The shabbier, more controversial and undeniably cooler little sister of Paris, Milan and London, Berlin’s changed a lot in the last 30 years (think walls falling, two nations uniting, etc, etc…). There’s something about this city-in-progress that constantly draws in young creatives, inspired graduates and edgy tourists – including you. So you wanna spend 48 hours in Europe’s hipster capital, huh? Here’s how to go about it…
Flights to Berlin Schönefeld Airport can be as little as £19.99 if you travel midweek. Ryanair goes from Stansted and Easyjet from Luton, so check both those sites to find the best deal.
Of course, once you’ve arrived at sweet Schönefeld, there’s still the task of actually getting to the city itself… either €3.30 on the train (the station’s well signposted – buy tickets on the platform, and you’ll want the S9) or €40-ish for a taxi. Either way, it’ll take around half an hour.
Euro. Oh, and make sure you’ve always got cash in your wallet. Because it’s not unusual for shops, bars and restaurants to not accept card payments.
Where to Stay
For adventurous solo travellers, I’ve heard brilliant things about Couchsurfing.com. But if kipping on a stranger’s couch isn’t for you, Wombat’s City Hostel and Generator Berlin Mitte are both very much in the centre of things. With rooms from around €15 (if you don’t mind quickly making some new friends) they’re perfect for Berlin newbies.
A standard mixed dorm at Wombat’s
How to spend the day: The great thing about Berlin (especially for tight-fisted students) is that much of it can be seen for free. From the iconic TV tower at Alexanderplatz, walk past the Berlin Cathedral and up famous boulevard Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate:
Stop, drop and selfie, and then on your right is the Reichstag building (it’s free to go up into the dome, but you’ve gotta make an appointment online) and on the left the chillingly beautiful Holocaust Memorial:
Then if your legs are still functioning, take a train to Warschauer Straße and walk the famous East Side Gallery…
…or just grab some beers and chill in Tiergarten, Berlin’s version of Central Park.
Pretty green for a “city break”, right?
Cultural buffs with student ID can also pay €12 for a 3-day museum pass and see everything from the ancient gates of Babylon at the Pergamon Museum to deformed foetuses in test tubes at the Charité Medical Museum (not for the faint-hearted). Anne Frank, dinosaur skeletons, Jewish history… whatever you want to swot up on, Berlin’s got you covered.
Berlin’s techno reputation is formidable… and if you fancy trying your luck with the bouncers at Europe’s most exclusive club, Berghain, feel free. Another biggie is Tresor, a smoke-filled labyrinth inside an abandoned power station. But if drugs aren’t your scene and you fancy heading somewhere you’ll actually get into (with ID, obviously) try Soda Club. With multiple rooms playing everything from electro charts to Madonna, and free entry for ladies before 1am (we’ll turn a blind eye to those questionable ethics), it’s Berlin’s answer to Arena. Which is just as incredible as it sounds.
And no night at Soda would be complete without posing on the famous LIEBE sculpture at Kulturbrauerei…
It’s, like, practically law.
Berlin’s simply too massive to explore by foot. You’ll notice cyclists left, right and centre (and you’ll probably wander into the cycle lane more than once, provoking some furious bell ringing), but the easiest and safest way for newcomers to see the city is definitely via public transport.
Now, many will gleefully claim you don’t need tickets on Berlin’s transport system. After two €60 fines in the past 6 months, I can confirm this is a vicious lie. Best value for tourists is probably the €7 AB zone “Tageskarte,” or day ticket. Valid until 3am the next day once you’ve bought and stamped it at the platform (this is VERY important), it’s good for all U-Bahns, S-Bahns, trams and buses in the inner-city. These run regularly until the early hours, and all night on Fridays and Saturdays.
Top tip: there’s no shame in changing the ticket machine language to English. And even less shame in asking a nearby Berliner for help. Trust me, they’d rather do that than stand in line behind you.
Free Advice Berlin is a Facebook network of nearly 20,000 English-speaking locals and expats. Whether you want to know the best place for vegan brunch, who to speak to when your wallet’s stolen, or where to buy an iPhone charger on Sunday (oh, that’s a biggie: Berlin shuts down on Sundays. Shopping is a no-go), this group’s got your back.
It’s also well worth downloading the BVG (Berlin public transport) FahrInfo app on your phone if you want to explore the city by train, bus or tram. Just type in where you are and where you want to go, and it’ll give you all the different options, including walking times, connections and platform numbers. Just make sure to either memorise or screenshot the route before leaving the hostel WiFi.
Oh, and one final thing: grab some fit-looking snaps before the flight home. Because really and truly… if you didn’t Instagram your trip to Berlin, did you even go to Berlin?