Berlin is a fascinating city for a multitude of reasons, but it’s also really large and if you only have one day it’s possible you’ll leave without enjoying it. We’d advise staying longer if you can, but sometimes this is unavoidable as maybe you’re visiting Berlin for work, as Bell recently did for her company a few months ago. I tagged along as the hotel was paid and I was able to explore the city more than she could. But we’ve both visited Berlin on previous occasions, where we’ve had additional time to explore the city and compile this list of must see activities.
1) Avoid Checkpoint Charlie
Some might say this is a must visit attraction with one day in Berlin because of its historical significance in being the main checkpoint between the former East and West Berlin, but we argue otherwise. During our last visit to Berlin, I spent time with Charlie Kedmenec of MyDestination Berlin and he told me “Checkpoint Charlie is probably my least favorite attraction in Berlin,” that says a lot because this guy really knows Berlin and his name is even Charlie. His issue with Checkpoint Charlie is that’s it’s massively overrun with tourist buses, it’s tacky and there’s better alternatives to experiencing Berlin’s dark history in terms of Nazi rule and the Cold War aftermath.
2) Visit the Topography of Terror
Instead of Checkpoint Charlie, if you do one historical thing in Berlin, you should visit the Topography of Terror. This is a great modern exhibition (and it’s free, unlike the indoor exhibition of Checkpoint Charlie which costs €12.50). If you spend an hour at Topography, you’ll gain a better understanding of how the Nazis came to power and the extent of the terror they inflicted on so many people, including the political dissidents within their own country.
There’s 3 bonus reasons you should visit the Topography of Terror:
1) One of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall lies right in front of the exhibition.
2) Just beyond this is the old Luftwaffe, headquarters of the Nazi Air Force, which amazingly was never bombed and now houses the German treasury!
3) The exhibition is housed atop the old SS headquarters and when you tour the grounds you can see many old prison cells underground, which gives an appropriately creepy feeling to Nazi history.
If you visit this area on a cloudy day, like I did, you’ll really feel an emotional connection with this unfortunate time in German history. This is a must if you only have one day in Berlin. It’s even close by to Checkpoint Charlie, so you could quickly swing by there to take a few photos of the replica border check point.
3) Visit a Beer Hall
Germany prides itself on centuries of beer making and they don’t take too kindly to anybody’s belief that Belgian beer is superior (it is, but that’s ok). While Berliner lagers and pilsners aren’t exceptional, they certainly taste far superior to a Budweiser. But more than the beer, is the experience of being in a Berlin Beer Hall or Pub.
If you’re in the mood for a lively and vast beer hall, with lots of outdoor seating during the warmer months, you can’t go wrong with Hofbrau Berlin. If you’re looking for a totally unique experience that combines German beer and the stock market, we’d recommend The Berliner Republik. The Berliner Republik sells its beer based on supply and demand and has several TV’s showing a live beer exchange. If a beer is particularly popular at the moment, prices will be higher. If a beer isn’t selling as well, prices will be lower. We enjoyed the concept and lively atmosphere of this pub so much we visited on two nights in October- the food is good too.
4) Savour Great German Pork, Sausage and Potato Dumplings
When sitting down to eat, be sure to enjoy a schnitzel, pork knuckle, or roast pork (unless you hate pork or have religious objections) with potato dumplings (choose whichever one comes with potato dumplings because they’re usually excellent in Berlin). A quick sausage from a mobile street vendor that’s actually carrying his grill is super handy for lunch and unique to Berlin, as we haven’t seen this anywhere else we’ve visited (they’re not the greatest Berlin sausages, but it’s fun and easy if you only have one day).
Aside from The Berliner Republik, we also recommend the food at Mutter Hoppe, where you can even sit with an antique sewing machine. It’s also close to the Fernsehturm, Berlin’s TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, which is well worth seeing and snapping a few photos. The massive TV tower was built by the East Germans between 1965 and 1969 as a symbol of national pride. It stands at 1,198 feet (365 meters) and is still the tallest building in Berlin.
5) Brandenburg Gate
While the Brandenburg Gate is touristy, it doesn’t take long to see and it makes for a quintessential Berlin selfie to share on social media and frame in your home. This photo will scream I was in Berlin! The Brandenburg Gate is a beautiful example of 18th century neoclassical architecture that dates back to the Prussian days of King Frederick William II. The Brandenburg Gate previously divided the Soviet and British sectors of Berlin and has been the site of many historic speeches. It was the backdrop of Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech where he famously said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” President Obama has also given speeches with the Brandenburg Gate as his backdrop.
The Brandenburg gate is also close to the Reichstag, home of the German parliament (the Bundestag). On a previous visit to Berlin we toured the rooftop of the Reichstag, which is worthwhile. This is free, but if you only have one day in Berlin it might not be worth it because you’ll have to queue for perhaps an hour. But the panoramic views of the city and massive glass dome, where you can gaze down into the German parliament’s chamber are great, especially for free.
6) Walk Around Museum Island
This is a great walk along the Spree River and offers splendid views of the TV Tower and Berliner Dom, a beautiful cathedral that is a must visit for photos at least.
Pergamum museum has some of the finest Egyptian antiquities in the world, so if this is your bag, be sure to swing inside. Otherwise take a pass if you only have one day in Berlin.
7) East Side Gallery
This section of what’s left of the Berlin Wall stretches 1.3km (just under a mile) and is covered with over 100 colorful murals by artists from around the world. The murals are an eclectic mix of political statements, Bohemian art and a celebration of life, peace and unity. Try and see the East Side Gallery, even if you have just one day in Berlin.
What’s listed here is plenty to keep you occupied if you only have one day in Berlin, and it packs a good bang for your buck so you can leave satisfied that you got the most from your short visit to Germany’s capital.
Where to Stay?
We’ve stayed at a few hotels in Berlin and the best experience for the price was at Lindemann’s, but it’s a little outside the center and you’ll have to use public transportation (luckily this is excellent in Berlin). On our last visit we stayed at the Maritim, which is centrally located and comfortable, but we felt overpriced (though it was hosting a conference at the time). If you’re only spending one night, it’s usually a good idea to be centrally located, and the good news is that Berlin is generally cheaper to stay compared to Paris, London and Rome.