Since coming to Berlin, I’ve probably had more emails asking for tourist information than anything else. Rather than typing out similar information for each person, I thought it made sense to write a series of blog posts about it.

I’m starting today with how to get to Berlin and where to stay.

Flughafen Schönefeld, Berlin

Flughafen Schönefeld, Berlin

How to get to Berlin

By air
Most people coming from the English speaking world will arrive by air, so I’ll focus on that.

Berlin has two airports: Tegel in what was west Berlin, and Schönefeld, in the former east.

Both were supposed to have closed by now, to be replaced by a big shiny new airport next door to Schönefeld, but due to a series of mess ups by the builders, that’s not due to open for some time.

Which airport to use depends on where you’re planning on staying, but I’d usually prefer Schönefeld (which the budget airlines easyJet and Ryanair use), because there’s a train station. Tegel, on the other hand (BA, Lufthansa and the other grown up airlines), is served only by bus or taxi.

At Schönefeld, you can buy tickets for the trains into town from the machine or newsagent shop in the airport terminal, or at the machines in the station itself. There are no ticket offices to talk to anyone for help, but staff are often wandering around. Schönefeld is in zone C, so you’ll probably want a single or day ticket for zones ABC.

At Tegel, you can take an express bus to the nearest S-Bahn station, or to the centre of town at Alexanderplatz. Tegel is in zone B, and there are ticket machines just outside the terminal door by the bus stops. There’s also a travel information office there.

By train
I used to enjoy travelling to Berlin by train, using the overnight train via Brussels. That service was discontinued a few years ago, when the Belgians increased the costs for track access, but you can still travel from London St Pancras via Paris to the centre of Berlin. It’s a great way to travel, as you are dropped off where you want to be, rather than a long journey to your final destination.

First class travel includes breakfast, and you get your own private bathroom with shower and toilet. Beds aren’t suitable to very tall people, but they’re very comfortable and because of the high sides, you couldn’t possibly fall out. Look forward to being rocked gently to sleep in France, and waking up in Germany.

Alternatively, you can take the day train.

For more information on train travel, see the excellent Seat 61 blog.

Tickets and travel

Electronic Cash logoUnless you have a debit card with the electronic cash (or EC) logo (which, if you’re English, you almost certainly don’t), you’ll need to pay with real cash. Other debit cards and credit cards are not widely accepted in Germany, though there are lots of cash machines around.

If you’re planning on taking public transport a few times during your stay, but not many each day, you can get four tickets for a little bit less than the cost of each individually. They don’t expire, as each one needs to be validated at the time of travel, using the machines on the train platform or on the bus.

Where to stay in Berlin

Many gay people will head towards Schöneberg, which is where many of the gay bars are, but I found it to be a particularly unexciting area of the city. I prefer areas such as Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg or Friedrichshain, which are all a bit more trendy and exciting.

Even though Berlin has a borough called Mitte (literally, centre), it doesn’t have a single city centre like other western cities. This is partly because of the presence of the Berlin Wall separating the city in two for many years; and partly because it was a bit like that already. This means that, while Mitte is an okay place to stay, it’s not quite like staying in, for example, the middle of Paris or London.

I’ve never stayed in a hotel, so can’t advice on the best places to stay – try checking Tripadvisor and be guided by the reviews. Instead, I always rented an apartment, of which supply is plentiful.

In the gay area, I found ebab (Enjoy Bed and Breakfast) to be the best place to look. However, it’s not great for other areas, for which Only Apartments or AirBnB is better. You might find something on Gumtree, but in my experience you’re just as likely to get scammed.

If you’ve stayed in Berlin and have recommendations, please leave a comment below.

In my next Free Tourist Guide to Berlin, I’ll write about my top things to do there. Please subscribe using the link to get an auto email when it’s ready.