How to hack the Berlin Public Transport System

Berlin’s public transport system is extensive, user-friendly and reasonably reliable. It’s also not that expensive given its size and especially if compared with other large European cities like London or Paris.

Types of Service

There are four main types of transportation in the city of Berlin: the U-bahn (underground metro trains), the S-bahn (overground suburban trains), buses and trams. There is an S-bahn ring around the city making it possible to go from one clock point to its opposite in around 30 minutes or less. There’s also an east-west line and a north-south line, maximising connectivity. There are 10 U-bahn lines that cover most of the city. The rest is connected by bus or tram. The tram network only exists in the former East, meaning that you can reliably tell if you are in the former East if you are on a tram.

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Operating Hours

During weekdays, the U-bahn runs roughly 5am till 1am. At weekends and days before public holidays, there is 24 hour service, but with reduced frequency of trains, meaning you may have to wait up to 20 minutes for the next train during the night. There are buses that replace the U-bahn line routes on weekday nights.

Hacks

There are some important things to note about tickets for the Berlin transport network:

  • Tickets are printed on paper; there are no digital or e-tickets
  • Tickets can be bought from machines at all U-bahn and S-bahn stations, onboard machines on trams or from bus drivers
  • All single journey or week tickets must be stamped to validate them before use in the red or yellow boxes on train platforms or onboard buses and trams. Often the machines are quite slow at printing tickets, so allow time for this
  • There are no barriers at stations but instead there are random checks on the trains by plainclothes inspectors

If you are caught by an inspector without a valid ticket, the fine is between €40 and €60 and will be requested as immediate cash payment. Inspectors in Berlin are notorious for being very strict and indeed hostile if you do not have a ticket. Thinking that you can get away with it by being a foreign visitor to Berlin is a mistake, as they will chase up unpaid fines and add interest.

However, there are several perfectly legal ways to get the most value out of the Berlin public transport system. Whether they are worth it for you will depend on how long you are planning to stay and if you already know people living in the city.

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Travel for free with someone who has a monthly or yearly ticket

After 8pm on weekdays and all day at weekends and public holidays, a person in possession of a full-priced month (€79.50) or year ticket (€707) can take another adult with them for free. So if you’re couchsurfing, for example, check with your host when you’re going out if they have such a ticket before buying one yourself.

Use short journey tickets

Single journey tickets come in two types: long and short. Long journeys cost €2.70 each and are valid for travel in one direction for two hours after validating with unlimited changes and breaks in that time. Short journeys cost €1.60 each and are valid for a journey of three consecutive U-bahn or S-bahn stops or six consecutive bus or tram stops. Consider how far your journey is before buying a ticket as it may be possible to do it on a short journey ticket instead of a long one.

Only buy a day pass for three or more journeys

The Berlin day ticket for €6.90 is valid from time of validation till 3am the following morning. However, it’s only worth buying if you’re planning to make three or more long journeys in the day. Otherwise, stick to single tickets.

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Buy a group day ticket for three to five people

If you’re going around town in a group of three, four or five adults, then the small group day ticket for €16.90 will be worth it for you. Like the single person day ticket, it runs from time of validation until 3am the following morning. Just remember that the group will not be able to separate and will have to stick with the person carrying the ticket all day.

Buy a set of four tickets for a discount

If you’re planning to use several single journeys, either long or short, buying them in sets of four will give you a small discount. While a single long journey costs €2.70 each, a set of four is €9, making each one just €2.25. Similarly, short journeys are €1.60 each, but a set of four is €5.60, making each one €1.40.

Buy a 10-Uhr-Monatskarte if you’re staying longer than two weeks on your own

If you’re planning to be in Berlin for two or more weeks, but don’t need to use public transport early in the mornings, then the 10-Uhr-Monatskarte ticket will probably be worth it for you. For €58, it gives one person unlimited use of the public transport except between 3am and 10am on weekdays. Since a seven day ticket is €29.50, this option immediately makes sense once you stay for 14 days or more and use the public transport every day. For a month in Berlin, this is no doubt the best option.

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