Of all the cities we’ve had the pleasure of staying in, it’s Berlin that we’ve spent the longest time in as slow travellers. It’s for that reason that we’ve decided to collect all we’ve learned into a Slow Travel Guide to Berlin.
We’ve spent more than 6 months in Berlin either house sitting, renting, or staying in hostels; and during that time we’ve tried to "live like a local" by shopping where the locals shop, eating where the locals eat, and doing all the things to do in Berlin that our friends are always recommending.
If it wasn’t for slow travel we’d never have seen so much.
Why Slow Travel?
By joining the slow travel movement we’ve abandoned trying to see as many new destinations as possible in favour of staying longer and experiencing them, rather than just speeding through.
There’s so much to be learned in every place you visit, and unfortunately a day alone is never going to be enough.
Instead of seeing three places in a week, consider spending your entire time in just one; regardless of how little travelling time you may have to spend.
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.
Why Travel To Berlin?
Why travel to Berlin? Because when people say, "You can be anyone you want to be in Berlin", they know that it’s true. No matter what you’re in to, you’ll find it in Germany’s capital.
Love art? Some of the worlds best art collections are in Berlin.
Love music? You’ll find a new artist for every genre imaginable.
Love food? Explore Berlin’s neighbourhoods and eat Turkish food one day, Thai the next day, and Indian the day after that.
There aren’t many cities in which you can grab something to eat at the Turkish market, a few beers from the local newsagent, and enjoy them all whilst sitting in the street or in a park without getting into trouble. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to sit on the benches outside of the off-license whilst you enjoy your bottle of German beer – and that’s only until the nightclubs open.
In Berlin you can be an artist, or a critic. You can sing, or you can dance.
Screenwriter? You can get your start in Berlin.
Budding entrepreneur? Join the queue of new startups.
By following the slow travel style you’ll find yourself with plenty of time to try almost everything, although before you finish they’ll be something new and exciting happening somewhere in the city that has yet to be discovered.
With this Slow Travel Guide to Berlin we hope you’ll soon discover why visiting and living in Berlin might be the best thing you ever do.
Our Slow Travel Guide to Berlin
With this in-depth guide we hope to help you get the most value out of your travel budget so that you can do more with every penny saved.
Here are four areas we aim to help you with:
- Find cheap accommodation in Berlin
- Discover the cheapest areas to eat in
- Choose the best transport option
- Uncover the best things to do in Berlin for your budget
Having recently spent another few months in Berlin we think we’ve now uncovered the best way to help you slow travel in the city.
Find Cheap Accommodation in Berlin
Stay rent free by house sitting
If you’re not aware of house sitting yet, then it’s very simple to explain:
House sitting is the process of a home owner inviting someone to watch over their home and pets whilst they’re away. This is usually a free exchange.
Over the past few years we’ve both spent more than three months house sitting in Berlin which has provided us with free accommodation. Clearly the best price a traveller could ask for.
Home owners around the world are inviting trusted house sitters like ourselves into their home whilst they’re away to provide the added security of having someone in their house to watch over things.
Some home owners invite pet sitters like us to watch over their beloved pets, rather than putting their cats or dogs into "holiday homes".
House sitting assignments can last anywhere from a long weekend to several months, and we’ve been lucky to have spent months in some fantastic locations across Europe, all for the cost of joining a website like Trusted Housesitters.
For example, when we divided the cost of our membership to Trusted Housesitters (our favourite house sitting website) across the month we spent in Cannes, France during Christmas one year, we realised the price per night for our stay was equal to only $1.81 / £1.18.
Have you ever paid as little as that for accommodation?
Accommodation doesn’t come much cheaper than that.
Rent an apartment or holiday home
Renting an apartment in Berlin is probably the easiest option for would-be visitors to the city, the reason being that sub-letting properties happens throughout the year.
Both locals and expats in Berlin will sometimes leave the city for a period of weeks or months at a time and will rent out their property so that they can keep the contract running. The intention is to keep hold of the property so that they don’t lose it to the high demand for housing in the city.
It’s much smarter for them to keep the contract on the apartment or house running by subletting to someone who can continue to pay the rent during their time away.
For travellers like us this is a fantastic arrangement.
For three months in 2014 we both rented a room in a shared apartment that was a five minute walk away from Frankfurter Tor and the hipster-heaven of Friedrichshain. We shared with one other Brit who was also subletting whilst beginning his own expat adventure in Berlin.
We had all the comforts of home, yet none of the complications of paperwork. All that was required was to find an apartment online, arrange a viewing, agree a move in day, plus payment of both the deposit and the first months rent.
To find an apartment in Berlin you can either travel to the city and find adverts inside of the local newspapers and magazines, or use the following websites to view the properties on offer:
Of the options we found that the most frequently updated daily was WG Gesucht. It’s a mostly German language website, but it’s easy to navigate and most of the adverts include both a German and English translation, thanks to the mixed international residents of the city.
The second most popular website is eBay, however it was through the above website that we found the large apartment to rent as the owner was spending three months abroad in Iran and the USA.
The cost per month for our apartment was €470, inclusive of all bills and utilities.
That’s $534.87 / £347.37 per month, or $8.62 / £5.60 per person per night.
In our eyes, having a place to call our own for that price is a bargain – plus, it gives us plenty of time to learn what living as a local is like.
Find a cheap apartment with airbnb
As you can see, renting an apartment in Berlin is remarkably cheaper than most of the accommodation alternatives in the city, however there is another website that’s making finding somewhere cheap to say easy – it’s called airbnb.
Airbnb has taken Berlin by storm over the past five years and has become a first choice for people looking for somewhere cheap to stay.
Cheaper than staying in a hotel or hostel, there are spare rooms and entire apartments available for short and long term rental periods so that you can have a home-away-from-home.
You get all the usual modern conveniences of having your own place. You can have a private room, private bathroom, and possibly a fully kitted out kitchen to work in; and for us that’s a huge bonus for our budget.
Book a long stay at a hostel or hotel
Whilst travelling we’ve stayed in a couple of hostels for longer periods at discounted rate, thanks to our agreeing beforehand to stay for longer stretch of time.
In Asia we stayed in a hostel for two weeks at a discounted rate, but we’ve heard that it’s still possible in Europe too.
In Kyiv we stayed in one hostel where someone was renting a bunk bed in a dorm for the entirety of their university term, purely because it was cheaper than finding a room to rent.
For shorter stays of one or two weeks then hostels will probably work out best in Berlin, and there are a number of hotels too that may be interested in talking about a discounted rate.
If you don’t have any luck finding a hotel or hostel that will offer you a discounted rate then be sure to check in at a budget-friendly option whilst you search for something more convenient.
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
Stay with a local via Couchsurfing
Whilst Couchsurfing is typically used over short periods of only two or three days, it’s not unheard of for people to use Couchsurfing as a way to connect with locals and find somewhere to stay long term.
We’ve heard of people finding a place to rent via the forums, and also people who’ve found out great places to squat too.
Also, some people will simply message a local and ask if there’s any chance they can stay for a week or longer. The local on the other end doesn’t have to say yes, but sometimes they do purely because they like the look of the person messaging them.
During our own Couchsurfing experiences we’ve even been invited to stay longer purely because the host enjoyed the company and knew we were looking to see more of the city we were in.
If you’re interested in meeting with locals and learning all of their local secrets, and you need somewhere to say; consider signing up.
Where To Eat in Berlin
With a city as cosmopolitan as Berlin you’ll find that it’s incredibly easy to find a wide selection of places to eat, no matter which neighbourhood you’re in.
Much like elsewhere, the general rule of thumb is that the further away from the more tourist-focused areas you go, the better the food is; and it’s just as accurate a description of Berlin. There may be plenty of restaurants around Potsdamer Platz or around Alexanderplatz, but you’ll find cheaper and better tasting meals in neighbourhoods like Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg.
Below are a few of our favourite neighbourhoods to eat in.
Though technically this and the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg combine at the middle, it’s within this area near the East Side Gallery that some of the best places to eat in are located.
The general feeling of the area is that it’s punky, youthful, and just a little bit edgy.
Most of the population around this area are younger students, expats, and a large number of people on low wages (typically interns at startups). Because of this, the area is financially adjusted for them and you’ll see that in the prices around the area.
There are cheap pizzerias, an large amount of Middle Eastern takeaways, plus a number of smaller interesting cafes and restaurants that have been opened by people of the area.
Friedrichstein is becoming highly popular for travellers and people on their holidays who prefer a more "hipster" experience, so the prices are being driven up a little; but essentially it’s still the cheap and gritty part of town that it’s always been.
Over the other side of the River Spree in the district of Kreuzberg you’ll find a similar array of mixed international restaurants, but twice as many in number.
There’s an abundance of takeaways, classic traditional German restaurants, plus a number of interesting concept restaurants where Bio food is the primary thought behind the menu.
If you’re looking for a choice of different cuisines and the most interesting of surroundings, Kreuzberg is the place to be.
Possibly the most culturally diverse neighbourhood in Berlin, Neukolln is an outstanding place to visit for a meal if you like things to be cheap, and as authentic as possible.
As of right now it’s where the largest section of the Turkish community is based, and as you walk along the main roads through the neighbourhood it’s incredibly clear that there’s more than enough choice should you want something cheap, cheap, cheap to eat.
Neukolln has been called the "next place to be in Berlin" for years now, and throughout it you’ll find tonnes of young people hanging out outside of trendy cafes and dark-lit burger bars enjoying a beer and a burger.
If you want cheap, this is the place to be.
If your budget is slightly more open then we’d both highly recommend a visit to Prenzlauer Berg.
Over the few years we’ve been visiting Berlin we’ve seen this particular part of the city change quite a bit and today it’s more of a middle-class liberal place to be.
The restaurants aren’t cheap, and the cafes are almost always packed with pushchairs, yet the food on offer is absolutely delicious.
- Lucky Leek
- Cafe Morgenrot
Cook For Yourself
Obviously the best economical option is to self-cater, and if you’re house sitting or renting an apartment through any of the above suggestions we’ve made, you’ll hopefully have a kitchen to work in.
We strongly recommend that you try out a couple of restaurants during your stay, but only as much as you would if you were still at home.
You don’t need to eat out for every meal.
By being more frugal and making your own meals you’ll make a great saving on your travel budget, as well as experience what it’s like trying to cook something from a different countries food selection. It’s an interesting experiment seeing what you can create from your options.
Berlin seems to have some kind of love affair with supermarkets so you’ll soon notice that you’re never more than a few hundred meters away from about three supermarkets at any given time.
The cheapest supermarkets are the chains of Aldi, Lidl, and Netto. All three sell mostly pre-packaged foods and a little fresh fruit and vegetables. The quality of the products isn’t always the best, but given the cheap prices it’s understandable.
Next are Rewe, Penny, and Kaufland. They’re typically more expensive than the other supermarkets, but the quality of produce is noticeable. Also, they generally stock a large range of produce too, so if there’s something you can’t find in the cheap supermarkets, you’ll probably find it at one of these.
Berlin is also home to large quantity of Bio and organic produce stores where you can get pretty much anything you want. The quality is fantastic. Unfortunately, none of them are cheap, but their range is amazing. If you’re looking for the best world produce, then be sure to take a peek inside of Denns, Vitalia, and Bio Laden.
Lastly, if you like to make a lot of Asian-themed food, then be sure to take a trip to the Dong Xuan Asian Supermarket. It’s amazing.
It’ll take a couple of trams to get there, but the several warehouses full of Asian food shops and wholesalers is worth the short trip.
You’ll find all sorts of imported foods and products, including suitcases and three-piece suits. It’s also the cheapest place for tofu in Berlin, so for the vegans and vegetarians amongst you, it’s heaven.
Getting Around in Berlin
The relatively small size of Berlin makes it extremely easy to get around throughout the day, and with a public transport network that operates well into the early hours of the morning, it couldn’t be any easier to get around.
Public transport in Berlin is also highly efficient and rarely suffers from any problems or delays – but as ever, always allow yourself plenty of time to commute from A to B.
How To Use Public Transport in Berlin
Comprised of trams, buses, and a highly-connected route of underground and overground trains; zipping from one side of the city to the other is both quick and easy to do. Plus, it’s also very tourist friendly.
Purchased tickets should work across the whole system, so should you buy a ticket for the train you can then finish the remainder of the journey via the bus or tram, using the same ticket. This works for one continuous journey up to 2 hours in length.
There are three location zones within Berlin which are A in the very centre of the city, with B encircling that, and C encircling the two inner zones. Most of your travel will probably be in the AB combined zone, and the tickets are adjusted accordingly:
- Berlin AB: €2.70
- Berlin BC: €3.00
- Berlin ABC: €3.30
Tickets are sold as singles and NOT as return tickets. For a return journey a second ticket is required. Also, one ticket may only be used for the direction of one journey and not any direction for up to 2 hours.
If you’re intending to take multiple trips or are taking a trip that would normally require a return ticket, you can purchase a combined Four-Trip-Ticket at €9.00. This will provide you with four Single Journey tickets which you can use during your trip, which prices these tickets at €2.25 per ticket, saving you €0.45. It might not sound like much, but if you’re taking several trips that difference can really add up.
Alternatively you can purchase a Day Ticket AB for €6.90 and travel anywhere along the central zones of the network until 3 AM the following morning (tickets for other zones are also available).
For people spending more than a few days in Berlin then a 7-Day Card AB may also be worth exploring. It’s available to purchase at ticket kiosks and machines for €29.50.
For up-to-date ticket prices and terms, please visit the S-Bahn Tickets & Fares page.
Make Public Travel Easy with a Berlin Welcomecard
During our first visits to Berlin we both purchased a Berlin Welcomecard for the unlimited travel they provide for public transport. It’s the simplest option for visitors as not only does it come with a ticket for travel, it also comes with over 200 discounts for attractions, museums, and restaurants in the city; plus a handy city map and guide.
For more details on how to purchase a card, visit the Berlin Welcomecard page of the VisitBerlin website.
Use a Free Bike
Biking in Berlin is as big as it is in Amsterdam. There are people racing by you on every street and road you walk down. Thankfully there are a number of dedicated bike paths and bike highways on which the bulk of the traffic is, but it’s always worth being aware of your surroundings just in case.
If you’re a keen bicyclist and want to zip around the city on two wheels, then getting your hands on a bike is easily done.
Throughout the city there are public bikes to borrow, but only for short periods of time as you whizz from one bike station to the next.
Instead you can rent a bike either from the hotel or hostel you’re staying at, or from any one of the hundreds of bike repair and sales shops in Berlin.
If the idea of spending money renting a bike concerns you, then you should certainly check out the community website Bikesurf from where you can borrow a bike from a local for a length time you negotiate. Sometimes there may be a deposit to be a paid, but other times the service is completely free.
Get Out of Berlin
Berlin is surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe and is easily reached within a 15 minute train ride, or half an hour drive in a car. For many Berliners a trip to a campsite or lake is the only way to spend a weekend.
If, however, you’d prefer to visit somewhere a little more urbanised, then there are a number of cities and towns you can visit on a day trip from one of Berlin’s several transport hubs.
Over the past couple of years Leipzig has been spoken and written about by hundreds of people who giddily proclaim it to be "the next Berlin"; yet no one countering it saying that it’s not true – so maybe there’s something to it?
Apparently it’s filled with great architecture, beautiful parks, and a high mass of young people who are keeping the city young with their youthful charm. To us it sounds great, and a perfect day trip we’ve yet to take.
Another city that’s often called "the next best…" is Dresden, a historically unique city that’s not quite what it appears to be on the surface.
During the Second World War the city of Dresden was all but destroyed by allied bombing, right near the end of the battle for Germany itself. Unfortunately, during it all many lives and historically important buildings were lost, but thankfully following the war the city has gone to great lengths to restore the city to how it was before the war.
Once referred to as "The Florence of the Elbe River", the city still has the charm that originally brought both merchants and tourists from across Europe to see it for themselves, and as reconstruction work continues every year, Dresden should become even bigger and better than before.
No list of day trips from Berlin would be complete without mentioning the palaces and parks of the former royal residence of Potsdam.
Listed by UNESCO as an area of significant human interest, the grande and luxurious palaces in which the Prussian royal family used to live are truly a must see for every history-driven traveller.
Things To Do in Berlin
There are so many things to do in Berlin that’s even if you chose to do one different thing every day for a year, you’d finish the year with at least another 365 things left to do.
Because the city caters for everyone and every possibly interest, once you’ve grown bored of doing the things you enjoy doing the most, you can mix things up by doing something a little different.
You can learn to program. You could learn to be a yoga teacher.
Every day someone somewhere is learning how to do something new, be it how to make great cocktails, how to be a successful writer, or even a burlesque dancer.
Of all the things to see and do in Berlin, these are a few of our budget-friendly favourites:
1. Free classical concert at the Berlin Philharmonic
We read about this popular weekly event prior to our first visit to Berlin together in 2010, and the first time we visited remains as one of the most unique classical music experiences we’ve ever had.
Run every Tuesday lunchtime within the lobby area of the Berlin Philharmonic, students from the local Berlin Academy and internationally renowned musicians play hour-long performances that will enrapture you.
It’s not often that you get to see the Mozart of tomorrow playing for free, so don’t miss out.
2. Free coffee cupping session
Berlin is one of the worlds principle homes of the Third Wave coffee movement and within the hundreds of cafes to choose from you’ll find all kinds of new variations on the classic cup of black coffee.
One cafe that we particularly loved was Cafe CK where we both took part in a free coffee cupping session in which we learned more about the origins of coffee and how they can effect the final flavour.
The experience and method of trying coffee is unlike anything you’ll have tried before. It’s a one-of-a-kind event that you mustn’t miss.
You may like to read our 15 Alternative Things To Do in Berlin post.
3. Take Bus 100 past the sights
If you’d like to see the main sights of Berlin but don’t want to spend money using one of the sightseeing buses, use public transport instead.
On the regular Bus 100 you’ll pass by some of Berlin’s primary attractions and landmarks, all for the price of a basic single journey ticket. A real bargain.
4. Free gypsy jazz nights
Fans of the guitarist Django Reinhardt will have a wonderful time in Berlin as the artist and genre of music he’s known for playing can be heard in many of the cafes and bars in the city – and not just on CD.
Performing bands can be seen along the streets in Prenzlauer Berg on a weekend and are well worth stopping to listen too, but if you’re looking for somewhere a little bit more comfortable then consider visiting a bar like Cafe Lyrik (mentioned in our Five Tips for Berlin post) in which you’ll probably find a band playing some swinging tunes.
5. Experience East Berlin
If the history of the Berlin Wall and the former city of East Berlin interests you, be sure to explore the area along Karl Marx-Allee.
This long promenade of communist housing blocks was built following the split of the city by the Soviet-aligned government that ruled the east, and it’s incredibly interesting to see from an architectural point of view.
Many of the buildings you see today mirror those you’ll see on the main streets of many former Eastern Bloc countries, plus a number of central government buildings within Moscow itself.
As Berlin continues to rebuild and gentrify itself with a new architectural identity, it’s areas like this around Frankfurter Tor that will be worth preserving forever.