Visiting any major European city is always going to come with its costs.   Team that with the idea of heading to a capital city and you might well notice those old purse strings quiverring at the thought.

Not every city break has to break the bank though.

Take Berlin, for example.  This is a great shout if you’re looking to soak up a little culture without earning yourself a miniature debt.  In terms of travel destinations, it’s a city which really can offer something for everyone; beautiful parks, galleries and museums galore, gritty nightlife and a history which is as much challenging as it is progressive.  Thankfully, it’s also one of Europe’s more affordable capitals, making it a great place to visit if you’re on a bit of a budget.  Here’s a few suggestions for ways to make your money last longer when visiting Berlin:

Things to do:

Take a free guided tour

I love a free walking tour.  Not just because I’m a fan of all things complimentary, but because they’re an excellent way to get your bearings around a new city, to ask questions of someone who actually lives there and loves the place enough to talk about it all day, and also, it’s just a nice way to meet other travellers, particularly if you’re travelling alone.  I’d always aim to start with a free tour whenever you can.  Luckily, Berlin offers some great choices.

The Original Berlin Tour comes highly recommended and sets off from Alexanderplatz three times a day.  You can check out their website here.  There’s also the Alternative Berlin tour (also free), which’ll take you around some of the city’s grittier parts and introduce you to some of its best street art.

Consider getting a city pass

If you’re planning on a museum binge, or want to cram in as many attractions as humanly possible, it’s probably going to be more economical to grab yourself a Berlin Pass.  As well as discounted travel, the pass gives you free entry to over 50 museums and attractions, including pricey numbers such as Madame Tussauds, The Berlin Dungeon, Sea Life and certain Hop On/Hop Off Busses and cruises.

A 3 day adult pass will set you back 89 euros, which might sound steep at first glance, but will definitely be saving you big bucks if you want to get your fill of the best attractions.  These passes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea though, so you’re probably best to check out the official Berlin Pass website and work out whether it’s going to benefit you before making the plunge.

The Savvy Backpacker

Look out for free entry days at the museums

Berlin is packed with fascinating museums, and is even home to the famous Museum Island, now listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site.  Most of the isand’s museums charge between 10 and 12 euros for entry, so you might want to consider getting a area ticket for 18 euros if you’re planning on hitting the lot.

Or, better still, get in for free!  Some museums such as the Daimler Contemporary Art Museum, the Allied Museum and the Topography of Terror don’t charge at all.  Many offer free entry on certain days; for example, the Märkisches city history museum, Nikolaikirche church, Ephraim-Palais palace and Bröhan museum of art nouveau and art deco all have free entry on the first Wednesday of each month.

Watch the sun set over Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable and beautiful buildings in Berlin.  Built during the 18th Century, it’s one of the city’s only standing historical gates, and was once seen as a symbol of German division during the Cold War, literally seperating the country’s East from the West.

Today it stands as a symbol of peace and reunification.  It’s also pretty damn gorgeous, especially at night when the crowds are smaller and the sun sets over the neo-classical arch.  What’s more?  It’s free!

Take in the view from the Reichstag Dome

If you’re looking for some of the best views of the city, you could pay 13 euros to head up to the top of the TV tower in Alexanderplatz…you could.  Or, for an equally impressive view, you could climb to the top of the Reichstag building for free!

Although there is no admission charge, this is a particularly popular vantage point, so it’s worth booking a time slot in advance lest you fancy spending the first part of your day in a rather hefty queue.

The Reichtag itself is an essential stop while in Berlin.  Home to the German parliament, its history is fairly chequered, and the structure quite remarkable considering its war-torn affiliations and the fact that it has survived the infamous fire of 1933.  A visit to the rooftop will not only provide you with unbeatable views of the old city, but will also have you thinking about its complex place in European history.

Visit the DDR Museum & Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is perhaps one of the best known sites in Berlin, and a popular film location used in war biopics.  It gained its name after being established as one of the city’s official crossing points during the Cold War, when Berlin was split into an East/West division.  The former border crossing marks a harrowing and complex moment in history, and was the site of many assassanition during thwarted escape attempts.

Today, you can visit the crossing point with its original booth and sandbags still in place.  There’s plenty of informative signs in place, but if you’re happy to pay a small entrance fee, I’d definitely recommend popping into the nearby DDR Museum, which chronicles the lives of people living in communist East Berlin during the time of seperation and gives you a really interesting perspective on what life must have been like on the other side of the wall.  At only €8.50, it won’t break the bank either.

Spend an afternoon in Tiergarten Park

At over 200 hectares, Tiergarten Park is to Berlin what Central Park is to New York.  It’s the city’s largest park by far.  In fact, it’s the largest urban garden Germany has to offer!

With so much space to fill, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day a the sites.  Grab yourself a picnic, amble through the sun-dappled forests, hire a bike, enjoy a coffee by the lake; whatever your fill, this is the perfect place to fill your lungs with fresh air and unwind.  If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on a Sunday during the summer, you’ll even be treated to the sounds of bells ringing from the impressive Carillon tower.  Or, if you’re around at dusk, be sure to check out open-air gas latern museum, where 100 traditional lanterns give the paths a gorgeous glow.

Enjoy some classical music at the Berlin Philharmonic

Fans of chamber music, rejoice!  The Berlin Philharmonic (also just another great building, FYI) offers free lunchtime concerts in its foyer every Tuesday from 1pm.  These run between September and June, and although there’s 1500 seats for grabs, they’re popular events, so pop along early if you don’t want to be disappointed.

Soak up the sun at Strandbad Wannsee

Just a 20 minute train ride from the city centre lies the Stranbad Wannsee, an open-air lido with a kilometer-long sandy beach on the banks of the Havel River.  It’s a great place to head if the sun’s shining or if you’re just needing to escape the urban buzz for an afternoon.

Get your festival fix

Berlin is known for its festivals, and whether you’re visiting on a winter getaway or during the summer sunny season, there’s bound to be some sort of celebration going on to keep you entertained.  Here’s a few of the ones you might want to check out:

Berlinale Film Festival – February

Record Store Day – April

Fête de la Musique – June

Classic Open Air at Gendarmenmarkt – July

Beer Festival – August

Berlin Art Week – September

Festival of Lights – October

Jazzfest – November

Christmas Markets – December

Most festivals will include free events and street performances throughout the city, so head be sure to check out what’s on when you’re in town.  The Berlin.de website is great for listings.

Walk the Berlin Wall

It’s hard to imagine visiting Berlin without taking in one of its most divisive and controversial memories; the Wall.  Much of the wall has dissipated since its demise in 1989, but there are still sections remaining which can be visited at sites such as Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate.  For me, the most poignant location is at Bösebrücke, on Bornholmer Straße.  Bösebrücke was the first crossing point to open its gates following the wall’s collapse, and is now home to a garden lined with  cherry trees, a gift and sign of sympathy donated by Japan in 1990.  It’s a beautiful place to stop for a moment’s contemplation.

Another section of wall which must be visited is the East Side Gallery, located between Oberbaumbrücke and Ostbahnhof.  What was once the longest extant section of the wall is now home to the longest open air gallery in the world, with street paintings from over 118 artists including the legendary work, The Kiss.

Remember at the Holocaust Memorial

Of all the things you can do for free in Berlin, visiting the Holocaust Memorial is the amongst the most harrowing, memorable and important.  The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was constructed in 2005 by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold and stands in memory of the six million Jewish people who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

It’s a staggering sight to behold, with 2100 concrete slabs covering an area of 19,000 square metres.  The cold grey of the concrete gives haunting echoes of the bleakness of war, and the labyrinth of tunnels gives a dizzying, maze-like feel which adds to the sense of confusion and isolation.  It would be wrong to describe the memorial as beautiful, but it is thought-provoking and moving in a way which will get deep in to your bones.

Where to stay

When it comes to accommodation, Berlin has plenty to offer.  Most 4 or 5 star hotels will set you back anything from £150 too £500 for a double room per night.  Sticking within the confines of budget options, here’s the lowdown:

According to Booking.com, a typical August peak-season stay for a 2 or 3 star hotel should vary between £60 and £120.  Low season will vary.

Hostelbookers advertise dorm rooms from as little as £14 a night to privates starting at £60.

Airbnbs come in all shapes in sizes and can be a great option if you fancy a more local experience.

Couchsurfing is the ultimate money-saving device and there’s an active community of sofa-offering travellers within the city; just be sure to do your research on your host before committing to anything!

Eating/Drinking

Dining out in any capital city is always going to set you back a little.  Keep it cheap in Berlin by visiting the numerous great street food stalls.  For local delicacies, tuck into some currywurst from the legendary Curry 66 or keep it casual with a doner kebab from Imren Grill.  Berlin has a thriving Turkish community, so kebabs won’t come much better than this.

You won’t have to walk far to find food vans, but it’s also worth checking out markets such as the Markt Halle Neun, which hosts a street food night every Thursday from 5-10pm, or check out the cracking Sunday selection at Mauerpark.

Looking for a tipple or ten?  You’ll be glad to hear that booze is surprisingly affordable.  Berlin’s nightlife has reached somewhat of a legendary status over the last fifteen years or so, and it’s a city which wears its urban party hat with pride.  For more affordable nights out, steer clear of the high-end Mitte and Prenzlauer-Berg areas and consider heading into more alternative quarters such as Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg (more alternative).  It’ll be less of the cocktail scene and more House music than you can shake a stick at, but it won’t result in your Mastercard being handed back with the dreaded ‘Declined’ stamp of doom.  Or, for a quieter affair, head into one of the city’s beer halls such as Hofbräu Berlin or  Brauhause Georgebraeu, where the locals will gladly talk you in to a Bavarian bevvy or two. A tankard of beer will rarely set you back from than €3, so you should make it back to your hostel with money to spare on a late night schnitzel.

How to get around

Of course, the cheapest way to get around Berlin is by foot…that being said, the city is pretty darn big!  For an alternative way of getting around, consider hiring a bike!  The roads are really well laid out for cyclists and nice and flat, so you should be able to coast between sites at a leisurely pace.

If public transport’s more your thing, then it’ll be included in the cost of a Berlin Pass if you decide to go down that route.  If not, consider getting a day ticket for the public transport system.  At only €7, it covers buses, U-bahns, S-bahns, trams and ferries within the central zones of the city, making it the cheapest (and easiest) way to get around.

And there you have it.  My guide to visiting Berlin on a budget.  Have you visited the city before?  What tips could you recommend to avoid splashing the cash?

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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