Known for its nightlife, diverse architecture, and booming cultural arts scene, Germany’s capital is the second largest city in Europe. Berlin is served by two airports: Berlin-Schönefeld and Berlin-Tegel. Fortunately, both airports are in close proximity to the city centre, and both have excellent transport options, meaning that if you’ve got a layover of four hours or more sightseeing is easy.
Located just outside the city boundary, Berlin-Schönefeld was built to serve ex-East Berlin. The smaller of Berlin’s two airports, Schönefeld is slated to be closed as soon as the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport begins operation. Unfortunately, this means that airport services are old fashioned and unlikely to be upgraded. Schönefeld tends to be crowded at the best of times, and worse during summer months, meaning that long layovers can get uncomfortable. You will find free WiFi, as well as a few (decently priced) food and drink options. Seating space is at a premium, however, so be prepared to claim a corner of floor! For more information on the airport itself, check out our Berlin-Schönefeld Airport Guide.
Built during the Berlin Airlift in just 90 days, Berlin-Tegel originally served ex-West Berlin. As is the case with Schönefeld, Tegel is set for closure once the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport opens its doors. In the meantime, Tegel is processing far more passengers than it was designed for, meaning this is one crowded airport. On the one hand, this means walks between terminals are short. On the other, space is always at a premium, and services tend to be overwhelmed. You’ll find free WiFi, and a selection of restaurants and cafes, though once past security the number of service options dwindles. Layovers at Tegel might not be the best airport experience, but the good news is that Tegel is a mere 5 miles from Berlin itself, making sightseeing fast and simple. For more information on the airport itself, check out our Berlin-Tegel Airport Guide.
A few essential sights:
Berlin Landmarks Tour (Self Guided)
Though Berlin is a large city, and so walking is not always feasible, three of the main Berlin landmarks are all within easy walking distance of each other. Starting from Alexanderplatz, a large public square filled with shopping and eating options and home to the iconic TV Tower, a straight and pleasant 25 minute walk will take you to the famed Brandenburg Gate. Simply walk towards the river from Alexanderplatz, cross the bridge next to the cathedral, and keep heading straight down Unter den Linden street. Once you’ve taken all the pictures you can of the gate, duck through it, and head north east through the park to the Reichstag building (a further 8 minute walk). Tours are possible of the Reichstag (the seat of the German parliament), and are free, but be warned that you need to book a slot several days in advance in order to undergo security screening.
Time Required: Alexanderplatz is only 30 to 40 minutes from Tegel airport, and around 40 minutes from Schönefeld. The actual walk itself takes about 40 minutes, but you may want to spend extra time taking pictures and potentially touring the Reichstag. Since you’ll pass Museum Island on your way to the Brandenburg Gate you may want to consider adding a museum to your list if you have plenty of extra time.
How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on both public and private transport options to Alexanderplatz from Tegel airport. Or if you’re coming from Schönefeld take a look at this Google Map for your various transport options.
Museum Island (Museumsinsel)
Berlin is rightly famed for its museums and, unlike in many other cities, here all the major museums are in one place: Museum Island. Here you’ll find The Pergamon Museum (Babylonian, Roman and Islamic Art, including the famous Ishtar Gate), The Bode Museum (sculpture and coins), The Neues Museum (pre-history, early history and classic antiquity, including the renowned bust of Nefertiti), The Alte Nationalgalerie (paintings from neoclassical to early modern), and The Altes Museum (arts and sculpture from classical antiquity). Plus, the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German history) is just across the river and the fantastic DDR Museum (dedicated to life in East Germany) is on the river bank. Throw in a beautiful large park with a fountain overlooked by Berlin Cathedral, and it’s easy to spend a day or more on Museum Island. Prices vary by museum, but if you’re thinking about visiting more than one a Berlin Museum Pass or Berlin Welcome Card will offer the best deal (both are available at the airport from the Berlin information desk).
Time Required: Travel time from the airport will be around 30-40 minutes (Tegel), or around 40 minutes (Schönefeld). Other than that, how long you spend here depends on what you’d like to visit. Reserve at least an hour for each attraction on your list.
East Side Gallery
Between 1961 and 1989 Berlin was two cities, East and West Berlin, divided by the infamous Berlin Wall. Unfortunately, not much of the original wall is still standing. However, at the East Side Gallery you can find the last original section of the wall. In 1990, just after the fall of the wall, artists from all over the globe came together to paint 101 murals on this preserved section of the Berlin Wall. It’s here that you’ll find Dmitri Vrubel’s iconic painting of Hönecker and Brezhnev’s kiss. The gallery was restored in 2009, but the original artwork still remains. The East Side Gallery is free, but it is entirely outside so isn’t a great stop if the weather is bad.
Time Required: From Tegel the trip to the East Side Gallery takes around 40 minutes, and from Schönefeld a slightly shorter 30 minutes. You’ll need at least 45 minutes to see the entire section of the wall, more if you want to get good photos during high tourist season when thousands of visitors descend on the gallery.
How to Get There: For information on how to get to the East Side Gallery from Tegel, check out this Google Map. If you’re coming from Schönefeld, take a look at this Google Map for information on your public and private transport options.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
It’s difficult to visit Berlin without remembering the city’s turbulent history. Designed in 1993 and finally opened in 2005 Peter Eisenmann’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas) takes up an entire city block in Berlin, just west of the Brandenburg Gate. Made up of 2711 stone blocks of varying heights and sizes, there is no one single perspective to the memorial. Instead, you must walk around and through it, experiencing the shadows and light, the acoustics and silence, and the feeling of immense isolation. The memorial is a sombre and chilling reminder of the darkest era of German and Jewish history.
Time Required: The memorial is around 30 to 40 minutes from Tegel, and about 45 minutes from Schönefeld. You’ll need at least half an hour to fully experience the site, but many will find themselves spending longer here.
Berlin Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour
If you’re short on time and want to see as much of Berlin as possible, then the Hop-on, Hop-off bus tour is the perfect solution. The open topped red double decker buses run every 12 minutes and stop at 20 different attractions around the city. From Checkpoint Charlie to the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial to the Reichstag, you’ll get a taste of all the sights that Berlin has to offer. An on board audio guide system will tell you all you need to know about the buildings and sights that you’re passing in the language of your choice. Tickets cost from 22 Euros, though if you’re looking at visiting museums or attractions like the Berlin Dungeon or Madame Tussaud’s you can get discounts by combining your tickets. Buses run from 9.30 in the morning, with the last bus leaving the terminal at 15.00.
Time Required: The complete route will take around 2 hours, depending on traffic (and traffic conditions inside the city are notoriously bad, so it’s best to reserve at least an extra 30 minutes for delays). You can get on and off the bus as many times as you like in a day. Note this time does not include travel time from the airport.
How to Get There: You are free to join the bus at any of its stops, but from the airport it’s easiest to get on the tour at Alexanderplatz. You can find transport options and times to Alexanderplatz from Tegel on this Google Map, or if you’re coming from Schönefeld check out the Google Map here. You’ll find the bus stop clearly marked on the main road that runs alongside Alexanderplatz station.
There are two options to get you from either of Berlin’s airports to the city centre (known as Mitte).
Taxi – Registered taxis leave from stands outside all terminals of both airports, simply follow the signs from the arrival hall. All German taxis are metered, and prices are set by law.
Public Transit – Both airports are fully integrated into the Berlin public transport system, offering plenty of connections. From Tegel your best option is going to be the TXL JetExpress bus which will take you directly to Alexanderplatz. From Schönefeld the most direct route is to take the train from the airport’s station. The RE7 and the RE14 will both take you directly to Alexanderplatz. Tickets can be bought at the airport or at vending machines close to bus/train stations.
Before You Go: Layover Tips
Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.
- Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
- When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
- What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
- What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Check out our Berlin-Tegel Airport Guide or our Berlin-Schönefeld Airport Guide for information about luggage storage.
Other Useful Resources
Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly: