Berlin, Germany’s capital, dates to the 13th century. Reminders of the city’s turbulent 20th-century history include its Holocaust memorial and the Berlin Wall’s graffitied remains. Divided during the Cold War, its 18th-century Brandenburg Gate has become a symbol of reunification. The city’s also known for its art scene and modern landmarks like the gold-colored, swoop-roofed Berliner Philharmonie, built in 1963.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, people flooded into East Berlin (the part that was controlled by the Soviets). What did they find? Abandoned buildings. These cheap (and sometimes free) houses/workspaces attracted artists, musicians, and other creative people from all over the world because they could live there for practically nothing. This also injected a youthful, anything-goes spirit into the otherwise drab city. Then Berlin got popular… so the city isn’t as cheap as it once was. But it’s still much cheaper than other cities in Europe. Luckily, the city still holds on to its youthful and creative spirit.
Berlin is a huge, sprawling city, so you’ll need to take public transportation. Luckily, it is plentiful; you’ll find subways, trains, trams, buses, bikes, and taxis. The U-Bahn, S-Bahn, bus, tram, and regional rail all use the same ticket. Don’t forget to validate your ticket before entering the train.
- Single One-Way Ticket: €2.60
- Short Distance (three stop) Single One-Way Ticket: €1.50
- Day Card: €6.70
- Small Group Ticket (for up to five people — this is the most cost-effective for three people and above): €16.20
- Bike Rental: €8-€12/day
- Bus between Tegel Airport and City Center: €2.40
- Taxi Between Tegel Airport and City Center: €20–€25
- Berlin Schönefeld Airport Express Train: €3
- Taxi Between Schönefeld and City Center: €40
Practical Travel Tips
Save Money With a Berlin Pass. If you plan on seeing a lot of museums, you might consider getting a Berlin Pass. It could save you a bit of money.
Visit Flea Markets for Cheap Souvenirs. The flea market at Mauerpark is the most famous, but it’s also the most touristy (i.e., it’s overpriced). You’ll need to venture out to find the best deals.
Bring Your Student ID. Most museums have student prices (usually 1/2 price). It helps if your ID has a date on it — I was turned away for using my old ID, so your results may vary.
Winters Are Tough. Dress Warm. Invest in a legit warm coat, hat, gloves, and warm clothes if you visit in the winter. Don’t worry about fashion as everyone, including the locals, is bundled up.
Berlin is by far the cheapest capital city in Western Europe, so it’s a great place for budget-minded backpackers and anyone wanting a great deal. Berlin has world-class museums, cheap food, crazy nightlife, and affordable accommodation. Prices are slowly rising, so be sure to visit while the city is still a great deal.
Daily Cost of Budget Travel in Berlin: €42 (Approx. $50)
- Attractions: €12 (one paid attraction + any free sites)
- Food: €16
- Breakfast: €2.50
- Lunch: €4
- Dinner: €7
- Treat (dessert/beer/wine): €2.50
- Transportation: €5.20
- Accommodation (hostel): €20/night
A first-time visit to Berlin is bound to be an absolutely incredible experience, filled with an eclectic mix of history, culture and gorgeous sights, it’s a city that intrigues yet embraces us visitors with open arms. Here is a list of best sights to see in Berlin on your first (or tenth) visit:
Stroll through Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate is one of Germany’s best-known landmarks that you’ll no doubt want to see. Historically, an old city gate, Brandenburg Gate was rebuilt around 250 years ago and still stands proudly today.
Visit the glass dome of The Reichstag
The Reichstag is not only home to the German Government but also home to one of the most impressive glass domes in all the world! Open to the public, you can head inside the dome and enjoy the incredible building (and views) from the top. Make sure to book your tickets well in advance, pre-registration is required and usually fills up very fast.
Experience the glorious Berlin Cathedral
Perched on Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral is one awe-inspiring place to visit. The grand history and incredible architecture is jaw-droppingly beautiful and well worth a visit. Make sure to spend some time in the main Cathedral before heading downstairs to learn more about the crypts and history of this incredible building.
More than just a zoo, Berlin Zoo helps educate, collaborate and maintains reintroduction programs for some of the most endangered species across the world. Head here to learn more about the valuable work they do and the breeding programs that help in supporting endangered animals.
Discover art at the East Side Gallery
Premised as an international memorial for freedom, this massive stretch of the Berlin Wall has been commissioned, featuring over 100 different paintings from artists all across the world, including the colorful Some heads by Thierry Noir. Stroll the length of the 1.3km section to admire artists works, just take a good pair of walking shoes with you!
Explore Berlin’s Museum Island
No visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hop over to the island that sits in the middle of the River Spree to see some of the best museums in the world. Make sure to visit the Altes Museum and the Bode Museum for some incredible artifacts.
Head to the Holocaust Memorial to reflect upon the horrendous mistakes of history. The creators, architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, created this space for visitors to feel uneasy and confusing space where order cannot be found. Opened over 10 years ago, it’s a place to ponder and remember the terrible acts of the Holocaust.
Officially, the largest palace in Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace was originally built over 300 years ago. Around 15-20 minutes from the bustling centre of Berlin, the palace is a great place to wander, especially through the gardens.
Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous crossing point between East and West Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall. Nowadays, the checkpoint has been redeveloped to show how it once stood. If you want to see the original building head to The Allied Museum for a more intimate look.
Berlin TV Tower
Scale to the top of the Berlin TV Tower for some impressive 360-degree views of the city or even for a little brunch! If you’re planning a visit in the late afternoon or early evening, you can also enjoy bubbles and Currywurst while overlooking the city.
The French Cathedral is, arguably, one of the prettiest buildings in Berlin. Head inside for a wander around the building, whilst stopping for a bite to eat in the basement halls. Most people don’t realize that the Cathedral also houses The Huguenot Museum in the tower itself.
If you’re feeling pretty fit, or just want to burn off all those currywurst calories, then take the almost 300 steps to the top of the Victory Column. Nearly 200 years old, the column offers some pretty epic views across the city.
Watch a show at Konzert Haus
If you’re looking to find some of the city’s world-renowned culture and art, then make sure you pop into Konzert Haus, where some of the world’s best ballet, opera and German music and theater is held. Tickets can be booked online and I’d definitely advise this if you’re wanting to visit.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Built well over 100 years ago, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was heavily destroyed during World War II. Fondly known as ‘the hollow tooth’ the spire and tower of the church still stands in its destroyed state… a testament and memory to the awful tragedies of war.
There are so many amazing things about Berlin, but there are a few things that aren’t so great — just like any city.
Museums like crazy. Berlin has sooo many world-class museums that feature everything from ancient to present day. Its “Museum Island” has five world-renowned museums and the island itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bottom line, you’ll find something that interests you.
Green space. Berlin has more green space than just about any city in Europe. And Germans appreciate their parks, so you’ll find tons of people relaxing outside when the weather is nice.
A mixture of a city. We allude to this in the “not-so-good” section, but the city’s architectural mix is fascinating. On one hand, you have plenty of boxy utilitarian buildings left over from the Communist era. On the other hand, you have older and more ornate pre-war architecture (that survived the war or was rebuilt). And then, you have a lot of new construction that has gone up in recent years that is cool and funky.
Biking. Berlin has done a great job making sure the city is bike-friendly. You’ll find plenty of dedicated bike lanes as well as free/cheap bike-sharing programs.
Public drinking and other laissez-faire attitudes. As long as you’re not interfering with other people, you can do what you want without being hassled. You’re free to drink in the parks. You can pretty much drink in the streets. You’re not supposed to drink on public transportation, but you’ll generally be left alone if you’re not causing a scene.
This attitude is also one of the reasons there are so many subculture groups in Berlin — you’re free to do what you want. This is also a reason why there is such a strong LGBT community in Berlin.
Nightlife. Berlin in still one of the best cities, if not the best city, for nightlife — especially clubbing. The city’s large number of abandoned warehouses made it the perfect venue for massive clubs. Pretty soon, the best DJs in the world were calling Berlin their home. You can still find plenty of mega-clubs as well as smaller underground parties that pop up for a few months and then move somewhere else. The party literally never stops (as long as you can keep up).
Berlin also has plenty of bars, cafes, beer gardens, jazz clubs, and just about anything else you can imagine.
The prices. Beer is cheaper than water. Eating cheaply is easy. Hostels are cheap. Rental apartments are in abundance (and they’re cheap, too). The public transportation is… it’s actually kind of expensive (you can’t win them all).
Berlin is HUGE. It’s something like 5x the physical size of Paris but it has 25% of the population (I maybe have made up those numbers, but you get the point). And because the city was divided for so long, it never developed a true “center” like you find in most cities. There are basically mini-centers scattered throughout the city, and it can take 30-45 minutes via the subway to travel from place to place.
That also means the city isn’t very walkable — the public transportation is great, though.
It’s not “traditional” German. Most people imagine old world Germany when they think about Germany… but Berlin is mostly new because it was virtually destroyed during WWII. Berlin is pretty drab — except for the colorful graffiti that covers nearly every inch of the city (which is actually pretty cool). In fact, the city is under constant construction, so you’ll see lot of cranes and construction sites all over the city.
Cold winters. Berlin’s winters are long, cold, and dreary.