Berlin: Transportation tickets explained (and why you should never go ticketless)

Berlin Ubagn
Don't forget to validate your ticket! Photo: Genista

Visitors to Berlin quickly realize that the city offers a wide range of efficient and reliable public transportation options. The system works well, and with just a bit of preparation, is quite easy to use.

In this, the first of two articles covering Berlin’s public transportation, we’ll be looking at ticket options.

Which ticket type?

Tourists will only need to consider two types of tickets for purchase: Berlin AB, which covers the entire city including Tegel airport, in- and outside the ring; and Berlin ABC, which covers the above, but also includes the city of Potsdam and Schönefeld airport.

With the exception of a ticket purchased directly from a bus driver, all tickets in Berlin can be used at any time and must be validated in a ticket stamping machine either before boarding (on train or subway platforms, usually at the top of stairwells and next to ticket machines) or upon boarding of buses and trams (typically located near doorways).

Important: Traveling with an unstamped ticket is the same as traveling with no ticket – tourist beware! Each single ticket must be stamped before use, but multiple day passes need only be stamped before the first ride.

Valid for all public transit

The ticket you purchase from any machine or counter is valid for all means of transit in the city: bus, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, tram, ferry, and even regional (but not IC or ICE) trains within the zones of your ticket.

Regional trains, which stop only at major train stations, can be a boon when trying to get quickly to Schönefeld airport, or across the city between Ostbahnhof and Zoologischer Garten, shaving anywhere from 10-20 minutes off your travel time at no additional charge. Further, these trains also have toilets, if you’re in desperate need of a pit stop!

Hours of service

• Sunday nights through Thursday nights, S- and U-Bahn service ends around 1 a.m.

• A select number of Metro bus and night bus routes run every 30-60 minutes throughout the night at no additional cost. Note that day tickets lose their validity at 3 a.m., so if you are still out after this point, you will need to purchase an additional ticket.

• Friday and Saturday nights, reduced S- and U-Bahn service continues all through the night, with the same limitations noted above.

If you’re traveling with your smartphone, download Berlin’s local transport app here. It can be a real lifesaver when trying to navigate unfamiliar areas or on nights and weekends.

Traveling without a ticket

You might be surprised at how easy it would be to “travel black,” as ticketless travel is known here – the city has no turnstiles, and passengers show valid tickets when boarding at the front of a bus, but at no other time than during random ticket checks, usually performed by teams of three plain-clothed men who’ll fine you 40€ on the spot if you haven’t paid. Save yourself the hassle – even a 7-day ticket rings up 12€ cheaper than being fined for not paying!

In my next post I’ll break down the savings by ticket type and number of travelers, as well as a discuss whether tourist card options may be right for you.

About the author

Hilary Bown
An academic by training, a writer by day, and a Cheapo by heritage, Hilary Bown's meagre means and insatiable travel appetite have helped her sharpen her "no-budget travel" skills across the European continent over the past decade. At home in Berlin or on an adventure abroad, you'll find her in sandals, riding the bus, reading novels while walking, drinking the local wine, writing out postcards with a felt-tip pen, and browsing the shelves of the supermarket and hardware store. Find her unique blend of travel adventure and tested advice at Less Than a Shoestring.
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