Meeting with travellers has long been a highlight of our travels so joining up with one of the Travel Massive meetups in Berlin was great, but we surprised some there with what we'd seen and done in Berlin on a Budget – and with what we hadn't.
“You’ve never been to Templehofer Park?“
Nope. Never. Not even once.
You'd imagine that given the near four months we spent living in Berlin in 2014 that we'd have ticked off everything from most people's bucket lists and the Top Ten lists of many branded travel guides, but the truth is that when we travel we don't follow "the rules".
Slow Travel ; to travel slowly, taking time to appreciate what's around you, through relationships with locals, prolonged exposure, and the observation of foreign culture.
Regular readers will know all about our "slow travel" philosophy, that we prefer to stay in locations for longer than the norm, trying to live as close to how the locals do without having regular jobs or the financial stress of paying climbing rental rates and higher taxes.
We travel slowly and for long periods of time so we are afforded the luxury of taking our time to integrate and get to know and understand how a place works – but in reality it's a luxury that we can all benefit from, even if our holiday time is restricted to two weeks per year.
With two weeks in Berlin you could see and do a lot, but would you learn much about the culture by rushing around?
Jump straight to: things to do in Berlin
Why Travel To Berlin?
Why travel to Berlin? Because there's really nowhere else like it. Sure you could move and live a great life in Thailand, but there aren't many other cities where you can grab a bite to eat from a Turkish market before meeting with friends for cold German beers in a park that was one an international airport; not forgetting that as the sun goes down Berlin is only just waking up for the night it has in stall at dimly lit bars, or smoke filled underground clubs where the music is pounding until 4am in the morning.
But that's not us … at least the nightclub bit.
What we love about the city is that it's incredibly cosmopolitan and has one of the most electric feelings of youth that we've experienced. You can be anyone you want to be in Berlin. Anyone.
You can be an artist or a critic. You can sing or you can dance. Playwrite? No problem. Budding entrepreneur? Join the queue. Want to wander the streets of Kreuzburg taking photos? Better bring a few extra memory cards.
By following the slow travel style you can stay for a while and enjoy everything that Berlin has to offer, from Bhangra dancing, to opera singing, to hackathons and coding clubs where you can learn how to create your own website or build your first app.
By following our slow travel style we've learned so much about why so many people are doing all of the above by following steps from our own guide of finding cheap accommodation, budget-friendly food options, and cheap – if not free – things to do; and hopefully no matter whether you're in Berlin for a week or a month; with our slow travel guide to Berlin we hope that you'll see what makes the city worth not only visiting, but becoming a living part of.
Our Slow Travel Guide to Berlin
Before integrating into local life you need to find first somewhere to sleep during the duration of your stay and fortunately there are plenty of budget options in Berlin that aren't just hostels.
Cheap Accommodation in Berlin
Out of the fourth months we spent in Berlin one of them was spent pet and house sitting for our friends whilst they were seeking the sun on the coast of France. We've been friends for a while and have always been happy to volunteer ourselves as temporary companions for their two beautiful cats, Jazz and Tigger.
House sitting has turned out to be the best slow travel and budget accommodation alternative for us over the past few years because of how cheap the cost per day is once you spread out the cost of joining one of the best house sitting sites across the nights you sit.
For example, for the whole month we spent in Cannes in December 2014 the cost per night for our stay was only $1.81 / £1.18.
Accommodation doesn't often come cheaper than that (unless you're camping in the park!).
Though the price of our preferred option of TrustedHousesitters has since gone up since our joining in 2013 to $95 / £61, the price is still an undeniably cheap alternative at $3.06 / £1.98 per night.
You may like to read: How We Spent Less Than £600 on Accommodation This Year
Rent an apartment
For the three months following house sitting for our friends in Berlin we rented a lovely apartment just a short five minute walk from Frankfurter Tor in the hipster-heaven of Friedrichshain. Shared with only one other Brit who was just starting his own expat adventure in Berlin, we had all the comforts of home that we would never find in a hostel or hotel if we were staying in either for a long time.
Berlin is full of apartments for short-term leasing. In fact, it's for this reason that airbnb has really taken off in the city, but I'll get on to that in a moment.
The most common reason that you'll find either a room or a full apartment to rent in Berlin is that there are so many international people coming and going pretty much all year round. Some arrive for three month internships at some of Berlin's biggest companies, others arrive for six months in the hope of getting their startup off the ground but end up jetting off elsewhere regularly to forge new relationships with other digital nomads and entrepreneurs.
Some people are just students who want to go home for a month to see their parents and get their washing done.
For travellers like ourselves this creates a gap where we fit in comfortably. People love their apartments and would rather sublet them so that they can retain the year-long lease and have somewhere to return to when they’re done taking their sabbatical in Iran.
Some of Berlin's apartments can be found inside of local papers and magazines, but by far the largest quantity to choose from come through dedicated websites. We tried Craigslist on a recommendation and saw one property through it. Some suggested eBay Germany's Berlin rental page – neither of us knew that you could use eBay that way – though we didn't find anything at the time.
Our success came through a mostly German language website called WG Gesucht. Luckily for us much of the adverts on the website come with both a German and English description, whilst those that don't are easily converted and made slight sense with by using Google Translate.
Through WG Gesucht we found the apartment in which we'd spend the next three months working hard on our site and trying our best to live a life as close to those of locals as we could.
The cost for use of the double bedroom and the entirety of the apartment was €470 inc. all bills and utilities. That's $534.87 / £347.37 per month or $8.62 / £5.60 per PERSON per NIGHT..
Renting was remarkably cheaper than staying in a hostel or hotel for the same period, or any of the mattresses on the floor or caravans in gardens we'd found on airbnb for less (not that you can't find some amazing places on airbnb!)
Book in long term with a hotel or hostel
Though we've never done it, it's not unheard of for people to stay at a hotel or hostel for long periods of time during their time in Berlin. Most people do so for work and on the company account, whilst others will do so whilst they move jobs from another city and continue their search for an apartment to move into long term.
One reason some people choose to stay in hostels for long periods is that hostels will on occasion deduct some of the price with a discount for choosing to stay with them for longer. Any discount is better than no discount, especially if you're looking to keep your budget down.
For shorter stays of one to two weeks then hostels will probably work out best in Berlin as there are a great many to choose from given Berlin's high attraction rate for backpacking travellers.
Together with reader suggestions we recommend:
- Hostel: Circus Hostel
- Design Hostel: Generator Hostel Mitte
- Hotel: Adina Apartment Hotel
- Vegan-friendly Hotel: Almodovar Bio-Hotel
- Hotel for Families: Mövenpick Hotel Potsdamer Platz
Local Grocery Shopping
The best way to spend cheaply on eating is to cook what you can at home, and house sitting and hostels with kitchens are the perfect method for accomplishing this. Buying all of your groceries from the same local markets, groceries, and supermarkets as Berliners will help you to keep within your budget.
On every other corner in Berlin there will be one of three budget supermarkets. Either Lidl or Aldi are most likely, though Penny will be on every third corner. They all sell pretty much the same produce and for the most part there will be the standard packaged foods, plus a small selection of fresh produce.
The fresh produce at these markets is nothing worth celebrating, but you get what you pay for.
Outside of this cheaper range are the supermarkets Rewe and Kaiser which will typically have larger selections as you'd expect at Tescos or Sainsbury's in the UK, or perhaps Walmart in the US. The produce does tend to be better, but you'll certainly be paying for it.
Germany's current love is for anything Bio and having tried much of it during our few visits to Berlin we can attest for how great the food tastes that is largely grown in the green countryside that surrounds Berlin, with the bulk of what can't be sourced locally coming from the rest of Germany and abroad. Supermarkets like Rewe and Kaiser will sell most of the Bio produce in the city, but keep an eye out for Bio-specialist stores as they're becoming hard to miss on most streets in the city, with Denn's being one of the largest stockists of bio and vegan/vegetarian foods.
The biggest highlight of Berlin is Dong Xuan Asian Market, a secret location to many but one we were fortunate enough to find out about before our time in Berlin came to an end.
Dong Xuan comprises of several warehouses containing a number of Asian food shops and wholesalers for all kinds of imported goods, from suitcases to three-piece suits. It's also at Dong Xuan where we'd find the cheapest tofu in town and the largest collection of Asian fruit and veg that either of us had seen since our time in Asia in 2013. They also have some less admirable fresh fish and meat counters too, so prepare yourself for those.
Where to eat in Berlin
On our first trip to Berlin we were both the worlds worst travellers. We ate nothing but doner kebabs and currywurst. Fast forward to 2014 and our diets (happily) contain a lot less meat than they once did now that we're vegan; so our recommendations are probably slimmer than some food guides, but we're pretty confident that anyone would like our favourite restaurants in Berlin.
Should you fancy the occasional meal out instead of budgeting and cooking at home then we both recommend Sfizy Veg, our favourite vegan pizzeria. For a great lunch we'd recommend Laauma in Friedrichshain. Every person we've ever taken to Voner has loved their faux-meat kebab as much as the real thing, and if you're keen on Mexican street food then the closest to the real thing are the tacos at Chaparro.
Another alternative that we've heard great things about but have yet to try is meal sharing.
With meal sharing you can organise with someone else in the city to arrive at their home and eat an agreed menu that they've put together. It combines peoples mutual love for food, plus the opportunity to make new friends through interactions that you wouldn't get from just walking up to them in the street.
We're both pretty excited to try out Meal Sharing in Berlin the next time we're there.
Getting around Berlin
Get a free bike
Biking is as big in Berlin as it is in Amsterdam, though with Amsterdam there is a slight element of chaos as you navigate between them. In Berlin there are dedicated bike paths that you can easily avoid and stay safe.
Renting a bike in Berlin is typically done for short periods of hours or days for tourists, and there are public use bicycles available in Berlin too; but if you're looking for a cheap or free alternative then giving bike surfing a go is probably your best bet.
BikeSurf Berlin was started in 2012 during the surge in interest in the 'sharing economy' as websites like Couchsurfing became widely popular.
Operating under the same principles, you can borrow a bike from its owner for a pre-agreed period of time at no cost. Most times safety equipment such as a helmet and lights will come included, but it's worth enquiring about those before any agreement is reached.
Get around by public transport
Berlin's public transport of underground and overground trains paired with the large tram network and buses can help you commute from one side of the city incredibly quickly and easily through one of the many connections.
Public transport tickets should work across the whole system so that a ticket you buy for the train should still work on the bus for the end of your journey (tickets last two hours after activation).
Instead of return tickets you'll have to purchase two singles which will cost you €2.70 each for the combined AB zone ticket. Due to this a return journey will cost you €5.40. To make a saving you can purchase four AB zone tickets for a reduced price of €9.00. You can then use the two you need for the day whilst saving the two that remain for another day.
For a full detailed explanation of the ticketing information and how the transport system works I'd suggest the public transport info page on Berlin.de or the useful explanations on the Wikivoyage page for Berlin.
Another great saving choice for shorter stays in Berlin is the Berlin WelcomeCard. It's a singular ticket for use between one or five days across all public transport, plus it contains added extras such as discounts to many of Berlin's attractions and museums.
Use free transport
Berlin is easily walkable, and we say that from experience. We've walked all over the capital and have found many interesting things about it. It's not the best method of transport if you're in a hurry or you're not as mobile as you'd like, but walking from one side of the city to the other takes just under two hours at a casual pace, so for slow travellers like us that's perfect time to explore and discover something new.
Things To See & Do In Berlin on a Budget
Finding things to see and do whilst travelling isn't always the easiest when you're on a budget, but with slow travel you have more time in which to investigate different events and locations that normally 72 hours of fast attraction spotting wouldn't allow.
Here are a few things you can do in the city that won't cost you a fortune, including a few ways of making some new local friends whilst you're there.
Free classical music at the Philharmonic lunchtime concert
I first read about this free lunchtime concert before our first visit to Berlin together back in 2010 and on that occasion we were so busy that we couldn’t make it. We wouldn't make that mistake again on the second visit.
The free lunchtime concert at the Berlin Philharmonic is amazing. Typically performed by students from the Berlin Academy, the shows tend to be a mixture of timeless classics as well as some smaller pieces composed by the students themselves.
On the last occasion we attended there were so many people that chairs were no longer a choice and the floor became our only option – but it was worth it. Listening to the sounds carry across the crowds sitting on the floor and flying over the heads of those who chose to use the stairs for a better elevated position was a dream. An unmissable free event and on every Tuesday.
Watch The World Champions of Football
Okay, well not many of the German national football team play for local team Hertha Berlin, but there's no denying that the success of Germany in the 2014's World Cup has got more people paying attention to the German league.
In 2014 we had the good fortune to see Hertha play their first game of the season at what is arguably one of Europe's greatest stadiums and we'd strongly urge all those who do appreciate 'the Beautiful Game' to attend if their budget permits (tickets start at €22).
If however your budget is stretched then the always popular FC Union Berlin have pitchside tickets for their lower league 'party atmosphere' games for €15. Better still, you can see Berlin's high flying female football team, Turbine Potsdam, play for only €5.50!
Do Your Own Street Art Tour
We'll never get tired of walking the streets of Berlin on a hunt for new street art with the paint still drying. We're not addicts exactly, but as close to it as can be.
We've discovered street art and artists in Berlin that we've come to know, love, and support for several years now, with our interview with SOPE being the best example of that.
Head off in any direction and you'll find something special, but areas like Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are great places to start in.
The Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park
Located towards the south-east corner of Berlin is one of the largest post-war memorials in the city. Built by the Soviet forces that occupied the city after the conclusion of the Second World War, it's not only a memorial to the thousands of Soviet Russian soldiers who died fighting fascism, but also a stark and timely reminded of how Europe is still very much in conflict over lines on a map that were drawn following the war.
It's a strange place to be, but one that we'd recommend visiting to see just what thoughts it brings up for you.
Take Bus 100
The number 100 bus drives through the centre of Berlin and on its way passes many of the most recommended attractions. For the price of a single AB ticket you'll get your own cheaper 'guided bus tour of Berlin' for a fraction of the alternative.
Finding this incredible 1920's style ballroom in Berlin was another accidental find from wandering aimlessly around the city that turned out to be absolute gold.
After many years of disuse and neglect the former ballroom was given a new life again by new owners who wished to keep the spirit of the Jazz Age alive, and they're done incredibly well with that. They chose to renovate little and though that have given it a run-down, yet fun gypsy-like feeling that suits it down to the ground. They put on dancing classes during the day and night (some of which are free), plus there's a much-loved-by-locals restaurant on the bottom floor that always seems full of fun and good music from a live band.
A great place to see and feel.
Join the Third Wave Coffee Revolution
Coffee in Berlin isn't just a passing craze. The city and the coffee enthusiasts in the city have nurtured over time a community of coffee shops, shop owners, and drinkers who want to know everything about the process, from bean to cup.
Due to this high love and appreciation for coffee there always seems to be events being organised in which you can learn more about how to make your own perfect coffee cup at home. We had the pleasure of attending a cupping session at Cafe CK that educated us both on how coffee farmers choose which beans make the best combination.
Every event we attended and the coffee sampled was free for all.
The LGBT Memorial
Ever since we accidentally stumbled upon the Memorial to the Homosexuals Murdered Under Nazism in Tiergarten Park we've been encouraging everyone we know to take notice of it when they visit Berlin for the first time.
One surprising fact we found was that about half of the people we met with in Berlin had no idea the memorial was there, even though it's directly opposite the large Jewish Memorial.
If you're heading to Tiergarten Park to enjoy a leisurely and slow walk, be sure to keep your eye out for this fantastic art piece and memorial.
A Night of Gypsy Jazz
I love gypsy jazz and the music of Django Reinhardt, so when we found out about the free concert happening at Cafe Lyrik we had to attended.
It is free to attend, but it's best to purchase at least one drink to show your appreciation to the owner of this micro-sized cafe and bar.
Cafe Lyrik is one of our Five Tips for Berlin and is located in our favourite district of Berlin…
Our Favourite District of Berlin
So many of Berlin's many districts are amongst our favourites due to how mixed and multicultural some are, whilst others we love because of the vegan restaurants and street art they contain; but by far our favourite is that of the coffee shop-filled streets of Prenzlauer Berg.
It's a quieter part of town than either Kreuzberg or Neukoelln, but you'd never guess it from the amount of people who arrive there every night and weekend to stop at one of the many bars, clubs, cafes, and restaurants that line each and every street – and whilst we were renting away from it we would always miss it and the walk home we'd take along Schönhauser Allee.
There's also a number of great shopping streets for those who have the budget to do some, though we're always quite content to window shop and leave empty handed.
If you're looking for a quiet place for a coffee, Prenzlauer Berg is it.
Walk Through Kyiv
On our second visit to Berlin we were exploring around Frankfurter Tor and couldn't help but feel like we'd been there before and after a while the reason why came back to us.
Karl Marx-Allee feels like walking through the middle of Kyiv. The Soviet structures that dominate both sides of the road are intimidating, yet attractive in a typical Brutal-Architecture type of way.
Walking through it with your mind in the past instead of the present will make you feel like you're in a different time and place altogether, and very GDR.
Connect With Locals Through The Web
We're so well connected these days that interactions in the street or on the U-Bahn are increasingly rare, so we encourage you all to strike up at least one conversation with the people around you during your time in Berlin – but if you're a little shy or prefer to connect online then there is a online community for every interest.
We spent some of our time connecting with the vegan community in Berlin through Facebook groups that are easily searched for and joined via the site, but some other groups and gatherings we found out about and joined were through other websites like Meetup.com.
Through online groups we enjoyed volunteering at the 2014 Berlin Vegan Festival, as well as meeting up with other travellers and travel blogging friends at Meetup Travel Bloggers Berlin and the Travel Massive in Berlin.
Also, connection with locals via Couchsurfing is still very easy to do and the local Couchsurfing community is still quite active putting on events each month.
Another great community which some people might not consider is that of the /r/Berlin where rather than asking boring questions like "Where can I get the cheapest kebab?' you can connect and agree to meetup with people who love coding, photography, or whatever else they love as much as you.
What We've Yet To See & Do in Berlin (But hope to in 2015)
Yes! We should be house sitting again in Berlin this summer so we're going to make this the year that we explore and maybe take a bike around the tarmac at Tempelhof Park.
Computer Game Museum
We walked past this curious looking building on Karl Marx-Allee last summer and didn't really give too much thought about it, but since our departure from Berlin we've heard some really nice things about it and have decided that the next time we're taking a slow walk along the Allee, we'll pop in.
Sammlung Boros Bunker
This former bunker where once people would hide from the regular bombings of the city during World War Two has since been purchased, renovated, and transformed into one of the art scenes finest gems.
At €12 per person entry it isn't cheap, but certainly something we'd budget for to enjoy.
CSD (Christopher Street Day) Berlin Pride
After our weekend in Amsterdam last year when we had the pleasure of watching the canal parade for Gay Pride we both agreed that we'd attend more Pride events in the future, so once we heard about the Christopher Street Day Pride in Berlin we both got excited at the prospect of being around when it's on. Hopefully 2015 will be the year.
We encourage you all to attend CSD Berlin Pride or any Pride Day near you this year. It's great fun!
Long Night of the Museums
We always arrive too late in the year for this free entry night for the best museums in Berlin, but we'd like to be around this year – especially for the Pergamon Museum which neither of us has yet to visit.
The Jewish Museum
On the one occasion that we happened to be walking past the Jewish Museum on our first visit in 2010 the sun was going down and entry to the building was closed. We'd both like to attend and learn as much as we can from this unique and important museum.
Piano Salon Christophori
If the free concert at the Berlin Philharmonic isn't enough to satisfy your music needs then the donation-entry events at Piano Salon Christophori sounds like they'll be worth your time.
Pee Pees Katzen Cafe
A cafe in Berlin where we can enjoy coffee with the company of a cat? Why aren't more cafes this animal friendly?
The Outdoor Cinema in Kreuzberg
For only €7 you can watch a fantastic film out underneath the summer sun with friends and a cold German beer. Sounds like heaven and an experience we've yet to do anywhere else in the world. Count us in.
The Abandoned NSA Dome at Teufelsberg
Abandoned building enthusiasts have always proclaimed this as a must see and judging from the amount of photos we've seen from people it seems that the excitement is well founded in awesomeness.
We'd love to walk to the top of the hill in Teufelsberg to see this former spy station and relic of the Cold War, though we hear security has improved in recent years and a paid tour is available; for the most determined this is still a free attraction.
Get Out of Berlin
If you're in Berlin for a prolonged period of time and have a desire to get out of the city for a while then consider car-sharing to get there.
We've yet to go to Potsdam to see the palaces and a vegan restaurant we've heard amazing things about, but when we do we'll be sure to check one of the many car sharing websites that are available in mainland Europe, and the last time we check there were cars heading daily from Berlin to Potsdam for only €2 per person – only a couple of Euros cheaper than the train, but every cent counts when you're in Berlin on a budget!
This Isn't Complete
We're really glad to share with you our slow travel guide to Berlin. We're going to keep updating it as and when we learn about something new and budget-friendly that isn't yet here, but it won't ever be complete without your suggestions so comment below with your own budget travel tips and off-the-path suggestions!
What's your slow travel tip for Berlin?