The sprawling city of Berlin is impossible to see in two days. So if that’s all the time you have, efficient planning is key. You’ll want to avoid retracing your steps, and generally wasting time getting from A to B. Fit for this purpose, I’ve created an itinerary that focuses on saving you time by drawing out the highlights of East Berlin first, followed by West Berlin the next day.
Day 1: East Berlin
Street art, Check Point Charlie & Monuments
Following the fall of the wall in 1989, many artists crossed over to the east and used the blank concrete as a canvas. The East Side Gallery, a striking memorial to freedom, is perhaps the most well-known visual homage to this historic moment. With over 100 paintings on display, this 1-mile walk is an enjoyable and interesting way to see how artists from all around the world expressed the elation and anxieties of the reunification era.
Need a coffee? Bonanza Roastery Café is one of the coolest coffee shops in the city, ensconced in a Kreuzberg backyard, and furnished with light wood and giant plants.
For even more street art, and a microcosm of Berlin’s creativity, head to Hackeschen Höfe for walls covered top-to-bottom in murals. Ensure to enter some of the doors in the courtyard leading to several independent shops or sit down for a spot of people watching.
Lunch: ORA is a pharmacy turned stunning café. This beautiful eatery pays homage to its former days as a pharmacy with dark apothecary tables and units still on show. And bottles of various spirits for the cocktail menu decorate the shelves in between old jars of medicinal herbs.
Technically straddling the borders of East and West Berlin, stroll past Checkpoint Charlie, where a replica kiosk marks the best-known crossing point between former East and West Berlin, to the Topography of Terror on Nierderkirchnerstrasse, an outdoor exhibition detailing the history of the Nazi atrocities along a stretch of the original walk.
Before you head back to your hotel to freshen up, Brandenburg Gate is one place that you can’t miss in Berlin.
Dinner: Once you sink yourself in a plush tobacco-hued sofa at Pantry, you wont want to move your rump for a good few hours. And that’s just as well, as taking full advantage of the next-level fusion dishes deserves your time. Slowly slurp ramen noodles or a variety of dishes that take your fancy. It’s all pretty darn good.
Want to stay out late? If you just fancy some cocktails, try Velvet bar in Neukolln. They work with unusual local produce such as sea buckhorn cordial and rosehip syrup to create their drinks.
But if you want a full-on night out, the Anti-pub crawl is surprisingly fun. I promise, it’s nothing like the 18-30s sort of stuff you might be picturing, instead, it’s calmer, cooler, and a great way to explore some of Berlin’s most rated bars before going to a club until the early hours.
Day 2: West Berlin
Museum Island, Reichstag & Local Cuisine
After breakfast head to Museum Island and set your eyes on its world-famous art and artefacts. This area is home to five museums. It would be difficult to see them all in one day so choose two which pique your interest the most. Of these, I recommend Alte Nationalgalerie, due to its Geek-style architecture which rises above them all makes it hard to miss. This museum houses work by Adoph Menzel and Edouard Manet to name just a few.
Lunch: Rogacki is the iconic Delicatessen and a popular venue for hungry locals. With over 90 years of history this food hall is celebrated for its fish smoking. Having said that, if seafood isn’t your thing, maybe give it a miss.
Architect Peter Eisenman stirred controversy when he unveiled plans for the Holocaust Memorial. The eye-catching Memorial is made up of 2,711 massive rectangular stone slabs on a sloping stretch of land.
The site lies between East and West Berlin, within sight of the Reichstag Dome designed by architect Norman Foster which I recommend you visit afterwards. Unfortunately, you need to book in advance to enter the Reichstag, otherwise enjoy the architecture and impressive façade of this former parliamentary building.
If you’re into Bauhaus design, go to the Bauhaus Archive. Though if you’re all museumed-out, and the weather is good, hang out at Tiergarten. This 255 hectare park started as a hunting ground for the Great Elector in the 1600s and evolved over the years into the grand public space it is today. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something really different, make your way to Teufelsberg spy station and clap eyes on the best street art Berlin has to offer.
Dinner: On your last night in the city, treat yourself at Marjellchen. Although the décor feels like you’re in a time-warp, this is the only restaurant in Berlin specialising in the cuisine of Germany’s long-lost provinces of East Prussia, Pomerania, and Silesia. For that reason, its worth delving in for.
Want to stay out late? If you’re into the whole speakeasy NY vibe, look no further than the Green Door. Behind a mysterious green door you’ll find a cosy, relaxed gem offering super creative and delicious cocktails.
Where to stay
There are so many fantastic hotels in Berlin, it’s hard to narrow them down. In line with the rest of the post, I thought it would be a good idea to recommend one situated in the East and also West.
Sleeping East: The Circus Hotel is a great location for visitors to see the Berlin Wall and Soviet-era sites, as well as the fashionable shops and restaurants of the nearby Hackescher Markt which I mentioned earlier. This designer hotel comes with a few modern perks, such as free pre-loaded iPods, Segway rentals, mini-laptops and the Fabisch restaurant.
Sleeping West: This hotel isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for something truly special to take your trip to the next level, stay at Das Stue. Das Stue’s classically curved main building was constructed in 1938 by German architect Johann Emil Schaudt, and once housed the Danish Embassy. The grand lobby features eye-popping artworks and a gorgeous restored staircase, and leads through to the hotel’s lounge, bar, restaurants and garden terrace. There are several extra lounging areas, complete with libraries and chill-out sofas, and, if you’re feeling that way inclined, treatment rooms and a 16-meter indoor swimming pool and sauna for you to enjoy.