By Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll
If someone had told to us that living in Berlin would turn us into avid cyclists, we would have laughed. Before moving to Germany’s capital ten years ago, we hadn’t owned bicycles in over a decade and barely used them when we did own them. In fact, we felt a bit apprehensive when we first borrowed our friend’s bicycles to explore the city, worried about cars and accidents. We quickly overcame those fears within that first bike ride and become bicycle converts thanks to the city’s cycling-friendly culture, vast network of bike lanes and cycling routes, and just the freedom and fun of exploring Berlin by bicycle.
Fast forward to today and cycling isn’t only our main mode of transport in Berlin (it can often be faster than public transport or by car – healthier and less carbon, too), but it’s by far our favorite way to explore the city. Even after living here for ten years we constantly discover something new – whether a small neighborhood, street art, cafes, museum, park or lake – when we get on our bicycles and take off across and around Berlin.
Whenever we have friends visiting or people asking us for advice about what to do or how to best explore Berlin, the first thing we suggest: rent a bike.
Here’s why and a few recommended Berlin cycling routes and areas to get started in your exploration of this quirky, diverse and vast city.
Why explore Berlin by bicycle?
Ability to visit and explore more places as the city is huge.
In addition, since the city was divided into two for 40 years (East Berlin and West Berlin), the city doesn’t have one center like most cities. Main sites, museums and neighborhoods are spread out between east and west. Cycling in Berlin allows you to explore and visit more areas around the city at street level without the sore feet.
Better feel for local life and culture in Berlin’s different neighborhoods.
Known locally as a kiez, these small neighborhoods are spread throughout the city and this is where much of the city’s charm and beauty lies. While Berlin’s public transport system is great and can get you to most places in the city, you’ll miss a lot of the details, changes in architecture, local living and a sense of kiez culture from neighborhood to neighborhood if you are speeding by in a train or bus vs. at street level on a bicycle.
More opportunities to discover local cafes, restaurants, shops, street art and other local places on bicycle.
Moving more slowly at street level allows ample opportunity to observe and discover small local businesses. This not only provides the traveler a chance to eat, drink and shop local to have a more real and unique Berlin experience, but choosing and spending money at locally owned places like standard – saubere sachen in Neukölln focused on sustainable fashion, beauty products and household goods or Folkdays Fair Trade Design in Kreuzberg helps support small businesses by keeping money local and keeps these neighborhoods alive and unique.
It’s easy and inexpensive to rent a bicycle, including e-bikes.
In addition to many places where you can rent a bicycle for the day from €5-€15 per day. Bike 44 in Neukölln near Tempelhofer Feld offers bike rental from €5/day for basic bicycles that they have rescued from the street and lovingly fixed up. Other bike rental options include Berlin on Bike, Fat Tire Tours or Fahrradstation for €15-€18.
You can also use one of the many bike share programs around the city like Donkey Republic and Next Bike for regular bicycles and Tier and Lime for e-bikes (note: you will need to download the bike share program’s app). This allows you to go for a short or long trip without the obligation of returning it to a specific place. You can also take bicycles on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn if you want to venture further out. Just be sure to buy a bicycle ticket in addition to your own ticket.
A flat city with lots of bike lanes, making it easier and safer to cycle.
One of the things that makes Berlin such a bike-friendly place is that it is very flat so you don’t have to worry about exhausting yourself cycling up hills. This flat terrain, together with the growing number of bike lanes in the city (already at 620 km and growing), make exploring Berlin by bicycle more enjoyable and safer each year.
Clean transport is fun!
Not only does exploring Berlin by bicycle or e-bike provide a carbon- and pollution-free transportation option, but it’s just lots of fun to feel the wind on your face, be up close to all the action in the street to take in the city’s quirky details, and just have the freedom to explore wherever and whenever you want.
Recommended Cycling Routes in Berlin
Here are a few favorite cycling routes and areas of the city to help you get started with your exploration of Berlin by bicycle. These include both some popular attractions, as well as some places a bit more off-the-beaten track to go a bit deeper into the city’s nature, culture and living history.
1. Explore Berlin’s Kiez Culture by Cycling Neighborhood to Neighborhood
One of the best ways to experience and go deeper into Berlin’s kiez (neighborhood) culture is to hop on a bicycle and follow the bike lanes from one neighborhood to the next, from east to west and back again. Through this journey you will see and experience the small and sometimes big changes in kiez culture — including aesthetic, architecture, shops, cafes and people—as each neighborhood unfold around you.
Cycle from Kreuzberg to Charlottenburg or Prenzlauer Berg to Neukölln and you might feel like you’ve accidentally traveled to a different city due to the differences. To Berliners, their kiez is an important characteristic and a source of identity, pride, and, at times, humor. This diversity of neighborhoods and kiez culture is an important part of Berlin’s living history and culture.
Our advice: Pick a couple of Berlin neighborhoods close to each other in the city’s center on either side of where the Berlin Wall once stood – for example, Mitte / Prenzlauer Berg (east) to Kreuzberg / Neukölln (west). Don’t just cycle between them, but get lost in the small side streets within each neighborhood. This is where the fun and charm really lies.
2. Cycle Down the Runway at Tempelhof Airport and Watch the Best Sunset in Berlin
This is a must, especially for aviation fans. It’s also a good option for people who don’t feel as comfortable cycling on city streets as this route is protected within a park.
Tempelhof Airport was West Berlin’s main airport until it ceased operations in 2008. Instead of turning it into a commercial area due to its central location, the city instead turned the space into Berlin’s largest park (at 909 acres, it measures 100 acres larger than New York’s Central Park) with all of its runways and airport infrastructure intact.
Tempelhof Field, as it is called today, is a magnet for Berliners of different ages and backgrounds to come together and this gives it a special welcoming feel and culture. You’ll find the different runways and green areas filled with local people cycling, running, roller skating/dancing, skateboarding, urban gardening, picnicking, and watching the sun set over the wide horizon.
Our advice: Cycle up and down the main runway in the late afternoon and then join the groups of locals who gather on the hill near the Oderstraße entrance to Tempelhofer Field to watch the sun go down over the city. It’s the best sunset in the city and the community feel with everyone around you makes it even more beautiful.
3. East Side Gallery: Learn about the Berlin Wall and Enjoy Street Art
The Berlin Wall that once stood and physically divided the city for almost 30 years is marked today as a cycling and hiking trail, called the “Mauerweg” (Wall Path). While you probably don’t have time – or want – to cycle the entire Mauerweg at 160km or 100 miles (we’ve done it a couple of times, so it is possible), it is interesting to cycle certain sections of the Berlin Wall to imagine what it must have been like divided and better understand the city’s complicated history.
A fun place to cycle is along the East Side Gallery in the Friedrichshain neighborhood along the Spree River. Its 1.5 km stretch of the Berlin Wall, with its many murals, is considered the world’s largest open air art gallery. You’ll want to stop occasionally along this route to get a closer look at the various murals.
Our advice: After you finish learning about the Berlin Wall and admiring the street art along the East Side Gallery, cycle across Oberbaum Bridge. This once served as a border crossing between East and West Berlin, but today you can freely cycle from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg. Enjoy coffee, lunch or dinner at one of the many small, independent restaurants and cafes on the Kreuzberg side in the kiez between the bridge and Görlitzer Park.
4. Join Berliners in Their Love of Parks, Forests and Lakes, All Within City Limits
Any time the temperature rises and the sun comes out (or even when it doesn’t), Berliners flock to the parks for picnics, to the lakes for swimming (and the occasional nude sunbathing known locally as FKK, Freikörperkultur or Free Body Culture), and to the forests for hiking or cycling. One of the things that contributes to Berlin’s “green buzz” is that almost half of the city territory (44%) is covered in parks, forests, waterways, and green spaces. It’s one of the things that really contributes to quality of life (and air) in the city.
Most of these green spaces offer walking and cycling paths, making it easy to quickly escape the city and immerse yourself in nature. You’ll not only find yourself surrounded by green within the city, but you’ll have an opportunity to observe – and hopefully join – locals as they escape to the parks, forests and lakes with family, friends and picnic blankets to enjoy a day in nature.
Our advice: Get pleasantly lost along the cycling paths in Tiergarten in central Berlin, Grünewald forest on the western edge of the city, Treptower Park along the Spree River or Schlachtensee in the southwest. Pick up a snack at a nearby biergarten (beer garden) or kiosk for an impromptu picnic as Berliners get their green buzz.
So when you visit Berlin, do as the Berliners do: hop on a bike and go. Don’t worry if you get lost. It’s part of, or perhaps most of, the fun.
You’ll not only be able to explore more areas of Berlin, but as cycling takes you through the city at street level so you’ll be able to observe more and go deeper into what makes this city so unique in its history, culture, diversity and green spaces.
Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott are the husband-and-wife storytelling team behind Uncornered Market, a sustainable tourism and marketing consultancy. Originally from the United States, they have made Berlin their adopted home the last ten years. Through their stories, advisory, and speaking, their work supports travel that truly cares for our planet and its people.