Berlin has risen from the ashes of its troubled 20th-century past and grown into one of the most liberal and safe cities in the world.

Looking at Berlin today, it's hard to imagine that the city was divided by barricades for nearly three decades during the Cold War.

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After living for several years in the German capital, I've learned the unspoken language of the city: how to behave in certain circumstances, how to avoid uncomfortable situations, and the do’s and don’ts when the sun goes down.

Berlin is full of magic, positive energy and excitement – but there are places where a little caution is wise.  Here are the top things you need to know before a visit to Berlin.

1. Travel at off-peak times

Berlin is Germany's top tourist destination, and there's a lot of competition for hotel rooms and transport at peak times. The city is always busy during the summer season from June to September; visiting either side of this period means cooler weather but smaller crowds and slightly lower prices.

Things also get very busy during Oktoberfest and at Christmas – unless you're sold on crowds and long waits for drinks, you'll have an easier, cheaper trip at other times of the year.

Tourists walking towards the Reichstag Dome, Berlin
It's wise to make reservations ahead to visit the Reichstag with its famous dome © Nikada / Getty Images

2. Book tickets in advance

It's a good idea to book tickets or make reservations ahead of time for major sights, particularly if you want to tour the Reichstag. You can try your luck for a space after you arrive by dropping by the Reichstag Visitors' Centre on Scheidemannstrasse, but it's very popular.

The book-ahead rule also applies to reservations at prestigious restaurants such as Coda, Rutz, Horváth or Kin Dee.

3. Save money on transport 

Traveling from the gleaming new Berlin Brandenburg Airport to the center by taxi is expensive. Instead, take either the FEX Airport Express train, Deutsche Bahn train RE7 or RB14, or the slower S-Bahn 9 train to Hauptbahnhof station in central Berlin; the train station is in Terminal 1.

If you plan to use public transport in Berlin, it's worth downloading the BVG Tickets app for Berlin's public transport company, Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, before you come.

You can use it to buy a 24-Stunden-Karte (day pass), which covers all forms of public transport for 24 hours. The Berlin Welcome tourist card covers public transport and discounted entry to sights; buy it online to save even more euros.

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A pair of men, one older and one younger pose in front in the camera. The older male is resting his head on the younger man's shoulder while wearing a bright pink beret and a striped white and black shirt. The younger male is wearing a yellow beret and a bright orange shirt with yellow jeans.
In Berlin, you can wear what you want © Maskot / Getty Images

4. Dress codes depend on the district

Unlike the rest of Germany, where smart casual dress dominates, Berlin is a city with no rules when it comes to fashion. Whether you wear a tight leather suit or a floral crown, you'll be welcomed with open arms.

Trends change depending on which district you visit. In Charlottenburg and Mitte, people tend to wear fancier and more elegant clothing, while in laid-back Kreuzberg or Neukölln, you’ll rarely find anyone showing off the latest catwalk collection.

Techno culture has significantly influenced the dress code in Berlin. Dark clothes with rips or holes, leather and combat boots are the standard when wandering around Berlin’s coolest districts. However, travelers trying to imitate this style to enter Berlin’s most famous techno clubs may end up being rejected.

Berlin accepts everything and everyone, but when it comes to fashion, what counts is being authentic. I once went to a renowned techno club in Berlin wearing just my sleeping attire – be yourself, and you'll usually get a warm welcome.

5. Manners matter in Berlin

Berliners are a relaxed bunch, but manners are important. Etiquette when meeting new people is to shake hands and say guten morgen before noon, guten Tag between noon and 6pm, or guten Abend after 6pm.

Germans use the same word – Entschuldigung – to say “excuse me” (to attract attention) and “sorry” (to apologize). If drinking wine, the proper toast is Zum Wohl – with beer, it's Prost.

Brandenburg gate in Berlin on a sunny day with a barrel organ
There are many reminders of Berlin's troubled past, but be sensitive about mentioning it in conversation © by Martin Deja / Getty Images

6. Talking about Germany’s past

Germans are still very ashamed of the country's 20th-century history; it’s a sensitive topic, and locals tend to avoid talking about it.

This said, while older generations are tired of having to explain themselves and answer uncomfortable questions, younger Berliners are more willing to confront the events that occurred during this dark time and help travelers to understand it better.

Nevertheless, this is a topic that you should broach carefully. Jokes about Hitler or the Nazis are intolerable – Berliners understand the curiosity of most travelers and are often willing to carefully talk about the past but treat the topic with respect and try not to offend anyone by accident.

Nazi symbols are banned by authorities nationwide, and displaying flags or using a certain kind of rhetoric or specific Nazi gestures can lead to heavy fines and even imprisonment.

7. Avoiding pickpockets in Berlin

As in any major city, pickpocketing is a common problem in Berlin. Beware of stealthy thieves in busy touristy areas. Places like Alexanderplatz, Zoo-Garten and Mitte are frequented by opportunists looking for an easy target, and the Berliner S-Bahn and U-Bahn are notorious for pickpockets during rush hour.

Reduce the risks by keeping your valuables in your backpack and holding it in front of you on transport. Keep a tight grip on your bags in large crowds – especially on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. Avoid falling asleep while taking public transport; dozing travelers are a favorite target for pickpockets stealing wallets and phones at night. 

German police are generally helpful and friendly to tourists. Most officers speak English and should be your first port of call if you are lost, robbed or encounter any uncomfortable situation.

8. Tips for safe protesting in Berlin

Protesting is considered one of the most important rights in Germany, and usually, a positive atmosphere pervades. Berlin is filled with young, well-educated and liberal people, so there’s usually some kind of protest every week, demanding action on issues as diverse as climate change, human rights and European politics.

While most protests are peaceful and friendly, they can be crowded and intense and in some cases, marches can turn violent. Scuffles have been a common feature of Labor Day (May 1) protests since the 1980s, and the marches have become a symbol of Berlin’s rebellious identity. Attending is not for the faint-hearted.

What starts out as a friendly party in the districts of Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg, can turn violent if clashes break out between radical groups and the police. The risk of rioting has decreased significantly since the 2000s, but travelers looking for a trouble-free trip may want to stay away from the protests.

Bartender preparing mojito cocktails in Berlin
Berlin nightlife is fun-filled and uninhibited, but you should always practice caution when out at night © N+T* / Getty Images

9. Use of illegal substances

According to millions of party people, Berlin’s nightlife is the best in the world. From iconic techno clubs, such as Berghain, Tresor and Watergate, to smaller and more intimate venues outside the Ringbahn, nightlife in the German capital goes all night long – and it's often assisted by the use of illegal substances.

Dealers loitering next to Warschauer Strasse, Kottbuser Tor and Görlitzer Park offer all kinds of substances out in the open. While we wouldn't presume to tell you how to live your life, it’s risky to buy illegal drugs on the street when visiting a foreign country.

Many of the drugs sold on the streets to tourists are altered or laced with dangerous ingredients. If you don’t know what you’re taking, it can lead to dangerous complications. You'll have fewer hassles all around if you steer clear of drugs and stick instead to Germany's excellent beers.

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10. Night-time safety in Berlin

Even though some areas of Berlin are rather poorly maintained, the city is generally a safe place at night. Walking back home after a couple of drinks is very normal for locals and tourists, and hassles are rare. 

While most travelers won’t encounter any problems during their stay in the German capital, it’s sensible to be a bit more cautious after dark, as in any large city. Avoid walking around flashing expensive items and gadgets, and be aware of your surroundings.

Be ready to change paths if you see a group of aggressive drunk people loitering on the street, and avoid quiet side streets and parks after dark. 

If you're traveling solo, it’s best to err on the side of caution and take a taxi or an Uber rather than walking back to your hotel.

11. Berlin scams to be aware of

One scam that surfaces from time to time in Berlin is fake police officers, who stop tourists under the pretense of searching for drugs or counterfeit money – part of a ruse to steal valuables.

Demand to see ID cards from police officers. Also, avoid buying “used” public transport tickets from people outside stations – they're often forged or expired.

This article was first published March 2022 and updated July 2023

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