There are four ways of traveling by train in Berlin. Although they are all fairly user-friendly, it’s good to know the differences between them before planning your trip to Berlin, to know the quickest and cheapest way of getting around the city. Sometimes combining the different systems is a quicker way to get to your destination.
Train in Berlin – the basics
All the trains use the same tickets and cost the same, except for the long-distance regional trains. In all cases, you have to buy your ticket at one of the machines on the platform or the entrance to the station, and validate the ticket when you get on the train by sticking the ticket into one of the validating machines on the train or on the platform. If you don’t validate the ticket, you can be caught by one of the undercover inspectors and given a nasty 40 Euro fine. The city is divided into three zones. For most of your travel, you will probably only need zones A and B. Only buy a ticket that includes zone C if you will be traveling to Schonefeld Airport, for example, or to Potsdam. The travel planner on the Berlin Transport website is great for deciding how to get around, and includes all types of transport in the city.
Berlin’s U-Bahn. Image anadelmann via Flickr
The U-Bahn underground train network is another good way of getting around the city. There are ten lines spread around the city, each with a big blue ‘U’ sign outside. The underground trains run throughout the day at 5-10 minute intervals, and especially in the winter are a good way of getting around the city without getting too wet! The yellow U-Bahn trains are very efficient, and the signs around the stations make navigating the network an easy task. The U-Bahn runs all night during weekends; during weekdays, there are alternative night buses that run along the same routes between 1am and 5am. Read more about the U-Bahn in our dedicated guide.
The S-Bahn rapid overground train system is the most comprehensive train network in the city. It has 166 stations and reaches far-off sites, such as Potsdam. In the center of the city, the S-Bahn is a good way to get around on certain routes, such as Tiergarten to Alexanderplatz. As a rule, if you see on the map that you can get somewhere by both U-Bahn and S-Bahn, take the S-Bahn. The S-Bahn stations always have a big green ‘S’ above them, so you can identify them from far off. Read more about the S-Bahn in our dedicated guide.
Tram at Alexanderplatz. Image by mattingham via Flickr
The tram system is more extensive and popular in East Berlin than in the west, but it is a good way of getting around. It is slower than the other two train systems in the city, but as a traveler you might prefer enjoying the scenery than rushing to any particular destination. You can buy your ticket inside the tram if you don’t have one already, and there are validating machines in the trams too. You should make sure that you don’t confuse the maps of the tram system and the U-Bahn/S-Bahn system.
Finally, there is the country-wide regional train network. These regional trains are good for long-distance travel, but are sometimes useful within Berlin itself. For example, if you land at the Schonefeld Airport, it might seem obvious to take the S-Bahn train in Berlin to get to your hotel, since they run every 10 minutes and have a direct line to many places in the center. However, taking the regional trains (RE7 or RB14) is actually quicker, even though they only come every 30 minutes, because they have far fewer stops on the way. Read more about Germany’s inter-city trains.