One Day in Berlin

If you only have one day in Berlin, start the morning at the city's most iconic symbol, the Reichstag. March through the Brandenburg Gate, and stroll down the tree-lined boulevard Unter den Linden while marveling at its Prussian glory.

Head south to visit the Topographie des Terrors, which marks where the Gestapo headquarters used to be, and experience the moving silence in the maze of the Holocaust memorial, the Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas. Stop by Potsdamer Platz, which embodies the city's renaissance: Once a no-go zone between East Berlin and West Berlin, the square now teems with glittering towers of optimism. Hop on the double-decker public bus 200, which travels down Unter den Linden to the colossal Berliner Dom cathedral. You can then devote the entire afternoon to the stupendous collections of the Museumsinsel. The beautifully restored Neues Museum and the majestic Pergamonmuseum are standouts, as is the excellently curated Deutches Historisches Museum—its delightful Café im Zeughaus is a perfect place for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Later, you can wander Scheunenviertel for window-shopping and dinner, perhaps at one of the neighborhood's German restaurants like Altes Europa, Hackescher Hof, or Weinbar Rutz. Finish the evening at the unpretentious Clärchens Ballhaus, a century-old dance hall that attracts everyone from cool twentysomethings to dressed-up senior citizens.

Three Days in Berlin

Follow the one-day itinerary, then spend the second day exploring the young side of Berlin, in Kreuzberg. It's a good time to rent a bicycle. Browse the boutiques and secondhand clothing shops and have lunch at Marktkhalle IX, home to all bevy of delicious local vendors, then head south to Tempelhofer Park, the historic airfield that's been turned into a popular park. These days you can share the runways, which the American bombers used during the Berlin Airlift, with windsurfers and skateboarders.

Exit the park to Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood that has become one of the latest up-and-coming areas. For lunch, there are many Middle Eastern eateries as well as the popular Italian restaurant Lavanderia Vecchia.

Continue east and cross the Spree over the redbrick Oberbaum Bridge, which served as a border crossing between East and West Berlin. On the other side of the river is Friedrichshain and the famous East Side Gallery, where international artists covered the remnant of the Berlin Wall with colorful murals. Also in Friedrichshain, you can see the magnitude of socialist urban planning along Karl-Marx-Allee, a wide boulevard lined with the so-called workers' paradise apartments. Afterward, sample the dining and nightlife options along youthful Simon Dach and Boxhagener streets.

Go west on Day 3 and spend the day in Charlottenburg. In the morning, head to Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest palace in Berlin, with rococo flourishes and an impeccably manicured garden. Take Bus 109 to the Käthe Kollwitz Museum on Fasanenstrasse, featuring works by Berlin's best known sculptor. Next door, the café in the Literaturhaus Berlin, set in a 19th-century villa, is a wonderful place for a leisurely lunch.

Visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a reminder of the devastations of WWII. Scour antiques on Bleibtreustrasse, or pop into big-name shops on Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin. The top floor of the Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe to the locals) department store is popular for its selection of gourmet food.

Take Bus 29 and get off on Potsdamer Strasse. Berlin's galleries are notorious for playing musical chairs, and this unassuming street has emerged in the past five years as the epicenter of the city's contemporary art scene. If you're short on time, however, beeline to the established museum of Gemäldegalerie, West Berlin's collection of classical European paintings including Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Round off the evening with a classical concert at the world-famous Philharmonie nearby.

Five Days in Berlin

With five days in Berlin you'll have time to get out of the city and head to Potsdam on the fourth day. The former residence of the Prussian kings, Potsdam is a quick regional train or S-bahn ride away. Start the day at Sanssouci Palace, the Teutonic answer to Versailles. The summer home of Frederick the Great, this UNESCO World Heritage site is crisscrossed with gorgeously landscaped trails. You can try to plan your rambles with the free map from the tourist office, but you'll inevitably get lost—and that's the beauty of it. Put on your most comfortable shoes and lose yourself in the Prussian splendor.

On your final day, check out the up-and-coming district of Wedding, a multicultural working-class neighborhood once squeezed on two sides by the Berlin Wall. Walk around and then join a guided tour of the Berlin Unterwelten, which includes an underground WWII bunker filled with artifacts from the war.

Afterward, hop on the S-bahn and head to Schönhauser Allee to experience Prenzlauer Berg, arguably the hottest neighborhood in Berlin. Have lunch in the neighborhood, perhaps at Fleischerei, or saunter to Kastanienallee, dubbed Casting Alley for its fashion-conscious denizens who strut up and down the street: perfect for people-watching. On Sundays, a flea market pops up along the remnants of the Berlin Wall at the Mauerpark. Later, head to Prater, Berlin's oldest beer garden, for a pint or two.