Berlin has one of the best public transportation systems in the world with extensive underground, aboveground, tram and bus lines. The city has over 170 U-bahn (underground) stations, over 165 rapid-transit stations and nearly 800 tram (Straßenbahn) stops which makes getting around Berlin easy.
The Honor System
Berlin is unique in that there are no barriers in the public transportation system. You don’t need to swipe in/out when you enter a station or train. Just buy a ticket and hop on a train/tram/bus. If you wanted to, you could simply jump on a train for free and never pay a cent. Of course you shouldn’t do this as there are undercover ticket checkers that ride the system everyday looking for fare-dodgers. If you get caught without a ticket or with an invalid ticket, you will be fined 60 Euro on the spot.
The three zones
The public transportation tariff scheme in Berlin is very simple to understand. You aren’t charged by how far you go and there are no entry and exit swipes. Getting around in Berlin is so simple, you only need to remember the three tariff zones, which determine which ticket you should buy.
- Zone A: This the center of Berlin. The vast majority of tourists will stay primarily within this zone while visiting the city. The A zone border is the Ringbahn (S42/S41), this is the above ground train that loops around the city. On the BVG map, this zone is one in white.
- Zone B: This is the area outside of the Ringbahn. It is possible that your sightseeing adventures around the city may take you to this zone. On the BVG map, this zone is light gray.
- Zone C: The C zone is far outside of Berlin and most likely you won’t use this unless you are flying into Berlin Schönefeld airport which lies just inside the C Zone.
Getting around in Berlin
Visitors have a few different transportation options for getting around in Berlin. The most popular methods are the underground (U-Bahn), the above-ground trains (S-Bahn), trams and buses. All of these methods of travel operate under the same public transportation scheme, meaning that when you buy a ticket you can ride any of them using the same ticket. The exception being the Short-Trip-Ticket, which restricts your travel slightly between methods (see below).
The ticket machines in Berlin are easy to use and available in a few different languages. Not all machines take EC (German Debit) cards so be prepared with cash or coins.
Types of tickets
When you buy a ticket, the machine will ask you which zone (see above) you would to travel inside. Your choices are AB, BC or ABC. The vast majority of tourists will only require the AB ticket (A & B zone). Once you have picked your zone of travel, you will need to pick the type of ticket:
- Normal Ticket – After your ticket is validated, you can travel up to two hours and you may interrupt your journey if you wish. You can not use the same ticket to return to the starting point or for a round trip. In other words: tickets are one way only.
- Short Trip Ticket – Use this when you only need to go a short distance. Up to 3 stations on the metro (U-Bahn) or urban rail (S-Bahn). Transfers between the two systems are permitted. Alternately, use a short ticket up to 6 stops on the bus/tram – Transfers to U-Bahn/S-Bahn not permitted.
- Extension Ticket – If you purchase a ticket valid for zone AB, or zone BC, an extension ticket will allow travel through the zone not originally purchased on the main ticket. Example: You have an AB ticket but need to go to Schönefeld Airport which is located in the C zone. You can purchase an extension ticket to make the journey. This is not a common situation for Berlin visitors as most will simply need to purchase an ABC ticket when traveling a longer distance is required.
- Day Ticket – Travel as often as you would like on the day printed on the ticket or from the validation of the ticket until 3:00am the next day.
- Small Group Ticket – You can save yourself a bit of money when traveling together in a group of 5 people. With a Small Group Ticket, up to five people can travel together as often as they want on the day printed on the ticket or from validation of the ticket on starting their journey until 3.00 am on the following day.
- 7 Day Ticket – The 7 Day Ticket is valid for seven consecutive calendar days. Validity begins on the first day of the validity period printed on the ticket or from the time of validation and ends on the seventh calendar day, at midnight. For example, from validation at 9.30 am on a Tuesday until midnight on the following Monday.
- 4 Trip Ticket – This ticket gets you four individual Normal tickets at a slight discount. Only offered for zone AB.
Validating your ticket
Validating a ticket simply means, that you are making it valid with a timestamp printed on the ticket. The BVG allows people to buy multiple tickets days/weeks/months before travel. You can have a stack of them at home and when you need one, take it and validate it for your journey. This helps to alleviate long queue lines in front of the ticket machines during peak hours. The down side to this system is that you must remember to validate your ticket or you will face a 60 Euro fine if caught.
If you purchased your ticket in a U-Bahn or S-Bahn station, you will need to validate your ticket before stepping onto the U-Bahn or S-Bahn train. If you are taking a bus or tram, you validate your ticket after boarding at one of the small ticket validation machines.
If you purchased your ticket on a tram or from a bus driver, it is automatically validated, you don’t need to do anything else.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’m a student, can I purchase a reduced price ticket from the machine?
No. To qualify for a reduce priced ticket, you must be in possession of a BVG issued document that states you are a student. If you do not have this documentation and are caught using a reduced price ticket you will be fined.
Can I take leave the train and then continue my journey later on the same ticket?
Yes, if you are traveling within 2 hours of the time your ticket was validated and you are traveling in the same direction.
Do I have to purchase a return ticket?
Yes. This is where many people get in trouble. Tickets are good one way only. If you are caught using your ticket for a return journey, you can expect to receive a fine.
What happens if I get caught riding without a ticket or with an invalid ticket?
You get a fine of 60 EUR. You will be requested to pay this on the spot, in cash.
Public transportation map for U-Bahn and S-Bahn –PDF download
Public transportation map for Trams (Straßenbahn) – PDF download
BVG Website in English – www.bvg.de/en
All images on this page courtesy of ubahn.co – A photographic journey through the Berlin U-Bahn system.