My recent trip to Berlin, Germany was incredible – despite the freezing temperatures! I’ll admit the Christmas Markets just about made up for it. There’s so much to do in this town etched with history at every turn. Here’s our list of must-dos in a weekend for a first time visitor– from touchdown to wheels up.
To/From the Airport:
- A taxi will cost about 40€+ between the airport and Berlin, depending on traffic. Most (if not all) taxis should accept credit cards, but it’s not a bad idea to have cash handy.
- Buses run between the city and the airport, at a cost of under 3€. The ride takes about 40 minutes.
- Ubers are allowed to pick up and drop off at the airport. Ours cost us 25€.
- While uber exists in this city, it’s still growing in terms of popularity. Wait times may be a little on the longer side (5-10 minutes) since there aren’t as many drivers as you might see in other cities. It’s worth noting that Uber Taxi is an option within the app, and calls a standard taxi. Your taxi fare is paid through the app (though this tends to be more costly than taking an uberX).
- The U-bahn is a very convenient way to get around the city, but with tickets costing 2.70€ each, it made sense for us to take ubers (since there were two of us traveling and ubers were cheap).
- If you’re in town to see the tourist spots, several sights are within walking distance of each other.
Tipping: Though not expected, if you appreciate the service you receive, 5-10% of your bill in gratuity would be common.
Credit Cards vs Cash: While most large establishments (hotels, popular restaurants, stores) will accept credit cards, some smaller shops may prefer or only take cash. Visa and Mastercard are far more widely accepted than American Express.
ATMs: Popular retail banks in Berlin include Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Postbank, and Dresdnerbank. If you have a Bank of America account, you’ll be able to withdraw money from Deutsche Bank ATMs without incurring an ATM fee (though beware the Foreign Exchange fee, which will usually run you about 3%).
A Weekend in Berlin
Happy Hour 9PM
It would only be appropriate to start a visit to Germany with a beer. While you can certainly pick up a beer anywhere, we like Kaschk for its wide selection of craft German and European beers.
Linienstraße 40, 10178
Holocaust Memorial 10AM
Berlin has tons to offer – but as a first time visitor, you’ll want to see the major sights, so you might as well knock the major ones all out in a day. Start with the Holocaust Memorial, a somber, artistic tribute to victims who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin
Brandenburg Gate 10:30 AM
Just one block north of the Holocaust Memorial is perhaps the most famous symbol of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate is always bustling with visitors coming to see the famed structure, on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.
Pariser Platz, 10117
Reichstag Building 11:00 AM
Built in 1894 to house Parliament, the building has a rich history, surviving events like a fire and raids that wore the building down. Reconstructed in the 1990s, the Reichstag Building now boasts a glass dome on the roof, which offers a 360 degree view of the surrounding Berlin skyline. Visiting the roof area is free, but you’ll have to register in advance.
Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin
A Walk in the Park 12:00 PM
Start your afternoon in Tiergarten, where there is tons to see and do, including the Berlin Zoo, gardens, and spaces for picnics, cycling and recreation. Weather permits, it’s a great area to pack lunch and enjoy the greenery. Another option – Cafe am Neuen See on the south-west area of the park overlooking the lake.
Str. des 17. Juni 31, Berlin, 10785
While you’re walking around, don’t miss the Berlin Victory Column, located in the center of the park.
Coffee Break 3:00PM
Einstein Kaffe, German coffeehouse chain, is all over Berlin and brews up a solid cup of coffee – perfect for an afternoon break. While you can find this at just about every corner, the address we’ve added is on the way to the next location, plus, is smack in the middle of Berlin’s central shopping street.
Friedrichstraße 71, Berlin, 10117
Checkpoint Charlie 3:30 PM
The former crossing point between West and East Berlin, situated on the territory of former West Berlin that functioned as a checkpoint for those entering East Berlin between 1961 and 1989. Today, the checkpoint is no longer functional, and in its place stands a replica of the old checkpoint house that stood there. The area (and the checkpoint itself) has become incredibly touristy, and may come off as over-hyped and underwhelming, though the history of this spot keeps it on our list. You’ll find actors there today that charge about 4 euro for you to take a photograph with them, and you can have your passport stamped for 3-7 euro (but do note that doing so technically renders your passport invalid, since this is not a legitimate immigration stamp). For more history on the history of the checkpoint, you can visit the nearby Checkpoint Charlie museum, which will cost you 12.50€ per person in admission fees. You can also opt to visit the Black Box Cold War exhibit, which is kitty corner to the north side of checkpoint. This temporary-looking exhibition offers media exhibits, news reels, and photographs from the cold war era and costs 5€.
Friedrichstraße 43-45, 10117 Berlin, Germany
We visited in November, so this square, which is home to two cathedrals (one French, one German) and the Konzerthaus (concert hall), was decked out as a Christmas Market. Even without the Christmas Markets up, you should come by to see the gorgeous buildings. The square is said to be the most beautiful square in Berlin – and with these artistically crafted buildings, I don’t disagree.
Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin
Katz Orange 8:00PM
Head to Katz Orange for a delicious dinner whipped up with local organic ingredients. This farm to table restaurant offers an extensive wine list (150!), and with a few local beers to round out the menu. If you’re going with meat lovers, we recommend ordering one of the slow roasted (read: 12 hours in the oven) menu items – but these must be ordered by two or more people per table. No matter what you order, you can’t go wrong.
Bergstraße 22, 10115 Berlin
Eat Strudel for Breakfast 9:00 AM
Start your day at Cafe Einstein, a cozy cafe in Mitte, with a menu that has just a bit of everything. Not to be mistaken with the Einstein Kaffe chain, this cafe serves a good cup of coffee. Due to the location, it falls a little bit on the pricey side, but the laid back, relaxed atmosphere (and walking distance to the next location on the itinerary) make it worth it.
Unter den Linden 42, Berlin, Germany
Museum Island 10:30 AM
This UNESCO World Heritage site takes its name from the five museums that were built on the island. You’ll find the Altes Museum (Old Museum), Neues Museum (New Museum), Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Bode Museum and Pergamon Museum all within walking distance. Even if you’re not a museum person, walking through the area to admire the architecture is well worth the visit. One could easily spend all day museum hopping.
Museum Island, 13089 Berlin
Berliner Dom 2:00 PM
Berlin Cathedral, built in 1905, has seen a lot in its days – from a blast that shattered the windows to a fire on the roof, but today, the cathedral has been restored. Located right by the Altes Museum, the church is worth a visit if you’re already on the island.
Am Lustgarten, 10178 Berlin
Sucre et Sel 3:00PM
Stop by Sucre et Sel, a French bistro, for the French Pizza (odd sounding, we know) and cheese and charcuterie platters. Located just steps away from the Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station, this quaint spot is incredibly easy to get to. If this restaurant isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other small eateries in the neighborhood worth checking out before heading on to our next spot.
Torstraße 132, 10119 Berlin
Berlin Wall Memorial 4:30 PM
The Berlin Wall Memorial spans 1.4 km (or about .86 miles) and is built on a section of where the wall had previously stood along Bernauer Strasse. The open-air space includes remains of the original wall, while metal poles signify where the rest of the wall stood. The memorial features information about the history of the wall, and those who lost their lives because of the division of Germany. If you don’t make it to the memorial, keep in mind that a line of two rows of bricks that cross the city signify where the Berlin Wall once stood.
Bernauer Str. 111, 13355 Berlin
Bonus Day: Christmas Markets
If you happen to go to Berlin like I did between November and December, you’re in luck – it’s Christmas Market season! Here’s a breakdown of some great Christmas Markets in Berlin you should check out:
Though we’d recommend visiting anytime of the year to admire the stunning architecture, Gendarmenmarkt hosts arguably the best Christmas Market in Berlin (and charges 1€ to enter – where most do not, so it is definitely worth visiting if you’re in town during the Christmas Season. And for those traveling with their pups – no dogs allowed.
Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin
Berliner Weihnachtszeit am Roten Rathaus
This Christmas market is easy to spot from a mile a way – it’s brightly lit in Christmas lights, plus who could miss that Ferris wheel? I liked this market for the cute trinkets it sold (though some items you can easily find at different Christmas Markets) and for the warm atmosphere. Plus – this market has a skating rink.
Rathausstraße 15, 10178 Berlin
A quick five minute walk from the Berliner Weihnachtszeit is the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz. Though I wasn’t as big of a fan of this one, it did seem to have a more varied food selection than its neighbor. It was however, lacking in atmosphere (and this should come as no surprise since this area is more of a transportation hub), but is worth the visit – at least for a quick view of the Fernsehturm (which happens to have a rotating restaurant inside it).
Alexanderplatz. 10178 Berlin
Though a bit further away from the center of the city, if you happen to be in the area, I loved this Christmas Market. Located right at the Charlottenburg Palace, this Christmas Market has a good mix of food options and great little gifts to buy. It was also much less crowded than the other markets. Only downside? The palace was under construction during my visit.
Spandauer Damm 20-24, 14059 Berlin
Westin Grand Berlin
Centrally located to several of the major spots a first-time visitor would want to see, this hotel offers comfortable accommodations and at a great price too. See our review of this hotel here. Rates run from $140-$180 USD per night.
Friedrichstrasse 158-164, Berlin, 10117
This hotel, frequented by many celebrities and politicians (including a recent visit from President Obama) is popular not just for its grand looks but also for its location – it’s steps away from the Brandenburg Gate. Rates run from $220-275 USD per night