How can you experience the beautiful city of Berlin on a budget?
Berlin is a city of revolutionary politics, architecture, culture and fashion. Now it’s well and truly on everyone’s must-see list, but how can you get to see all that it has to offer without breaking the bank?
- Save money getting there
- Getting around for less
- See Berlin on a budget – Sightsee for free
- Christmas in Berlin
- Stay for less
First off, there are ways you can save on getting there in the first place. One option to bring down the cost of your trip is to collect Avios while you shop. You can then turn these Avios into holidays, flights, city-breaks or hotels. There are plenty of ways you can start stacking up Avios points, plus loads of special offers to take advantage of.
Lloyds TSB Duo Avios: This account gives you two credit cards: a MasterCard and an American Express card. You’ll earn one Avios per £1 spent on the American Express card, and one Avios for every £5 spent on the MasterCard. Plus you earn double points when you spend abroad. There’s no annual fee and the typical APR is 17.9%.
British Airways American Express Credit Card: This card gives you one Avios per £1 spent, there’s no annual fee and the APR is 15.9%. You also get travel accident benefit up to £75,000 with the card.
Obviously with rewards cards like these, the more you spend, the more Avios you earn. This isn’t an excuse for a huge shopping spree though, it’s just a worthwhile way to get something extra out of the money you would have spent anyway. To find out more about how the Avios scheme works see our article here, and there’s even more helpful info here.
Berlin has one of the best public transport systems in the world, and you can get an all-in-one travel ticket (covering trains, the underground and buses) really cheaply if you think ahead. We strongly recommend that you get a Berlin WelcomeCard. This includes a travel card lasting 48 hours, 72 hours or five days (for €16.50, €22, or €29.50 respectively).
The WelcomeCard includes a guidebook giving you the lowdown on all the attractions in the city (including a city map) and contains discounts of between 25 – 50% off many of the city’s main attractions. These can be worth more than worth the price of the card alone! The family version of the WelcomeCard is especially good value – it covers the travel of one adult and up to three children (aged up to 14) for 48 hours (€18.50), 72 hours (€25.00) or five days (€34.50). You can order your Berlin WelcomeCard in advance online (though you will have to pay a shipping charge). Many hotels and some of the S-bahn train stations also sell them, or you can head to one of Berlin Tourism Info Stores.
Berlin’s public transport is not only a convienient and reliable way to get from A to B – it can be a great (and cheap!) way to see the best of the city. For example, the number 100 and 200 buses pass by practically all the main sites and attractions of this historic city. Sitting on the top deck, you will pass by everything from the Reichstag to the Berliner Dom (Berlin’s answer to the Basilica in Rome). It’s a brilliant way to see the city and you can hop on and off at will for free with your WelcomeCard!
Berlin has so much to see and do, and many of its attractions won’t cost you a penny. Of course, there are plenty of great tours, museums, buildings and galleries that are well worth their entrance fee (we’ll come to them in a bit). But below we detail some brilliant attractions that won’t make the slightest dent in your spending money.
The seat of German governance, the Reichstag is a hugely impressive building. The political direction of the country has been set here since the nineteenth century, and despite enduring everything from fires to fascism, it now stands as a proud testament to German democracy. The iconic glass dome at the top of the building, designed by Norman Foster, offers superb 360 degree panoramic views across the whole city. Entrance to the Reichstag and its rooftop views is free, though you will have to queue. The wait is worth it though! Whether you’re interested in history, politics, architecture, or just want a great view of the city – you should definitely try to fit this into your trip.
This historic symbol of the city is as essential a tourist stop as Big Ben in London or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Now standing as a monument to German reunification, stop here for the obligatory photograph, admire the architecture and soak up the atmosphere. The Brandenburg Gate is located at the end of Unter den Linden, Berlin’s most famous boulevard, so there’s plenty to see and do nearby.
Over a third of Berlin is green space, so unsurprisingly the city has some fantastic parks. The Tiergarten (which means animal park in German) used to serve as the hunting grounds for German nobility.
Today Berliners tend to use it for more relaxing pursuits, such as walking and picnics! Berlin’s famous zoo is located here (get 25% off entry with a WelcomeCard), as well as The Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the Cultures of the World, an impressive looking arts exhibition centre and the 226 foot Victory Column which has an observation platform with spectacular views… if you want to make the climb! (It was in front of the Victory Column – which has featured in everything from the film Wings of Desire to a U2 music video – that Barack Obama gave a speech to over 200,000 Berliners in 2008).
Nearby the Tiergarten is the Straße des 17. Juni boulevard, which every weekend turns into Berlin’s biggest flea market, teeming with locals and tourists seeking a bargain!
Topography of Terror
This is an open-air exhibition located where the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS once stood, detailing the Nazi regime’s reign of terror and one of the darkest moments in human history. More than 500,000 visitors visit every year, making it one of the most visited memorial sites in Europe.
Entrance to the Memorial to German Resistance is also free, an absorbing musuem which showcases the varied elements of resistance in German society and the Nazi propaganda deployed against such ‘traitors’. The musuem is based on the site where Claus Graf von Stauffenberg and the other members of the July 20 plot of 1944 to assassinate Hitler were executed.
The Berlin Wall / The East Side Gallery
A surprising amount of the wall is still standing. Isolated slabs exist throughout the city, a stark reminder of the country’s fractured history. But the most impressive segment exists as the East Side Gallery in Mühlenstrasse – a 1.3km segment of the wall that, since 1990, has been covered with the work of artists documenting the sense of change and hope felt by people after the wall fell. Poignant, silly and cutting by turns, it’s a fascinating piece of history and probably the biggest open air art gallery in the world.
The alternative tour of Berlin
There are plenty of great tours in Berlin. This alternative tour is up there with the best of them – and it’s free. It offers something a bit different, taking you away from the tourist trail and showing you the city through the eyes of a Berliner. In other words, they’ll take you to places you’d never normally be aware of unless you lived in the city itself.
Another great company is Brewers Berlin Tours. Their tours aren’t free, but they are very good – and they offer some tours on a ‘pay what you think it’s worth/can afford’ basis, so they remain within everybody’s budget.
…plus lots more!
There’s more free events and attractions in Berlin than can possibly be included here. A brilliant site is Admission Free Berlin, which keeps you up-to-date with all the latest free offerings and events.
Plus, there are countless things to do that, while not free, are fantastic attractions and great value for money. The guide you get with your WelcomeCard is a good place to start (and tells you where you can get discounts of up to 50% off the entrance fee). Whatever you fancy doing – whether it’s going up the TV Tower, passing through Checkpoint Charlie, visiting Museum Island, or simply strolling through some the city’s beautiful streets and squares – you won’t be bored!
The Christmas market is a German tradition, and Berlin’s Christmas markets are among the best. In fact, Berlin can boast of over 60 Christmas markets taking place over the festive period, and they all offer something different.
For instance, you can get transported back to a magical nineteenth century winter Berlin with the Christmas market that is held outside the baroque splendour of Charlottenburg Palace – all lit up for the occasion.
As well as the market itself, you can wander through the spectacular grounds of the palace, enjoy an historic carriage ride and view exhibits within the palace itself. The Christmas market reflects the Biedermeier era (Germany’s equivalent of the Regency period). It’s a sure place to snap up a classy Christmas gift for mum!
Another classic Christmas market is the WeihnachtsZauber on Gendarmenmarkt. The Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most spectacular squares in Europe, and during December is guaranteed to leave even the most Scrooge-like soul feeling a little Christmassy! As well as the market itself, there’s musicians, jugglers, acrobats and fire-eaters to keep you entertained.
A small, cosy Christmas market is on Potsdamer Platz, which also houses other attractions like a temporary ice rink and Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run.
For such a popular city, Berlin israre in that accommodation doesn’t cost the earth.
There’s plenty of choice when it comes to places to stay, whatever your budget. The Moneymagpies recently stayed at the Kronprinz Hotel (by the famous Kurfürstendamm with its restaurants and luxury designer shops) which had comfortable, spacious rooms, really friendly staff and was ideally placed near the city rail station – allowing quick access into the heart of Berlin within a few minutes.
Great value hotels and hostels can also be found at aohostels.com and the Meininger Hotels site. There’s also good deals available at Hotels.com and Expedia.