City Breaks

Berlin on a Shoestring

Berlin is a fantastic city to visit as a tourist, with tonnes to see from poignant historical monuments to staggering works of art, and a hearty food scene.

There's no need to miss out when saving money in this city. The German capital has a surprising amount of activities and sightseeing that are low-budget, if not entirely free. Read our tips below on how best to explore Berlin on a budget.

Getting around Berlin

Where in Germany: Brandenburg

Drive from Calais: 925.5km / 9h 38m

One thing that makes Berlin so accessible on a shoestring budget is that it's easy to explore. The benefits of having your own car are obvious, and there are some fantastic areas within an easy drive of Berlin's city center. Walking is obviously the cheapest way of getting from A to B, but if you're travelling with young ones, there are plenty of bus tours you can take for under five euros. If you're feeling more active, Berlin is full of bike rental shops, and under sunny skies the city is beautiful to discover on two wheels.

Just 30 minutes in the car from Berlin's center is the Grunewald Forest, a 3,000-hectare green space which is perfect for picnics, cycling and walking. You can even take a dip in one of its many lakes, Wannsee and Schlachtensee lakes being popular with both locals and tourists in the hotter months. If it's a warm day and you're just looking to explore the city on foot, walk along the river Spree and see street musicians, artists and pop-up markets lining the walkways.

A vivid history

If you don't already know about Berlin's history, you will after this trip. The city is dotted with memorials, palaces and museums that tell a visual story of Berlin's eventful past. The best thing about discovering the city's culture and history is that most museums are free, and you can see many of its monuments simply by strolling through the streets. Museum Island is home to five of Berlin's best museums, and the cheapest way to see them all is by buying a pass for €18.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin's iconic symbol of peace.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin's iconic symbol of peace.

The first place that many visitors head to is Brandenburg Gate. Viewed today as a symbol of peace, and of the trials and tribulations of Europe's history, the gate was the brainchild of Frederick II of Prussia and built in the 18th century. It's a beautiful neoclassical structure, and free to visit. The impact of the royals on Berlin's landscape is vast, and can be seen in the form of the city's palaces. One of the most popular is Charlottenberg Palace, which sits within the beautiful Charlottenberg gardens.

Since the fall of the Berlin wall, parts of its remains are today used as a museum and monument in the form of the Topography of Terror. This immersive museum will guide you along the wall, and is one of the best history museums in Berlin. Be warned, a visit here will leave you feeling a little emotionally drained, but it's unparalleled in the information it gives about the events in the run up to WWII and how the Nazi party rose and fell. A chilling but worthwhile experience.

A stretch of where the Berlin Wall still stands has been transformed into a public art gallery.
A stretch of where the Berlin Wall still stands has been transformed into a public art gallery.

Plenty of free activities

There's always something going on in Berlin, especially in the warmer months. To see some cool street art, pop to the world's largest open-air gallery – The East Side Gallery on the Berlin Wall. This long stretch of the wall is home to 105 paintings that sit side-by-side and are free to view. Today, some of the works are quite badly damaged from erosion and vandalism, but in recent years much of the wall has been restored, and it's a great place to visit especially as a way to introduce children to Berlin's history.

The monumental Reichstag building houses Germany's government, and visitors can take a free ride up to its glass dome. You'll have to book quite far in advance, as this free journey draws in heavy crowds, but it's well worth the wait. Once you reach the top, you'll get panoramic views over Berlin and the free audio guide will teach you about many of its sights and monuments.

Take a ride up the Reichstag dome
Take a ride up the Reichstag dome

If you're visiting in the summer, pop to the Sommerkino Kulturforum, and view the latest cinematic hits within the beautiful surroundings of the Potsdamer Platz. Entry is under €10 for adults, and opening night is often the most exciting. Whilst you're in the area, it's a great excuse to explore the history and architecture of Potsdamer Platz, which was destroyed after WWII and has been reconstructed to create a beautiful urban complex.

For more classical architecture, head to the Gendarmenmarkt, which is thought of by many as Berlin's most beautiful spot. Another free place to visit, the square is home to the Konzerthaus (a concert hall), as well as French and German cathedrals, and was originally built in 1688. In the center you'll find a huge statue of poet Friedrich Schiller, and the square is arguably best visited on a clear night, when lights illuminate the buildings and they take on a dreamlike quality.

Easy eating

A classic German dish, grabbing a currywurst can also be a cheap eat to find in the city.
A classic German dish, grabbing a currywurst can also be a cheap eat to find in the city.

There are some really delicious foods to be tasted in Berlin, most notably the nation's classic of currywurst – chopped up sausage served with a tomato-curry sauce, often with chips. You can find this delicacy at many stands throughout the city, but one of the best is Witty's. This small eatery will serve up an organic version of the tasty treat for no more than five euros – bargain!

One of the city's oldest establishments is Konnopke's Imbiss, which has been run by the same family since 1930. The currywurst here is served with copious amounts of spicy tomato sauce, and comes with perfectly fried chips. You'll find this gem on the corner of Danziger Straße and Schönhauser Allee, under the tracks.

Where to stay

For somewhere comfortable to sleep, many people turn to Airbnb, which offers affordable apartments for rent, that are often of a high quality, depending on the owner. This can be a good option for families and groups of friends who want a more private stay in the city. For lone travellers, cheaper hostels are a great way to meet people and save money, and Berlin is packed with them.

If you're set on staying in a hotel, there are some affordable ones in Berlin that, whilst low in cost, are high in creativity. Hotel Huttenpalast offers up quaint caravan rooms, loft spaces and wooden cabins from €80 a night. Alternatively, head to the Nürnberger Eck B&B for a more traditional stay, for around the same price, including breakfast.

Take a shuttle to Calais from Folkestone in just 35 minutes with LeShuttle, your gateway to Europe. Berlin is under 10 hours in the car from Calais, so it's a great final destination for a road trip!

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