Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 Hours in Berlin? Well, I hope you like museums because we’re going to start with a whole island of them. Then we’re going to explore Berlin by sea and by air. Finally, we’ll have a cozy dinner of pig knuckle. If that doesn’t appeal to you, I’m not sure you’re ever going to like Germany!
24 Hours in Berlin
Where to Stay?
Berlin is the kind of city that has a hotel at every price range. I was on a strict budget when I spent 24 hours in Berlin, so I stayed at a hostel called Excellent Apartments Kreuzberg. It was conveniently located next to the subway station, and I got a private room to myself. Plus I loved staying in the funky Kreuzberg neighborhood. It reminded me of what the East Village back in New York City used to be like.
24 Hours in Berlin
What to Pack?
The weather in Berlin is unpredictable, and it definitely rained several times when I was there. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Berlin.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to a museum without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Berlin
Morning: Pergamon Museum
The Pergamon Museum is the most visited art museum in Germany. It is mainly famous for its giant Turkish Pergamon Altar, as well as the stunning blue Babylonian Ishtar Gate and the ancient Turkish/Roman Market Gate of Miletus. These are all Can’t-miss sights if you like things that are Middle Eastern and Very Large. If MEVL things aren’t enough for you, the museum also has impressive collections of antiquities and Islamic art.
Be warned that the Pergamon Museum is only partially available for viewing until the year 2019 because it is in the process of being prettified. For the moment, you cannot see the legendary Pergamon Altar at all. I wish someone had told me this sooner because I spent a good hour wandering around the museum trying to find this massively beauteous altar before giving up in shame.
I assumed that my terrible sense of direction was to blame. Imagine my pleasure when I later learned that the altar is unavailable for viewing because of renovations! I’m so glad it’s not just that I’m unable to locate a giant stone monument without a map!
Fear not, for though many parts of the Pergamon Museum are closed, there are still plenty of golden oldies for you to enjoy. Here are some of my favorites.
approximately top 5: the pergamon museum
1) The Gate of Miletus
It is big, old, and Roman, which I suspect is the opening line to a lot of Italian mother-in-law jokes! You can wander around here and try to figure out how it was that the ancient Romans knew so much about architecture and so little about pants.
2) Lionses! ROAR!
Then we have these two lions who either want to protect you from angry gods or eat you themselves. It’s hard to tell with ancient lions.
3) Bow to the gate of Ishtar, mortal!!!
The staggeringly huge and shockingly blue Ishtar Gate was the highlight of the museum for me. It was built around 575 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II because he wanted to honor the Babylonian goddess Ishtar/show off his wealth and power/put a few more lions into this world.
The Ishtar gate used to be considered one of the Seven Wonders in the World, which is not too shabby when you consider how many wonders are in Berlin alone. In fact, the gate was too big for me to squeeze into one picture, but you can get an idea of its size here. Look how small that perfectly normal-sized person at the bottom looks!
Naturally, I spent a lot of time parading around under this gate, imagining that I was Ishtar and whispering “Perish, foolish mortal” at my fellow museum-goers while picturing myself zapping them to death with lightning. When most women say they want to be treated like a goddess, they mean they want to be fed grapes by a beautiful, shirtless man. But I go in a little more for all-powerful destruction and mayhem.
4) The Islamic Art Collection
The highlight here is the Aleppo room, which is a room built by a Christian Syrian merchant in Aleppo, who was obviously raking in the Benjamins to be able to afford a sweet pad like this.
Fun Fact! Islamic art is noteworthy for its geometric and floral patterns. Just wander around and see how many you can find. There’s even some nice patterns on this door including calligraphy, which is another element often present in Islamic art.
24 Hour Tip
I suggest buying a Museumsinsel (Museum Island) regular ticket online here. Be sure to buy your ticket at least a day ahead of time. This way you can save money and still see both the Pergamon and Neues Museum in one day. Also, you can avoid hideous lines for buying same-day tickets outside.
24 Hours in Berlin
Afternoon: Neues Museum
The Neues Museum is another museum on Museum Island. It’s not as popular as the Pergamon Museum, but then what is? The Pergamon is the Regina George of German museums. The Neues Museum houses a Prehistory collection and some other ancient artifacts, but almost everyone comes here hoping to see the Egyptian goods.
Many parts of the Neues Museum were destroyed during WWII bombings and had to be rebuilt. It is sad, but one thing that it’s very hard to do is feel sorry for Germany for getting bombed during World War II.
Ordinarily, I do not recommend seeing two museums in one day. However, here I make an exception because you can see the Pergamon Museum and the Neues Museum for one combined lowish price, their collections are similar enough that it almost feels like you’re visiting one large museum, and I find collections of ancient artifacts are a little easier on the brain than fine art museums.
24 Hour Tip
I recommend stopping for lunch at the Cafe Allegretto inside the Neues Museum. It’s a little expensive, but it’s a nice place to stop for a soup or sandwich and their apple strudel with cream is pretty tasty. Personally, I would just go for Soup and Strudel and be happy until dinner.
When you are done with lunch, you’ll be ready for…
Approximately top 5: busts in the neues museum
The most famous bust in the entire collection is the gloriously elegant painted bust of Nefertiti. Sadly, her room was so crowded that it was impossible for me to get a good photo of her without committing a most heinous murder. So I decided instead to take you on a hunt of some other fabulous busts in the museum.
2) A BEVY OF LOVELY AND ELEGANT LADIES
Why is there such an amazing collection of sculptures of African women in Germany of all places? I’m going to guess that colonialism has something to do with it. That’s generally a safe bet when it comes to museums.
3) LEOPOLD VON LEDEBUR (EEEEEEE!!!!!!)
Here we have a bust of German silent film star Leopold von Ledebur. I could find no reasonable explanation for his presence in the museum. Maybe the museum’s founder was just a really big Ledebur fan? But then, aren’t we all?
4) THE SCARIEST BUST IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD
There’s this guy, who I’m pretty sure is the ancient equivalent of an evil clown.
5) THE INCREDIBLE HULK, MINUS ONE NOSE
This fine fellow was labeled only as the “Berlin Green Head”. I hope that’s not the name his parents gave him, or I have to feel really sorry for this guy. It must be hard to go through life with a ridiculous name and no nose. Plus, I hear it’s not easy being green.
Between lunch and going on a hunt for all the coolest busts in the Neues Museum, that should take you until the late afternoon. Now it’s time to get on the water!
24 Hours in Berlin
Late Afternoon: Boat Tour of the Spree
I would venture a guess that, unless you are German, you were unaware that the river in Berlin is called the Spree. Until my trip to Berlin, I would not have been able to name the major river in Berlin for one million Deutschmarks. I wonder why the Thames and the Seine have become so famous and yet the Spree does not loom so large in the global imagination.
Anyway, there’s no time like the present to get to know the Spree’s charms. All you have to do is leave Museum Island and walk to the river. In the summer, there will be many operators offering tours of the River Spree that last about an hour. I got one ticket and one English language audio guide for 12 Euros.
You will see many lovely sights on the boat tour, from the charming Tiergarten Park…
to the Reichstag building, where the German Parliament (the Bundestag) meets.
As you will also learn on the boat tour, the Reichstag building is the building shown in this picture, taken by the Soviets during their victory in the Battle of Berlin at the end of World War II.
Raising a Flag Over the Reichstag, Fair Use
As the tour continues, you will see some older structures, such as the Weidendammer Bridge with its iron Imperial Eagle smack on top. Admit it, this is exactly what you picture when I say “German bridge”, isn’t it?
You will also see some newer structures, like the Ultra Modern Berlin Train Station, aka the Hauptbahnhof. I feel like this looks like the spot for some giant modern art installation/late night secret rave spot instead of a train station. I imagine everyone inside looking just like Dieter from Saturday Night Live.
24 HOUR TREASURE
For me, the most memorable sight were these white crosses left up in memorial for the people killed at the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. It’s easy to forget all the sadness in Berlin’s history when you are strolling through the cosmopolitan, wealthy place that Berlin has become.
But then every once in a while something like these crosses appears and you are suddenly haunted by the memories of Berlin’s tragic past.
I’m sorry for making you feel sad when you were just trying to enjoy a harmless blog post. Let me make it up to you. It’s time to shake off the ghosts of history and grab some grub. Jawohl, Hamburgermeister!
24 Hours in Berlin
Dinner: Zur Letzen Instantz
Zur Letzen Instanz is the oldest restaurant in Berlin, dating to 1621. I had no idea that restaurants existed that long ago! Did they have amuse bouches and cocktails back then too? Actually come to think of it, amuse bouche doesn’t sound very German at all, does it? According to the restaurant’s website, many famous people from Napoleon to Charlie Chaplin to a whole bunch of Germans I’ve never heard of have dined here. Good enough for me!
24 HOUR TIP
You must have a reservation to dine here. If you don’t, you will absolutely be turned away. I was here on a Tuesday evening, and it was still jam packed. I kind of felt like the waiter was rolling his eyes at all the folks who thought they could just walk in off the street. Don’t let this happen to you.
24 HOUR TREASURE
You’re not coming here for molecular gastronomy; you’re coming here for hearty German fare. I suggest nomming the delectably fatty pork knuckle with sides of sweet and sour red cabbage and warm and fluffy potato dumplings. It’s not beautiful to look at, but it tastes as German as Richard Wagner sitting on top of the Brandenburg Gate reading some Goethe.
An English language menu is available if you want more options to look at. I don’t suggest getting an appetizer because your main course is going to be more food than you can eat. I do suggest pairing your meal with a nice German beer. Any other choice would be vaguely insulting. And that’s no way to end your 24 hours in Berlin.
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Berlin!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Berlin right now? Then allow me to help you with some suggestions for further reading. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to Berlin for further suggestions for things to do. The chapters are organized according to neighborhood, which makes the book easy to use.
My favorite book set in Berlin is probably three books: the Berlin Noir trilogy by Philip Kerr. If you like mysteries, you’ll love this series about a detective in Berlin…in the 1930s. This historical fiction will teach you about Berlin’s sad history while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
And if you think life is a cabaret, old chum, read Christopher Isherwood’s account of being a young, gay expat in Berlin between the two world wars, The Berlin Stories. This touching and funny memoir was the basis for the famous musical Cabaret.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Berlin. Don’t miss my other 24 Hours in Berlin Itinerary with the Berlin Wall.