In a city as efficient and modern as Berlin, you just know that getting around is going to be super easy, regardless of whether you speak the language or not.
First things first – getting to Berlin. There are a number of options available to you, depending on budget, time and preference. The obvious choice for most is flying, it’s quick, easy and usually fairly cheap. At the moment there are two airports in the city – Tegel and Schönefeld, one north of city, one south. I’ve flown to both airports, and most definitely preferred Schönefeld, purely because of onward travel links and the fact that it’s bigger and more modern. There is currently a third airport, Berlin Brandenburg Airport, being built next to Schönefeld. It’s due to open sometime around 2016 or 2017, and will serve as Berlin’s only airport, with Tegel and Schönefeld closing.
If you’re flying into Tegel Airport there’s a bus that takes you to the centre of Berlin in about 45 minutes. Depending where in Berlin you’re heading, it can sometimes be quicker to jump off the bus at Hauptbahnhof and get the train for the remainder of your journey. If Schönefeld is your airport of choice, a train runs from the airport to the city centre. The station itself is a 5-10 minute walk from the airport, and you’ve got two options, the S-Bahn or an RER train. The S-Bahn leaves more often, but takes much longer (can be up to about an hour), while the RER leaves twice an hour but is actually quicker, with less stops and you can be at Alexanderplatz in under half an hour. The RER train is also more comfortable.
If you’re not much of a flyer, Berlin is well connected to the rest of Europe by train. It’s a bit of a nightmare to travel from London to Berlin by train, just because it’s so far and will take a while. However, if you’re travelling from somewhere a bit closer, then a high speed train is a comfortable alternative to flying. I took the ICE train from Berlin to Cologne, and loved it! Price wise, it can be a mere fraction of the price of flying, and you often arrive straight into the centre of a city. Bonus!
For a slower, but often much cheaper alternative, you could travel by coach. Coach travel is on the rise in popularity due to the low low fares, you just have to remember that it’s going to take you a fair while. If you don’t mind that, then check out Eurolines who offer a London to Berlin route at a reasonable price.
Once you’ve arrived in Berlin, getting around is a piece of cake. If you don’t speak German, don’t worry it’s pretty easy to work out. There are loads of options for making your way around the city, meaning the whole city is really accessible.
Train: There are two types of train in Berlin – the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn. Basically, overground and underground. S-Bahn trains generally go more long distance, although they’re just as handy to travel a few stops in the city, while U-Bahn trains have wider coverage in the city. You can buy tickets at the stations, but most don’t have a ticket office and you’ll just need to pick one up from the machine. Don’t forget to validate your ticket in the little red box, otherwise you could get fined. Both trains are fairly easy to get around on once you’ve found yourself a route map.
Bus: If you’re not a great lover of trains, there’s always the bus. This can be a bit more difficult to navigate due to the language barrier, and although I saw plenty of buses in Berlin, I never had the need to jump on one. If you’re looking to just see the sights, you can always check out a bus tour. There are a number on offer, depending on which sights you’d like to see.
Tram: Mostly covering East Berlin, there are Trams and Metrotrams. With about 20 lines, there’s plenty of coverage, and you get to ride a tram! Mind you, this might just be a novelty for me because we don’t have trams in London…
Drive: Always a risky one in another country due to different driving practices and customs that we may not have at home. For example, driving on the other side of the road, when to stop at zebra crossings etc. If you’d like to get an authentic experience, you can hire a Trabi, (a car that was produced in East Berlin) and follow a tour around.
Walk: Good old man power! Fuelled by delicious german sausages, my boyfriend and I walked a great deal in Berlin. The big tourist sights we wanted to check out are fairly close to each other, and sometimes it can take just as much time to walk as to wait for a train. Armed with a map of the city (which we got with our Berlin Welcome Card), we really enjoyed soaking up the city. One thing to be aware of is that a green man to cross in Germany doesn’t mean the cars don’t still come. From what I could gather, it just means you have right of way…although I could be totally wrong! And it’s also illegal to cross the road at a place other than a pedestrian crossing when the green man is showing. I have heard stories of people waiting for a green man, even when there’s no traffic about.
If you’re looking to see the city and have fun with your transport at the same time, you could hire a bike or join one of the number of segway tours that run across the city. If you’re with a large group, why not try out the beer bike tour? It is just as good as it sounds, with everyone peddling, enjoying a beer and seeing the sights!
It’s likely that you’ll need to use some kind of public transport in Berlin, and if you think you might be using it a fair bit it might be worth checking out the Berlin Welcome Card which offers unlimited travel for a certain time period. I found that it eventually paid for itself as I was also making the most of the discounts it offered in museums and attractions, and I didn’t have to worry about trying to get tickets every day.