Of all Europe’s capitals, Berlin carries the biggest buzz. In the two decades or so since it was reunified, the city has developed into a heady meld of grit and glamour that’s vastly different from anywhere else in Germany – or the rest of the world for that matter.
Today, this is a city of distinct districts, and deciding where to stay may be your most important choice. While the public transport network is excellent, staying in the area of town that suits you best will make your visit easier. Whatever kind of trip you’re planning, here’s the lowdown on the best area to stay in Berlin from the new edition of The Rough Guide to Berlin.
Best for sightseeing: Spandauer Vorstadt
Arcing elegantly above the Spree between Friedrichstrasse and Alexanderplatz, the Spandauer Vorstadt was an eighteenth-century suburb that today serves as Berlin’s primary “downtown” area, and is the heart of the Mitte district.
This is the most obvious area to stay in Berlin, particularly if you’re after a major hotel. There is also a good selection of hostels and boutique hotels here – all within walking distance of many city-centre attractions, and near good eating and nightlife options.
Best boutique: Hackescher Markt. Quirky little hotel on a quiet side street, in the middle of the Hackescher Markt bar scene.
Members-club chic: Soho House. All the Soho House trappings (rooftop pool, restaurant, bars, etc) in a restored Bauhaus building hinting at the faded glamour of the late 1920s.
Best for families: Prenzlauer Berg
If you are going to be in Berlin a little longer than a weekend or prefer a quieter, less touristy but equally happening residential neighbourhood, Prenzlauer Berg is a good choice.
Built in the nineteenth century as a working-class district, the area has seen huge gentrification. Today’s refurbished buildings and handsome, cobbled streets create an attractive Alt Berlin atmosphere beloved by wealthy creative types and middle-class families, who gravitate towards leafy, laidback squares like Helmholtzplatz and Kollwitzplatz.
Apartment stay: Ackselhaus. Offbeat hotel and apartments on an attractive residential street in the heart of the lively Prenzlauer Berg scene.
Elegant and tasteful: Myer’s Hotel. Small upmarket hotel in a renovated nineteenth-century Neoclassical building, with rooms arranged around a glass-roofed courtyard.
Best for choice: City West
Four boroughs make up City West: Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, known for its wealthy residents and expensive shops.
You’ll find plenty of options in every category here, although it’s a little away from Berlin’s brightest lights, so nightlife is very thin, but the restaurant scene is generally very good and transport links first-class.
Pick of the hostels: Jetpak Flashpacker. Western Berlin’s best hostel is scrupulously clean and in a quiet residential neighbourhood.
A step back in time: Hotel-Pension Funk. Interesting re-creation of a prewar flat, with furnishings from the 1920s and 1930s, when Danish silent-movie star Asta Nielsen lived here.
Best for bar-hopping: Friedrichshain
Though part of an ensemble of former East inner-city areas, Friedrichshain has developed a slightly differently mien than that of neighbouring Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg. A magnet for lefties, anarchists and students, it has managed to resist the same levels of gentrification thanks to an organised squatter scene, activist demos and the occasional car-burning frenzy.
It’s most popular for bar-hopping and clubbing, but the area does offer some heavyweight public monuments, the world-famous East Side gallery and the imposing Karl-Marx-Allee among them. It’s also home to – indeed named after – the lovely, sprawling Volkspark Friedrichshain.
Warehouse cool: Michelberger Hotel. Modern, trendy and relaxed haunt with anything but workaday accommodation.
An Ostalgie fix: Ostel. Step back into the GDR of the 1970s amid a haze of browns and oranges at this themed budget hotel a short walk from the Ostbahnhof.
Best for cutting-edge culture: East Kreuzberg
An isolated section of West Berlin throughout the Cold War, Kreuzberg has since grown into one of Berlin’s most colourful districts – a magnet for left-wing anarchists, gays, turkish immigrants (it’s sometimes called little Istanbul) and, increasingly, hipsters and tourists.
Much of the eastern part of Kreuzberg abutted the wall on the West side and was strongly associated with Berlin’s squatter and anarchist scenes. Though the area has gentrified somewhat since those heady days, it maintains a grungy, vibrant feel, fuelled by an ever-expanding series of excellent independent bars, clubs and restaurants.
Flashpacking: Jetpak Alternative. Slick branch of Berlin’s best hostel chain that offers a pretty stark contrast to Kreuzberg’s gritty but happening Wrangelkiez neighbourhood.
Beatnik beds: baxpax. Cheerful beatnik hostel in a happening area of Kreuzberg.
This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from The Rough Guide to Berlin. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.