How to rock a whirlwind tour of Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.. Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.

Berlin, Germany is one of Europe’s most iconic cities, an intoxicating blend of old meets new where grand, historic buildings blend seamlessly with glittering skyscrapers. Instead of trying to gloss over its somewhat dark history, the city has turned the remnants of those years into learning opportunities, with monuments such as the Berlin Wall and the Jewish Memorial demonstrating how far Berlin has come in just a few generations.

Berliner Dom, Berlin, Germany

Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral)

Today, visitors will find Berlin steeped in history and overflowing with ornate, towering monuments, yet never wavering from its effortlessly cool, edgy vibe which is displayed in the colourful street art, trendy cafes and fashion favoured by the city’s younger set. Despite being a popular stop on the European backpacking scene thanks to its legendary night life, Germany’s capital has an abundance of attractions for travellers of all ages. While at least a few days are required to discover the ins-and-outs of the city, many people find themselves with only a day to explore before they have to hop back on a cruise ship or jet off to the next stop on their European itinerary. With that in mind, here’s how to rock a whirlwind tour of Berlin, Germany.

 Potsdamer Platz. Berlin, Germany

Potsdamer Platz

You’re going to need wheels to get around such a big city, so rent a bicycle (prices are typically €10-20/day) and navigate the bike lanes which link most major thoroughfares. Alternatively, book a hop on-hop off bus tour which will shuttle you directly to all of the main sites.

It’s only natural to kick off a sightseeing tour at the city’s most recognizable landmark, so start the day at Brandenburg Gate. Built in the 18th century, the sandstone gate pays tribute to the Acropolis in Athens and frames Parser Platz which is home to Germany’s parliament. The picture-perfect square is a tourist magnet, so try to get there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

Brandenburg Gate. Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate just so happens to be smack dab in the middle of all the action, so no matter which direction you head now you’ll hit another landmark. One option is to head south just a couple of blocks to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), a sobering tribute to the six million Jewish people killed during the Holocaust. Made up of nearly three thousand concrete slabs in a grid pattern, visitors are welcome to walk through the rows, then visit the nearby information centre which includes biographies of some of the victims.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas). Berlin, Germany

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas). Berlin, Germany

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Take the scenic route west to ensure you pass through the Kurfürstendamm, one of Berlin’s swankiest streets. Home to luxury fashion houses along with high-end hotels and restaurants, the three-kilometre strip is the place to see and be seen.

Eventually you’ll end up at Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), a baroque wonder that was built in the 17th century as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, Prussia’s first queen. The palace is the largest one still standing in Berlin, despite being badly damaged during World War II.

Note: It takes about 30 minutes by car to get from the Holocaust Memorial to Charlottenburg Palace, so those tight on time may need to nix this stop and stay in the city centre instead.

Wander through the residence and the impeccably manicured grounds, then head back towards the city centre along Straße des 17. Juni which is one of Berlin’s main arteries. The roadway leads directly to the golden-gilded Victory Column (Siegessäule), which sits in the middle of a roundabout and stretches nearly 30 feet towards the sky. Admire it from a distance, or head up 300 steps to its viewing platform which has wonderful views of a number of landmarks and the foliage of the Tiergarten, Berlin’s most popular park.

Victory Column (Siegessäule). Berlin, Germany

Victory Column

Continue back towards Brandenburg Gate, then head north to the glorious Reichstag. Today it serves as the seat of German parliament, and visitors are welcome to tour the interior, which has a unique, 360-degree vantage point of the other government buildings and soaring skyscrapers surrounding its expansive grounds.

Berlin, GermanyChances are you’re more than ready for lunch at this point, so head south to Gendarmenmarkt which is one of Berlin’s prettiest squares. Framed by a towering trifecta made up of a concert hall, French and German churches, the sandstone buildings have been beautifully restored despite the heavy damage they were subjected to during the war.

Gendarmenmarkt. Berlin, Germany

Gendarmenmarkt

Gendarmenmarkt. Berlin, Germany

Today, a handful of restaurants have claimed a spot on the cobblestone square in front, making Gendarmenmarkt a wonderful spot to soak in the scenery while enjoying Berlin specialities like beer and currywurst.

Beer and currywurst. Berlin, Germany

Beer and currywurst are the perfect Berlin combo!

Once you’ve gotten your fill, head east to Museum Island, a true masterpiece for history buffs. Its crown jewel is the Berlin Cathedral Church (Berliner Dom), which is an architectural marvel—particularly when viewed from the waterfront. Home to five museums, Museumsinsel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses a range of exhibitions, from Egyptian treasures to displays detailing what life was like in East Germany.

Continuing east, you’ll find yourself in ultra-urban Berlin, which includes the TV Tower (Fernsehturm), which soars a dizzying 365 metres high. Alexanderplatz Square is just a block further, which holds bragging rights as the largest square in the country and is now a major transportation hub thanks to its post-war revival.

TV Tower (Fernsehturm). Berlin, Germany

TV Tower

From Fernsehturm it’s less than 10 minutes by bike or car to the final stops of the day including the city’s most infamous site: the Berlin Wall. Originally built by the government in 1961 with the help of the Soviets to keep east Germans from moving to the city’s more developed west side, the concrete wall once stretched for more than 80 miles, tearing families apart for decades. It finally fell on November 9, 1989 and has since been reduced to little more than ruins across the city.

The larger pieces that do remain have been transformed into colourful murals, which are on display at the East Side Gallery. There, more than one kilometre’s worth of the concrete slabs have been transformed into vibrant artwork expressing freedom and creativity—a perfect contrast to why the walls were erected in the first place.

The Berlin Wall.. Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall.. Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.

Visitors can wander along the colourful stretch before crossing back over the river and making their way back to the city centre, tracing the path of the Berlin Wall. Crumbling, untouched remains mark the route, along with the historical monuments found at Stralauer Platz and the memorial dedicated to Peter Fechter who was one of the first people who died trying to escape over the wall.

The Berlin Wall.. Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall.. Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall.. Berlin, Germany

The Berlin Wall.

The day comes to an end at what just might be Berlin’s most underwhelming yet important landmark: Checkpoint Charlie. “Checkpoint C” has historical significance as the crossing point for foreigners when the Berlin Wall was erected, but visitors could be forgiven for thinking it looks like little more than a toll booth. Regardless, it’s well worth a visit, particularly to learn about some of the daring escapes made through it.

Checkpoint Charlie. Berlin, Germany

Checkpoint Charlie

And there you have it—a whirlwind tour of Berlin. No worries if you couldn’t make it to all the stops in just one day–it just gives you the perfect excuse to make a return visit to the iconic city.

Berlin, Germany

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berlin-germany Globe Guide explored Berlin in collaboration with Viking Cruises and Visit Berlin. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.

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17 Responses

  1. noel says:

    Excellent tour of the city, I made it to most of these attractions but would love to come back on a sunnier day – does that ever happen in Berlin?

  2. Kallsy says:

    I was just reading another article about Berlin and am fascinated to see such unique things to do here. Not that I would expect anything less from a city with such interesting history but most people overlook some of the places you’ve mentioned and directly talk about the Berlin Wall. The city of Berlin has some of the most interesting architecture I’ve seen. It’s funny how in one place you’ll see a very modern building and in another an almost gothic inspired building!

  3. Love the bike tour through the city. When we go to Berlin we will most certainly take a biking tour through the town. This article was fantastic.

  4. What an informative post for anyone with just a day to spend in Berlin. When time is limited, it really helps to be prepared with the information about what you want to see and to have a plan. The architecture of Berlin is striking and the memorial to the holocaust victims seems so poignant. I hope to get to Berlin someday soon!

  5. Sometimes you can’t help but travel at light speed. This is a great guide to a “best of” higghlights for Berlin.

  6. Germany is the only West European country that I haven’t been to and I really don’t know why. However, lately I’ve been reading more and more about it and been wanting to go there. Berlin is surely top of the list for me now, and the list here sure would come in handy!

  7. Rosemary says:

    Very detailed tour of Berlin. While I have not yet been, this gives me a great overview of what to expect. Top of my list would be to see the Berlin wall. Strangely enough, Los Angeles (my former hometown) has a couple of bricks from the wall. So seeing the original wall would be amazing. Your pictures do a great job of bringing Berlin to life.

    • Hi Rosemary, yes I believe they’ve brought pieces of the wall to cities around the world (I believe there are some in Montreal as well), and it’s definitely worth seeing in person as it was such an important part of history.

  8. Sophie says:

    I absolutely loved Berlin when I went, as soon as we got settled in we headed straight to Brandenburg gate and then went for Schnitzel and beer!

  9. Laura Lynch says:

    There are so many gradiose buildings to see in Berlin. Even if you didn’t know what they all were, you’d have a really cool walking tour. This sounds like a very doable way to see Berlin in a short time, especially since many things are near the Bradenburg Gate.

  1. January 2, 2017

    […] in Finland, watch the ballet in Russia, cycle through historic Tallinn, Estonia, drink beer in Berlin, cruise the canals in Copenhagen, explore a Viking graveyard in Denmark, and finish off our trip by […]

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