Berlin is Germany’s capital and largest city. It has one of the most turbulent recent histories of any European capital but has emerged as one of Europe’s most popular and vibrant travel destinations. There is a lot of history and art here, and Berlin is very popular with students and young folks who move here because of the culture and cheap prices. There is also a growing tech start-up scene here. I dislike the “industrial” look of the city (I like pretty old buildings!) but the art, history, and nightlife (some of the best in Europe) can’t be beat. Berlin is an old city with a young heart.
Hostel prices – Hostels in the city center have a great social, backpacker vibe in Berlin. Dorm rooms vary between $12-24 USD per night and private rooms start around $40 USD per night.
Budget hotel prices – You can find cheap budget hotels starting at $60 per night for a double room with a bathroom and breakfast. Nicer, brand name hotels will begin around $80 USD. (But stick the local, family owned ones whenever possible.)
Average cost of food – Sit down restaurant meals can easily be between $15-25 USD for food and drink at a nice spot, but food in Berlin can be much more affordable if you eat locally. There are a lot of little sharwma and sausage stalls (try the famous currywurst) that offer cheap food for around $4 USD, as well as an abundance of pizza by the slice spots that cater to the growing Italian population. Turkish food is going to be your cheapest bet (and it’s delicious!) if you head south to the neighborhood of Kreuzburg. Fast food (i.e. McDonalds) usually costs around $7 USD for a value meal. You can buy a week of groceries for between $30-50 USD depending on how much you eat and what food you purchase.
Transportation costs – Beriln is a huge, spread out city, so you’ll find yourself using public transportation to get around. A standard single journey ticket in zones AB costs $3 USD, a four-trip ticket in zones AB is $11 USD and a short distance ticket is $2 USD. A day pass is better value if you are making three or more trips in a day. A day ticket for zones AB costs $9 USD. A seven day ticket for zones AB is $36 USD. You can use the same ticket on trains, buses, and trams. Bike rentals cost $15 USD per day and are one of the best ways to get around this expansive city.
Money Saving Tips
Use your student card – In this student city, your identification card will come in handy to purchase meals, drinks, accommodation, and visit museums at a discount.
Take the Alternative Berlin Tour – The Alternative Berlin tour is excellent and free. It showcases the arty side of Berlin, run by New Europe Tours. Find them meeting at the Starbucks in Alexanderplatz at 11 am each morning.
Take a free walking tour – New Europe Tours run daily, informative (but long) walking tours that begin at the Brandenburg Gate and continue through the hot spots in town for about 4 hours. It takes you through the center of the city, shows you all the highlights, gives you some history, and will help you orientate yourself. They also run tours around various historic themes (communism, Nazism, Jewish history, etc) if you have a more specific interest.
Get the lunch specials – There are lunchtime specials during the week in Oranienburgerstr. For example, you can get a starter and main course in very nice restaurants for around $7 USD. It’s a great deal.
Visit museums – Because so much of the history is painful and tough to swallow in Berlin, the city has made many of their museums free in order to help as many people as possible learn about their troubled past. Take advantage and dive into learning as much as you can.
Eat cheap – You can judge a city’s affordability based on the price of food, and the food in Berlin is certainly cheap. And not just street food (you can find currywurst for under $5 USD everywhere!), kebabs, and quick pizzas, either – even the restaurants here are a bargain. You can find a lot of meals for fewer than $7 USD. I would highly recommend eating at Mustafas. They have the best kebabs in Berlin.
Top Things to See and Do
Alexanderplatz and Fernsehturm TV tower – Germany’s most famous city square contains the 368-meter high Fernsehturm TV tower. You can visit the tower’s observation deck for brilliant views of the city. You can see the tower from everywhere in the city.
Brandenberg Gate – Berlin’s remaining city gate is one of Berlin’s best-known landmarks. During the period when Berlin was a divided city, the Brandenberg Gate was located in no man’s land behind the Berlin Wall and was made famous when it was reopened on 22 December 1989 after the fall of the Wall. It is a sandstone construction dating from 1791 and supported by 12 Doric columns. It now serves as the centerpiece of Pariser Platz.
Visit East Side Gallery – This open air art gallery features graffiti artwork. During Berlin’s days as a divided city, the western side of the wall sported most of its famous graffiti, however this section of graffiti is now featured on the Wall’s eastern side.
Checkpoint Charlie – Divided Berlin’s most well-known border crossing was Checkpoint Charlie. The original border post on Friedrichstrabe between former East and West Berlin remains, complete with a soldier’s post and border crossing sign. The Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie has exhibits on the history of the Berlin Wall along with displays about people who attempted to escape to the West.
Hang out in Potsdamer Platz – In the 1920s, Potsdamer Platz was the busiest square in Europe, but it was destroyed in World War II and divided by the Berlin Wall. After German reunification it became the largest building site in Europe as it has been transformed into a showpiece of the new Berlin with modern architecture including offices, hotels, cinemas, shopping centers and the massive Sony Center.
See the famous Reichstag – The seat of the German Parliament is one of Berlin’s most historic landmarks. It has now has a new dome and draws some of the biggest crowds in Berlin. It has a rich history that reflects the stories of Germany since the 19th century. Make reservations ahead of time to climb the famous glass dome and see a view of the city – remember to bring your passport!
Visit the Holocaust Memorial – The memorial is made up of 2,711 large rectangular stones as a tribute to the Jews that died during the war as a result of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Below the stones, is a very touching museums that focuses on the lives of individual families. Well worth a visit (and free), but be prepared for some tears.
Spend hours in the Deutsches Historisches Museum – The German historical museum covers everything from prehistory right up to the present day. There are a lot of exhibits and the signs provide a wealth of information and good background. This museum takes about two to three hours to see. It’s one of my favorite history museums to spend hours wandering.
Head to Grunewald – If you are looking to escape from the city atmosphere, the grand expanse of Berlin’s largest forest is the perfect destination. You’ll want to check the weather first, but there is plenty to do. Consider hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, or biking. There are even guided tours available.
WAnder through the Zoologischer Garten and Aquarium – First opened in 1841, this is now Germany’s oldest and Europe’s most popular zoo. Along with the classic animals, there are several rare and endangered species to see. In total, the zoo houses over 14,000 species. The lanscaping here is exceptional, and the aquarium is equally impressive.
Visit the Deutsche Kinemathek – More commonly referred to as the Film Museum, this is one of the most interesting museums in Berlin. Every June, the Berlin Jewish Film Festival is held here. During the rest of the year, there are exhibits which showcase the history of German movies—as well as, German actors and actresses. There is even a section on Nazi propaganda films.
Relax in the Britzer Garten – It’s always nice to know of a fresh, green area amidst the construction landscape of most cities. No matter what time of the year, this is a beautiful garden. The Rose Garden is particularly stunning. There is also a water playground, a petting zoo, and even a miniature train here.
Take a trip to the Treptower Park – Located in the eastern part of Berlin, this park is near an old, abandoned amusement park (which you can also visit). This park is a popular place to bike around, and there are a number of beer gardens and a small island nearby where they have a weekend flea market. Moreover, you can rent boats and canoes and cruise the adjoining river.
Relax in Templehof Park – Located in the southern part of the city, this park is actually the site of the old airport that was used during the Berlin Airlift (when the Soviets tried to blockade the city). Now, it’s a big park with a lot of plaques and information about the old airport. It’s not the best park in Berlin, but it’s cool to be able to walk around a piece of history.
Enjoy the music – Berlin is one of the musical centers of Europe and features some of the best DJs, musicians, singers, and bands on the continent. No matter your musical tastes, you’ll find something here. Don’t miss out.