Are you visiting Berlin, Germany for the first time? Then you have come to the right place. As a Berlin local, having lived there full-time for over a year (and now it’s one of my home-bases), I’ve created this local guide with Berlin insider tips, the top things to do (must-see/dos), what food you must-try and more. Warning: You may feel the urge to visit Berlin immediately! But this guide is especially made to make your visit effortless, more affordable and just simply wonderful overall!
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Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 How many days should you plan to spend for a first time visit to Berlin?
- 2 Getting around Berlin
- 3 Which is the best airport to fly into Berlin?
- 4 How to make it from the airport to the city center on public transportation?
- 5 How much is a taxi from the airport to the city center?
- 6 Do they have Uber in Berlin?
- 7 Top ways to sightsee Berlin for different kinds of travelers
- 8 Must-visit Historical Sites in Berlin
- 9 Other Places to Visit in Berlin
- 10 What to eat in Berlin – Traditional Foods to try in Berlin as a first-time visitor
- 11 Shopping in Berlin
- 12 Where to sleep in Berlin? Best neighborhoods for your stay
How many days should you plan to spend for a first time visit to Berlin?
I suggest for you to plan at least 3-5 days for an initial visit. Three days is a good start, but there are plenty of things to do, great galleries, museums, and much more to easily fill a 5 day visit to Berlin.
Getting around Berlin
As a first-time visitor, the best thing to buy (and get your money’s worth) is a Berlin WelcomeCard. The Berlin Welcomecard has different options from a 48 hour pass to a 6 day pass. You can obtain one online, at Berlin Tourist Info booths, at various public transport sales points and in over 200 hotels in Berlin.
I suggest that you to find out the airport of your arrival and departure, and if you are making a day trip to Potsdam, before buying your pass since there is the Berlin Centre AB fare zones pass (only includes Tegel Airport (TXL)) and the Berlin + Potsdam ABC fare zone (includes Schonefeld Airport (SFX)). Also, there are two kinds of 72 hour passes, with or without the option of visiting Museum Island. Note: The best part of this card is that you will save up to 50% on most popular attractions, including the hop on/off bus tours and more.
Which is the best airport to fly into Berlin?
Berlin has two main airports in the city and both are internationals. One of them is Berlin Tegel (TXL), which is located in the northwest and the other one is Berlin Schoenefeld (SXF), which is located in the southeast.
Schoenefeld mostly caters to charter flights and low-budget airlines (like EasyJet and Ryanair) while Berlin Tegel Airport is a more standard airport where there are lounges available, plus fast-track security.
How to make it from the airport to the city center on public transportation?
Sadly, Tegel is not connected to the S-Bahn train System so you have to take the bus (TXL express) or grab a taxi. On the opposite side, you can easily reach Schonefeld Airport by bus and train.
There are different options from regional to S-Bahn trains. After you get to the airport, expect a 5 minute walk through a covered walkway, which leads you to the terminals. The airport is located in fare zone C, so do not forget to buy this kind of ticket at the ticket machine for the train. If you’re in a hurry, I recommend that you take the Regional Airport express. It usually takes about half an hour from Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main station). Note: There are other regional trains that leave from different areas, or even multiple buses, depending on where you are coming from.
For more information on trains and buses, visit this website. Important Note: The best way to know which train route or bus route to take while in Berlin is by downloading the DB Navigator (Deutsche Bahn) App. It is the most accurate app and the first thing you should download when you arrive in Germany. This app informs you of delays, train changes and also about the buses that will substitute certain trams at night. I personally love their train line-up at the platform in real time! With this, I know where to stand on the platforms before boarding the ICE trains (fastest train connecting you with different cities in Germany and neighboring countries). The DB Navigator app is a must have while in Berlin or anywhere in Germany!
How much is a taxi from the airport to the city center?
A taxi ride from the airport to the city center, to a neighborhood such as Mitte (Alexanderplatz) or Charlottenburg (Kurfürstendamm) costs around 45 Euro. You can find a taxi line-up in front of Terminal A. If you would like to have an estimate of the Taxi fare, you can use TaxiFareFinder.com or, if you understand German or want to use Google translate if you don’t read German, the farefinder Taxiin Berlin can help you to calculate the fare (but it only provides info the German).
Do they have Uber in Berlin?
Yes and no. Uber had issues in Berlin and was sort of banned initially. What Uber did was open Uber Taxi, which let’s you call a licensed taxi cab through the app.
Top ways to sightsee Berlin for different kinds of travelers
If you only have two days, I suggest for you to pick one of these for at least one of your days. It will help you to see the main sights faster and also, you will learn lots of fun facts and interesting history from a local tour guide.
Free Walking Tour – A free walking tour is a good way to get the main highlights, especially for a budget traveler. It is nice because you get insight and the real history rather than just looking without knowing more about what you’re seeing (helps you to appreciate it a little more). They are offered in different languages, so it is a good way to explore the popular sights and make friends with fellow travelers.
Note: Do not forget that the tour guides live off of tips. If you get a really good one, try to give a good tip (pay them for their time). If you are on a budget, try to give as much as you can.
Bicycle tour – I took an amazing tour over the summer with Berlin on Bike. I especially recommend this kind of tour when the weather is warmer, during the spring, summer and early fall. I liked that they offer different kinds of tours based on various interests. The one I took was an alternative one that takes you to very hip and trendy places. It is a great way to explore the off-the-beaten path, hidden streets and just breath in the local magic of Berlin. They make stops from time to time to explain the history and for photo-ops. The best part is, when you find a place that strikes your fancy, you can always return at your leisure.
Yellow Bus Tour – The first time I arrived in Berlin, I was on a press trip. Visit Berlin gave me a pass for a Hop on Hop Off Tour. I chose the yellow bus tour, a hop on/off bus that takes you to see all of the Berlin Basics. It is 20 euros and a great opportunity to see the popular places. You can get off at any stop, take photos and then wait for the next bus. They come pretty often, so it’s a great way to explore Berlin (especially if you have limited time since some of the main sights are not exactly next to each other). For more information, click here.
Must-visit Historical Sites in Berlin
Brandenburg Gate has been the site of many major historical events. It symbolizes the division between Berlin East and Berlin West during the cold war. In November 1989, when the Berlin wall fell, the gate was reopened just a month afterward. You must take a photo but know that it is always super crowded, so visit it in the early morning.
Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe / The Holocaust Memorial
Super close to the Bradenburg Gate, you’ll find the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is located on the opposite side of the US Embassy and is considered one of the most important memorials in Berlin (takes up an entire city block). As you probably guessed, this memorial is in remembrance of the Holocaust. During my visit, many people just stood in silence, deep in thought. The memorial is made in the form of a labyrinth, which ends in a dark grey, quiet place right in the middle. In addition, there’s an information center underneath the memorial that lists all of the known names of the Jews who died during the Holocaust (Note: It is closed on Mondays). If you visit Berlin, come pay your respects at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is something that’s still fresh on the minds of Germans and of people from all over the world.
Reichstag Building / Bundestag Dome
Since 1999, this historic building has served as a meeting place for the German parliament (the modern Bundestag, German Parliamentary Building). It’s a must-see because of its historic significance and architecture. Note: In order to go inside the building to visit the Bundestag Dome and the roof terrace of the Reichstag Building, you need to make an online appointment in advance (even before arriving in Berlin). It is usually booked a long time in advance, so if you are looking for a last minute appointment, your best bet are usually the evenings slots. You will have a tour guide that will explain the information and features of the building in approximately 20 minutes. Do not forget to bring an official photo identification, otherwise, you will not get access to the building. You can register here and double-check the info on the days/times that they are open and closed to the public. And in case you arrive hungry, there is a restaurant on the roof terrace.
Fun Fact: On the way to Reichstag, you should stop at a special spot, where you can put one foot in Berlin East and the other in Berlin West. What a great photo op!
The Victory Column of Berlin
It is Berlin’s first national monument, erected during the newly founded empire, to commemorate the Russian victory in the Danish-Prussian War! You can see it from far away, but if you want to take a closer photo, the best way to get there is by public transportation or by getting on a hop on/off bus as I did when I first arrived in Berlin.
Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most beautiful squares in Berlin and the site of an architectural ensemble. You can look around to see the famous Konzerthaus, the Deutscher Dom (German Church) and Französischer Dom (French Church); and in the center of the square stands a monumental statue of Germany’s renowned poet, Friedrich Schiller. I personally love the small but cozy Christmas Market that they have at Gendarmenmarkt every year during the holidays. The square looks so beautiful all lit up, and you can enjoy live music, glühwein (mulled wine) and shop among the local artisans and designers. Definitely a special time of year to visit Berlin!
Checkpoint Charlie or Checkpoint C
Checkpoint Charlie was a former crossing point between East and West Berlin during the cold war. Today, it is mostly a tourist attraction where people can come and take photos with actors dressed as guards.
The Broken Church
The Kaiser Wilheim Memorial Church, more famously known as The Broken Church, was built in 1890 and marks an end of an era of dictatorship. Nowadays, it is a place of remembrance of what happened during World War II. It’s called the Broken Church because in 1943, it was damaged in a bomb raid. You might be surprised what you will find when you go inside: the most beautiful mosaics! I recommend that you see it for yourself.
East Side Gallery
Another historic landmark is the famed East Side Gallery. It is a 1,316-meter long section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by many artists to showcase their art and represents an international memorial for freedom.
Other Places to Visit in Berlin
Neue Heimat (The Raw Complex area)
Neue Heimat is an old, industrial complex that has been turned into Berlin’s alternative area over the last 10 years. It is located in the neighborhood of Friedrichshain and there you will find lots of unique, interesting street art (great for photo ops). During the summer, enjoy their swimming pool, live concerts, events, flea markets and more. There are also skating halls all year-round. During the winter, you will find a Christmas market where locals go to enjoy their gluhwein and shop from Berlin’s artists. At night, the nightclubs and bars come alive. Make sure to visit during day and night, if you enjoy the nightlife. Love the super chill, laid-back vibe!
Monbijoupark, located in the Mitte Neighborhood, is a park in former East Berlin, at the Southern end of Oranienburger Strasse, between Oranienburg Strasse and the River Spree. Close to the Friedrichstadt Palast, Neue Synagogue and the Sophienkirche, it is one of my favorite places to go on a relaxing walk and just enjoy the sights (the bridge, the tv tower, etc.) with amazing opportunities for photos and selfies at every turn! You just can’t go wrong.
Note: A foot bridge connects the park with the Museuminsel – Museum Island. In case you would like to dedicate time to visit some museums and use your Berlin WelcomeCard 72 hour pass. I suggest that you pick at least one or two museums in advance, based on your interest. Although, you can spend more than one day visiting all of these museums, if you so choose.
On Museum Island, you will find the Berlin Cathedral. The cathedral was completed in 1905 and its great architecture is not to be missed. It really is so beautiful and, if you look to the sky, in the background you’ll find the TV tower. What a great spot to compare the old and the new. If you are not into museums as much, you can head across the river towards AlexanderPlatz. It’s there you can visit the famed TV tower; once there, definitely ride the elevator to their view deck point. You can take in some of the most breathtaking views of the city.
What to eat in Berlin – Traditional Foods to try in Berlin as a first-time visitor
Currywurst – Currywurst is a totally original Berliner street food dish. It is a sausage, which is first boiled then fried; then they add a sauce (which is mostly a mix of curry powder and ketchup). Many people add other secret ingredients (it varies) which is why you want to try it from different places. One of my favorite places is: Curry 36.
The invention of currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin, in 1949 and since then it’s become one of Germany’s capital signature and iconic dishes. There’s even a currywurst museum. Fun Fact: 800 million currywursts are eaten every year in Germany with 70 million in Berlin alone!
Döner Kebab – Döner Kebab is not originally from Berlin, since this is a Turkish dish, but guess what? You cannot walk long in Berlin without finding a Döner Kebab Shop. They are almost like Starbucks in New York, practically found on every block. The reason why is because Berlin has the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey (no surprise that they are the largest ethnic minority group as well). Döner Kebab is as traditional in Berlin as Currywurst.
Vietnamese food – Another large ethnic minority group in Berlin are the Vietnamese. In Berlin, you will find probably some of the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam. When I first arrived, I realized that Vietnamese food is the “go to” for Asian food. Totally different from places like my hometown, New York City, where our “go to’s” for Asian food are more commonly Chinese, Thai or Japanese. Fun Fact: There is even a Berlin Vietnamese Center and shopping mall called Dong Xuan Center in Lichtenberg East Berlin by the M8 tram. It is nothing like a usual shopping mall, but more like three giant halls of inexpensive goods, similar to markets in Vietnam. It is approximately 88,000 square meters of a large industrial terrain where hundreds of dealers offer a variety of Asian products (you can find all kind of Asian spices and ingredients, mini-supermarkets, clothing, luggage, household goods, hair/nail salons, barbers, beauty supplies and, of course, Vietnamese authentic food restaurants). Warning: Bring smaller bills and get ready to bargain!
Eisbein or pork knuckles – Another unique dish from Berlin is Eisbein. How is it cook and served? The pork meat is usually boiled or grilled, and comes serve with potatoes, peas, and sauerkraut. It reminded me of the medieval times when there were feasts or banquets. Delish!
Senfeier- This is a traditional homemade meal made by the Berliner’s grandmas. It is mustard eggs. Basically, these are hard-boiled eggs served with a creamy mustard sauce, accompanied by mashed spuds. It doesn’t sound too appetizing? You’d be surprised how much Berliners love this dish. While there are different interpretations of it, it’s popularity is the equal of peanut butter and jelly for Americans.
Photo Credit: Springlane.de
Note: There are so many other German dishes or international foods that you can try in Berlin, but these are the best examples of the local traditional food that Berliners tend to eat. Berlin is a very cosmopolitan and diverse place, so there is something for everyone.
Shopping in Berlin
Bikini Berlin is a new concept mall with boutiques, flagship stores, trendy clothing, concept stores and a modern décor. It is a very fashionable and trending place in the Kurfürstendamm area, in the neighborhood of Charlottenburg.
Kadewe, an abbreviation for Kaufhaus des Westens, is the second largest department store in Europe and the best place in Berlin to indulge your inner shopper. It has eight floors, and each encompasses a different focus of retail. For foodies, there are two floors totally dedicated to food. This department store goes beyond shopping since it is also part of history. It was originally Jewish owned, subsequently largely destroyed by raids. When later rebuilt, it stood as a symbol for West German’s economic prosperity during the post war period.
Full of stores and places to shop, there are different markets during the summer and, of course, a nice Christmas Market during the winter. A must-visit while in Berlin regardless of the time of year.
Where to sleep in Berlin? Best neighborhoods for your stay
Mitte – It is pretty centrally located and possibly one of the best places to stay, in order to be close to most of the popular sights. The first time I arrived to Berlin, I stayed around Mitte, very close to the largest Natural History Museum in Germany (which happens to be in Berlin) and I found that it was a great area because I arrived by train from Dresden and it was close to Berlin Hauptbahnhof Main Station. Staying there made it very easy and convenient to move around Berlin.
Prenzlauer Berg – Nice hip and trendy area. Very cool shops and cafés. There are lots of things to do during the day and in the evening. Note: Sundays are a must to go to Mauerpark (Wall Park) especially during the spring and summertime.
Friedrichshain – An area full of artists, with a cool ambiance. It has changed over the years due to gentrification so nowadays tends to be a little more urban hip. Overall, I love the atmosphere and it has great cafés. Note: Boxhagener Platz has a good fleamarkert on Sundays.
Bonus: One of my favorite rooftop bars
If you are visiting Berlin, check out one of my favorite rooftop bars, Monkey Bar, which sits on the 10th floor of the 25th hours hotel in the Kurfürstendamm area, in the neighborhood of Charlottenburg. It is next door to the Bikini Berlin Mall and it has been voted’s Europe’s bests hotel bar and, from their rooftop, you can check out the views of the city of Berlin.
Note: It is so popular that it is better to visit during the week or late afternoon (before the locals get out of work). Expect to find long lines many times, especially over the summer but well worth the wait.
You can try their coffees or, if you need something stronger after so much site-seeing, their fabulous cocktails. Note: All the coffee and cocktail recipes are exclusively made for the Monkey Bar, so you are in for a treat! Check it out for yourself! In addition, did I mention that the Monkey Bar has a DJ, live music events and an international selection of drinks? Enjoy!
I hope that all of these Berlin insider tips will help you to enjoy your first time visit to Berlin, Germany. Happy travels!
Wanna know more tips about Berlin? Stay tuned for my guide to the best places to eat in Berlin.