Berlin is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe – here East meets West, old meets new, poor meets sexy. Every neighborhood has its own charm and depending on the suburb is either chic or hip, dignified or eccentric. Even the most outrageous individual would hardly turn heads in the multicultural mix of Berliners, who always seem a bit more relaxed, scruffier and cooler here than anywhere else. Similarly, nowhere else in Germany is the choice of extraordinary hotels so large. And better yet - even the most luxurious five-star hotels in Berlin are still cheaper than in any other major city in the world!
Places of interest at a glance:
Berlin © ABION Villa Suites
Berlin Mitte: Historical heart & cosmopolitan flair
Mitte is urban, hip and international. Here the spirit of the times wafts through trendy shops (Hackescher Markt), designer shopping (Friedrichstraße), culture (Museum Island), galleries (Auguststraße und Linienstraße) and clubs (Matrix, E4). Must-sees are Gendarmenmarkt, Unter den Linden, and the Brandenburg Gate.
Sightseeing: Berlin’s magnificent boulevard Unter den Linden, with the Brandenburg Gate and classy Hotel Adlon (perfect for grabbing a drink and celebrity watching) is a manifestation of the Prussian glamour from the 19th Century. Within walking distance are some of the most important site-seeing attractions like Museum Island, Humboldt University, the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom), chancellery, or Reichstag. Alexanderplatz with its world clock and TV Tower is just a stone’s throw away. The oldest buildings in Berlin are located in the Nikolaiviertel directly on the river Spree.
Designer Shopping: Fashion label lovers will be in their element in the upscale mall on Friedrichstraße, Gallery Lafayettes. Enjoy some delicious oysters and Lenôtre-Patisserie at Souterrain.
Urban shopping: Young, hip labels like Hugo, Boss Orange, and American Apparel as well as trendy shoe and lingerie stores can be found around Hackeschen Markt, Münz- und Weinmeisterstraße.
Museums & galleries: Museum Island is a must-see for every visitor to Berlin, where locals also queue up to see the Pergamon Museum and newly opened Bodemuseum, Old National Gallery (Alten Nationalgalerie), and the New Museum (Neues Museum). Late-night gallery evenings on Torstraße und Auguststraße are a year-round occurence in Mitte. Art lovers gather and debate in front of the small galleries on the street with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Eating and celebrating: If painting the town red with the younger crowds doesn’t appeal to you, Mitte is the perfect place to enjoy a more sophisticated evening out. The restaurants and clubs around Auguststraße, Linienstraße, und Gipsstraße are great for dinner, drinks, or dancing the night away. For decades, the dance hall Clärchens Ballhaus has been enticing people between 18 and 80 years of age, and Kaffee Burger is home to Vladimir Kaminer’s undisputedly popular Russian disco.
Tiergarten: Sightseeing, Mall Shopping & Nature
No visit to Tiergarten is complete without a visit to the Reichstag and Bundeskanzleramt, Siegessäule (Berlin victory column), and Straße des 17. Juni. Tiergarten city park invites you to take a stroll, while Potsdamer Platz tempts you with mall shopping, classical music (Philharmonie), and art.
Sightseeing classic: The Siegessäule (Berlin victory column), Bellevue Palace (the seat of the federal President), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (affectionately known by the locals as the “Pregnant oyster”), the Reichstag, and Bundeskanzlerarmt are all within walking distance. By far the cheapest way to see these places of interest is to take Bus 100, which travels past all of the most important attractions between Zoologischen Garten and Mitte.
Art & Music: Classic lovers will enjoy a concert visit to the Berlin Philharmonic (Herbert-Karajan-Straße). Every February, Potsdamer Platz becomes Berlinale central, and for years, the “Blue Man Group” has put on frequent guest appearances at the theater at Potsdamer Platz with their successful show.
Mall shopping: With its futuristic architecture reminiscent of New York, Potsdamer Platz is a huge shopping and hotel area. The centrally-located Postdamer Platz Arkaden and Mall of Berlin house huge fashion chains like H&M and Zara, as well as upscale labels such as Mandarina Duck or Wolford. Ex-Adidas designer and media darling Michael Michalsky recently opened his flagship store at Potsdamer Platz.
Greenery: A leisurely stroll through Berlin’s green lungs in summer is not only relaxing, but also an enjoyable milieu study. At Café am Neuen See, relaxed west Berliners of all ages enjoy a drink in the beer garden, while young romantics can take a rowboat out in the lake. “Der Schleusenkrug” on the edge of the Zoo attracts students as well as a slightly older crowd, while couples and big families of every nationality barbeque or play badminton on the greens.
Prenzlauer Berg: Lifestyle, culture & young families
The once countercultural East Berlin working district is these days popular with educated, young families. It’s known for its top-quality shops and cafes (Kollwitzplatz), young urban crowd (Kastanienallee, Helmholtzplatz), cultural hotspots (Kulturbrauerei), and clubs (Kesselhaus, Soda Club).
Hip shopping: The typical Berliner style straight out of a trend scout’s fashion blog is noticeable everywhere, but especially in Prenzlauer Berg. Lots of fashion boutiques and young designers are located around Eberswalder Straße, in Kastanienallee, and along Schönhauser Allee – here everything is orientated around the hippest style, and for this reason, the second-hand stores (Stargarder Straße) may be somewhat more expensive – but are anything but old-fashioned.
Relaxed coffee hopping: In Prenzlauer Berg, life revolves around its cozy cafes and bars. The charming brunch spots and restaurants around Kollwitz are especially inviting after long nights of partying. Similarly, the typical Prenzlauer charm, taverns, restaurants, and the legendary Prater Bier Garten can be found in Kastanianallee, around Zionskirchplatz, and in Stargarderstraße and Gleimstraße.
Young & homely: Prenzlauer Berg is well known for its family friendliness. Many cafes in the area, called Eltern-Kind café or Kindercafes, are especially equipped for parents to enjoy with their children. The large amount of parent-child cafes as well as numerous playgrounds and hip parents sporting stylish strollers characterize the cityscape. Since nearly every café offers free WiFi, their quiet corners are transformed into lounge spaces for students and freelancers alike to enjoy, armed with MacBooks and Latte Macchiatos.
Friedrichshain: Students & Party
This is where it’s at: Friedrichshain is a favorite place of residence for students who have moved here from Prenzlauer Berg. The remnants of socialist history, a lively pub and club scene (Simon-Dach-Straße), as well as cheap, chic stores are what characterize this district.
GDR sightseeing: A citywalk through Friedrichshain reveal the remnants of recent German history and Stalinist architecture. The showcase avenue of the GDR was Karl-Marx-Allee, located between Strausberger Platz with its characteristic steeples on the multistory residences, and Frankfurter Tor. The “East Side Gallery" on Mühlenstraße (U Warschauer Straße) is a 1,300m long remnant of the Berlin wall, while the works of non-compliant GDR artists are on exhibition in a previous wall watchtower at the Museum der Verbotenen Kunst (Museum of Banned Artwork) (U Schlesisches Tor) in Kreuzberg.
Student bars & party scene: Due to gentrification and extensive renovation processes in Prenzlauer Berg, the young, student scene has moved to Friedrichshain. The party continues throughout the night not only in the bars and cafes of Simon-Dach-Straße but also outdoors, much to the annoyance of the older residents. The legendary techno club Berghain at Ostbahnhof is an institution, as is the Matrix Club (U Warschauer Straße).
Urban shopping: The multitude of concept stores and boutiques areas around Boxhagener Platz and Simon-Dach-Straße offer chic, individual fashion, lifestyle accessories, and oddities, often at astonishingly low prices. This is where used material is upcycled into unique children’s designs (Dollyrocker), artists and fashion designers jointly exhibit their works (Altes Textilkaufhaus), and specialty stores offer garden supplies, DJ equipment, and vinyl rarities. The stylish Almodóvar Eco Hotel Berlin is located on Boxhagener Straße and is characterized by the typical Friedrichshain style with an integrated environmental concept and a kitchen dedicated to cooking solely organic, vegetarian cuisine.
Kreuzberg: Creative & Multicultural
Formerly the stronghold of squatters and migrants, today a trendy district. Through its brave stance against gentrification, Kreuzberg has been able to preserve its radical, multicultural charm. Kreuzburg offers Turkish corner shops and kebab stores next to top class restaurants and boasts the coolest nightlife in the city.
Multicultural forays: What makes Kreuzberg so enthralling is its variety: migrants, artists, and subcultures coexist surprisingly well here. Former squatters still live around Görlitzer Bahnhof, whereas high-income families have settled into their renovated apartments in the historic old buildings, while the area around Kotbusser Tor is firmly in Turkish and Arabic hands. Two areas must be seen: the trendy stores around Oranienstraße attract the alternative scene and the chic Bergmannstraße attracts affluent, ecologically-minded 35+ year olds.
Culture: Recent history: History aficionados must visit the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) with the old watchtower in the northern part of Kreuzberg. The museum documents the history of a divided Germany (U Kochstraße), as does the Topography of Terror at the former Gestapo headquarters in Stresemannstraße. Traveling art and photography exhibitions are found in the Martin-Gropius-Building next door. The architecturally spectacular Jewish Museum on Lindenstraße is dedicated to Jewish history in a unique and comprehensive way.
Multicultural cuisine: Kreuzberg not only offers a multitude of Turkish markets, international snack bars, and hole-in-the-wall eateries, but also a large amount of excellent gourmet restaurants, including Hartmann’s (fancy bourgeois), Horváth (Austrian), Volt in Umspannwerk (contemporary Berliner cuisine), and gourmet chef Tim Raue’s new restaurant in Kochstraße.
Nightlife: Legendary clubs like Watergate or Lido, Sage Club, and the latest dining and dance clubs like Spindler & Klatt are trendsetters. The cool scene complete with smoky bars or the typical Berlin Open Air locations like Club der Visionäre have ensconced around Schlesisches Tor. Ankerklause and Fuchsbau in “Kreuzkölln” on the southern side are very popular and cater to a mixed alternative scene.
Schöneberg: Mature & LGBT
The older, green-alternative crowd lives comfortably in Schöneberg with its cozy cafes, second-hand shops, and the most beautiful Saturday market (Winterfeldplatz) in the city. Antique stores, wine taverns, and boutiques line Goltz-, Acacia- and Winterfeldstraße and the largest gay community in Germany is located around Nollendorfplatz.
Boutique shopping: Schöneberg is characterized by its attractive, individual stores which appeal to an older, greener crowd. In Akazienstraße, residents buy their wine as well as individual clothing and living accessories. Goltzstraße offers second-hand, residential and kitchen warehouses. On Saturday mornings, the whole of Schöneberg and the surrounding areas rush to Winterfeldplatz, the most beautiful market in the city. Even at minus temperatures, visitors enjoy lamb bratwurst or couscous salad, and buy organic vegetables, licorice, and fruit to enjoy later.
Breakfast spots & neighborhood cafes: In the West Berlin counterpart to the Prenzlauer Berg, one café blends into another, and on Sundays it is almost impossible to find a place to have brunch in trendy breakfast spots such as Cafe Tomasa at the chic Viktoria-Luise-Platz, or Gottlob in Akazienstraße. Chocoholics will enjoy the Winterfeld-Schokoladen in Goltzstrasse, cakes lovers will find a rich selection at Albrecht’s in Winterfeldstraße.
LGBTQ neighborhood: Every year, the area around Nollendorfplatz is the center of the Christopher Street Parade, the largest gay pride parade in Germany. There is a great selection of stores with fashionable menswear, leather and accessories, gay internet cafés (Men&Media), bars (the legendary “Hafen” in Motzstraße), gay hotels, and restaurants like La Cocotte in Vorbergstraße, but everyone is welcome and accepted.
Charlottenburg: Shopping boulevards & Wilheminian Villas
Twenty years after German unity, West is best and Charlottenburg is in again, with an untroubled mixture of artists and a new middle class rediscovering the flair of the “Gründerzeit, ” which was a period of rapid industrial expansion in Germany. Ku’damm, Tauentzienstraße, and KaDeWe are the most popular shopping destinations for tourists and locals of all ages.
Shopping: From young to sophisticated: Kurfürstendamm is Berlin’s most popular shopping street. Younger crowds head to H&M and Zara & Co, older fashionistas shop at the luxury department store KaDeWe at Wittenbergplatz and the luxurious designer shops between Bleibtreustraße and Olivaer Platz. In small boutiques around the Savignyplatz, you can shop for the typical sporty and elegant style of this West Berlin neighborhood. Interior design aficionados should not miss a visit to Stilwerk and the surrounding shops in Kant-, Lietzenburger and Uhlandstraße.
Palaces and churches: The Charlottenburg Palace, built in the 17th century, with its lush park (Spandauer Damm, U Richard-Wagner-Platz) is a tourist attraction – one of the most beautiful Christmas markets also takes place here in December. Lush greenery and magnificent fin de siècle villas extend around the palace in one of the most spectacular neighborhoods in Berlin. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, a landmark of Berlin, is located at Breitscheidplatz (U Zoologischer Garten).
Opera, Theater & Film: Thanks to 40 years of divided city life, Berlin offers culture in at least two versions. In Charlottenburg, Ku’damm stages cater for boulevard entertainment; in the German Opera and the Schaubühne at Lehniner Platz hotly debated productions are shown. The Theater des Westens in Kantstraße showcase successful musicals, and the Delphi Filmpalast next door is one of the most beautiful and oldest cinemas in the city.
Well-preserved café culture: A distinctive café culture flourishes between Savigny and Ludwigkirchplatz. In the side streets of Ku’damm you can stroll comfortably from store to gallery, from bookstore to jewelry store, and finally, thanks to ZEIT Newspaper or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), between members of the media, artists, and industry individuals. The main attractions are Café Savigny (Grolmannstraße), Café im Literaturhaus (Fasanenstraße), Manzini (Ludwig-Kirch-Straße), or the 1900 (Knesebeckstraße).
Hotels: Charlottenburg boasts many elegant hotels, with the prestigious Ku’damm and the shopping mile Tauentzienstraße attracting the most visitors. In the chic design hotel Sofitel Berlin Kurfürstendamm with its imposing, semicircular façade you are right on the famous pedestrian mile. Guests staying at the Steigenberger Hotel Berlin have a fantastic view of the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church or alternatively can enjoy the pool in the wellness area. The 4 star superior Hotel SANA Berlin though located behind two 5 star hotels, has no reason to hide. This centrally located hotel combines contemporary lounge atmosphere with Asian Zen design.
Berlin – good to know:
Decentralized: Berlin is decentralized - similar to Paris or New York there is no real city center, although the Zoological Garden in the west and Alexanderplatz in the east represents the center of the inner city districts. Instead, Berlin is divided into countless neighborhoods and districts, which differ greatly in style and way of life.
Rambling: With an area of 892 km², Berlin is extensive (it expands for about 45km in an easterly and westerly direction, and about 38km in the north and south). Since it’s quite a distance from zone A to B, allow traveling time of at least 30 minutes when planning journeys. You will almost always reach your destination faster using the well-connected public transport system than via car. This is mostly because Berlin is a huge construction site and barricades cause regular traffic jams. Using public transport alongside the residents of Berlin is highly recommended, not least because parking spaces are expensive and rare to find in the metropolitan areas.
Kiez-culture: The city surprises like no other with its “kiez”-culture, which makes it different from district-to-district and from street-to-street. Whether stylish Berlin Mitte, young Prenzlauer Berg, or creative Kreuzberg - everyone will find the right ambience and feel at home in their personal neighborhood.
Tolerant multiculturalism: Thanks to the large Turkish and Arab communities which reside in the districts of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, everyone can enjoy colorful vegetable markets with oriental dishes and spices. Berlin is also particularly LGBT-friendly – numerous gay and lesbian bars and berlin gay hotels are located in the district of Schöneberg and all around the city.