Cheap Travel Tips for Berlin: Tours, transport, where to stay, cheap food and drinks
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and it is currently one of the hippest cities in Europe. It offers a lively nightlife, gritty street art, excellent museums and history sites, cool coffee shops, quirky restaurants and much more.
It’s one of the most popular places for creative types to live, such as musicians, artists and writers – which has turned it into a cultural hotspot with a fascinating edgy undercurrent. Also, it’s a dream destination for history buffs, with famous landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie.
So how can you make the most of your trip to Berlin on a small budget? The following guide will offer practical tips that you can use to save money while exploring Berlin and enjoy this fascinating city for less.
Getting to Berlin
There are many low-cost airlines which offer cheap flights to Berlin within Europe. Check out Skyscanner, which is a great resource for finding the cheapest flight from your destination. If you are flexible with your dates, you will find that you can save even more.
When you arrive, you will either be flying into Tegal Airport in West Berlin or Schönefeld Airport in East Berlin. If you are arriving at Tegel, you will need to take a bus from the airport and if you arrive at Schönefeld you will take a train to the city. When you are buying your tickets, only buy them at the official outlets – because there has been reports of scammers trying to sell previously used tickets.
Berlin is also served by ICE, InterCity and EuroCity trains, which are operated by Deutsche Bahn. There are night trains to Berlin from other major European cities such as Budapest, Vienna, Zurich, Paris and Amsterdam.
If you book your train in advance, the price can be as cheap as €29. This is one of the most affordable options, but make sure that you book ahead because the trains will fill up quickly.
Another option is to take the bus into Berlin. Check out Berlin Linienbus, which serves over 350 destinations in Europe. Just as an example, a bus from Paris was €84, or €76 if you are between 13 and 26 years old, a senior citizen or a student.
If you really want to save money, consider hitchhiking your way to Berlin. Germany is considered a very safe place to hitchhike, the practice is legal and there are even websites, such as RoadSharing, where you can find people heading in the same direction as you and ask for a lift. There are some very helpful tips for hitchhiking in Germany on HitchWiki.
Getting around Berlin
Berlin is quite a large city and although it’s very pleasant to walk around, sometimes the distances might be too vast and you will have to use the public transport. Luckily, Berlin has a very good quality transport system that includes underground rail, buses, trams and ferries.
The best way to cover long distances and get across the city is the S-Bahn, which has three main lines: the Cross-Town, the Outer Ring and the North-South.
The public bus number 100 is the perfect bus to hop on or off, because it travels around to most of the main sightseeing hotspots including the Alexanderplatz and the Zoologischer Garten.
The bus only costs €2.10 per person.
When it comes to using the public transport in Berlin, you might want to consider getting a Day Pass – as this might save you money if you plan to take the bus or the train multiple times. A Day Ticket costs €7.50.
If you are traveling a relatively short distance and you are in a group of three or more people, a taxi can be cheaper than taking a bus. There are many taxis in Berlin and you can find them on the street in the main areas or call them in advance.
Consider the Berlin Welcome Card
You might want to get yourself a Berlin Welcome Card, which is offered here. It offers unlimited travel on public transport for either 48 hours (€18.50), 72 hours(€25.50) or 5 days(€32.50).
Also, it will offer you discounts of up to 50% on more than 200 tourist attractions and cultural highlights including bike tours, boat trips, museums, shows and restaurants. Will it be worth the price for you?
To figure out your savings, estimate how many trips on public transport you plan on taking and attractions that you plan on seeing during your stay. Is the price of the Berlin Welcome Card with the savings that it will bring you?
Consider the Berlin Pass
Similar to the Berlin Welcome Card, the Berlin Pass includes a museum pass, an attractions pass, a travelcard, and a special guidebook. So you can visit the famous museums of Berlin, but also the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, plus you get an open-top bus tour and a Fat Tire bike tour with the bike rental included. If you are going to do the things that are included, it's a pretty good deal.
Where to Stay
When you are travelling in Berlin, accommodation will be the bulk of your expenses – so it is important to find a way to cut down these costs.
Berlin has a number of good quality youth hostels that offer a cheap and comfortable place to stay. Hostels also offer the advantage of a kitchen, so that you can buy food cheaply and cook your own meals – as well as a social atmosphere that makes it a lot easier to make new friends while travelling. Many of the Berlin hostels offer prices under €20.
Here are some examples of cheap hostels in Berlin:
Amstel House – Centrally Located with 24 hour Reception – €12.85 for a bed in a 4 person mixed dorm.
Generator – Located in the trendy district of Prenzlauer Berg – €10.75 for a bed in an 8 person mixed dorm.
Main Station Hostel – Located in Central Berlin – €10.50 for a bed in an 8 person mixed dorm.
Heart of Gold Hostel – Centrally Located – Quirky Décor – Inspired by “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” – €17.13 for a bed in a 7 person mixed dorm.
SleepCheap Hostel – Located 5 minutes from the Tegal Airport – €10.71 for a bed in a 10 person mixed dorm.
Short-term apartment rentals
If you are travelling with more than one person, you might find it more cost effective to rent a short term apartment and split the cost. This also offers the advantage of privacy and your own washing machine, kitchen and other facilities (as well as not having to wait to use the showers in a busy hostel!)
With a quick browse on Airbnb, a website that allows apartment owners to rent out rooms or entire apartments to visitors, I was able to find a nice private room in a centrally located apartment for €30 per night and a private room in Prenzlauer Berg for €20 per night.
If you are travelling with four people, you could get an even better deal. I spotted several entire apartments which would sleep 4 people and were priced at around €50-€55 per night- less than €15 each when you split it.
Other great places to search for cheap short term apartments in Berlin include BudgetPlaces or WaytoStay.
Of course, Couchsurfing is the ultimate budget option for accommodation. The Couchsurfing scene is alive and well in Berlin and there is a good chance that you will find someone to host you. Make sure that your profile is up to date and that you send a friendly and unique couch request!
Attractions and things to do
The best way to enjoy Berlin on a budget is to take advantage of all of the free and cheap attractions that the city has to enjoy. Why pay money to visit an art gallery or a museum, when there are so many enjoyable things to do in Berlin that won’t cost you a thing?
Here is a quick list of some of the great free or very cheap things that you can do in Berlin:
Climb to the roof terrace of the Bundestag (German Parliament Building) and enjoy the 360 degree view over the city from this modern glass dome. (Make sure you register in advance)
Walk along the Spree River and enjoy the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall which has been transformed into an outdoor art space.
Visit the haunting Holocaust Memorial, which consists of 2500 large concrete slabs that vary in height and width. It’s a simple yet powerful design.
The Kunstraum Kreuzberg Museum is free and it showcases some very interesting contemporary art.
Take a walk around the Teirgarten, which is the second largest urban park in Germany and is a lovely atmosphere with mazes, ponds, flower gardens and more.
The Berlin Cathedral only costs €7 (€4 for students) to visit and it’s the most beautiful and impressive church in the city. There is even a creepy crypt filled with centuries old coffins.
Take a Free Walking Tour
When I was in Berlin, the first thing I did was to take one of the free walking tours. They are very informative and they are a fun and cheap way to get acquainted with the city and see the main famous sights.
The tours are free, but of course if you enjoy yourself you can give the guide a tip at the end.
There are many different free tours offered in Berlin, such as:
- New Berlin Tours (the tour that I took, highly recommended!)
- Alternative Berlin Tours
- Brewer’s Berlin Walking Tours
Eating on the cheap in Berlin
When it comes to cheap eats, two of the best places to go in the city are Neukölln and Kreuzberg. These two areas are low-income districts in an area of West Berlin that was formerly walled-in and are now home to students and immigrants. They offer plenty of great budget food options, including Turkish snack bars and sandwich shops. As a rule, usually Turkish restaurants offer hearty, tasty and filling food for cheap.
When you are travelling in Berlin on a small budget, you will want to embrace the joy that is currywurst. It is a delicious pork sausage that is fried and coated with curry sauce and curry powder. It makes for a cheap street food meal whenever you are walking around the city. It is said that one of the best places to get currywurst in town is Konnopke’s Imbiss in Prenzlauer Berg. (€2.50)
Also, another tip is to watch out for the grillwalkers. These are people who walk around with portable grills that are attached to their waists, selling grilled sausages and bread for about €1.50.
Another great place to check out is Burgermeister, which offers excellent burgers for around €3.50 (even vegetarian ones!). It is located beneath the U-bahn tracks in Kreuzberg.
Check out the Hühnerhaus (hen house) located in Görlitzer Park. It has excellent grilled chicken, juicy on the inside with a flavourful crispy skin. You can get half of a chicken including fries for only €3.75 – a great value meal for two.
Drinking on the cheap in Berlin
Of course, no trip to Berlin would be complete without checking out the nightlife. However with the expensive drink prices in some of the clubs, it’s easy to blow through your budget in one evening! How can you have a fun and social night, while still saving money?
Berlin is known for having an awesome underground music scene and youth culture – which makes for a very fun and exciting night out. There are plenty of great down to earth pubs and dive bars where you can enjoy a cheap drink – such as Franken with its rock gig posters and cozy atmosphere.
Another quite inexpensive place is Café Morgenrot, which also has a free reading room with newspapers and periodicals to peruse while you sip your beer.
Helmut Kohl is also a very popular choice for students in Berlin, thanks to the cheap mixed drinks and cool art exhibitions and performances.
You might want to also check out Prater, which is the oldest beer garden in the city. It offers cheap beer as well as basic and hearty traditional German dishes.
Also, when it comes to the nightclub scene in Berlin it is a lot cheaper than most other large European cities. The cover charge will normally be between €5 and €10, compared to €20 or more for nightclubs in London, Paris and other capitals.
Most of the nightlife hotspots in Berin don’t even start to get busy until after 10pm, so you can save some money by pre-drinking at your hostel first before heading out.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind when travelling in Berlin on a budget, so that you can make the most of this fantastic city!
By Kelly Dunning – Kelly Dunning is a freelance travel writer and digital nomad. She and her partner Lee have been travelling the world for the last 3 years while running Global-Goose.com – a source of information and inspiration for fellow travellers.