The number one misleading thing about where to stay in Berlin is its centre. Usually, if you’re looking for the best area to stay in any normal city, the centre would be the only foolproof option, right? In Berlin: nope! There are cool parts to the centre, but what makes a trip to Berlin memorable is its neighbourhoods.
Let this Wahlberlinerin (Berlin by choice) take you on a little expedition – you might just find the best place to stay in Berlin in one of the suggestions below!
Five years ago, Neukölln was the best area to stay in Berlin for one thing: Turkish food. Now, people go there for the stripped-walled cafes, candlelit artisan bars, and the international arts and live music scene, all on a comfortingly hyper-local scale.
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The district is big, and the sort of place you should really take a day to explore. Start on Pannierstrasse (cafes) or Maybachufer (a riverside street known for its markets on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays), and wind your way through the blocks to end up in Weichselstrasse and Weserstrasse for cosy bars.
If you say these words to a Berliner, their eyes will glaze over dreamily, and if you look into their soul you will see a yearning for a flaneur down those tree-lined streets with intricate facades, and everywhere the smell of freshly roasted coffee and ice cream (dairy-free too, naturally – no allergy is left un-catered for here).
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Why is “Prenzl-Berg” the best place to stay in Berlin? Find the answer in and around Oderberger Strasse, Kastanienallee, Kollwitzstrasse and Helmholtzplatz.
Don’t miss the local heroes, the Kulturbrauerei (a brewery-turned cultural hub), Lichtblickkino (a 30-seat oldies cinema) and the popular flea market Mauerpark, once the death strip of the Berlin Wall and now a place where you will run into everyone you have ever met in Berlin (or even in the world! Trust me, it happened to me at least four times).
This is the neighbourhood where rockers and vegans walk down the street holding hands. By day, it’s very family friendly and full of great spots for cheap but tasty food. By night, it turns into a party district with almost every genre of bar.
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The most unique part of Friedrichshain is without a doubt RAW Gelände. Once an abandoned train repair words, the old brick buildings have been given a new lick of spray paint and some wild tenants: clubs like Cassiopeia, gallery-bar Urban Spree, veggie-restaurant-come-dive-bar Emma Pea, live music venue Badehaus, and the very hipster but too irresistible market complex, Neue Heimat.
Alt – Treptow
In terms of where to stay in Berlin, this is the best-kept secret ever (oops, not anymore!). Most of the district Treptow is peaceful, and the old communist Treptower Park is perfect for riverbank beers. But Alt-Treptow specifically is right on the border with the crazier parts of Kreuzberg.
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This puts you within stumbling distance of the some of the definitively “Berlin” clubs: amongst the old industrial buildings along the Spree you’ll find Chalet and Arena. Things get really quirky at White Trash, a top-notch fast food restaurant (yes, you read that right) that is also a tattoo parlour, and at Badeschiff, a bar-come-swimming pool that sits right in the Spree.
This year Wedding has been getting a lot of attention as the new kid on the block. So if you’re looking for where to stay in Berlin that can give you a sense of the change that is taking hold, this is your district.
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Being in its baby stages (as opposed to say, Prenzlauer Berg or Kreuzberg), the scene in Wedding is very raw.
Dive bars, dim pubs, microbreweries (hipster and German alike), and local artsy initiatives such as PANKE, a gallery, club and cafe tucked away in a courtyard and on the bank of a stream; and Piano Salon Christophori, an old piano workshop which hosts some of its world-class, intimate piano recitals on a donation basis (with drinks included!).
This central location would be the best place to stay in Berlin in either spring, summer or autumn (sorry, winter) thanks to the enchanted forest that is Tiergarten, the old royal hunting grounds. This would also be a perfect place to take the kids since you are right on top of the West Berlin zoo; the oldest in Germany, by the way.
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Although three-quarters of the district is the park (yep, that huge!), the south of Tiergarten is a civilised and cultured network of streets with true “old” Berlin cafes, such as Cafe Einstein Stammhaus. Potsdamer Strasse, though, is an entirely different breed. Next to Turkish grocery shops there are fancy cocktail bars, private modern art galleries face off against street art murals.
When you do your research on Schöneberg’s nightlife, you’ll notice that there are a lot of gay bars – and in Berlin, that means cool, relaxed and with just the right dose of kitsch.
This is the best area to stay in Berlin if you’re into partying, but would also like to see a few less broken bottles on the street the morning after. Restaurants and brunch institutions like Cafe Bilderbuch are everywhere, especially around Akazienstrasse and Goltzstrasse.
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Schöneberg is a couple of stops away from the main sights, but it has its own share of historical action: Kennedy wowed the masses (and fluffed his grammar) with his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in the shadow of the town hall, Rathaus Schöneberg.
For one night only this year (2016), Hauptstrasse changed its name to David-Bowie-Strasse to honour its former resident’s journey to the stars. And the Natur-Park Schöneberger Südgelände was once a rail yard but has been transformed into a reserve for a bunch of cute animals.
There are two sides to Kreuzberg – the side that wakes up at 11 am and has a coffee, pastry and a stroll, and the side that wakes up at 11 am and has a beer. The U7 weaves through the Bergmannkiez, a network of streets with more cafes, restaurants and varieties of cuisine than you could ever need, stretching between the panoramic Viktoriapark and the covered market Marheineke Markthalle.
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Yet the U1 shoots right through the heart of Berlin’s resistance frontier: Kottbusser Tor is loud, noisy and a guaranteed gold mine for kebabs, smoky bar-clubs and an unpredictable night.
A few steps from Görlitzer Bahnhof and you’ll find yourself in some of the weirdest bars you’ll have ever been in (Vögelchen, for one). And to wind down (or get started) in a more relaxed fashion, get off at Schlesisches Tor and head south-east through the smaller streets to local drinking dens, such as the 70s cave, Konrad Tönz.
If you’re making a flying visit or want every top 10 sights no more than a few blocks away, this is where to stay in Berlin. Every step you take in Mitte will take you back in time: through streets once strewn with rubble post-1945, formerly cleft by the Berlin Wall, and haunted by Prussian kings.
If you lodge in the city’s finest overnight stay, the Hotel Adlon, you’ll be literally next door to the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Maybe you’ll bump into a few presidents or pop stars over breakfast, too.
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Mitte is more than the mainstream: our Airbnb pick is right at the heart of where Berliners like to hang out in the centre. Oranienburgerstrasse, Linienstrasse and all around Weinmeisterstrasse you’ll find courtyard mazes, award-winning coffee brewers (The Barn, Father Carpenter), fine tea houses (Nannoushan, the Tajik Tearoom), galleries (KW) and the best German bread in Berlin at Zeit für Brot.
Splashing out is fun. And Charlottenburg is where to stay in Berlin to do that. Nowhere is a better sample of upper-class living than KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens, the mall of the West).
Essentially the Harrod’s of Berlin, it’s a great place to dream or to make dreams come true. If you get a guilty conscience about your spending habits, wait till you see the inside of Charlottenburg Palace…
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What else would the elegant residents of Charlottenburg do with their money? Spend it on Kudamm, the main shopping mile in Berlin, and stop at Grosz for tea served with hourglass timers.
In the evening, get pensive at a talk in the bookshop and cafe, Wintergarten & Literaturhaus Berlin, or let your hair down at one of Savignyplatz’s time-honoured jazz bars.
If you stay here, make sure you walk around with some old photographs from the 20s, 50s, and 70s. This bustling crossing with glass skyscrapers used to be full of horse-drawn carriages and was so chaotic it inspired the city’s first traffic light.
But the damaging duo of the Second World War and the Berlin Wall made it a flat desert – you can still see pieces of the Wall dotted around.
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Although the eye-catching Sony Centre is defined by globalised cinema and shopping, there are also more museums than you could manage in a week.
The Kulturforum down the road is a cluster of cultural beasts, such as the Berliner Philharmonie and New National Gallery. And the German TV and Film Museum has free entry on Thursdays from 4 pm!
When you’re ready to commit and have finally chosen where to stay in Berlin, you’d better find out how you’re going to get there.