10 budget traveller tips for experiencing Berlin

Published August 25th, 2015

True, you can never have too much money when travelling. But the best budget travellers make a little money seem like a lot.

If you're the kind of traveller who prefers a $20 hostel bunk over a luxurious hotel suite, finding free or discount events or eating more food for less, we've got the best Berlin travel guide for you. What's better, you can now even save dollars on getting to the city thanks to Student Flights' Europe Earlybird discounted flights.

The vibrant city of Berlin. Picture: Getty Images

Culture for the canny

With an art scene as vibrant as Berlin’s, it’s no wonder Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has decided to set up shop in October as professor at the Universitat der Kunste. Prowl the galleries around Auguststrasse or see cutting-edge works with no entry charge at the Daimler Contemporary or Akademie der Kunste (exhibitions free Tuesdays, 3pm-7pm).

Although free nights at the city’s Unesco-listed Museum Island are, alas, no more, a €24 pass ($A37) buys three-day access to more than 50 museums. You can also enjoy the elegantly preserved 1759 Knoblauchhaus museum, see the stunning architecture of the Ephraim-Palais (first Wednesday of every month, noon-8pm) or learn about the history of German film at the Deutsche Kinemathek (Thursdays, 4pm-8pm) for free.

Dine on street food

With food trucks hawking everything from arepas to arancini, diners can spin the culinary globe without breaking the bank. Markthalle IX still runs Street Food Thursdays and has added a popular Breakfast Market, which serves a pretty loose interpretation of breakfast until 6pm every third Sunday of the month with no cover charge.

Offerings range from congee to avocado toasts to Indian snacks and barbecue sandwiches and eggs benedict. There are also breakfast cocktails.

In the heavily graffitied Raw Gelande complex, the Neue Heimat Village Market on Sunday sells everything from whisky-glazed ribs to Mexican paletas, all accompanied by live music. Newest on the scene is Street Food auf Achse at Kulturbrauerei.

The roving Bite Club, often spotted by the Hoppetosse on the Spree, has a block party vibe and offerings including Jolesch’s superb schnitzel and Pignut BBQ’s pulled pork. Hipsters don’t have a monopoly on streetside edibles, though. Join the city’s Turkish community at the twice-weekly Maybachufer Market for crisp falafel or South-East Asian expats in the summertime at Thai Park, in Charlottenburg’s Preussenpark. This has authentic som tam (green papaya salad) and satay for a steal.

And for the original Berliner street food, skip the queues at touristy Mustafa’s and grab a doner kebab with avocado sauce, chicken and veggies from Nur Gemuse Kebap for €2.80 ($A4.30).

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Take a tour

For a deeper understanding of the city’s convoluted history and subcultures, head to Alexanderplatz at 11am for Alternative Berlin’s free three-hour tour. Itineraries vary but could include anything from a trip to an artists’ squat to a daytime rave. If you’re willing to shell out a modest €18 ($A28), you will get a four-hour tour showcasing works by more than 50 street artists, plus the chance to make your own graffiti.

For a more conventional free walkabout, New Berlin covers the basics – from the former SS headquarters to the Brandenburg Gate. Meanwhile, the three-hour Bowie Berlin Walk (€14/$A22) from Berlin Music Tours is a reasonably priced way to delve into the Thin White Duke’s Berlin Trilogy period, though die-hards may want to cough up the extra dough to visit the storied Hansa Studios, where he recorded Low and Heroes. Alternatively, make your own tour with the TimeTraveler app, which shows footage of the past superimposed over historical attractions.

Complimentary concerts

Why pay for concerts when you can see the renowned Berlin Philharmonic for free every Tuesday at 1pm? Space is limited to 1,500, so get there on the early side.

For more variety, join the masses in the Tiergarten for the 10-week Konzertsommer series featuring everything from Swedish folk to reggae. After the season ends, go to Kreuzberg’s Bierhaus Urban (Thursdays) for blues, or to A-Trane (Mondays), Kunstfabrik Schlot (Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays), and Cafe Tasso for jazz jam sessions.

If under 30, you should scoop up the ClassicCard (€15/$A23), which entitles holders to ballet and opera seats for €10 ($A15) or concert tickets for €8 ($A12).

Take in the view

Don’t make the same mistake as 1.2 million visitors every year and shell out €13-plus ($A20-plus) for a ride up the Fernsehturm. A trip up the Norman Foster-designed Reichstag dome affords an equally spectacular panorama for absolutely zilch.

The athletically inclined may prefer to hike their way to the top of Teufelsberg, the eerie, abandoned site of a former NSA station. A one-hour tour (€7/$A11) will take you to the art house, a colourful collection of graffiti, and provide the perfect vantage point for that coveted snapshot.

Budget accommodations

Being frugal doesn’t necessarily mean slumming it. Just steps from the U-bahn at Rosenthaler Platz, the Circus Hostel (dorms from €23/$A35), with a new microbrewery, remains the stuff of flashpacker dreams. But Grand Hostel Berlin (dorms from €19/$A29) goes the extra mile with free German lessons and beer tastings, a cosy library bar and canalside seating in its 1870s Kreuzberg building.

Just a year old, Wallyard Concept Hostel (dorms from €13/$A20) has the soul of a designer boutique. Equally stylish is One80° Hostel (dorms from €9/$A14), where the Wi-Fi is free and Alexanderplatz is around the corner. If you’re a musician, you and your crew can snag a stay in exchange for a performance.

Hit the tropics

Vabali spa Vabali spa

Though not exactly known for its balmy weather, Berlin does its best to replicate the beaches and islands of kinder climes. The new Balinese spa Vabali is a bit of a splurge, but a pass (€31/$A48) entitles guests to a full day of pampering in 10 different saunas and free use of the two-hectare gardens.

Also Indonesian inspired is Deck5, a rooftop bar with palm trees resembling an oasis and perched incongruously on top of a mall (though the drinks aren’t cheap). For beach-style clubbing, head to Metaxa for pop, the new Rampe for underground sounds, or Strandbar Mitte for salsa, swing and tango classes (from €5/$A8).

Best of all on a lazy Sunday afternoon is Yaam, the African cultural centre that migrated to the riverside site of the old Magdalena club last year. Revellers and families alike can nosh on west African snacks, play beach volleyball or kick back to reggae.

Chill in the parks

Café am Neuen See Cafe am Neuen See.

In 2014, locals campaigned long and hard to save Tempelhofer Feld, the sprawling former airport, and with good reason – on sunny days the space is full of impromptu barbecues, kiteboarders and the occasional taiko drummer. Join any of the above or wander the whimsically decorated Allmende-Kontor farming project.

You’ll find more urban gardens in Morchenpark in the multipurpose Holzmarkt complex on the river, in the lovely Prinzessinnengarten, and in Mauerpark, on the site of the Wall, where on Sundays you can browse the flea market or channel your inner diva at the free Bearpit Karaoke.

Meanwhile, for the price of a drink, you can settle down by the pond at Cafe Am Neuen See, a laid-back beer garden in Tiergarten. Or go for the full royal treatment at the Schonhausen (€6/$A9) or even more lavish Schloss Charlottenburg (€12/$A19) palaces.

Party ... for less

So you weaseled your way into Berghain, got lost in Kater Blau’s trippy funhouse, and are now broke. That doesn’t mean you need to hang up your boogie shoes; just be smart about your choice of venues.

On a buzzy, bar-lined street in Friedrichshain, Suss War Gestern has no entry charge before 11pm, a winning combination of retro nostalgia and a packed dance floor at weekends. Free entry to Trust, a collaboration by the nightlife barons behind Cookies and House of Weekend, ensures that a boho crowd rolls in six nights a week.

Follow the trail of techno heads with boots and black lipstick for freebie raves including Open Air To Go, where the DJ’s set reverberates from dozens of portable radios brought by the participants. If you prefer a more mellow evening, pay whatever you feel is fair for vino at one of the three branches of Weinerei.

Festivals, festivals, festivals

Berlin cathedral illuminated The Festival of Lights sees the cathedral and many other buildings illuminated. Photograph: Jana Schoenknecht/Alamy

Dozens of public festivals and events mean the Berlin calendar is crammed all year. Over for this year are: May Day (May 1, 2016), Kreuzberg’s anti-establishment carnival; Fete de la Musique (June 21, 2016), where live musical performances span the streets; and the ultra-flamboyant parades of Christopher Street Day and Karneval der Kulturen (May 22-25, 2016).

But visitors can still check out indie art with Project Space Festival Berlin (until the end of August), where 30 venues throughout the city put on a free 24-hour event of their choosing. After 14 years of neglect, Berlin’s abandoned amusement park is open to the public again for Kulturspreepark (tickets from €8/$A12, until September 20), a series of theatre and musical performances. It’s one of the few chances visitors have to (legally) explore the spectacularly dilapidated grounds, which are normally verboten.

In autumn, the 10th annual Festival of Lights will see historic buildings illuminated in neon (October 9-18).

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This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

This article was written by Diana Hubbell from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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