Berlin is a big city with lots of things to do and sights to see (my previous post covers a three-day itinerary). Travel cost, entry fees, tours, food and drinks, souvenirs, etc., can all add up to a pretty penny. But it is possible to save money and see Berlin on a budget! Here is how:
1. Use public transport and buy day tickets
Like most German cities, Berlin is extremely well connected. Trains, buses and trams run frequently and until late at night. Berlin is divided into zones with most of the main sights located in zone AB. Day tickets and group tickets are a good way to save money if you are a large group and/or are going to be using public transport a lot. The BVG website is self explanatory and precise. You can also consider the Berlin Welcome Card for 48h or 72h, which offers unlimited travel and discounts at restaurants, sights and hotels.
2. Take a tour of Berlin by Bus 100
Another economical way to see Berlin is via Bus number 100. If you use a day ticket or the Berlin Welcome Card, this bus can become your own hop-on hop off bus! Starting at Alexanderplatz, the bus goes all he way to the Zoologischer Garten, covering most of the important landmarks including the Museum Island, Brandenburg Gate, the Bundestag, Kurfürstendamm and others.
3. Free walking tours
Several different companies offer free walking tours around Berlin. The only money you spend is when tipping your guide – which is discretionary (but if you enjoyed the tour, do please tip). Sandeman’s New Europe have a 2.5-hour tour from the Brandenburg Gate at 10am, 11am, 2pm and 4pm and cover the city’s main sights. Brewer’s Berlin Tours also cover the important sights and have a 3.5-hour tour from Friedrichstrasse station at 1pm every day. We chose Alternative Berlin Tours – they run a 3-hour tour of street art and graffiti, which starts from the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz at 11am, 1pm and 3pm everyday.
4. A lot of sights are free
A lot of the important sights in Berlin such as the East Side Gallery, Holocaust Memorial, the Bundestag (Parliament), etc. are free! Just ensure you book in advance for the Bundestag.
5. Berlin Philharmonie lunch concerts
Berlin Philharmoniker has free lunchtime concerts at 1pm on Tuesdays in the foyer. The 40-50 minute programmes feature not only members of the Berlin Philharmonic and scholars of its Orchestra Academy, but also instrumentalists from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Staatskapelle Berlin along with students at Berlin’s music conservatories. Spaces are limited to 1500 so get there early.
General Tips on some interesting things to do:
1. Try some Turkish food
Berlin has the largest number of Turkish people, living outside of Turkey! So it is only natural that you find Turkish eateries all over the city. Not only is the food super cheap, it is amazingly delicious too. So try the doner kebabs and the lahmacun (a thin pizza like bread topped with ground meat and spices). You can have a hearty meal for under EUR 5.
TIP: Try the eateries at Kreuzberg; avoid the ones located at the S & U-bahn stops.
2. Visit the Turkish Market at Maybachufer
If you have not had your fill of Turkish food and culture, make a stop at the Turkish market. The ambience is of a typical market with lots of screaming and shouting! This market operates every Tuesday and Friday from 11:00am to 6:30pm.
3. Walk down Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg
Oranienstraße is one of the busiest streets in the heart of Kreuzberg, the borough where the majority of the immigrants live. The street is lined with shops selling clothes, shoes, accessories, music and other interesting knick knacks. A large number of trendy bars and restaurants are also located here, making this area very popular with party goers.
Interestingly, there is an equally famous street with a very similar name, but located in Mitte – Oranienburger Straße. This street is known for its bars and restaurants and trendy shops. Previously, this was the centre of the Jewish community and the New Synagogue, a Moorish-style building is located on this street.
4. Explore the hidden courtyards of Die Hackeschen Hoefe
Hackesche Höfe (hofe means courtyard), is a heritage site consisting of eight inter-linked courtyards that can be accessed through an arched entrance at 40 Rosenthalerstrasse. These beautifully restored courtyards are full of small shops, pubs and restaurants, and smaller galleries and museums.
5. Relax at the beach at YAAM and enjoy views of the Spree
The Young African Art Market (YAAM) is located along the banks of Spree, close to the East Side Gallery. This place has an Afro-Carribbean theme going on and offers more than you can ask for – good food, cheap beer and great music. During the weekdays, the place is pretty quiet but you can still enjoy a few drinks at their ‘beach’.