If you only have one day in the city, use it to explore the main sights. These sights offer a deep look at the troubled history of Berlin through World War II and will also introduce you to the city’s incredible cultural richness. Sights include the elegant Museum Island, the famous Unter den Linden boulevard, the iconic Brandenburger Tor, plus the Reichstag, Tiergarten park, and bustling Potsdamer Platz. You’ll end the day experiencing the quirky creativity that makes Berlin the vibrant place it is.
Grab an early breakfast at your hotel or a nearby café and prepare for a busy day feasting on art and culture.
Berlin’s Museum Island is a stately place to get a first impression of Berlin. The ensemble of five elegant, mostly neoclassical buildings have all been carefully restored after wartime destruction, and contain a wealth of classic 18th- and 19th-century art and sculpture, plus treasures from Ancient Egypt, Greece, the Middle East, and more. Since it’s impossible to properly experience all the museums in a day, beeline for the Neues Museum or the Pergamon, both of which contain the most exotic and mind-blowing collections.
After admiring the other buildings in the Museum Island area — for example the Berliner Dom and the rebuilt Royal Palace — grab lunch in the Café im Zeughaus, which has a pleasant pavement terrace overlooking the Dom and the Lustgarten. The neighboring Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) offers a remarkable 2,000 years of German history inside a beautiful Baroque building. Needless to say, you could spend hours here, but the layout means it’s easy to find the epochs and eras of your choice, whether it’s German unification, World War II, or the Cold War.
Next to the German History Museum is the neoclassical Neue Wache, the memorial to victims of dictatorships and wars, built by famed architect Karl Schinkel and featuring Käthe Kollwitz’s moving anti-war sculpture Mother with her Dead Son.
Head west to find a slew of elegant buildings, tourist shops, and cafes but also more sobering historic sights such as Bebelplatz, where the Nazis’ notorious 1933 book burning took place. Seek out Mischa Ullman’s Bibliotek memorial there. At Pariser Platz, where you can admire the city’s most famous icon, the Brandenburger Tor, up close, be sure to also peek inside the DZ bank building to find an impressive Frank Gehry sculpture.
Around the corner from the Brandenburger Tor lies the Reichstag, whose glass dome can be climbed — as part of pre-booked tours. Tip: If you book a table on the rooftop Käfer café and restaurant, you can skip the normally very long lines and explore the building and dome alone, though you will still need your passport. Dinnertime is also the ideal time for sunset views over the city.
After dinner, walk amidst the sober stelae of the adjacent Holocaust Memorial, then stroll through the charming Tiergarten park to reach Potsdamer Platz, whose skyscrapers are handsomely illuminated at night. With its shiny malls, it’s a decidedly commercial spot, but swanky hotels like the Ritz Carlton, Mandala, and Grand Hyatt all have bars serving decent cocktails and wines. Alternatively, stroll another 15 minutes down to Victoria Bar for something more local.
If you’re ready for more, end your day with a look at the creative, alternative energy for which the city is famous. Head to the legendary Kumpelnest 3000, a mixed/queer dive bar with a hugely diverse clientele — from students to drag queens to business people. The tiny dance floor plays reassuringly kitsch but danceable pop hits. You can get there as early as 9:00 or 10:00 PM, but there’s no rush to get there. It’s open until the early hours of 5:00 or 6:00 AM.