Berlin newbies: 7 free and cheap things to do on every day of the week
Your Deutsche Bahn train has just pulled in 154 minutes late to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and you’re itching to get out there and see the city. Your aunty said you “just must see the Brandenburg Gate" (duh) and your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend said he went to “the coolest bar ever” but can’t remember the name of it or where it was. Helpful.
Whether your a newbie Berliner or a visitor on a tight budget who doesn’t know where to begin, the answer is here, reading our guide to Berlin on a shoestring.
Monday: Get your bearings on the 100 bus
Berlin is Germany’s biggest city, and there is an endless maze of Straßen, Allees and Plätze to familiarise yourself with. Going on one of the city’s recognisable shiny yellow U-Bahns may seem exciting, but being underground won’t help you get your bearings.
Enter the 100 bus. The 100 bus will help you cover all major tourist bases in 60 minutes and only cost you 3 euros with an AB ticket. This is not a tourist bus, but an everyday bus run by BVG, the local transport association, which serendipitously passes by 21 of Berlin’s notable attractions and monuments, most of which lie in the district of Mitte.
If you decide to start your journey in the west it will begin with a view of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche) Berlin’s half-bombed neo-Romanesque church with its iconic incomplete spire. Continuing on you’ll be able to spot the magnificent Tiergarten park, the Brandenburg Gate, the Unter den Linden boulevard, Bebelplatz - one particularly infamous site of Nazi book burnings, the Humboldt Forum, Berlin’s Cathedral, the Marx-Engels-Forum, the TV Tower and Alexanderplatz.
Though your bus driver will not be giving you a guided tour, the name of each stop will help you to know which sight you are seeing. What's more, this is a great way to speedily see all the top spots and decide which ones you think are worth returning to!
You can find out more information about the 100 bus here.
Tuesday: Amble through the Turkish market and along the Landwehr canal
So, you’ve done Mitte and seen all that obligatory touristy stuff. Now it's time to pretend to be an echte Berliner. You’ve heard that Kreuzberg is hip but you still aren’t sure how to pronounce it or what it’s really going to be like. Well there’s no time like the present.
Through the south of Kreuzberg runs Berlin’s Landwehrkanal. In the summer it’s a glorious place to hang out by the water and in the winter it's still glorious, just a bit less so. But all year round there is the Turkish market, which keeps the canal bustling on the southern side of Admiralbrücke.
Admiralbrücke lies on the cusp of Neukölln, a neighbourhood of Berlin with a large Turkish-German population. On Tuesdays and Saturdays locals set up their stalls selling tasty baked goods, coffee, olives and hummus and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. If you’re looking to save money by cooking for yourself in Berlin, this is a good spot to pick up some ingredients!
You can find out information about the Turkish Market's opening times here.
Wednesday: Take a midweek dip… naked?
Berlin is 185 kilometres from the sea, but this doesn’t stop Berliners loving a dip in the water, whatever the time of year. If you’re of the same persuasion, there are a number of indoor, outdoor, natural and human-made possibilities to enjoy.
For those looking to keep warm, Berlin has a number of indoor pools which make for a particularly pretty dip, Stadtbad Neukölln being the most commonly cited. The glass-plated James Simon Stadtbad in Mitte also makes for wonderful views between strokes. Tickets for Berlin’s public swimming pools will cost you between 2 euros and 5,50 euros, depending on what time of day you go and if you are entitled to a discount.
For swimmers looking for adventure level two, there are also more than 20 public outdoor pools in Berlin. If exercise is not your favourite holiday activity, get some traditional German food (AKA chips) from the poolside cafe and lounge on the nearby lawns. Honourable mentions include Prinzenbad and Badeschiff, a floating swimming pool located within Berlin’s Spree River, though this trendy, private spot will set you back a little more.
Swimming adventure level three will bring you to one of Berlin’s many and beautiful lakes. During sticky summers the city’s 50 lakes provide some sweet relief, while in winter only the hardiest dare to take a dip. There are many to choose from, and all require about a 40 minute ride on the S-Bahn to get out of town, but it’s worth it. Particularly revitalising spots include Liepnitzsee, known for its dreamy turquoise waters, Schlachtensee and Krumme Lanke.
Finally, if you’ve gotten to Wednesday, learned to ask for a cup of coffee and are no longer feeling like a fish out of water, perhaps it’s time to take a naked dip into Germany’s FKK (Freikӧrperkultur) nudist tradition. Almost all of Berlin’s lakes have an assigned nudist area and first-timers are always welcome!
Thursday: Take in one of the (very few) Berlin views
In an overwhelmingly flat city, even the smallest incline feels like an unexpected injustice while riding your bike. And while Berlin is rich in parks, it is poor in hilltop-views, making Viktoriapark all the more exciting.
Though it's one of central Berlin’s biggest peaks, you can safely get up it in 20 minutes, after which you’ll be rewarded with views of surrounding Kreuzberg and beyond. Bring a beer with you to crack open on the sunny steps of the Prussian-era Monument for the Liberation Wars which sits at the top.
Berlin’s lack of hills does make for big skies and big sunsets. And if you’re wanting to catch one of those, the unbeatably-flat Tempelhofer Feld is the place to go. The former Nazi airport became a public park in 2010 and today skateboarders, roller skaters and cyclists flock to the spot to take advantage of the two giant, smooth tarmac runways which are surrounded by endless grass, perfect for sunset-view picnicking. Be sure to say hello to the resident sheep too!
Friday: Eat and drink like the kids of Neukölln
Neukӧlln is the district of choice for Berlin’s ultra-trendy residents. And the northern part of the sprawling southern neighbourhood is packed with smoky bars which stay open until the very early hours.
If you’re looking for a Friday night tipple in Berlin, wandering around Neukölln may offer you the widest range of choices, from fancy cocktails bars and cheap and trendy bars to traditional Berliner Eckkneipen (corner pubs). Honourable and reasonably priced mentions include Tennis Bar, Ä-Stube. Oblamov and Vater bar (see picture). For a fancier cocktail evening try Wax On and Velvet, which have been voted the best cocktail bars in the city.
Finally, there is no better way to end a bar hopping evening in Neukölln than with a Sahara Imbiss sandwich, a Berlin speciality. With multiple cafes open late around the city, Sahara is the Sudanese staple of the drunken Berliner diet, a peanut sauce drenched, falafel and roast vegetable filled sandwich sure to soften the blow of your hangover.
Saturday: Tasty Thai in west Berlin
Berliners spend a lot of time walking and eating during the weekend, and what more pleasurable activities are there? If you’ve done Mitte, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, today it’s time to take a trip to the west and enjoy a perfect example of some cobbled-together Berlin fun.
Every weekend Thai-Berliners set up their flat-pack tables in Charlottenburg’s Preußenpark, transforming the grassy landscape into Thai Park, Germany’s biggest Thai food market. Expect an abundance of dumplings, fresh mango and sticky rice, zesty juices, heart-stopping amounts of fried spring rolls and a selection of fried insects.
It would be criminal to talk of Berlin weekend plans without mentioning a Flohmarkt (flee market). On the weekend there is never one far away and the choice can feel overwhelming. But if you’ve already made it to Thai Park be sure to check out the neighbouring Fehrbelliner Platz Flohmarkt, where you can be sure to get lots of bargains for under 10 euros.
You can find out more information about Thai Park opening times here.
Sunday: Museum hop for free
This is perhaps the biggest money-saving move that you could make on a trip to Berlin, but it involves a bit of organisation, perhaps even before you’ve started your journey! If you've just arrived in Berlin to stay, you'll still need to put a reminder in your diary to take full advantage of Museum Sunday.
Many newbies in the capital will be surprised when they find out that all of Berlin’s most famous museums cost a pretty penny to get into. But if you’re organised there is a way to get around this and make the most of your Sunday in the city.
On the first Sunday of every month, all of Berlin’s state-run museums and art galleries are free. This includes all the Museum Island big hitters like the Altes Nationalgalerie, Altes Museum, Bode Museum and Neues Museum, home to the 1345 BC bust of Nefertiti . Though all these spots are free, you will have to book yourself a ticket in advance online so get thinking about which location you would like to spend the afternoon in.
You can find the specific dates for Museum Sunday and book your tickets here.
Fun, free and cheap activities in Berlin
Berlin is packed with activities for locals and visitors to enjoy on a tight budget. Do you have any other tips for getting to know Berlin on a budget? Share your favourites in the comments!
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