See Berlin on a shoestring

You can get a great view of Berlin from the glass dome at the top of the Reichstag and it is free.
You can get a great view of Berlin from the glass dome at the top of the Reichstag and it is free.PHOTO: REUTERS
You can get a great view of Berlin from the glass dome at the top of the Reichstag and it is free.
Go to the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall (above) for a free concert or enjoy the Tiergarten park.PHOTO: REUTERS
Go to the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall (above) for a free concert or enjoy the Tiergarten park (left).
Go to the Berliner Philharmonie concert hall for a free concert or enjoy the Tiergarten park (above).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The German city offers free entry to museums and concerts on certain days, as well as cheap tours and hostels

Free museum entry

With an art scene as vibrant as Berlin's, it is 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 on Tuesdays from 3 to 7pm).

Although free nights at the city's Unesco-listed Museum Island are, alas, no more, a €24 (S$38) pass 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 to 8pm) or learn about the history of German film at the Deutsche Kinemathek (Thursdays from 4 to 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.

In the heavily graffitied Raw Gelande complex, Neue Heimat's shabby-chic Sunday village market 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.

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 are willing to shell out a modest €18, 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) from Berlin Music Tours is a reasonably priced way to delve into the Thin White Duke's Berlin Trilogy period.

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 (Thursday) for blues, or to A-Trane (Monday), Kunstfabrik Schlot (Monday, Thursday and Sunday) and Cafe Tasso for jazz jam sessions.

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

Take in the view

Do not make the same mistake as 1.2 million visitors every year and shell out more than €13 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 National Security Agency station.

A one-hour tour (€7) will take you to the art house, a colourful collection of graffiti, and provide the perfect vantage point for that coveted snapshot.

Budget accommodation

Being frugal does not necessarily mean slumming it. Just steps from the U-bahn at Rosenthaler Platz, the Circus Hostel (dorms from €23), with a new microbrewery, remains the stuff of flashpacker dreams.

But Grand Hostel Berlin (dorms from €19) 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) has the soul of a designer boutique. Equally stylish is One80° Hostel (dorms from €9), where the Wi-Fi is free and Alexanderplatz is around the corner.

Chill in the parks

Tempelhofer Feld, the sprawling former airport, is full of impromptu barbecues, kiteboarders and the occasional taiko drummer on sunny days.

You will 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 Berlin 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) or even more lavish Schloss Charlottenburg (€12) palaces.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'See Berlin on a shoestring'. Print Edition | Subscribe