Things to do in Berlin

Get Your Bearings in Berlin

By Ryan Kalb
Berlin Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Being a city that has experienced fascism, socialism and democracy within the last century, Berlin is especially rich to those of a historical persuasion. But Berlin's list of attractions only begins here. Berlin boasts not only some of the most impressive museums of any European capital, but also it's currently cultivating an incredibly dynamic local art scene. Another fun and healthy way to take in all of Berlin's numerous sights and attractions is to do a walking or cycling tour through the German capital. 

Caution:

The Reichstag is booked well in advance - make sure to make an appointment in order to see its brilliant domed ceiling.

Hot Tips:

Parks and local lakes are a great place to enjoy the summer months. Make sure to grill!

Where to Stay

The majority of Berlin's better lodging choices are located in the Mitte and Schöneberg neighborhoods of Berlin. These neighborhoods are where you'll find many of the luxury options, such as the renowned Ritz Carlton and hotels with a view of the Brandenburger Tor, such as the Hotel Adlon. In starting a theme that will repeat throughout this page, one must realize that in contrast to other European metropolitan areas, Berlin offers run the gamut from high-end luxury options to almost shockingly cheap, yet still very livable hostels.

Caution:

Book nicer hotels as soon as you have dates.

Hot Tips:

The Ostel is a hostel that offers guests accommodations in the East German retro style of the 70s and 80s.

What to Eat

Berlin's restaurant scene is certainly becoming quite trendy at the moment. The best part is that it remains eminently affordable. Berlin's restauranteurs are constantly innovating and developing novel, culinary concepts that allow foodies to relish in the contemporary moment. To wit: Sauvage, a restaurant that serves dishes that "could be prepared before the advent of agriculture," or Cookies Cream, a classy vegetarian prix fixe restaurant located in the upstairs of a hot German nightclub. Berlin is also famous for popularizing the guerrilla dining concept, in which delicious restaurants "pop up" in a space or apartment for a limited time.

Take It or Leave It:

This may sound crazy, but leave the proper German restaurants to other German cities. Berlin is the place to sample the rest of the world!

Hot Tips:

Berlin now boasts the most Michelin-star rated restaurants in all of Germany, besting perennial favorites Munich and Hamburg.

Be Sure to Sample:

Make sure to sample a döner kebab - a pita bread in which German fast food meets Turkish culinary inspiration.

Places to Party

Berlin's nightlife scene is regarded by many to be the creme de la creme of Europe. Massive nightclubs such as the infamous Berghain (deriving its name from its location hugging Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain), Watergate and Kater Holzig open their doors on Friday evening and often don't close until Monday. Especially in summer, the party scene here can seem virtually interminable. Fortunately, there are many more low-key options in the vein of bars; and yes, even clubs that close at more reasonable hours in order to satisfy everyone's particular taste.

Caution:

Bars and clubs are especially full on weekends, and Berlin nightlife in general begins late.

Hot Tips:

Head to Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain in order to sample some bars before heading off to dance.

Where to Shop

Germany's best retail shopping - both chain and luxury-brand - happens along the Kürfurstendamm, which is located in West Berlin. Nevertheless, neighborhoods such as Prenzlauerberg, Kreuzberg, and most feverishly, Mitte, have quietly been developing their own boutique shopping culture. If you want the best of Berlin's budding design and clothing scene, it's best to head to these neighborhoods in order to support the local talent and find something unique.

Avoid:

Malls such as Alexa at Alexanderplatz. Enjoy the culture, but not American mall culture.

Best Local Souvenir:

Berlin TV Tower Disco Ball!

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Berlin Neighborhoods

Things to do in Berlin


Berlin is known for...

Five of Berlin's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Cold War History:

For fifty years, Berlin was the axle around which the Cold War in Europe turned. The Berlin Wall tore apart a city and a nation, and for almost half a century, West Berlin lived an isolated capitalist life deep within European communism, equal parts hostage and envied role model. Even today, more than twenty years after reunification, it's hard to go a day without seeing evidence of the conflict, whether it's the special pavement stones that mark the path the Wall took through the city or one of the many museums commemorating the subject. Even a glance to the horizon is likely to serve as a reminder – the TV Tower, shining beacon of Communist East Germany, still dominates the skyline. 

2. Clubs and Riverside Bars:

Ask anyone under thirty (and a good number of people older than that) where the best city to go clubbing is, and chances are, they'll say Berlin. And after a night out here, you'll believe them. Clubs here typically open their doors Thursday night and don't usually bother closing them until Monday morning. Though it's possible to find Top 40 or rock clubs, the vast majority trade in the minimal electronic style, in fact so much so, that the music is sometimes referred to as "Berlin-style techno." In the summer, the club culture gratefully makes its way outdoors, to the multiple riverside establishments catering to the club lifestyle. All summer long, Kater Holzig (Spawn of the original Strandbar, Bar 25), Club der Visionaire, and many others project pounding electronic beats across the smooth surface of Berlin's river Spree. 

3. International Culture:

Walking down the street in certain parts of Kreuzberg, it can be easy to forget that one is in Germany. English, and to a lesser extent Italian and Spanish, can be heard in the street almost as frequently as German. Berlin's status as an art and nightlife destination inspires thousands of expats to move here each year. Though some Germans lament this perceived ebb of German culture, it's really par for the course in Berlin. Ever since WWII, different groups have made Berlin their home-away-from-home, beginning of course with the Turks, Berlin's largest minority, and later Vietnamese, Russian, and Polish immigrants. This new wave of internationals is simply the next stage of Berlin's development as a true world capital.  

4. Art:

Art is an indelible part of the fabric of Berlin. With hundreds of art galleries in the city, there are dozens of openings every night, running the gamut from high society events in museums showing works of world-famous artists to tiny, barely attended shows from unknown artists in back rooms and basements of bars and cafés. World-class art museums like Hamburger Bahnhof and the Alte Nationalgalerie only serve to complement the sheer volume of artwork the city produces and showcases.

5. Parks and Lakes:

After WWII and the Battle of Berlin, the city was utterly destroyed. In the years that followed, Berlin's civic engineers on each side of the Wall had a unique opportunity. Unconstrained by the need to preserve historic buildings – of which there were precious few remaining – large swaths of formerly densely developed areas were transfermed into parks and open green spaces. This tradition continued through the fall of the Berlin Wall and into the 21st Century. When Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008, its grounds were turned into the one of the world's largest inner-city parks, now used to host events and festivals.