Although I visited Berlin last summer, I didn’t get to explore the city as much as I’d wanted, and I’m looking forward to re-visiting the German capital this summer. So, I recently sat on my balcony with a can (or two…) of German radler and a pile (or two!) of Berlin travel guide books for a marathon trip-planning session.
In addition to learning a lot about Berlin and discovering some amazing “must-see” attractions in Berlin, I quickly became an expert on Berlin guide books. I learned exactly which book had the best walking tours, the best photos, the best budget travel advice and the best background information.
If you’re planning a trip to Berlin, don’t just wing it! Berlin is too big, too exciting, too diverse and too interesting to be explored and enjoyed without a plan. Instead, invest in one, two or three of these Berlin guide books, which will help you maximize every minute of your time in Berlin.
I’ve noted exactly which Berlin travel guide books you should buy, borrow (from the library) and skip, so you can find the perfect book for your travel style. Read on for the complete guide!
(Wondering about radler? Radler is the German word for cyclist, or the English word for “delicious beverage”. Okay, that’s a lie. Radler does mean “cyclist”, but it is actually only one specific kind of delicious beverage – a fifty-fifty blend of beer and lemonade or lemon soda. If you’ve ever had a shandy, it’s the same thing, but more German. I’ve been told it goes by the “cyclist” moniker because it’s perfect for hydrating after a long bike ride.)
Lonely Planet Germany – The Best Berlin Travel Guide for Trips Across Germany
The Lonely Planet Germany is a massive, countrywide guidebook clocking in at 816 pages. The guidebook’s Berlin section spans seventy pages at the front of the book. Coverage begins with two detailed maps of the city, and then segues into comprehensive listings of sights, hotels, dining options, nightlife, shopping and general tourist information.
One-, two-, and three-day itineraries are suggested, and there are two-page spreads dedicated especially to the Berlin Wall and Museum Island. There is also an additional twenty-page guide to destinations around Berlin, like Potsdam, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and Spreewald.
The Lonely Planet Germany would be my top choice of guidebook for anyone visiting Berlin and then going on to explore other parts of Germany, because it is the most thorough Germany travel guide book on the market. However, it is also thick and heavy, so consider buying the Kindle edition rather than the cumbersome paper copy.
Buy, borrow or skip? Buy it, but consider the electronic version. I bought the Kindle edition, which I can read on my phone as I’m out and about in Berlin.
National Geographic Walking Berlin – The Best Berlin Travel Guide to Carry Around the City
I didn’t expect much from this little Berlin travel guide book. However, in the end, National Geographic Walking Berlin – The Best of the City turned out to be my favorite Berlin travel guide!
Unlike the hulking Lonely Planet, this guidebook is five inches wide, seven inches tall and less than two hundred pages. It slips easily into a small purse or daypack without adding much weight.
I loved this book because it’s organized into thirteen different walking tours, each with an easy-to-follow, full-color map, lots of color photos, and interesting information about the things you can expect to see along the way.
This book completely aligns with my travel style, which is heavy on the wandering around and exploring at a leisurely pace, and light on the rushing from tourist attraction to tourist attraction. With this book in my purse, I can quickly learn about the things I stumble upon and the lesser-known places nearby that I might otherwise miss.
Buy, borrow or skip? I bought this book and brought it with me to Europe!
Insight Guides Explore Berlin – Best Berlin Travel Guide Book for People Who Are Too Cheap to Buy the eBook
At first, I had a hard time finding anything that differentiated this book from some of the other Berlin travel guide books. However, as I was skimming through a second time, I noticed that the Insight Guides Explore Berlin guidebook has one very unique feature: a free eBook!
By downloading the Insight Guides app (available from the App Store and Google Play), scanning a QR code from inside the physical book and registering with Insight guides, you can access a free digital travel guide to Berlin. The process of downloading the book was a little bit confusing, but once I’d figured it out I was pleased to discover that you literally get the entire book for free! The electronic version is effectively organized (hyperlinks help you navigate between references to the same things) and contains all the same full-color photos.
Buy, borrow or skip? Borrow, obviously! Sign this book out of your local public library, scan the code inside and use the digital version for free! (I clearly don’t have a future in book sales…)
Interlink Cultural Guides Berlin – The Best Berlin Travel Guide for Readers
I was not expecting this! The Interlink Cultural Guides Berlin travel guide book reads more like a first-year college textbook than a typical travel guide.
This Berlin guide book contains almost 240 pages of dense text, supplemented with only a handful of photos (in fact, the first photo doesn’t appear until page 26). The book is divided into chapters including Geography & Topography, Landmarks, Leisure & Pleasure and Spending Power. Each chapter then includes several sub-chapters focusing on a very specific aspect of Berlin. For example, the Geography & Topography chapter is further divided into Water: Rivers, Water: Canals, Water: Lakes, Green Spaces: Forest and Hills, and Green Spaces: Parks.
Similar to a textbook, this Berlin travel guide also features a short glossary of common German terms that you’ll read throughout the book (from alt to Westen) and a reference list of books and websites that can provide more information for inquisitive readers.
Buy, borrow or skip? Voracious readers and academic travelers should definitely buy this one, while others should borrow it and just read the sub-chapters pique their interest.
Eyewitness Travel Berlin – The Best Berlin Travel Guide Book for Visual Travelers
Eyewitness Travel Berlin contains almost 350 pages of full-color photographs, annotated diagrams and easy-to-follow maps. These stunning images are supplemented with text, but it’s clear that visuals are the focus in this book.
This is a fantastic book to rifle through in the days leading up to your trip. It’s impossible not to be inspired by the images inside, from the double-page photograph of the illuminated Brandenburg Gate to the illustrated cross-section of the Marienkirche church. However, the book is weighty and wouldn’t be great for carrying around Berlin during a day of sight-seeing.
Buy, borrow or skip? Borrow this one from the library if you’re considering booking a trip to Berlin. By page ten you’ll have whipped out your credit card and you’ll be comparing flights online!
The Rough Guide to Berlin – The Best Berlin Travel Guide Book for Budget Travelers
I’ve always had a soft spot for Rough Guides. Sometimes, they feel like the neglected younger sibling of the Lonely Planet series. However, when you actually crack one open, you realize that Rough Guides have stayed true to their budget travel roots (unlike some “other” travel guide book series…).
The Rough Guide Berlin is an excellent example of a guide book that really caters to budget travelers. It has more than three hundred pages of affordable travel advice, including a full-color guide to seventeen “can’t miss” spots in Berlin, customized itineraries (including one focused on budget travel, and another on the city’s nightlife) and well-curated directories of affordable accommodation and restaurant options.
In my opinion, the only downside of The Rough Guide to Berlin is the editors’ choice to put all of the maps at the back of the book. This makes it harder to visualize which attractions are close together, or what would be the best walking route between different sights.
Buy, borrow or skip? Budget travelers should buy this one. By following the tips for smart, inexpensive travel in Berlin, you could easily save the equivalent of the price of the book in your first few hours in Berlin.
Rick Steves Germany – The Best Germany Travel Guide Book for Your Grandmother
Rick Steves is a pretty cool guy. He’s dedicated his life to encouraging Americans to explore Europe in a way that embraces and shows respect for the local people and culture. So, I always feel a bit sad that I can’t personally get behind his guidebooks.
First, the good stuff. The Rick Steves Germany guidebook is updated every year, so you never have to worry about outdated information. As well, it’s even longer than the Lonely Planet Germany guidebook (it’s more than 1050 pages long!) but, thanks to its tissue-thin paper, is smaller and lighter than its counterpart. The Berlin section in this book is about 130 pages long.
So, why don’t I love this Germany travel guide book? Well, there are two huge reasons.
First, Rick Steves books have the worst maps of any guidebook I’ve ever seen. Each map is hand-drawn in a simple style, and they often leave out smaller streets and lesser-known landmarks. There have been several occasions where I’ve planned a walking trip based on a Rick Steves map, thinking my destination is only five or ten blocks away, and later discovered that the map didn’t include dozens of smaller streets along the way. His maps are so confusing!
Second, I find that the travel tips in Rick Steves guidebooks cater more to older, less-able or less-experienced travelers. For an experienced traveler the tone can be a bit patronizing, and for a younger traveler, trendy or up-and-coming attractions are only ever mentioned in passing.
Buy, borrow or skip? Borrow this Germany travel guide book from the library before your trip, or buy it as a gift for your grandparents if they’re heading to Germany.
Frommer’s Berlin Day by Day – The Best Berlin Travel Guide Book for Short City Breaks
Another pleasantly purse-sized Berlin travel guide book, Frommer’s Berlin Day by Day is a good option for travelers taking a short city break in Berlin.
The book opens with one-, two- and three-day itineraries, each with a full-color map, descriptions of the highlights you can expect to see, recommendations for where to eat and some color photographs. Next, there are recommendations based on particular interests (including beer, art and East German history) and six easy-to-follow neighborhood walking tours.
The last half of the book is a typical travel directory of hotels, restaurants, nightlife, day trips and travel directories. There’s also a quick list of useful German expressions at the back of the book.
Overall, Frommers Day by Day Berlin is a solid Berlin travel guide book. However, I still prefer the National Geographic Walking Berlin, mainly because its maps have more details and it contains significantly more color photographs.
Buy, borrow or skip? I’d recommend borrowing this Berlin guide book from your local public library.
Eyewitness Top 10 Berlin – The Best Berlin Travel Guide Book for Travelers with a Short Attention Span
Buzzfeed readers take note – The Eyewitness Top 10 Berlin is the Berlin guidebook of your dreams.
Unlike Eyewitness’ comprehensive Berlin city guide (discussed above), this unique book has fewer than 200 pages, divided into almost 100 “Best of Berlin” lists. The book begins with one hundred fascinating facts, divided into the top ten things to know about each of Berlin’s top ten tourist attractions. The next section is more topical, featuring two-page spreads like the Top 10 Historic Buildings in Berlin and the Top 10 Festivals and Fairs in Berlin. Finally, it closes with the Top 10 highlights in each of Berlin’s ten most interesting districts.
Buy, borrow or skip? This is a great book to gift to the non-reader in your life who needs to be convinced to join you on a trip to Berlin. It’s as breezy and skimmable as a gossip magazine, so buy it as a gift for them! If you’re already sold on a trip to Berlin, borrow this from the library and flip through it on your coffee break at work.
Fodor’s Berlin – The Best Berlin Travel Guide Book for People Who Hate Trip Planning
Where some other Berlin travel guides have attempted to include everything under the sun (or should I say, everything under the Reichstag dome?), Fodor’s Berlin offers a much more curated look at Germany’s capital city.
This short guidebook opens with a “Best of Berlin” section before transitioning into a neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to the city. This content makes up the first third of the book, and the latter two thirds are a typical travel directory. Fodors’ correspondents often give their highest ratings to expensive service providers. For example, one of their recommended restaurants has prices starting at €115 for dinner (!) and the ultra-expensive Hotel Adlon is one of their top picks for accommodation in the city.
Buy, borrow or skip? I think that most readers of my blog can skip this Berlin guide book. It doesn’t offer anything unique compared to the other Berlin travel guide books I’ve recommended, and constantly reading about experiences that are out of your price range isn’t very much fun!
Heading to Berlin?
There are lots of cool hotels in Berlin, but there’s one in particular that strikes the perfect balance of design, affordability, comfort and luxury. Read about my stay at Casa Camper Berlin.
There is an alternative to expensive hop-on, hop-off bus tours of Berlin that still lets you see the city from the second floor of a double-decker bus. Read about the secret €3 Berlin sightseeing bus tour.
Then, check out my guide to finding the best vegetarian food in Berlin (and the rest of Germany too!).