48 Hour Guide / Berlin

How to Make the Most of Berlin in 48 Hours

Berlin is the sprawling capital city of Germany with nearly 4 million residents. It is absolutely packed with things to do, so making the most of a two day visit will require some effort. This two day Berlin itinerary will help you scratch the surface of some legendary landmarks and the fascinating history that makes Berlin so unique. In this blog post, I will help you fill your days with visits to the top sights, popular locations and must-see museums during a 48 hour trip to Berlin. 

Unlike many other capital cities in Europe, Berlin is somewhat iconoclastic, bucking the normal trends. It lacks a classic formality and isn’t beautiful in the traditional sense of a world-class European city. Instead, it embraces grit and urbanization in a restless pursuit of coolness. There is something edgy, hedonistic and alluring about Berlin. Berlin isn’t for everyone, but if you embrace its rough edges, you will be rewarded with distinct attractions, delicious food, and some of the coolest experiences you can have in Germany.

How to Spend 2 Perfect Days in Berlin

About This Itinerary

Look, I am going to be honest – I don’t think that two days is enough time to visit Berlin and actually enjoy it. There is just so much to see and experience that can’t fit into 48 hours. Plus, the city is massive. It takes a while to travel around between the different neighborhoods. Also keep in mind that many of the key attractions in Berlin, such as the Holocaust Memorial, deal with heavy topics. After going somewhere like that, you need some time to decompress and process. Jam packing your itinerary will leave you feeling drained. 

With that said, I understand that many travelers, especially my North American friends, have limited vacation time and are focused on maximizing each and every place they visit. Maybe they are using Berlin as a stop over or have an extra night or two on their backpacking trip around Europe. 

That is who this itinerary is designed for. I see you. 

If you have more time to dedicate to Berlin, you absolutely should. I think a four night stay should be the minimum. I have lots more blog posts about how to organize a long weekend in Berlin and how to spend 1 perfect week in Berlin.

Day 1: Central Berlin 

Morning: Museum Island & Gendarmenmarkt

With only 2 days to see Berlin’s biggest highlights, you’ve got to hit the ground early. Grab a coffee at the Greens. It is one of the best coffee shops in Berlin, delightfully styled in plants. Take the coffee to go and walk along the Spreeufer. You’ll get your first glimpse of the Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island.   

Museum Island is genuinely an island full of museums. There are five world-famous museums located here, mostly focused on antiquities and classic artifacts. In 1999, Museum Island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the island was redeveloped to house the global collections in historic spaces. With only a morning to visit, I would recommend choosing just one of the museums to visit. Or you can simply enjoy them from the outside, and pop into the cathedral for a quick visit. 

Continue walking down Unter den Linden street, where you will see the large Bebelplatz. The picturesque historic buildings are now largely government buildings, performing arts centers and administrative centers. Head south until you hit Gendarmenmarkt, which is one of the most Instagrammable spots in central Berlin. Two twin churches sit on either side of the square, topped with patina coated copper domes. 

Early Afternoon: Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate & Reichstag

Perhaps the most famous and symbolic landmark in Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate. It is only a 10 minute walk from Gendarmenmarkt, or you can take public transit there. With over 200 years of history in this central location, nearly every first-time visitor to Berlin will visit this gate – as you could have guessed from all the selfies on Instagram! The sandstone gate was built between 1788 – 1791, and is widely considered to be one of the world’s best examples of classicism. You can’t go inside or on top of the gate, so this is mostly a picture spot. You only need about 10-15 minutes.

Around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag, the seat of the German federal government. Of all the historic places that I’ve visited in Berlin, this one was probably the most surprising – I definitely recommend it! You need to book ahead of time, and there is a security check before entering. Once inside, you will see why the Reichstag is one of the most recognizable buildings in Berlin’s skyline – the massive glass dome on top. This stunning structure offers 360-degree views of Germany’s capital city. You can take a guided tour if you want to see the houses of parliament and such, or you can simply explore the dome at your leisure.

Another essential place to visit in central Berlin is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or Holocaust Memorial. This is just south of the Reichstag, and you can easily access it on foot. The recognizable 2,711 concrete columns spread across 19,000 square meters, forming a vast maze-like complex. The columns are all different heights (between 8 inches to 15 feet), and the ground undulates with small hills and slight angles. Walking through the columns creates an uncomfortable, disorienting experience for the visitor.

Late Afternoon: Checkpoint Charlie & Typography of Terror Museum

From the Holocaust Memorial, head south towards Potsdamer Platz. On the way, grab a delicious doughnut from Brammibals Donuts. It’s one of my favorite places for sweets in Berlin. With delightful branding in colorful pinks and blues, stepping into their cafe will immediately improve your mood, which you will need heading into the afternoon. 

The next stop on your 48 hour tour of Berlin is the Typography of Terror museum. I think this museum is essential for any first-time visitor to Berlin. The museum is housed in the same building as the former Nazi central operations office, where a majority of the Third Reich’s most heinous crimes were planned and managed. Today, the museum chronicles how the Nazis rose to power and spread the message of their ideology. It is full of photos, journals, and artifacts that engage with Germany’s darkest chapters in honest and meaningful ways. Plan to visit this museum for about 60-90 minutes. 

After you’re finished, head just two blocks east to Checkpoint Charlie. Located on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße, Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. You might recognize it from famous movies like James Bond or Bridge of Spies. Today, it has been rebuilt as a tourist attraction, complete with the barrier, guard booth and flags. There isn’t much to do here, besides snap a few photos, although there are lots of souvenir shops if you need to pick up something.

Evening: Dinner & Drinks Near Alexanderplatz

Get a close up view of Berlin’s tallest building – the TV Tower – from Alexanderplatz before heading out for dinner and drinks. You can go up to the top of the TV Tower for an incredible view of the sprawling city, or you can marvel at its size from below. There are lots of nice restaurants around the Scheunenviertel area, easily walkable from Alexanderplatz. I also love the architecture around this area, so keep your camera handy for charming streets or beautiful buildings.

Looking for a quick but hearty dinner? It is hard to beat the Jewish deli Mogg. Their pastrami reuben sandwich is incredible, served on seeded rye bread with a juicy swipe of homemade thousand island dressing, and thick cut pickle. If you’re in the mood for a piping hot bowl of ramen, hop in line at Cocolo Ramen. For an upscale experience in a historic setting, Katz Orange is a perfect choice. The design of this restaurant is stunning, and the food is even more impressive!

Day 2: Eastern Berlin

Morning: Explore Friedrichshain

On your second day in Berlin, we’ll focus on experiencing some highlights in eastern Berlin as well as some time to explore dynamic and trendy neighborhoods. Starting in Friedrichshain, grab a bagel at Fine Bagels. Germany isn’t exactly known for its bagels, but these ones are legit. Part bagel-shop, part bookstore, this is the perfect low key place to start your day. 

A wander around any of Berlin’s trendy neighborhoods will reveal a seemingly endless abundance of specialty coffee shops. Ranging from Vienna-inspired coffee to American industrial-chic espresso purveyors, experiencing coffee culture is one of the best things to do while traveling in Berlin! There are a number of nice ones around Friedrichshain, which I summarize in my Berlin coffee shop guide

Berlin has by far the largest assortment of thrift stores and vintage stores in Germany. A great second hand store lies around basically every street corner in Berlin, and you’ll find a number of cool second-hand boutiques in  Friedrichshain. For cheaper thrifted finds, the massive Humana on Petersburger is a worthy option. Find more curated pieces at Haha You’re Ugly, a tongue and cheek  shop that offers an eccentric and off-beat selection of vintage treasures. I wrote a whole guide about my favorite second-hand shops in Berlin if you are looking for more suggestions.

Early Afternoon: East Side Gallery

One of the most recognizable historic places to visit in Berlin is the East Side Gallery. You have most likely seen imagery of the murals on Instagram before. Located just off Warschauer Strasse on the border of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km stretch of the Berlin Wall which has been converted into an open-air gallery. Street artists and muralists painted powerful political messages and artwork on the ruins of the wall, a juxtaposition that is quintessentially Berlin. 

The most iconic murals include: “the kiss between Brezhnev and Honecker” which shows the leaders of Germany and the USSR kissing; “It Happened in November” a painting by Kani Alvai which depicts Checkpoint Charlie on the day the Berlin Wall fell; and “The Wall Jumper” which shows a man jumping over the Berlin Wall to leave East Berlin to join the free world. Expect to wait in line with other tourists to get a picture of yourself in front of the most famous murals.

Late Afternoon: Markthalle Neun 

Like many other foodie cities around the world, Berlin has embraced the food hall trend and Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg is the undisputed best. The beautiful interior of this revitalized building will strike you immediately, but the real stars are all the culinary vendors inside. Try to plan your visit for a Thursday when some of the city’s best food trucks pop up inside the market.

Even if you miss Thursdays, there will be plenty of other delicious foods to try such as a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with kimchi from AltMilche or U.S.-style barbecue at Big Stuff. Wash down your food with a craft beer from Heidenpeters or a mate-influenced gin & tonic from Soul & Spice.

After you’re sufficiently full from the delicious treats at Markthalle Neun, explore Kreuzberg on foot. This neighborhood is full of cute boutiques, graffiti painted alleys, and delicious Turkish street food shops. I mentioned Kims Secondhand Boutique in my best of Berlin’s thrift shop guide, while Voo Store has an incredible selection of designer duds and coffee table books & magazines. 

Evening: Dinner & Bar Hopping in Neukölln

One of the hippest neighborhoods in Berlin is Neukölln. It has been a popular area for a while now, and the most “in the know” locals will say that other neighborhoods are cooler now. But, the restaurant, bar and shops that hipsters loved for a long time remain, making it an ideal place to explore for your last evening in Berlin. 

If you happen to be in Berlin during nice weather, start your Neukölln bar crawl at Klunkerkranich. This makeshift bar is on the top floor of a parking garage, making it a quintessentially Berlin experience. It is built out of reclaimed materials, recycled pallets, community gardens, and artist installations. It is quirky, but it offers one of the best rooftop views in the city. This is a great place to come around sunset, although there are legendary parties and live music events here late into the night. 

Grab dinner around the corner at the casual yet upscale Tisk Spiesekneipe. This was one of my favorite dining experiences in Berlin, thanks to the friendly staff and sustainably sourced produce. Plus the restaurant has a beautiful design. After dinner, sample drinks at some of Neukölln’s legendary cocktail bars. Geist im Glas, Tier, and Velvet are all great options. If you prefer to discover on your own, stroll down Weserstraße between Wildenbruchstraße and Kottbusser Damm. You’re bound to find lots of wine caves, dive bars and cocktail joints on your way.

Where to Stay in Berlin

Berlin is absolutely full of hotel options ranging from budget to luxury. On a short visit, I would recommend choosing a hotel strategically based on the location. This will help you cut down time traveling around on the metro. With the structure of this itinerary, I think Mitte or Friedrichstadt would be a good choice. These aren’t the coolest neighborhoods in Berlin, but they are well connected with public transport and walkable for everything on day 1.

Where to Eat in Berlin

You will be spoiled for choice with the restaurants and eateries in Berlin – there are so many delicious places to try! I would definitely recommend trying some street food for lunch on one of the days, such as currywurst or falafel. For dinner, making a reservation is typically recommended, especially if you want to go somewhere I little bit nicer. I summarize all of my favorite Berlin restaurants in a separate blog post, perfect for foodie travelers looking to enjoy the best food that Berlin has to offer.

Do you have any questions about visiting Berlin? Comment below!

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