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How to get around Germany on the Cheap

Dani and Jess in Germany

Even though Germany is compact, the main cities are flung right across it in all directions. On any given trip, you’ll likely have to take at least a couple of mid-length trips. Travel within Germany can be pricey – but only if you don’t plan in advance. As long as you know your travel dates and all your options, you can cut down your travel costs to a fraction of what they would be otherwise – traveling Germany on the cheap is possible!

During the couple of months I spend in Germany every year, I have used every transportation option myself and have compiled them all here for you to know your options and to help you get the best prices on transportation to get around Germany, find the cheapest ways to travel Germany, and other useful money-saving tips.

How to travel around Germany on the cheap

travel around Germany on the cheap

Trains in Germany

You might dream of traveling Europe by train and nowhere is train travel more comfortable or efficient than Germany. But prices have skyrocketed in the last few years. There are still good deals to be had, but these usually are only valid for the slow regional trains, not the slick, ultramodern high-speed ICE trains, and involve changing trains at least once during your journey.

Either way, you need to book in advance. Show up at the train station today and try to book a train form Munich to Berlin, and you’ll have to fork out €125. If you book this journey two weeks in advance instead, you can get the same ticket for as low as €29, which is almost €100 cheaper!

The Deutsche Bahn website has a good English language section where you can check train times and prices, but you will still have to know the German names of the cities or you won’t be able to search, i.e. München instead of Munich, Köln instead of Cologne.

trains in germany
Trains in Germany

Look beyond the standard tickets it offers as well. If you’re traveling in a group of six or more people, check out Deutsche Bahn’s group saver fare. Another great offer is the Weekend ticket which allows you to take up to 4 people with you – the entire ticket is €44, so divided by five, this breaks down to €8.80 per person. There are more Saver Tickets, like a Day Ticket that lets you ride trains in all of Germany for €44. You can check out all Deutsche Bahn Saver Tickets here.

Some cities also offer special ‘tourist cards’, like the Cologne WelcomeCard which is €9.90 and offers 24 hours of free travel on all trains, subways, buses and trams in Cologne, plus discounts of up to 50% on museums, tours and attractions.

travel germany on the cheapDeutsche Bahn offers Germany-only rail passes (as opposed to the popular European rail passes many use) but we find them to be pretty expensive compared to all the other ticket options, unless you plan to take the train often or are under 25.

Buses in Germany

The Deutsche Bahn effectively held a monopoly on public transportation until January 1, 2013, which is when German law allowed the creation of private companies to compete with the DB. Since then, several bus companies have popped up with much cheaper tickets compared to the train, making bus travel in Germany suddenly a very attractive option.

If you decide, with two days notice, to go from Frankfurt to Munich, the train starts at €69 ($92). Bus fares for the same journey start at €20 ($26).

summer in germanyBuses from Berlin to Leipzig are €6, Berlin to Hamburg €9, or €22 for a ticket all the way down to Munich. You can even go all the way to Innsbruck in Austria from Munich for as low as €8! Check out Flixbus or consider EuroLines for international routes. We compared bus prices for our routes using Omio. The site has an overview of which buses cover which routes and compares costs of each company – the site is super easy to navigate and the comparison tool will save you so much money.

Just type in your date and your origin and destination, and it will show you a list of all your options and how much they cost. Then you can head straight to the website of the provider of your choice and book your trip there. It’s important to book your trips in advance, since similar to budget airlines, prices go up closer to the date of travel.

By the way: Omio doesn’t only compare bus prices, but it shows you all available options: buses, trains and flights. You can sort the results by cheapest, smartest and fastest, and sometimes there are flights that are nearly as cheap as the bus tickets (see screenshot below).

how to get around germany on the cheap

Carpooling in Germany

Around the same price as a bus, sometimes even cheaper and always cheaper than the train, are Germany’s many carpooling services. Carpooling is very popular in Germany – not surprisingly since it relies on a green mentality and is common sense. Drivers have extra seats in their car, you need to get to the same destination – why not split the cost of gas and drive together?

Drivers post their trip on a carpooling site, including departure time and per-passenger cost. People looking for rides along the same route call, text or get in touch via the website to book a seat. Most of these sites have an English version and even offer rides on European routes, like Berlin – Warsaw, Munich – Florence or Hamburg – Stockholm. Some of our favorite carpooling websites include BlaBlaCar, Mifaz, and Drive2day for all of Europe (all in English). If you speak German, you’ll benefit from an even wider variety, with services such as BesserMitfahren or Fahrgemeinschaft.de.

carpooling germany
Our comfy carpooling ride which we found on BlaBlaCar.

The advantage of carpooling over buses is that you can be very spontaneous – deciding to head from Frankfurt to Stuttgart tomorrow? No problem, you’ll definitely still find a ride at the same price as an advance bus ticket would cost.

Get a German SIM card for Carpooling, Hitchhiking and Wi-Fi

If you decide to carpool, you’ll need a cell phone to take calls and text about pick up points, etc. You can pick up a German SIM card for as little as €5 including credit (usually the card is free and comes with €5 credit) in the discount supermarkets such as Lidl or Aldi. Unfortunately, new anti-terrorist laws made a little bit more difficult to pick up a local SIM Card – the last time I bought one I had to have my passport on me, and it took a few days for the company to activate the SIM card which was done via video call so that they could see it was in fact me using the SIM card and not some terrorist.

But once you’ve activated your card, you just top it up as needed, and since rates are very competitive, you probably won’t use more than €10 credit per month. SIM cards with data are a little bit more expensive, but make sense if you want to use the carpooling, train or bus apps during your travels. Another advantage to having a German SIM is that while there is free Wi-Fi almost everywhere, often times you need to have a code texted to your cell for access. No cell phone, no free Wi-Fi – so avoid that catch-22 and get a German SIM card! In this article you find more comprehensive information on how to buy a SIM card in Germany, the different providers and price packages, etc.

Hitchhiking in Germany

Hitchhiking in Germany is way more widespread and socially accepted than in the U.S. and other countries. If you are on an extremely tight budget or just up for adventure, hitchhiking in Germany is possible, safe and a legitimate option. You can’t wait on the highway (Autobahn) itself, but you can wait at gas stations and at service areas along the highway. There are sometimes 10, 20, even more than 30 people at popular pick-up spots, so you might consider using websites like Hitchwiki to find a ride before you even leave.

road to the bavarian alps

Car rentals in Germany

If you don’t want to trust the daredevil German drivers with your life and prefer driving your own car, check out the special weekend offers from the big car rental companies such as Hertz, or check out Expedia-owned CarRentals.com for the best deals across all car rental companies. We have taken advantage of deals for €14.99 per day from Friday to Monday and weekend flat rates as well. If you are driving a long distance, why not post your trip up on one of the carpooling websites and make your gas money back taking a few local Germans with you!

Smart &Zugspitze
Our rental car in Southern Germany

 

Car Sharing in Germany

Car sharing services have exploded in popularity over the years, but for the short-term visitor, this option is a bit more difficult to take advantage of. Essentially, car sharing involves being able to rent a car for an hour or half a day any time you want. Cars are usually in convenient locations around the cities, you don’t have to find a rental office and you can book at short notice for as low as €5 per hour via an app on your smartphone. The problem is that you have to register with the company of your choice.

The registration fee is usually around €29, so it makes more sense for longer stays in the country. Once you do have it, you can shop, get out to the countryside or take a quick morning trip anywhere at the drop of a hat. Some car sharing services worth checking out are: ShareNow (in seven German cities; famous for their fleet of Smart cars) Cambio (in 13 German cities), or Flinkster (the official car sharing service of Deutsche Bahn with cars in over 140 German cities (and if you have a Bahncard, there’s no registration fee!).

Domestic flights in Germany

Flying usually doesn’t make much sense in Germany thanks to the country’s compact size, but if you want to save time and are traveling popular routes like Berlin – Stuttgart or Hamburg – Munich, it’s worth checking budget airlines like Easyjet or Ryanair (booked around four weeks in advance, sometimes there are even cheaper deals). If you are planning to take trips from Germany to another destination in Europe, check on Omio or Skyscanner what’s the cheapest option.

airplane
Ryanair – we dislike it, but we use it.

 

Where to stay in Germany

If you are trying to travel for as little money as possible, check out the Couchsurfing scene in the cities you’re planning to visit. Germany’s got quite an active Couchsurfing community, and if you don’t get any responses to your requests, make them more personal. Germans don’t like getting swamped with generic requests – instead, they are looking to make real connections and meet like-minded people. Once a German offers you their couch though, you can consider him or her a friend for life.

A similarly authentic travel experience is Airbnb, which to me feels almost like Couchsurfing when I rent a room in somebody’s apartment (instead of the entire apartment). I’ve found that in Germany, private rooms in an Airbnb usually only cost a couple of Euros more than a bed in a hostel dorm bed – and even though I enjoy staying in hostels, sometimes I appreciate having my own room and not having to share a bathroom with a dozen other people.

If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, sign up through my referral link and get up to $40 off your first booking!

Both Couchsurfing and Airbnb have helped me make my travel experience more genuine and interesting and get a better idea of what life in the place I’m visiting is really like. In a hotel, you’ll never have your host randomly invite you to a party with locals, or to join them on a bar hopping tour. Even when my hosts don’t have time to take me out, they always give me great recommendations for places to check out which aren’t necessarily on the beaten tourist path.

Over the years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find couches to sleep on, especially in popular destinations, which is why I now prefer renting a room in an Airbnb apartment, instead of renting the entire apartment. That way, I get the chance to connect with my host, and when I travel solo I don’t need an entire apartment to myself. I always want to meet new people though. And that’s what I also appreciate Couchsurfing for: their groups and meet-ups. So even if I don’t couchsurf with someone, I can still go to a meet-up and connect with other travelers.

 

 

Also read: How to travel around Europe on the cheap

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One year of travel: Our expenses

Dani & Jess at Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua

We have on been on the road for one year, and want to share our expenses as a follow up to our first 6 months of travel, which we posted here. Read on for our detailed round the world trip budget, the total sum of every single penny we spent between 30 April 2010 and 30 April 2011. We decided to provide our spending summary for two reasons. Firstly, we would like to compare with other long-term travelers and see if we are in the same range of spending. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we would like to show our readers who don’t travel long-term just how affordable and realistic this experience really is.

Note: Expenses are stated in both USD and GBP since we both earn money in GBP, but did most of our spending comparing various currencies to US Dollars.

round the world trip budget

Our total round-the-world-trip budget – How much did we spend?

Per Couple $28,483.55 £18,181.51
     
Per Person $14,241.77 £9,090.75

Average expenses: Per Month

Per Couple
$2,373.63
£1,515.13
     
Per Person $1,186.81
£757.56

Our expenses include all every flight we took, our pricey Corn Islands vacation, every hostel / hotel / motel / apartment that we slept in, every bus / boat / tuktuk / taxi / train we took, every car we rented, every meal we ate, every beer we drank, various medications, every donation we gave, plus everything else we spent our money on.

Latin America vs Europe and North America

We spent two thirds of the time (8 months) in Mexico and Central America, and one third (4 months, 2.5 / 1.5) in the US and Europe, but over half of our expenses come from our time in Europe/US: $13,232.24 / £8494.41!  Had we traveled only in Latin America, we would have probably spent a lot less.

We have to admit that this round the world trip budget was a bit higher than we expected, but we never really tried to keep our expenses down. Unlike other travelers, we are technically digital nomads and earn money as we go, so we never have to worry (knock on wood) about scraping the bottom of the money barrel. We rented cars in the U.S. and Europe (not cheap!) we ate out a lot, we didn’t always stay in the cheapest hostels, and we recently booked a rather expensive flight to Europe.

Jess backpacking through the jungle

Housesits save money
Thanks to the various housesits during this past year, we saved more than 10 weeks accommodation. This free lodging helped us cut down this part of our budget!

Average Daily Travel Expense: Per Country

This is our average daily spend breakdown per country – both for us as a couple and what that averages out to per person.

U.S.A. Per Couple $90.00 £60.00
  Per Person $45.00 £30.00
       
Mexico Per Couple $41.16 £26.91
  Per Person $20.58 £13.45
       
Belize Per Couple $108.00 £68.20
  Per Person $54.00 £34.10
       
Guatemala Per Couple $46.24 £29.25
  Per Person $23.12 £14.62
       
El Salvador Per Couple $48.10 £29.58
  Per Person $24.05 £14.79
       
Honduras Per Couple $57.36 £36.87
  Per Person $28.68 £18.43
       
Nicaragua Per Couple $63.63 £40.35
  Per Person $31.81 £20.17
       
Costa Rica Per Couple $53.24 £32.97
  Per Person $26.62 £16.49
       
Panama Per Couple $71.42 £43.92
  Per Person $35.71 £21.96
       
Germany Per Couple $52.82 £33.45
  Per Person $27.41 £16.73
       
Italy Per Couple $113.62 £68.83
  Per Person $56.81 £34.42

A few notes on these daily averages:

1. Belize was so high because the amazing tours available- snorkeling and caving – are quite costly, but very worth it. Food and hotels can be very cheap if you do your research.
2. Nicaragua was only so expensive because of our trip to the Corn Islands. Without that, our time there would have been dirt cheap.
3. Honduras would have been cheaper, but we were there over Christmas and New Years, so we had lots of justifications for splurging.
4. Costa Rica is really not as expensive as everyone thinks!
5. Renting a car in Italy makes it expensive – the car ($35 a day at the cheapest rate), the gas (avg. of $9 per gallon!) and the tolls on the Autostrada (roughly $6.50 for a 45 minute drive, $35 for a three hour drive from Milan to Lucca).

30 April marked our 1 year travel anniversary, and we took a look at our expenses so far – how much we have spent, where the money went, and what our average per day spend has been in each country.

Have you traveled long-term? How did our round-the-world trip budget compare to yours? Have you ever considered traveling long-term but thought you don’t have the budget? Did our budget help push you in the direction of long-term travel? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Polaroid of the week: Cycling through Berlin

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week berlin cycle tourApologies for the lack of updates in the past couple of weeks – I’ve finally tackled the big website update that has been overdue for months, but the transition to my new mobile-friendly site design didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped for. Please bare with me as I am ironing out the remaining glitches, bugs and errors – I have plenty of posts waiting to be published.

After our amazing first weekend in Berlin, we continued our adventures with more street art, more German breakfasts, my visitor’s (and my!) first ever curry wurst (this was the first time I found a vegetarian curry wurst), sunsets over Tempelhof airport (one of my favorite places in the city), and an epic 20 mile bike ride through Berlin. The city is so enormously big that is impossible to explore it on foot, and since it is a really bike-friendly city with plenty of bike lanes, bikes are a great way too see Berlin. Tiergarten alone (Berlin’s version of Central Park) is big enough to spend half a day there  (or longer) walking along the trails.

We were blessed with beautiful summer weather, cycled from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburg Gate to Victory Column on one of Berlin’s main boulevards, along the canals, and all over Tempelhof which is another one of those places that is too big to be explored on foot. We did get our fair share of walking in this week, however, with the free history walking tour (I mention this tour in my quick guide to Berlin with a few other must-do activities) during which our guide brought us to the iconic Berlin landmarks such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlin Wall (again!) and the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt Square.

Highlights of the week? Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap (a Berlin institution, which I put on my Berlin Must Eats in 2013 and it still totally lives up to the hype), the Turkish market at Maybachufer (I went on both days, Tuesday and Friday), Street Food Thursday, and last but not least: watching Germany win against Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 soccer championship on the ‘Fan Mile’, a public viewing area with a giant screen right behind the Brandenburg Gate. Experiencing a soccer game with thousands of other fans is such an incredible experience – I am definitely happy to be in Germany for the Euro Cup after watching the last two World Cups in New York where soccer is just not as big as here in Europe.

I didn’t make it to all of my favorite places in Berlin just yet, so stay tuned for next week’s Polaroid with another update from Berlin, and my monthly round-up with all of June’s highlights in more detail.

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Polaroid of the week: Love lock madness in Cologne, Germany

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week germany cologne love locks bridgeIt feels like I’ve been all over the place this week: Berlin, then Dusseldorf, and now in Cologne, where I am spending the weekend. My three days in Cologne were definitely my favorite part of the week – my last two days in Berlin and also in Dusseldorf, it was mostly about work, but I tried to take some time off this weekend to find out if I still loved Cologne as much as I did fifteen years ago. Cologne and I have a special history: I visited the city for the first time with my girlfriends when I was 15 and was instantly mesmerized by the multi-cultural, vibrant city. What a difference from my sleepy hometown it was! I decided right there and then that I was going to move to Cologne one day, and a few more visits during my last couple of years in high school reaffirmed my love for the city, which is why I ended up enrolling in the University Of Cologne in 2000.

I had to leave unexpectedly after only two years, but always thought I’d come back one day – possibly to live there. But life had other plans for me and I never returned – until now, that is. As so many cities, Cologne has changed considerably since I lived here, and I had the best time this weekend rediscovering the place I called home all those years ago. With a good friend in tow and perfect summer weather, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time here – from food markets to bike rides along the Rhine River to a night out in Cologne’s thriving LGBT bar scene, I loved every second of it.

Being a sucker for love locks (and maybe even having locked my very own one on a famous bridge) one thing I was excited about was that I finally got to see one of the most famous love lock bridges in the world: the Hohenzollern Bridge. Back when I lived here, there were no love locks on that bridge, but a few years ago I came across an article mentioning that the bridge was covered in more than 40,000 love pad locks. After photographing the love lock fountain in Montevideo, the love locks on the Brooklyn Bridge (which have been removed now), love locks along Italy’s Via Dell’Amore, and many other spots around the world, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a bridge covered in padlocks to the extent this bridge is covered. It’s absolutely insane! Now that I’ve become a little more jaded rational when it comes to everlasting love and love declarations, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these couples were still together. There must be far more than 40,000 locks now – apparently, the love locks weigh over 2 tons! Let’s just hope they don’t cause the bridge to collapse like the love locks at the Pont Des Arts in Paris, where the locks have been removed consequently.

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A Beerlicious Weekend at Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest Munich

A festival dedicated to beer? That’s something I can get behind! Even though I am not the biggest fan of Munich, when it’s Oktoberfest time, I can’t get to Munich fast enough. Read on for some fun facts about the world’s largest beer festival and my best Oktoberfest tips all the way at the end of the article.dani with beer oktoberfestOktoberfest has always been my favorite German festival, and when I still lived in Germany I went to Munich almost every year to celebrate Bavarian beer culture.oktoberfest hearts munichHowever, I’ve only made it there a couple of times since I left Germany in 2006, and my last visit was half a decade ago, which is why I was stoked to find out that my friend Rikka, who recently started her own round-the-world-trip (and blogs about it on Deviatingthenorm.com) would be in Munich during Oktoberfest.

We had made plans to meet up in Germany anyway, and I knew that there was no way that she could leave Munich without experiencing the world’s largest beer fest. So I altered my travel plans and planned to fly straight into Munich from Israel for a couple of days of Oktoberfest fun.oktoberfest with rikkaWe even managed to get a couple of dirndls to celebrate in traditional Oktoberfest-style – definitely a first for both of us!!
Oktoberfest fun 2014Most of the non-Germans I meet assume that Oktoberfest is only an assembly of beer tents in which people consume beer after beer (and admittedly, there are quite a few people for whom Oktoberfest is exactly that), but the festival is so much more than that. First and foremost, it is a big funfair with loads of amusement rides, haunted houses, and other attractions that you would typically find at county fairs in the US.
oktoberfest slideThe most common misconception of Oktoberfest is that is held in October, when it actually takes place in September. It usually ends on the first weekend in October, but the big chunk of it takes place during the last two weeks of September. oktoberfest ridesThe other common misconception is that Oktoberfest is just for tourists, and while it attracts tourists from all over the world, locals also go to Oktoberfest. Most of my Munich friends visit the Wiesn, as the locals call it, at least once – and they all wear the appropriate attire, dirndl or lederhosn! My #1 Oktoberfest tip is to invest in some traditional Bavarian attire if you want to feel like you’re 100% part of the experience. Here’s a great guide on how to dress for Oktoberfest. If you don’t want to spend an awful lot of money on your dress (because the really good ones are hundreds of dollars), Amazon will be your best friend.

oktoberfest dressesOktoberfest started as a big celebration in 1810 when King Ludwig I married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on 12 October, and the citizens of Munich were invited to join the festivities surrounding the wedding. It was held in the same location it is in today: the Theresienwiese. The location of the festival is what gives it its nickname ‘Wiesn’.oktoberfest 2014 rides and crowdsThe next year, the celebrations were repeated, horse races were added, and after running the festival for a few years it was decided that this would be an annual event.
oktoberfest horsesOktoberfest would have been celebrated for the 214th time this year, but it had to be cancelled several times due to war and cholera epidemics, which is why it is only at the 181st festival.TheresienwieseI am not sure when the beer tents were added to the festivities, but nowadays, there are fourteen massive tents on the grounds, each of which belongs to one of the famous Munich breweries. There are the super famous ones like Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Löwenbräu, and some of the bigger tents hold 10,000 people (see below for more information on the tents and how to reserve a table in one of them). Only beers from Munich-based breweries are served at the festival.Oktoberfest Brewery towersAnd when I say tent, don’t take it too literally – they are proper constructions and their setup begins in early summer, around three months before Oktoberfest starts.oktoberfest braeurosl tent6.5 million liters of beer (or 13.736.947 pints!) are consumed in only 16 days. That might sound like a crazy number, but considering that 6.3 million people visit the beer festival and that beers are served in 1 liter steins, this number no longer seems so outrageous. That’s just a little over one stein per person, and I definitely contributed to this number (maybe even above the average, ahem).dani with empty glassesAnother big part of the event is the food! Half a million roast chickens are consumed every year, plus hundreds of thousands of grilled ham hocks, sausages (especially the Bavarian white sausages called weisswurst) steckerlfisch (fish grilled on a stick), piglings and other meat dishes – Oktoberfest is a meat lover’s heaven. There is an even entire tent dedicated to grilled oxen. 2013 was the first year that some tents offered entirely vegan options on their menu, and this year, every tent offered one vegan dish.oktoberfest spanferkelFor me as a vegetarian, Oktoberfest is where I get my Käsespätzle fix, and I am a sucker for the sweet treats: gingerbread hearts, sugar roasted almonds, chocolate covered fruit skewers… I try to stuff my belly with as many of them as possible.kaesespaetzleAnother favorite of mine: Lángos, a Hungarian fried dough specialty. Similar to a donut (but not sweet), the dough is fried in hot oil and then topped with several toppings. Traditionally that means a spicy red chili and garlic sauce and cheese, but nowadays you also get Lángos with an Italian twist, topped with tomato and mozzarella for example.LangosThe first day I spent at the festival this year was the perfect day to walk the grounds: sunshine, blue skies and warm weather. That’s not the norm for Oktoberfest – I have been several times when it was pouring down. old-fashioned carouselAfter grabbing some hot and tasty sugar-roasted almonds, we made our way straight to the Olympic Rings roller coaster that had caught Rikka’s attention. It took us an hour to cross the Theresienwiese to get from the entrance to that roller coaster, to give you an idea of how big the festival grounds are. The actual size of the grounds is 42 hectares, that’s 420,000 square meters, or the size of 20 football fields. Another important Oktoberfest tip: Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking a lot more than you think!oktoberfest olympic roller coasterFor some reason I thought it might be fun to go on that roller coaster, but once the car started moving I realized that it was not a good idea at all. Let’s just say that I’d rather not share the photos of my facial expression before the ride, and the pictures from after the ride I would definitely not want anyone to see. I was terrified and my tummy turned and twisted with every loop. Luckily we hadn’t had any beer before the ride.oktoberfest olympic rings roller coasterFrom there, we headed to the old-fashioned Ferris Wheel which has been an Oktoberfest institution for decades and is the best way to get an overview of the entire fun fair and all fourteen tents.oktoberfest ferris wheel munichI love the old-fashioned cars of the Ferris Wheel (and I felt much more comfortable just going round and round at a leisurely pace, instead of being turned upside down at an insane speed!)
oktoberfest ferris wheelLooking down from the Ferris wheel, we also noticed that we were not the only ones who had the idea to take advantage of the brilliant weather and to enjoy Oktoberfest. The Theresienwiese was PACKED:oktoberfest crowds and tentsOn our second day at the festival, we didn’t spend much time outside but went straight to the tent for which we had reservations. Having a reservation for a table is A HUGE DEAL. It is almost impossible for individuals to reserve a table, most reservations are made through companies, at least six months in advance.oktoberfest tent munich 2014We were lucky enough to get two tickets from two girls who had dropped out of the reservation made by my friend’s friend, otherwise we wouldn’t have had the slightest chance to get into a tent on the closing day of Oktoberfest.oktoberfest tent munichThanks to the reservation though, we got the full Wiesn experience: dancing on the benches, singing along to German schlager and pop music, and of course enjoying some Oktoberfest beer.oktoberfest fun munichThe beer at Oktoberfest is served in a Maß, which is a one liter stein (2.2 pints). You can’t get a smaller beer than that. Adding to that the fact that Oktoberfest beer is stronger than normal beer, with 6 – 7 % alcohol, you can imagine how crazy things get after a while.
oktoberfest beersForeign visitors in particular are usually not used to beer that strong and steins that big and only realize how drunk they are when they get up from their bench. Expert Oktoberfest tip: Drink your beer slowly. Considering how much one beer costs, it’s not a bad idea not to chug your Maß anyway.
oktoberfest tentI have to admit that I had my fair share of drunken escapades at Oktoberfest as well, but let’s not get into those. Let’s just say that this year, I survived Oktoberfest without any incidents 😉Theresienwiese at nightEach tent has a live band that sings a mix of cover songs ranging from international classics like Tina Turner or Rod Steward to German pop singers like Helene Fischer.
oktoberfest bandFrom time to time, you see this happen:

Somebody, usually a guy, climbs on top of a table, cheered on by the applause of his mates, and downs a liter of beer in less than thirty seconds. When leaving the grounds, you’ll see drunk people sleeping on the sidewalks, and sometimes also in the middle of the street – my guess is that those are the same guys that drink the beer in one go!oktoberfest tent in munichThat’s not the only crazy thing you’ll see: the higher the level of alcohol, the crazier people get. There are these guys with the slingshots for example, who offer to shoot chili powder up people’s noses – for money, of course. What might seem a good idea initially, is regretted by most once its done.oktoberfest chili powderI had a blast without any chili or other dubious powders, and this will definitely not be my last Oktoberfest – and now that I have a dirndl, I will have to make sure that it gets used a lot 😉

dani rotzleffe
Rikka couldn’t have chosen a more fitting gingerbread heart for me – it says Rotzleffe, Bavarian for Snotty Brat 😉

My Oktoberfest Tips:

Accommodation during Oktoberfest

If you’re planning to visit Oktoberfest, book your accommodation early – in May at the very latest! Hostels and hotels fill up quickly, and prices go up like crazy. The earlier you book, the less you’ll pay (and the more likely you are to get a room in the first place). TheresienwieseDon’t expect to couchsurf during Oktoberfest. Almost nobody is willing to put up with drunk Oktoberfest visitors. The earlier you book your accommodation, the better. I usually use Booking.com to find the best rates for hostels and hotels.

Airfares to Munich go up during Oktoberfest as well. Consider flying to nearby airports such as Salzburg, Frankfurt or Stuttgart. You can get to Munich from these airports in 2 to 3 hours on the train and if booked in advance, train tickets are 29 Euros. Buses take a bit longer, but can be booked for as little as 10 Euros (sometimes even less). Check Omio.com to see the cheapest option for your trip – Omio compares train, bus and airfare in Europe and gives you the cheapest and fastest ways to get there.Oktoberfest MunichEven though Couchsurfing is not an option during the festival, you should check out Munich Couchsurfing events, groups and forums – there are always meet-ups at Oktoberfest, with people arriving in the morning to hold a table for Couchsurfers. That way, you know you’ll be enjoying a few beers with like-minded travelers.

When you get into one of the tents, just ask people if you can join their table. One of the best things about Oktoberfest is the people you get to meet!oktoberfest dancing girlsAnd last but not least, one of the most important Oktoberfest tips: Get to the festival grounds early – ideally 10am, if you are looking to get a seat in one of the tents. On weekdays you’re much more likely to get a seat than on weekends.

If you see a sign at the tent of your choice that looks like this:oktoberfest tipsDon’t even bother waiting there. That means the tent is already closed due to overcrowding. I’ve seen quite a few foreigners waiting in front of those overcrowded tents because they didn’t know what was going on, but as soon as this sign is hung, the doors won’t open again.

If you are looking to reserve a table, you’ll have to do that about six months in advance. You’ll have to reserve for 10 people, even if your group is smaller. Each reservation includes two beer vouchers and two food vouchers, adding up to about 40 Euros per person, which means you’ll pay about 400 Euros for the table reservation (but you’ll get the food and beer vouchers in return which is a good deal – so the reservation itself is basically free). Find out more about how to reserve a table at Oktoberfest here.beer tentCheck out several tents while you’re there. They all have different decor, cater to a different clientele and have a different atmosphere. Some of my favorite tents are the Hacker Tent, the Bräurosl and the Schottenhamel. You can find a full listing of all 14 tents with a short description of each one here.TheresienwieseExpect to pay around 10 Euros for one Maß. That might seem a lot, but I paid US$16 for a Maß in a German beer hall in New York. In addition to the beer, you’ll have to tip the waitress 1 Euro each time you order a beer.steinsThere is no entrance fee to get on the grounds. Admission to the rides range from 6 to 9 Euros, and snack foods start at 3 Euros. A full meal in one of the tents will set you back around 15 – 20 Euros.

And another important Oktoberfest tip: Don’t try to get anywhere near the festival grounds with a car – use public transportation instead. My advice would be to find a Park & Ride parking lot on the outskirts of Munich and take the S-Bahn train into the city. You can walk to Theresienwisese from Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) and Hackerbruecke S-Bahn station.

oktoberfest fun with rikka

LGBT Travelers: The second Sunday of Oktoberfest is Gay Sunday, celebrated in the Bräurosl Tent. Gaywelcome.com has the exact dates and detailed information. The second Monday of Oktoberfest is known as Prosecco Monday at the Fischer-Vroni Tent.oktoberfest beer glasses munich

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oktoberfest tips

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Polaroid of the week: A walk inside Berlin’s stunning parliament dome

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week berlin reichstag dome

After a few short days with my family, I returned to Berlin on Thursday for six days – and to welcome two special visitors from New York!

I have to admit that I am slightly exhausted after  sightseeing for days, but I love showing people around this giant urban sprawl that can be overwhelming and hard to grasp for first time visitors.

We wandered the tree-lined streets of Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, shopped at the Sunday flea market in Mauerpark and listened to people from all over the world belt out their favorite songs in front of 1,000 people at Bearpit Karaoke. We watched an epic sunset from Berlin’s coolest rooftop bar, Klunkerkranich (which even made it in the NYT, as a must-go spot in 36 hours in Berlin) and strolled along the canals. I also managed to get us tickets to visit the Reichstag dome on Saturday, which I hadn’t done in three years  – tickets are hard to get during the summer months, probably because they’re free. Sadly I couldn’t get them for my first visitors a couple of weeks ago, so the happier I was that I was able to show these two Berlin’s best 360 degrees views.

As an architecture geek, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing this stunning glass dome close up, designed by Sir Norman Foster and only added to Germany’s historic Parliament Building in 1999. We lucked out with the time of our visit, which happened to coincide with the time that the sun finally broke through the clouds after a rainy, gray day. And as we made our way up the ramp up to an observation deck at the very top of the dome, blue skies appeared, and we learned all kinds of trivia about the state-of-the-art environmentally friendly features of the dome and about the surrounding buildings thanks to the free GPS audio guide you get when you visit. If you’re heading to Berlin, don’t miss the Reichstag Dome – you can book your tickets online here.

 

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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

Berlin Landwehrkanal

This comprehensive guide includes our personal favorites in Berlin. These are our top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital. In this edition of our Quick Guides series: Outdoor Berlin.

This list is by no means final. 

We are sharing our favorite parks, flea markets, lakes and other outdoor activities in Berlin. While some of these things (markets, parks) can be visited year-round, it is mainly a summer guide. We have to admit that we think that Berlin is best visited in the summer, when you can enjoy all the outdoor things that make this city so amazing.

Check out our other Quick Guides for Berlin:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars

Berlin

Outdoor Berlin

We have to say that Berlin is most enjoyable in the summer when it is hot and the whole city is outside. During the warmer months, cafes and restaurants put tables out on the sidewalks, the parks are filled with picnicking friends, beach bars pop up along the River Spree, the Badeschiff (see below) is open, karaoke takes place in the Mauerpark, it is more enjoyable to stroll through flea markets and markets. Thus, we recommend to visit Berlin anytime between May and September, to get the full experience of what outdoor Berlin has to offer.

All the following are things that you shouldn’t miss in Berlin in the summer:

Beach Bars in Berlin

There are a number of beach bars that open up for the summer months every year along the river, complete with sun chairs and lovely river views.berlin beach bar

  • Strandbar Mitte (Monbijoustraße 3) is small, but the most central beach bar with a nice vibe with sand, sun chairs and even some palm trees. On some nights, there are free tango classes here.
  • Capital Beach near the Reichstag is a bit more expensive, but has great views over the new parliament buildings.
  • Yaam (Stralauer Platz 35) near the Osthafen attracts a more alternative crowd, and is probably the cheapest beach bar
  • Ku’damm Beach is one of the fancier beach bars in Charlottenburg (Koenigsallee 5b)

Flea Markets in Berlin

The biggest flea market is on Straße des 17. Juni, (between Ernst-Reuter-Haus and S-Bahn: Tiergarten). Another cool one is on Sundays at Mauerpark (next to Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark in Prenzlauer Berg (Subway: Eberswalder Straße). Mauerpark has the typical flea market goodies like furniture, antiques, books and vintage clothes, but also a number of good and inexpensive food stalls, so come hungry. Nearby is the flea market at Arkonaplatz, a smaller flea market, held also on Sundays – you can actually combine a visit to both.

mauerpark flea market berlin

Mauerpark Karaoke

Something that you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in Berlin in the summer is the free karaoke at Mauerpark on Sunday afternoons. Weather permitting, up to 10,000 people show up for it! No worries – you don’t have to sing if you don’t want to, but it is great fun to watch it, and you can combine it with a visit to the Mauerpark flea market.

mauerpark bearpit karaoke

Badeschiff

The Badeschiff (Eichenstraße 4) is a unique outdoor swimming pool in the Spree River. It is basically a boat that has been transformed into a swimming pool, with a small beach area attached. The Badeschiff is super popular on hot summer days though, but avoid weekends when you’ll have to stand in line for hours just to get in the pool. We went on a weekday around noon and there was already a huge line, but it was worth the wait.  Admission is €5 for the day and food and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are available for purchase inside but they are way overpriced. Unfortunately, cameras and food/drinks can‘t be brought inside.

Badeschiff Berlin

Parks

Tiergarten Park

Berlin’s largest park offers more than 23km (14 miles) of pathways, lakes and different, more specific, sections, such as a popular nudist area. The walk from Brandenburg Gate to Victory Column (see above) alone is tiring, which is why Tiergarten Park is definitely easiest to explore by bike. You could just pick up some picnic food at a Kaiser’s supermarket and enjoy a sunny afternoon in the park. The Café am Neuen See is a great beer garden, there’s a rose garden, an English Garden with Tea House, and you can visit Bellevue Palace.

berlin tiergarten from above
Berlin Tiergarten from above

Volkspark Friedrichshain

Berlin’s oldest park is popular with the hipster crowd of Friedrichshain as well as big Turkish families who spend their Sundays barbequing at the Kleiner Bunkerberg, the area of the park where grilling is allowed. The gorgeous Fairytale Fountain is well worth a visit, even if you’re not that into fairytales.

Treptower Park

Treptower Park stretches over four kilometers along the River Spree, and is filled with sunbathers during the summer months. The Haus Zenner is a large beer garden with views over the river and the nearby Island of Youth has several places where you can rent pedal or rowing boats.

treptower park berlinPark am Gleisdreieck

The Park am Gleisdreieck is one of Berlin’s newest park – the eastern part opened in late 2011, and the western part only opened in May 2013. The triangular-shaped former waste ground around the rail tracks was transformed into a park after decades of neglecting, and provides now one of the largest recreational areas in the city. There are playgrounds, skate parks, cafés, table tennis areas and boule grounds, rose gardens and viewing platforms that invite to escape the city noise around you for a while with a good book.

Tempelhofer Freiheit

The Tempelhofer Freiheit is a huge green space on what was Tempelhof Airport, Berlin’s main airport until 2008. Since then, it has been transformed into a community park, much of it left in its original state, with added community gardens, barbeque areas and an artsy mini golf facility. It’s a great place to hang out for a picnic, just read a book, or stay for sunset, but it’s HUGE – just walking across the landing strip takes at least half an hour, so we’d also recommend exploring it by bike.

tempelhofer freiheit berlin

Berlin’s best lakes

Berlin is known for its dozens of lakes just outside the city, and it seems that in the summer months, everybody escapes the heat of the capital and rushes to one of the many lakes. Some are harder to get to without a car, some easier, but a Saturday at the lake is a quintessential Berlin experience. Just pick one and head there early, because all of the lakes tend to get crowded on weekends.

Wannsee

Wannsee is the most popular lake around Berlin, and since it is connected to the city via S-Bahn, it gets really busy. Up to 30,000 people at once can be accommodated here – Wannsee offers the largest swimming area at a lake in all of Europe! The beach has beach chairs, beach volleyball fields, and water slides for kids, you can rent boats, there are restaurants and cafes, and a nudist area.

How to get there: Take the S-1 to Potsdam and get out at Wannsee.

Tegeler See

Lake Tegel is the second largest lake in Berlin and often named as the most beautiful one. There are seven islands and it is a great lake for sailing, boating or taking a steamboat ride. There are smaller beaches along the west side of the lake, some restaurants and trails through the surrounding forests. The Greenwich Promenade is lined with places to eat and benches to take in the scenery.

How to get there: Take the U-6 to Alt-Tegel and get out at either Alt-Tegel or Borsigwerke.

lake tegel

Schlachtensee

Schlachtensee is apparently the cleanest of Berlin’s lakes, and you’ll see lots of fishermen out on little boats or in the woods that line the shores of this beautiful lake. You can actually walk around the lake on a 7km (4.3miles) boardwalk, making it a perfect destination for a long walk until you find the perfect spot to soak up the sun. The Fischerhütte Am Schlachtensee is a historical guest house with beer garden where you can relax after a long stroll, or rent a boat to spend time on the lake.

How to get there: Take the S-1 to Potsdam and get out at Schlachtensee.

Müggelsee

Müggelsee is the largest lake near Berlin, and is basically East Berlin’s counterpart to the Wannsee. You can hike here, rent boats or canoes, sunbathe or enjoy the nudist area. If you make your way to Müggelsee, you might want to combine it with the quaint former fishing village of Rahnsdorf. Here, you’ll still find cobble-stone streets, hundred-year old houses and a muscle-powered ferry you can take a cross the lake.

How to get there: Take the S-3 to Erkner and get off at Friedrichshagen or Rahnsdorf.

outdoor Berlin

Have something to add?

This is our ever-growing list of our personal outdoor Berlin favorites, and we would love to add your own comments or advice to this list! Please help this guide be as comprehensive as possible – and leave your suggestions in the comments below and we’ll add the best ones to the section where it belongs.

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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin

dani berlin wall

This comprehensive guide includes our personal favorites in Berlin. These are our top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital. In this part of our guide: The best Berlin neighborhoods.

It is by no means final.  

One of our favorite cities, we will be back in Berlin again and again and will continue to add to the list. We are not locals (yet) and have not spent enough time in Berlin to explore every single neighborhood in this sprawling, booming city.

Have a look at our other Berlin Quick Guides:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

In this part, we are sharing which Berlin neighborhoods you should explore, and what not to miss in each one:

Kreuzberg

For the two of us, Kreuzberg is the Berlin neighborhood that has the best of everything: an eclectic mix of cultures, more ethnic restaurants than we could ever eat at, gorgeous Wilhelminian-style buildings, green spaces, and an interesting blend of young punks and Turkish immigrants, the latter have made up a large part of Kreuzberg’s population for decades. Oranienstrasse and Bergmannstrasse are both lined with bars, cafes and restaurants, or you can sit by the Landwehr Canal and buy some drinks and snacks from the entrepreneurial Turkish folks who pass by with shopping trolleys filled with cold beer or sandwiches.

Berlin neighborhoodsThis self-guided walking tour of East Kreuzberg is actually pretty good and gives you a good feel for the neighborhood. If you go to Kreuzberg, you might want to go on Tuesday or Friday, when the Turkish Market in Maybachufer takes place. Open from 12pm-6pm, this market is full of fruit and vegetable stalls, Turkish snacks, gluten-free deserts, frozen yogurt, coffee stalls, clothes and anything you might or might not need – all at absolute bargain prices.

Not to be missed in Kreuzberg:

  • Try Turkish food along Kottbusser Damm and around Kottbusser Tor. Hasir is apparently the place where the Doner Kebab was invented and where Anthony Bourdain ate while in town, and right across the streets you can have Lebanese food at Maroush. My personal favorite there is the Makkali (grilled vegetables with chickpea puree wrapped in pita bread).
  • Have drinks on Admiralsbrücke on a warm summer night, when the bridge it is packed with young people from all around the world.
  • Climb the actual Kreuzberg, the hill that gave the neighborhood its name. Located in Victoria Park (Großbeerenstraße and Kreuzbergstraße), there is an artificial waterfall and a national monument commemorating the battles of the War of Liberation on top of the hill. This is a great spot to watch the sunset.
  • Pick up fresh snacks from Maybachufer Turkish Market and eat them at the Landwehr Canal on a sunny Friday afternoon when the whole world seems to already be celebrating the weekend.

Berlin Kreuzberg and Maybachufer Market

Berlin Mitte

Berlin Mitte is the actual center of Berlin and where most of the city’s best-known sights are located. You can start with a stroll along Unter den Linden, Berlin’s biggest boulevard, all the way from Museum Island (see below) to the Victory Column in Tiergarten, passing through the Brandenburg Gate. Stop at the Reichstag, the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, Bellevue Palace, Gendarmenmarkt and Hackesche Höfe, venture down Friedrichsstrasse to Checkpoint Charlie or from Hackescher Markt to Alexanderplatz and the TV Tower. Potsdamer Platz, in walking distance from Brandenburg Gate, is known for its striking modern architecture and is home to several restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas and shopping malls.

Berlin neighborhoods

Not to be missed in Mitte:

  • Gendarmenmarkt (often named Berlin’s most beautiful square with a Friedrich Schiller statue in its center and home to the French and German Cathedrals)
  • Lustgarten, a little park right by the Berlin Cathedral.
  • Nikolaiviertel, the reconstructed historic quarter of Berlin, with cobbled stones and historic buildings, including Nikolai Church, the city’s oldest church.
  • Monjiboupark, a small park by the Spree River, opposite Museum Island.
  • Tiergarten Park, Berlin‘s biggest park (see Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin).
  • Hackescher Markt, a small square filled with cafes and restaurants, good for people watching.
  • Haus Schwarzenberg, a back alley off Rosenthaler Straße 39 filled with street art.
  • Potsdamer Platz, one of Berlin’s greatest examples of contemporary architecture, lots of shopping, cinemas and restaurants.
  • Rosenthaler Platz, busy square with many bars and cafes.

Berlin Mitte Germany

Prenzlauer Berg

Prenzlauer Berg, or Prenzlberg for short, is probably the most bohemian Berlin neighborhood, filled with little boutiques, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and squares where young moms push their strollers to meet for morning chats. The starving artists and alternative thinkers that once populated the neighborhood have grown up, and Prenzlberg has grown up with it, becoming a chic neighborhood with high rent, young professionals, twice-weekly farmers markets, organic ice cream shops and independent boutiques. After undergoing a significant amount of renovation in the last decade, Prenzlberg is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, with tree-lined streets and outdoor cafes perfect for people watching.

Prenzlauer Berg Berlin

Not to be missed in Prenzlauer Berg:

  • The Mauerpark, ideally on a Sunday when the flea market and Mauerpark karaoke take place.
  • Wasserturmplatz, the water tower and surrounding park are a great place to relax.
  • Oderbergstraße has some great cafes and restaurants
  • The farmer’s market around Kollwitzplatz every Thursday and Saturday.
  • Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery that now houses bars, restaurants, clubs, galleries and a cinema.
  • Jewish Cemetery on Schönhauser Allee 22-23.
  • Kastanienallee, a long street filled with restaurants and shops.

Prenzlauer Berg

Friedrichshain

Friedrichshain is technically part of Kreuzberg, but big enough that it deserves a mention in its own right. While Kreuzberg is south of the Spree, the Friedrichshain part of the borough is located north of the river and borders with Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in the west. Friedrichshain is one of Berlin’s most lively areas, with a buzzing nightlife scene, lots of cafes and restaurants, street art and some great riverside bars.

Berlin Friedrichshain

Not to be missed in Friedrichshain:

  • The Sunday Flea Market on Boxhagener Platz
  • The East Side Gallery (also see An overview of the German capital)
  • Badeschiff, a swimming pool on the River Spree (in the summer)
  • RAW Tempel for street art and clubbing on Revaler Straße 99.
  • Berlin’s infamous Berghain techno club, for a great sample of the city’s nightlife
  • Simon-Dach-Straße has many popular bars.
  • Volkspark Friedrichhain and the magnificent Fairytale Fountain.
  • Oberbaumbrücke, a double-deck bridge with two towers over the River Spree.
  • The Osthafen (East Port) area and the ‘Molecule Man’ sculpture in the Spree River, best seen from Oberbaumbrücke.

Friedrichshain

Neukölln

Neukölln, a socially problematic Berlin neighborhood only a few years ago, is now an up-and-coming alternative to Kreuzberg. A similar melting pot of cultures, the neighborhood has seen a huge upswing over the last few years, with art galleries, creative businesses, cafes and bars popping up everywhere. The most interesting area is the Reuter Quarter, the area around Reuterstraße where most of the new businesses and boutiques set up and attract hipsters and artists alike. The historical center of Neukölln is Rixdorf (between Karl-Marx-Straße and Sonnenallee) with Richardplatz being its heart, a surprisingly bohemian part of Neukölln which still has many buildings from the mid-19th century. Old churches, small shops and courtyard off winding roads give this part of the neighborhood a village feel.

Not to be missed in Neukölln:

  • Tempelhofer Freiheit, the former airport which is now a giant recreational space – see the parks section for more.
  • Comenius-Garden, a public garden in Rixdorf at Richardstraße 35.
  • Let Them Eat Cake, an awesome art space meets vintage clothes store, Weserstraße 164.
  • Körnerpark, a beautiful park with a cafe and gallery at Schierker Straße 8.
  • Klunkerkranich Rooftop Bar, ideally at sunset, see also in Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars.
  • Volkspark Hasenheide, a big park off of Hasenheide.

Berlin neighborhoods

Have Berlin neighborhoods to add?

As you can see, we have only started to explore Berlin’s best neighborhoods and will update this guide every time we return to Berlin – if you have any suggestions for neighborhoods we should check out or things you think people shouldn’t miss in the neighborhoods above, please share them in the comments below!

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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars

Vietnamese spring rolls in Berlin

This comprehensive guide includes our personal favorites in Berlin. These are our top choices for the best restaurants in Berlin, coffee shops we love, bars we frequent, food markets we adore, and some must-try Berlin foods.

This list is by no means final. 

Check out our other Berlin Quick Guides:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

Food in BerlinThere are hundreds of thousands of restaurants in Berlin, and we have only managed to eat and drink at some of the ones on our loooong list of restaurants / cafes / bars to try in Berlin. We’ll be updating this list every time we return to Berlin – and if you have a place we should try to add, please share in the comments below.

Best brunch restaurants in Berlin

Brunch is a ‘thing’ all over Germany but nowhere is it celebrated like in Berlin, stretching on long into the late afternoon on any day of the week, not just weekends. This usually involves a big plate filled with cheese, cold cuts, fruit, a boiled egg, jams and honey, salad, plus enough rolls to keep you full until dinner. For a beautiful breakfast étagère (to share between either two or four people) head to Anna Blume (Kollwitzstraße 83) in Prenzlauer Berg. In Kreuzberg, A.horn (Carl-Herz-Ufer 6) makes good breakfast right by the Landwehr Canal, including homemade bagels and muesli. Another good breakfast spot in Kreuzberg is Morgenland (Skalitzer Straße 35).

berlin restaurants

Turkish food in Berlin

Certain Turkish foods have been entirely adopted into German cuisine the way that Americans eat ‘Tex-Mex’ or the British love their ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’. The most beloved of all Turkish cuisine is the Doner Kebab, probably the most popular food in Berlin. Cheap, quick and filling (usually €2.50 – €3.50), they make for a good lunch or dinner without having to sit down in a restaurant.

Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap, famous for its long lines, is well worth the wait and lives up to the hype – they really do make some of the best doners in Berlin! They have a vegetarian option, too, and you’ll meet people from all over the world while waiting in line here. If you head to their main branch on Mehringdamm , you can also try a Currywurst, the typical Berlin sausage with curry sauce, at Curry 36, right opposite from Mustafa’s and supposedly the best Currywurst in Berlin (they have another branch at Bahnhof Zoo).

jess at mustafas gemuesekebab

Ethnic restaurants in Berlin

Berlin is filled with ethnic restaurants, it’s actually more difficult to find German cuisine in many neighborhoods. Most of the Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese, Turkish, Italian or Japanese places you even just happen to stumble across are great, but if in doubt, check Foursquare for recommendations in your neighborhood.

Some of our favorites included:

  • Sushi at Cube (Zossener Straße 18) and Aiko (Brunnenstraße 193)
  • Lebanese in Kreuzberg at Maroush (Adalbertstraße 93)
  • A very interesting (Canadian) kind of pizza at Ron Telesky’s (Dieffenbachstraße 62) and Naan pizzas at W-Imbiss (Kastanienallee 49)
  • Mexican at Maria Bonita (Danziger Straße 33)
  • Thai at Thai Inside (Dircksenstraße 37) in Mitte or Mao Thai in Prenzlauer Berg (Wörther Straße 30)
  • Vietnamese at Hamy Café (Hasenheide 10) in Neukölln
  • Vietnamese at Via He Hai (Dieffenbachstraße 58a) in Kreuzberg
  • Vietnamese in Mitte at Good Morning Vietnam (Alte Schönhauser Straße 60). There are several Vietnamese restaurants in Mitte; avoid District Mot though – even their décor feels like you’re right in Saigon, it is overpriced and the quality is mediocre)
  • Middle Eastern at Knofi (Bergmannstraße 98) or Weinblatt (Dieffenbachstraße 59); Middle Eastern-style bread for only €1 at Tandur Lasan (Kottbusser Damm 6)
  • Sudanese food at Sahara (Reuterstraße 56) – the peanut sauce is to die for!
  • Turkish breakfast and lunch at La Femme (Kottbusser Damm 77)
  • Neapolitan-style pizza at Pizzeria Papa Pane di Sorrento (Ackerstraße 23)
  • Indian at Khushi (Kollwitzstraße 37) in Prenzlauer Berg; Agni (Kaiserin-Augusta-Allee 1) in Moabit
  • Turkish sweets (baklava) at Kılıçoğlu Baklavaci (Adalbertstraße 9)

Berlin restaurantsBergmannstrasse in Kreuzberg has a selection of Indian and Middle Eastern places – many of them offer the popular lunch menus that offer a starter, a main and sometimes also dessert for around €5. Restaurants offering these cheap lunch menus can be found all over town and they’re usually excellent value for money.

For good German food, head to Schwarzwaldstuben (Tucholskystraße 48).

For an authentic German beer garden experience, head to Café am Neuen See in Tiergarten park. Another good beer garden is the Prater Beer Garten in Prenzlauer Berg, which gets very busy in the evening on warm summer nights.

best restaurants Berlin

Best desserts in Berlin

If you crave something sweet, head to our favorite brunch spot Anna Blume (Kollwitzstraße 83) and try some of their fabulous cake, or to Princess Cheesecake (Tucholskystraße 37) for decadent cheesecake. An interesting German dessert option is the quark stall in Mauerpark flea market (sometimes also in Maybachufer Market), which is basically served like frozen yogurts (different flavors of your choice with several toppings). Kunefe is a delicious Turkish dessert you can try at Hasir (Adalbertstraße 12) or at Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci (Kottbusser Damm 80).

anna blume cake berlin

Coffee shops in Berlin

Coffee culture is huge in Berlin, and there are new coffee shops popping up around town all the time. Some of our favorites included St. Oberholz at Rosenthaler Straße 72a; great for people watching right at Rosenthaler Platz, The Barn in Mitte at Auguststraße 58 for best Flat White we’ve had in Berlin so far, Bonanza Coffee Roasters on Oderberger Straße 35 in Prenzlauer Berg for truly excellent coffee, Milchschaum on Bergmannstraße 3 in Kreuzberg for a cute café with a good cake selection, Milch & Zucker at Core Tex Records 37, Café am Engelbecken on Michaelkirchplatz, for one of the most scenic (outdoor) cafes in Kreuzberg.

Coffee in Berlin

Bars in Berlin

  • Mein Haus am See (Brunnenstraße 197-198) in Rosenthaler Platz is a good place for a This-is-so-Berlin experience
  • Klunkerkranich (Karl-Marx-Str. 66) in Neukölln on the rooftop of a shopping mall makes for the best views (head there for sunset, and good luck finding it)
  • Sisyphos (Hauptstraße 15, 10317 Berlin-Lichtenberg) bar and club with different dance floors located in an old dog cookie factory)

klunkerkranich berlin band

For digital nomads: The best places to work

BetaHaus (Prinzessinnenstraße 19-20) in Kreuzberg is our absolute favorite place to work. A designated co-working space, BetaHaus serves up good coffee and inexpensive lunches, plus a variety of sandwiches and sweet snacks throughout the day. This is where you’ll see most of Berlin’s start-up and freelance scene congregate every day. With plugs at every table and long hours, this was the ideal place to get work done.

St Oberholz (see above) has definitely the best work space in Mitte, with an entire upstairs area filled with Mac users (you might feel slightly out of place if you don’t have a Mac) that take advantage of the ample space and the dozens of extension cords for the whole place to plug in and get to work. Food options are decent, and the coffee is good.

best restaurants in Berlin

Have a restaurant in Berlin to add?

This is our ever-growing list of our personal Berlin favorites, and we would love to add your own comments or advice to this list! Please help this guide be as comprehensive as possible – and leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: An overview of the German capital

<Digimax S500 / Kenox S500 / Digimax Cyber 530>

This Berlin travel guide includes my personal favorites in Berlin. These are my top choices to soak up the culture and feel of the German capital – especially if you don’t have a lot of time. The sights listed are the main things everyone should see when traveling to Berlin, and we included some tips on finding short and long-term apartments as well.

Berlin Travel Guide

One of my favorite cities, I will be back in Berlin again and again and will continue to add to the list. Have something to add? If you have suggestions and recommendations to be included in this guide – not-to-miss attractions, outstanding restaurants, walking tours or anything else – please leave your suggestions in the comments and I will add them to this ever-growing guide to Berlin.

You should start with this overview over the main things to do and where to stay in Berlin, and then read my other Berlin Quick Guides, in which we share our favorite places to eat and drink, neighborhoods you shouldn’t miss and the cities best parks, flea markets and other outdoor attractions:

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Our favorite restaurants, cafes and bars

GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin: Neighborhoods of Berlin

berlin travel guide

An overview of Berlin

Berlin is a sprawling city and before you start exploring all the details and hidden quirks that make it truly unique, start with the main attractions every Berlin travel guide mentions – Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt, the Reichstag, Tiergarten. No matter your budget, the cheapest way to cover Berlin’s famous sights is taking a free walking tour. The two-and-a-half hour Sandemans New Europe Berlin Tour covers ALL of the sights you need to see, including the ones mentioned above plus the Memorial for the Jews, TV Tower, the site of Hitler’s bunker and a full overview of Berlin’s history and the divide between East and West Germany. The tour runs twice a day, every day and guides are only paid in tips, so don’t forget to tip your guide.

berlin reichstag dem deutschen volkeThere are also big bus tour companies if you prefer not to walk, but we’d recommend picking up a Berlin transit day ticket and hopping on a local bus to take a tour of your own. Two bus lines (the 100 and 200) pass by the main sights and drivers used to having tourists on board even do a bit of commentary. It’s almost like a hop-on hop-off bus, but at a fraction of the price. A single ticket is €2.60 paid right to the driver, or a day ticket costs €6.70. You can read more about this bus line here.

Alternative Berlin

Once you understand the gist of the city’s history, lay out and the overall vibe, now it is time for the excellent – and free – ‘Alternative Berlin’ walking tour, which covers exactly zero of the main tourist attractions. Instead, you discover the subcultures of Berlin, the places that you won’t find on your own and that you won’t find in a Berlin travel guide, but that make up so much of the fabric of the city like street art and workshops, ethnic and creative neighborhoods of the city. Copycat tours have popped up, but Alternative Berlin Tours are the originals. They run twice a day and all you have to pay is the subway (get a day pass) and tip the guide.

Alternative Berlin Street Art

Berlin Travel Guide: Biking in Berlin

To get the most out of your time in Berlin, we recommend renting or buying bikes, depending on the length of your stay.

The city is spread out and can feel overwhelming, but the bike paths are excellent and in some places it feels like the whole city moves by bike. You can get anywhere in 30 minutes without having to figure out the U-bahns, S-Bahns, buses and where to change trains, and you can take your own detours to get to know different parts of the city.

Almost every hostel in the city is renting bikes these days, and you don’t have to stay there to rent one. Berlin also has several bike sharing systems now. Donkey Republic has bikes all over the city, and you can read on their website how it works, then download the Donkey Republic app and you’re all set!

Cycling in Berlin

See Berlin from above

When you travel to Berlin, you’ll quickly notice that the city doesn’t have a traditional skyline like many cities of the same size, so the best way to take in the eclectic mix of old and new, the remarkable amount of green space and its sheer sprawling size is to see it from above.

Berlin’s Best Panorama viewpoints

There are several ways to see Berlin from above, the most popular and priciest option is the TV Tower. It is €16.50 to go up and enjoy the 360° views of Berlin. There’s also a 360 Panorama restaurant, and the prices are actually not too bad. A window seat for the popular TV Tower Sunday brunch is €45.50, for example – but make sure to book way in advance, as tickets sell out quickly. Ironically, however, when you are atop one of the more iconic landmarks of the city, your views do not include the TV tower. Head up to the Panorama Terrace on 37th floor in the Park Inn Hotel right across from the TV tower instead for only €4 (open from 2-6pm on weekdays, from 12pm on weekends) for the best views of it. We opted for the Panoramapunkt on top of the Kollhoff-Building at Potsdamer Platz where, for €7.50 (open 10am – 8pm), you also get close-up views of Berlin’s biggest park, the Tiergarten, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Berlin ViewsReichstag Dome

For views from the heart of the German government, visit the new glass dome on top of the Reichstag. Visits here are free, but you have to register online first and show up with a photo ID on the day. You can even register on the same day, as long as there are time slots still available – choose up to three. When you get the confirmation with your time, you can just skip the line and walk right up to the entrance.

Berlin ReichstagOnce you are through security, you are led up into the building to the bottom of the dome, where you get a free audio guide that uses GPS to narrate the exact views based on your location within the dome. Standing inside such a futuristic dome (designed by Sir Norman Foster) on top of this historic building is worth the visit alone. I visit the Dome every time I travel to Berlin and show someone around who hasn’t been to Berlin yet – I love the Reichstags Dome and it’s incredible that it is free to visit!

Hot Air Balloon in Berlin

Probably the most unusual way to enjoy the views over Berlin is the Welt Hot Air Balloon. The 20-min ride shoots straight into the air for €19. Just across the street is the impossible-to-miss Trabi World. The Trabbant car, lovingly known in the former East Germany as the Trabi, is a symbol of the GDR and Trabi World allows you to learn about them on site at the museum or take a Trabi Safari, cruising through the streets of Berlin packed into the most popular car before the wall came down. You are also right at the Topography of Terror (see below) and in walking distance from Checkpoint Charlie, the legendary border crossing that once separated the Soviet from the American sector.

Berlin from above TV Tower Welt Hot Air BalloonVictory Column

If you don’t mind climbing 285 steps, enjoy the views from the Victory Column in Tiergarten park (take the U-Bahn to Hansaplatz). Entry is only €3 and you will find yourself immersed in the miles and miles of green space that make up Tiergarten Park. You can combine it with a visit of Tiergarten, Berlin’s biggest park (see GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Berlin:Parks, lakes and outdoor Berlin) which is mentioned in every Berlin travel guide as a place you shouldn’t miss.

Art and History in Berlin

If you have time to go beyond the main historic attractions when you travel to Berlin, dig a bit deeper to understand Berlin’s role in world history. The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe deserves at least a couple of hours of proper exploration (the memorial includes an underground museum), and there are several spots where you can learn more about divided Berlin, including the Wall Museum (also known as Checkpoint Charlie Museum) and the Topography of Terror near by. This free open-air museum is located at one of the remaining parts of the wall with an interesting outdoor exhibition about the history of the site on which the headquarters of the Gestapo were located from 1933 to 1945 and SS High Command and the Reich Security Main Office during WWII. In my opinion, a place that everyone traveling to Berlin should visit, even though it is a somber museum.

Berlin HistoryWalk along Bernauer Strasse, a street where the wall divided east and west to be able to really visualize what life must have been like in a divided city. There are several bronze circles on the ground that point out both successful and failed escape attempts on the sidewalk, as well as information on how suddenly the wall was erected, how families it split dealt with it and and where escape tunnels were built. There is also one small point where the wall is still up and in its original form (no pithy intellectual street art decorating it, for example) and a small museum that helps bring much of this to reality. A good way to experience this with some additional information is via this self-guided walking tour along the wall.

The East Side Gallery is the largest still intact section of the Berlin Wall, stretching for a length of 1.3km (0.8miles). The wall is home to 105 murals painted by 118 international artists after Germany’s reunification and many of the murals are thought-provoking and an important reminder of recent history. Not just for street art fans – this place is mentioned in every Berlin travel guide for good reason.

travel to berlinMuseumsinsel (Museum Island) This is where you find some of Berlin’s best museums, congregated on one little island in the river. Museum Island itself has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. The museums you find there are Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Neues Museum (New Museum), Altes Museum (Old Museum), Bode Art Museum and Pergamon Museum. Art and history lovers will likely spend more than an entire day in several of the museums on Museum Island.

Museums worth visiting to get a better understanding for the East-West division are the Stasi Museum where you can learn more about the political system of the former East Germany and the small, but fun interactive GDR Museum, where you can get a feel for what life in the GDR was like.

Berlin trabi

Where to stay in Berlin

Hotels in Berlin

Our favorite hotel booking website, Booking.com, has over 1,000 hotels listed in Berlin, many of which are under $50 per double room per night and have excellent ratings & reviews. If you are, like me, a fan of small, unique and hip hotels, make sure to check out this excellent list of boutique hotels in Berlin.

Hostels in Berlin

I stayed at the Cat’s Pajamas Hostel in Kreuzkölln, which is the cross-point between Neukölln and Kreuzberg and absolutely loved it. This is my favorite area of Berlin (if you book yourself into the Cat’s Pajamas hostel feel free to email me for a list of my favorite eateries, cafes and things to do there) and the subway is only a couple of minutes away, so it is easy to get around. This was one of the cleanest hostels I’ve ever stayed at, even the bathrooms were always spotless. There’s a kitchen, breakfast is available, the communal areas are designed in a super trendy look, there is an outdoor area. The rooms are spacious and my twin room even had a desk! The hostel had an 8.9 out of 10 rating on Booking.com when I booked it and I hope they can keep up the high quality. Rooms start at $17 for an 8-bed dorm, $19 in a 4-bed dorm, a twin room starts at $24 per person, a single room at $56.

I also heard great things about Plus Hostel (in Friedrichshain, Warschauer Platz 6, great location near the Badeschiff and East Side Gallery) and the Circus Hostel (Weinbergsweg 1a, right in Mitte at Rosenthaler Platz).Cats Pajama Hostel Berlin

Renting an Apartment in Berlin

If you are planning to stay longer, it might be worth subletting an apartment. Many longer-term visitors opt for an AirBnB rental – which will be a nice place usually in a great neighborhood. However, they and other international vacation apartment rental companies tend to be three times as high as actual Berlin rents, which are surprisingly inexpensive for a European capital. Try to find a sublet, for example from students who leave for the summer or people going traveling for a while. We found a cozy little apartment on Wg-Gesucht.de and paid exactly the monthly rent that the tenants pay. Navigating the website can be hard without any knowledge of German, but the ad we responded to was actually in English, as are many others as well.

For another long-term stay in Berlin, I used Craiglist Berlin and found a spare room in an apartment for a great price. You can look at the currently available sublets in Berlin (rooms) or entire Berlin apartments for rent.

Here’s a list of the best Airbnb’s in Berlin, and if you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, sign up through my referral link and get up to $40 off your first booking).

berlin travel guide
Beautiful Berlin Apartment Buildings

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