8 hacks for a last-minute trip to Berlin

8 awesome hacks berlin

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I went through a period recently — after travelling a lot for work — when I didn’t want to plot out my personal trips at all. I turned up on a few holidays completely footloose and fancy free, without the slightest idea of how I would fill my days. Onwards, Lady Luck! Hello, serendipity! Let the gods decide! I exclaimed as I wandered with neither schedule nor plan.

It sounds good. But when you’re visiting someplace for the first (or second or third) time, it’s better to have a plan. I would discover I had missed out on essential attractions — the giant molar sculpture, say, or the pop-up gluten food hut that simply everyone visits. So I’ve reverted to my old planning ways, which — to be honest — are practically part of my DNA.

That’s why when we decided to go on a last-minute trip to Berlin to take advantage of a companion ticket on British Airways, I found myself hurriedly putting together a plan. As a result, we had a fabulous trip and have come away with a strategy for our next visit as well.

Here are my tips to making the most out of a trip to Berlin that will save time and money, get you free perks, and make having a great time easy.

  1. Create a plan, not a straightjacket – It’s easy to get excited about everything you just have to see. When you’re visiting someplace like Berlin, you could schedule 14 days morning to night with essential tourist activities. Pick a handful that are really important and be prepared to mark the others down for subsequent visits.
  2. Download helpful apps at home – With affordable international calling plans, it’s easy to stay connected with data when you land, so download a few essential apps ahead of time. These 6 free iPhones apps featured on Budget Traveller can help you get around, discover insider tips, find street art and more. I loved the BVG public transport app.
  3. Book park-and-ride at the airport – It’s last-minute. It’s a long weekend. I’m a firm believer of not spending loads of time waiting around for a shuttle from long-term parking to the terminal (especially if your flight, like ours, requires a 5am airport arrival!). We booked I Love Meet and Greet. You pull into Short Stay parking, drop your keys with the attendant and you’re in Departures in minutes, but paying less than long-term on-site parking. Perhaps what I loved the most was how super-friendly they were. When walked up after parking the car, an attendant came out, greeted me by name and handed over our receipt and instructions — all ready to go — while she took our keys. Upon our early-morning return, we got another equally friendly guy who chatted amiably while quickly processing us (even reassuringly checking my ID).

    I Love meet and greet provides valet parking at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports. Prices for one week’s parking at Heathrow in May start from £105. For more details and to book please visit: www.ilovemeetandgreet.co.ukNote: I was provided with complimentary parking by I Love Meet and Greet. All opinions are my own.  

  4. Schedule your Reichstag visit as early as possible – While it’s free, you need a reservation to see the historical building and seat of Parliament, with its striking Sir Norman Foster glass dome (we heard there is an opportunity to turn up on the day for some last-minute slots, but couldn’t find information about it on the official site). You have to submit all the names of the visitors beforehand and it gets booked up quickly. You can also book guided tours. Go to the visitor page for more information.
  5. Buy a Berlin Welcome Pass – The Berlin transport system is wonderfully German — clean, well-run, reliable, and it seemed to take us everywhere we wanted to go. These public transport passes allow unlimited journeys for periods of 48 hours, 72 hours, or 4, 5 or 6 days and they also give you discounts or FREE entry at more than 60 attractions like the museums on Museum Island such as the Pergamon and Alte National Gallery, the Berlin River tour, Fat Tire bike and Segway tours, the Berlin TV Tower, and more. You can purchase these in advance or at a tourism counter. We picked ours up right at the airport and were prepared for riding the Metro (U-Bahn), overground (S-Bahn), buses and trams. The passes start at £93 for adults, £49 for children for a 2-day Welcome Card. www.berlinpass.com
  6. Arrange at least one nice meal – The city has a vibrant foodie scene.
    Das Lokal, Linienstraße 160, 10115 – Locavore cuising featuring offal and game
    – Patio, Helgoländer Ufer, Kirchstraße, 10557 – Italian-inspired gastronomy on a boat overlooking the Spree
    Hugos, Budapester Straße 2, 10787  – Michelin-starred restaurant with a 14th-floor view at the Hotel Intercontinental
  7. Pick a kebab eatery – The city is known for its kebabs, which are in the words of one friend “divine…barely recognisable compared with the English version”. It ain’t fancy but it is delicious! We used this awesome list of best Döner kebabs from the Berlin Food Stories website and ate two fantastic kebab, succulent, spicy with homemade bread. It’s perfect for a lunch or budget supper — and worth strategising a stop since they can be slightly less central. I recommend Tadim in Kreuzberg and Rüya, in Schöneberg, which serves juicy chicken kebabs and is in the words of Berlin Food Stories “entirely off the hipster grid”.
  8. Schedule your free walking tour – The Sandemans New Berlin tour calls itself “famous” and if it’s not, it should be. It’s not really free of course: You are asked to pay your freelance guide at the end what you think it’s worth. But there’s no better way to kick off a visit to this city awash in history that to see the top sights and get a potted history that spans centuries. http://www.neweuropetours.eu/berlin/en

What are your tips and hacks for a great last-minute trip to Berlin?

 

 

Oregon Girl Around the World
I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+
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23 Comments

  1. April 24, 2017 / 11:51 am

    I definitely think a balance of serendipity and planning is good – rushing from A to B to C definitely doesn’t let you soak up the city and sounds not much fun. But wandering aimlessly, I suspect I would miss everything by accidentally being one street away. It’s such a long time since I was in Berlin that one way or the other, I really should go back.

    • April 24, 2017 / 12:23 pm

      Cathy, I agree completely. We would have missed out on the Thursday food market — a highlight — if we had stopped and had a drink at the first place we saw. We thought, “That looks ok but let’s wander down here, wait what are those people doing…”

  2. April 25, 2017 / 11:49 am

    If the weather’s good don’t miss out on the lakes close to the city. They are good for relaxing, swimming and soaking up the sun.

    • April 25, 2017 / 1:34 pm

      Stuart, thanks for the tip. I agree – the Spree is lovely!

  3. April 25, 2017 / 2:43 pm

    Oh I’ve used a Welcome pass in other German cities and they’re great! I agree about booking a nice meal too, I was really impressed with the food last time I was in Germany and I’m yet to visit Berlin, it’s definitely on my list as soon as we’re on the road!
    Nat.x

    • April 27, 2017 / 8:47 am

      Nat, it’s great to know that Welcome pass is available elsewhere in Germany. And yes the food! x

  4. April 27, 2017 / 1:33 pm

    I usually try to book at least one nice meal on each trip, saves the stress of feeling like I missed out on the cuisine. I missed out on the Reichstag in Berlin, guess I’ll have to go back!

    • April 27, 2017 / 2:55 pm

      I’m thinking of the visit to the Reichstag — which was one of the things that was an absolute must-do on this trip — as a reason to come back soon, next time with the kids. I’ve discovered this newfound philosophy of integrating both approaches to a trip has made me a lot more relaxed and embracing of the ups-and-downs of travel. #FarawayFiles

  5. April 27, 2017 / 2:42 pm

    “Create a plan, not a straightjacket.” Love that advice. Great tips! We loved how affordable dining out was in Berlin compared to Copenhagen – great food and great prices. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    • April 27, 2017 / 2:52 pm

      Erin, I know what you mean. We were amazed at how affordable and easy it is to eat well in Berlin (yes, compared with Copenhagen!). Thanks for the compliment! #FarawayFiles

  6. Great tips for a Berlin visit! I’m all for a mixture of planning and discovering places by chance. I’d hate to rush around just ticking off all the must-see sights but equally you do have to think ahead for those places that need to be booked in advance or you’ll miss out – or spend hours queuing. I do like to have a good amount of time though just to decide to explore somewhere on the spur of the moment. It’s one of the joys of travelling for me, those unexpected discoveries. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • April 27, 2017 / 2:49 pm

      I agree, Clare, it is one of the joys of travelling — that combination of careful planning and unexpected discovery. Thanks for the comment! #FarawayFiles

  7. April 27, 2017 / 3:39 pm

    I love Berlin but you’re right, the city has so much to offer and I’m so glad that both times I went there, it was with organized trips! I would have been so lost trying to figure out what to do on my own! But now that I’ve already seen a lot, I’d love to go a third time and explore the more hidden gems of Berlin 😉

    • April 27, 2017 / 3:52 pm

      Vanessa, good idea — keep going back, doing different things, and set out for hidden gems once you’ve made the rounds of the “greatest hits”.

  8. April 28, 2017 / 4:33 am

    I’ve never been to Berlin so these are some great tips, including the food and kebab info.! I generally like to have a good mix of planned and spontaneous travel, though easier said than done sometimes. #farawayfiles

    • May 25, 2017 / 4:34 pm

      Corey, yes there are many times when I would like a lot more time to prepare, including studying up on the language. You have to roll with it, don’t you?

  9. April 28, 2017 / 1:42 pm

    Yes we missed visiting the Reichstag for exactly this reason (we had been years earlier when you could just wander in) – so I wish I’d read this sooner! And I agree some planning and a bit of freedom works best. Oh have you been to Rausch & Fassbender Chocolate cafe – you can reserve in the week and well worth the trip! #farawayfiles

    • May 1, 2017 / 11:31 am

      Jenny, great tip re: the chocolate cafe. We walked by and it looked so scrumptious but we didn’t have time to go in. Will add this to the list for next time. x

  10. April 28, 2017 / 5:17 pm

    Well I have to agree Jen, the kebabs are incredible! Berlin is a city that really lends itself to a bit of freestyling but your tips are great – I hate wasting time waiting around at airports or missing out on highlights.Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

    • May 25, 2017 / 4:35 pm

      I know, right? Surprising to me before I’d gone, now an undeniable FACT — you must eat kebabs in Berlin! x

  11. April 29, 2017 / 6:05 am

    Thanks for the tips! I’m hoping to end up in Berlin next year sometime – I’m particularly excited about the food now! #FarawayFiles

    • May 25, 2017 / 4:36 pm

      The food is amazing! You’ll have to let us know how it goes for you.

  12. May 25, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    Hey Jennifer,

    Thanks for the informative post and great tips. I’ve been planning to go to Berlin sometime soon. Would keep these tips in mind 🙂

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