Berlin Travel Guide: What to See, Do, Costs, & Ways to Save

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view of Berlin's rooftops and the TV tower
Berlin is Germany’s capital and the largest city in the country. It has one of the most turbulent histories of any European capital but has emerged as one of Europe’s most popular destinations in recent years. There is a lot of history and art here, and Berlin has become very popular with students and young artists, writers, and creatives who have become the city’s new immigrants. While I dislike the “industrial” look of the city (I like pretty, old buildings!), the art, history, and nightlife cannot be beat. Berlin is an old city with a young heart and one of the most fun, coolest, most diverse and eclectic cities in Europe. There’s a constant sense of motion here. I love it and I strongly urge you to spend extra time here!

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Berlin

1. 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 museum that focuses on the lives of individual families. Well worth a visit (and free), but be prepared for some tears.

2. Brandenburg Gate

One of the city’s best-known landmarks. During the period when Berlin was divided, the Brandenburg Gate was located in no man’s land behind the Berlin Wall. Constructed in 1791, it was made famous in modern times when it was reopened after the fall of the Wall. It now serves as the centerpiece of Pariser Platz.

3. GDR Museum

This museum focuses on life in East Berlin during Communist rule. It’s separated into the various aspects of daily life: food, clothing, schooling, fun, music, etc. It provides a good window into how the citizens lived. One thing I found interesting was that to escape the conformity of life under the Communists, people went to nude beaches to be “free.”

4. Visit the 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.

5. Treptower Park

Located in the eastern part of Berlin, this park is near an old, abandoned amusement park. It’s a popular place to bike, there are a number of beer gardens as well as a small island nearby with a weekend flea market. You can also rent boats and canoes and cruise the adjoining river. It’s my favorite park in the city.

Other Things to See and Do

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1. 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.

2. See the famous Reichstag

The seat of the German Parliament is one of Berlin’s most historic landmarks. It 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 (it’s free!) to climb the famous glass dome and see a view of the city — remember to bring your passport!

3. 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 also see the tower from everywhere in the city.)

4. 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 three hours to see (if you see it all). It’s one of my favorite history museums in the world! Admission is 8 EUR for adults and free for anyone under 18.

5. 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.

6. 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 landscaping here is exceptional, and the aquarium is equally impressive. A combination ticket for the zoo and aquarium is 20 EUR for adults, and discounts are available for children and families.

7. 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. Adult admission is 7 EUR, with discounts available for families and students.

8. 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. Admission is 2 EUR for adults and 1 EUR for children.

9. Relax in Tempelhof 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. You’ll see lots of people running and working out here.

10. 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.

11. See the Berliner Dom

The Berlin Cathedral was built in 1905 and is a picturesque staple of the city. While most visitors just stop by for photos and to relax on the grass, history and architecture buffs may want to visit inside. Admission is 7 EUR, with discounts available. An audio guide is 3 EUR.

12. Checkpoint Charlie

Dividing Berlin’s most well-known border crossing was Checkpoint Charlie. The original border post on Friedrichstraße 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. Adult admission to the museum is 12.50 EUR, with discounts available for students. This is a definite must in the city.

13. Take a bike tour

Berlin is a great city to explore by bicycle. There are plenty of themed tours run by operators like Fat Tire Tours that will show you the city while highlighting its history, food, and culture. Prices will vary depending on the tour, but you can expect to pay between 25-50 EUR per person.

14. Visit an air raid shelter

These air raid shelters were designed to protect German citizens from nuclear fallout during the Cold War, should World War III have broken out. Tours are available to show you just what it was like to take shelter underground, with prices starting around 11 EUR per person.

Typical Costs

Hostel prices – There is a great social, backpacker culture in Berlin. Dorm rooms cost between 10-30 EUR per night and private rooms start around 50 EUR per night. The cheapest beds usually disappear quickly, so book ahead! All the hostels come with free WiFi and many include breakfast. For those traveling with a tent, there are a few campgrounds outside the city. Prices start at 5 EUR per night for a basic plot. My suggested places are:
  • St. Christopher’s
  • Wombats
  • The Circus

Budget hotel prices – You can find cheap budget hotels starting at 40 EUR per night for a double room with a bathroom and (usually) breakfast. Nicer, brand name hotels will begin at around 70 EUR (but I suggest you stick to the local, family owned businesses whenever possible). Airbnb is hugely popular in the city and shared spaces (i.e. a place on the couch) starts around 20 EUR per night. If you want your own apartment/home, expect to pay 40 EUR or more per night.

Average cost of food – Food in Berlin is super affordable. There are a lot of little shawarma and sausage stalls (try the famous currywurst) that offer cheap food for around 4 EUR, as well as an abundance of pizza-by-the-slice spots that cater to the growing Italian population for 1-2 Euros. 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 EUR for a value meal. Nicer, sit down restaurant meals with table service range between 15-25 EUR for food and drink. You can buy a week of groceries for between 35-50 EUR depending on how much you eat and what food you purchase.

Transportation costs – Berlin 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 2.80 EUR and a short distance ticket is 1.70 EUR. A day pass is a better value if you are making three or more trips in a day (a day pass for zones AB costs 7 EUR). A special ticket good for four trips (zones AB) is 9 EUR. You can use the same ticket on trains, buses, and trams. A 7-day pass is 30 EUR. Bike rentals cost around 15 EUR per day and are one of the best ways to get around (it’s what the locals do). For intercity trains or buses, expect to pay between 36-160 EUR, depending on the distance and when you book. A train to Munich, for example, will cost between 100-160 EUR, while a night bus for the same journey will set you back around 36-46 EUR; a bus to Frankfurt will cost between 28-50 EUR while the train will cost up to 140 EUR. Book in advance for the best prices.

Suggested daily budget

35-50 EUR / 36-52 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)

Money Saving Tips

  1. 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.
  2. Take a free walking tourNew Berlin 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. You can also take the Alternative Berlin tour, which showcases the artsy side of Berlin. It’s run by New Europe Tours. Find them meeting at the Starbucks in Alexanderplatz at 11 am each morning.
  3. 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 6 EUR. It’s a great deal.
  4. 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! Additionally, you can get the Berlin Welcome card, which offers free public transportation, discounts on over 200 attractions, and free entry into many of the paid museums. It can be a good deal if you’re going to a lot of museums!
  5. 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 EUR everywhere!), kebabs, and quick pizzas, either — even the restaurants here are a bargain. You can find a lot of meals for fewer than 7 EUR. I would highly recommend eating at Mustafas. They have the best kebabs in Berlin.
  6. Couchsurf – If you want to cut down your travel costs while also getting some local insight into the city, you should couch surf. Not only will you save money but you’ll meet locals who can help get you off the tourist trail and into the city as the locals experience it. Since Berlin is a popular city, be sure to send your requests in advance (especially in the summer!).

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