Europe’s coolest capital? Well, Berlin is definitely up there. For somewhere so steeped in history and conflict, Germany’s capital is rapidly stealing the show from the rest of Western Europe’s popular hangouts. With a combination of glamorous style and urban cool, Berlin has been reborn, dusting off the rubble of post-war Germany and quickly turning into a young and vibrant city of culture, business, art and music.
Here we’re going to give you a shakedown of what Berlin is all about, to help you feel more like a local and avoid a repeat JFK’s famous words “Ich bin ein Berliner” (no, you’re not a doughnut, although…).
Our guide of the best of Berlin
Where to stay
It wasn’t long ago that the city was still split in two by the divisive Berlin Wall, with the contrasts between the east and west parts of the city still noticeable today, but these days many of the Eastern neighbourhoods have been regenerated to draw in the young creatives. Mitte is one of the most popular neighbourhoods to stay in, right in the city centre and full of art galleries, museums, picturesque squares, Michelin-starred restaurants and fancy hotels. Friedrichshain is another good district to stay in, with plenty of bars and budget hotels, and easy access to the lush, green Tiergarten and the city’s most historic sites south of the river. If you’re heading to Berlin for the nightlife, the hip and artsy neighbourhoods of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg are ideal.
Berlin at Night
Berlin is full of things to see and do during today, but I think it’s fair to say that the city really comes alive at night. Berlin’s nightlife is one of a kind – whether you’re into hip hop, dance, drum and bass, pop or indie, Berlin’s club scene invites anyone and everyone to party hard until the sun comes up. Attracting DJ’s and musicians from all over the world, Berlin’s eclectic style, cheap entry and “everyone is welcome” atmosphere means you’re bound to have a good night out.
No Berlin nightclub is the same, each with their own quirk and USP. Take, for instance, Tresor nightclub; an old techno music club located in a former power station with a basement dancefloor reached through a 30-meter long tunnel. Pretty unique! For music other than techno, head to White Trash Fast Food in Mitte, churning out 50s retro, surf, garage and punk sounds in flamboyant and highly decorated surroundings. Over on the west side of the city you’ll find Cookies, a veteran of the Berlin club scene, with plenty of partygoers raving to underground house and disco.
If you’re heading out to dance in Berlin, it’s worth knowing that most club nights don’t kick off until 1am, with some of the city’s most popular jaunts being empty until then – so if you’re planning to staying out for the long haul, I recommend a power nap! Due to Berlin’s nocturnal nature, many cafes and restaurants stay open to the early hours, continuing the city’s contagious energy.
Take a Walking History Lesson
With its world-famous club scene and numerous cultural events throughout the year, Berlin now attracts thousands of young travellers, but no matter how modern and progressive it becomes, Berlin will never forget its history. With the physical remains of the divisive Berlin Wall era still evident throughout the city and numerous Holocaust and war memorials, walking through Berlin is like walking through a school history textbook. When you visit this city, make some time to reflect on the events that shaped this remarkable city.
Begin your history lesson with a trip to the iconic Reichstag Building, which played a vital part during Hitler’s Third Reich, just across from the equally famous Brandenburg Gate. Take a walk along the line where the Berlin Wall once stood and visit the East Side Gallery where you can see graffiti art sprayed on remnants of the original wall and head to Checkpoint Charlie. Or, visit the moving Holocaust Memorial to reflect Germany’s troubled past.
Bratwursts and burgers – cheap eats in Berlin
Unlike some other European capitals, a meal in Berlin will leave your stomach full without emptying your wallet. From burgers and bratwursts to Asian food and kebabs, eating cheaply is easy. Fast food kiosks are located all over the city, serving up anything from Vietnamese noodles to juicy hot dogs with sauerkraut. Make sure you try currywurst, a Berlin fast-food staple, with thick spicy sausage served with lashings of sauce and a soft roll.
For the best burgers in Berlin, head to Burgermeister – a no-fills burger shack located underneath the U-Bahn bridge – serving up top-notch beef patties with weird and wonderful sauces. This is fast-food at its yummiest.
Burgers and sausages aren’t the only cheap eats you can enjoy in Berlin, though. With a large Turkish population in the city, a classic fast food in Berlin is the döner kebab. We’re not talking a greasy 4am kebab from some chippy alley after a heavy night out; we’re talking a proper döner from Northern Turkey, with tender meat and salad in a soft flatbread. Try out the popular veal kebaps from Tadim, or if you can handle the long queues, head to Mustafa’s Gemüsekebap.
Getting there and away
As the capital of Germany, Berlin is very well connected. With cheap flights available from many European destinations it’s an easy place to visit all year round. For land travel, Berlin is ideally located in the middle of Europe’s great rail network, with train connections to Munich and Hamburg, as well as international connections to Amsterdam, Prague and Austria, making it a perfect stop on your European InterRail adventure.