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Berlin on a Budget


Potsdam Sanssouci summer palace
Izzet Keribar/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Welcome to Berlin:

This is not really a story about what to see and do in Berlin. It is an attempt to get you around this popular city without destroying your budget. As with most tourist meccas, Berlin offers plenty of easy ways to pay top dollar for things that won't really enhance your experience. Get a National Geographic Destination Map of Berlin.

When to Visit:

Summer temperatures are comfortable--extreme heat and thunderstorms here are a rarity. Spring and Fall can be cool, especially for North Americans. Pack warm clothes for winter. Berlin is like many European cities in that they don't use salt on roads or sidewalks for environmental reasons. Plan your steps accordingly. Find flights to Berlin.

Where to Eat:

Berlin has the world's largest Turkish population outside of Turkey itself. There are thousands of food stands beneath the sign "Imbiss" where you can get a delicious gyro-like sandwich for very reasonable prices. It makes for a filling, economical lunch-on-the-go. For dinner, try the Nikolaiviertel (St. Nicholas Quarter), a restored area around the church of the same name. Not all the eateries are budget-conscious, but many provide solid values and reasonable prices.

Where to Stay:

Hotel choices abound here. Few cities offer a wider array of cheap rooms than Berlin. Hostels.com provides a variety of options for those who don't mind the inconvenience of hostel life. For slightly more money, check out small hotels like Hotel Arco (U-bahn: Wittenbergplatz) near the KaDeWe department store. Places like this offer modest but comfortable room and breakfast for less than $100 USD/night. Priceline.com can be of great benefit in Berlin if you desire upscale, business-class rooms.

Getting Around:

Bus Number 100 makes takes a large circular route that hits most of the city's major tourist sites, but beware of pickpockets. Berlin's U-bahn/S-bahn lines are among the most economical and efficient in the world. Familiarize yourself with their routes and consider City Tour Cards that pay for 48 hours of urban train trips starting at about €16. Bike rentals are popular here, and you'll find riders have their own marked lanes on many streets. Rent a car and drive the Autobahn for a truly German travel experience.

Berlin Nightlife:

There is something here for virtually any taste, from classical entertainment to the latest in Techno. If you'll be out late, remember that many trains cease or cut back service after midnight. Many nightspots don't even begin to get busy until after 10 p.m., so if you're going to see or be seen, plan for a late start. Be advised: you might stumble upon places that cater to what many would consider very bizarre tastes.

Berlin Parks:

Few city parks in the world can rival the expansive Tiergarten that spreads across the center of the city. This is a great place to spend a quiet and economical afternoon with a picnic lunch. If you love to see splendid landscaping, don't miss out on a trip to Potsdam, where the castles are surrounded with some of the greatest gardens this side of Versailles.

More Berlin Tips:

  • This is museum paradise. You could visit a different museum each day for six months and not repeat yourself here. Among those that should not be missed: the Pergamon on Museum Island, where you'll find a fully reconstructed Greek altar, the Jewish Museum (U-bahn: Hallisches Tor), where two thousand years of German Jewish history is carefully preserved, and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (U-bahn: Kochstrasse), which houses a fascinating series of displays related to escape attempts from East Berlin pre-1989.

  • Stores close on weekends. Even Berlin's major department stores will close late Saturday afternoon and not reopen until Monday. Railway station stores generally remain open Saturdays and Sundays, but you won't always like their prices.

  • Learn a few words of German. The words "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" will go a long way in the realm of politeness and diplomacy. Unlike most of western Europe, many Berliners learned Russian rather than English as their second language. But there are quite a few English, French and Spanish speakers, too. Germans usually appreciate attempts to respect their language, no matter how poorly you butcher it! There are places where the German-language menu items are cheaper than the English version, so it doesn't hurt to learn the names of some food items.

  • Consider spending a day or two in Poland. Berlin is only an hour by train from the Polish frontier. Prices are generally cheap and there are many fascinating discoveries to be made.

  • Best free site not to miss: Eastside Gallery. Here you'll find 1.3 kilometers of undisturbed Berlin Wall. More than 100 paintings depicting man's quest for freedom cover this stretch. This is probably the world's longest open-air art gallery! It's a short walk from the Ostbahnhof station, which served as East Berlin's main railroad facility.

    Step by step tips for visiting any large city on a budget

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