Before you travel to any new city, you should find out a certain amount of information. Helpful and practical tips, cultural aspects, fun facts, and oddities you might come across on your trip to Berlin are all included here. Here’s our list of things to know before visiting Berlin.
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.
What to know before visiting Berlin
Some of these are practical items, like currency and language. But keep reading, and you’ll learn all kinds of interesting things that will help you enjoy your time in Germany’s capital city.
1. German is the official language, but…
The official language of Germany is German, and this is what you’ll hear most often in Berlin. However, Berlin is a very international city, and you will also hear lots of other languages from people who live here. Turkish, Spanish, Vietnamese, Italian, Polish, Russian, French, and many more.
And of course you’ll hear English. Many people who live in Berlin speak some amount of English. In the more touristy areas, you shouldn’t have a problem finding someone who can speak at least basic English.
Even if you do speak German, there are some people who will hear your accent and switch to English. I’ve been living here for years, and sometimes it’s actually hard to practice speaking German since so many people speak English so well.
That said, be respectful. This is still Germany, and it’s still helpful to learn a few German words and phrases before you come to Berlin. Not everyone speaks English, so don’t assume.
2. Know the currency
Germany uses the euro. Bills come in 5, 10, 20, and 50 notes. (There are larger ones, but you’re unlikely to see them.) Coins come in 1 and 2 euro, plus 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent coins. Don’t try to pay with other currencies.
3. Cash is still king
It might be a slowly dying king, but Germany is still a cash culture. It’s becoming more common to be able to pay with credit or debit cards, but it’s always a good idea to have at least some cash on you. When shopping in outdoor fresh markets or flea markets, expect to pay cash.
Even in places where cards are accepted, check for a minimum purchase amount first. It’s not uncommon to see a 10 euro minimum for paying by card. And sometimes the only types of cards that are accepted are EC cards, which are local debit cards. Your debit card from home won’t work, and you’ll have to pay cash.
In restaurants that do accept cards, the server will bring a hand held credit card machine to your table when you tell them you’re paying with a card. You never have to worry about your card being out of sight.
4. Use the right ATMs
It’s always best to use an official bank ATM to get cash. You’ll see Sparkasse, Deutsche Bank, Volksbank, and a few others around town.
If possible, avoid the yellow and blue standalone ATMs. They charge higher fees and give worse conversion rates than the bank ATMs will.
At any ATM, if you’re given the option to take their rate or let your bank set the rate, always choose your bank. The ATM rate will be much higher.
5. The electrical plugs are different
If you’re coming from North America, you’ll need a plug adapter to be able to charge your devices. Most of mainland Europe, including Germany, uses a two pronged plug style. Get yourself a universal plug adapter like this one, and you’ll be set for just about any trip to any country in the world.
You shouldn’t need a voltage converter. Most devices these days convert the voltage on their own. The exception is hair appliances, like hair dryers, hair straighteners, and curling irons, unless you buy a dual voltage one.
6. Customer service isn’t great
Don’t expect wonderful customer service when you visit Berlin.
Wait staff in restaurants don’t work on tips (see the next section) and they will often disappear once you have your food. They won’t come back and check on you every 10 minutes. If you want something else, try to make eye contact and give a polite wave of the hand.
Also keep in mind that servers here are handling many more tables than their US counterparts. They might be the only server in the restaurant, or maybe there are two or three total. This doesn’t leave them with as much time to give so much attention to each table.
I’ve actually started to appreciate simply being left alone. I know where they are if I want to order something else.
If you’re shopping and you have a question or need help, go find an employee. They won’t come to you. And they don’t operate on a “customer is always right” sort of attitude. When shopping for a new mattress, the employee told me and my husband, “We close in 45 minutes. I can’t possibly explain everything in that amount of time. You should come back another day.”
7. Understand how tipping works
Tipping in Berlin isn’t as big of a thing as it is in the US. Restaurant servers make a livable wage and do not rely on tips to survive. Tipping is for good service when you want to show your appreciation.
In general, rounding up your bill is reasonable. So if my restaurant bill is 9.20, I’ll round up to 10 euros. Even for a big night out when my husband and I have dinner and several cocktails, if the bill is 47 euros, we’ll pay 50, and it’s totally acceptable.
Don’t leave the tip on the table though. When your server brings your bill, if you want to leave a tip, tell them how much to make the total. If the bill is 10.20 and I want to round up to 11 euros, but I’m handing them a 20 euro bill, I’ll say “make it 11” and they’ll give me back 9 euros as change.
Like in most places, it’s also customary in Berlin to tip bartenders, cab drivers, hair dressers, etc. It’s the tipping culture in restaurants that’s the biggest difference for those of you coming from the US.
8. Enjoy your dinner slowly
Most of Europe has an attitude of enjoying a meal slowly when eating out with friends and family, and this is certainly true in Berlin. Life is to be savored, not rushed. And since the wait staff isn’t working on tips, no one tries to rush you out of the restaurant to turnover the table.
It doesn’t really matter when you sit down for dinner, you can essentially have the table until closing time. Eat, drink, and be merry. I try to always have a drink in front of me, but I have seen people sit and chat with their friends for quite some time after they’ve finished.
It took me awhile after moving here to get used to it, but now I’ve grown to appreciate not being rushed out of the restaurant.
The only small exception is if you are eating early and seated at a table that is reserved for later. For example, we have occasionally gone to our local pizza restaurant around 6:30 and the only available table was one that someone reserved for 8:00. Then we know we have to finish our meal before 8pm.
9. Tap water is safe
The water is safe to drink in Berlin. But be aware that it’s really hard, meaning there are lots of minerals in the water. This means you might see a white build up of minerals on things like your reusable water bottle. The water can also make your skin dry, and it can be harsh on your hair. Pack lotion and conditioner.
It’s also important to note that restaurants rarely give out free water. If you want to drink water with your meal, you’ll need to order bottled water and specify if you want still or carbonated. When I order alcohol, I’ll ask for tap water, but don’t expect to get it as your only beverage. Some places will flat out tell you they don’t have it.
10. Berlin’s public transport network is extensive
The public transport system here is pretty good, and I definitely recommend using public transportation for getting around in Berlin. It consists of Ubahns (mostly underground), Sbahns (mostly above ground), trams, buses, and even a couple of ferries.
Most of you’ll want to see as a tourist will be in zone A, possibly a few things in zone B. Zone C is technically part of Brandenburg, the region that surrounds Berlin. Everything inside and including the Ring is zone A.
When buying tickets, many are dependent on the zone, so you’ll either buy an AB ticket or a BC ticket, though there are some ABC tickets. For example, if you’re staying in Mitte and need to get to the airport, you’ll need an ABC ticket since you’re traveling through all three zones.
11. Validate your ticket
Berlin’s public transport network runs on the honor system, meaning you can simply hop on a train. But always remember to buy and validate a ticket!
For the Sbahns and Ubahns, there are little machines, usually yellow, on the platforms where you stamp your ticket after purchasing it. If you’re riding a tram or bus, you validate your ticket on the tram or bus using a similar machine.
Only validate your ticket once. If you stamp it twice, it is void. Day tickets only need to be validated the first time you use them.
You might think you can skip buying tickets because there’s no one to check. But that’s exactly when an undercover/plainclothes ticket checker will show up and write you a hefty fine. Fines are 60 euros, payable by EC or credit card only. If you can’t pay it on the spot, they will give you a receipt and you have 14 days to pay the fine, and you’ll be required to buy a ticket to continue your journey.
Ticket checkers will not accept cash as payment. If they ask for cash, they are fakes. Real ticket checkers will have ID.
These ticket checkers are contractors who work on commission and are not employees of the transport system. They have no sympathy for tourists, so don’t even try to play dumb. Transport tickets are cheap, don’t ride without one!
12. Watch out for bike lanes
Berlin has lots of cyclists. In some places, they ride on the street along with traffic, but sometimes they use bike lanes. The bike lanes can be on the street or on the sidewalk.
When you’re walking on a sidewalk that has a bike lane, the bike lane is usually closer to the street and is a different color. Stay out of the bike lane! Walking in the bike lane is a sure way to get hit by a bike or at the very least end up on the receiving end of angry cyclists ringing their bell and yelling at you.
And be aware that cyclists will sometimes ride on the sidewalk even when there is a bike lane on the street.
13. A day isn’t enough to experience Berlin
Let’s be real, a day isn’t long enough to explore almost any city in the world, but this is especially true for Berlin. It’s a big city geographically, so it takes time to get from one area to another. And there is so much to see and experience!
I’ve lived here for 6+ years, and I’m still discovering new-to-me things, so don’t expect to see “everything” in a day. Berlin is packed with history, culture, entertainment, food, and so much more.
I highly recommend spending at least 3 days in Berlin, but ideally more if you can swing it. This wonderful city deserves more of your time.
14. Berlin isn’t like the rest of Germany
Many people come here expecting to see lederhosen and giant pretzels everywhere. The image of Bavaria (the region where Munich is located) has come to represent the whole of Germany to a lot of people, but the country has lots of regional differences. This is even more true in Berlin.
Berlin is its own animal. It’s very international, it’s very quirky, and very unlike the rest of Germany. Things operate differently here. The city is more rebellious than the rest of the country, less of a rule follower.
You wouldn’t go to New York City and expect it to represent the rest of the US, right? Don’t expect Berlin to feel or act like other parts of Germany either.
15. There’s more to Berlin than the sights
Most of the people who don’t like the city mistakenly tried to zip through it quickly, only seeing Brandenburg Gate, East Side Gallery, the TV Tower, and a couple other things. These sights (and so many more!) are worth seeing, but they don’t represent the soul of the city.
Yes, it’s worth seeing the major sights, but it’s also worth slowing down and simply wandering through some of the different neighborhoods. You’ll find a totally different vibe in Charlottenburg compared to Friedrichshain, a different atmosphere in Prenzlauer Berg vs Kreuzberg. And so much of Berlin’s essence is found in the neighborhoods away from the tourist sights.
To get a glimpse of the real Berlin, you have to spend time away from the tourist attractions. Grab a beer and enjoy relaxing in a park on a sunny day. Browse through a local fresh market or flea market, and not just the Mauerpark flea market. Spend a few hours without an agenda, without running around to museums and monuments.
16. Stop into a Späti
Ah, Spätis. Späti is short for Spätkauf, which basically means late shopping. These are little convenience stores found throughout the city that are usually open 24 hours a day. They sell alcohol, sodas, candy bars, and sometimes a little more. Some have a few grocery items, some have an attached bakery or some other type of quick food options.
Spätis are perfect for grabbing a quick drink for only a little more money than a grocery store. Especially if you’re craving that beer late at night, or if it’s a Sunday when grocery stores are closed.
Some Spätis will have chairs or tables out front, so you can sit and drink your beer and then go back in for another cold one. It’s like going to a cheap bar.
17. Your drink probably has a deposit
Glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans almost always have a deposit, or Pfand in German. This is a little extra that you pay when you buy it and then you get it back by putting it in a machine at the grocery store.
The deposit amount ranges from 8 cents to 25 cents depending on what type of bottle it is, so if you have several, it can add up. Beer bottles, most glass soda bottles, plastic soda bottles, soda cans, cocktail in a can cans, water bottles…these all have Pfand.
What doesn’t have Pfand? Wine bottles, juice bottles, imported alcoholic beverages, and glass jars for things like pickles and mayo and such. Those get recycled…but more on recycling later.
18. Leave your bottles next to the garbage can
Even though those deposit bottles can add up to a few euros, sometimes it’s not worth your time or effort to find the grocery store and return them. But don’t throw them away!
Instead, leave your bottle on the sidewalk next to the garbage can. There are always people, like the homeless for example, who need that money more than you do, and they collect bottles and cans people leave on the street in this way. I’ve seen people at the park with their own grocery cart collecting empty beer bottles. You’ll probably see people dig through the trash to look for bottles, but it’s nicer if they don’t have to dig for it.
I’ve seen this type of thing in varies parts of Germany, but Berlin especially. Once while visiting Hamburg for the weekend, we past a garbage can that must have had 30 or 40 bottles piled up around it. In Berlin, you’d never see more than a couple before someone will snatch them up.
19. Recycling is kind of a big deal
Remember those glass jars that don’t have a deposit on them? They’re just one of many things that Germany recycles. Every neighborhood has big containers for glass (wine bottles, yogurt jars, pickle jars, etc.) and they’re divided up by color: white/clear, green, and brown.
Beyond glass, Germany recycles lots of other things and has several different categories for separating trash. Paper, plastic (packaging, juice cartons, etc.), and food scraps each go into their own trash container.
However, this isn’t something you always see as a tourist. Your hotel will probably still just have the one little trash can in your room. Orange trash cans are all over the city for whatever type of trash you have. But you will seen some trash cans, often in train stations or Ubahn/Sbahn stations, that have separate sections for paper, plastic, and other.
Whenever possible, do your best to help the environment and separate your garbage.
20. Check the opening hours
Not everything will operate on the same schedule you’re used to at home. Many cafes here don’t open until 9am or 10am, which means if you’re an early riser, you’ll have to get your coffee somewhere else, like a bakery.
And when it’s closing time, it’s closing time. Our grocery store is already packing up the produce and getting things cleaned up and prepped a few hours before the doors lock. No one sticks around beyond closing time, so give yourself a little buffer.
Don’t walk into a museum shortly before closing. They expect all guests to be out of the building at closing time, and they might even have a time posted for the last point when you’re allowed to enter, even if they’re not closing for another hour.
Pharmacies are generally open every day but Sunday, although they usually close early (noon or 1pm) on Saturdays, and some of them close for an hour or two around lunchtime on weekdays. There’s always a few in each area that are open late at night and on Sundays for emergencies, but then you have to figure out which one it is and where it’s located…just try not to need that option.
21. Everything is closed on Sundays
Well, not quite everything. Restaurants will still be open, but grocery stores and retail do not open on Sundays. Sunday is for relaxing, and Germans take this quite seriously. It started as a religious thing long ago, and even though most locals are not church goers these days, the idea of having a rest day stuck around.
As a visitor, plan your trip around this knowing that you won’t have a problem finding a place to eat on Sundays, but any shopping you want to do needs to happen on another day. Also check the attractions you want to visit. Some will be closed on Sundays, although sometimes museums and other attractions choose to stay open on Sunday and close on another day, like Monday.
22. Brunch is a big deal
Locals love their Sunday brunch. Make a reservation, otherwise you are unlikely to get a table. As I mentioned earlier about restaurants, you can generally have the table for as long as you want, so it’s pretty common to lounge around at brunch for hours.
The typical German brunch includes hard or soft boiled eggs, fruits, veggies, cold cuts, cheese, bread, and some spreads. But you can find some trendy places offering more decadent options like waffles, pastries, American style brunches, English breakfast types, Turkish brunch, and lots of vegan options.
While Sunday is the most popular day, there are plenty of places offering brunch on Saturday, which might be a little less crowded. In any case, make a reservation ahead of time to secure your table!
23. Bring your own shopping bags
You won’t find many one use plastic bags in Berlin. Whether you’re shopping for groceries or clothing, you won’t be offered a free bag. Usually there are paper bags or more durable plastic bags you can buy for a small fee, and some places have started selling canvas bags.
It’s easier, and slightly cheaper, if you have your own. A canvas tote packs up easily in your suitcase, or if you have a stuff bag or other type of day pack, this will work well too. I almost always have a backpack with me when I leave the house so I can put groceries or other purchases in it.
24. Bagging your own groceries
This goes along with bringing your own bags, and to some extent, the lack of customer service. There are no baggers at grocery stores here, so be prepared to bag up your own things.
Cashiers usually go pretty quickly, and if you’re at Aldi, expecting warp speed. You might be better off loading everything back into your shopping cart or basket and then moving to another area to transfer it into your bag.
25. You can bring your dog to many places
Berlin is pretty dog friendly in a lot of ways. Dogs are more accepted in places where they aren’t in the US.
Almost all restaurants allow you to bring your dog when you eat there. Many stores will let you bring your dog, but look for a sign out front that could indicate that they’re not allowed.
You can bring a dog on public transport, but they must be on a leash, and technically they’re supposed to wear a muzzle. Almost no one pays attention to the muzzle rule though. If you have a small dog (in general, if the dog is small enough to fit in a carrier or sit in your lap) you don’t need a ticket. But if you have a larger dog, you’ll need a child fare ticket.
There are exceptions of course. Dogs are not allowed in grocery stores, drug stores, pharmacies, doctors offices, and a handful of other places. When in doubt, ask first.
26. Know the holidays
Germany recognizes some of the same holidays you’re used to, but not all, and there are holidays here you don’t celebrate in the US.
For example, Christmas is a big holiday here, but it’s longer. Instead of just December 25th, the 26th is also a holiday. Many things will close early on December 24th and open up again on the 27th. Easter is similar. Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) is a holiday, as is the Monday after Easter.
There are a handful of religious holidays in May and June you’re probably not familiar with. And southern Germany recognizes more of these than regions in the north, like Berlin.
May 1st is May Day, similar to Labor Day, and involves lots of demonstrations throughout the city. October 3rd is Reunification Day, celebrating the day when East and West Germany became one country again.
Research when the public holidays are in Berlin and plan around them. Shops, tourist attractions, and many other places are closed on holidays, and it could throw a wrench in your travel plans.
27. Berlin has good Christmas markets
Germany is famous for its wonderful Christmas markets, but the most famous ones are in places like Dresden and Nuremberg. But Berlin is worth being added to a German Christmas market itinerary!
Here you’ll find different Christmas markets scattered all over the city, not just one or two like in many other parts of the country. We have the more traditional kind of markets and lots of non-traditional ones. There’s a vegan Christmas market, a medieval themed one, a Nordic themed one, a Japanese Christmas market. One Christmas market is more about shopping than anything else. For one day, there’s a Christmas market with all kinds of sweets – cookies, cakes, chocolate, candies, and more.
Berlin might not be on your radar for Christmas markets, but you can find some unique and really fun ones here. Read more about the best Christmas markets in Berlin.
28. City of foreigners
After WWII, Germany needed workers and lots of Turkish immigrants moved to West Germany, many to West Berlin specifically. In East Germany, the Soviets attracted Vietnamese immigrants. Today there are still big Turkish communities in West Berlin and big Vietnamese communities in East Berlin.
More recently than the Cold War, people from many other countries have moved here. Berlin, being a big city and the capital, is attractive to many people who want a different life. It also has a big start up scene, and it’s one of the cheapest capital cities in western Europe, both of which draw lots of people.
Many different nationalities are represented here, and it shows. The cuisine is diverse, and you’ll hear many different languages besides German. Even a lot of Germans who live here are from other parts of the country. Supposedly only 1 in 4 people in Berlin are actually from Berlin. Enjoy the non-German-ness of the German capital.
29. Don’t just eat German food
As I mentioned, there is a lot of diversity in the cuisine in Berlin. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to find good German food.
You’ll find lots of Turkish, Vietnamese, Thai, Italian, and so much more. I’ve had Sudanese food, Peruvian food, Russian food. The sky’s the limit really.
When you come to Berlin, don’t think you have to stick to German cuisine. The people who live here have shaped the food scene, and you can eat a different type of cuisine for every meal.
30. Not so spicy
In general, Germans aren’t big fans of spicy food. This means often cuisines that should be spicy get toned down. Spicy Thai or spicy Indian food will not be as hot as you might expect.
That said, in Berlin it’s easier than in other parts of Germany to find actual spicy food, or at least ask that it be made spicy for you. At a Thai restaurant we really like, I have asked for spicy and I’ll say something like, “Not Thai spicy, but more than German spicy” and it usually works out well.
31. Crosswalk signals are not as divided as you’ve been told
I can’t even count the number of blog posts about Berlin I’ve seen that point out the crosswalk signals of East Berlin and claim that this is how you can tell which side of the city you’re on.
This is not true!
It used to be. At one point, there were different signals on each side of the wall, and after the wall came down, it stayed that way for awhile. But after time, these need to be replaced. And the ones from the East were pretty popular, so now you’ll see both types on either side of the former wall.
32. You might see someone pee
You probably don’t have much chance of encountering public urination in the more touristy parts of town, but if you venture out a little (and you should!) you just might see someone peeing into a bush or against a wall.
I’ve seen it more times than I can count, and for some reason it happens a lot when we’re showing a friend around town. So be warned.
33. There are public toilets
Despite the item above, you can find public toilets around town. But you have to pay to use them. Also keep in mind that bathrooms in most train stations in Germany require payment.
If you don’t have change or simply don’t want to pay to use the bathroom, you can usually find bathrooms in a shopping mall.
You will not find public toilets in grocery stores. Restaurants will have bathrooms, but they are only for their own guests. And if you’re visiting museums or other indoor tourist attractions, most of them will also have bathrooms.
34. The airport is a drama queen
After World War II, Berlin was divided into sections and ended up with three airports: Tegel in the northwest, Tempelhof in the south, and Schönefeld in the southeast. Tegel and Tempelhof were in West Berlin, and Schönefeld was in East Berlin. In 2008, Tempelhof stopped operating, but the other two kept going.
This means for years, Tegel was sort of the main airport, and Schönefeld ended up being mostly low cost carriers. But they were both really old and bursting at the seams. No one wanted to renovate and update either one because a new airport was in the works.
The new Berlin Brandenburg Airport was filled with drama. Construction started in 2006, and it was supposed to open in 2011. But corruption, management problems, construction problems and mistakes continually delayed the opening. It became a big joke.
Finally in the fall of 2020, BER opened, and if you’re flying to Berlin, that’s where you’ll land. It sounds like it still has issues making it a less than pleasant airport to be in. Keep your expectations low.
35. Berlin has several train stations
Another oddity that stems from decades of being a divided city is that there was no main train station until 2006. While the wall stood, long distance trains leaving from East Berlin used the Ostbahnhof station, and trains leaving from the West used the Zoo station.
Today the Berlin Hauptbahnhof is Berlin’s main train station, though most routes stop in other places. Depending on where the route is coming from and going to, you could also stop at Ostbahnhof, Zoo, Südkreuz, Spandau, Gesundbrunnen, Ostkreuz or Lichtenberg.
If you’re booking a train to your next location or to do a day trip from Berlin, look at the train route and see which train station is actually closest to where you are. Sometimes it’s nicer to go to one of the secondary train stations since they are smaller and easier to navigate. Knowing which train station in Berlin to use can save you time.
36. Don’t dress up in Berlin
Despite all the advice about dressing nicely when you travel to Europe, Berlin is a very laid back place. You can wear just about anything you want and you’ll be fine here. But better to dress down than dress up.
Choose your shoes for comfort before style since you’ll probably do a lot of walking. Leave your fancy dresses at home. Don’t overthink it. Be yourself, dress comfortably, and enjoy the city without worrying about what you look like.
Read more about what to pack for Berlin here.
37. Street art is a big part of the landscape
Street art is everywhere in Berlin. It’s an expression, and does not indicate an area is unsafe. This isn’t gang graffiti in a bad part of town. It’s art.
You’ll find it on walls and on the sides of buildings. Sometimes it’s messy and hard to decipher. Sometimes it’s a huge, several stories high image. These artistic works are expressions of social and political issues, or simply amazing artwork done in a unique way.
Street art can be found in countless places around the city, though some are more famous than others. A Berlin street art tour can show you the best and most interesting ones.
38. Berlin is loaded with history
It’s no secret that Berlin’s history is quite unique. The Berlin Wall is the most famous pieces of the city’s backstory, and you’ll find reminders of it in several ways. Of course there’s the East Side Gallery, but there’s also the Bernauer Strasse Wall Memorial, which is fantastic. You’ll also see markers in the ground in places where the wall once stood.
There’s the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was heavily damaged during WWII and then left as is to remind us all of the destruction of war.
The TV Tower is almost constantly in sight, a reminder of Berlin’s Cold War past.
Go back further and learn about Berlin’s earlier history in places like the Charlottenburg Palace, the German History Museum, Tempelhof’s former airport building, and even a day trip to Potsdam.
The history is everywhere. Take the time to learn about some of it while you’re here.
39. Look for the Stolpersteine
Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones in English, are small plaques commemorating victims of the Holocaust. They are located on the sidewalks in front of the last place the person lived before being taken away. These plaques list the name of the person, when they were born and died, where they were taken, and a few other details.
The project started by artist Gunter Demnig is a simple yet powerful way of honoring these victims and reminding us of Germany’s dark past.
As you wander around, look down occasionally and you’ll see them. They’re scattered throughout the city, although you’ll find lots of them in other parts of Germany too, and even in other countries in Europe.
40. Don’t take selfies at memorials
Please don’t do it! This drives me nuts!
Memorials exist to honor someone’s memory, to show respect to victims of horrible events, like the Holocaust. These are not places for cute poses, big smiles, and Instagram/Facebook moments. It’s fine to take pictures of the memorial or monument, but then put the camera away and remember why you’re there.
Places like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews are not appropriate for selfies. Ever.
41. Berlin has the fastest elevator in Europe
Panorama Punkt, located in Potsdamer Platz, has Europe’s fasted elevator. The elevator takes you to the 24th floor in only 20 seconds, and there you’ll find one of the best places for views of Berlin from above.
It’s not as high as the TV Tower, but the views are still fantastic, and it means you can get the TV Tower in your pictures. I always think it’s fun to see the city from above in a few different places for various perspectives.
42. Berlin also has the longest open air art gallery in the world
You probably already know about the East Side Gallery, but did you know it’s considered the world’s longest open air art gallery? This long section of the Berlin Wall is 1316 meters long, or about 0.8 miles.
Take a stroll down Mühlenstr, almost at the banks of the Spree River, to appreciate all the different pieces or artwork on the Wall. Some are old, while others are newer and change occasionally. Certain sections are more well known than others, so be patient if there are a lot of people trying to take pictures of the same block.
43. Berlin has 2 zoos
Founded in 1844, the Berlin Zoological Garden is the oldest zoo in Germany. It’s located in the western side of the city, and when Berlin became a divided city, the Soviets decided the East should have its own zoo.
In 1955, Tierpark (not to be confused with the big park in central Berlin called Tiergarten) was opened on the former grounds of Friedrichsfelde Palace. Today it is the largest zoo in Europe.
They’re both great places to visit in Berlin with kids, or if you’re a kid at heart. The Berlin Zoo is a bit more flashy, while Tierpark feels a bit more like you’re in nature with the animals. You’ll enjoy either one.
44. Döner Kebabs are everywhere
Legend has it that this simple meat sandwich was invented in Berlin, but it is highly debatable and probably not true. In any case, Döner Kebabs are easy to find in Berlin, and they make for a quick and cheap meal. Try Mustafa Demir’s on Warschauer Str.
These sandwiches are generally made from beef or veal, though sometimes you’ll see chicken or even a vegan version. The mean is sliced off of a vertical spit and into a fold of bread, usually some variety of pita. Then they’ll add veggies (lettuce, tomato, onion, often cabbage) and choice of sauce.
Most are unremarkable but decent enough for the price and the fact that you’re probably grabbing one of these on the go while sightseeing or at the end of a night of drinking. But if you’re looking for a really good one, check out this list.
45. Currywurst is worth trying once
Berlin’s other cheap food that supposedly originates here is currywurst. This is a sausage that’s been cut into discs and doused in ketchup and curry powder. Again, this is something to eat when you don’t have time to sit for a real meal.
I have never been impressed with currywurst, but it’s probably a food you should try in Germany. Maybe you’ll disagree with me and love it.
46. The drinking age is lower
If you’re coming from the US, you’re used to the drinking age being set at 21. In most of Europe, the drinking age is 18. Germany’s drinking age is even lower for certain things.
At age 16, you are allowed to drink beer and wine. Once you turn 18, you can drink liquor. This means you pretty much have to look like a child to get carded.
You can easily find bottles of beer for under 1 euro in a grocery store, or a little over 1 euro at a Späti. Beer at a restaurant or bar will be a little more, but still reasonably priced.
47. Skip Checkpoint Charlie
Please don’t waste your time. This famous crossing between East and West Berlin has become one of the most well known tourist attractions in Berlin. But it is so cheesy. And boring.
It’s basically a little hut in the middle of the street. There used to be one or two guys dressed in military costumes standing there who would pose for pictures with you, but they’ve recently been banned.
If you happen to be in the area and you absolutely must check it off your list, fine, but it’s really not worth your time.
48. You can visit the Reichstag Building for free
The Reichstag Building is the seat of the German Parliament, and the building is topped by a glass dome. Inside the dome is a spiral pathway that you can walk along, going up to the top and then back down again. With an audio guide, you’ll learn about the building and its history, info about the surrounding areas, and more. It’s actually quite interesting.
Even better, it’s free! But you must register ahead of time. This is an active government building after all. For more info and to register, see here.
49. Hike or cycle the Mauerweg
The Berlin Wall not only split the city between East and West, but it also surrounded West Berlin on all sides. Today the path of the Wall is a trail you can explore on foot or by bike.
The entire route is 160km (just under 100 miles) and is divided into smaller sections. Each section is anywhere from 7km to 21km, and you can reach the beginning and end of each section by public transport.
The sections in the middle of the city are easiest to reach. But if you’re visiting for more than a couple of days and you want to get out into nature, consider some of the Mauerweg sections that are along the outer border of the city.
50. Berlin has lots of parks and green spaces
Berlin has a reputation for being an ugly city, but I think this is simply not true. The city’s beauty shows itself in many ways, often unexpected. But one of the more obvious ways is in Berlin’s parks and green spaces.
More than 30% of Berlin is green space of some type: parks, wooded areas, gardens, waterways. In most parts of the city, you can’t go more than a couple of blocks without coming across some type of park.
Some of the biggest and most well known parks and green spaces are Tempelhof, Tiergarten, Volkspark Friedrichshain, the two zoos, Gardens of the World, and the Botanical Gardens.
If it’s a nice day, grab some food to go and relax in a nearby park with your meal. Or have a beer and chill out while the sun goes down.
51. Nudity in parks and spas
Germans are more comfortable with nudity than you might be used to. After 10 years of living here, I’m still too prude for it, but it’s a normal thing for many.
It means that sometimes you’ll see some nudity at a park. You probably won’t see naked sunbathing in Tempelhof, but in one of the less popular parks or one of the nearby lakes, it’s not unheard of. Spas and saunas are another place where you’ll encounter nudity. If you want to enjoy a day at the spa, be prepared to strip down. It’s not optional.
52. Flea markets
Flea markets are a popular way to spend a Sunday in Berlin. You can find all manner of second hand items from clothing to furniture to antique cameras and records. Sometimes you’ll see things that aren’t second hand, like handmade jewelry, souvenir tshirts, or soaps. Looking for antique plates or forks? Used books? Supposedly-authentic-but-questionable WWII or Cold War items? Flea markets are the place to go.
The most famous flea market is at Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. It is huge and has several food and drink options as well. And just outside the flea market is the rest of the park, including people doing karaoke and an ever changing graffiti wall.
Branch out and explore other flea markets. Each has its own vibe and a different mix of items, though what is available at any market changes from week to week. Some good ones to check out include Boxhaganer Platz, Prinzessinenngärten, Maybachufer, Arkonaplatz, Ostbahnhof, and Fehrbelliner Platz, just to name a few.
53. Boat tours on the Spree
The Spree River cuts through Berlin and is a great place for a tour. Since many important buildings and landmarks are along the river, you can learn a lot about the city and its history while on a boat.
Some boat tours will take you through Mitte where you’ll see governmental buildings and the Berlin Cathedral, while the East Side boat tour will take you under the Oberbaumbrücke and to see the Molecule Men. There are lots of different tours you can take, and several different starting points. It’s best to book tickets ahead of time.
54. A word about free tours
Berlin, like many other cities, has free walking tours. Who doesn’t like free, right? But what many people don’t realize about these free tours is how reliant the guides are on your tips.
Most of the companies that run these free tours “hire” the guides on a contract basis, not as employees. The guides are actually required to pay the company a fee for each person on their tour. This means if they don’t earn enough in tips, they actually end up owing money to the tour company.
I don’t like this business model and how it can really screw over the guides, who are the most important part of the whole business. For this reason, I generally choose paid tours over free ones.
But if you do go on a free tour, please tip generously. What would you have paid for a non-free tour? Use that as a gauge for how much to tip. Even if you tip a little less than what a paid tour would cost, you’re still helping out that tour guide.
55. Uber isn’t much of a thing in Berlin
In some places, Uber is the way to go when getting around. Not so in Berlin. There are stricter regulations here with regards to drivers and car services, and it means that using the Uber app to request a car will often get you a taxi. When I open the app, I see tons of bike and scooter rentals but almost no cars.
Berlin’s transport system is super easy to use, so I recommend using that to get around the city. Or rent a bike or a scooter, but please be considerate of where you leave them when you’re done. We all hate having the sidewalks cluttered up by discarded scooters.
If you really want a car to pick you up, taxis are reasonable and easy enough to find. Try the Free Now taxi app, have your hotel call you a cab, or look for a nearby taxi stand.
56. Beware of using Airbnb
Airbnb has become a popular option in many parts of the world for vacationers due to the convenience of having so many amenities not found in traditional hotels. But it’s not always the right way to go.
Many cities, including Berlin, have established strict rules for Airbnb rentals in an effort to protect the people who live here. Berlin’s housing market is fierce, and when apartments are bought with the sole intention of renting them out to tourists, it reduces the number of places for locals to live.
The rules can be a bit fuzzy and up to interpretation, but in many situations, the owner is required to have a permit to list their apartment on sites like Airbnb. Not everyone actually does it though. And sometimes the person listing the apartment isn’t actually the owner. Berlin has a lot more renters than owner-occupiers, and the vast majority of apartment leases do not allow subletting on sites like Airbnb.
All of this means that the place you rent through Airbnb might not be legal. You could lose your booking at the last minute or even while you’re in it. Use with caution, and at least attempt to find out if they are renting to you legally. Or skip the hassle and book a traditional hotel.
57. Visit the airport that’s now a park
Tempelhof is one of the most loved parks in Berlin, and it’s easy to see why. When the airport ceased operations, the city turned it into a big park for everyone to enjoy. The runway and taxiways are still there. The building still stands, and you can even take a tour of it.
The park is so big, there are different sections. Three different fenced enclosures are for off leash dogs to run around and play with each other. There are bird protection areas roped off to prevent people from walking through. People have plots for small gardens. There are areas for barbecuing. The runway is mixed use: running, walking, cycling, rollerblading, and more.
58. Berlin has lots of lakes
Berlin and the surrounding state, Brandenburg, have around 3,000 lakes! So when summer finally hits, many locals cool down by going for a swim in a nearby lake.
Some popular ones include Wannsee, Krumme Lanke, Schlachtensee, and Müggelsee. Some of Berlin’s lake beaches require you to buy a ticket, while others do not. Some lakes have nude beaches.
And remember to only swim in lakes where it is allowed. Not every lake you see is suited for swimming. Ask at your hotel which lakes they recommend based on where you’re staying in the city.
59. Nazi symbols are illegal
Long ago, Germany made Nazi symbols illegal. So swastikas, the Nazi salute, and statements such as “Heil Hitler” are banned and punishable by fines and/or jail time. Their view is that these symbols are anti-constitutional hate speech, which means symbols of other groups deemed anti-constitutional, like terrorist groups, are also illegal.
Don’t make Nazi jokes or anything similar while in Berlin or other parts of Germany. At a minimum you could easily offend someone, but you’re also risking being charged with a crime resulting in a hefty fine or being locked up.
This is a country that tries to remember its ugly past. Even denying the Holocaust is illegal because it’s so important to learn from past mistakes and honor victims of such a horrible period of time.
60. Not much small talk
If you’re coming from the US, you’re probably used to small talk. You chitchat with the cashier at the grocery store, and you ask your coworkers, “How are you?” with full expectation that the reply will be something like, “I’m good, you?”
Germany is not like this. The cashier at the grocery store in Berlin does not want to chat with you. Your waiter doesn’t want to joke around with you. And if you ask someone how they’re doing, you just might get a blunt response like, “I must have eaten something bad at dinner because I’ve had diarhhea all night.”
Small talk is seen as insincere, and it’s simply not done here.
61. Know how to tell time
Germans often use a 24 hour clock (military time) instead of the 12 hour version you might be used to. You’ll often see opening hours listed that way, and dinner reservations are usually noted with the 24 hour time version.
It’s not a big deal, but it can be confusing if you’re not used to it. So 18:00 is 6pm, 22:00 is 10pm, and so forth.
62. The date is written differently
In the US, the day is written MONTH/DAY/YEAR. This is not the case in Germany (as well as most of the world really) and it can definitely be confusing. Here you’ll see the date written as DAY.MONTH.YEAR.
This means that 03.05.21 is May 3, 2021, not March 5, 2021. And written out, 03.05.21 would actually be 3 May 2021. It’s important to understand how the dates are written since some tourist attractions have different opening ours for different times of the year.
63. Drinking in public
It’s totally legal in Berlin to walk around with a beer. In the way that you might walk around with a bottle of water or soda, many people will choose to have a beer or a cocktail in a can while walking the streets of Berlin. Relaxing in a park with an alcoholic beverage is a common thing, and legal. Some bars even sell cocktails to go.
But please don’t take this as an excuse for public drunkenness. Be responsible and be respectful. Don’t be the obnoxious drunk person irritating everyone around you. Plus, if you’re that drunk and causing problems, you could get arrested.
Note: It’s against the rules of public transport to eat or drink anything while on buses, trams, Ubahns, or Sbahns. People still do it all the time, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone get in trouble, but it is possible.
64. Enjoy the beer gardens
Beer gardens are wonderful. You can sit outside and enjoy a sunny summer day with a beer and some food. Some beer gardens are attached to breweries, and you’ll only be able to get their beer. Others have one line of beer from another local brewery. Don’t expect dozens of choices, but you can expect quality beer.
Often beer gardens have sausages and a few other food options. But if they don’t have any food, they will normally allow you to bring in your own food. Always ask if you’re not sure.
Usually you go up to the window to order your beer and/or food, and there is no wait staff. And be aware that sometimes beer gardens charge a Pfand (deposit) on your glass and/or plate. This is usually a euro or two that will be returned to you once you turn in your glass.
65. DIY a hop on hop off tour
Hop on hop off tours can be appealing because you get to see a lot of sights in a short amount of time. But they come with a price tag. Instead, get on the 100 bus. Its route takes you by lots of major tourist attractions in Berlin, like Brandenburg Gate, the TV Tower, Tiergarten, the Zoo, and more.
Since a single ticket allows you to travel in one direction for up to 2 hours, you can get off the bus for pictures several times. Just make sure you get back on going in the same direction, and keep an eye on the clock.
Book a tour for your trip to Berlin
Berlin Travel Resources
I want you to have the best trip to Berlin, and hopefully this list of things to know before visiting Berlin helps. But there are lots more tips on the site!
Check out this extensive list of the best things to do in Berlin. It’s full of activities, attractions, and more.
Here’s a helpful packing list for Berlin so you know what to bring and what to wear.
You’re probably going to be using public transport to get around Berlin. Read this handy guide to Berlin’s public transport system and how to get around Berlin.
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.