How to plan a trip to Berlin

How to plan a trip to Berlin

How to find your way around Berlin, where to eat, what to see and which clubs to go to. This is the first stop for all travelers.

You have set your sights on Berlin, and you are now wondering what to see and do, which clubs to go to and which restaurants to try.

If you are reading this, chances are that you asked the same question as a million tourists before you - "I'm visiting Berlin next week, what are the best non-touristy places to visit?" - and I linked you to this article.

To quote Douglas Adams, "when we told our guide that we didn't want to go to all the tourist places he took us instead to the places where they take tourists who say that they don't want to go to tourist places. These places are, of course, full of tourists."

Instead of parroting the advice from well-established tourist guides, I will give you all the right tools you need to plan a successful trip to Berlin.

How to travel to Berlin

You can reach Berlin by car, bus, train or plane. Use GoEuro or Kayak to find the best way to get to Berlin.

By plane

The best way to find cheap airline tickets is to use a flight comparison website. Google Flights and Kayak are my favourites, but there are other options.

There are two airports in Berlin:

  • Schönefeld airport (SXF): a larger airport outside the city. It's 30-60 minutes from the city centre by train. The public transport ticket costs €3.40.
  • Tegel airport (TXL): a smaller, more central airport. It's 20-40 minutes from the city centre by bus. The public transit ticket costs €3.10.

From Schönefeld to Berlin by train (recommended): There are trains that run from Schönefeld to Berlin at all times of the day. The RE7 train is the fastest way to get to Berlin, as it only stops at a few stations. Otherwise, you can use Google Maps on the airport's free Wi-Fi to find the best way to Berlin. Make sure you purchase an ABC ticket, since you are travelling from Zone C to Zone A.

From Schönefeld to Berlin by taxi: There are taxis waiting for you at the airport. However, a ride to the city centre will be extremely expensive compared to a simple train ticket.

From Tegel to Berlin by bus (recommended): The best way to get from Tegel to the Berlin city centre is to take the TXL bus. All you need is an AB train ticket.

From Tegel to Berlin by taxi: There are taxis waiting for you at the airport. Tegel is not very far from the city centre, but a taxi is still much more expensive than a bus.

By bus

Intercity buses are usually the cheapest mode of travel, and several bus lines have stops in Berlin:

Use GoEuro to find buses from your city to Berlin.

Most intercity buses will drop you off at the Schönefeld airport, the Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof (ZOB) or next to Alexanderplatz. All of these stops are well connected to public transit, but Schönefeld is far from the city, and ZOB is a 25 minute ride from the city centre. Alexanderplatz is right in the centre.

Buses usually come with free (albeit unreliable) Wi-Fi and charging ports for your phone and laptop.

By train

You can also reach Berlin by train. Trains give you much more leg room, bigger bathrooms, a generous luggage allowance, fewer delays and a smoother ride. Additionally, trains usually stop at Hauptbahnhof, very close to the city centre. Trains sometimes have free (albeit unreliable) Wi-Fi and charging ports for your phone and laptop, but neither is guaranteed.

Use GoEuro to find the best train connection to Berlin. The Deutsche Bahn pricing structure is intimidating, but these websites make booking train tickets a bit easier.

How to get around in Berlin

Once you are in Berlin, getting around is fairly easy thanks to the city's excellent public transit network.

Finding your way around Berlin

The BVG app has the most accurate public transit schedules, but does not work offline. However, there is free Wi-Fi at most U-Bahn station.

These apps can help you find your way around Berlin:

  • BVG app: The official app of Berlin's public transport company. It has the most accurate schedules, but only works online. There is free Wi-Fi at the train stations, so that's not a problem. You can purchase train tickets with this app.
  • DB Navigator: The official app off the Deutsche Bahn (the German railroad company). Lets you plan long distance trip and purchase tickets.
  • Google Maps: Helps you find routes, attractions and restaurants. Lets you download an offline map of the city. You can search places offline, but you can't get directions.
  • HERE WeGo: A Google Maps alternative. Unlike Google Maps, it can give directions when offline.
  • Öffi: A well-known public transport app.

Traveling by train, tram and bus

Berlin's public transit network reaches every corner of the city, and the tickets are affordable. It's the easiest way to get around Berlin. TripAdvisor has an excellent guide on how public transport works in Berlin.

Berlin is split into 3 public transit zones: A, B and C. Most of Berlin is in the AB zone, but Schönefeld airport and Potsdam are in the C zone. Many travelers get fined for having an AB ticket in the C zone. It's a well-known tourist trap.

There are several ways to buy tickets:

  • From a ticket machine in any train station. They work in multiple languages.
  • From the BVG app. It's convenient, but if your phone runs out of battery, you have no ticket.
  • From ticket machines in trams and from bus drivers
  • From a Deutsche Bahn or BVG service point

Should I get the WelcomeCard?

Not really. The WelcomeCard is a special public transit ticket that gives you rebates on certain attractions. It's too expensive for what you get. Just get a regular 48 hour, 72 hour or 7 day ticket.

Renting a bicycle

This is the best way to see Berlin. This city is flat as a pancake and has lots bike paths. It's much more enjoyable than sitting in a crowded metro.

There are hundreds of stores that rent out bicycles all over the city, and nearly a dozen different bike rental companies with bikes all over the cities. These companies let you book a bike using an app on your phone.

What to see and do in Berlin

Since I discovered Google Trips, this is how I travel:

  1. Get the Google Trips app
  2. Pick the activities that interest you
  3. Let the app plan your trip

There are a million tourist guides for Berlin, so I'll just point you straight to the mother of all guides: WikiTravel. Nonetheless, here's what you need to see in Berlin:

  • Gendarmenmarkt
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Bundestag building
  • Victory Column (Siegessäule)
  • Berliner Dom
  • The museum island (Museuminsel)
  • DDR museum
  • Berliner Unterwelten (air raid bunker and wall tunnel tours)
  • Alexanderplatz
  • Mauerpark (on Sundays)
  • Berlin Wall memorial
  • Soviet memorial in Treptower Park
  • Oberbaumbrücke
  • East Side Gallery
  • Teufelsberg

There is a map of all interesting attractions at the bottom of this guide.

If you rent a bicycle, you can see most of those attractions in 2 or 3 days.

If you want to see the city from above, you can climb the Victory Column (Siegessäule) for 3 to 6 euros or make the short trip to Teufelsberg and Drachenberg. Both are cheaper than the TV tower in Alexanderplatz.

Outside of Berlin

If you have a bit more time, Potsdam and Wannsee are absolutely worth a visit. Both are reachable by train (Potsdam requires an ABC ticket).

The best clubs in Berlin

Berghain is still the biggest, most famous club in Berlin, if you're willing to queue for a few hours. Matrix is the "shitty club tourists go to". Everything else is somewhere in the middle. You will find many clubs on Revaler Straße. WikiTravel has a short guide to Berlin clubs, but ResidentAdvisor is the reference for Berlin clubs.

What to eat in Berlin

WikiVoyage has an excellent guide on what to eat in Berlin, and so does WikiTravel. For general restaurant recommendations, use TripAdvisor or Yelp

My only personal recommendation is to get out of tourist areas if you want to eat decent street food. TripAdvisor and Yelp can help you find the best kebab and currywurst.

Typical Berlin dishes

Here are the dishes you must absolutely try while you are in Berlin:

  • Currywurst
  • Döner kebab
  • Gemüse döner (also called a chicken döner)
  • Bread with lard (Stulle mit Schmalz)
  • Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup)

If you are feeling adventurous, Redditors have compiled a longer list of typical Berliner dishes.

The best bars in Berlin

Again, TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google Maps are all excellent tools to find the best bars in your area. Nothing beats the combined power of a few million reviewers. Since you are in Germany, treat yourself to a nice Hefeweizen.

1

Oberbaumbrücke

10243 Berlin
An iconic bridge above the Spree river that offers a fantastic view of Berlin. Free to visit.
2

Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park

Puschkinallee
One of Berlin's 3 large memorials to the Soviet soldiers killed during the Second World War. Free to visit. Treptower Park borders the Spree river, and it's a beautiful place to take a break.
3

Soviet Memorial in Tiergarten

Tiergarten
One of Berlin's 3 large memorials to the Soviet soldiers killed during the Second World War. Free to visit.
4

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

Bernauer Str. 111
The Berlin Wall memorial museum depicts the history of the Berlin wall. This is the best place to see a preserved section of the Berlin wall. Free to visit.
5

Mauerpark

Gleimstraße 55
Every Sunday, this park hosts Berlin's largest flea market, as well as dozens of artists. Don't miss the famous open air karaoke. Free to visit.
6

Alexanderplatz

10178 Berlin
Berlin's famous square. Frankly not the most interesting place in Berlin. Free to visit.
7

DDR Museum

Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 1
The DDR Museum tells the history of East Germany and gives you a nice overview of life behind the Berlin Wall.
8

Museumsinsel

Museumsinsel
The Museum Island is home to many of Berlin's largest museums.
9

Berliner Dom

Am Lustgarten
The Berlin cathedral is a giant cathedral situated on the Museum Island.
10

Deutscher Bundestag

Platz der Republik 1
The German parliament building. Free to visit with a reservation. Places are limited. Make sure you book your tickets in advance!
11

Brandenburger Tor

Pariser Platz
Berlin's iconic gate at the end of the Straße des 17. Juni. Free to visit.
12

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Cora-Berliner-Straße 1
A sobering monument to Germany's violent history. Only a short distance from the Brandenburg gate. Free to visit.
13

Gendarmenmarkt

Gendarmenmarkt
A beautiful market square that's home to a Christmas market, classical music concerts and more. Free to visit, except for the Christmas market.
14

Checkpoint Charlie

Friedrichstraße 43-45
An iconic military checkpoint on the former border between East and West Berlin. Free to visit.
15

East Side Gallery

10243 Berlin
A section of the Berlin wall that was converted into an open air gallery. Free to visit.
16

Berliner Fernsehturm

Panoramastraße 1A
The giant television tower that is visible almost anywhere in Berlin. It towers over Alexanderplatz, and offers a great view of Berlin (at a price).
17

Teufelsberg

Teufelsberg
An art project set in a former American listening station. Offers a fantastic view of Berlin and its surroundings, especially at sunset.
18

Drachenberg

Drachenberg
Grassy hill with a great view on the city. Also a great spot for a walk in the forest. Free to visit.
19

Revaler Straße

Revaler Str.
Revaler Straße is home to many of Berlin's clubs.
20

Siegessäule

Tiergarten
Large column in the middle of Tiergarten. Can be climbed for a nice view of Berlin. It's much cheaper to visit than the Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz.
21

Berliner Unterwelten

Brunnenstraße 105
Very interesting guided tours of Berlin's air raid shelters and tunnels. Tours are available in multiple language.