If you’re traveling through Berlin, Germany – like I recently did, you’ll notice that most of the locals are not driving cars. In a way, Berlin is like any other big city. Its residents opt for quicker, cheaper modes of transportation than expensive automobiles that tend to get stuck on the Autobahn.
Similar to New York City, Berlin is not super car-friendly. There are too many vehicles on the road and limited parking spots. Instead, Berliners rely on the city’s efficient mass transit system, which features an underground subway (the U-Bahn), an above-ground subway (the S-Bahn), a bus system, and a train rail system.
In addition, you’ll see many bike paths and walking paths around the city, so you don’t really ever need a car to get around. (If you do, just call a taxi cab or rent one of the electric shareable cars for a few hours.)
For the majority of residents and visitors traveling through Berlin, the U-Bahn is the basic way to get around the city. Keep reading to find out how to ride the U-Bahn in Berlin.
How to Ride the U-Bahn in Berlin
1. Get your transportation pass.
When visiting Berlin, the BVG (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, or Berlin Transport Company) should be your first stop. That’s where you’ll pick up an all-access transit system pass, so you can come and go as you please on almost all systems of transportation around the city, including the U-Bahn, S-Bahn (tram), and buses.
You can purchase tickets via the BVG mobile app, at BVG service counters, or ticket vending machines located along transportation routes such as throughout the U-Bahn (subway) system and in various shopping centers across the city.
Depending on the length of your trip, you may want to buy a Berlin Welcome Card, starting at 20 Euros, which gives you access to free public transportation in Berlin, 50% off tourist attractions, and a free map and city guide. You can buy one fro 48 hours up to 6 days. Curious? View the brochure about the Berlin Welcome Card’s all-inclusive option.
Or, try a Berlin City Tour Card (also good for 48 hours up to 6 days), starting at 16.90 Euros. However, your best bet is to purchase a weekly pass for around 30 Euros.
Always keep your pass on you, as German police may stop you and ask for it randomly. There is an expensive fee if you’re found riding their transportation without a valid pass and ID (in this case – your passport).
2. Get an U-Bahn metro map (free).
After you’ve purchased an U-Bahn pass for either a few days, a week, or a month, you’ll need to pick up an U-Bahn map. You can find a free U-Bahn map at the BVG service counters, or download the free “FahrInfo Plus” app on your smartphone.
3. Figure out where you are.
There are 9 total U-Bahn routes, labeled individually by the names U-1, U-2, U-3, and so forth. Each has its own color on the U-Bahn route map. The trick is to know where you’re starting from and where you want to go.
Which U-Bahn station are you currently in?
Look around you. What does the big sign on the entrance of the U-Bahn station say? The name of the U-Bahn station will also be on the wall inside every U-Bahn station in each terminal where a subway car arrives and departs.
What U-Bahn line are you on?
Once you know what U-Bahn station you are starting from, locate it on the U-Bahn map. You’ll know the line you’re on by comparing it to the color key legend on your U-Bahn map. Signs at the station should also indicate the line.
For example, an orange color indicates you’re on the U-9 line, which runs north to south from Osloer Straße (the northern-most end station), to the end line at Rathaus Steglitz along Schloßstraße (a large shopping area in Berlin’s southern suburbs).
Also find out if you’re in the middle of a travel route or at an end station. For example, if you are at the Rathaus Steglitz station, you will know you’re at an end line station (literally the end of the line), because the name of the station is bolded on the U-Bahn map, and you’ll see the name of the station on signs around the train tracks.
4. Where do you want to go?
Look at the location on the U-Bahn map where you want to end up and work your way backwards, following the colored lines on the map to find out which U-Bahn lines pass through and stop where you want to go. Determine the “end station” of the direction in which you’re wanting to go (noted in bold letters on your U-Bahn map), and note at which station you need to change lines or get off. Many of the major tourist areas in Berlin have both U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, as well as bus stops, within a block’s walking distance from each other.
For example, if you’re at Rathaus Steglitz and you want to go to Kurfürstendamm (also known as the Ku’Damm, where the only remaining church from the WWII era is left standing – also a great spot for photos and nearby shopping), you’ll hop on the U-9 line heading in the direction toward Osloer Straße (an end station), but you’ll get off early at the Kurfürstendamm U-Bahn station and then walk up the steps to the street above.
To head home again, just hop on the U-9 in the other direction heading toward the Rathaus Steglitz end station, and get off at your chosen stop.
5. How do I get somewhere more complicated?
If you have a lot of changeovers between the U-Bahn and S-Bahn or buses to get somewhere, plan your travel path in advance, and ask for help if you need it. Berlin natives are quite friendly, and many people speak both German and English. The BVG website and smartphone app can also help you plan your route in advance.