Practical Tips for Staying in Berlin
Updated: Jun 24
Berlin can be a confusing city. There's no single historic city center to speak of, as Berlin's layout follows a decentralized model. Instead of a single monumental center, you'll find a series of peripheral centers. Essentially, while the Mitte district literally translates to "middle," it's just one facet of Berlin's many identities, and you can explore other districts without your experience being any less rich. Here are some tips for staying in Berlin.
Choosing the Right Accommodation Location
Choose the area for your accommodation with care, striking a balance between peace and proximity. Avoid noisy or inconvenient party districts, but don't opt for a remote residential area either, as this could significantly increase your commute time. Without seeking excitement at all costs, also avoid areas that are too quiet. For your stay, it's important to experience a new daily routine that contrasts with your usual habits. Opt for lively areas.
This recommendation is particularly valid in Berlin, where population density is low and social venues are numerous, dispersed, and, in short, decentralized. Avoid hotel complexes on major roads and be wary of standardized hotels. Although they provide decent services, these establishments are often on the city's outskirts, meaning you can't walk home in the evening. They're typically found near Alexanderplatz, Ostbahnhof, and the Zoologischen Garten.
Instead, opt for accommodation at the city's heart. Away from main roads, look for accommodation in the beautiful Prenzlauer-Berg, the Scheunenviertel (former Jewish quarter), and the lovely Kreuzberg on the Bergmannkiez side. These areas are well-connected and also provide safe and pleasant living environments. For children and teenagers, it's also possible to go on a tour on their own near the accommodation. For longer stays, Airbnb may be more suitable than hotels. Consider accommodation in southwestern residential areas like Friedenau.
However, bear in mind two things. Firstly, if you're staying in a hotel in the city's eastern part, don't hesitate to request a room overlooking the hotel's inner courtyard rather than the street to avoid noise from tram traffic. Secondly, always choose accommodation within a 10-minute walk of an S-Bahn or U-Bahn station, preferably close to lines connecting East and West (S5 for the S-Bahn or U2 for the U-Bahn). Lastly, remember to stay near shops, especially grocery stores.
Adapting to Public Transport
In Berlin, you'll often have considerable distances to cover. The German capital is sprawling but its population density is far lower than in Paris or London. Moreover, cultural attractions can be quite spread out and neighborhood architecture can sometimes seem rather monotonous.
Using public transport (S-Bahn, U-Bahn, Bus, and Tram) is a necessity. Visit the BVG website, which offers several ticket options for visitors. Please note that these tickets grant access to all means of transport: you don't need to purchase new ones for connections, but you must validate your ticket before use. Children under six years old travel for free.
A single ticket is valid for two hours. Consequently, an individual day pass becomes cost-effective after three trips per day over a period of six hours. The cost-benefit ratio is excellent. Even better, the Kleingruppe (small group) day pass allows up to five people to travel simultaneously. It becomes cost-effective when you have three or more people. However, it does require you to stay together.
My advice is twofold. Firstly, purchase tickets upon arrival or each morning at the start of the day. You can buy a book of single tickets or a day pass and keep them for later use. Remember: a ticket must be validated to be valid. Purchasing in advance can help avoid potential stressful situations, especially since ticket
Secondly, I recommend planning your stay. There's no need to buy a weekly travel card as you probably won't need it. By creating a coherent itinerary, it's possible to limit and reduce your travel needs. In fact, you should try to walk as much as possible. Saving money on transport tickets for a day requires good organization so that attractions are not too far apart. It also requires the physical ability to walk varying distances. Nonetheless, it's an effective way to save money daily for those on a tight budget.
Personally, I don't recommend using the commercial Welcome Card, which combines public transport and discounts at certain museums and tourist establishments over several days. Although this offer may seem attractive on paper, it may subconsciously compel you to adopt an activity program that you initially didn't plan for.
Safety and Potential Insecurity
Lastly, there's the question of safety. Certain tensions may arise: any form of racism, verbal aggression from an idler who's had too much to drink, or a hostile reaction to tourists. No specific neighborhood should be avoided, but it's prudent to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth in certain socio-economic environments and not to cross public parks after dark.
There isn't a prevalent feeling of insecurity in Berlin (yet), but some neighborhoods' counter-cultural tendencies may leave you feeling uneasy. This feeling can be amplified by the abundance of graffiti on building facades and the almost total absence of street lighting in some streets. You're not in Berlin to learn to confront your fears, whether they're real or imagined. Stay safe and use your best judgment. From experience, it's better to avoid hanging out after 10pm at Alexanderplatz, Zoologischen Garten, the alternative center R.A.W. in Friedrichshain, and Görlitzer Park.
This advice extends to party spaces too. Remember, Berlin has its own dress code, which can sometimes be exclusive depending on the area you're in. Additionally, the German capital remains highly politicized. Be cautious about entering a politically marked bar (autonomous, far-right, or far-left), unless you align with their views.
Also, be careful about the photos you may be tempted to take. In Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln, intrusive behavior by tourists is not well-received. Be discreet, or you may be reprimanded by the locals.
Berlin is Still a Very Practical and Friendly City
Berliners may seem deadpan and sometimes aloof. You'll be far from Latin and Mediterranean stereotypes. However, you'll find warm-hearted people who, once trust is established, make excellent hosts. Choose the perfect accommodation in a pleasant area and plan your itinerary accordingly.