At first, Berlin was a stop-over city for us. While planning a trip to Oktoberfest, I wanted to see another city in Europe, but it had to be one that was a short flight from Munich, and ideally nearby Amsterdam. Berlin just so happened to fit the geographic bill.
Prior to visiting, I’d heard mixed things about Berlin- some people I knew loved it, others felt like there were other (and better) places to visit in eastern Europe. I understand why people may not like Berlin on their first visit-compared to other European cities, it’s not the most beautiful or friendliest. Look below the surface though, and you’ll hopefully see it’s a city with rich history that has a lot to offer.
Berlin is a fascinating city, its wartime history mixes with modern vibrant multicultural influences from around the world.
Our trip to Berlin was a whirlwind, just over 48 hours in total. But, I had a great time and left excited to return one day with more time to explore. If you’re short on time while visiting Berlin, these are the places and things I’d recommend seeing and doing.
48 Hours in Berlin
After arriving in Berlin around 5 pm, we took a bus to the U (subway) to our Airbnb in Kreuzberg.
Once settled in, we walked around the neighborhood, exploring a bit before having dinner at Zola, one of the best places to get pizza in Berlin.
After dinner, we stopped at a few bars before heading home around midnight:
- John Muir (Kreuzberg): Dark and cozy, stocked with a great selection of whiskeys and bourbons
- Schwarze Traube (Kreuzberg): Such a gem, tell the bartenders what you want and they’ll create a custom drink you’re sure to love
- Hopfenreich (Wrangelkiez): Hailed as a bar with some of the best craft beer selections in the city. Even myself (someone who doesn’t love beer) found a porter infused with coffee that I drank a few pints of
Berlin is known for its epic nightlife, but with only one full day to explore what the city had to offer, we opted to head home and get some rest. Next time though, I’m looking forward to checking out one of the clubs I’ve heard so much about. 😉
- Woke up to the sounds of people cheering, turns out the Berlin marathon was happening outside our apartment! We watched the runners for a bit before heading to breakfast, always so inspiring to cheer people on as they kick ass on the course
- With a full day of wandering ahead of us, we decided to start with breakfast in our neighborhood:
- Roamers (Karl-Marx-Straße): The coffee is good, but the food is the real showstopper. It not only tastes great, but also looks beautiful
- Fatma & Frieda (Karl-Marx-Straße): Excellent breakfast choices- I had the “Heidi”, a plate filled with cheeses, fruits, jams, salads and a hard boiled egg, as well as a fresh orange, carrot and ginger juice
- Katie’s Blue Cat (Reuterkiez): Grab yourself a flat white and baked treat, they’re the best
- After breakfast, we walked around the neighborhood a bit more, before grabbing a flat white from Concierge Coffee, a darling coffee window tucked away in an alleyway
- From Concierge, we took the U to Alexanderplatz, a big square with lots of markets and a great view of the TV Tower. We didn’t have time to go to the top of the tower, but if you want a bird’s-eye view of Berlin, the revolving top of the tower is the best place to go
- With the marathon still in full swing, we decided to head to the east side of Berlin since the marathoners had already moved through the area. The East Side Gallery was at the top of my list of things to see on our visit. The gallery is a still standing remnant of the Berlin Wall, covered in paintings and graffiti that represent the city. Once suppressed by communism, Berliners turned to street art to express their beliefs. The structure that once divided Berlin has become the world’s largest open air mural. And, beyond the East Side Gallery, the city is covered in colorful art on everything from buildings to vehicles
- After walking up and down the gallery, we headed to the nearby Michelberger Hotel for an afternoon drink. Truly unique hotels are hard to find. The Michelberger is everything good about Berlin. Would you just look at the details in the lobby and outside patio?
- Next, we hopped on the S-Bahn and U and headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial. Growing up, we learned about the Berlin Wall in history class. I thought I understood (to some degree) what it meant and what it stood for- but visiting the memorial, I was taken aback by how chilling it was. Until you’re walking along the memorial, you don’t realize just how split the city was, and the impact those decades had on residents past and present. I’d recommend making time to visit the memorial, no matter how long or short your trip is. We spent a little over two hours here, but you can adjust how much you see based on the amount of time you have
- With the evening approaching, we headed to Bradenburg Tor, one of Germany’s most visited landmarks. Over the course of its 300+ year history, the gate has played many roles and been a symbol for peace, war and victory. Here, Ronald Reagan said his famous words: “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
- Across from the gate is the Tiergarten park, 600 acres of greenery and lakes, an awesome area for running or strolling on a nice day
- A few minutes from the Bradenburg Tor, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was built to disorient and confuse visitors. The memorial is a series of thousands of cement rectangles of varying heights. Toward the center of the memorial, the ground slopes down, and as the rectangles rise above you, you’re met with the effect of complete and total isolation
- About a 15 minute walk from the memorial, Checkpoint Charlie is the famous crossing point between East and West Germany. It’s a pretty touristy area, so we didn’t spend much time here. While figuring out dinner plans, we popped in westberlin, a cute cafe with a great magazine and book selection, for coffee
- Exhausted from a day of sightseeing, we decided to have dinner and drinks in our Airbnb neighborhood and headed back to Kreuzberg. We stopped at Room 77 for burgers, quesadillas, fries and wine- pretty much perfection after a day spent working up an appetite. We ended the night at TiER, another great cocktail bar with an impressive menu. How can you not love a place with 10 versions of the negroni?
Having checked most of the “touristy” things off the day before, I decided to start the day by running a few miles to a part of Berlin I wanted to check out before leaving, the Mitte.
Post-run, I stopped at Daluma to refuel with a smoothie that was nothing short of amazing- raw cocoa, avocado, banana, dates, rice milk and moringa. Just so impressed with the focus on serenity and health at cafes in Berlin, how soothing is this place?
The Mitte is the go-to place for cute, local boutiques in Berlin. I only had a few hours in the area, but these were a few of my favorite shops:
- soda books: Great magazine selection
- BE C: The jewelry in the window caught my eye, and I’m so glad I stopped in. While I was intrigued by the clothes and other accessories, a locally made necklace with fringe and beads caught my eye- affordable and chic
- do you read me?: Awesome international magazines and books, fun to browse for a few minutes
- hay: Beautiful and modern homewares. It’s a good thing I only packed a carry-on or else I would have been tempted to buy so much in this cute shop
- augusta: Lovely women’s clothing and accessories, also dug some of the prints for sale
- R.S.V.P.: Y’all know I’m a sucker for stationary, this place has beautiful paper goods
- Fete de la Boutique: Beautiful store design and a great selection of clothes
- Unico and Broke & Schon both offer affordable and super cute jewelry
Extra Know Before You Go Info
- Identification: Passport
- Language: German, although many people speak at least key English phrases
- Currency: Euro. Currently (fall 2016), the exchange rate is set at 1 euro to $1.11 USD
- Money Exchange: Because the euro is a common global currency, most US banks will convert for free before you go. I’d recommend taking enough money in euros to cover small purchases and using a credit card with no international transaction fee to cover larger items
- If you do plan on using a credit or debit card while abroad, remember to alert your bank that you’ll be traveling internationally
- Getting There: Berlin has two major airports, Schönefeld and Tegal. Brandenburg Airport is currently under construction and rumored to not be opening until late 2017/2018
- Both Schönefeld and Tegal are easy to get to/from the city via U and a bus transfer (just follow the crowds 😉 )
- If you’re arriving in Berlin by train, Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) is one of the largest stations in Europe
- Getting Around: Take public transit. Berlin is a huge city, so it’s often much quicker to take a subway or bus to get from place to place. The good news is your ticket, once validated, is good for all of Berlin’s public transit within the zones you’ve paid for, as well as the S-Bahn, underground, trams, buses and airport transit
- Important to note: Berlin runs on the honor system. Once you buy a day ticket (8-9 euros), you’ll validate it and then won’t need to pull it out again unless an official asks to see it
- When to Visit: I’ve only been to Berlin in late September, but thought the weather during our trip was perfect- warm days (60/70s) and chillier nights (50s). Locals told us we were visiting during what was likely the last week for eating and drinking on outdoor terraces. May through September are ideal for visiting if you want to walk around the city or spend time outside. Winter can become quite cold with temperatures hovering in the 20s/30s
- Where to Stay: I’m partial to Airbnb whenever I travel internationally. In Berlin, I’d heard great things about the Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Neukölln, and the Mitte (and by great things, I mean an abundance of bars, restaurants and cafes). We stayed in Kreuzberg, and I loved it- would definitely stay in the neighborhood on a return visit
- Berlin is vast, so if you need help figuring out where to stay- check out TripAdvisor’s guide to the city’s neighborhoods
- Wifi Access: Wifi is easy to find in restaurants and cafes. As long as you plan activities ahead of time and have a general sense of which subway stops you need/general direction, you should be fine to only use wifi as it’s available
- If you really need wifi for directions or other activities, I’d recommend adding it to your cell phone plan (Verizon offers connectivity for $10 a day) or renting a TEP wireless device
- Power Adapters: You’ll need an international adapter, this one is similar to the one I have. I also travel with a USB charger so I’m able to charge every device imaginable at the same time