe and happy travelling!