Berlin | Travel Guide
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Update May 23: Germany closed its borders to non-essential visitors from the UK over concerns about the Indian variant of Covid circulating here. Germany is on our amber list, and the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the whole of Germany.
Negative PCR, Antigen or LAMP test 48 hours before arrival.
When you're there:
Private gatherings are restricted to two households, or up to five people. Restrictions are in place, but differ between states, depending on the rate of infection.
Traffic light status:
Germany has been confirmed to be on England's amber list meaning it would be legal to travel there for any reason, including a holiday, if the country were open to UK visitors. At time of writing the FCDO advises against non-essential travel to Germany.
Berlin Travel Guide
Willkommen travellers to the Holiday Extras guide to Berlin – the only place you need to come to find all you need to know essentials before travelling to Germany's capital city. We've covered all the most important information here including, travelling to Berlin, transport when you get there and our top recommendations for things to do and places to see.
To say that we've been to Berlin a few times is a bit of an understatement, which says a lot about how fantastic we think the place is, and also how much there is to do there. It also means that we've weeded through the tourist traps and underwhelming experiences to bring you our top travel recommendations for when you land. So sit back, grab a bratwurst and a beer and join us in discovering everything Berlin has to offer!
Overview of Berlin
Culture capital. Party place. Historical hub. However you describe Berlin, there is something for everyone in Germanys capital. Berlin is a city with a broad and colourful history, but it's also one that's grown and moved on, giving it a young and open-minded spirit that today draws tourists from all over the world.
So, what's the appeal? Well, Berlin has three UNESCO world heritage sites, three opera houses, over 180 museums, a delicious food scene, legendary nightlife and an unrivalled historical past. Revolutions, bombings and dividing walls, to name a few, have all had their hand in the shaping of this incredible city and are still visible in the fabrics of the buildings, lifestyle and culture on offer.
A constant reminder of the wall that once existed between East and West, Berlin is unique in the fact that it doesnt have one, but three different city centres. With the division of the city, East and West Berlin had their own centres which still exist now; Alexander Platz in the East and the Zoologischer Garten area in the West. When the wall did finally come down in 1989 and East and West were joined together again, Potsdamer became the third, shared city centre.
The East defines cool Berlin. Artists and other creative souls flocked here soon after the wall came down with its promise of cheap rent. While this may no longer be the case, it is very much still the creative centre. Packed with cafes, bars, clubs and trendy shops theres no mistaking the constant flow of conversation, music and noise that permeates the East side, and the thrill to keep up and the move to update the area is what makes it popular with students, artists and media professionals alike. The East Side Gallery, the longest open-air gallery in the world can be found near the centre of Berlin, on Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. Painted in 1990 the gallery consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world and has the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall at 1,316 km.
The West, on the other hand, has a more sophisticated, sedate feel to it. Tucked in between the remnants of medieval buildings youll find luxury shopping boulevards, upmarket restaurants and larger hotels. As well as being home to Europes most visited zoo, the Berlin Zoological Garden, youll also find the largest department store in continental Europe, KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) on the Western side of Berlin. Founded in 1907, the store covers the equivalent of nine football pitches with 64 escalators and 26 lifts moving more than 80,000 shoppers around the store each day. Many visitors come for its food hall, which showcases over 34,000 different products every day.
Finally, youve got Potsdamer Platz, smack bang in the middle of the two. It's considered the international city centre and home to a massive complex of businesses, shopping and culture. Once an empty wasteland with the Berlin Wall running through the middle of it Potsdamer Platz has made something of a dramatic rise from the ashes to become a completely new neighbourhood. As the newest city centre, you will find a plethora of cinemas, theatres, restaurants, shopping centres and some stunning examples of modern architecture in Berlin. If you happen to be at Potsdamer Platz, take a look downwards, because a metal strip laid in the ground marks the route of the Berlin Wall.
Travelling to Berlin
With so much on offer why not take some of the hassle out of your trip before youve even left and start your trip the Holiday Extras way! With access to airport parking at convenient locations near every major (and some minor) UK airports our car parks are lovingly hand-picked by us to offer the best selection of affordable, efficient and trustworthy parking.
Why not book ahead and then all you need to do is a quick pit stop and drop your car off with one of our fantastic Meet and Greet drivers. Theyll take the car from you and park it in a fully secured, regularly patrolled, nearby site and youll be on your way to the terminal before you know it.
Once youve whisked through check in, why not head over to one of the amazing airport lounges on offer for a quick regroup and a spot of refreshments. Refuelled and ready to go, the flight time from the UK to Berlin is roughly two hours to cover the 1100 km journey so youll be ready to hit the ground running once you get there.
Berlin offers you the choice of not one, but two airports, Schönefeld and Tegel. Both are international with the majority of the budget airlines arriving at Schönefeld, but whichever airline you fly with youll still find yourself conveniently located within a 45-minute journey of the city centre.
Berlin Schönefeld Airport is the second international airport of Berlin and was the major civil airport of East Germany and the only airport of the former East Berlin. Schönefeld is situated in the southeast and 18 km from the centre, and the Berlin public transport system is as efficient as could be expected. Its also pretty cheap. Meaning that you can easily get from the airport to the city centre on a single ABC ticket costing 3.40 (more on getting around Berlin later!)
Your best bet is to either hop on the S-Bahn and take the S9 line to the city centre and get off at Alexanderplatz, or take the S45 and get off at Südkreuz. The S-Bahn runs every ten minutes and the trip will take you about 45 minutes depending on where you get off!
The other option is to get one of the Airport Express trains (RE 7/RB 14) which run twice every hour to Berlins city centre and to the main station, Hauptbahnhof, and its only about a 30-minute trip.
Berlin Tegel "Otto Lilienthal" Airport formerly served West Berlin. The airport is named after the flying man Otto Lilienthal, the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful flights with gliders, and is one of the busiest airports in Germany. Although close to the city centre, Tegel airport has fewer options to get you into the heart of Berlin. But dont panic, theyre all pretty straightforward. Buses labelled X9, 109, 128, or TXL all head towards central Berlin and run very regularly, with one arriving every few minutes. Its worth noting that both the TXL and the X9 are the JetExpress buses and only stops at the main bus stops making it a pretty quick 40-minute ride direct to the central Alexanderplatz.
If you find yourself with more luggage than you can handle then a taxi might be your best bet. From Schönefeld its about 15-30 minutes to the centre of Berlin and from Tegel, its about the same!
Or, if you fancy it, you can take advantage of companies like DriveNow and their Drive'nFly package, which allows you to pick up a car when you arrive at the airport and driving yourself from A to B as fast as you can load your destination into the GPS.
Getting around Berlin
Now you've got an idea of the lay of the land, lets take a look at how to get around.
Firstly, we cant but help mention again just how good the Berlin transport system is. Berlin is served by ten underground lines, eight of which also run at night. The tram network is made up of 22 routes, with nine operating around the clock. And of 154 bus routes, 17 travel their usual routes at night in addition to the 62 dedicated night bus lines particularly catering to the needs of night-time travellers. You find a really helpful map of the Berlin transport network with this useful journey planner.
It's fast, reliable, cheap and what's more, it's simple to use. This is in part down to the fact that it is almost all run by one company, BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe). They run all the trams and buses in Berlin as well as the U-Bahn, and work hand in hand with the S-Bahn and local Deutsche Bahn to ensure you have a seamless journey from one mode of transport to another using just one ticket. All vehicles of the BVG go round the world 16 times in only one day! The underground travels 2,28 billion kilometres a year; Berlin's buses 1,34 billion kilometres, and trams, 538 million kilometres.
Travelling on the underground
- Berlin is divided into three tariff zones: A, B and C.
- Tickets are available to buy for the combined zones AB, BC or ABC, as needed.
- Adults pay the regular fare with the reduced fare being able for children 14 and under.
- Children under six do not need to buy a ticket.
If you're planning to explore the city at a fair length we would really recommended getting either an unlimited day ticket or a week ticket, which are 7 and 30, respectively. This will get you unlimited travel across the whole network and a worthwhile investment. Berlin is huge - walking around the entire city can be long and tiring so its worth thinking about.
You can buy a ticket from a multitude of locations including over 330 kiosks and station shops across the city. You will find ticket counters in the larger stations but can find multilingual ticket machines on the platforms of most S-and U-Bahn stations easily. Bus fares are paid to the driver and at machines inside the trams.
There are also mobile apps for both Android and Apple which you can download to purchase your tickets and make cashless purchases. There are two different types on offer:
- The free FahrInfo Plus app allows you to use your mobile phone as a ticket, journey planner and save favourite routes. Apple. Android.
- There is also the BVG Berlin tickets app for both platforms which is very similar but doesnt have the journey planner element making it more simple to use. Apple. Android.
A word of warning: you absolutely must, without fail, make sure you validate your ticket before every journey. The entire Berlin transport network relies on an honesty policy and there are no barriers at the train, tram or bus stops. But dont let that trick you into thinking you can get a free ride. If you get stopped by an undercover inspector and they catch you without a validated ticket you will be fined up to 60 on the spot. To validate your ticket make sure you stamp it at the yellow or red boxes on the platform or stop.
The are other options available for tourists including either the Berlin Welcome Card, or, the City Tour Card. Both offer discounts on travel and attractions so its worth checking to see how much you can save depending on what and where you want to go.
With most UK mobile networks adopting the same price plan in Europe as the UK, using your phone in Germany to help you get around shouldnt be a problem. We loved using Citymapper to guide us around Berlin.
Driving in Berlin
With its narrow streets, confusingly random one-way roads and large population of cyclists, driving in Berlin isnt recommended as such! While it is, of course entirely possible, there are some key things you need to think about before getting behind the wheel.
The centre of Berlin is an environmental zone or Umweltzone and you will need a badge to drive into the centre. These come in the form of a windscreen sticker and the easiest way to obtain one is to apply online for one before you go if youre bringing your own car. No badge? Expect a fine in the region of 80.
While is famed for its unlimited-speed Autobahn, its worth keeping in mind that the German authorities will not tolerate speeding of any kind in the cities or surrounding areas! To avoid hefty fines, keep within the speed limit of 50km/h (approx. 31mph), and 100km/h (approx. 62 mph) on the surrounding highways. 5km/h over the speed limit and you are more than likely to find yourself with a fine. No seatbelt? Add another fine. You get the picture. Bad driving can be costly in Berlin.
Of course, there are some situations in when only a car will do. So, if you need your own set of wheels in Berlin, or indeed want to explore the wider country, then you can sure you're getting best deal on car hire with Holiday Extras.
Cycling in Berlin
If the weather is good and you dont mind a bit of exercise then exploring Berlin by bike is a great option. Cycling is a popular mode of transport in Berlin meaning the city is designed for cyclists; it's really flat and there are long stretches of bike paths that even have their own traffic light system. In fact, for every ten people in Berlin there are seven bikes! You can pick up a rental bike from all sorts of places across the city including supermarkets, hostels and outside train stations. There are also dedicated companies such as Fat Tire Tours that run dedicated bike tours of Berlin so you can take in all the sights while getting fit and learning about the city from someone in the know. A massive plus is that if you find yourself running out of steam at any point you can always pop on yourself and your bike on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram or any regional train - just remember that you will need a separate additional bike ticket!
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Things to do in Berlin
Whether you fancy a stroll, a snack, or are on the lookout for some rare second-hand furniture, Berlin has a plethora of markets that will cater for your every need. Here are our top markets for to check.
Neuköllner Wochenmärkte am Maybachufer
- To give it its full name, Neuköllner Wochenmärkte am Maybachufer is our first pick. Often referred to by locals as the Turkish Market, this twice-weekly event is not to be missed. As the name may suggest its main wares are Turkish specialities including clothing, food and other household goods but keep your eye out for the stalls selling traditional Turkish sweets. Not to be missed.
- U-Bahn: Schönleinstraße
- Second up is Winterfeldtplatz in Schöneberg, often considered the best farmers market in Berlin. Here you can find top-quality breads, cheeses, meats, fruit and veg. Enjoy a stroll through the market and pick up everything you need for a picnic or take advantage of the beautiful bars, cafes and restaurants that surround it and just soak up the atmosphere.
- U-Bahn: Nollendorfplatz
Street Food Thursday
- If youre more into tasting your food from the market right away then Street Food Thursday may be your thing. Taking place every Thursday (as the name might suggest) in the heart of Kreuzberg at Markthalle Neun, youll find an overwhelming array of food, wine and beer on offer from the incredible independent food stalls. We recommend getting there before 6pm to give yourself a chance to see everything on offer and grab a seat.
- U-Bahn: Görlitzer Bahnhof
Berlin loves a museum and boasts to have more museums than annual rainy days. Thats 180 museums, at the last count, versus an average 106 rainy days, for those who like a good fact. There are our top three museums we think you should check out.
- While this might be considered a bit of a cheat as its more than one museum, our first recommendation is a trip to Museum Island (Museumsinsel). Found in the middle of Mitte on the Spree River, Museum Island is a unique collection of five museums and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1999. There are a series of internationally important and architecturally beautiful buildings, like the Bode Museum, that lay home to some of the world's most important art, historical artefacts and exhibits.
- S-Bahn: Hackescher Markt
- U-Bahn: Alexanderplatz
The Jewish Museum
- Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, the Jewish Museumin Berlin has been considered to be an international landmark since its opening in 2001. Bringing together exhibitions, educational activities and a diverse program of events, the museum is a wonderful reflection of Jewish history and culture, as well as migration and diversity in Germany.
- U-Bahn: Hallesches Tor
- U-Bahn: Kochstraße
The David Hasselhoff Museum
- Starting life as a shrine to Berlins number one 80s legend; The David Hasselhoff Museum has now reached full blown museum status packed full with artefacts that include photographs, murals and Hoff-related paraphernalia. While his connection with Berlin might not be immediately apparent David Hasselhoff has an almost 30-year long association with the city and the fall of the wall. His hit single, Looking for Freedom was number one for eight long week in the summer of 1989 and spoke to what was still a very divided city. This was quickly followed by a legendary New Years Eve concert speaking to a newly united Berlin surrounded by the remains of the wall and 100,000 swaying lighters held aloft. Even if The Hoff isn't your cup of tea, at least enjoy the fact that it's free and there's an in-house microbrewery!
- U-Bahn: Rosenthaler Platz
Tourist hot spots
Since there is so much to do in Berlin, it would be impossible for us to give you the definitive list of the top tourist hot spots but weve rounded up the top five things we think shouldnt be missed on your trip.
- Home of the German Parliament, the Reichstag is one of the most visited sites in Berlin and once youve been you can see why. Take a lift to the top of the building to the roof terrace and dome to experience unparalleled views of Tiergarten, the Hyde Park of Berlin covering 519 acres of forested land. If you want to go to the top you really need to book in advance. You can book on the day but theres no guarantee of space. Wed also recommended booking an early appointment to avoid the crowds of school parties and tourists. And dont forget your passport. No passport. No entry.
- U-Bahn: Bundestag
The Brandenburg Gate
- One of Berlins most important monuments, The Brandenburg Gate is symbolic of both Berlins past and also its future. Once a platform, giving visitors a glimpse into the other world behind the Iron Curtain and over the death-strip dividing East and West Berlin, it now serves as a symbol of unity over division. When visiting the monument and before crossing over to the other side, the "Raum der Stille" (Room of Silence) situated on the north wing provides a restful place for a short break.
- U-Bahn: Brandenburger Tor
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
- Found in the centre of Berlin located between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is visited by nearly a million people each year. Honouring and remember the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust the Memorial consists of the Field of Stelae designed by Peter Eisenman and the subterranean Information Centre. Opened in 2005 on a sloping site covering 19,000 square metres, Eisenman placed 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights creating a wave-like form which is different from all angles. Unstable in form and vast in size it is impossible to not be stopped in your tracks. We would also highly recommend taking time to download the Virtual Concert app. The first virtual concert ever recorded, the sound of the instruments changes depending on your location and the route you're taking through the Field of Stelae, growing louder or softer, more passionate or muted.
- U-Bahn: Brandenburger Tor
- Standing at an impressive 368 metres Berlins TV Tower is the tallest building in Germany. A dizzying symbol of communist power, you can now take the 40-second express lift to the top and its impressive viewing platform. Here you will find spectacular 360-degree panoramic views out across the entire city and beyond! Take time to sit and have a drink at the bar.Or, head to the restaurant which has an outer ring of revolving tables, serving coffee, snacks and reasonably priced meals while revolving once around its axis every hour. Make sure you book before you go as both the tower and restaurant get very busy! It's worth getting your hands on a fast track ticket to beat the queues and the restaurant can get booked up weeks in advance so keep this in mind.
- U-Bahn: Alexanderplatz
- Considered to be one of the most famous sites in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie is also one of Berlin's busiest tourist locations. Found on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße the crossing became a symbol for the divide between East and West during the Cold War. The barrier and checkpoint booth, the flag and the sandbags are all based on the original site and it's here that you'll find most of the tourists taking their picture with actors playing the parts of soldiers stationed here. Nearby you can also find Mauermuseum – a Museum dedicated to telling the stories of those fleeing East Berlin and more information about the Berlin Wall.
- U-Bahn: Kochstraße
Und das ist alles! We hope youve enjoyed our whistle stop tour of the fabulous city of Berlin. Weve had an amazing time meeting wonderful people, visiting incredible places, enjoying the awesome food and the fantastic atmosphere of the entire city. Whether you're in Berlin for a long weekend or a longer stay we cant recommend a visit enough.
If you're reading this and think we have missed out a top tip then let us know and leave a comment to share with other travellers!
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That's it from us, auf wiedersehen!
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