Berlin at a glance
Berlin—Germany’s capital and probably one of the coolest cities on earth. A place where you can live your life at your own pace and be whoever you are.
That’s this place in a nutshell. But if you’re moving here, you probably need to know a bit more than that.
This guide will cover the basics you need to know from the moment you land to that glorious day when you feel like you know enough to make the most of your electrifying new home.
Berlin’s climate is moderately continental. Translation: cold-ish winters and warm-ish summers.
Depending on what you’re used to, “cold” and “warm” can mean a lot of different things, so let’s break it down.
Average highs in winter are 3°C (37°F) and lows can dip down to around -2°–0°C (28° to 32°F). You can probably expect snowfall between December and March, with January and February usually being the coldest months. This means you won’t have to go full Arctic explorer with your outdoor gear, but a heavy, rainproof jacket and sturdy boots will serve you well in Berlin. So will gloves, scarves, and a hat.
Pro tip: Wear black. Everybody does.
Average high temperatures in summer are 22–25°C (72–77°F) and lows 12–14°C (54–57°F). The word “pleasant” springs to mind.
Spring and fall can be pretty much everywhere in the chilly to mild range. Layering is a good idea, for those days when all four seasons try to happen at once.
It’s worth noting that heat gets stored in buildings and pavements, creating a private little microclimate for Berlin. As a result, the city can be as much as 4°C (7°F) warmer than its surrounding areas.
Germany is not a hazard-prone region, so natural disasters are rare. Floods and storms are the most frequent natural hazards. So while there’s no reason to worry about it, just be generally aware that sometimes weather happens.
So you’ve landed in Berlin. Now what? The easiest way to get to the city depends on which airport you’re at.
From Berlin-Tegel, a cab will take you anywhere in the Ring for 25-35 EUR.
If you’re at Berlin Schönefeld in southeast Berlin, the S-Bahn railway is a convenient option. Even so, it’s still a 30 to 40-minute commute into the city, so if you have a lot of luggage (you’re moving here, so you probably do) and can drop 40 EUR, get a cab.
By law, even getting a burner SIM card in Germany requires you to present your passport. To get reconnected to the outside world, go to a Vodafone shop and they’ll hook you up.
Area-wise, Berlin is a whopper of a city, but its infrastructure is so well-developed that getting around is a breeze.
A very Berlin thing to do is to take the S-Bahn for long distances and use a bicycle for shorter trips. Bicycles are key to the Berlin way of life—true Berlin bikers will bike rain or shine with appropriate gear.
As with most big cities, you won’t necessarily need to leave your neighborhood that much, but expats often cling to the U8 line (which connects Prenzlauer Berg, Mitte, Kreuzberg, Neukölln)⼀the yuppie-hipster corridor.
You won’t need to drive much either. Public transportation is reliable and safe. There are plenty of car shares if you do need one to pick something up from IKEA or go for a little road trip.
Choosing a neighborhood
The best neighborhood for you depends on what type of Berlin experience you’re after. If you’re the typical Berlin newcomer—young, looking for easy access to nightlife as well as safety—you might want to look at these areas first:
Finding an apartment
The elephant cheerfully rampaging through the room is that yes—finding an apartment in Berlin can be a little bit of a chore.
Demand is high and the supply is lagging behind. So what can you do?
- Come prepared. In some ways, the rental market in Berlin is quite similar to other very competitive markets like New York of San Francisco, where you need to come prepared with a mountain of documentation. This could be anything from a cover letter to proving your ability to pay. It’s not a first come, first served market. It’s almost like applying for a job or college—you need to stand out.
- Go for a larger apartment. Most people want a two-room (one-bedroom) apartment for under 1K, but with the current shortage, that’s simply unrealistic. If you go for three or four rooms, the market opens up drastically.
- For shorter-term leases, in touristy areas, and for highly competitive apartments, you can expect to pay a deposit of two to three months’ rent. For flat shares, the deposit can be as little as a couple hundred euros.
Be prepared to spend around 4-6 weeks looking for a permanent place. (This is based on real-life experience, but your mileage may vary!)
Groceries and supplies
For clothes shopping, Zalando is great for basics, and Weekday for what our sources are calling black Berlin murder clothes. But to really get on the Berliner level, find one of the city’s numerous PICKNWEIGHT stores that sell vintage clothes by the kilo.
To get a bank account in Germany, you need a registered address. The apartment situation can make this a bit tricky. Once you do get your address sorted, getting a bank account can be pretty much instant or take a few days if you’re using a challenger bank like Revolut or N26. Our advice is to do just that and not bother with traditional banks.
Cost of living
Berlin is an affordable city. Yes, that is a murky term that gets thrown around a lot, so here’s what we mean. While it’s not as cheap as Eastern European cities, as West/Central European capitals go, Berlin is definitely on the cheaper side of the spectrum. You can think of it as a nice middle ground.
- On average, a Berliner spends 24% of their gross salary on rent. Compare that to 45% in Los Angeles or 44% in London.
- A day ticket on public transport is 7 EUR.
- Travelling with a bike is 1.90 EUR extra.
- A beer will set you back around 4 EUR, a coffee about 3 EUR, and a mid-range restaurant meal something in the 25 EUR region.
- Entry to a nightclub is around 10 EUR, give or take a few.
- Basically, it’s hard to spend big on the daily, unless you like to drink lots of cocktails.
Fitness and leisure
Gym memberships start at around 20 EUR monthly and vary a lot based on the type of gym and what’s included. Most clubs offer free trials so you can shop around and see what you like.
If you’re not a gym person, take advantage of Berlin’s bike-friendly atmosphere and make your commute your workout. Indeed, cycling is popular—there are 7 bikes for every 10 people in Berlin, accounting for 12% of the traffic. Plus, the city is almost entirely flat, so getting around on a bike is easy as pie.
Places to hang out and things to do:
- Tempelhofer field: An old airport that’s now a public park. Fly a kite, cycle, have a picnic or a BBQ… A great place to hang out with family or friends or just get a workout in.
- The Landwehr Canal: Whether it’s for people-watching, partying, a picnic, or to bike along the canal, you’ll end up here sooner or later. There’s 10 whole kilometers of this canal, so find your favorite spot(s) and enjoy.
- The Spree: Berlin has more bridges than Venice and 100 navigable miles of waterways. Check out the banks of the river Spree for a walk or a run. Or take a boat ride on a nice day!
- Volkspark Friedrichshain is Berlin’s oldest public park and a popular recreation spot. In the summer, check out the outdoor cinema.
- Volkspark Humboldthain is another great place for an outdoor adventure. It’s got a toboggan run, walking and jogging paths, and a vineyard.
- Berlin is one of Europe’s greenest cities, so we’re not done with parks yet. There’s a lot going on in the Tiergarten Park, from cafés and memorials to museums and music. The iconic Siegessäule (Victory Column) also lives here.
- Whichever park ends up being your favorite, hanging out in parks with beers is definitely a thing in Berlin.
- Take the train out to Brandenburg and cycle around. It’s flat, with lots of beautiful lakes. Hiking around the lakes is another great thing to do with friends.
- Summertime is festival time, so there will be music everywhere.
If you’re thinking about Berlin cuisine and the first (and only?) thing that comes to mind is currywurst (pork sausage seasoned with curry ketchup and served with fries), you’re in for a treat. Because there’s so much more to the food scene in this city.
(Although, let’s face it, you’re probably going to try currywurst sooner or later. But that’s your own personal choice, no judgment here.)
For starters, Berlin has strong Vietnamese and Thai communities, so Asian food here is excellent. Check out Monsieur Vuong, District Mot, or the hole-in-the-wall Com Viet (all in Mitte).
But the party doesn’t end here by any means...
- If you need to take your parents out for German food, go to Lebensmittel in Mitte.
- Best burgers: Shiso Burger. Affordable, accessible, unique. Salt N’Bone and Kumpel & Keule (Markthalle Neun). Bürgermeister (the original one), Tommi’s (for classic American).
- Looking for a good café? Try Happy Baristas in Friedrichshain for the best vibe.
- Feel like working from a café for the day? Start with MilchHalle or Kaschk.
- Don’t miss Ben Rahim, a small third wave coffee shop with an Arabian twist.
- Berlin does cheesecake incredibly well, so check out Five Elephant and Princess Cheesecake.
- For fantastic veggie/vegan pizza, try St. Bess and thank us later.
- In the summer, check out Thai Park, where the local Thai community has been coming together for 20 years to celebrate their culture and cuisine.
- Döner. Yup, just one word. Döner. Trying to nail down the best döner (kebab) in Berlin is a thankless task. They’re everywhere and they’re amazing, so just knock yourself out.
- Fried Kimchi at Son Kitchen. Enough said.
Things to keep in mind:
- Lunches are sacred in Berlin. You’ll see roving bands of workers out for an hour between noon and 1 pm.
- Tipping isn’t a must, but the convention is to round up your bill.
- For Friday night dinners, book ahead. Otherwise, you can just show up.
- Berlin is very vegetarian, vegan, and halal-friendly.
There isn’t a city on the face of this planet with a more legendary nightlife than Berlin. This is a simple fact.
The techno scene in Berlin is practically a religion.
- Berghain, Berlin’s (and probably the world’s) most famous techno club, is inexplicable. Although many have tried. If you're not effortlessly cool, you might not be allowed in.
- Sisyphos is another magical place that laughs in the face of one-sentence descriptions. Go there for a seriously unique partying experience. There’s a handy single-purpose website that tells you if Sisyphos is open on any given weekend.
- Griessmuehle in Neukölln is another iconic venue you’ll want to check out to experience Berlin to the fullest.
Beware: Most places allow smoking inside!
Best bars for people-watching and a fun night out:
- Meine Bar Ici
- Macke Prinz
- All the ruin bars
Although Germans have a reputation for being fairly reserved, making friends in Berlin isn’t hard. With the right attitude, you can pick up new friends just by sitting near them at a bar or a picnic in the park. If you need more of an excuse to strike up a conversation with strangers, there are lots of interest group meetups in Berlin.
Berlin is an almost impossibly cool city, so to fit in with the locals, be as chill as they are. Have opinions but don’t be obnoxious.
Pro tip: Calibrate your small talk. Don’t ask people what they do, where they’re from—basically anything that you would use to judge someone off the bat⼀like you would do in the US, for example. Let them tell their story organically.
Travel in and out of the country
Why would you ever want to leave Berlin? But if you absolutely must see more of the world, there’s no better place you could have chosen as your base.
Flights are cheap, so all of Europe is at your doorstep: Tegel airport is a hub for Eurowings and a base for EasyJet, while Schönefeld airport is a base for both EasyJet and Ryanair.
(Note: Currently under construction, Berlin Brandenburg Airport is intended to replace Tegel. The deadline for that right now is 2020.)
Some great places to start your exploration of the region:
- In summer, find yourself a favorite lake among Berlin’s surprisingly large selection.
- Great for a day trip, neighboring Potsdam is a lovely city. Home to the stunning Sanssouci palace, among other great sights.
- If you’re a hiker at heart, check out Saxon Switzerland for a weekend trip.
- Cited with almost alarming frequency as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Prague is just a train ride away. Tickets start at 20 EUR.
- Direct flights to Mallorca also start at 20 EUR, if you need a Mediterranean getaway. Which, let's face it, we all do every now and again.
The national and official language of Germany is—shockingly—German. Berlin being the melting pot it is, you will survive here without mastering it. But you should at least make a basic attempt to learn. Chatterbug is a cool way to learn what may at first seem like an intimidating language
Tips, apps, and links
- Berlin is extremely LGBT-friendly. There are some pockets where it might be a step too far, but by and large, no one bats an eye. This is a great city to be exactly who you are.
- German bureaucracy isn’t that bad. You’ll need to face the red tape a few times (visas, converting your driver’s licence…), but the overall experience is perfectly survivable.
- If you need help with your visa beyond what your employer is offering you, hire a relocation consultant for €500.
- Look out for apartment scams. Don’t pay anything up front. If someone is subletting their apartment, make sure they have the landlord’s permission in writing. Avoid Craigslist in Berlin; it’s entirely a scam. As with most things in life—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Join the international community of Factory Berlin, a great place to start as an expat in tech or business.
- Berlin is very, very dog friendly. You can bring dogs almost anywhere, except grocery stores and some high-end restaurants.
- Watch out for tourist traps. You probably won’t need to see Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate more than once.
- Kottbusser Tor (affectionately known as Kotti) can get a little rowdy at night. Be careful.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to explore. Berlin really has so much going for it and there will always be something new to discover.
Basic survival apps
- FreeNow for taxis
- BVG tickets
- Immoscout for apartments
- WhatsApp for communication
- Tourist information—you might be a local now, but you should still see all the sights. Or at least vaguely know what and where they are.
- A list of foreign embassies in Berlin.
- A thorough guide to German healthcare for expats.
- A list of emergency phone numbers.
- Detailed cost of living stats on Numbeo.
- The Berlin subreddit and The Local have a lot of information about the city.
Before you go…
The information and advice in the guide has been compiled (and is constantly updated) based on the experiences of real-life expats in Berlin. We can’t guarantee that your experience will be identical or that you’ll like everything we recommended in these pages.
We’ve barely scratched the surface. But that’s what this guide is meant to do—give you a place to start.
Now go out there and make the most of your new home!