From the outside Berlin’s tumultuous history can be intimidating. Devastation and segregation have soaked the stones of Berlin in monumental ways during very recent generations, the poison that engulfed Germany’s capital is still taught in schools around the world today as a kind of preventative measure against the power of evil. At the end of WW2 more than 40% of it’s citizens had fled the city as it was being relentlessly bombed to the ground.
The resilience and forward-thinking of Germans since the war, the end of the Third Reich, and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1990 in particular, have transformed Berlin into one of the most modern, accepting, progressive and multi-cultural cities in the world. Around 25 non-indigenous communities have established Berlin as their home and there are now over one million people with an immigrant background living in the city, more than 30% of the total population.
This multi-cultural mecca thrives on diversity and innovation throughout all sectors. Most importantly for tourists; Berlin has a rich social culture of food, drink, freedom and art.
We were in Berlin for five nights of food, drink, freedom, art, friends and history. We could have stayed five more nights and still not experienced or seen enough to be satisfied. Berlin is a wonder.
We arrived in Berlin via Amsterdam on a flight with easyjet. Our flight took one hour and cost €80 each, which included a €15 each (I think) luggage fee. All up including transfers to and from airports and waiting time at airports, the trip from our accommodation in Amsterdam to our accommodation in Berlin took 4.5 hours. This is important to remember.
You can get a bus from Amsterdam to Berlin with Flixbus. The journey takes anywhere from eight hours (direct bus) to 16 hours (transfer in Hamburg) and costs between €30 and €80 per person. There is also an overnight service for those particularly partial to pain and suffering.
Ridesharing is an option between these cities using Blablacar. A ride might cost between €25 and €45 per seat and the journey will take between 6.5 and 7.5 hours.
Trains from Amsterdam to Berlin take nearly 6.5 hours if you are on a direct service. Tickets can be purchased online in advance (90 days) for €39 from DB Bahn. Check out this great article for more information.
When weighing up which method of travel to use between cities like these it’s a good idea to define your priorities and set yourself a limit on what you will endure to meet them. For example we usually prioritise budget, but we will never intentionally spend more than five hours on a bus. For us it’s just not worth it. We might spend longer on a train (maybe six hours) because they are generally more comfortable, and even slightly longer in a car (maybe seven hours) because you can stop when you want, but usually when faced with this amount of land travel we pay the extra money and fly.
You’ll have to set your own priorities and limits, and the length of your trip might dictate your choices so that you don’t end up spending your holiday getting to your holiday. Always remember to include transfer times and costs from airports and stations (or petrol) in your calculations. Here’s an example using the scenario above;
From your accommodation it takes 30 minutes and costs €11 in a über (trains and buses are on strike) to get to the airport 90 minutes ahead of your €80 flight, which takes one hour. It’s 30 minutes (if you’re lucky) to get out of the next airport then 45 minutes and €3.30 on public transport to your next accommodation. That’s 4h15m and €94.30 door to door.
It might only take you 20 minutes to get to the international train station, but lets assume it’s the same day as the above so an über costs you €8 to get there. The train itself takes 6h25m and costs €39 because you booked online 90 days in advance. From the train station it takes 30 minutes and costs €3.30 to get to your door. That’s 7h15m and €50.30.
If you take the train you’ve saved €44 in return for three hours of your time. If you decided on the bus over the flight, you could save €53 in return for five hours of your life. You get the idea.
When you’re in Berlin you get around on the underground/overground train services referred to as the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. Both are fast, cheap and safe. You can buy single journey tickets but depending on how long you spend in the city it can be best to buy a day or week ticket. We spent €30 on a seven-day pass each and used trains to get everywhere.
We chose a room in a local’s apartment in Neukölln using Airbnb. Our room cost €38 per night including the Airbnb service fees and was very comfortable, with windows overlooking the bustle of a busy street. The biggest advantage to using Airbnb was our hosts, who were able to give us local recommendations and advice about the city.
**Please note, prices are based on July rates**
Hostels in Berlin have dorm beds starting from €11 per night for somewhere with good reviews (7.5/10 or more). If you want to stay somewhere with excellent reviews (8.5/10 or more) you will have to pay €20 or more per bed per night. Three of the best-rated hostels in the city are EastSeven Hostel, Wombats City Hostel and Circus Hostel. When searching for hostels have a good look on Hostelworld, there are many unique and cool hostels in the city to choose from.
You can find a room in a central Berlin bnb from €23 per night, with an average of around €55 per night for somewhere nice. Apartments start from around €45 for somewhere central and of reasonable quality, but most apartments are going for between €90 and €110 per night.
Good hotels in Berlin start from €40 per night for a double room, with an average of €100 per night for somewhere nice. If you fork out €200 and above you can stay somewhere truly luxurious.
Where you stay doesn’t matter so much as the city is very well connected by public transport. If you want a diverse local vibe try Neukölln or Friedrichshain, if you want to stay more central try Mitte. Don’t expect to be able to walk everywhere, Berlin is huge.
Whatever you want, Berlin’s got. Lets start with everyones favourite activity when visiting a new city; eating.
The kebabs in Berlin are amongst the best I’ve had. A €2 kebab from a food truck is an entire meal and they are incredible. I’m not ashamed to say I ate three kebabs during my six days in the city, it’s a ridiculously cheap way to eat. Imren Grill comes highly recommended. For an upgrade on a kebab check out Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci in Kreuzberg for amazing kofte baguettes under €5.
Currywurst is a German street food staple, you can get it anywhere but if you find yourself still in Kreuzberg go to Curry 36 for what they claim is the best in the city. It’s pretty good if you like sausage and curry, mine cost €3.80. You can get all kinds of giant sausages in tiny buns from street stalls around the city from €1, these are worth a try if only because they are so cheap. Try spending a little more to get a good bratwurst with quality sauerkraut, we got ours from a biergarten for something like €6.
When you crave a good burger head to Friedrichshain and find burgermeister. Their burgers are awesome and fairly priced, mine cost €5.50.
There’s a few Korean places around U Kottbusser Tor station. We got some tasty Korean chicken wings from Angry Chicken for €7.50, but make sure to order hotter than you prefer as ours weren’t so angry. Just around the corner is the Kimchi Princess restaurant, I didn’t eat there but it looks really good.
Preußenpark or ‘Thai Park‘ is one of the more unique food experiences in Berlin. The park has been a meeting place for the local Thai community for more than 20 years, a place for families to gather, socialise and eat. These families have started cooking in larger quantities and selling meals to anyone who wants one and it’s worth the trip out there. We feasted on incredible Pad Thai (despite what the linked article claims!), wings, spring rolls and corn fritters, and spent €15 between us. It’s basic, you eat on the grass, but the food is delicious. Take a blanket!
I’m sure there is way more, it’s really just a matter of taste. The café culture in Berlin is huge; trendy vegan spots seem to pop up around every corner selling avocado on toast and incredible coffee. Don’t knock these until you try them.
Check out Berlin Food Stories for even more awesome places to eat.
If you’re looking for places to drink and/or party go no further than White Trash Fast Food. It’s a restaurant/bar/tattoo parlour that plays good music (depending on what you consider to be good!). I’m not sure what their deal is at the moment, the website says they’ve moved and there is contention over the ownership or something, but we visited and had a good time drinking beers and listening to cool music, you can also get tattoos done here during the day. Also check out Wild At Heart bar and Madame Claude’s upside down bar for drinky-poos.
For something more traditionally German find a Biergarten and drink massive beers with your neighbours on long wooden benches. Biergartens are often surrounded by trees and decorated with hanging lights, and have traditional food available. We visited the awesome Prater Garten with friends and had a great time.
For something less traditional head across the river to YAAM (Young African Art market). There’s a man-made beach with a decent bar, live music and great food. We actually ended up here twice and had some epic jerk-chicken, served on real dinner plates for €7.
Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke has all your needs for a big night singing your heart out to Bon Jovi. Just go there, it’s so much fun and is conveniently open until 4am.
One of my favourite things to do in Berlin was to grab a beer from an off-license. If you don’t know what this is, an off-license is a normal corner store that has a license to sell alcohol as long as it is opened off premises. In Berlin these places often have some seats outside on the footpath for discerning customers to drink and chat to their hearts content. What this means is that you can buy very cheap, very good German beers on the street and still have somewhere to sit and drink them with dignity. No more gutter drinking for me…
Piano Salon is an old piano refurbishment warehouse turned cultural centre that holds gigs by some of the world’s best classical and jazz musicians. It’s not uncommon to find musicians from various fancy orchestras gracing the stage, due to the vibe and atmosphere Piano Salon is renowned for. You need to book ahead of time to reserve seats, and although they say it’s free they do expect a cash donation of around €10 to €20 per person. That’s not a problem as the quality of musicianship and intimacy of the small venue will leave you happy to part with some cash.
ZK/U is a dis-used train station that’s been repurposed to house artists and exhibitions. There’s a bar, food, art and a nice place to sit outside. What more could you ask for?
At sunset go to Tempelhoffer Feld, a giant park and public space that used to be an airfield. Take some beers and a picnic and watch the sun go down. Apparently you can hire bikes during the day and ride through the old airforce hangars, but I can’t confirm this.
To see the main tourist attractions in Berlin I highly recommend taking a walking tour. There are free tours every day that take around three hours and cover most of the major sights, with the added advantage of a smart person talking about the history, culture and relevance of what you’re staring at. Fran from the Sandemans Free Tour was a gem, definitely ask for her if you use this company.
Another free walking tour I would highly recommend is the Alternative Berlin Tour. This tour is more focused on street art, normal art, music, communes, squats and a deeper look at history specific to the city. The guides are also knowledgeable about where to find good alternative food and bars.
Remember that although walking tours are technically free, the tour guides make their living from your donations so always always tip them at the end.
Here are some of the main sights to check out;
Brandenburg Gate – One of Germany’s most famous monuments, recognised in modern times as a symbol for unity and peace.
Holocaust Memorial – The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a unique landmark, worth a visit to walk amongst the gigantic stone pillars.
Berlin Wall Memorial – Is exactly what it sounds like and is one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin wall.
East Side Gallery – Another stretch of the Berlin wall that is covered with art in all forms.
Checkpoint Charlie – The most famous border crossing between former east and west Berlin. There’s loads of myths surrounding this place, all of them untrue. Its fame outshines its true history and is now essentially just a tourist trap.
Topography of Terror – The SS headquarters during the Third Reich is now a documentation museum with a free outside exhibition that runs along a length of the wall.
Reichstag Building – The German Parliament building. Has a cool glass ceiling dome.
Alexanderplatz – Central square in Mitte.
The Berlin Cathedral – The ‘Berliner Dom’ is the city’s most famous cathedral.
Berlin is the kind of city where you could lose a few years, let alone a few days. It’s uniqueness is only surpassed by its coolness. The spirit and vibe of the multitude of divergent communities is something truly special. Don’t go for a weekend is what I’m saying. Save up your time and money and go for a week or two and if you’re anything like me you’ll find that it’s still not enough.
A special shout-out to Melissa for a heap of great advice before we arrived, Jean and Alex who made the trip from London to party with us one last time, and Valentina and Joe for being beautiful locals.
**Please note – this cost summary excludes a night out with friends that was more exuberant than normal. I didn’t keep track of spending.
Berlin for five nights;
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