Berlin, the ever-changing capital of Germany and home to fascinating modern history and trendy culture, is a great destination for a short weekend escape. And even though 36 hours doesn’t seem like enough time, you can fit a surprising amount of stuff into a weekend adventure in Berlin…
Before your weekend trip to Berlin
- Book your accommodation in a central location – anywhere in the Mitte region, near Friedrichstrasse (Friedrichstraße) Station, Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station), or Alexanderplatz.
- Want to check out the awesome view from the Reichstag? It’s free, but you need to book a couple of weeks in advance.
- Want to experience the Berlin nightlife? Do your research in case you have to pre-book tickets.
The first night
Arriving late (because when are cheap flights ever at a reasonable time?) means you can check-in to your accommodation and go in search of a few German beers and traditional Berlin food. You probably don’t have to go far to find a Friday night fast food favourite in the city that claims to have invented the doner kebab and boasts a range of delicious currywurst.
Once you are fed and reasonably “watered”, off to bed with you – tomorrow’s going to be a big one!
Day 1 – 7.30am
Grab a breakfast pastry from the local bakery. It’s not the time to be fussy and the Germans do a great buttery croissant and salty pretzel, or delicious egg and cheese baps for under €3.
If you’ve pre-booked your free entry to the Reichstag (unlike me!), you can enjoy spectacular early morning views across the entire city. The Reichstag is the very modern glass dome and historical building that is the home of Germany’s parliament.
(Admission: free. Opening hours: 8am – 5pm daily)
Get your bearings and learn some history on the free* Sandemans Walking Tour. You’ll need to get a ticket from the people with the red umbrellas at the Brandenburg Gate Starbucks to get on a tour starting at 10am (they also go at 11am, 2pm and 4pm , but check their site for details).
Sandemans Walking Tours are great! Their guides have usually lived in the city for a number of years and studied the language and history. I’ve never met a Sandemans guide that hasn’t been passionate, open and helpful about the city they are showing off. *The tour usually runs for 2.5 – 3 hours and they expect a tip at the end. Per person, €5-10 is usually sufficient if you’re on a budget.
It’s always good to do the Sandemans Walking Tour early in your trip as they will give you a brief history of the city you are in and plenty of ideas for museums and free stuff to do during your stay. They usually also have great food and drink recommendations.
Sandemans also offer paid walking tours. Their Third Reich Berlin and Alternative City tours go into some pretty cool areas of Berlin.
The walking tour will finish about 15 minutes’ walk down the road from the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) where you started. Continue walking east (away from the Brandenburg Gate) towards Spree Island. Here, you can visit any of the five museums that sit in the UNESCO World Heritage complex on the island (if you think you will have time). The museums will charge you, but the buildings and architecture are amazing from the outside.
Hungry? If you’re lucky there might be a currywurst stall/van nearby selling delicious smelling currywurst (a sausage in a bun with a variety of toppings such as onions, cabbage, and mustard). Otherwise, you can wander through Spree Island towards Alexanderplatz and stop for lunch at a local café or restaurant. Note, this is a touristy area and you could be paying tourist prices.
If you wander past Alexanderplatz, you can get a fulfilling lunch and a stein of beer at Hofbräu Berlin, a Bavarian beer hall chain originally from Munich.
From the metro station at Alexanderplatz (S+U Alexanderplatz Bhf) you can catch the metro line S5, S7 or S75 to Ostbahnhof where you can walk the length of the East Side Gallery.
(The U-Bahn (underground rail network) and the S-Bahn (suburban train lines) make up the Berlin train network. A €2.70 “single ticket AB” must be purchased from the machines at the station and then “stamped” in a little box on the platform to be validated. The ticket is valid for one person and a two hour journey through the city.)
Located along the Spree River, the East Side Gallery is the longest section of the Berlin Wall still standing after it was pulled down in 1990. As a colourful memorial to freedom, the wall has been decorated in amazing murals and graffiti in vibrant colours by artists from all over the world.
If you have time during the late afternoon and you are keen to explore a little more, I would recommend visiting one of the museums scattered throughout the city. (Or, take some time out to re-charge your batteries)
We visited the Topography of Terror, a free museum located a few blocks from Checkpoint Charlie.
The indoor and outdoor historical museum occupies the site that the Gestapo headquarters and the Nazi Secret State Police headquarters occupied during their rein. The thousands of documents and photos on display chronicle the horrors and atrocities of the Nazis from the period 1933 to their fall in 1945.
(Admission: free. Opening hours: 10am – 8pm daily)
If you have around three hours, you can also visit the Spy Museum near Potsdamer Platz station. This unique museum reveals the history of espionage and secret services worldwide in an interactive and multimedia exhibition, which includes a laser maze and some James Bond props. There is a special focus on espionage activities in Berlin during the Cold War.
(Admission: from €9 online. Opening hours: 10am – 8pm daily)
If you’re keen for a traditional German feast (which includes beer), I would recommend visiting Die Berliner Republik on the river near Friedrichstrasse station. Die Berliner Republik is a beer stock exchange (the beer changes price based on demand) boasting a decently priced menu of the traditional German food. Try the pork knuckle for something really German!
If you are keen to check out the Berlin nightlife, you will need to be ready for a late night; warehouse parties and gigs usually kick off after 11pm and people are still lining up at 2am to get in if it’s good. Search for events in Berlin on Facebook, local gig guides and online.
Day 2 – 10am
For a last dash of culture and history, visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial, near the Brandenburg Gate. The memorial consists of more than 2,700 concrete slabs of varying height stretched in long rows across a sloping field. It commemorates the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and is as beautiful as it is haunting.
The underground information centre lies under the 19,000 square metre field and is free. It is well worth a visit if you want to meet the people and families directly affected by the Holocaust.
(Admission: free. Opening hours: 10am – 7pm daily)
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted after only 36 hours in this fabulous city! Hopefully we can get some rest on the plane.
Check out my more detailed post about what to do and what to see in Berlin – it includes a brief history of the city and information on how to get around.
Looking for more travel inspiration?
Check out my recommendation on what to do in:
Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.