City Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Berlin, Germany
This post is part of a five part City Guide series as I explore Europe as a brand ambassador for Bonwi. It has affiliate links to things I genuinely like.
After I moved to Amsterdam, I traveled to many European cities and thought, “There’s no better city to call home than Amsterdam.” That is, until I went to Berlin. I fell in love with this city immediately! I loved that it felt as big as Paris, was as chill as Amsterdam, and had a raw and gritty charm like New York. Best of all, it had great tasting inexpensive food in every neighborhood– something I sorely miss out on living in Amsterdam. Read on to find out everything I loved about Berlin and that you should check out in this complete city guide.
Click on a section to jump down the page.
- How to Get to Berlin
- How to Get to Your Hotel From the Airport
- Where to Stay
- How to Get Around
- What to Do
- Where to Eat
- What to Pack
How to Get to Berlin
There are lots of ways to get to Berlin since it’s a popular international city. I personally like to fly there from Amsterdam because it only takes an hour and a half to get there, and since it’s just a short flight, I’ll get the cheapest flight available even if it’s a budget airline.
If you’re doing a big Euro trip and will be visiting lots of countries, then I’d recommend looking into getting a Eurail pass, which allows you unlimited train travel within a specified number of countries.
Blablacar is a carpooling site that lets you hop into someone’s car if there’s space! From experience, the prices are better than flying or riding the train, but keep in mind, you may encounter traffic and other unexpected delays from driving.
How to Get to Your Hotel From the Berlin Airports
I’ve flown into both Berlin airports and have found using transportation to be fairly easy.
To get from Schönefeld Airport to city centre, it takes about 30 minutes on the regional trains, RE7 or RB14. You can also take S-bahn (S9) and transfer at Ostkreuz to where you need to go.
To get from Tegel airport to city centre, there are various ways you can go, but the shortest way to reach an U-bahn station is to take the 109 or 128 bus to Kurt-Schumacher-Platz (U6) or Jakob-Kaiser-Platz (U7) stations. You can also try the JetExpressBus TXL or Expressbus X9 for quicker rides into the city.
The best way to figure out which mode of public transportation you should take, use Google Maps. If you won’t have data upon arrival, look it up on Google Maps beforehand, and take a screenshot of the directions. Also make sure to download an offline map of Berlin on Google Maps, and save the location of your hotel in it so that once you get off your S-bahn, U-bahn, or bus stop, you’ll have a map to show you where to walk to.
Berlin’s transportation fare varies by zone. Since the airports are in Zone C, you will need a ticket that covers Zones A, B, and C, which you can buy at a yellow ticket machine. A single ticket costs €3,40 as of 03/30/16 but you can check the VBB site for updated fares.
Tip: After you get a ticket, make sure to validate it by popping it into a validation/time-stamp machine. Also, some doors on public transportation do not open automatically. You will have to press a button or pull a lever to open the door.
Where to Stay in Berlin
If it’s your first time in Berlin, you may want to stay in the heart of Berlin, Mitte. This neighborhood has many of the city’s popular tourist sights and has great access to public transportation. If you want to be near the sights but still want to experience a less touristy but still trendy neighborhood, stay in Prenzlauer Berg right next to it. I stayed in this neighborhood the first time I went to Berlin and loved it because of its endless number of restaurants, bars, cafés, and people watching opportunities! Another neighborhood close to Mitte is Kreuzberg, which I explored the last time I went to Berlin. It’s a gentrifying neighborhood with immigrant roots, a lot of character, and a good mix of underground clubs.
I Booked a Hotel With Bonwi and Got Back $275 in Rewards
Whichever neighborhood you choose to stay in, I recommend booking through Bonwi because they give you the most amount of rewards back than any other online hotel booking site. For example, last time I went to Berlin, I stayed at the Sofitel Berlin Kurfürstendamm for 3 nights, and I got back $275 in rewards. The room cost $1,310, which means I got back 21% of it in rewards that I can use on hotels, flights, Visa or Amazon cards, and more.
If $1,310 for 3 nights sounds like a bit much to you, then check out the site anyways because they have great rewards for all budgets from hostels to 5-star hotels. For example, when I went to Bruges, I got 3 nights for $690 and got back $250 in rewards, which is 40% of the hotel costs right back into my pocket! For both Bruges and Berlin, I checked rates on other sites like Expedia and Hotels.com and booked with Bonwi because I got the most rewards back. Add the 20-40% to how much your credit card gives you for travel (about 1-2%), and you’ll be ready to take another trip in no time!
Tip: Get $15 of rewards on Bonwi asap just for signing up.
How to Get Around Berlin
Taking public transportation such as the U-bahn, bus, or tram is really easy and effective. Pull up directions on Google Maps for transit directions. Of course, pull them up beforehand if you don’t have data on your phone.
A single ticket on public transportation is €2,80 within Zones A&B and an unlimited day ticket is €7,00 as of 03/30/17.Whatever ticket you get, you can use it on all the public transportation within the specified zone. Check out the VBB Site for current fares and other options for tickets.
Once you’re in the neighborhood you want to be in, walk around! It’s one of the best ways to take in Berlin with its mix of old and new buildings and diverse population. I’m sure you’ll discover lots of hidden gems by poking your nose in and around streets that public transportation doesn’t take you on.
Berlin is a great city to bike in and quite easy to. There are clear bike lanes, and a lot of locals bike so cars and people are aware of bikers.
I rented both an electric bike and regular bike from Fat Tire Tours, which is located next to the TV Tower in Berlin making it a super convenient location to grab a bike from. If you want to know what biking around in Berlin was like for me, check out this post, or if you don’t want to bike around on your own and want to learn more about the city, book a bike tour.
myTaxi or Taxi
If you’re an Uber fan, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s no Uber in Germany. Instead, there’s this app myTaxi (iPhone, Android). I like this app because you can pre-book a taxi, something you can’t do on Uber.
If you don’t have data, then keep an eye out on taxi stands around the city, or head into a hotel to ask them to get you a taxi.
What to Do in Berlin
Both times I went to Berlin, there was an endless number of things to do. Here are my favorite sights to see.
The Reichstag Building
My #1 recommendation is to visit the Reichstag Building. The building itself is an amazing piece of architecture, but the real cherry on top of this site is that you will have great views of the city when you reach the time.
People argue when the best time to go is. I went at nighttime and saw a beautifully lit-up cityscape of Berlin, but others say to go during the daytime so you can take full advantage of the free audio tour that points out surrounding historical buildings. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Tip: Tickets to the Reichstag are free, but you must register prior to going. You can register here.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
This free Holocaust Memorial does a fantastic job in detailing out exactly what happened from 1933 to 1945. If you’re sensitive like me, plan to go here when you’ll have time shake off the heavy material after. One of the most intimate and touching parts of the museum was the exhibit showing photos of the family who were killed in the Holocaust and what their lives were like before it.
Note: You might be tempted to jump around the memorial columns outside, especially when seeing others. I personally find it disrespectful that people are jumping around on this commemorative memorial like a playground, but a Jewish blogger said that it’s more than ok because those who suffered through the Holocaust would want people to be joyous now. However you view the memorial, note that you’re technically not allowed to as noted by a sign.
Nature-Park Schöneberger Südgelände
I went to a few parks in Berlin including the popular Tiergarten, and Nature-Park Schöneberger Südgelände was my favorite! It’s an old rail yard that was converted into a park and space for art events. I loved seeing this old train inside, and foliage growing wild over old railroad tracks and alongside the brick buildings.
Tip: Entry fee is €1. It’s an honor system where you drop a coin into a box so remember to bring a coin.
Berlin Wall Walking Trail
Berlin’s recent history is quite fascinating, and the city does a great job of sharing intimate information about the wall along its walking trail. I stumbled upon the start of the trail in Mitte and was sucked into the personal stories the information booths shared as it transported me back into time with a telling of what exactly happened on the spot I was standing at. Whether it’s walking the full 3.5 miles (5.7km) of the wall or just a section of it, I highly recommend visiting the wall, which starts out in Mitte and ends up at the East Side Gallery. Check out this map provided by Visit Berlin’s site.
Note: The beginning of the walk is right near Vietnam Village. I suggest eating lunch there before this walk!
East Side Gallery
The East Side Gallery is an iconic memorial for freedom painted by 118 artists from 21 countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Artists painted the wall with various commentary on political events following the fall. In 2009, 40 of the murals were restored, but vibrantly shining or fading away, this wall has a rich history that shouldn’t be missed!
There’s ton of graffiti all over Berlin that you’ll stumble upon time and time again, but if you do a bit of planning, you can spot the best graffiti murals or head to the general areas where a bunch are.
Berlin may be the most well-known city in the world for its nightlife and club so it’s worth checking out the underground club scene as it’s basically the lifeline of this city. One of the most famous underground clubs in the world there is Berghain, although it’s notoriously hard to get into. You can find events for Tresor, Kater Blau, and other clubs on Resident Advisor, my go-to site for electronic events.
Tip: Don’t wear heels or flashy clothes to these clubs. They are underground clubs so wear sneakers and preferably black.
Where to Eat in Berlin
Perhaps the reason why I fell in love with Berlin is because of the inexpensive but extremely tasty variety of cuisines everywhere. I especially love that any given neighborhood will have a handful of Vietnamese pho places! #dreamcometrue Anyways, here are my favorite places in Berlin to eat.
I’ve been to four pho places in Berlin over my two trips there, and my ultimate favorite spot is Vietnam Village. The pho broth is flavorful and satisfying, and they use the right noodle thickness (yes, noodle thickness in pho can make or break the dish for me). Also, everything else they make is so good because they have great ingredients. The veggies are so fresh and tasty and cooked al denté.
Tip: If you can eat as much as me, get the appetizer size pho*, mango salad with chicken or shrimp, and the crispy duck entrée.
*I think I fell in love with Berlin because this restaurant has an appetizer size pho. It totally solves my dilemma of wanting both a pho and an entrée but not being able to eat both in one sitting!
Oderberger Str. 7
For great Mediterranean food with a near perfect 4.9 stars on Google, Meyan Berlin is the place to go. You can’t go wrong with anything you order, but if you don’t know what to get, ask! They recommended the stuffed peppers to me, which were delicious. It also has a really cute ambiance so it’s a good place to chill out in, read a book, or even work from your laptop.
Zeit für Brot
Forget Cinnabon and everything you’ve ever known about cinnamon rolls. Zeit für Brot is the bakery to go to for fluffy but dense cinnamon rolls with various toppings like nuts and a cream cheese frosting. They’re freshly baked in house! They also have great sandwiches with high quality ingredients that you can grab for take-away to eat while exploring the city.
I haven’t been here, but a colleague of mine who’s been going to Berlin yearly for 19 years says that this place has the best Austrian schnitzel in town. Someone on Yelp says that this schnitzel is even better that schnitzel he’s tried at Michelin star restaurants! I didn’t get a chance to go on my last trip, but it’s on my list of places to eat so it was worth mentioning– right? Overall, it’s an elegant restaurant that puts a lot of love into their ingredients and even tells you on their menu which allergens are in each dish.
What to Pack for Berlin
Before you even think about what to pack for Berlin, make sure to download the offline version of Google Maps so that even without data, you’ll always have a map handy. For most of the year, here are the staples that I bring with me to Berlin. Since Berlin is a big city, you’ll:
- be walking a lot so wear sneakers ,
- be out for most of the day so bring a portable charger the size of a lipstick case and fits easily in a pocket or purse and a wire for your phone,
- needing directions so bring your phone with an offline Google Maps on it,
- needing to charge your phone, camera, and other electronics so an EU charging station with four USB ports is really handy,
- be taking lots of photos so bring one that takes great photos and is light to carry like the Sony A6000 I have,
- possibly want to look your best so check out this post to find out if you need a converter or adapter for your hair straightener or curling, or if you need to buy a new one,
- and depending on the weather, you’ll want to bring a poncho, umbrella, or a winter coat with winter accessories. Both times I went in the Fall and Winter were gray, rainy, and cold!
Here are photos of the products I named above and other ones you might find helpful for your trip.
Ready to go to Berlin? Book a hotel with Bonwi, and build up rewards quickly like you’ve never done before.
Thanks for stopping by! xo.