What’s the best way to save money in Berlin? All you really need to do is show up. Berlin has long been one of Europe’s most affordable cities, and easily rivals London and Paris when it comes to cultural offerings.
Here are a few suggestions to help you stay within budget while enjoying the best of Berlin.
Hands down, the liveliest spot in Berlin on a sunny afternoon. This park was once used for German/Prussian military parades before becoming an airfield in the 1920s. Under Hitler, Tempelhof was rebuilt into one of the largest structures in the world, and was spared by Allied forces who felt the airport could be of use after World War II. Commercial service to Tempelhof ended in 2007. Today, you'll find cyclists and skateboarders on the tarmac, hundreds of picnickers, and even several small vegetable gardens. Templehof is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Nearly 30 years after reunification, you'll still find East German wares splayed out for sale at Mauerpark flea market. Anything from space-age toasters to beast-fur egg chairs, you never know what DDR (Deutsches Demokratisches Republik) treasures await. Come early to avoid peak afternoon crowds. Open Sundays from 7am to 5pm.
Afterwards, take the mic at Mauerpark's Bearpit Karaoke amphitheatre, just steps from the market, and wow the world with your songbird rendition of Despacito.
Take a Dip
Rio it ain’t, but Berlin certainly has a beach culture of its own, thanks to the outer lakes. Most are easily accessible by S-Bahn transit from the city center. Some may require slightly longer rides on regional trains. Wannsee, southwest of the city towards Potsdam, is one of the more popular lakes, with wide sandy beaches (courtesy of the Baltic shore), wicker cabanas, boat rentals, and a biergarten. Pearl-clutchers be warned: certain areas of the lake are designated as nudist areas, and you’ll most likely encounter nudity outside of those areas as well.
Other nearby lakes worth exploring are Liepnitzsee, Müggelsee, Flughafensee, Plötzensee, and Krumme Lanke.
On days so hot you just need to submerge yourself in whatever is cold and handy, Badeschiff will do the trick. This floating pool and man-made beach in the Spree river can get busy on summer afternoons, so come early to stake out a prime spot. Entry is €5.50.
Charlottenburg Palace Garden
Spend an afternoon wandering the baroque gardens of Charlottenburg Palace, northwest of the city. Even during Berlin’s busy summer months, these palace gardens remain surprisingly free from the hordes of tourists crowding other city attractions. It costs nothing to visit the gardens, so pack a picnic and stay a while.
Admission to the palace interior and porcelain museum is €17.
Walking Tours of Berlin
There’s no better way to see a city than on foot, and you’ll find plenty of “free” or almost free walking tours in Berlin. Tours are offered in English, and range in theme from general sightseeing walks to culinary and cultural walks specific to Jewish and LGBTQ history, Cold War history, architecture, and other topics.
Berlin Free Walking Tours operates pay-what-you-want guided tours of the city, though don’t forget to factor in tips for the guide. Prices range from €12 to €15.
The Berliner Philharmoniker Lunchkonzerte
Tickets to the symphony may be a smidge less than in other major European capitals, but that doesn’t necessarily make them cheap. Instead, show up for a lunch concert in the foyer of the Philharmonic. Programs are just under an hour and feature musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic, Germany Symphony Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Berlin, and it’s entirely free. The only thing you have to shell out for is lunch.
The Lunch Concert series is seasonal, lasting from early September through late June. Check Berliner-Philharmonkier.de for programs and schedules.
Museums and Memorial Sites
Memorial sites such the Holocaust Memorial, East Side Gallery remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and Silent Heroes Memorial Center are always free. Entry is waived at many of the city’s top museums on particular days, weekly or monthly. The Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art is free on the first Thursday of the month, while the Stadtsmuseum, Museum Ephraim-Palais, and St. Nicholas’ Church are free every Wednesday.
Berlin's Best Cheap Eats
You’re never far from a Turkish doner stand, open at all hours to accommodate the party crowd. Meat is delicately sliced from a vertical rotisserie then crammed into a pita with lettuce, onion, tomato, along with enough garlic sauce to guarantee a mess. Filling, to say the least, and all for under €10. Opinions will vary as to which one is best, but you can’t go wrong with Hasir, open since 1971, and rumored to be the birthplace of the doner.
If publicly smearing your face with delicious wads of garlic-sopped meat doesn’t appeal to you, how about a pho? Since its DDR days, Berlin has been home to a large Vietnamese population with some of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Europe. As far as dining in goes, these restaurants are a terrific value. Many of the city’s best are located in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood, such as the Chen Che Tea House, which offers daily lunch and dinner specials for under €10.
Where to Stay in Berlin
The city has seen its famously low rents rise in recent years, something Berliners attribute to the massive influx of tourists booking short-term apartment stays. Something to be mindful of as you loudly drag your carry-on across Berlin’s dimpled sidewalks, alerting the neighborhood to your arrival.
Meanwhile, hotel rates in Berlin are some of the lowest of any major European capital, with off season rates at some chain properties dipping way below $100 a night. Similarly, pensions and hostels offer private rooms as stylish as any boutique hotel but for much less. Friedrichshain’s Ostel, the DDR Hostel, is decked out in original East German furniture, down to the geometric 1970s wallpaper, with single en suite rooms start at €36 per night.
Way less hectic than the name implies, Circus Hostel is one of the most popular budget stays in town. Private rooms are available along with larger apartment-style lodgings for families and groups. Circus provides services you’d expect to find at a hotel, such as room service, wake-up calls, and laundry service.
Cheap Flights to Berlin
Increased service from budget carriers like WOW Air and Norwegian has made flying from the U.S. to Berlin even cheaper. If these airlines don't operate from your home airport, check fares to other major cities in Germany. Berlin is easily accessible by rail from Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Munich, Hamburg, and Stuttgart.
Above image by turtix via Shutterstock