Berlin is located in northeast on the River Spree, it has a population of 3.3 million, and kindly lent its name to the pop group that sang “Take My Breath Away” for the soundtrack of the hit movie Top Gun with Tom Cruise. But from 1949 until 1989, it was a city that was very much divided. At this point, during the Cold War, the heavily guarded Berlin Wall separated east and west, and Communism from western Europe.
Today, you can move freely between sides, and enjoy all of the city’s galleries, museums, parks, and historic monuments. It may have a reputation for a high standard of living, but that does not mean you’ll have to blow all of your cash on the first day. Here’s how to plan carefully and make your travel money last in Berlin.
The public transport system in Berlin is excellent! With trains, buses, trams and ferries, you can save money by getting an all-in-one travel ticket – Berlin WelcomeCards are available for 48 hours (around $25 USD), 72 hours (around $32 USD) and five days (under $44 USD). Order in advance at Visit Berlin, and receive a guidebook, as well as discount vouchers for many attractions. You can also get these at certain hotels, S-Bahn train stations and tourist information centres. Use your card on the first day to get a feel for the city, and jump on either the 100 or 200 bus from Zoo Bahnhof to the other side of town. The long stretch will pass most of Berlin’s key landmarks, and all for several of euros.
After getting your bearings, plan a few activities. A great way to make your money go further is to visit Berlin Eintritt Frei, which highlights daily discounts and events. While online, also head to Bundestag, where you can register to visit the Reichstag dome – this is free, and early mornings are best to beat the crowds. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city at Berlin’s political hub.
Back at ground level, take a trip to Museum Island in the middle of the Spree, which houses five of Berlin’s best museums. Grab a day ticket (a 72 hour WelcomeCard option includes one, which is valid for three days) to gain entrance to each, including the Pergamon Museum, where you can see Roman ruins and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.
Start a walking tour at the Brandenburg Gate at the end of Unter den Linden, Berlin’s most famous boulevard, and head on down to the Tiergarten, its biggest park. This houses the city’s oldest zoo, open since 1841 (25 percent off entry with a WelcomeCard), and great views from the observation platform of the 226 foot tall Victory Column, which is a great place to relax.
After your long walk, wind down with some good food. You can find cheap, multicultural fare in Kreuzkölln; Berlin has the world’s biggest Turkish population outside of Turkey, and the kofta balls here are legendary. The delicious balls of minced or ground meat are easy to find and enjoy. Once replenished, book a bar tour at Alternative Berlin. For less than $15 UDS, you’ll get to see some of the city’s best underground nightspots, away from the tourist crowds.
Soaking up Berlin’s rich history doesn’t have to break the bank. Some of the city’s role in the Second World War is detailed at the Topography of Terror, in the old headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS. Entrance is free and attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year. Follow this up with a visit to the Memorial to the German Resistance, also free, which displays more wartime artifacts, on the site where Claus Graf von Stauffenberg and his accomplices were executed for their plot to assassinate Hitler, as detailed in yet another Tom Cruise movie, Valkyrie. For other key moments in the city’s history, much of the Berlin Wall still stands – a nearly mile long segment can be found at the East Side Gallery in Mühlenstraße (street), now covered in some seriously impressive street art.
On your last day, enjoy one final view over the city, this time in Alexanderplatz at the top of the Fernsehturm TV Tower – over 200 metres high and Europe’s fourth-tallest freestanding structure(25 percent off entry with a WelcomeCard, book online in advance). If you’re visiting over the weekend, you could also check out Berlin’s biggest flea market, just across from the Tiergarten, in the Straße des 17 Juni, where you are sure to find an unusual souvenir for your stay.