Since the fall of the wall that divided it, Berlin has grown to become a leading European city break destination. Much of this Berlin owes to its links to both the Cold War and World War II- as the frontier of where West met East during the former and as the centre of Nazi power during the latter. Besides the historical and cultural gems that Berlin boasts, it lays claim to diverse dining experiences and of course, Christmas markets by the sack full. Because of all of these merits, many people flock to figure out how to plan the best 2 to 4 days in Berlin itinerary to get the most out of Germany’s dynamic capital.
Just how many days in Berlin you should cater for depends on how much you wish to see or do and how far you are prepared to delve. This guide provides suggestions on spending 2 to 4 days in Berlin, but even then, you may still only scratch the surface…
How Many Days in Berlin?
In order to do a destination justice, one may feel it’s necessary to visit iconic landmarks, learn about its history, indulge in local cuisine and traditions, and perhaps gain an understanding of what it is like to live like a local.
So how many days do you need in Berlin? Clearly, it’s an impossible task to see and do everything that may be of interest, so when working out just how many days to spend in Berlin, it’ll probably be wise to prioritise what you consider to be essential and try and fit in the rest if time allows.
Two days in a city of this size and orientation will certainly make for a worthwhile trip, with 3 days enough to experience the majority of the city’s highlights. In order to delve further, 4 days or more may well be in order, particularly if wanting to revisit particular areas or neighbourhoods.
Getting To and Around Berlin
If arriving by plane, then you’ll land at either Brandenburg or Schönefeld airport.
The newly opened Brandenburg airport is incredibly well-connected to the city centre with a myriad of different options available. There is an airport express train that runs between the terminals and Berlin Hauptbanhof station four times every hour; this will get you to the airport in about 30 minutes.
The airport is also well connected by express buses, regional trains and the S-Bahn which can all be good options depending on where in the city you happen to be staying. A taxi is going to be the most expensive option, however, it is also a viable option. If you want more details, make sure to see all of the transit routes on the airport’s website.
The best means of getting to and from Schönefeld is by S-Bahn, with the journey lasting approximately 1-1hr 30mins between the airport and city centre depending on which S-Bahn number is taken and if changes are required. Numerous buses also serve Schönefeld, and there are taxis, but due to its location expect a cab to cost over €40.
Train journeys are likely to end at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the new central station, which is the city’s focal point for connecting intercity and regional services with the local rail and public transport system.
Arrival by national or international coach will usually be to the central bus station in Charlottenburg although there is an additional hub used by certain companies at Südkreuz. Some also offer a combined coach and train ticket.
Berlin’s public transport is straightforward to navigate and efficient with the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses forming a comprehensive network. For shorter stays, it’s likely you won’t need to use it a great deal particularly if staying centrally or if you enjoy walking.
The city is broken up into three travel zones- A, B and C with the majority of sites of interest to tourists in A or B. For multiple journeys or group travel, consider investing in one of a range of travel passes on offer such as the Berlin Welcome Card which also includes discounts to various attractions.
Some of Berlin’s biggest lures can be travelled to on foot. A good example of this is the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – very different in their appeal, but only a 10-minute or so walking time between each. Of course, cycling will slash travel times even further and Berlin has over 650km of cycle paths dedicated to this pursuit.
Taxis can be flagged on the streets for an initial sub- €5 fee with a charge for every kilometre after that, although a shorter journey or ‘Kurzstrecke’, if asked for, means a 2km journey can be completed for little more than the usual cost of flagging one down. A taxi is going to be one of the most expensive options for transport, meaning that it isn’t a great option if you’re visiting Berlin on a budget.
With an excellent public transport system on hand and much of Berlin’s attractions centrally located, it’s unlikely you’ll need to hire a car for trips only lasting a few days.
2 to 4 Days in Berlin Itinerary
You’ve opted for 2 days in Berlin. No doubt, time will pass quickly, so the following are suggestions on how to spend those 2 days and enjoy some of Berlin’s most notable offerings. With many attraction in close proximity, it’s easy to swap in (and out) what suits.
Day 1 – The City Centre Highlights
Day number 1 begins with the symbol of Berlin, followed by the country’s seat of power and ends on a sombre note at a major memorial. If time allows or if you fancy it, take a walk through nearby Tiergarten.
As an alternative (or in addition to), go on a walking tour which may encompass these sites (and more), albeit at a faster pace.
The Brandenburg Gate
An icon and symbol of the reunification of both Berlin and Germany, The Brandenburg Gate is also one of the earliest examples of German neo-classical architecture. Built in the late 1700s, its design is said to have been inspired by the pillared entrance to the Acropolis in Athens.
The Quadriga statue, depicting the Goddess of Victory in a chariot, which sits on top, was once stolen by Napoleon- although I imagine he more than most, was probably aided by some step-ladders…
After World War II, the gate lay in the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin but was off-limits after the construction of the Berlin Wall. It now stands facing the Pariser Platz, the home of upmarket hotels, expensive houses and foreign embassies.
Not far from the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag – the home of the German Parliament. This has not always been the case, as fire damage in 1933, neglect during World War II and the division of Germany into East and West saw the Reichstag fall into a state of disrepair with the West German government relocating to Bonn. Only after a final restoration completed in 1999 did it return to its former function as the seat of power for a unified Germany.
Some attempt has been made to retain traces of the building’s past with, for example, graffiti left by Soviet Soldiers during Berlin’s occupation in 1945 still visible.
The Reichstag’s glass dome is its most obvious architectural feature, which sits directly above the government debating chamber and allows for great views over the city. Both the dome and the rooftop terrace can be visited for free by registering online in advance. The Reichstag also has a well-reviewed, but probably expensive, restaurant that is also open to the public.
If you can’t get inside or don’t want to, sit outside on the green lawn or grab a picnic and head to Tiergarten instead.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The murder of millions of Jews at the hand of the Nazis are remembered in a unique installation in central Berlin. Comprised of 2711 grey, variously sized, concrete slabs on an undulating floor, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a different kind of memorial. The site can be accessed from 4 sides and has been designed so that individuals will almost lose and disorient themselves. The adjoining visitor centre provides additional background information.
An altogether different, nearby memorial commemorates Sinti and Roma victims and there’s also a place of remembrance for homosexuals persecuted by the Third Reich.
As central Berlin has a high density of tourist sites it makes it an ideal location for a walking tour, particularly for travellers who like to learn directly from locals. Plenty of tours are available ranging from those that run solely on a tip-based system (‘Free’ Tours) to those that specialise in particular subjects or angles including history, food and Berlin’s unique involvement in the Cold War.
Bike, bus and Segway provide an alternative means of touring should you wish to cover more ground or simply want to do something other than walking. One such ‘free’ walking tour is ‘The Original Free Berlin Tour’ which over the course of three hours will introduce you to some of Berlin’s highlights and is supplemented with additional stories, myths and legends. It runs three times per day.
Day 2 – Museums and Landmarks
It’s museums galore on the second part of your 2 days in Berlin itinerary, although once they get a bit much, take in a popular Berlin square and relax, have a drink and enjoy the views from a very tall communist construction.
If you were being overly or perhaps, annoyingly picky, you could say Museuminsel or Museum Island, is a bit of a misnomer as there’s also an art gallery and cathedral on it. But with four major museums (Altes, Neues, Bode and Pergamon) and the aforementioned gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie) to explore, there’s plenty to see at this UNESCO world heritage site- enough to last a trip in itself.
Realistically, two of five are probably enough to take in over the course of a day with the main draws being the Pergamon Museum with its Ishtar Gate and Pergamon Altar, and the Neues Museum which houses the bust of renowned ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.
Tickets can be bought separately for each, although a Museum Island pass is a better value if you intend to see more than one over the course of a day. For longer stays, or if museums are a high priority, then consider purchasing a Museum Berlin Pass entitling free entry to over thirty sites over the course of three consecutive days.
A square of some beauty lies just off Friedrichstraβe, one of Berlin’s main shopping streets. A place where German soldiers once marched, Gendarmenmarkt now plays host to the sound of classical music in summer and Christmas jingles in winter. Two ‘cathedrals’ (in name only as neither officially are) the Deutscher Dom and the Französischer Dom lie on the square’s perimeter and sandwich a theatre, the Konzerthaus Berlin, which does act as its namesake suggests.
Berlin Television Tower
Standing out from the Berlin skyline is the communist era Television Tower (Fernsehturm). The tallest building in the city became an emblem of East German strength and ingenuity. With a 360°, 200m viewing platform open to the public, the Fernsehturm does offer superb views of the city. The tower’s restaurant even rotates ensuring every one of those 360° is covered.
Entry — i.e. the tower base — is on Alexanderplatz (where you’ll find a popular Christmas market in winter), and on good weather days, it’s the earlier the better to avoid queuing. Tickets for the tower and bar can be reserved at a desired time slot online. Also, book ahead if you fancy eating at the restaurant.
Day 3 – Topography of Terror & The East Side Gallery
We’re onto day 3 and still no mention of the Wall. Well, that’s about to change in a big way. But first a flying visit to the world’s most famous ‘checkpoint’ (which you could possibly also fit into day 1) and an in-depth look at how Nazi groups based in Berlin controlled the population. Oh and a food market.
Once the centre of a stand-off between American and Soviet tanks, Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of border crossings between East and West Berlin, is now no more than a booth, some sandbags, a sign and a flag.
Yes, it is a little gimmicky, what with dressed up soldiers posing for photos in exchange for euros, but it is worth visiting at least for its historical significance. The checkpoint itself will command nothing more than a fleeting visit, although the nearby museums and exhibitions may well be worth spending some time at.
Topography of Terror
Berlin was the centre of power for a number of Nazi organisations throughout the Second World War. The Topography of Terror is both an exhibition and memorial established on the site where some of these were based. The story of how the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security gained notoriety and the crimes and atrocities they committed is told across the war years with photographs and documents adding a sense of realism.
East Side Gallery
Parts of the wall which divided Berlin during the Cold War years still stand dotted around the city but for a spectacular wall experience, head to the East Side Gallery which at 1.3 kilometres in length, not only makes it the longest section of wall still in existence but also the longest open-air art gallery in the world.
Over 100 images with political points, messages of peace, and expressions of fear and aspiration adorn its side, although some may well take a little time to work out. It can also take a while to walk the gallery’s entire length (and back), particularly if having to wait to take photos of images that catch the eye.
For background information book onto a guided tour or pay a visit to the nearby Wall Museum East Side Gallery.
Market Hall Nine
Across the river from the East Side Gallery is a food hall and market (depending on which day of the week it is), the popular Market Hall Nine (Markthalle Neun). I’m not sure what happened to Market Halls one to eight, but nine is currently the venue for a traditional market three times a week, plays host to ‘Street Food Thursday’ and every few months it becomes a sweet and savoury snack market. Food and drink festivals are also held here so adapt your visit according to what it is you’d like to experience, eat or drink.
Day 4 – Alternative Berlin
Potsdamer Platz and its environs could well take up the last of 4 days in Berlin, but if not, perhaps head back to Museum Island. With the East Side Gallery and Market Hall Nine situated in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, it may be worth fusing them together into one day, depending on your own preferences of course.
This modern, new neighbourhood is more than just a square. Once a major hangout for the city’s cultural elite, the Berlin Wall ran through here and its former route is marked with a laid metal strip. Since reunification, Potsdamer Platz has become a hub for food, entertainment and shopping boasting state-of-the-art cinemas and even the fastest lift (elevator) in Europe.
Visit in winter for sporting events of the season as it hosts Europe’s largest toboggan run, Bavarian curling and an ice rink. A yearly film festival features in February. Explore adjacent areas for yet more museums and the Mall of Berlin shopping centre.
If the alternative, ‘hip’ scene appeals then the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is a must for your itinerary. Kreuzberg, in particular, is famed for its diversity and attracting those into alternative lifestyles with Friedrichshain now considered the capital of the city’s club scene.
Street musicians play on the picturesque Oberbaum Bridge and artists utilise free spaces to show-off their creations. If you’re yet to visit Market Hall Nine for some street food, now would be an ideal opportunity.
The district has its fair share of museums – the Jewish Museum and German Museum of Technology standing out amongst them. Theatre lovers will be well catered for with the English Theatre Berlin, the three theatres that make up the Hebbel am Ufer and the Berliner Kriminal Theater for an evening of murder mystery…
Where to Stay in Berlin
No matter how many days you set aside for your Berlin itinerary, you’re going to need to have a comfortable place to stay to ensure you have a great time in Germany’s vibrant capital. If you’re wondering where to stay in Berlin, have a look at these suggestions:
Sunflower Hostel — This backpacker’s hostel is an excellent place to rest your head during your Berlin itinerary. They have a range of both dorm and private rooms, a central location, and have breakfast available for an affordable price. There are also good common areas to meet other travellers. Click here to see their availability
Grimm’s Hotel Mitte — This centrally-located hotel is an excellent base for mid-range travellers looking to explore Berlin. They have a range of rooms available, a bar on site, and are located close to metro stops making sightseeing a breeze. Click here to see their availability
Shulz Hotel Berlin Wall — Located in the trendy Freidrichsten neighbourhood only a stone’s throw away from the East Side Gallery, this hotel is another great option for your stay in Berlin. They have a number of chic, comfortable rooms available, and a restaurant and bar on site. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here browse more Berlin hotels!
There’s so much to see and do in Berlin, it may cause a minor headache trying to work out how to fit it all in, particularly if only visiting for a couple of days. Fortunately, the visitor is aided by short distances between many attractions and regular, comprehensive public transport.
Although Berlin may not quite take your breath away, it may well leave you gasping for more, even if completing the full 4 days in Berlin itinerary.
When travelling in Berlin, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a 2- to 4-day Berlin itinerary? Are you wondering how many days to spend in Berlin? Let us know in the comments!