Berlin on a Budget: Less than $50/£30 a day.
Berlin, the capital of Germany, is an amazing city to visit, due to its richness in culture and amazingly interesting and varied history. This article intends to demonstrate not only how fantastic Berlin is and how deserved it is of a visit, but also how to do so very inexpensively too!
The Berlin Wall
On the 9th November 2014, Berliners joined together to celebrate the quarter of a century anniversary of the reunification of Germany, marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall. To commemorate this historic event, a chain of 8,000 giant dominoes, decorated by the schoolchildren of Berlin were knocked down. The video to the right captures this iconic and amazing moment.
How to get to Berlin
Berlin is located in North-East Germany and is easily accessible by air, road and rail.
By car, Berlin can be reached from other German cities easily. From Hamburg: Berlin is a 293km drive South-East along the A24/E26, the journey time is a little over three hours. From Munich: Berlin is a six-hour, 600km drive North along the A9. This journey passes through the cities Nuremberg (4hours 30, 450km from Berlin) and Leipzig (2hours, 200km from Berlin).
By train, the German rail network is excellent and this extends to Berlin too. Particularly for Interrail or Eurrail pass holders, all ICE trains need no prior reservation meaning it is effortless to visit. For more information about trains in Germany, visit my other article: here.
By bus, unlike in the US or UK, the long distance bus market in Germany is far more saturated and this means that the multiple companies fight for customers and so the prices are ridiculously low (and the buses often two thirds empty). They are a very comfortable means of travel and offer a very practical and efficient service. The long distance bus station in Berlin is to the West of the city centre, less than two minutes walk from either Kaiserdamm (U2) or Messe Nord (S41/42).
By plane, depsite delays, Berlin Brandenburg Airport is still not yet open. In the meanwhile Berlin is principally served by Tegel airport. From the US, JFK is directly connected with Berlin by AirBerlin, but otherwise it may be easier to fly via London, Paris or Frankfurt. From UK, BA flies to Heathrow approximately 4-5 times a day. In addition, the smaller Berlin Schoenefield Airport can be reached with easyjet from Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and three London airports; this is furthered by Ryanair flights from East Midlands and London Stanstead.
Top tip: Try flying to other airports in Northern Germany - examples include Hamburg, Hannover, Bremen, Cologne and Dusseldorf as they are often cheaper, offer an opportunity to explore a second city before taking an inexpensive bus/train to Berlin.
German History Hubs
- German Foreign Policy: 1933-1939
A look at the road to war Hitler undertook in the 1930s thorugh: remilitarisation, anschluss and invasion. Looks at the policy of appeasement too. Suitable for GCSE History.
Top 20 Attractions
- Visit the Reichstag. The Reichstag is the home to the German parliament and a majestic building. Visitors can enter and ascend the glass dome on the top to get excellent views of surrounding Berlin.
- Brandenburg Gate. The gate stands at the end of Unter den Lindern, the wide boulevard famed for dramatic Nazi parades. The gate is a symbol of Berlin worldwide and was famous for being in between the Berlin Wall when Berlin was separated.
- Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was a former transfer point between the separated parts of Berlin and is now mainly a tourist attraction with people dressed up as American guards. Immediately next door is the Checkpoint Charlie, which has fascinating exhibits including ingenious inventions designed to smuggle people out of East Berlin.
- Museum Island. A collection of the best museums in Germany, well worth a visit to explore the cultural riches archived there.
- Treptower Park. A beautiful place to relax in the afternoon by the river in former Eastern Berlin. Inside you will also find a breathtaking, hidden Soviet memorial which is awe inspiring.
- Hohenschoenhausern Museum. A former Stasi prison, where you can be given by a tour by a former inmate, which really personifies the experience.
- Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. In North Berlin (Oranienburg), visitors can explore the former prisoners camp and the detailed exhibitions in former bunkhouses and the like. It is a very emotional experience but one that should not be missed.
- Tiergarten. The huge park to the West of the Brandenburg Gate is well worth an exploration as the monuments inside are fascinating. There is also a Zoo to the far end. In the middle is the beautiful Golden Statue the Siegessaeule (Victory Column) which can be climbed for an amazing panoramic view.
- Postdam. To the South West of Berlin, this city has beautiful colours and one shouldn't miss the beautiful palace and gardens located in the middle.
- Wansee. The lake in Wansee is not only an amazingly beautiful attraction in itself but it is also home to the Wansee Konferenz Center, now a fascinating free museum, where top Nazi officials discussed plans for the Final Solution, Hitler's extermination of those he deemed undesirable. If you are taking the trains to Wansee via Grunewald. Alight at Grunewald and visit platform 17 (in the station itself), the deportation point for 'undesirables'. A memorial to those deported can be found there.
- Topography of Terror. Former home of the SS, this interesting and interactive museum is also somewhat of an archaeological site too and provides a rich context of the secret police in the Third Reich.
- Berlin Wall Memorial. Gives a detailed and interesting insight into the logistics of upholding the Berlin Wall and preventing migration between the two and tragic fatalities that occurred as a consequence.
- The Holocaust Memorial. Just a stones throw from the Reichstag, the huge memorial is in commemoration to the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The grey bricks rise to the centre as the floor sink to create an interesting effect to symbolise entrapment.
- Gendarmarkt. This old fashioned town square is a really excellent spot for people watching and usually has a variety of street entertainment too.
- East Side Gallery. This kilometer standing stretch of the former Berlin Wall has been turned into an art spectacle and is home to some very iconic images, most notably the famous mural of Brezhnev kissing Honecke.
- Olympic Stadium. This stadium, still in fuction today, was built for the 1936 Olympic Games, which can be seen from the typical Nazi architecture. It was here that Hitler famously refused to shake hands with top athlete Jesse Owens, due to the colour of his skin.
- Nicholas Quarter. Pretty neighbourhood with nice boutique shops and a great place for a coffee and opportunity to people watch.
- Television tower. The TV tower, located in Alexander Platz, towers above the other buildings in Berlin. Although you can pay to climb it, from experience the Victory column is a far better, cheaper and less busy experience.
- Designpanoptikum. This relatively unknown museum is a surreal experience where visitors can see the exhibits: design products turned into modern art.
- Berlin Cathedral. Not only is the cathedral the religious focal point of Berlin, it is a beautifully constructed building and the views from the top are claimed to be second to none.
There are many options for accommodation in Berlin. Simply searching on hotel comparison websites, you will easily stumble across perfectly nice accommodation, starting from £15/$25 per person per night.
When looking on maps, the cheaper hotels may look far out; it is worth noting, however, that Berlin is much more compact than its European counterparts of London or Paris and they have an excellent subway set up in Berlin. Since the fares are only marginally more expensive the further out you travel, then its really not a problem where you stay.
I stayed in Kaiserdamm on my last visit. Our apartment was a mere twenty seconds walk from the nearest U-Bahn station of the same name. From here it was less than twenty minutes to Postdamer Platz in the city centre and no stress whatsoever, so I would definitely recommend staying somewhere like there.
Also, unlike other cities, many of Berlin's tourist attractions lay outside the city's centre, so staying further afield, you may find yourself more proximite to places you will visit later, e.g. Kaiserdamm is five minutes away from the Olympic Stadium, a pleasant surprise for us.
I am a huge foodie and Berlin does not disappoint. Everything always seems to taste that bit better in Germany, in my opinion anyway, and there is rarely a disappointing meal.
For the budget traveller, I do however recommend a few specific restaurants, which offer delicious and varied food, without breaking the bank and make you feel like a true local for having found them.
- Momos (Fehrberliner Strasse, nearest station Senfelderplatz, U2). Momos serves Berlin interpreted, Nepalese inspired, organic, vegan dumplings. They taste so good, my mouth is salivating whilst I write this. It also offers a vegetarian haven in a city full of meat. They serve four varieties of dumplings: Spinach and Cheese, Carrot and Cabbage, Broccoli and Mushroom and Sweet Potato (absolute favourite). For 15 euros, two people can share the Momos experience, receiving 32 dumplings of all four varieties, half fried and half grilled. The restaurant is tiny, so make sure to go on a dry, warm day when you can sit outside. You do feel very cool turning up at momos, as it seems like a local secret! I was really impressed, because it proves you don't need meat to have an enjoyable meal!
- Salut (Augsburger Strasse / Los Angeles Platz, nearest stations Augsburger Strasse, U3; Kurfeurstendamm, U1, U9; Wittenbergplatz, U1, U2, U3). Salut is an Italian trattoria in Berlin. It is one of the best reviewed restaurants in Berlin, being ranked six out of all the restaurants in the city on Tripadvisor. The atmosphere and quality of food is raved about. Waiters fill your plate up as you desire from various Mediterranean style dishes and you receive bread and tea alongside your meal. You won't be spending more than six euros ahead - its cheaper than McDonalds in fact! They are only open for breakfast and lunch (mon-fri 12-6) so don't miss out!
- Haveli (Luitpoldstrasse, nearest station Viktoria-Luise Platz, U4). Haveli is a delicious Indian restaurant. For a city, which is not saturated by many restaurants of this type, Haveli most definitely comes top. Although slightly more expensive than the previous restaurants, perhaps 15 euros per person, it does taste really nice. The staff are really friendly and hospitable, but without being overbearing, which is pleasant. There is a really nice ambience too. I had the Duck Madras and the flavour was amazing and I definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone with a love of the Indian cuisine.
- Mustafas kebab (Mehringdamm, nearest station Mehringdamm, U6, U7). Mustafa's is a Berlin classic. When we went, queues spanned the block and took forty five minutes to get to the front of the line. I believe it was worth the wait! Being a huge kebab fan, I was skeptic of the acclaim that it was the best kebab in Western Europe, however it most definitely did not disappoint. For 4 euros, you get a huge kebab (which looks a bit like a Durito) and the flavours are amazing. Our friends in Frankfurt had even heard of Mustafas and they had yet to visit Berlin! A true Berlin experience you must take part in!
- Ok, so this isn't really justifiable as a restaurant but I simply have to throw it out there. All over Berlin, and indeed Germany too, one can find a bakery chain called Ditsch. Famous for their pretzels, they also sell Pizzas for about 2,50euros and they taste fantastic. So, if you're ever stuck for a meal or lost trying to find one of the above, then this is your best bet!