City breaks are the perfect way to break up the year. There’s nothing better than taking a long weekend to get away and explore a new city and culture. A few months ago we decided that our next city to explore would be Berlin and we’ve been excitedly planning ever since.
We think that long weekends are a perfect way to make use of the holiday time you’re given by work. Once big holidays are planned out and time allotted for Christmas holidays etc. there’s always a few holiday days left over. Instead of going away at the bank holiday weekends when everyone is off (which can be expensive) we like to spread these days out, take a Friday or a Monday here and there and really stretch out the weekend. This can make a city break seem extra long and really adds to the experience by giving you a little extra time to relax and explore.
The first thing we do when we’re planning, after picking the place, is looking up flights and picking the best weekend to go. We usually find that the site Skyscanner is the best way to do this. It will compare prices for your chosen dates and place. One of the feature that is best about it though is that if you’re undecided you can pick a month and see where it’s cheap to fly to that month, or pick a place and see when would be best to fly there. If you’re looking to do a cheap break and you’re not really pushed about where you’re going, spending a little time looking around on this site is the best way to make those decisions.
Once flights and dates are decided, accommodation is our next port of call. A lot of people are leaning towards Airbnb when booking holidays now, and we’re no different. A lot more freedom comes with having your own apartment when traveling. Yes, you may be giving up the luxuries of a hotel and there will be no one there to clean up after you and make your bed, however there are some amazing properties on Airbnb and we find it immerses you that little bit more in the culture of the place you’re visiting than a hotel would, especially if you’re only there for a short time. Also having the freedom to be able to cook your own meals while away is underrated. Eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner can get expensive and can take a toll on your tummy, especially as most of us are not used to eating rich/heavy food daily.
In addition, one of the best features on Airbnb is that it allows you to read real customer reviews about each place in a way that you cannot for most hotels.
Where to go
Next comes researching the place you’re going. As we just said, one of the best Airbnb features is that you can read other user reviews on all properties. I think this is one of the most important things when researching a city: reviews reviews reviews. The website of any tourist attraction, bar, restaurant is going to sing its praises and show you the best pictures of their services because they want your business. A quick Google of any place you’re thinking of visiting will bring up a TripAdvisor page for it and you can have a quick skim over what other visitors thought of it.
With a few reviews read and some pages bookmarked you can get a good idea of what you want to do. We don’t like to have every single thing meticulously planned out (have to leave room for some spontaneity). However it is good to have an idea of what is going on and what are the things to not miss. On your first visit to a city, hitting all the regular tourist attractions should not be dismissed – they are popular for a reason.
Berlin’s Top Attractions
Berlin is a city loaded with history so the fact that every other tourist will visit the Berlin Wall and the Brandenburg Gate doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also. One thing that has been recommended to us for our Berlin trip is to take in a walking tour. There is so much to see in the city, and this is apparently the best and easiest way to do it (opinion on this to come). Another handy tip that is Berlin-specific: if you want to go into the Reichstag you need to book and book early. There is an incredible view of the city from the top and you can only enter if you’ve booked in advance. We booked over a month in advance and there was only a few slots left! Regular tourist attractions aside, it is also good to look into a few unusual things to do. Speak to people who live there, if you can, and find out what they would recommend. New places are all about experiencing different cultures, so if a local suggests something, you should probably do it.
Top tip: Star the Bars
One of our top tips when visiting a new place at home or abroad is to spend a bit of time checking out the best places to go beforehand. Our favourite way to do this is to Google ‘Best Bars in…’, ‘Best Restaurants in…’, etc, then ‘star’ each place that sounds good on Google Maps. As long as you’re logged in, these starred places will then sync to your phone/tablet. Then, as you’re wandering around the city, you can check Google Maps to find the closest bar/restaurant/attraction wherever you are!
Looking up public transport in advance is also a must when visiting a city. It may seem like a very obvious thing to state but: how do you get from the airport to your accommodation? What’s the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to travel around the town? If the city has a metro/underground, this is usually the easiest way to get from A to B. However, in some cities the easiest way to get around is to rent a bike, others will have excellent bus routes. A little bit of research into this will make your trip that little bit easier and stress free.
Planning a budget (just use Revolut)
It’s not fun, but it’s essential. If you really hate budgeting, you can go with the super simple ‘How much per day’ approach, and just allow yourself a certain amount (say, €80) for everything per day. Add another day’s worth of expenses for travelling, and you should be good to go.
If you want to spend a bit more time planning and have a better idea of what you need to save, you can estimate rough costs on an Excel or Google Sheet. However, our top tip is to use a prepaid card like Revolut.
Revolut is an app and debit card that you can use to manage your daily/weekly/monthly spending. It’s easy to set up: just download the app, request a debit card and set up a PIN. Once your card arrives, you can top it up instantly from your regular current account and you will see your balance live in the app. Every time you spend on your card you’ll get an instant notification, and the app will give you a live balance to show you how much you have left and where your money has been spent.
Since downloading the app Revolut has become my main debit card; I use it daily to keep track of my disposable income, keeping just the money I need for bills in my current account. Topping it up weekly ensures I stick to a set disposable budget. It’s a lot harder to just tap away your cash when your phone reminds you how much you have left every time you do it.
Even better, Revolut is built for travelling – you can top it up in (for example) pounds sterling, then spend it in euros at the correct Interbank rate, with no fees or charges. So if a glass of wine costs €6 and Google tells you €6 equals £5.24 right now, that is how much it will take from your balance. Using the traditional method of changing your money before the trip, that same glass of wine would cost a lot closer to £6. That goes for any currency or country in the world. It’s magic, and we love it.
Keep an eye on the blog for upcoming posts & videos about our trip.
Got any tips for our visit to Berlin? Let us know on Twitter!