Night Train to Berlin - A Weekend in the German Capital

Published on 28 May 2024 at 14:31

Everyone knows Berlin is a great city destination, but what about getting there without flying? While several old services like Paris-Berlin no longer run, a new link opened up with European Sleeper. In March this year, I went from the Netherlands to Berlin and back by night train: low carbon travel for my first ever trip to the German capital.


Read on for a look at the city and the night train experience!

Getting the Train at Rotterdam

The ES train starts in Brussels, so it gets to Rotterdam Centraal (where we left from) at the later time of 21:20. Here's what it looks like on the departure screens, in case you're taking it from the Netherlands!


We took couchettes in a 4-berth cabin - in this case, former German night train stock. You get a bottle of water, and there's the option to buy a few snacks or breakfast from the attendant. 


Off pretty much on time, we saw the Randstad slip by in the dark. The other two residents got on in Amsterdam, and we headed east for Germany. The bedding was decent but nothing special, also the beds. This leg of the trip costs just under €80 each, but if you go at a different time of the week, it can be cheaper...

We arrived in Berlin about 06:20, so that meant an early wake-up. The other two occupants were going to Berlin as well, so that made things easier - ES try to group passengers like this where possible.


Berlin Hauptbahnhof (the first of 2 ES stops in the city) is a very new station, with platforms on multiple levels. It's also one of the few places with places to eat open this early in the morning, as we soon found out...

While there is an U-Bahn line into town from here, we decided to walk and make use of the time/sunrise. We walked over the Speer - it's not too far to the Brandenberg Gate and Reichstag if you're mobile. 

There was absolutely no one around! This is really the edge of the center, an area full of monuments, the Tiergarten... not somewhere buzzing at 6.30am on a wintery Saturday in early March. Still, you can see the Brandenburg Gate without crowds around...

The S-Bahn, U-Bahn, and Trams

If you don't know about these different ways of getting around in Berlin (which also applies to other German cities), here's the simple breakdown:

- The S-Bahn is part of the rail system, providing longer distance urban journeys on big trains with fewer stops. You can go into the countryside/suburbs, circle around the city on the loop railway which allows you to circumvent the center (S41/S42/S45/S46)

- The U-Bahn is a subway/metro system, though it can run above ground as well as below. In Berlin, this is more common in the west than the east (see below for why)

- The trams of Berlin provide service with closer spaced stops, and are mainly seen on the NE side of the city. That said, there is a link stretching to the Hauptbahnhof, and new lines are coming in the NW and SE sides of the city center

Potsdamer Platz is a very useful S Bahn stop for interchanging in the city center, and a place with some Berlin Wall history from being a crossing point. It also has these nice tiles on the platforms...

We stayed at the Novum Hotel Aldea, just next to the Bülowstraße U-Bahn stop. It's a beautiful station on the old elevated U2 line. You get some nice views on the elevated segments, and generally I recommend the area for being a relatively cheap and unpretentious one to stay in. 

Here are some of the tramlines... no reason, we just love trams!

The U-Bahn trains in Berlin (and the buses) all have this nice yellow and black bumblebee colour scheme. As it's Germany, there are no ticket barriers, you just get asked for a ticket every now and then by staff. I got checked once on the whole weekend, and I've gone days in Germany before without any checks at all.

This view of the Fernsehturm comes from the overground section of S-Bahn which runs west-east through the city center, from Westkreuz to Ostkreuz. You can see the city center pretty well from the trains here, and you go through several important stops like Friedrichstrasse and Warschauerstrasse.

Among those stops is Zoologischer Garten, the inspiration for U2's 1991 Achtung Baby album-opener Zoo Station. Especially as the station is on the U2 line (though nowhere near as seedy as when the song was created), I had to go and take a picture...

Also, I mentioned Warschauerstrasse - Old elevated U-Bahn lines terminate here (in the former East Berlin). This is where you can see the beautiful Oberbaumbrücke, which you should definitely not miss if you visit Berlin!

What to Eat!

One of my favorite things to do on holiday is find interesting food - we wanted to get a great döner and try some German bakeries. First, we tried out Bäckerei Siebert, up near Gesundbrunnen station and Schönhauser Allee. Fantastic range and prices, most things labelled, and nice coffee. A highlight of the trip, wish we could have come back here every day for a week!

The next morning, we tried Gorilla Bäckerei, in quite a different area of the city down near Tempelhof. This was fine, but a big queue to get in was followed by average pastries and a steeper cost. A much more hipster place - good, but not what we were after so much.

Over the weekend, we went into all the big Berlin train stations - the Hauptbahnhof, Ostbahnhof, Alexanderplatz, Gesundbrunnen. I found Alexanderplatz to have the best range of food options for on the go. some chains but not too much overpriced stuff, and some great independent places too. 


Below, this is me at Orient Snacks, just off the U-Bahn platforms at Alexanderplatz. Highly recommend this place - locals were chowing down on bowls of rice, meats and salad. Potato samosas to grab for on-the-go = perfect. Just down the corridor from here was some great burek for €3, also accompanied by beautiful mountains of salad. 

While we didn't get to stop and try it, I spotted this pretty place Taco Love built into the Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn stop, a big one next to the Mauerpark (on Schönhauser Allee). The Mauerpark hosts a flea market

Finally, we all knew it was coming - we had to get a quality doner. Not that they're hard to get anywhere in Europe, of course, but West Berlin specifically is where the doner was born*, and supposedly has some of the best. Rüyam Gemüse Kebab definitely isn't some small indie joint, but it is fantastic. 

Make sure you time your visit well - we didn't, and had to wait the better part of 45 minutes, but it was still worth it. Well priced, beautiful kebabs with soft bread, great salad, and we got some fries too - even some spare ones after they made too many!

*While its a turkish food as such, the specific way doner is put together came about from Turkish workers moving to Berlin in the 1960s and adapting their kebabs to local tastes...

Bring on the Wall...

Like all tourists in the city, we took in the Berlin Wall a few different ways. First, we saw this segment up by Bornholmer Strasse. Just out in the open, not visually stunning but it had a great set of info boards with old photos of the checkpoint here.

Right next to this chunk of the wall is the Bösebrücke, where you can catch the S Bahn and also see more info about how this used to be a key crossing point for the wall.

We took a tour with the Berlin Underworld to see some history of attempted escapes under the wall. Overall I enjoyed the tour, which started near Gesundbrunnen but ended up near Bernauer Strasse (below).

If you're doing this, they have a variety of tours available and you can take the chance to go up Humboldthain if you do one. It's a hill in a park just across the road, with an old ruined flakturm on top. Berlin doesn't have much of a distinctive skyline, but it's still a great view up there.

The East Side Gallery is probably the most photographed and well-known part of the Wall in Berlin at least, it certainly appears that way as it is relentlessly advertised to tourists. Again, it's a free place to visit, so no worries there, but its a very busy place full of influencers posing for social media photos.

the art is interesting, but I still think the whole thing is a bit overhyped. If you do go, make sure you check out the Oberbaumbrucke (see above) to make the most of it!

Heading to Unter den Linden and the Staatsoper

While this was a pretty cheap weekend away, we also wanted to try something different - something high-brow. For that, we had booked tickets to see Tosca at the State opera, the Staatsoper in the heart of Berlin. 

Unter den Linden is the name for a large boulevard running east to west through the heart of Berlin. Lined with monuments, it runs from the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag down to the Dom (cathedral) and Berliner Schloss (above). 

I think it's well worth taking some time to see these places, even just a quick look around like we did before heading to the opera. A lot of open pedestrian space, not too crowded, and the scale of these buildings is very impressive!


I should say that this was a first for me - I've never seen an opera before!


Don't worry, there's no strict dress code - some attending wore suits and dresses, others were in ordinary everyday clothes, and I was somewhere in the middle. Our tickets cost €23 each, and we got a drink in the beautiful wood-lined bar downstairs before the start. These olives were really good, by the way - great seasoning with pomegranate molasses! 

Like I said, I'm no opera expert but I enjoyed the experience! There was an intermission, and as you can see, our seats really weren't that bad a view. I think you can get even cheaper seats than this if you a) book further in advance and b) are willing to go for a worse view.

From the opera, we headed for a late bite at Esra Falafel just behind the Hackescher Markt - highly recommend it! Made getting to the Hauptbahnhof for the night train back very easy as well. Just get on the S-Bahn at Hackescher Markt, 2 stops and voila!


No pictures from grabbing the night train back - all the same as our way out. One thing to note though - we got off at Amsterdam Centraal on this return leg, and that meant arriving at about 06:26.

It's a bit early to be arriving in the city on a Monday morning in March. Later in the year it would be lighter, but you'd run into the same problem we did. The city is nice and serene, quiet for once - but nothing is open! Maybe a Starbucks in the station or something, but we didn't see anything open until 7 or 7:30am. 


That's just the way - Amsterdam is not Rome. Bear it in mind if you're taking a similar trip. The ES arrives later into Rotterdam and much later into Brussels , so no worries getting a Belgian breakfast off the train!.


Hope you've found this useful and informative, thanks for reading!

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