When it comes to city breaks, Berlin’s got a bit of something for everyone. There’s the fascinating history, both the recent stories of the Berlin Wall but also the wartime history and the museums with their artifacts dating back thousands of years. Then there’s the modern vibrant, multicultural culture of street art and music that mixes in influences from around the world. And there’s also the great nightlife, whether you’re looking for a lazy afternoon in a biergarten or a clubbing marathon to last past dawn. It’s also one of Europe’s cheaper capital cities, but prices can still start to add up after a few days. So here are my top tips for making the most of your trip to Berlin without blowing the budget.
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Things to see and do
Many of Berlin’s most famous sights are free to visit, like the Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery – an open-air art gallery along a section of the old Berlin Wall. You can also get free entry to the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse. For a good introduction to the city, there are a few different companies offering free walking tours, where you just tip your guide. For general city tours, Sandeman’s New Europe have a 2.5-hour tour from the Brandenburg Gate at 11am or 2pm and Brewer’s Berlin Tours have a 3.5-hour tour from Friedrichstrasse station at 1pm every day. Or for something a bit different, Alternative Berlin Tours runs a 3-hour tour of street art and subculture in the Kreuzberg district, starting from the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz at 11am and 1pm.
If you’re in Berlin in summer, head to the huge Tiergarten park for a picnic among its 600 acres of lawns, paths and lakes. Or if you fancy an afternoon on the beach, take a 20-minute train ride south-west of the city to Strandbad Wannsee, a lido with over a kilometre of sandy beach. There’s also the smaller Strandbar Mitte urban beach along the River Spree by Museum Island between April and September.
For classical music fans, there are free lunchtime concerts at 1pm on Tuesdays in the foyer of the Berlin Philharmonic. They’re performed by members of the orchestra and music students and last around 40 minutes. Get there early though as they’re limited to 1500 spaces. There’s also the annual Fête de la Musique on 21 June with free concerts of every type of music, from classical and jazz to reggae and punk, being performed in over 100 venues across the city between 4pm and 10pm.
Museums and galleries
Berlin’s Museum Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to five museums with artifacts from 6000 years of history. Each museum charges €10–12 entry, but you can save €1 on each by booking online, or get a combined Museum Island area ticket for €18 (€17 online). Entry is also free for under 18s.
There are also a couple of city passes which include discounts on museum entry as well as other attractions and public transport in the city. The Museums Pass lasts three days and gives entry to the permanent collections at 50 museums and exhibitions, including those on Museum Island, for €24 (or €12 for students). Or there’s the more general Berlin Pass which gives you free entry to 60 museums, attractions and tours, as well as a hop on hop off bus tour and free city transport. There is a two-day version versions for €71.10 or a three-day version for €89.10, with discounts for children under 15.
Many of the city’s other museums are free to enter, including the Palace of Tears, Allied Museum and Topography of Terror – see this site for a full list. Others have free entry on certain days. The Märkisches city history museum, Nikolaikirche church, Ephraim-Palais palace and Bröhan museum of art nouveau and art deco all have free entry on the first Wednesday of each month.
Top city views
For one of the best views across Berlin, head to the glass dome on top of the Reichstag parliament building. Entry is free but you need to book in advance either on the Bundestag website or at the office on Scheidemann Strasse. It’s is normally open daily from 8am to midnight (last admission at 10pm) but can sometimes be closed in bad weather or when parliament is sitting.
The tallest city centre viewpoint is the Fernsehturm or TV Tower, but it’s also one of the priciest – a fast view ticket with a timed slot costs €19,50 for adults or €12 for children aged 4–16. There are cheaper €13 tickets available when it opens in the morning (at 9am) or late at night (9.30pm–11pm) and you can also save 25% off the price with a Berlin Welcome Card. Other cheaper options where you can get great city view which includes the TV Tower are the Panoramapunkt Tower for €6,50, the Victory Tower in the Tiergarten for €3 or the viewing platform on the terrace of the Park Inn Alexanderplatz for €3.
Eating and drinking
Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey, so it’s easy to find a cheap meal of a döner and pitta for a couple of euros, particularly in Kreuzberg. Or for a more home-grown street snack, try a currywurst – a pork sausage that’s fried and coated with curry sauce and curry powder. On Thursday evenings from 5pm–10pm the Markt Halle Neun holds a Street Food Thursdays with food from around the world. There are also street food stalls at the Sunday Flea Market in Mauerpark, Berlin’s largest open air market, with karaoke entertainment as you eat. Or if you’re self catering then there are supermarkets across the city – the main chains are Aldi, Lidl and Netto, but you’ll also find plenty of small organic supermarkets.
Another good budget eating option is Berlin’s student canteens. They serve good-value meals and are open to everyone. You can even have a meal with a free panoramic city view at the Technical University’s Skyline Cafeteria on the 20th floor of the Telefunkenhochhaus tower (open for breakfast and lunch).
Germans take their beer seriously, and in some places a bottle of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water. On a summer’s evening, Berliners head to one of the city’s biergartens, or beer gardens, to cool down with a drink. You’ll find them all over the city, but some of the best-known are the historic Prater, the Café am Neuen See alongside a lake in the Tiergarten and the Turkish-style Burg am See.
For travel within the city, the Berlin Welcome Card gives unlimited free travel on Berlin’s S-Bahn, U-Bahn, buses, trams and ferries. Otherwise the city is divided up into three zones, with a single ticket in zone AB costing €2,70 or a short-distance ticket for zone A only costing €1,60 (see a map showing the zones). If you’re planning on travelling around a lot, you can get a Day Ticket for €6,90 that’s valid until 3am the next morning, or a Seven-Day Ticket for €29,50 that’s valid for any seven consecutive days.
You can get a sightseeing tour for the price of a single bus ticket on city bus route 100, which was the first bus route to connect East and West Berlin after reunification. The route starts at Alexanderplatz and runs past Museum Island, the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten, Victory Tower and Kurfürstendamm shopping street before ending at the zoo. There’s also a good city view from the raised platform of the S-Bahn train between Zoologischer Garten and Alexanderplatz stations.
Berlin’s public transport passes can also be used on the city’s ferries. Most are only short journeys but the trip across Lake Wannsee makes a good day trip on a sunny day. Take the S-Bahn to Wannsee station and then the ferry across to Kladow, which runs every hour and takes 20 minutes. Kladow has some good walking and cycling routes as well as restaurants and beer gardens on the water’s edge.
So those are my tips for seeing Berlin on a budget – do you know of any more Berlin bargains or have any money-saving tips?