Berlin is the capital of Germany, and one of the most iconic cities in Europe. Its storied past with WWII and the Berlin Wall make it a pilgrimage destination for history buffs, while the punk rock scene that came out of East Berlin in the 1980s makes it an entertainment hub. It’s possible to spend the day touring the city and then party all night, making friends and experiencing German culture along the way. Here’s how you can make the most out of your time in this fascinating city.

Berlin Cathedral
Inside Berlin Cathedral on Museum Island.

Arrive in Berlin

Two airports serve Berlin: Schönefeld Airport (SXF) and Tegel Airport. Schönefeld is located in southeast Berlin, and its five terminals were used by 11.6 million people in 2016. It’s the primary hub for low-cost airlines. Tegel ‘Otto Lilienthal’ Airport (TXL) is located 8 miles from the city center and served more than 21 million passengers in 2016. This means that you’re likely to use either of these airports when flying in and out of Berlin.

A third airport, Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt (BER) was projected to open in 2017, but officials reported that it will be delayed for another year. The opening of this airport has been pushed back for more than five years, and its budget has ballooned from 2.83 billion euros to more than 5 billion euros. The delay of the opening of this airport means that the others — Schönefeld and Tegel — must continue handling all of Berlin’s air traffic. The plan is for this new airport to become a central hub for Berlin flights, thereby reducing and eventually eliminating the need for the other two.

While getting to the right Berlin airport is the challenging part, getting into the city center is fairly easy. The S-Bahn (city train) lines S9 and S45 run from Schönefeld Airport to the city center, and it takes less than an hour. For Tegel Airport, the TXL Express Bus will take you to Alexanderplatz in 45 minutes, and from there, you can pick up the S-Bahn to multiple destinations around town.

Start Your Day With a Berliner

American President John F. Kennedy is known for his famous quote “Ich bin ein Berliner,” in which he supposedly told his audience “I am a jelly doughnut.” While many linguists have debated whether this phrase is grammatically correct (some say the ein was what separated man from doughnut), the story adds to the folklore of Berlin. Today, you can’t visit the city without at least trying one of these signature doughnuts.

Traditional Berliner Pfannkuchen are doughnut-like pastries, without a hole, that are usually filled with a type of jam or jelly. They can either be glazed or sprinkled with sugar, adding an extra layer of confectionary delight to this treat. You can eat it as a breakfast food with a coffee or grab it as an afternoon snack when you need a break. If you’re not a fan of jelly doughnuts, you can find plenty of other baked treats around the city.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at night.

Step Back In Time to WWII

Berlin suffered greatly during WWII, and there is evidence of the suffering and war damage throughout the city. Visitors can start by visiting the book burning memorial at Bebelplatz. You might not realize what you’re looking at until you’re walking over it. The memorial, created by Israeli artist Micha Ullman and called “Library,” is built underground and contains rows of empty bookshelves that could fit 20,000 books. These empty shelves symbolize the works lost when, in 1933, the Nazis burned 20,000 pieces of literature that were deemed a threat to their ideology.

Additional WWII memorials of note include Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, one of Berlin’s most iconic buildings. The church was built in 1895 and partially destroyed in an air raid in 1943. While some city developers considered building a glass church around the ruins, it was left as it is, to create a “memorial to the futility of war,” and promote to peace for centuries to come. Visitors can still see parts of the crumbling cathedral and areas that were darkened by fire.

Visitors with a strong interest in WWII might be interested in finding the Führerbunker, or the underground rooms where Hitler spent his last few hours before taking his life. The bunker has been paved over, and a plaque can be found in a parking lot near some apartment buildings. (This was strategically done to prevent neo-Nazis from gathering there.) You can also see a recreation of the Führerbunker in the Berlin Story Museum, in an Exhibit that opened last year.

Learn About the Separation of East and West Germany

In 1945, after the war, Berlin was divided into four zones governed by Russia, America, France, and Britain. The Western zones were merged in 1947 as tensions started to rise between the United States and Russia. This created the democratic West Germany and the communist East Germany. Today, visitors to this city will typically travel between both sides, enjoying the modernized West Berlin and the historic East Berlin. Along the division is the famous Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, which was one of the main gates people used to pass from one side of Germany to the other.

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

You can either visit these sites on your own, or sign up for a walking tour with a guide who can provide context and history about these events. They will guide you through the creation of the Berlin wall, share stories about people who tried to cross from the East, and explain what it was like after the wall fell in 1989.

While you’re visiting the Berlin wall, take some time to visit the Brandenburg Gate. In 1989, US President Ronald Reagan gave his famous speech about the unity of Germany and the importance of freedom that ended with “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” While the Brandenburg gate was actually constructed in 1791 as a boulevard marker, its role in opening up the East has made it an iconic symbol of unity and tolerance. More than a million people gather there for New Year’s Eve every year, and 130,000 protesters promoting LGBT tolerance congregated there after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016.

Enjoy a Traditional German Meal Along the Spree

The Spree River runs through the center of Berlin and creates a wonderful backdrop for an enjoyable lunch. You can either board a river cruise and listen to history narrated while you eat, or tuck into a local cafe or beer garden and enjoy some local German fare.

If you’re eating on the go, grab a traditional German pretzel (known locally as a breze or brezel) which can be found in carts across the city. However, if you’re looking to rest your feet for a few hours, consider eating at KaDeWe, which boasts some of the best Wiener Schnitzel in Berlin. Also, if you ask any local, they should be able to point you to the restaurants that they think are the best in the area.

Additionally, lunch is a great time to enjoy Berlin’s bratwurst dishes, which vary in size, flavor, and expense wherever you go. One of the most recommended options is currywurst, which is pork sausage with ketchup, curry powder, and ketchup — often served with pommes frites, or fries. You can even visit the Deutsches Currywurst Museum to learn about and sample this favorite local food.

Visit the TV Tower and Museum Island

After lunch, it’s time to explore modern Berlin. The Fernsehturm de Berlín (known in English as the TV Tower) was built in the 1960s by the German Democratic Republic — on the east side — to boast about the power and efficiency of socialism. The goal was to broadcast GDR television and bring the message of socialism into the homes of East Berliners. Today, visitors who go to the TV Tower can get a 360-degree look at Berlin from 200 meters high. Not only is the TV Tower a great place to visit, but, as a landmark, it can help you get your bearings in the city if you ever get lost.

After you visit the TV Tower, spend the afternoon on Museum Island, located on the Spree River. Museum Island has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and is now home to five significant museums in Germany. Ever since the Altes Museum opened in 1830 to make art accessible to the common man, this area has been a hub for history, culture, and art. Along with the Altes Museum and Nationalgalerie, Museum Island includes the Pergamon Museum with Islamic art, The Bode Museum with sculptures and Byzantine Art, and The Neues Museum known for its Egyptian pieces.

It’s possible to spend hours at just one of these museums, not to mention all five, so you may want to spend some time walking around Museum Island and taking in the area before choosing one or two to visit. They’re typically open late into the evening, so you can thoroughly enjoy them without feeling rushed.

Reichstag dome
Inside the Reichstag dome.

Consider an Afternoon Excursion Outside the City

As an alternative to visiting Museum Island, consider taking an afternoon excursion outside of the city. Some visitors feel compelled to visit Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps built by the Third Reich. More than 200,000 people were kept at the camp between 1936 and 1945, forced to do backbreaking labor or killed on the spot during mass exterminations.

Today, the camp serves as a memorial for the victims who died there and as an educational tool in the fight against mass genocide. While a visit to this memorial is historically important, it is not for the faint of heart and may be too emotionally overwhelming for some visitors.

Another afternoon excursion to consider is Leipzig, a major hub of the Holy Roman Empire. Major sites within Leipzig include the old stock exchange, a prominent opera house, an especially modern zoo, the Bavarian railway station, and The Gohlis Palace (Gohliser Schlösschen). Leipzig is a wonderful alternative to Berlin if you want to explore a hip and booming urban center.

Leipzig
Leipzig, a major hub of the Holy Roman Empire.

Finally, Potsdam is one of the most popular afternoon excursions out of Berlin. In the late 1910s, Potsdam was the residence of the German Kaiser and great Prussian kings. This afternoon venture includes such memorable locations as Sanssouci Palace, the summer residence of Frederick the Great. Visitors can climb the stairs that are surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens, pay their respects at Frederick II’s tomb, and get photographs of the fountains that the king himself admired. Many guests have said this is one of the most breathtaking buildings in the area.

Join Locals and Enjoy the Berlin Nightlife

After a busy day touring the city, stop by one of Berlin’s beer gardens and enjoy a pint of German culture. A favorite brewery in the area is Brauerei Eschenbräu, which opened in the mid-2000s. The cellar has traditional German-style beers, but guests can also enjoy darker stouts and lighter fruit beer.

If you’re looking for something more active than a beer garden for your evening activities, stop by Berghain and Panorama Bar. Berghain is a techno club that is popular with locals and visitors alike. This club is actually housed within a former power station, and guests can head up to the Panorama Bar which has a smaller and more intimate dance floor. The party doesn’t stop in this club, which is typically open from Friday night through Monday morning.

If live music is more your style, spend an evening at SO36, named for its postal code and neighborhood. This music venue was born from West Berlin’s punk anarchist scene. The inside wears its history like a badge, which means you can still find upcoming punk sounds and appreciate the sweat and grime-covered walls. They also host LGBT-nights and Turkish nights, embracing all alternative lifestyles.

Are you ready to see where history meets culture in Germany? Plan and book the European trip of a lifetime at GoDoTrip to see all the amazing things Berlin has to offer. One day here, and you know that you’ll be back.