I was first drawn to Berlin by its incredible art scene, vibrant international culture and (relatively) low cost of living. Living here I've found that the city is always hiding something new in its dreamy cobbled streets or between the Cold War–era Plattenbau buildings. Here's my guide to seeing Berlin like a local.
The first thing you should do when you get to Berlin is… validate your transport ticket! Berlin’s bus, rail and tram services run on an honour system, which is very convenient but sometimes sees visitors caught out. Tickets need to be stamped before travelling or you could be stuck with a hefty fine.
A typical weekend involves… getting brunch at a trendy coffee shop, browsing through the items at one of the city’s many flea markets, walking through a gorgeous park and meeting friends for dinner and drinks or, for some, just partying non-stop in a nightclub for 48 hours.
The best way to see the city is… taking the 100 bus. If it’s your first day in Berlin and you want to get your bearings, this bus service covers many of the tourist hotspots like Tiergarten, Alexanderplatz, Museum Island, and the Reichstag. Buy a regular public transport day ticket and you can hop on or off as much as you like.
But be sure to see… the less well-known parts of Berlin. Monuments and museums are great, but some of the more underground offerings can be even better. Neukölln has a flourishing art scene and some incredible bars, Friedrichshain is full of world-class nightclubs, and you might fall in love with Kreuzberg’s gritty charm.
One of the best things about Berlin is… the abundance of history. Even though the food is amazing, the culture is incredible, and the city is so beautiful, nothing beats being able to see and touch key elements from Berlin’s chequered past. From the Prussian-era palaces to the Berlin Wall, the Unterwelten Museum to the Reichstag, Berlin is full of captivating messages from times gone by.
My least favourite thing about Berlin is… the awful, outdated airports. A brand new hub was supposed to open in 2011, but the project has been plagued by problems and Berliners are still stuck with the very old-school Schönefeld and Tegel!
When I’m looking for a cheap eat… I go to Street Food auf Achse, the weekly street food market in Prenzlauer Berg. Perfect for a slow Sunday, you can walk around the historic Kulturbrauerei and decide which food truck to order from before chowing down and heading to the nearby Mauerpark for some afternoon karaoke, a few beers in the sun, or a stroll through the giant flea market.
If you’re on a budget… don’t worry. You can live well on a tight budget in this vibrant city. Many Berliners opt to drink their Sternis (beers) on benches outside the Späti (late-night shop) rather than going to bars. It’s easy to find great food at a low price anywhere in the city. And if you’re a wine lover, Weinerei Forum is a wine bar with a pay-what-you-want system from 8pm.
When I’m up for a big night out… there's loads of options. Berlin is overflowing with nightclubs catering to all kinds of weird and wonderful tastes. Do you only listen to Italian Trap Jazz Fusion? You’ll probably find an event for that. Local favourites like Griessmühle or ://about blank are always a good choice, but ask around to get the local lowdown about any cool events that are happening, or clubs that will suit your tastes.
If you’re not a night owl… there’s plenty to do in the daytime. Berliners love their pastries and the city is packed with exquisite coffee roasteries, so start your day with a fresh Schokobrötchen (chocolate croissant) and a flat white before doing some shopping in Charlottenburg, or taking in the scenery at the airport-turned-public-park at Tempelhofer Feld. Vintage-lovers will enjoy sifting through the wares at some of the many second-hand shops Berlin has to offer, and art fans can spend their time tracking down one of Berlin’s many, many galleries to soak up some culture.
Take your kids… all over the city. Berlin has lots of play areas for young children, the Zoo is very popular, and be sure to take the little ones to Rausch Schokoladenhaus to see the giant chocolate sculptures or the Ritter Sport Bunte Schokowelt, where they can design their own chocolate bar.
The best time to be in Berlin is… summer! Although Berlin is a total wonderland at Christmastime and beautiful in the autumn, nothing compares to having a picnic in the stunning Hasenheide park, feeling the community buzz on the streets, and taking a visit to one of the idyllic swimming lakes situated around the city. Summer is when the locals descend on the banks of the Landwehr Canal to enjoy the warm evenings with friends, dance the weekends away at outdoor events like Sisyphos, and have lazy hungover brunches on the side streets. Berlin is wonderful any time of year, but you can’t beat summer in the city.
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This article was originally published in December 2019 and last updated March 2020.