It’s the time of year when lots of people start planning their winter holidays to Berlin. (Sidenote: yes, Berlin is a great winter destination!) So naturally my friends have been emailing me asking for tips on where to stay, which hotels are the trendiest/coolest and what’s going on this winter.
Berlin is very much a neighborhood-oriented city. For those lucky enough to live here, you might go days without ever even leaving your kiez (that’s German for neighborhood;bezirk is German for borough or district). I try not to do that too often, though, because Berlin—being as awesome as it is—is a pretty damn exciting city. And staying holed up in my super-cool Berlin apartment is only fun for so long. Instead I try to make my way to the countless events and meetups happening just about every day.
When I moved to Berlin, it being one of my first homes where I was planning to stay awhile, I had the lucky (or unlucky, depending upon how you look at ti) chance to live in a variety of different areas of Berlin. From Pankow to Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Lichtenberg, Friedrichshain and even Grünewald — I’ve lived all over this sprawling city. So if you’re looking for a place to stay during your trip, I’ve got all you ever needed to know here. Look for an AirBNB apartment in one of these neighborhoods near my favorite kiez highlights…
WHERE TO STAY IN BERLIN
Public transportation is never really a problem in Berlin and all these neighborhoods I’m recommending below are well-connected and easy to reach from the airports. The TXL airport is pretty much in the center of Berlin so even taxis are an economical option for getting from the airport to your hotel/holiday apartment. These are the main ‘hoods and what’s going for them….
Affectionally called Xberg, this centrally located Berlin neighborhood is home to the city’s traditional Turkish immigratns, hipsters, Berlin’s best bars and a whole lot of restaurants. It’s the Brooklyn equivalent of something between Williamsburg and Park Slope. Gentrification is in full swing here. In fact, Kreuzberg is just about fully gentrified these days, though some areas less so than others.
- Markthalle Neun — This market hall is famous for their weekly “Street Food Thursday” events, though there are equally cool food events going on here every other day as well.
- Landwehr Canal — Berlin has amazing canals and this is one of the most famous. On warm nights, locals (and tourists) like to congregate on the many bridges along the canal. Admiralbrücke is a popular choice and is convenient to some decent restaurants (and gelato).
- Görltizer Park — It’s the equivalent of San Francisco’s Dolores Park, but with much more drugs. On the streets around Görli (that’s what the locals call it), you’ll find some great bars and fantastic cheap eats. For nearby cocktails bars, I like Locke Müller andJohn Muir.
- Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebab — Okay, I’m only putting this here because so many people ask about it. Mustafa’s is Berlin’s most famous döner imbiss (snack) stand, but honestly it’s not my favorite. I just can’t be bothered to wait in line for a döner kebab when you can find much better ones elsewhere in the city. Admittedly, the Mustafa’s experience is fun, though. So if you want to be a proper Berlin tourist, just make a stop here. Plan enough time to wait in line, though.
- Bergmannstrasse — On the western edge of Kreuzberg, Bergmannstrasse is one of the most beautiful parts of Kreuzberg. The street has some great restaurants (I like the Greek place called Knofi) and there’s also an incredible food and grocery market at one end, plus the occasional flea market. Check out the nearby Another Country English-language bookshop, too, which hosts various English-language events like film and food nights.
The Neukölln neighborhood is slightly less easily connected, but has plenty of great things to offer for Berlin locals and tourists. Despite the neighborhood appearing on just about every “cool things in Berlin” list, the area is still not so popular with weekenders and holiday-makers. Which means if you go there now, you’ll be way more cool than your friends 🙂
Neukölln is heavy on the dive bars. Here are the words I’d use to describe it: Turkish, realhipsters, cheap bars, fun, weekends, underground clubs, burgers, gay, trendy…
- Tempelhofer Feld — Arguably the coolest thing in Berlin, the former Tempelhof Airport has been converted into a massive public park. Imagine going kitesurfing on airport runways, community gardening projects and wine festivals int he former airport hangar.
- Berlin Burger International — One of my favorite burger joints in Berlin – they’re open late and serve a proper American burger for a decent price.
- Weserstrasse — This street in Neukölln, near Hermannplatz, is *the* place to be on weekends in Berlin. If you can find an AirBNB apartment near here, you’re golden. Along the street, I like Bullys Bakery for a great afternoon coffee, Sahara Imbiss for late-night Sudanese falafel (and veggie/vegan options) and the bar Ä for foosball and random events.
If you’re short on time and want to be close to Berlin’s top tourist attractions, Mitte is where you’ll want to be. But if you’re after a more unique Berlin experience (0r here for the fun and the nightlife), there are probably better ‘hoods. Still, Mitte’s got a lot going for it…
- Museum Island — In the center of Berlin, the Museum Island has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a handful of Berlin’s most popular museums. Check out the controversial Nefertiti bust at the Neues Museum or the panoramic views from the top of the Berliner Dom.
- Hackescher Markt — It’s heavily touristic but I still love wandering and getting lost in the many alleys and courtyards of Hackescher Markt. Plus there are some truly awesome stores and shops, with the occasional decent coffee shop (try Kaffeemitte if you want to do some Mitte hipster-spotting, or Café Cinema for a more alternative crowd and smoky interior).
- Rosenthaler Platz — Home to some of my favorite Berlin bars and cafés, Rosenthaler Platz is one of the best spots in Berlin north of the River Spree. Plus there are some great accommodation options in Rosenthaler Platz like Circus Hotel (and its trendy hostel), Hotel Amano (with its great rooftop bar) and the budget-friendly ibis Styles hotel.
This Berlin neighborhood, a part of the former East Berlin, is close to everything and also has the fortune to be home to Berlin’s best nightclubs. It’s definitely an “alternative” side to Berlin, but with all the expats and family-friendly parks, it’s just a great place to be located.
- Boxhagener Platz — Friedrichshain’s coolest square, the platz hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday and one of my favorite flea markets every Sunday. The nearby streets are all home to an enormous amount of bars and restaurants. The nearby Simon-Dach Strasse is pretty touristic, but it’s also convenient and your food options there are decent.
- RAW & Revaler Strasse — It’s a former train station (or something) that’s covered in street art. It’s also where all the nightclubs are in Friedrichshain but they also do some really great flea markets there on Sunday (Neue Heimat is the newest/trendiest/most gentrified).
- Volkspark Friedrichshain — I’m almost afraid to recommend this place, but if you want a true Berlin local experience, you’ll want to find a holiday apartment near Volkspark Friedrichshain. With a sandpit volleyball court, the Marchenbrünnen (Fairy Tale Fountain), a small pond, a German restaurant and some great paths, this is easily Berlin’s best public park. The atmosphere is great for singles, couples, barbecues with friends, family outings and, in the summer, film screenings at the open-air cinema.
- Warschauer Strasse – The U-Bahn and S-Bahn station here is a popular meeting point, nearby to Berlin’s best clubs and late-night venues. (Though the station, in warmer months, also hosts its fair share of underground parties). Consider staying at the Michelberger Hotel (super trendy, very cool design, just a little bit pretentious) orthe music-themed nhow (which offers electric guitars for guests when requested!) to be close to all the action. There’s also an overpriced hostel, Plus Berlin, which is more like a hotel.
- Berghain — Because what Berlin guide could exist without a mention to the world’s best nightclub?!
One of my favorite neighborhoods in Berlin. Seriously. Many people (including many locals) have completely discredited Prenzlauer Berg. Part of the former East, it was the first part of Berlin to be considered “alternative” when the Wall came down; and, then, the first to become fully gentrified. These days it’s home to a lot of families, transplants from elsewhere in Germany, abroad or even the occasional Berliners. Prenzlauer Berg is seen as distinctly “uncool” but that’s just because those people don’t know where to look!
Prenzlauer Berg is also very green, with lots of great parks and outdoor areas. It straddles Volkspark Friedrichshain but also is the Berlin district home to the famous Mauer Park.
Prenzlauer Berg Highlights
- Bötzowkiez — There’s not really much here for a typical tourist to Berlin, but if you’re looking for a place to stay that’s more local and relatively easy to reach via public transportation, this is a great area to base yourself for some urban exploration. It’s a very residential and pretty part of Prenzlauer Berg, nearby the Volkspark Friedrichshain and with many great restaurants in the kiez.
- Mauer Park — It’s probably Berlin’s most famous flea market and much of that is thanks to the Sunday Bearpit Karaoke. While the flea market may have been overrun with too-many-tourists (making it nearly impossible to properly shop for a bargain there!), it’s still a great place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon.
- Berlin Wall Memorial — Not far from the Mauer Park, the Berlin Wall Memorial is probably Berlin’s *best* tourist attraction. No joke. It’s way better than the ESG (East Side Gallery) and way more informative.
- Kastanienallee — The street that connects Prenzlauer Berg with Mitte (well, the border must be somewhere around there), Kastanienallee has a countless number of fashion shops, trendy restaurants and even cheap eats. The street has even managed to maintain some of the alternative edge that once was characteristic of Prenzlauer Berg at the gay-friendly squat house, Tuntenhaus at Kastanienallee 86. For food and drinks in the area, try: W der Imbiss or Prater Garten. Also check out Oderbergerstrasse which crosses Kastanienallee for some bars, restaurants and even a really cool GDR-style/flea market shop called VEB Orange (a great place to buy some unique souvenirs!).
- Nollendorfplatz — This is the historical gay area of Berlin, though it’s still very gay (for men) and is home to a number of gay-friendly places to stay. Namely: the “hetero-friendly” Axel Hotel and the gay hostel at Tom’s Hotel. There’s a number ofgay bars in the area, as well as fetish bars (for those looking for a leather fix) and even some much more seedier-type bars.
- Winterfeldtplatz — Nearby to Nollendorfplatz, Winterfeldtplatz is one of my favorite parts of Berlin—gay or straight! There’s a fantastic farmer’s market here every Saturday. And the street that runs along the western edge of the plaza, Goltzstraße, has a great selection of local restaurants and bars to choose from.
- Gleisdreick Park — I’m not actually sure if this is located in Schöneberg because it’s equally close to the western edge of Kreuzberg. But who cares: it’s one of my favorite parks in Berlin! Gleisdreick Park has everything you could ever want in a park and it’s all been done in the most modern way possible. I think it’s a huge success story for Berlin and it’s well worth visiting if you need a place to hang out. Bring your skateboard if you want to board 🙂
- Wittenbergplatz — The beginning of Berlin’s famous Kurfurstendamm street, Wittenbergplatz is shopping central. The historical KaDeWe department store is located here (check out their foodstuffs floor!) but you’ll find much better shopping deals at the places along the Kudamm.
Obviously there’s a lot more to Berlin than the neighborhoods above. Charlottenburg is a good ‘hood, with some cool restaurants (I like Schwarzes Café) and off-the-beaten-path museums. There’s Wedding and Moabit — both touted as up-and-coming, though they’re still pretty boring in my books. Admittedly, Wedding has some good restaurants (like Pierogarnia for Polish pierogies) and some amazing nightlife venues (Stattbad Wedding). Moabit has the local-favorite Arminusmarkthalle—a food market hall with a great selection of restaurants and food stalls, including my favorite Berlin barbecue joint, Pignut. But generally, I think if you’ve only got a short period of time to hang out and explore in Berlin, stick to the more central neighborhoods.