What to do if you have just 1 or 2 days in Berlin? Explore the city’s highlights including the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag or the Parliament Building, and pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial. Spend some time at admiring the street art on a section of the Berlin Wall and eat massive schnitzels. Read our Berlin travel guide to create a bespoke 2 Day Berlin Itinerary to see this fabulous city.
Ahh, Berlin! The German capital has a very complex history and intense connotations for many visitors. Not many can visit the Holocaust Memorial without experiencing turmoil. While Berlin’s dark history during WWI and especially, the WWII, has created a shadow over the city’s past, modern Berlin has a very welcoming population, growing art and culinary scene, and beautiful landmarks in a variety of architectural styles. The city has some of the finest museums in Europe and exceptional shopping.
While 2 days in Berlin are not enough to see everything that this complex city has to offer, it is plenty of time to see the city’s highlights and it’s most popular attractions. Berlin is unique in its layout because it has no main city center. It was divided into two cities in the recent past and both East Berlin and West Berlin had their own city centers. Since Berlin’s unification, the neighborhood known as Mitte contains the most popular attractions including the famous Brandenburg Gate. We have based this 2 Day Berlin Itinerary on the city’s central Mitte area.
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“Nobody had forgotten anything here. In Berlin, you had to wrestle with the past, you had to build on the ruins, inside them. It wasn’t like America where we scraped the earth clean, thinking we could start again every time.”
– Janet Fitch in White Oleander
History of Berlin
Berlin was established in the 13th century along the banks of the Spree River. Wars have played a significant role in the history of Berlin. While most people know about Berlin and its role in WWI and WWII, these weren’t the first wars to burden the city. Berlin was part of the Holy Roman Empire (First Reich) and suffered heavily during the Thirty Year’s War in Central Europe.
It soon rebuilt itself as a fortified city with a central oldBerlin Fortress and a surrounding city wall with several prominent gates. It was the political center of the Prussian Empire or the German Reich (Second Reich) under Bismarck, who united all of Germany. The Second Reich lasted up to the end of WWI which saw Germany suffer heavy defeats.
The Third Reich or Hitler’s dictatorship was the darkest period of Berlin’s history: anti-semitism was at an all-time high and anti-Jewish pogroms were carried out by the Nazis. The atrocities committed during this period have resulted in a wide range of dark tourism sites in Berlin including the Holocaust Memorial and the Anne Frank Center.
Berlin was heavily bombed by the Allies at the end of WWII and the Red Army crossed over into Berlin in April 1945. The battle that followed ended with Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender. The city was in ruins at this time and was jointly administered by the Allies. Berlin soon became engulfed in the Cold War and the city was split into East Berlin controlled by the Soviets and West Berlin occupied by other Allies. The Soviet Union’s blockade of food and supplies to West Berlin and the famous Berlin airlift carried out by the US and British are some of the defining moments of Berlin’s Cold War history.
The construction of the Berlin Wall started in the 1960s to stop the flow of immigrants from East Berlin to West Berlin. As the Cold War came to an end, the Berlin Wall fell on 8 November 1989, accompanied by massive celebrations in the city and led to the reunification of Berlin. The Berlin Wall lasted from 1961 to 1989 and is the most iconic symbols of the Cold War. Visiting remaining sections of the Berlin Wall is one of the most popular tourist activities in Berlin. Since the 1990s, Berlin has rebounded and become one of the top cities in the world.
When to visit Berlin?
The best time to visit Berlin is from spring to fall during the months of April to October. The shoulder months of April, May, and September have the best weather and lower crowds. Temperatures are pleasant during this time and comparatively fewer people are visiting Berlin than in summer.
Oktoberfest time brings about a horde of tourists and is one of the most popular times to visit. If you are planning an Oktoberfest trip to Berlin then advance reservations are highly recommended. Summer in Berlin is also a great time to check out the city but be prepared for lots of visitors, lines for popular attractions, and higher rates for hotels.
While winter is the low season, Berlin experiences a rush during the Holiday season. Everyone wants to experience a Christmas on the ‘continent’ and the famous German Christkindlmarkt or Christmas Markets. The city is decked up for the Holiday season and looks spectacular. Freezing rain and snow are common during the winter.
Where to stay in Berlin?
The most convenient and central place to stay in Berlin during your visit is in the Mitte neighborhood. This area contains the most important tourist attractions of Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Museum Island, and Alexanderplatz. By living in Mitte, you will be close to the points of interest plus restaurants, cafes, and eateries. There are many hotels located in this area. We recommend the Berlin Hilton located near Gendarmenmarkt as a great place to stay. It is steps away from all major attractions and you can visit the charming Gendarmenmarkt for dinner or a quick night stroll.
2 Days in Berlin Itinerary
Day 1 – Charlottenburg, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building
Start your first day in the neighborhood of Charlottenburg. Visit the largest palace in Berlin built by King Friedrich I. Pay your respects to the Holocaust victims at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. End your day in the famous Pariser Platz at sunset. See the iconic Brandenburg Gate, famous for the celebrations that accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall. Visit the parliament building or Reichstag and see the city from above the popular dome. Take a romantic cruise down the Spree River.
Our recommended Day 1 itinerary is a little different than most others. While most 2 Day Berlin trip ideas start at Pariser Platz at the Brandenburg Gate, we suggest keeping it for the latter part of your first day for one main reason – both the iconic Gate and the Reichstag look more beautiful at sunset and at night. If you wish to visit these first, you can simply reverse our first-day itinerary – start at Pariser Platz, visit the Holocaust Memorial, and end at Charlottenburg Palace.
The Charlottenburg Palace was built as a summer palace for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of King Friedrich I. It was named as Charlottenburg in her honor. The palace is the largest royal palace in Berlin and is a major tourist attraction. For an entry fee, visitors can look around the Old Castle and the New Wing and admire its collections including tapestries, Chinese ceramics, and porcelains. To see the entire palace, it takes around 1.5 to 3 hours.
Charlottenburg Palace is a great place to learn about Germany’s royalty and history of pre-WWI. The Castle has beautiful gardens which are inspired by the gardens of Versailles in France. The gardens look beautiful in spring, summer, and fall but are also worth a visit in the Holiday season for decorations and the big Charlottenburg Christmas Market. If you are short on time or looking for budget-friendly attractions, the exterior architecture of the palace and the gardens are free.
After seeing the Charlottenburg Palace, we suggest visiting Tiergarten. This si Berlin’s famous city park and is home to many attractions including the Berlin Zoo, lake, beer garden, many memorials including the Victory Column and Bismarck Memorial, and even a nudist’s area! Tiergarten has several paths to walk, bike, and hike as well as places to picnic and have a relaxing time. You can walk through the Tiergarten from the Berlin Zoo to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and enjoy this green and calm side of Berlin.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or the Holocaust Memorial, located adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, is a must-see monument in Berlin. The memorial is dedicated to more than 6 million Jews including a million children who were persecuted and killed during the Second World War. The Memorial is a poignant reminder of the darkest times of human history. Please show respect at the Memorial and do not sit, jump, or laugh near the concrete slabs.
The monument consists of a maze or grid of rectangular concrete slabs of varying heights. Walking through the memorial is a moving experience. The narrow aisles between the slabs remind some of the graves in a graveyard and – be warned – can bring forth feelings of being trapped and claustrophobic. There is a visitor center located under the memorial which has a history of the Holocaust including the timeline. Audio guides are available at the visitor center.
Potsdamer Platz is one of Berlin’s most famous city squares. During the Cold War, it was divided between East Berlin and West Berlin – and the square lay desolate. The Berlin Wall went through the middle of the square. You can still see a few sections of the Berlin Wall preserved as a memorial. You can also see vintage, manually operated traffic lights that are still left standing in the square.
Post-Cold War, the Potsdamer Platz has undergone extensive reconstruction and restoration and is a popular tourist attraction and center of activity. Important modern buildings to see in the area include the Sonu Center, Bahn Station, lots of shopping malls, restaurants, and movie theatres. We recommend having lunch in Potsdamer Platz before continuing your 2 Days in Berlin itinerary.
Pariser Platz is Berlin’s most famous City Square. It was named after Paris, France when the Prussian army and its Allies defeated Napoleon and captured Paris in 1814. During the Cold War, the square was a part of East Germany. Pariser Platz is home to the famous Brandenburg Gate. Other buildings on and near Pariser Platz include the US Embassy, French Embassy, British Embassy, Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, and the famous Adlon Hotel.
The city square is very popular with tourists and photographers and often crowded especially at dusk. However, this is also one of the most beautiful times to see this area and so we recommend braving the crowds to see the nearby monuments when they are lit up. The square also looks very beautiful when decorated along with surrounding buildings at Christmas.
The Brandenburg Gate is probably Berlin’s most famous icon. This monument was built in the 18th century by the King of Prussia, Frederick William II. Located in Pariser Platz, the gate is the entry to Berlin’s famous street of Unter den Linden. The Brandenburg Gate has a beautiful neoclassical style of architecture and is similar in design to the main gate of Acropolis in Ancient Greece.
The history of Brandenburg Gate is as complex as the history of Berlin and Germany. The statue at the top of the gate was taken by Napoleon to Paris after Prussia’s defeat in 1806 and then retaken from France when Napoleon was ousted by the Prussian army in 1814. Nazi troops marched under the gate to celebrate Hitler’s rise to power and bullet holes and air raids damaged the gate when Allies reached Berlin. Post-war, the gate was the only structure still standing in Pariser Platz.
The gate was in no man’s land between East Berlin and West Berlin and part of the Berlin Wall. The Brandenburg Gate has also been the site of famous political speeches in Germany’s history including US President Ronald Reagan’s historic, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” in 1987. The flag of modern reunified Germany was first raised over the Brandenburg Gate. Today the historic gate is a symbol of Europe’s peace and unity.
Walking around the gate and taking pictures with it is one of Berlin’s most famous tourist activity. Being able to walk freely and take photographs where no one was allowed to walk during the 1980s is a sobering and thrilling experience. While it looks impressive and majestic during the day, it really shines at night and this is one of the best times to view the gate.
Memorial to the Sinti and Roma People
From the Brandenburg Gate, start walking towards the Reichstag Building. Along the way, you will see the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Murdered under the National Socialist Regime. The Memorial is simple and tranquil with a pond in the center and names of concentration camps etched onto stepping stones. There is also a board chronicling the story of the genocide.
Most visitors know of the Jewish Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany but not many know about the atrocities committed against the Romani people of Central Europe. Over 400,000 Romani gypsy people were deported, captured and sent to concentration camps to be killed as part of the ethical cleansing carried out by the Nazis. The memorial is a tribute to all the victims and is a moving experience.
The Reichstag is the German Parliament Building. It is an impressive building in the Baroque Revival style of architecture and was designed in 1894, by the German architect Paul Wallot. The Reichstag has been the political heart of the country through the times of the Prussian Imperial Empire, the Weimar Republic that was established post-WWI, the Third Reich, the Allied occupation and division of the country during the Cold War, and currently is the seat of the legislative body of modern Germany. The building has been greatly restored after Germany’s reunification in the 1990s when the dome was built.
The most famous feature of the Reichstag building is it’s huge glass dome. The dome has 360 degree views of the city. The main chamber of the Parliament can also be seen below through the glass dome. Visitors can go to the glass dome and the rooftop to see amazing views of Berlin as well as peek inside the building. While the dome only tickets are available for free, they do need to be booked in advance or visit booth in front of the building for limited same-day tickets – read more about visiting the Reichstag here. Free audio guides are also provided which narrate the history of the building and the surrounding landmarks.
Alternatively, you can go also book a comprehensive guided tour online with an English speaking guide to understand the building’s fascinating history including the time it was set on fire during the Nazi times and see graffiti left behind by Soviet soldiers. The tour takes you to the lobby, prayer rooms, the chamber, and then to the glass dome. The guided tours get full faster and are a great way to see the building. We recommend either booking the last tour of the day so you can also see the dome at night or revisiting after sunset for the majestic views from the dome.
End your day by seeing the famous Berlin Revue at the Friedrichstadt-Palast. The Friedrichstadt-Palast is the largest show theatre in Europe and can seat 1895 people. The performing stage is the largest in the world. The building has various shows including shows for children but the most famous is the Berlin Revue VIVID. The VIVID show is family-friendly and good for pre-teens and older kids. The show is about 2.5 hrs long and can also be enjoyed by those who don’t understand German. The show has stunning performances, beautiful costumes, and leaves the audience enthralled. The show is famous for its jaw dropping special effects and spectacular stunts.
Day 2 – Museum Island, Berliner Dom, Nicholas Quarter, East Side Gallery
Spend this day exploring the charming Old Town of Berlin and the St. Nicholas Church and seeing the famed Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Egyptian art collections at the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island. Then shop in the many malls and stores on Alexanderplatz and admiring the fabulous street art on the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery. End your day by checking out Berlin’s other popular areas or take a cruise on the Spree River.
History and culture lovers will enjoy a visit to Museum Island. Museum Island located on the Spree River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous museum complexes in the world.
The complex has 5 museums; the most visited Pergamon Museum houses an impressive Middle Eastern and Islamic Arts collections. But the highlights of a visit to the museum are its huge monuments and ancient city gates. The Museum includes the stunning Pergamon Altar from 2nd century BC and the Market Gate of Miletus, both from Anatolia region of Turkey and the famed Ishtar Gate of Babylon, Mesopotamia.
Other popular museums on Museum Island include the Neues Museum which has a variety of Egyptian exhibits, the Old National Gallery which has 19th-century artwork, and the Bode museum which has Byzantine art collection. The 5th museum in the complex, Altes Museum, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a stunning antiquities collection.
The Berlin Cathedral or Berliner Dom is the most beautiful church in Berlin. It has gorgeous views and architecture and plenty of interesting history. The design is based on St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The facade is very photogenic and free to see while the interior has beautiful tombs and crypt, stained glass windows, a beautiful organ and can be seen with an entrance ticket. Included in the entry fee, is entry to the top of the dome for an amazing view of Berlin, though this involves going up and down 270 stairs. You can also opt for an additional charge audio tour which narrates the history and features of the Cathedral.
Get a taste of old town Berlin in Nikolaiviertel or the Nicholas Quarter. This area containing St. Nicholas Church was rebuilt after WWII by Soviet Germany and has many cafes and beautiful old buildings. The houses and restored with sloping roofs in old style architecture and the cobblestone streets take visitors back in time. The St. Nicholas Church has very beautiful architecture. During the Soviet times, it has been converted into a museum and has exhibits about the history of the church and surrounding area. Nearby Rotes Rathaus or Red City Hall is also worth a visit. Berlin’s City Hall is a large 19th-century red brick building. It was the city hall of East Germany during the Cold War. The Neptune fountain in front of the City Hall is also nice to stroll by.
Berlin TV Tower & Alexanderplatz
The Berlin TV Tower or the Fernsehturm is one of modern Berlin’s most iconic buildings. It was constructed in 1969 by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) as a symbol of Communist Germany. The Berlin TV Tower is the tallest structure in Germany. Visitors can go up to the top of the observation deck and see panoramic views of the city. The ride up the elevator has lots of history and stories about the building and is an interesting experience. If you have advance tickets, you can skip crowds and wait line. At the top, we recommend splurging on lunch and drinks at the rotating restaurant amidst the beautiful views.
After visiting the TV Tower, walk to the famous city square of Alexanderplatz. This square was in Soviet Germany and named after the Russian Czar Alexander I. One of the must things to do in Alexanderplatz is to see the Communist-era World Time Clock which shows the time in 148 major cities of the world. The World Clock has been the site of many protests, demonstrations, and arrests during the Cold War. The city square is one of the most visited ones in Berlin and has plenty of shopping malls and department stores. This is the place to catch up on your shopping in Berlin. The square also has many restaurants and is a good place for lunch.
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is a mile-long stretch of the Berlin Wall that still remains and is covered with eclectic, vibrant murals – some of which are thought-provoking tributes to the Cold War, some interesting art expressions, and some just fun to see! The murals are created by artists all over the world and more than 100 murals are present on the wall.
Some of the most popular murals include the Fraternal Kiss mural and the crowd at Checkpoint Charlie. There’s also the mural of the man jumping over the wall and a car breaking through the wall – all of them symbolizing hundreds who tried to escape East Germany. You can know more about the famous murals here. The East Side Gallery is a must way to take in Berlin’s history and art in one location. The wall is located along the river and makes for a great walk.
The rest of the afternoon you can visit other Berlin landmarks based upon your interests. Gendarmenmarkt is one of Berlin’s most charming town squares and great to wander around and spend a leisurely evening. The square is surrounded by historical buildings including the concert hall, the German Church which houses the museum of German history, and the French Church. At the center of the square, there is a statue of the German philosopher and poet, Friedrich Schiller. The square has beautiful architecture and looks beautiful at dusk. The square also has many cafes and restaurants with outdoor patios and is great for dinner. During the Holiday season, the square hosts a big, interesting Christmas market.
If you want to shop, a trip to the famous commercial area of Kurfurstendamm is a must. It is lined with retail shops, designer stores, and restaurants. Here you will find Gucci, Prada, Versace, and other high-end fashion brands. While you are in the area, visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The ruins of the bombed pre-WWII church have been integrated into the new church and seeing the partially damaged church spire is a poignant reminder of the war era.
Car lovers will enjoy a trip to Classic Remise. While this is not a museum, it has plenty of beautiful, vintage cars to look around. Their collection is impressive and you can see everything from modern racing cars including McLaren, Ferraris, Porsche to classic models. You can also see mechanics working on repairing and remodeling cars. For a unique, romantic experience – consider a cruise down the Spree River. You will get to see many of Berlin’s famous sights from a new vantage point from the water while at the same time have a relaxing and tranquil experience.
Or you can spend the day taking in some art, history or culture. Apart from the museums on Museum Island, Berlin has many other world-class museums. Art lovers will love the contemporary pieces at Hamburger Bahnhof while classical art enthusiasts will love the impressive Pablo Picasso collection in the Berggruen Museum. The German Historical Museum has many interesting exhibits about the country’s history in different time periods. The German Museum of Technology offers a fun, educational experience for both children and adults.
Because of the country’s history, it has many war museums. If you would like to see WWII era underground bunkers and air raid shelters, then a visit to the Berliner Unterwelten is a must. This museum offers many types of tours that allow visitors to look at bunkers, tunnels, and other war relics. The DDR Museum is the place to see daily life as it was in Soviet Germany. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum has interesting stories about East Germans who tried to escape to West Germany after the Berlin Wall was built.
The Jewish Museum is a great place to learn about the Jewish- German history and the life of Jews during the wars. The Topography of Terror museum has documents and exhibits about Nazi Germany, the SS, and Gestapo and is a chilling place. Alternatively, you can visit the Berlin Wall Memorial. You can see a part of the Wall that is preserved and hear stories about those who tried to escape – both successfully and unsuccessfully – and know more about life in the times of the Wall.
Whatever you chose to do, this diverse city has a lot to offer. See its famous war sites and museums, wander through picturesque squares and experience the mix of historical and modern vibe that this world-class city offers.