Curating a travel plan is a big part of the whole travel experience. You can ask for recommendations from everyone who’s traveled where you’re going, read travel articles, or scour blogs. And piece by piece, you create a list of the sights and experiences you’ll have when your toes hit those distant shores.
It’s so exciting!
But you run the risk of creating too long a list – packed with so many things. You already know there isn’t enough time for it all – even before your spouse asks “how do you plan on doing all of that?” Hey, thanks for your input.
Seriously – how do you cut the list down if you’ve never been there before? How can you tell the difference between an ok-to-miss museum from the most amazing thing you’ll regret not seeing? If only someone would walk up to you and say, “here’s an itinerary for the best 2 days” in the city you’re visiting.
Like this one for Berlin.
Yes – believe your eyes! I’m handing you a day by day guide for spending two days in Berlin.
What to Do in Berlin – Day One
The first time I visited Berlin I stayed in Mitte, the first and most central of the city’s boroughs. Many of Berlin landmarks are in Mitte, and it’s easy to get to the ones in other parts of the city using public transportation. This itinerary takes you through some cool things in Berlin that are accessible with a little walking, a little riding, and all in a short time.
The less time spent in transit – the more time spent soaking in the beauty of the city!
So wake up, get up, and get ready for breakfast at our first stop – Barcomi’s Deli at Sophienstraße 21 in Mitte. and part of the Berlin scene since 1994. Small world: the founder/owner of this coffee roasting cafe is from New York. Everything is beyond yummy and you’ll leave ready for the 20-minute stroll to your first stop of the day.
Navigate with Google Maps
This is a good time to mention some must-have tools for traveling. Google Maps + an international travel plan from your mobile carrier. For extended trips, having a ‘local’ phone while you travel makes sense. But if you’re traveling for less than a month – this is a simpler solution.
I choose simple every dang time.
Call your mobile carrier to find out their options for international coverage. I use Verizon, and before leaving the U.S., I switch to an International plan with access to my regular voice and data while traveling. So I can access Google Maps – which opens the doors to any strange city. I turn off the International plan when I’m back home.
You can create your daily itinerary on Google Maps by saving your starting point (I recommend the address of where you’re staying) to the Map, then add/save each destination you plan to hit. Or, add in the next stop as you’re leave a location. You can choose walking, biking, auto or public transportation routes from point to point.
It’s an easy stroll from the Barcomi to Museum Island giving you the chance to soak in the streets of Mitte. Stop for a photo op when you reach the bridge at the river Spree. The bridge connects to the Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with five museums and the Berlin Cathedral Church, or Berliner Dom.
The museums are the:
- Pergamonmuseum (Pergamon Museum)
- Neues Museum (New Museum)
- Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery)
- Altes Museum (Old Museum)
Museum Island suffered extensive damage during WW II, with Neues Museum left in ruins. The communist GDR government began reconstruction, but it wasn’t until 1999 – ten years after the wall fell – that complete refurbishing began on all the museums.
How do you tackle these five museums and the Berliner Dom when you have 2 days in Berlin? It depends on your museum style – and I tend to be a slow soaker. I pick museums with exhibitions I’ve not seen and see it all. If you like making a general pass through a museum, you’ll cover more on the island.
I chose the Pergamon, with its antiquity collection, Middle East museum, and museum of Islamic art. All three were incredible, but I went to see the gate. A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, initially built in 575 BCE by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II in the inner city of Babylon. This gate was part of the Wall of Babylon and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. HAD to see it.
I knew I’d spend extra time in the Pergamon, so I had a tough choice to make. What should I choose from the remaining museums? The Neues Museum has the infamous bust of Nefertiti – and I felt it calling to me – up until a few seconds before I chose the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), containing about 1800 paintings and 1500 sculptures from the 19th century.
It was a perfect choice because I’d never seen these exhibits. From the five museums – pick the ones you feel drawn to, and the time you want to spend. As a solo traveler for my two days in Berlin, I went where I wanted, stayed as long as I felt like, and stopped to rest whenever.
A little money talk before you go.
Many cities offer travel cards that bundle discounts or free entry to attractions, tours, and passes on public transportation. Here, you can purchase a Berlin Welcome Card, the Berlin Pass, or the Berlin Museum Pass. Spend time on the websites for both the Welcome Card and Berlin Pass before arriving in Berlin to see what will fit you best.
The Welcome Card offers 72 hours + Museum Island option for 46 euros, so look at what else is included with the card on their website. The Berlin Pass costs 99.20 euros and is described thoroughly on their website. Buying a ticket directly at Museum Island costs 18 euros for one day access to all five museums.
To follow my two-day itinerary, the one day ticket is the best value and, if you can squeeze it in, buy a ticket to the Berliner Dom for 7 euros when you arrive. Or commit ahead of time and buy online. If you want to add a museum on day 2, buy the Berlin Museum Pass with three days of full access at 29 euros.
I spent all my time in the museums, skipping the Berliner Dom to make my appointment at the Reichstag, home of Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.
Google Maps showed a 27-minute walk to the Reichstag, but there was heavy rain when I left Museum Island. I used the free mytaxi app I learned about in Berlin – the European version of Uber. It’s fast, inexpensive, and easy to use. Great in times of heavy rain – and tired feet.
I knew I wanted to visit the Reichstag before I planned my trip to Berlin and I built my day one itinerary around my scheduled time there. You must email to request a tour day and time (find detailed instructions here.) It’s possible to see part of the building without an appointment by checking in two hours before entering and hoping someone cancels, but there’s no guarantee.
I planned to book a tour and watch a Plenary session of Parliament, but my visit didn’t coincide with a session of Parliament, so I chose an audio tour of the rooftop dome and terrace.
In the glass dome, you can read the history of the building and ruling parties of Germany, through Hitler, in a photo exhibit. There’s a walkway spiraling up the circumference of the dome and the audio tour narrates the history and the eventual rebuilding as you walk up and back down.
The roof terrace gives a 360-degree view of Berlin and a view down into the main hall of the parliament chamber below the dome. The most amazing site inside the dome is the large mirrored sun shield that looks like a funnel used to track the sun’s movement for solar power electronically.
I missed a sobering sight at the Reichstag building that day. You’ll hear about it during my walking tour on Day Two. (pssst read on.)
Berlin Wall Museum
From the Reichstag, I made my way to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Str. 111. Catching a beautiful break in the weather, I easily walked 40 minutes through pretty streets, grabbing an Americano and a rest at the Barn Cafe Coffee Roasters on Auguststraße 58.
Be prepared for the impact of the exhibit when you arrive.
I was born in the spring of 1957 – and the wall was built in 1961. Cold war fear was everywhere during my childhood – from school books to television. Even Walter Cronkite! I remember my disbelief that the world could allow the Soviets to keep people behind a wall in Berlin. It’s likely the birthplace of my righteous indignation.
I didn’t expect to feel intense emotions at the Berlin Wall exhibit. Before arriving in Berlin, I toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps and, seeing them, I never imagined crying over stories of the wall going up, people jumping from windows, digging escape tunnels, and dying.
Standing on the death strip, between sections of the outer and inner wall, I felt the total containment and separation they’d created. And the stacked and crumbling panels there – now vine-covered and tagged with street art – convey the triumph of its destruction.
You can spend a lot of time walking this long exhibit – a guard tower remains there, and a memorial to the 28 people killed escaping. You might feel a quiet stillness in some stretches of the memorial where it was built over an existing cemetery, although the Soviets claimed all bodies had been removed.
There’s a guided tour for 3.50 euros – something I’d usually do, but I didn’t want to rush to meet the tour time. I wanted the freedom to wander on my own which worked for me. Feel free to make the plans that feel right because this is your trip.
Dinner at Katz Orange
I stayed with family a few blocks from the Berlin Wall Memorial – super convenient. After a couple of hours, I wandered back to their apartment for rest, hot tea, and a change of clothes. Next stop – a ten-minute walk to dinner at Katz Orange Restaurant at Bergstraße 22.
I pictured a cafe on a quaint side street, old brick facade and soft light shining from a cozy interior.
You reach Katz Orange by entering the courtyard of a modern building which opens into a long yard. It ends in a towering, ornate multi-storied brick building, lights blazing from every window of all three stories – that’s filled with Katz Orange.
There’s more to the restaurant than good food and wine. You can read the details of their philosophy as an enterprise of the Contemporary Food Lab here – but you’ll have to experience it to understand truly. I heard that some Berliners refer to Katz Orange as every American’s favorite restaurant in Berlin. Works for this American.
What to Do in Berlin – Day Two
With so many places to visit in Berlin and only two days to squish it all in – you might wake up on your second morning with a tiny bit of FOMO. I think I can coach you through that and get you all the way over to JOMO – Joy of Missing out. Here’s the secret: You’re going to come back to Berlin one day.
Oh yes, you are – because you’re right – it’s hard to choose from all of Berlin’s’ landmarks and attractions on your first visit. But choose you must. No trip crammed with all-the-things is going to be a good one. If you’ll follow along on Day Two of what to see in Berlin, you’ll be basking in JOMO in no time.
What’s Berlin Sightseeing without Shopping?
Day two starts at Distrikt Coffee on Bergstraße 68 – smack dab in the middle of my route to the shopping mecca: Hackescher Markt. Cruise on past Hackescher Markt and you’ll reach Alexanderplatz, filled with typical shopping malls and stores.
Stop and explore Hackescher Markt – including the nearby Hackesche Höfe (Hackesche Courtyards) – and experience a slice of real Berlin.
This was an auto-reroute for me. I was headed to Checkpoint Charlie then sightseeing my way to Potsdamer Platz before lunch. But a Berlin local recommended winding in and out of the courtyards of Hackesche Höfe and seeing Hackescher Markt – so I made a giant pivot.
It was perfect – no expectations, unsure of what I was looking for, or where to find it. The streets surrounding the Hackesche Höfe are jammed with Designer shops by young new Berlin labels, and it extends between Rosenthaler Straße and Sophienstraße. Inside are eight interconnecting garden courtyards ringed with small specialty shops.
In nice weather, cross over to Hackescher Markt and find a spot for lunch in one of the many outdoor cafes. But, if you’re there on a rainy day (like me) enjoy the artisans’ stalls, grab something hot to drink – and continue on.
Hackescher Markt is just outside the U-Bahn station in Mitte – easy access if that’s your transportation. I can’t be underground in a city I see for the first time (FOMO). It’s Google Maps or mytaxi app, depending on the weather.
Lunch at the Zoo
I spent the morning shopping and discovering – finishing tired and not quite hangry. Perfect time for lunch near the city’s center – Tiergarten Park, Berlin’s version of New York’s Central Park running from Brandenburg Tor (Gate) to the Berlin Zoological Garden.
Pulling out the mytaxi app, I zipped over in 15 minutes (because – hangry), but you can walk ( one hour+) or take a bus (25 minutes). Up to the 10th-floor restaurant, Neni, in the Hotel Bikini Berlin, next to the zoo. A blend of Mediterranean, Persian, and Austrian food influences.
I was lucky to be ‘squeezed in’ at a table for one (yay, solo traveler) – so take note: make a reservation because it’s worth it. You’ll have panoramic views of the zoo, the park, and the city. I imagined a lush green canopy spreading out from spring to fall, but the view in early November was beautiful to this fan of rainy days in city parks.
After lunch, I hit the Monkey Bar next door (overlooking the Monkey enclosure at the Berlin Zoo.) and prepped for my afternoon walking tour by snuggling into the cushions with hot tea.
Third Reich Walking Tour
The final event for day two was a guided walk covering some of the most poignant spots relating to Berlin’s role in WW II. There are many excellent walking tour companies, all offering a variety of content options. GetYourGuide’s Third Reich tour, a bargain at under $18/person, appealed to me because after seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau the previous weekend. I wanted to see the war from the Nazi perspective.
The tour starts just inside Brandenburg Gate where several Embassies – including the United States – are located. I flashed on Cold War spy movies and episodes of Homeland while standing there. Such a nerd.
Our guide delivered history as if he were telling a long story – grabbing our complete attention from the beginning. We started at the Reichstag Building filling in some holes from my self-guided tour the day before. As in – the bullet holes across the building’s facade from Soviet guns during WW II’s Battle of Berlin.
And the sobering sight I missed was the memorial to the murdered members of the Reichstag. It consists of 96 cast iron plates engraved with the names, birth date, and date+place of death of those members of parliament who died unnaturally between 1933 and 1945. And directly as a result of Hitler’s rise to power and the reign of the Nazi party.
From there we walked to a quiet corner of the Tiergarten, just across from the Reichstag. Tucked into a grove of trees surrounding a dark, circular pool, is a profoundly moving memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of the Nazi’s. Strains of violin music fill the air from a speaker resting in a tree.
In the middle of the pool, a fresh flower rests on a triangular stone, symbolizing the shape of the badges concentration camp prisoners were forced to wear. The triangle can be retracted under the water and accessed via a tunnel from the Reichstag so the flower can be replaced daily. Around the stone rim perimeter of the pool, inscribed in bronze letters, is the poem “Auschwitz” by Roma poet Santino Spinelli.
In Tiergarten, we saw the Soviet Memorial commemorating soldiers lost in the final battles of Berlin. The most recent is the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. This forgotten persecuted group went unrecognized until the mid-’80s, with the memorial built in 2008.
We left Tiergarten at twilight, with the temperature dropping, to visit a 200,000 sq ft field of concrete slabs. At varying heights, there are 54 rows running north and south, and 87 running east and west. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – the Holocaust Memorial. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold.
I felt profound sorrow walking among them. The grade slants so that you’re alternately dwarfed by and looking down on them. The typical city sounds of the middle of Berlin drop away as you walk here. It’s left up to each visitor to interpret the meaning of the memorial’s design.
We left the memorial and crossed the street to a parking lot tucked behind some apartment buildings. We wondered, “why a parking lot?” It sits on top of the Bunker Hitler where hid and committed suicide in the final days of the war. There are no markers or plaques — nothing to lend him dignity or notoriety.
One of the best parts of a walking tour is the people – fellow travelers. For a solo female traveler, it was the oddest situation for creating connections but they happened so easily. Maybe it was the shared history of the horrors of WW II?
Coming Back to Berlin
Mitte was the best area to stay in Berlin for my two-day trip. If you use this itinerary, it’ll be convenient for you, too. I relied on walking and the mytaxi app (in the heavy rain) to see more of the city. The mytaxi app shaved traveling time from place to place – and had more time to spend at each attraction. If you have to check out of your accommodations before you finish the itinerary, check out this post for some ideas on what to do with your luggage.
My next 2 days in Berlin, I’ll rely more on the subway. Unless I’m in a section of the city I’ve not seen before – like Kreuzberg. In warmer weather, I’ll visit the Monbijou Park for the live outdoor theater. And Mauerpark on Sunday for the flea market and Karaoke. I’m definitely throwing in a cruise down the Spree River and some kind of bike ride.
I could write an entire post about all the places I’ll see when I return!
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