We have spent five weeks in Berlin now, and we have a confession to make: we might have found a place that could become our semi-permanent base at some point in the future. We would probably still spend the winter months in warmer regions of the world, but we can see ourselves spending three or four months in Berlin each summer – not only because we fell in love with the city itself, but also because it is a great base to explore other places in Germany and Europe from. Here is why we think Berlin makes a great base for exploring Europe:
The perfect location
Berlin is located in a perfect region to explore both Western and Eastern Europe from, it is close to Scandinavia and there are plenty of cheap flights to Southern Europe from Berlin. Rome and London are only a 2-hour flight away, it takes 3 hours to fly to Madrid, and even less than that to get to Istanbul. If you prefer train travel, you can get to Munich in six hours, to Prague in 4.5 hours and to Copenhagen in just under seven hours.
A convenient transport hub
Berlin is not only located perfectly, but it also offers a wide range of different modes of transportation to get around Europe. Several budget airlines, such as AirBerlin or EasyJet, connect Berlin with all major cities across Europe, including the Canary Islands and destinations in North Africa.
Often times the train can be cheaper and faster – depending on how long in advance you book your train tickets. If you base yourself in Berlin and plan trips around Europe well in advance, you can book your train tickets online on the website of Deutsche Bahn, Bahn.com. Even though it’s the website of Germany’s national rail, you can also book tickets from Berlin to other European countries and find tickets to Paris for as low as 53 Euros, to Amsterdam for 39 Euros, or Vienna for 49 Euros. Another option would be to buy a Bahncard, which offers 50 per cent off any ticket you purchase, and you don’t need to book in advance. This card is valid for 12 months and definitely worth the purchase (127 Euros) if you plan to take the train a lot.
Another inexpensive way to get around Europe are the buses, and Germany has just opened the long-distance bus network to private companies in 2013, now competing with the rail system and offering bargains such as 8 Euros for a trip to Leipzig, 9 Euros to Hamburg, or 22 Euros for a ticket to Munich. Check out MeinFernbus.de, BerlinLinienbus, Flixbus, and EuroLines for international routes.
Even cheaper are Germany’s many carpooling services. When traveling between cities, drivers upload their trip, departure time and per-passenger cost and people looking for rides along the same route call, text or get in touch over the site to book a seat. Most of these sites have an English version and also offer rides on European routes, like Berlin – Warsaw, Berlin – Florence or Berlin – Stockholm. Some of our favorite carpooling websites include Carpooling.com, BlaBlaCar, Flinc.org and Mitfahrangebot.
If you prefer driving your own car, check out the special weekend offers by the big car rental companies that offer rentals from 14.99 per day or car sharing services, which offer cars in convenient locations around the cities. These companies are similar to rental companies, but they have more locations in residential areas, and can be booked on short notice simply via your smartphone for as low as 5 Euros per hour. You pay a registration fee when you sign up for a car sharing service (around 29 Euros) but if you are basing yourself in Berlin for a while, it is well worth it. There are several car sharing services in Berlin, for example: Cambio, Car2Go, DriveNow, CiteeCar or Flinkster (the official car sharing service of Deutsche Bahn – if you have a Bahncard, there’s no registration fee!)
Of course you could use London, which is a superb transport hub in Europe, as a base, but Berlin, Germany is so much cheaper! You can still find a room in a flat share for less than 300 Euros per month or a one-bedroom apartment for around 500 Euros a month. Groceries are cheap in discounter super markets, and there are several fresh vegetable markets around the city, such as the Maybachufer Turkish Market, that offers whole boxes of avocados for as little as 3 Euros, ten boxes of strawberries for 2 Euros and a kilo of bananas for less than a Euro.
Going out is super cheap, too, with pints of beer for as little as 2 Euros and many bars offering happy hour prices for cocktails for around 3.50 Euros. Many attractions are free, and if you pick up a used bicycle for about 50 Euros at Mauerpark flea market, you don’t have to pay for transportation (a monthly ticket for subways, S-bahn and buses is currently 77 Euros).
Not only are day-to-day expenses cheap in Germany, but a visit to the doctor doesn’t break the bank (I had a preventative cancer screening for 35 Euros, teeth cleaning starts at 45 Euros) and health insurance for foreigners visiting Germany is extremely affordable (three month coverage starts at only 15 Euros!).
It is a great destination in itself
The city is not only a great base to explore Europe from, Berlin is a fantastic destination in itself! One of the most vibrant and hip cities in all of Europe (maybe even the coolest one!), you won’t ever get bored in Berlin. There are countless things to do, from museums to art galleries, flea markets and parks. Most of Berlin’s attractions are free, such as climbing the glass dome of the Reichstag, visiting the East Side street art gallery, and even several free walking tours around the city, from classic tours that include the classic sights such as the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie to edgier tours that explore Berlin’s subculture.
If you are ready for a break from Berlin, there are enough places within an hour from the city to keep you busy for months: from picturesque Potsdam and Oranienburg to the over two dozen lakes around the city that make for perfect day trips, the nearby Spreewald and Havelland regions, or just over the border in Poland you have Szczecin, one of the liveliest towns in Poland with beautiful medieval buildings, Baroque city gates and a 14th century tower.
Have you been to Berlin? Do you agree with us, or what would be your perfect European base?