Just the ticket: making sense of Berlin's public transport system

Ticket validation machine, Berlin

Although Berlin's extensive metropolitan transport network is efficient, relatively easy to navigate and fairly economical, its ticketing system isn't the easiest to grasp, and with a stringent penalty system in place for anyone breaking the rules, it could end up costly for visitors who don't understand exactly how it all works.

Probably the most important thing to realise is that a ticket purchase alone doesn't generally give you the legal right to travel. Always remember to validate single tickets before starting a journey or, if you've purchased an extended pass such as a 7-day ticket, the very first time you use it.

If you forget to do so, and happen to run into a plain-clothed inspector, you'll be liable for a sizeable on-the-spot fine - no excuses accepted!

You'll find the yellow or red franking machines on train platforms, at the entrances to metro stations, or installed on buses and trams themselves. (Nevertheless, if you buy a ticket directly from a bus or tram driver, it won't need stamping).

Remember to validate tickets just once; the franking machine will add a time, date and starting point, allowing officials to ascertain whether it's being used as intended.

If you make the mistake of ever restamping your ticket, it immediately becomes invalid.


The Zone system

Berlin's metropolitan transport system covers three zones - A, B and C - which are clearly marked on transport system maps (or download a copy of the tariff zones here). You'll need to buy a ticket accordingly.

The fact that certain overground train routes are very much included in the zone structure can seem a little confusing at first. But essentially, Berlin's inner-city areas are networked together through a combination of underground metro (U-Bahn), bus, tram, and S-Bahn (city train) transport options, and all can be used where applicable.

For most visitors, the A-B central Berlin option covers pretty much everything they'll want to see, although note that Schönefeld airport is located in zone C, and will require a corresponding fare. (If, however, you're travelling to the airport from the centre of Berlin and happen to already have an A-B ticket, it's possible to buy an extension to cover the extra zone).


Ticket travel times

Although many visitors opt for the convenience of full-day or weekly passes, many don't realise that all Berlin's travel tickets are valid for a specified time period rather than one-off journeys.

A standard single ticket, for example, is good for two hours of travel from the moment it's validated, allowing you to leave the network entirely, do a spot of sightseeing, then rejoin it at a later point.

Note, however, that you'll only be able to travel in one direction (i.e. you can't use the same ticket to access a particular destination, then return to the point from which you started).

And again, it's important to remember not to restamp your ticket upon re-entering the transport network or it will immediately become invalid.


All-night travel

Berlin's bus networks (and some tram lines) run throughout the night, but at weekends, too, the Metro offers all-night travel (albeit with a fairly intermittent service from about 2 am onwards).

Great news for party people, although you'll want to check your ticket type before travelling. A one day travel pass, for example, is only valid until 3 am, whereas a single ticket will serve at any time of day or night.


Short journey deals

Few visitors realise that cheaper tickets are available for so-called short journeys or 'Kurzstrecke' - certainly worth knowing if you're feeling too lazy to walk!

The Short Trip Tickets are valid for up to three urban rail or Metro station stops, or six bus or tram stops (inclusive, in each case, of the final destination).


A ticket for the bike

Berlin is one of the world's biking capitals, but occasionally you'll want to travel with a bike rather than actually ride it. To do so, however, you'll need to pay an additional tariff - a 'Fahrradkarte' (bike ticket) along with your regular ticket.


Man or machine?

While it's certainly possible to purchase any of the above-mentioned tickets directly from the vending machines located at all public transport hubs, it's easy to get bogged down in a string of confusing touch-screens. Add to this the fact that standard credit cards aren't accepted, and that many of the machines seem reluctant to accept larger notes, and what should be a relatively simple self-service system can quickly become frustrating.

Staffed ticket booths are found at most of Berlin's larger stations, and it may be worth considering stocking up on the tickets you'll need for your visit.


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Find further information concerning ticket options and current prices on the website, or the bvg transport system pages.

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