Berlin is a place of stark contrasts. On one hand, reminders of its turbulent past are everywhere. But it’s also a modern megalopolis — that’s geographically nine times bigger than Paris — with exciting new attractions and an inherent subversiveness. This juxtaposition makes it a destination unlike any other. By Lindsay Cohn
The big question for most travellers when venturing to Germany‘s once war-torn capital then becomes how to navigate the past while living in the present. It’s essential to confront the heavier aspects of the city’s history. However, that doesn’t mean a visit to Berlin is all memorials and museums. (Though, it bears repeating that you should absolutely carve out ample time to do all that.) The contemporary side of things very much deserves exploration, too.
An artsy mecca with a slew of galleries and eccentric installations, Berlin transformed the last pieces of the wall that once divided it into a permanent open-air exhibition.
This sprawling city also has a wild side with nightlife at its centre. There are hedonistic drinking dens with cabaret acts, swanky speakeasies and anything-goes clubs where people party for 48 hours (that’s not an exaggeration). Add to that picturesque parks, a thriving food scene that’s garnered international acclaim of late, a world-class zoo and a cool aesthetic sensibility with homegrown designers making a global name for themselves.
Overwhelmed? Berlin tends to have that effect on out-of-towners. Bookmark this guide to help plan your first (or next) trip.
CEST (Central European Summer Time)
Best Time to Go
May through October is the peak travel period in Berlin. Temperatures tend to be moderate, making it a lovely time to walk around, see the historic sites, hang out in the many green spaces and enjoy al fresco dining. Winter isn’t the season that most tourists visit due to the less welcoming weather. However, holiday festivities — notably the fabled Christmas markets — are a bright light in the middle of what can feel like a very long, grey few months.
Things to Know
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Calling Code: +49
How to Get Around
U-Bahn: The most convenient and efficient way to navigate Berlin, the U-Bahn, or subway system, has a total of 10 lines stopping at 173 stations. During the day, the iconic yellow U-Bahn trains depart every five minutes. At night, they leave in 10-minute intervals. Tickets are also valid across the Transport Association Berlin-Brandenburg VBB-operated S-Bahn, buses and trams.
Buses: Metro buses M11 to M85 run 24/7. Day bus lines 100 to 399 connect the suburbs and city centre. Night buses—which are marked with an N — cover the day bus and U-Bahn routes that cease operating overnight.
Trams & Metrotrams: Upwards of 20 tram lines extend the network of the U-Bahn through the eastern part of Berlin. The difference between trams and metrotrams is frequency, with the latter running more often.
Taxis: Public transport in Berlin is fantastic — and would be our recommendation. That said, if you’d rather take a car, taxis are widely available.
Rideshare: Prefer to hail an Uber? That’s also an option.
Bicycles: Bike sharing is a convenient and eco-friendly way to get around thanks to companies like Nextbike and Donkey Republic. While electric bikes are available to rent through Wheels, Jump and LimeBike.
Hotel de Rome
Address: Behrenstraße 37, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 4606090
Located on Bebelplatz in historic East Berlin, Hotel de Rome occupies what was once the headquarters of 19th-century Dresden Bank. Brilliantly, this prestigious Rocco Forte property preserved many of the building’s most spectacular original features – most interestingly the jewel vault that’s now an indoor swimming pool. While sleek furnishings and colourful accents add modern flair to the mix.
Address: Oranienstraße 40, 10999 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 69539680
An upscale addition to the edgier side of Kreuzberg, Oriana.Berlin is a boutique stay with an elevated yet totally laid-back sensibility. It’s impossible to pinpoint the singular thing that makes this hotel so stellar, however, the subtle Asian influences—headboards swathed in elephant-printed fabric and signature crispy-skinned duck at the restaurant — as well as jazz in the open-concept lobby, definitely play a part.
Hotel am Steinplatz, Autograph Collection
Address: Steinpl. 4, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 5544440
The same air of glamour and sophistication that lured the likes of Brigitte Bardo to Hotel am Steinplatz remains today. Sure, the decor is different — not that anyone would complain about the gorgeously refreshed interiors (or the upgraded amenities for that matter) — but the distinctive Art Nouveau details endure. Plus, it’s within walking distance of Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz and the Berlin Zoo.
SO/ Berlin Das Stue
Address: Drakestraße 1, 10787 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 3117220
Upon arrival, SO/ Berlin Das Stue looks incredibly posh. The 1930s neoclassical edifice, built by KaDeWe architect Johann Emil Schaudt, certainly gives off a regal first impression. Inside the former Royal Danish Embassy, it’s just as resplendent with an eye-catching white marble staircase and dazzling, larger-than-life chandelier. Direct access to the Berlin Zoo is a bonus.
25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
Address: Budapester Str. 40, 10787 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 1202210
Hip, youthful, off-beat, and affordable — 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin serves up a major cool factor. It’s the type of place you’d go to hang out even if you weren’t a guest. Of course, staying at this urban oasis does come with a bunch of perks such as enjoying the jungle-themed rooms and skipping the line for the rooftop cocktail bar.
Hotel Adlon Kempinski
Address: Unter den Linden 77, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 22610
Boasting (arguably) the most desirable addresses in Berlin, Hotel Adlon Kempinski sits directly across the way from Brandenburg Gate. Enviable location aside, this five-star property is a revered landmark for so many other reasons. From the opulent lobby and spacious suites to the Michelin-starred restaurant, grandeur and elegance are the very heart of everything.
Address: Pflugstrasse 11, 10115 Berlin Germany
Phone: +49 30 28387765
When in Berlin, you must try traditional German food. Hackethals is a cosy gastropub that does classics right. Order the sauerkraut, potato dumplings, schnitzel, and slow-cooked venison. Be sure to leave room for apple strudel. To wash it down? Beer, of course.
Restaurant Tim Raue (Fine Dining)
Address: Rudi-Dutschke-Straße 26, 10969 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 25937930
Berlin-born chef Tim Raue needs no introduction. Neither does the elevated Asian-inspired menu at his Michelin-rated restaurant, which continually receives rave reviews from critics and diners alike. Needless to say, reservations are required.
Curry 61 (German)
Address: Oranienburger Str. 6, 10178 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 40054033
Currywurst (pork sausage smothered in curried ketchup and served alongside fries) is extremely popular street food in Berlin. You can sample it all over the city, but Curry 61 makes one of the best versions of this crowd-pleasing dish. Try it and thank us later.
Eins44 (Modern European)
Address: Elbestraße 28/29, 12045 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 62981212
Sublime isn’t a word that we toss around a lot. However, it’s the most accurate way to describe the entire experience at Eins44. Enter the industrial-inspired eatery, inside an old distillery, and prepare to have your taste buds tickled by an unfussy interpretation of modern European fine dining.
Address: Potsdamer Straße 91, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 983208435
Oftentimes, you have to choose between Michelin-starred fare and a fun vibe. That couldn’t be less true of Panama. The modern German cuisine, lively two-floor space and service are fantastic. Did we mention the craft cocktails and interesting wine list?
Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap (Turkish)
Address: Mehringdamm 32, 10961 Berlin, Germany
Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap in Kreuzberg is one of those places that’s just universally adored. The only downside? Depending on when you visit, the queue might stretch an entire city block. We promise it’s worth waiting just to dig into a juicy döner kebab.
Things to Do
East Side Gallery
Address: Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 2517159
What was once a symbol of division now reflects the spirit and resilience of the city. Perched along the banks of Spree River in Friedrichshain, the 4,318-foot-long East Side Gallery showcases a collection of colourful murals painted on the surviving pieces of the Berlin Wall. It’s a beautiful metaphor that’s so very Berlin.
Address: Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 22732152
Like so much of Berlin, the Reichstag Building has lived many lives. Today, it again houses the German parliament. Admire the neo-Baroque edifice from the outside or book in advance to step inside the Sir Norman Foster-designed glass dome.
Address: Pariser Platz, 10117 Berlin, Germany
One block south of the Reichstag Building stands Brandenburg Gate. Widely considered to be Berlin’s most iconic landmark, it’s a shining symbol of freedom and reunification after four decades of Cold War division.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Address: Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 2639430
Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe honours the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. It’s a heartbreaking and incredibly important reminder of what happened that should be mandatory to visit.
Address: Tempelhofer Damm, 12101 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 700906710
An abandoned airport turned 355-hectare public park, Tempelhofer Feld delivers that telltale mashup of past and present in the most Berlin way possible. You can stroll, cycle, or skate down the concrete runways where WWII dive-bombers took off, while feet away dogs run after frisbees and bikini-clad Berliners sunbathe.
Address: Am Wriezener Bahnhof, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Berliners love to party. As such, there are a lot of after-dark venues to do just that. But none compare to Berghain. The world’s most infamous club invites revellers to leave their inhibitions behind, dance to techno beats and give in to every debaucherous whim.
Address: Bodestraße 1-3 10178 Berlin, Germany
On a small island in the Spree River sits a collection of five prominent museums. This UNESCO-listed, architecturally striking complex is known as Museum Island — and it’s a must for any culture lover.
Kaufhaus des Westens
Address: Tauentzienstraße 21-24, 10789 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 21210
At a sprawling 6,50,000 square feet and with some 3,80,000 items for sale at any given time, Kaufhaus des Westens—typically abbreviated to KaDeWe—holds the title of Berlin’s most famous retail space. It’s actually the second-largest department store in all of Europe after Harrods in London.
Address: Sanderstraße 11, 12047 Berlin, Germany
Berlin isn’t lacking in vintage stores. Sing Blackbird sets itself apart thanks to an expertly curated selection of pre-loved pieces, plus a stylish café.
Address: Kurfürstendamm 10707 Berlin, Germany
Often compared to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Kurfürstendamm in Charlottenburg is lined with high-end designers like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. If you don’t have that kind of cash, it’s also a great place for window shopping.
The Amazing Crocodile Design Store
Address: Raumerstraße 23, 10437 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 40006930
Fancy an upside-down geometric pendant lamp or neon pink floor mirror? You’ll find both at The Amazing Crocodile Design Store, the buzziest spot to buy quirky, refined, and oh-so-chic homewares in Berlin.
Address: Oranienstraße 24, 10999 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 61651119
A progressive, forward-thinking undercurrent has permeated its way into the Berlin aesthetic of late. Insert Voo Store, a contemporary concept shop that meets a speciality coffee roaster that’s tucked away on the ground floor of a former locksmith in Kreuzberg.
Antique Jewellery Berlin
Address: Linienstraße 44, 10119 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 20689155
Antique Jewellery Berlin offers a vast array of vintage baubles. Whether you’re in the market for a signet ring or enamel earrings, we’d be willing to bet it’s sitting in the case at this beloved retailer.
Neighbourhoods to Know
Berlin has 12 administrative districts (Bezirk), subdivided into 23 neighbourhoods (Kiez).
Mitte: Keen to stay in the heart of the action? Mitte (which literally means “middle”) lies in the centre of the city. Not only is this sprawling borough chock-full of top sights — including Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, and Tiergarten — but also cafes, bars, and shops. Another major selling point? Public transport. Basically, every train line runs through the main railway station, Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Kreuzberg: People often liken bohemian Kreuzberg to Brooklyn, but there’s really no accurate comparison. Of late, a spate of hip bars and trendy restaurants have popped up at a breakneck pace. Yet much of Kreuzberg still clings to its grittiness like a badge of honour. On one corner, a beautiful community garden and art installation. Veer left and you’ll arrive on a gentrification-resistant street scattered with broken beer bottles and graffiti-covered buildings. And that’s the beauty of this enigmatic, multicultural hood.
Charlottenburg: Charlottenburg could accurately be categorised as the more upscale side of Berlin. Graceful pre-war buildings, five-star hotels, top-rated restaurants, and designer boutiques dot the litter-free boulevards. The stately Charlottenburg Palace has ornate interiors and manicured gardens, while Berggruen Museum displays an incredible collection of modern art.
Neukölln: A diverse district known for its eclectic, international vibe, the bustling streets of Neukölln brim with Middle Eastern bakeries, vegan eateries, bars, breweries, and artists studios. Check out a poetry slam at Heimathafen Neukölln and shop for fragrant spices at the Turkish Market.
Schöneberg: The epicentre of nightlife back in the 1920s, today Schöneberg is the hub of LGBTQIA culture. It’s home to an array of bars, cafes, galleries and shops, including Kaufhaus des Westens, as well as Natur-Park Südgelände.
Things begin to thaw in the spring. As the months move ahead, the temperature rises. Summer is warm, but rarely hot. Pack a light jacket and be prepared to layer as it moves later into fall. When winter rolls in, expect some clouds, rain, sleet and snow.
The following are average Celsius highs and lows by season.
Spring: 18°C / 8°C
Summer: 23°C / 14°C
Fall: 14°C / 6°C
Winter: 4°C / -1°C