You could spend a year in Berlin and never see it all. I didn’t. And while I’m not going to write a massive guide to Berlin (it’d take like 393829 million years), I can at least help you make the most of your time in the city.
(Side note: it legit pains me to write this. I started last night and got so sad about missing Berlin that I had to stop writing. Life is so hard. I do this for you.)
Understand that Berlin is absolutely massive
Berlin has 3.5 million people spread across a massive landmass — it’s 891 square kilometres, and is 9 times the size of Paris. So you’re gonna have to get used to public transit, and quick.
That being said, walking is quite lovely. Everything is flat and sidewalks are super wide. But you probably don’t want to walk 891 square kilometres, so.
But think about the size when you’re planning on things to see and do. You’ll want to break it up, believe me.
This is how I’d do it.
Day 1: Hit up all the touristy hotspots, like Brandenburg Gate, Bebelplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, etc.
You can do this within Mitte. I recommend hopping on a Sandeman’s free walking tour — I’ve done it a handful of times and it’s been incredible each time. I cry every time I’m in Bebelplatz hearing about the Nazi book burning. Since I keep coming back here to cry it’s clear that I’m sadistic.
If the museums at Museum Island are your thing, maybe pick one or two and devote an afternoon to those. The DDR Museum is about as exciting as museums get, and super interactive. There’s a whole wall devoted to naked sunbathing.
Day 2: Berlin Wall, and exploring Kreuzberg.
The East Side Gallery (the best preserved piece of the Berlin Wall) runs along the border between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. It’s about a kilometre stroll along the river. Once you’re done, you’re not far off from great restaurants, bars, and other hang-out areas. YAAM, an outdoor African art museum/pot party/beach bar is just around the corner, and it’s fun as heck.
Otherwise, lounge around the canals. All the cool kids do it.
Day 3: Soak up the experience.
The best thing about Berlin is its vibe. It’s a free-for-all; a circus of debauchery and WTF moments. Some of my happiest days were just chilling out at the park with some friends, lounging in the grass and drinking wine from plastic cups, or drinking cheap bottles of beer. Volkspark Friedrichshain and Treptower were my favourites. Treptower has a whole row of kiosks selling food and such. There’s bound to be someone frying up sausage on a portable grill. Go make friends. Offer booze.
Realize there’s no REAL centre
Mitte is considered the centre of town (it means “middle”), but it’s not like the centre of most major European cities where you’ll find most of the attractions. The area around Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag is about as touristy as it gets.
It’s a great place to set up for a few days if you want easy access to trains to all neighbourhoods (although really, getting the train from anywhere is ultra efficient). The Generator Hostel and Circus operate out of here, and they’re both awesome. Circus is super sociable. I stayed there with a friend once and we managed to make a whole posse of friends with the hostel’s social app.
A lot of people think Mitte is overrated, but I actually loved it there. Lots of great restaurants and bars, and you can’t go wrong with Museum Island. There are a couple of great hang out spots along the river too, including Strandbar (sometimes they do outdoor tango sessions).
It’s also cheaper the further you move away from Mitte, so you’ll likely find more affordable accommodations in Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.
Find a neighbourhood that suits you best
Each neighbourhood in Berlin is entirely different.
If you’re going there for the grittier, punk-ish party scene though, Mitte probably isn’t your best bet. Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are probably more your style.
Prenzlauer Berg, where I lived, remains my favourite part of town. There’s nothing better than a cold beer at on a sunny day at Prater Garten. It’s the oldest beer garden in Berlin, and a few pints of house-made beer accompanied with delicious sausage won’t kill your budget. Mauerpark is nearby, and it’s THE place to be on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t care how “overdone” that place is — it’s ridiculously fun to rifle through boxes of DDR-era books or listen to some outdoor karaoke, or join a hippie drum circle with clouds of pot smoke circling your head.
(Although Sundays are awesome all over the city, especially at Thai Park in Wilmersdorf. Delicious food! From little Thai families doling out dishes from their portable stoves on the grass. Probably highly illegal. But whatever.)
Plan for the weekend
So yeah, on that note…although things never go quiet in Berlin, the weekends are always the most fun. You’re bound to find a place that’s on fire every night of the week, but the weekends never disappoint. Plus most of the markets take place from Friday to Sunday — there’s a good deal more than the ones I mentioned. The flea market at Boxhagener Platz (Friedrichshain) also comes highly recommended.
Get a weekly transit pass
BVG is the public transit system, and a weekly ticket for the AB zone only costs 30 EUR. The AB zone is where you’ll likely be spending most of your time — if you’re going beyond the city proper, an ABC is necessary. That includes the airport.
You can also download BVG’s mobile app to avoid that whole awkward I-don’t-know-how-to-buy-tickets thing.
If you have questions, just leave a comment! I’ll go cry now.