Three days in Berlin: the best things to do

by Gaetano
Reichstag Building

I have already been three times for various reasons to Berlin: in 2006 for a classic city tour, in 2013 with friends, and in 2017 I ran the Berlin Half Marathon.

In Berlin, you can really find everything: anything and its opposite. It is a real modern, multiethnic, cultural, and extravagant metropolis.

What today is only an old building, tomorrow is transformed into a forum, museum, cultural center, restaurant, or atelier!


Berlin in a nutshell


The following is an interactive map. The monuments and the points of interest are marked with blue pins, the city highlights with red pins. The colored areas are the parts of the city that I have visited: one color/area a day.



Must-sees

  1. Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of peace and one of the best-known landmarks of Germany.
  2. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (close to the Brandenburg Gate).
  3. Reichstag Building, the seat of the German Federal Parliament.
  4. Bellevue Palace, the official residence of the President of Germany.
  5. Victory Column, the monument built to commemorate Prussia’s victories.
  6. Potsdamer Platz (Potsdam Square) with its modern buildings.
  7. Checkpoint Charlie, one of the crossing points of the Berlin Wall between East Berlin and West Berlin.
  8. Gendarmenmarkt, a square in Berlin with important buildings like the Berlin Concert Hall and the French and German Churches.
  9. Bebelplatz (Bebel Square), surrounded by the State Opera, the Humboldt University, and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral.
  10. Neue Wache (New Guardhouse), the Memorial for the Victims of War with the pietà-style sculpture “Mother with her Dead Son“.
  11. Berlin Cathedral (on Museum Island close to Alexanderplatz).
  12. Nikolaiviertel (Nicholas’ Quarter), the reconstructed historical heart of Berlin.
  13. Alexanderplatz (Alexander Square) and the TV Tower, one of the most visited areas of Berlin.
  14. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, the remaining ruins of the old church damaged in an air raid in World War II.
  15. Charlottenburg Palace, the largest historical palace in Berlin.

Berlin from above

  1. TV Tower (368 m);
  2. Hotel Park Inn Alexanderplatz Panorama Terrace (120 m);
  3. Victory Column (about 65 m);
  4. Reichstag Dome (Reichstag Building, about 40 m).

Photo Hotspots

  1. Parks: Tiergarten (directly in the inner city) and Tempelhof (former airport now used as a recreational space).
  2. East Side Gallery, more than 1 km open-air gallery made of murals painted directly on the remains of the Berlin Wall.
  3. Holzmarkt, an urban village on the River Spree.
  4. Reichstag Dome at sunset.
  5. Potsdamer Platz and the Sony Center (skyscrapers and modern architecture).
  6. Sofienhöfe and Hackesche Höfe, a complex of eight courtyards designed in the Jugendstil (German for Art Nouveau).
  7. Botschaftsviertel, the embassy area of Berlin.

If bad weather happens

The list of museums in Berlin, as in all European capitals, is very long. Moreover, some of them, such as the Pergamon Museum, are worth seeing even if the weather is nice! A couple of suggestions:

  1. Kulturforum, an ensemble of cultural buildings.
  2. Topography of Terror, the focus is the crimes that Nazis made in Europe.
  3. Museum for Communication.
  4. Madame Tussauds (wax museum).
  5. Museum Island in the River Spree (includes Bode Museum, Pergamon Museum, Altes Museum, Neues Museum, etc.).
  6. Jewish Museum, the focus is the history of the Jews in Germany.
  7. Checkpoint Charlie Museum, documents the successful escape attempts from East to West Germany.

Shopping

  1. KaDeWe (Department Store of the West).
  2. Friedrichstraße (Frederick Street), one of the most important shopping streets in Berlin.
  3. Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous streets in Berlin, with a lot of shops and luxury boutiques.

Things to eat

You will find both international and local cuisine (mainly based on pork) in Berlin. It does not make sense to waste here words on the pork shank with sauerkraut, and other typical and well known German recipes. There is plenty of information on the internet. I want to share with you two other tips instead:

  1. Currywurst. This is the typical Berlin street food. It is steamed and then fried pork sausage served with curry ketchup and topped with curry powder. Often accompanied by French fries.
  2. Chocolate
    For the gourmands: you should not miss a visit to the Ritter Sport Shop, and to the Rausch Chocolate Shop.
    The last one has an incredible chocolate assortment, and the shop is a kind of showroom, with sometimes big sculptures made entirely of chocolate. Both chocolate shops are located near the Gendarmenmarkt and are marked on my map above.

Itinerary


Day One (Quarter: Mitte)

Where to start a visit to Berlin if not from the Brandenburg Gate? The gate is built in neoclassical style, it is a city landmark and is a symbol of peace.

The Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust is located right next to the Brandenburg Gate. It is made of 2711 dark gray concrete steles (slabs), all of the same size but of different heights arranged on a grid pattern.

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate
Mars putting his sword into its sheath as a sign of peace
Mars putting his sword into its sheath as a sign of peace
Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
Monument to the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

The Reichstag Building is located not far from the Brandenburg Gate. It was reduced to rubble during World War II, and only its outside was rebuilt maintaining its original appearance.

The visit to the Reichstag Building is free (but you must book it in advance) and highly recommended. The visitors can admire the dome with its 3000 glasses, mirrors, and reflections, and the 360-degree view over the Tiergarten park at sunset can be truly amazing.

The day continues walking along the River Spree and back and forth through the Tiergarten Park. The whole area is full of attractions, including the Bell Tower (Carillon), the Soviet War Memorial, the Bellevue Palace, and the Victory Column.

Heading south on foot, I came through the Botschaftviertel (embassy district). This place is fascinating because almost every embassy is built in a particular architectural style, unique and different from the others.

Potsdamer Platz is very close to the embassy district and is another exciting photographic hotspot, with its skyscrapers and modern architecture.

The day ends at the Topography of Terror, a museum focused on the terror system established by the Nazis. The museum is located not far away from Potsdamer Platz.


Day Two (Quarter: Mitte)

My second day in Berlin starts at Checkpoint Charlie, one of the former crossing points of the Wall between East Berlin and West Berlin. It was rebuilt as the original to preserve its memory, and today is a big tourist attraction.

The Friedrichstadt Passages are not far away from Checkpoint Charlie. The modern architecture solutions of the passages are a real visual and cultural break with the close Gendarmenmarkt Square.

This is one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin, ancient, harmonious and symmetrical with the twin churches (the German Church and the French Church) and the Berlin Concert Hall. A must-see.

Ritter Sport and Rausch Chocolate Shop are both very close to the Gendarmenmarkt and well worth a visit.

My next stop is Bebelplatz (Bebel Square). This square is known as the site of one of the Nazi book burning ceremonies. It is surrounded by some impressive buildings like the State Opera, the Humboldt University, and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral.

The adjacent Museum Island (Museuminsel) deserves alone almost a day for the visit if you want to go through all the museums. I bought a ticket for the Pergamon Museum and was absolutely amazed.

The day ends by passing by the Berlin Cathedral, an astonishing work of Historicist architecture, up to Alexanderplatz. The Red City Hall, the Neptune Fountain, St. Mary’s Church, and the World Clock are all located within walking distance from Alexanderplatz.

If you go up the iconic TV Tower, you can have a unique look at the city from above. Beware, sometimes the queue to the top is very long, but the view is well worth the wait!

If you have some spare time left, the Nikolaiviertel is not far from Alexanderplatz and is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Berlin, with narrow streets and picturesque scenery.

Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral
Neptune Fountain
Neptune Fountain
St. Nicholas Church - The oldest church in Berlin
St. Nicholas Church - The oldest church in Berlin

Day Three (Quarter: Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf)

Since the second day in Berlin is a sort of half marathon through the city, you can stop the tour anywhere you want if you are tired or it’s too late. You can continue the itinerary on the third day, which is not so busy and gives you the chance to visit some museums or go for some extras (see below).

Day three begins in the Charlottenburg district at the famous KaDeWe (Department Store of the West). The Europa Center Shopping Mall is not far away from here, and if you still want to continue shopping, the Kurfürstendamm is the street you’re looking for.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is located right in front of the Europa Center. However, these are only the remaining ruins of the old church damaged in an air raid in World War II.

Now it’s time to visit the Charlottenburg Palace and its gardens. Since the Palace is at the other end of the district, you can take the Bus or the Underground.

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace


Day Four

If you do not have another day, come back sometimes!


If you have extra time

These locations are colored in purple in my interactive map above:

  1. Berlin Wall Memorial. It is located on Bernauer Straße (easy to reach by subway) and includes the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre as well as a 60-meter section of the wall, with barriers, barbed wires etc.
  2. Tempelhof, the former airport now used as a recreational space.
  3. Spandau Citadel, one of the best-preserved Renaissance military structures of Europe.
  4. East Side Gallery, more than 1 km open-air gallery made of murals painted directly on the remains of the Berlin Wall.
  5. Berlin Zoo, the oldest zoo in Germany.
  6. The palace and park of Sanssouci (UNESCO World Heritage Site). A must-see if you have time to go to Potsdam (about 40 km from Berlin but easy to reach by train). The park includes a lot of attractions like the Chinese House, the Neptune Grotto, the New Palace and much more.

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