“Berlin: The greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine” ~ David Bowie.
Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to avoid looking like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.
Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!
This travel guide to Berlin, Germany was written by Casey from Carefree Compass. The best way to see Berlin is by being an invisible tourist, so I’m very excited to share her top insider tips for how to blend in amongst locals during your stay. These do’s and don’ts in Berlin will also help you make the most of your visit.
If you’re planning a trip to Germany’s capital, these Berlin insider tips from a local’s perspective will help you have a more enjoyable experience and know what to expect before you go. Read on for more!
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11 Berlin insider tips to help you avoid looking like a tourist
Berlin is a gritty, quirky, and wildly diverse city that I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last couple of years. It’s a melting pot of cultures, incredibly liberal, and a seriously fun place to be!
Like in any major city in Europe, we locals can sniff out a tourist from a mile away. In Berlin, they tend to congregate around the Brandenburg Gate or Kurfürstendamm, shuffling from monument to monument with a guide and then piling onto a tour bus when finished. Needless to say, this is not the best way to experience Berlin.
Instead, follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to becoming an honorary Berliner!
Ride a bike
If you want to do as the locals do, first thing’s first: get yourself some wheels. Most people who live in Berlin own a bike and especially when the weather is good, the city is absolutely packed with bikers. I personally only take the train when it’s pouring down rain outside.
Berlin is really the perfect city for biking, with bike paths built into the sidewalks and certain streets designated exclusively for bikes. Regardless of whether people are trying to blend in or not during their time in Berlin, my first recommendation to everyone visiting is to skip the hop-on-hop-off bus and even the subway and rent themselves a bike instead.
Eat Döner and currywurst
The fast food of choice in Berlin is undoubtedly Döner, followed closely by currywurst… or actually any kind of wurst (sausage.) Locals love to grab these on-the-go meals at pretty much any time of day.
Döner is a Turkish kebap that involves meat shaved off a rotating spit and stuffed into a triangular pita pocket with a variety of vegetables alongside it. Currywurst is exactly what it sounds like: a wurst with curry sauce on top, often served with pommes (french fries.) In Berlin, people are really obsessed with curry!
If you’re a vegetarian, a falafel or halloumi cheese Döner will make a great substitute. Make sure to taste one of these Berlin specialties before you leave!
Avoid Checkpoint Charlie at all costs
This is one of the most interesting Berlin insider tips. If there’s one tourist trap to rule them all in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie is it. Unlike many of the other central spots in town, locals avoid this place like the plague. I think this is mostly because there’s nothing really there.
Sure, back when the Berlin Wall still stood, it was a very important guardhouse and border crossing site. Nowadays, all that stands is a billboard sign, a sad looking replica of the guardhouse, and sometimes a guy dressed in a costume nearby. It’s pretty tacky, honestly.
Yes, there is a small museum nearby if you’re really interested in history, but if you want to blend in in Berlin, just steer clear of Checkpoint Charlie altogether. Instead, take a look at these other free things to do in Berlin!
Brace for the rain
Berlin is sadly not known for its good weather. While we’ve had some amazing summers in the past couple of years, it’s much more common to see grey skies and some rain. Even so, the bravest Berliners will still be out riding their bikes.
Make sure to check the weather before you go out for the day, bring the right attire, and have a plan to do something indoors if necessary.
Have a picnic in the park
When the weather does happen to be on your side, there’s no better way to enjoy it than by relaxing in one of Berlin’s public parks. After all, you’re in the greenest city in Europe and there are over 1,000 parks to choose from! There’s no denying that Berlin’s green spaces are top notch.
Locals love to get together and lay in the sun with food and drinks, cards, a boombox, and whatever else will make for a fun hangout session. Some of the best places to picnic in Berlin are by the river Spree, the Landwehrkanal, Treptower Park, the Tiergarten, and Tempelhof Field, an old airport runway turned public park.
And while you’re having your picnic…
Drink a beer in public
I remember picking my parents up from the airport when they came to visit me and laughing at my mom’s incredulous face when she realised the guy sitting next to her on the train was drinking a beer. “You’re allowed to drink on the subway!?” she asked, astonished.
I had to laugh because after living in Berlin for a while, this becomes so normal. You see middle-aged men on park benches clinking and saying Prost! You see guys walking down the street with their dogs at 10 am sipping on Berliner Kindls. You see teenagers on their way downtown at night, laughing, each holding a Wegbier (a beer for the way.)
It’s all completely commonplace and socially acceptable, so don’t be afraid to join in! Just make sure that when you’re done, you leave your bottle on the ground beside the trash cans where homeless people can collect them and cash them in for money at the supermarket. Never throw bottles in the trash.
So, where will you get your “beer for the way?” Happy you asked!
Frequent the Späti
If you only take away one of these Berlin insider tips, make it this. Pronounced like “shpay-tee,” these neighborhood convenience stores are always open for business in Berlin. You can buy everything from beer to candy to ice cream and snacks. Berliners pop in and out of the Späti all the time while out and about.
It’s also good to note that they’ll save your butt when all the supermarkets were closed on Sunday and you forgot to buy something important! Yes, that includes toilet paper.
Attend a local event or festival
With everything going on in the city, it’s really impossible to be bored. Tourists tend to visit landmarks and buildings that are there year-round and never think to discover local events. In Berlin, there really seems to be an event taking place every single day. All you need to do is find one that interests you and attend. (I’d recommend looking on Eventbrite.com or Facebook to find events.)
Some happen weekly, such as the flea market and karaoke party at the Mauerpark, and others happen annually or only once. Certain areas of Berlin, especially the neighbourhoods of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, are particularly inundated with small festivals. I’ve been to everything from a Latin American food festival to photography presentations to a gin tasting event and to a massive street carnival and more.
Go out at night
Most tourists arrive in new cities, see all the sights by day, eat a huge dinner, and are asleep before eleven. But in Berlin, the nightlife capital of the world, the locals know that the real excitement happens after midnight.
Berlin does not kid around when it comes to after dark fun. You have hundreds upon hundreds of options for things to do at night. Berlin has everything from themed bars to live music clubs to techno bunkers to places where you only get in if you’re wearing a sexy costume… seriously, if you can dream it up, it exists in Berlin!
There are bars that have been open 24/7 for nearly 20 years without closing. There are also clubs that you can go into on Friday and exit on Monday. There are English movie theatres and comedy clubs, craft cocktail bars, live performances, rooftop Biergartens, and restaurants where locals sit for hours into the evening just chatting and drinking beer. If you want to get to the real heartbeat of Berlin, make sure to explore after the sun goes down.
Don’t try to speak German
Yes, you read that right! While it may seem like counterintuitive advice, I’d highly recommend sticking to English in most cases. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, almost everyone in Berlin speaks decent English, even the people who tell you their English is no good.
Secondly, the expat community in Berlin is absolutely massive. Being a member of it myself, I’ve met other expats who have lived here for 10+ years and still don’t speak decent German. While I think that’s pretty sad actually, the point is that you do not need German to survive as either a tourist or a resident here.
The exception to this rule is if you’re just buying something quickly. If you want to say Danke, that’s totally fine. But, if you’re not a fluent speaker, feel free to just stick to English! It won’t make you automatically stick out as a tourist like you might assume.
Finally, wear whatever the heck you want!
Unlike some cities, Berlin has zero dress code. This place is all about liberal self-expression, so if you want to wear a lime green jumpsuit, dye your hair magenta, and walk down the street, locals won’t bat an eyelash. They’ve seen it all and infinitely more.
Like the last tip, this might sound a little counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to blend in is to embrace your individualism full on. Berlin is truly the perfect place to be exactly who you are.
Being an invisible tourist in Berlin isn’t a difficult feat. All it requires is the willingness to embrace Berlin’s out-of-the-box personality and try on the local lifestyle for size.
There are a million and one things to do in Berlin and most visitors barely scrape the surface of what the city has to offer. Follow my Berlin insider tips, and you’ll be on your way to discovering the best of this city as an honorary local.
|If you found these Berlin insider tips helpful, feel free to check out Casey’s lovely blog Carefree Compass for more. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook.|
Book tickets in advance for Berlin
Here are some cultural things to do in Berlin you can book in advance to enrich your trip:
Ready to be invisible now you know the Berlin insider tips?
Now you’ve discovered secrets about the do’s and don’ts in Bali by a local, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not take a look at the latest Berlin hotel deals? Or if you’d like some more travel ideas and inspiration, here’s all my articles about Europe to get you started.
Do you have any extra tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed this instalment of my Be Invisible series! If you found this helpful, please share it or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok or Instagram for more!
Until next time,
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