Home > Best Places to Stay in Berlin
Updated: December 27, 2019
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The Best Areas To Stay in Berlin
There is perhaps no other city in Europe whose recent history is so brutal and so famous as Berlin’s; everyone knows enough World War II and Cold War history that a trip to Berlin is, for most, a fascinating and moving experience. But modern Berlin is far from stuck in its past (although there are plenty of memorials to it): it’s a vibrant, exciting, and truly international city that explodes with art, activism, and bonhomie. Nevertheless, the best place to start is by checking those must-see historical sights off the list because they truly are breathtaking and because most of them are in Mitte, the metaphorical and geographical heart of the city. Literally meaning ‘middle’, the area is packed with so many famous sights that it’s best to split it up into west (Unter den Linden), east (Museumsinsel to Alexanderplatz), south (Potsdamer Platz and around), and north (Scheunenviertel and around).
In west Mitte, the grand Unter den Linden boulevard runs through the center of Berlin and boasts the Reichstag (aka Bundestag) and the iconic Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) at its westernmost end. A couple of blocks south is the deeply moving Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Holocaust Memorial), whose enormous stone slabs that take over a whole inner city block create the much-needed space to reflect on the horrors of WWII. If you head east from there you’ll reach the Gendarmenmarkt, which is often described as Germany’s most beautiful public square with its symmetrical trio of neoclassical buildings.
Unter den Linden turns into Bundesstrasse as it heads through eastern Mitte, past Museumsinsel (Museum Island, home to the Pergamonmuseum, one of five world-class museums on the island and the Berliner Dom), the DDR Museum (GDR Museum), Nikolaiviertel (the medieval center of Berlin), the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and, finally, the sweeping Alexanderplatz.
To grasp the vibe of southern Mitte, head to Potsdamer Platz, whose glittering glass skyscrapers and modern architecture are a heartening symbol of the city’s ability to bounce back (the area was totally destroyed in the war and left like a wasteland for decades). A draw for film buffs is the Walk of Fame to the Sony Center (which contains a museum of TV & Film and movie theaters), while the kids will love Legoland and the Panoramapunkt. Culture lovers will want to visit the Kulturforum, home to the Philharmonie concert hall and the Gemäldegalerie, one of the best collections of European art in the world. A few blocks southwest of Potsdamer Platz is another cluster of famous sights: the Topographie des Terrors, an archive and exhibition dedicated to exploring the rise of National Socialism; and Checkpoint Charlie, the evocative post-war gateway between the USSR and American sectors of the city.
Just north of Alexanderplatz and Museumsinsel is the neighborhood known as Scheunenviertel or sometimes Hackescher Markt, after its best shopping area. Also technically in the borough of Mitte, Scheunenviertel is super central and is known as the former Jewish quarter – the Neue Synagoge with its magnificent gilded dome stands testament to the period when a burgeoning Jewish population made an enormous contribution to the fabric of Berlin life – and also for its many Höfe (courtyards), which are filled with independent boutiques and dining options. Two of the most famous are right next to each other: the glorious Art Nouveau Hackescher Höfe is gentrified and chichi, while Haus Schwarzenberg, has kept its grungy, artsy, and alternative vibes from back when the whole area was a hive of artists seeking a cheap space after reunification.
Prenzlauer Berg is just to the north of Scheunenviertel, and, while it definitely has its own features like the Kulturbrauerei and the Mauerpark (where the city’s favorite flea market is held every Sunday), it is similar to Scheunenviertel in that there are endless independent stores, restaurants, cafes, and bars, and walking down almost any street in either neighborhood will feel like you are uncovering local secrets. On the cusp of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte is one of the city’s unmissable highlights, the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial), which is less of a memorial than a whole outdoor museum telling the story of the Wall and its horrific repercussions.
For those whose first thoughts of Berlin are not about war and division but of its epic 24-hour nightlife, street art, and general grittiness, avoid the center and head to the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg borough. These two distinct neighborhoods share a punky, alternative feel, despite the fact they were once separated by the Berlin Wall. Kreuzberg was the center of West Berlin’s music scene in the 1970s and while it has become majorly gentrified since then, it can still be rough around the edges. You’ll get a good sense of the neighborhood if you do a bar crawl around Kottbusser Tor, or go to the cool indoor food market at Markthalle Neun. Another unmissable local highlight is the Jewish Museum, whose architecture is as fascinating as its contents, which remind visitors how deeply the histories of Berlin and its Jewish citizens are intertwined. The castle-like Oberbaumbrücke (Oberbaum Bridge) joins Kreuzberg with Friedrichshain. Once you’re on the north side, follow the River Spree back towards the city center to walk the length of the East Side Gallery – original sections of the Berlin Wall painted with murals. Street art aficionados should also swing by RAW-Gelände, a sprawling complex of micro-businesses (an outdoor cinema, a climbing wall, multiple food stalls) built in an old railway maintenance yard behind Warschauer Strasse Station. An unmissable sight in Friedrichshain is the Stasi Museum, built in the wonderfully preserved former secret police HQ. For more insight into the Cold-War-era mentality, make sure to walk down Karl Marx Allee, which runs all the way back to Alexanderplatz, and marvel at the scale of the Soviet ambition for East Berlin through the majestic architecture.
Brandenburger Tor is one of the gateways into the Tiergarten, the enormous park leading to genteel Charlottenburg in the west of the city. There’s a lot to see in the park, including several impressive monuments, pretty stretches of the Spree, a palace, a cultural center, and the Berlin zoo; either spend a day wandering around or take the #100 bus through it, which goes past most of the highlights. Once you’re through the park in Charlottenburg, do not miss the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), which was left in its bombed-out state to testify to the devastation of war. The church also marks the top of Kurfürstendamm, the most famous shopping street in Berlin. If huge international brands aren’t your thing, head to the hip concept mall Bikini Berlin for cult brands. One of the area’s main draws is Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace), whose many opulent wings and annexes set in glorious gardens make a wonderful day trip to learn about Prussian history. Opposite the palace are three world-class art galleries, including the Surrealism heaven Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg.
The Best Places to Stay in Berlin
Best Areas in Berlin for…
- Best Area in Berlin for Sightseeing: Mitte
Almost all the blockbuster sights are in Mitte, which covers everything from Potsdamer Platz and Checkpoint Charlie in the south to the Berlin Wall Memorial in the north, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag in the west, and TV Tower and Alexanderplatz in the east. If those are not enough, there are also the Unter den Linden boulevard, Humboldt University, Holocaust Memorial, Staatsoper, Deutsches Historisches Museum, and Museum Island (home to the Dom as well as the Alte Nationalgalerie, Altes Museum, Bode-Museum, Neues Museum, and the Pergamonmuseum). Just over the Karl-Liebknecht-Brücke are the DDR Museum and Nikolaiviertel (to name just a few of the big attractions Mitte has to offer). And, to the north of Alexanderplatz and Museumsinsel, there’s the wonderful Hackescher Markt with its endless shopping in characterful courtyards. There are simply so many sights in Mitte that you could easily spend a week in this area alone, so do your research and preserve your energy by hitting only those you’re most interested in.
- Best Area in Berlin for Nightlife: Kreuzberg & Friedrichshain
For a great night out, head to Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, which have kept the good vibes flowing, despite the developers who are moving in threatening to put an end to the party. Berlin has many 24-hour joints, especially over the weekend, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself in what you think is a bar that suddenly turns into a nightclub, or a club that suddenly starts drawing in the brunch crowd. In Kreuzberg, one of the most lively hubs is around Kottbusser Tor (known affectionately by locals as ‘Kotti’), especially along Dresdener Strasse, Oranienstrasse, and around Markthalle Neun, which is especially buzzing on “Streetfood Thursday” each week, when the market stays open late. Over the bridge in Friedrichshain, a good place to start is Warschauer Strasse, which is always alive with people coming and going. Down below the station, in the old train maintenance plant, is RAW-Gelände, a sprawling complex of micro-businesses (an outdoor cinema, a climbing wall, several food stalls). All around this area, especially the streets north leading to Boxhagener Platz, there are several great bars and restaurants. One of the most famous nightclubs in the world, Berghain, is in Friedrichshain, although it is notoriously tricky to get into thanks to its strict door policy.
- Best Area in Berlin for Food and Restaurants: All over
As a melting pot of cultures, pretty much every taste is catered for in Berlin. Head to either Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg for an incredible selection of street food: in the former, around RAW-Gelände; and the latter at Markthalle Neun or the Turkish Market that takes place just south of the Landwehr Canal on Tuesdays and Fridays. Go to Mitte for haute cuisine: Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer, FACIL, Rutz, and Tim Raue each have two Michelin Stars (the latter is technically in Kreuzberg, but it is right on the border with Mitte). If unsure, head to Prenzlauer Berg where you’ll find tons of great options on Oderberger Strasse, Kollwitzplatz, and Kastanienallee, as well as great German food at the Prater, Metzer Eck, and Leibhaftig (not forgetting currywurst at Konnopke’s Imbiss). Finally, if you’re craving Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese food, there’s a cluster of great Asian eateries in Charlottenburg’s Kantstrasse, which is the closest the city comes to having a Chinatown (Scheunenviertel has a very strong selection too).
- Best Areas in Berlin for Families: Mitte and Charlottenburg
Berlin has loads of great stuff for kids but they’ll have the best time in Mitte. They can: ascend the Fernsehturm or take Europe’s fastest elevator up to the Panoramapunkt; find Legoland in the dazzling Sony Center; see the recreated section of the Berlin Wall at the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer; learn about life in East Berlin at the interactive DDR Museum; learn about natural history at the Museum für Naturkunde; and pose for a picture at the sandbags by Checkpoint Charlie. Another child-friendly area is Charlottenburg. Not only does it border the Tiergarten, but the Berlin Zoologischer Garten (zoo) is in one corner of the park, while the nearby Bikini Berlin mall is absolutely perfect for teens. Children of all ages will be blown away by Schloss Charlottenburg’s bling and its enormous gardens. Finally, be sure to take them on the double-decker #100 bus, which goes between the zoo, right through the Tiergarten, and all around Mitte, to see how many of the sights they can remember.
- Best Area in Berlin to Stay for First Timers: Mitte
First-timers really should get the basics out of the way and “do” Mitte’s biggest sights: the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag, Museumsinsel (especially the Pergamon), and Fernsehturm/Alexanderplatz. Complete your top 5 by taking a stroll through the Tiergarten, pausing to check out the Soviet memorial and the Victory Column. If you have any time after that, the number-one sight worth traveling to is the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer. The outdoor museum dedicated to the Berlin Wall not only has large stretches of the original wall, but it also has a full-scale recreation of its final incarnation, with its double-wall and extended buffer zone, complete with a guard tower. A great bonus to walking along the whole of the memorial is that it goes through interesting neighborhoods – the eastern end is at Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg, where a huge flea market is held every Sunday.
- Most Romantic Area in Berlin: On the water
Berlin is lousy with waterways and Berliners love to swim – whether you go for a picnic by the river, wander along a canal at sunset, or do a day trip to one of the massive lakes that are dotted all around the city – find a way to join them, especially if you are looking for romantic opportunities. The River Spree can feel quite overshadowed at points by the wonders on land, but there are some very lovely spots: try crossing over the Monbijoubrücke from the northernmost tip of Museumsinsel and strolling along the Berliner Uferpromenade in Monbijou Park; have a drink by the Tiergarten’s biggest lake at the Café am Neuen See; or take a dip in the Badeschiff, a floating public pool in Kreuzberg. Another option would be the Böcklerpark along the Landwehr Canal, also in Kreuzberg; it’s a really popular spot with locals hoping to catch the sunset. For those with more time in Berlin and are able to get out of the city, a trip to one of the lakes or rivers on the city’s outskirts is a must. Try Wannsee, which takes around 45 minutes via public transport from Mitte, where you can lounge on the “beach” by the Art Deco lido, explore secluded spots in forested areas, take boat trips, and discover places to eat and drink.
- Best Area in Berlin for a Local Vibe: Anywhere
The best way to understand the Berlin lifestyle is to make time to live it: drink a can of craft beer by the Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg at sunset; walk the whole of Karl Marx Allee to see how the former Communist grand boulevard has adapted to capitalist life; enjoy the babble of different languages spoken by the children playing in the Kollwitzplatz; make a picnic (or order one from Barcomi’s) to eat in the grounds of Schloss Charlottenburg; take a gamble on getting into Berghain (even a rejection by the strict door staff will be a classic Berlin experience); spend Sunday at the Mauerpark flea/karaoke; take a dip in the Badeschiff; or get a drink and sit outside a Späti (small stores that stay open late into the night with tables outside). There are as many local vibes in Berlin as there are Berliners, so do as they do and make your own fun.
- Best Area in Berlin for Walking: Tiergarten
The Tiergarten is big. Even if you stick to the main road through the middle and don’t stop anywhere along the way, it will take you a good 40 minutes to walk from east to west, so be prepared to spend at least 2-3 hours in this fabulous park. One of the best things about the park is its monuments, the most obvious of which is the dramatic Siegessäule (Victory Monument): the golden statue on a column rising above the park. Climb its 285 steps to get 360-degree city views. There’s also the imposing Soviet War Memorial for the soldiers of the USSR who died in the Battle of Berlin, as well as various memorials to minority groups persecuted by the Nazis, including one for the Sinti and Roma and another for gay victims. There are also grand buildings in the park, most notably Schloss Bellevue, the residence of the president, and the striking 1957 building, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World’s Cultures), which holds conferences, festivals, and other events. And don’t forget to finish the day with a drink at the Café am Neuen See on the gorgeous lake.
- Safest Area in Berlin
Berlin is generally very safe for tourists. The biggest risk, as in most European cities, comes from pickpockets or muggers, but the likelihood of either of these things happening is low as long as you aren’t flashy with your possessions and keep an eye on what’s going on around you.
The 8 Best Neighborhoods in Berlin for Tourists
1. Brandenburger Tor & the Reichstag
Standing proudly at the top of Unter den Linden and at the start of the Tiergarten is the Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument built under the king of Prussia in the 1790s that was part of the plan to make Berlin the “Athens on the Spree”. Topped with its charioteer sculpture, the gate was originally conceived as a peace monument, but in the 20th century, its meaning was usurped first by the Nazis as a symbol of their power and later as a symbol of freedom in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. One block north is the 19th-century Reichstag building, often referred to as the Bundestag (the seat of parliament). Since the 1999 addition of Norman Foster’s inspiring rotunda, which allows the public to literally oversee the politicians at work in the main chamber below, the Reichstag has become one of the most-visited government buildings in the world – while it’s free to visit, be sure to book well ahead or risk hours in line.
There can be few cities as great for museum-goers as Berlin, mostly because so many of them are packed into a compact area, the so-called Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in Mitte. The island in the River Spree contains some of the world’s finest museums: the Alte Nationalgalerie (19th-century art), the Altes Museum (Greeks, Etruscans, Romans), the Bode-Museum (sculptures, coins, medals, and Byzantine art), the Neues Museum (Ancient Egyptians and prehistory), and the Pergamonmuseum (Islamic and Roman architectural set pieces). There are far too many treasures to note, but needless to say, you should plan your time (or go with a guided tour) and buy tickets in advance, especially for the Pergamon. Also on the island are the Berliner Dom (cathedral) and the Humboldt Forum (opening in 2020), which is being built in the Berliner Schloss (Berlin Palace). Just off the island is the wonderful Deutsches Historisches Museum, which traces German history from the Middle Ages to the fall of the Wall, and the wacky and interactive DDR Museum about life in the former German Democratic Republic.
3. Alexanderplatz & TV Tower
The vast Alexanderplatz in Mitte is the busiest place in Berlin and a great landmark to help orientate yourself to the city. Don’t miss the retrofuturistic World Clock, which was lauded as mechanically brilliant when it was installed in 1969, during the period when this part of Berlin was part of the Soviet Union. Today, it often shelters street performers and makes for a great meeting place. From Alexanderplatz, make sure to walk east up the bombastic Karl Marx Allee, a perfect example of large-scale Soviet architecture. Another unmissable example of the Cold War ideology looming over the city just next door to Alexanderplatz is the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), designed to show off the might of Communism to Westerners. These days, you can ascend for views and the restaurant any time until midnight.
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4. Potsdamer Platz & the Kulturforum
The heavily regenerated Potsdamer Platz, which was left as a wasteland for decades after WWII, now has much to recommend it, including a Walk of Stars leading to the Sony Center (where there’s also a Legoland and a multiplex), the fastest elevator in Europe that goes up to the Panoramapunkt, and the nearby Kulturforum. Designed in the 1960s to show those in the East what they were missing out on in the cultured West, the Kulturforum’s large plaza contains the glimmering Philharmonie concert hall, the Gemäldegalerie (13th to 18th-century European paintings), and the soon-to-be-reopened Neue Nationalgalerie (20th-century art), among other cultural hotspots.
The Berlin Wall Memorial brings the past to life better than any other monument or memorial in the city and is a must-see for any visitor. Spanning a few blocks of Bernauer Strasse between the Nordbahnhof and Mauerpark, it’s best described as an outdoor museum telling the story of the installation and evolution of the wall, including what day-to-day life was like for the guards, as well as the dreadful consequences citizens faced if they tried to cross over. It effectively describes how the immediate neighborhood was eroded by the GDR government as it expanded the wall in the hope of stopping the hemorrhage of citizens to the West, and how the residents of Bernauer Strasse were literally caught in the middle of the ideological clash between East and West. There are many things to spot along the route – do not miss the Documentation Center at the corner of Ackerstrasse, where there’s a viewing platform that looks down on a full-scale reproduction of the wall at its most severe stage.
When Berliners refer to the Hackescher Markt, they are not simply talking about the station just north of Museumsinsel, but are also describing a wonderful shopping area where there’s a concentration of independent and cult stores scattered in various courtyards, or Höfe. Most famous is the Hackesche Höfe, a warren of Art Nouveau and vine-drenched yards full of cute stores and cafes. But don’t stop there; the Hackescher Markt encompasses the eponymous S-Bahn station, Dircksenstrasse in the south, Torstrasse in the north, Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in the east, and Oranienburger Strasse in the west. While you’re in the area, make sure to pass by the glittering dome of the Neue Synagoge to see how important the city’s Jewish community once was and stick your head in at the wonderful Clӓrchens Ballhaus, a real city institution.
If you’ve been to the Brandenburg Gate, you will have noticed the Tiergarten sprawling out west through its arches. From there, it might seem like a short walk to the dramatic Siegessäule (Victory Column), but it will take you around 30 minutes: the Tiergarten is big. Even if you stick to the main road through the middle and don’t stop anywhere along the way, it will take you at least 40 minutes to walk all the way from east to west, so it’s best to earmark at least 2-3 hours to explore this fabulous park. One of the best things about the park is its monuments, including the Siegessäule with its golden statue that rises above the treetops. Climb its 285 steps to get 360-degree city views. There’s also the imposing Soviet War Memorial for the soldiers of the USSR who died in the Battle of Berlin, as well as various memorials to minority groups persecuted by the Nazis, including one for the Sinti and Roma and another for gay victims. There are also grand buildings in the park, most notably Schloss Bellevue, the residence of the president, and the striking 1957 Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the World’s Cultures), which hosts conferences, festivals, and other events. There’s also the Zoologischer Garten in the southwest corner, which kids will love. Most importantly, don’t forget to finish the day with a drink at the Café am Neuen See on the gorgeous lake, a romantic spot beloved by Berliners. If that all sounds too exhausting for you, it might be useful to know that the #100 bus runs right through the park, going past most of these highlights.
8. Schloss Charlottenburg & around
There are many sights worthy of the trip outside central Berlin, but Charlottenburg Palace might be the best. It was the plush Prussian dream of Queen Sophie Charlotte (after whom the borough was named); the golden Rococo ballroom and Porcelain Cabinet are jaw-droppingly lavish and there are beautiful gardens for strolling or picnicking. Opposite are three excellent museums: the Bröhan-Museum (art and crafts), Museum Berggruen (a modern art collection featuring Picasso, Klee, Braque, Cézanne, and Giacometti, among others), and the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg (Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection and the complete print work of Toulouse Lautrec alongside many Surrealists, including Dalí, Magritte, and Ernst, among others).
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