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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.uk. Note: I was provided with complimentary parking by I Love Meet and Greet. All opinions are my own.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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”.
- 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?