Berlin is a big city geographically. Many attractions are in Mitte, but even there, things are spread out, and there are many worthwhile things to see in Berlin that are in other districts. Usually the best option is to use BVG, Berlin’s public transportation system. Here’s our guide to how to get around in Berlin using public transportation.
Where to stay in Berlin
Berlin has lots of great neighborhoods for you to stay in and explore. If you’re visiting Berlin for the first time, it might be best for you stay somewhere central. Many of the attractions are in Mitte or easily connected to Mitte by transport, so you should stay somewhere in that region. Here are a few hotels we recommend.
For a more detailed look at the different neighborhoods and our recommendations, check out our guide to where to stay in Berlin.
Why you should use public transportation to get around Berlin
Those of us who live in Berlin love to complain about the flaws of the system, but overall it’s actually really good. The city is well connected with several types of transport. With so many options and so many stops and stations, there’s bound to be a reasonable way for you to get to just about anywhere you’d like to go.
Berlin’s public transport system is easy to use once you understand a few things about it. For shorter distances, walking or cycling could be an option, but this won’t work well for longer distances or if you’re visiting Berlin during a rainy spell or in the cold winter.
I also wouldn’t recommend renting a car in Berlin. Parking can be tricky, especially in the touristy areas. You’ll have to navigate private parking restrictions, permit parking, figuring out how to pay for parking, and rules about when and where you’re allowed to park. Really it’s better to avoid these hassles, and the traffic, and simply take public transport.
What are the different zones
Berlin and the outskirts that can be reached using Berlin’s public transportation system are divided into three zones. This is important to know because there are different types of tickets for different zones. (More about all the different types of tickets later on in the post.)
Zone A: This is central Berlin and includes everything inside the Ring plus the Ring itself. This is likely where you’ll spend most of your time in Berlin.
Zone B: This is everything outside the Ring until you reach the Berlin/Brandenburg border. There are a handful of things you might want to see in zone B.
Zone C: This is technically Brandenburg (the state/region that surrounds Berlin) but includes only the parts of Brandenburg that are close to Berlin. You probably won’t venture out into C unless you’re going on a day trip from Berlin. A few notable day trips in zone C are Potsdam or Oranienburg/Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. The BER Airport is also located in zone C.
Types of public transportation in Berlin
Berlin has several different modes of transport within the BVG system. You are likely to use at least two, if not three or four, of these while you’re sightseeing in Berlin. Luckily you don’t need different tickets – the same tickets work for all of the below types of transport.
The Sbahns are the yellow and red trains that run mostly above ground, though there are a few sections in the center of the city that are below ground. They run through the city, around the city, and even out to some of the suburbs located outside the Berlin boundaries, so Sbahns operate in all three zones, A, B, and C.
Here are some notable Sbahn lines:
S41 and S42: This is the Ringbahn, the two lines that circle the city. The S41 runs clockwise, while the S42 runs counterclockwise. They’re the only lines where the route number goes in only one direction. There are a few other lines that share the same route as the Ringbahn for a few stops and then split off. Make sure you know where you’re going if you’re getting on a different train since S41 and S42 are the only ones that run all the way around.
S3, S5, S7, S9: These are east/west running Sbahn lines. With one exception, they all run east and west between Ostkreuz and Westkreuz before splitting off in different directions, so if you’re traveling within the boundaries of the Ring on this route, any one of these trains will do. The only exception is that the S9 splits off after the Warschauer Str station, which is one before Ostkreuz.
S1, S2, S25, S26: These are north/south running Sbahn lines. They all go through Gesundbrunnen, but their routes are a little more spangled as to where they split on the south end of town. If you’re using routes that involve these lines, you’re probably best using the exact line your directions are telling you to use.
The Ubahns are yellow trains that run underground, with a few exceptions. Berlin’s Ubahn lines connect lots of different areas within zones A and B, but they do not go into zone C.
There are 9 Ubahn lines numbered U1 through U9. Which lines you use will really depend on what’s on your Berlin itinerary. However, it’s worth noting that the U2, U5, and U8 all run through Alexanderplatz, and the U5 goes to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
Trams are also yellow, but they operate on the streets. In fact the word in German is Strassenbahn, or street train. Sometimes they have their own lane in the median, but sometimes they share the road with cars. They help connect some of the areas in between Ubahns and Sbahns.
Lines with an M in the number (ex. M10) run more often than lines without an M. And although you’ll see trams on both sides of the city, there are more of them in the East than the West.
Like trams, buses connect parts of Berlin that aren’t served by Ubahn and Sbahn lines. They’re all over the city, and maybe found a bit more in the West where there aren’t many trams. I find the buses to be the least consistent since they have to deal with getting stuck in traffic. But depending on what attractions you’re trying to get to, a bus might be helpful.
Pro tip: Instead of doing one of those hop on hop off buses, take the bus 100. Its route takes you passed lots of the major attractions in Berlin, sometimes stopping right near the attraction, sometimes requiring you to get out and walk a little ways to get there.
The sights include places like Alexanderplatz, TV Tower, Museum Island, Berliner Dom, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building, Tiergarten, KaDeWe, the Zoo, and more. Since a normal single ticket allows you 2 hours in one direction, you have the flexibility to get out a few times to spend more time.
That’s right, Berlin has a handful of ferries that are included in the transport system. They operate on a few of the lakes on the edge of the city, so you have to really want to go find one and use the ferry.
Some of Deutsche Bahn’s regional trains pass through Berlin and stop at various stations. As long as you’re within zones A, B, or C, you are allowed to use one of the regional trains to get where you’re going. They’re typically red trains, but sometimes other colors, and you’ll mostly see them along the east/west Sbahn routes.
The regional trains don’t stop at every Sbahn station along the way, which means you’ll get to where you’re going a tiny bit faster, as long as you didn’t mean to get out at one of those skipped stops.
Since these are regional trains, their routes extend beyond Berlin’s city limits. Your Berlin BVG ticket is not valid beyond zone C, so don’t take these trains farther without buying a proper train ticket.
Types of tickets for public transport in Berlin
BVG has a long list of ticket types, so as a visitor, it might get confusing. I’ll explain them and point out the ones you’re most likely to need while spending time in Berlin. Prices listed are for zones A and B since that is likely where you’ll spend your time. Tickets for zones B and C or for zones A, B, and C are a little more expensive. Prices are valid as of June 2021.
Single ticket: €3.00
A single ticket allows you one journey in one direction with changes for two hours. So if you take the U5 from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburg Gate, hop out for 20 minutes to take pictures and look around, and then get on the Sbahn to Potsdamer Platz, you’re covered by that single ticket.
4 trip ticket: €9.40
This is a 4 pack of single tickets, each of which works for one journey in one direction with changes for two hours. Since you’re buying 4 tickets at once, it comes out to €2.35 per ticket, saving you a little bit of money. The tickets don’t have to be used in any specific time frame, so if you use one today, you can use the next one the next day or next week or next month, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is when you validate the ticket.
Short single ticket: €2.00
Short tickets are for short journeys. This means a short ticket gets you 3 stations on the SBahn or Ubahn with or without changes, or up to 6 stations on trams and buses but changes are not permitted. You’re also limited to 20 minutes for your journey.
4 short trip ticket: €6.00
Just like with the 4 trip tickets, a 4 short trip ticket gives you 4 tickets valid for short journeys. Buying 4 at once means you’re only paying €1.50 per ticket. If you think you’ll be doing several short trips, this could be useful.
24 hour ticket: €8.80
The 24 hour ticket is valid for 24 hours from the moment you validate your ticket, so if you validate it at 9am on Tuesday, you can use it until 8:59am on Wednesday. This ticket allows you unlimited journeys during the 24 hour period. If you’re going to use transport three times in a 24 hour period, it’s worth getting.
This makes it great for sightseeing when you’re moving around the city a lot all day. Plus it’s less hassle that constantly getting single tickets. Since you only validated it once – the first journey – you don’t have to worry about forgetting to buy another ticket later. Just make sure you keep the 24 hour ticket with you the whole time.
24 hour small group ticket: €25.50
This is the same as the normal 24 hour ticket, but it’s valid for a group of up to 5 people. Children under 6 aren’t counted, but if you’re traveling to Berlin with kids who are 6 years old or older, they will count towards your total. This ticket is great for families or anyone traveling as a group of 3 or more. If it’s just two of you, you’re better off buying two individual 24 hour tickets.
7 day ticket: €36.00
Technically this one is called a 7 day VBB eco ticket. It is valid for 7 consecutive days starting with the day you validate it, so if you validate it on Tuesday, it’s good through the following Monday. It goes by calendar day, not 24 hour periods. At €36.00, that comes out to just a little over €5 per day for a week in Berlin. Even if your trip is a bit less than a week, a 7 day ticket works out cheaper than several 24 hour tickets if you’re spending at least 5 days in Berlin.
If you’re traveling with a bike and want to take it with you on Berlin’s public transport, you have to buy a ticket for your bike in addition to your own ticket. You can take your bike on the Sbahn, Ubahn, and trams, but not on buses. If space is limited, wheelchairs and baby carriages/strollers take priority.
Like with tickets for humans, bike tickets come in a few different options:
Single bike ticket: €2.10: Like with your normal single ticket, this allows you one journey in one direction with changes for up to 2 hours.
Short bike ticket: €1.40: Like with the normal short tickets, this allows you one journey of 3 stations on the SBahn or Ubahn with or without changes, or up to 6 stations on trams and buses but changes are not permitted.
24 hour bike ticket: €5.00: Like with the normal 24 hour tickets, this is valid for 24 hours from the moment you validate the ticket and works for as many journeys as you want within that period.
Validating your transport ticket
I’ve mentioned validating your ticket a few times. But what exactly does that mean?
Berlin’s public transport runs on the honor system, which means it’s up to you to make sure you have a ticket before entering a train. There’s no machine where you have to swipe or insert your ticket to gain access to the train.
But you have to validate your ticket, which then shows the time and location where you started your journey. This is important if you get checked by a ticket checker since they’ll want to make sure you have a valid ticket and that you haven’t gone over the time limit or station limit on short tickets.
If you’re using paper tickets (which you can purchase out of the machine) you have to insert the ticket into the little machine on the platform at Sbahn and Ubahn stations. Usually this machine is red. Your ticket will have arrows on it, that’s the end that goes into the machine. Only validate a ticket once, otherwise your ticket is void.
For buses and trams, the validating machine is on the bus or tram, so as soon as you get on the vehicle, look for the machine (there’s usually one at either end) and stamp your ticket.
If you’re buying tickets electronically on your app, the ticket is validated as soon as you click “purchase” in the app.
You might spend your whole time in Berlin without ever being checked. Or you could end up getting checked 3 times in a day, as has happened to me. Fines are €60.00, so it’s really not worth riding without a ticket. And no, playing dumb and claiming ignorance as a tourist will not work. The ticket checkers are independent contractors who work on commission, and they have no sympathy.
Safety on public transport
In general, it is safe to use the public transport system to get around in Berlin. But as with most places, there are some precautions you should take.
Be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets do occur, and if you’re oblivious to what’s going on around you, you will be an easier target. This is especially important when the train is crowded.
Make sure money and other valuables are secure. A wad of cash sticking out of your pocket or an unzipped backpack makes you an easy target for theft.
Occasionally someone will get on the train and make a speech to the rest of the passengers. Afterwards they’ll take a lap around the train car asking for money, sometimes selling newspapers in exchange, but sometimes not. They are mostly harmless, and I just ignore them. But feel free to give them a few coins if you’re feeling generous.
Same goes for musicians who will sometimes hop on the train and play a song for the length of time between stations. If you want to give them some change, they will appreciate it, but don’t feel obligated.
However, if someone is yelling, appears drunk and unruly, or is picking a fight with someone else, keep your distance. This is rare! But if someone makes you uncomfortable, the easiest thing is to move farther up or down the train if it’s a big long train, or if it’s a train with separate cars, hop off at the next stop and switch to another car. I’ve only felt the need to do this twice in 6+ years.
Scams on public transport
Hopefully you have valid tickets and never have to worry about ticket checkers. But if you’ve slipped up, it’s important to know the difference between real and fake ticket checkers.
Real ticket checkers have ID and will not demand cash payment on the spot. If they do try to get you to pay cash right then and there, they are scammers, not actual ticket checkers.
Another common scam is people trying to sell you their used ticket. Generally they’re trying to convince you the ticket still has validity, but they’re hoping you don’t notice it’s an old ticket beyond its use. Only buy tickets from the app or the machine, and just ignore these scammers.
Overall, try not to worry about using public transport to get around in Berlin. It’s a safe system, and it is unlikely that you’ll encounter any problems. Use common sense, and you should be fine.
Book a tour for your trip to Berlin
Berlin Travel Resources
I want you to have the best trip to Berlin, and hopefully this guide for how to get around in Berlin helps. But there are lots more tips on the site!
Check out this long list of the best things to do in Berlin. It’s full of activities, attractions, and more. Also, go see some castles, and if you’re planning a longer trip, here are some fantastic day trips from Berlin.
Here’s what you should know before coming to Berlin. From practical tips to quirky facts about the city, it’s all in there.
Read this helpful packing list for Berlin so you know what to bring and what to wear.
Visiting Berlin? Don’t forget travel insurance!
It’s always a good idea to travel to Berlin with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here is reasonably safe, but you never know when something could happen. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or become a victim to theft.
We recommend World Nomads insurance for travel. Travel insurance helps you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.