These days, Berlin is by far one of Europe’s hottest cities. Tourists and expats alike flock to the metropolis for its vibrant nightlife, flourishing arts scene and hip vibe.
Compared to other major European cities, Berlin is also very affordable (at least for now). Like many visitors that came before, you may find yourself smitten and end up staying here far longer than you planned.
Related: 12 Easy ways to save on a trip to Berlin
But when you arrive in Germany’s capital, make sure and avoid the following rookie mistakes. Both your wallet and reputation as a cool, Berlin-worthy traveler will thank you for it.
1. Only focusing on sights, not neighborhoods
Don’t get us wrong. Brandenburg Gate is lovely, Museum Island is picturesque and remnants of the Berlin Wall are both fascinating and historically important. See our guide about saving at Berlin’s top 10 attractions for more information.
Still, what makes Berlin “Berlin” are its incredibly diverse neighborhoods.
Hip yet gritty Neukölln, liberal and multicultural Kreuzberg, old-school West Berlin glamour in Charlottenburg, slick, design-minded Mitte and Prenzlauerberg — this is what makes Berlin truly unique. A stroll down these neighborhood streets is a must for any visitor.
Berlin is also incredibly spread out geographically. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not go even further off the beaten path and check out Soviet-style architecture in Lichtenberg or Marzahn or the posh villas in Zehlendorf or Wannsee. The possibilities are truly endless.
2. Not having enough cash on hand
Most restaurants and cafes still don’t accept credit cards. The same goes for many smaller shops and all street markets. Because of this, it’s important to always make sure you have enough cash on hand or ask if they accept cards before you order.
Related: 7 Ways to make your travel dollar ever stronger abroad
And speaking of cash… be sure to also keep an eye on your wallet in touristy areas or when riding the U-Bahn. Like any major city, you should always watch out for pickpockets.
3. Tipping American style
In Berlin, tipping is seen as an extra “danke”( “thank you”) for attentive, friendly service. If the service was lousy (sadly, this can often be the case in Berlin) it’s perfectly acceptable not to tip. Otherwise, you should always tip a maximum of 10%.
Most people just round up the bill. For example, if the bill was €4.30, you would give the waiter a five and tell them “stimmt so,” which translates loosely as “keep the change.” To prove you’re not an absolute greenhorn, be sure you always personally hand the tip to the waiter when paying the bill; it’s not customary to just leave it on the table.
4. Not checking out the green or the blue
Berlin is one of Europe’s greenest cities. The many parks are the best place to see locals at play. You’ll find parks in every neighborhood in many different shapes and sizes. Some examples of big parks are Tiergarten and Volkspark Friedrichshain and some which are “klein aber fein” (small but nice) are Körnerpark and Viktoria-Luise Platz.
Berlin also has a lot of water: with two major rivers and a system of canals, it actually has more bridges than Venice. Be sure and take a stroll along one of the many shores or a dip in a lake during the summer, both popular pastimes for many Berliners. Schlachtensee, Krumme Lanke and Strandbad Wannsee are all easy to reach by public transportation.
Related: Four great parks in Berlin for sunny weather
5. Only eating traditional German food
Don’t get us wrong, we love a good currywurst or schnitzel. Especially when paired with a few steins of local bier at a lovely beer garden.
But Berlin also has a thriving scene filled with affordable cuisine from around the world. To get a taste of what locals eat in modern Berlin, you need to expand your palate and dive into the local restaurant scene. From hip vegetarian eateries to Asian restaurants, Berlin has a lot to offer.
Related: Simple tips to save when dining out in Berlin
6. Taking the gruffness and staring too personally
Berliners pride themselves on being direct and never beating around the bush. Unfortunately, this “directness” can sometimes seem more like aggressive rudeness: It’s not uncommon to see a grandma yelling at someone for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk or two strangers cussing each other out so strongly it would get them seriously beat up in many other parts of the world.
But true Berliners are an outspoken, thick-skinned bunch. They don’t mean such things personally and also don’t take them personally. If you run into such a Berliner Schnauze on your trip, it’s best to keep your cool and maybe give them a little bit of attitude back. A sarcastic comment goes a long way, and they’ll respect you more for it.
Eye contact is also more socially acceptable than it is in the US, so don’t be unnerved if you find people staring at you. Maybe they’re admiring your shirt, wondering where you got that ham sandwich or are simply bored and you just happen to be sitting across from them. Either way, it’s unlikely they’re judging you or think you’re the hottest thing around. It’s just normal to stare, so feel free to stare back.
7. Wearing your dirndl and lederhosen
Although many visitors assume all of Germany is yodeling like crazy at Oktoberfest and constantly donning dirndl and lederhosen, these are actually traditions from the region of Bavaria (in the south of the country). Wearing a dirndl in Berlin would be the same as decking out in full cowboy regalia in Chicago.
Keep that lovely floral dirndl in your suitcase for a trip to Munich. If you wear it in Berlin, you’ll out yourself as a clueless tourist and people will definitely laugh at you.
What was your first trip to Berlin like?
Share your experiences (both good and bad!) in the comments below.