Berlin is definitely having a moment. Over the past few years it has transcended its status as just one of Europe's largest cities, to become one of the coolest, modern hotspots on the continent.
Berlin is also the largest city in Germany, and its scale, diversity, and complexity can be overwhelming for first time visitors. With so much to see, do and taste, it is hard to know where to start. Here is what you need to know:
Where to Stay
Berlin has an almost excessive amount of hotels, which has the benefit of keeping prices down for consumers. You can find everything from five-star accommodations to classic budget hostels easily. Apartment rental sites are also becoming popular in certain neighborhoods. When it comes to finding a hotel in this vast city, the biggest question is simply WHERE to stay.
Most of the main tourist sights are located in Berlin-Mitte, so for a short stay in the city, this is a good option. There are many luxury hotels and budget hostels in the area, but oddly, very little in between.
You will find the best mid-range options in City West. This area is the heart of former West Berlin and a major shopping area. It's just a short train ride away from most major sites.
For budget travelers and those looking to experience some of the cool ambience of East Berlin, Kreuzberg is the place to look. It's a little less polished than the other areas mentioned, but more bohemian, full of international cheap eats, and absolutely packed with hostels of varying quality.
Berlin's public transportation system is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's cheap and can take you pretty much everywhere. On the other hand, it's very confusing for first time users. It may take you awhile to sort your way between the S-bahn (above ground trains), U-bahn (underground) trams, and buses. Visitors can use the excellent Berlin Route Planner website (in English) to plan their route through the vast city.
Public transportation pricing operates on a zone system with the U-bahn, S-bahn, bus, and tram all using the same tickets. Riders buy their tickets ahead of time and need to validate them using a machine on the platform or bus. Being caught without a validated ticket can lead to a hefty fine. For simplicity, visitors may want to buy a daily or weekly pass like the Berlin City Tour Card or Berlin Welcome Pass.
If you'd rather skip the subway, taxis are usually quite cheap. Uber is also very popular in Berlin.
What to See and Do
You will be at no loss for things to see and do in Berlin. There is a vast array of museums, churches, historical monuments, and interesting neighborhoods to explore.
Must-see historical monuments include the elegant Brandenburg Gate, the infamous Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. For the most important museums in the city, stop by Mueseuminsel, Museum Island, where many of the city's fine art museums are located. Tiergarten Park is a lovely place to spend a sunny day.
What to Eat
One of Berlin's greatest assets is its food culture. Like London, Berlin has a long history of foreign immigration, meaning one can find fantastic and authentic food from Vietnamese to Middle Eastern.
Two must-try dishes in Berlin are currywurst, a sliced sausage covered in curry powder, and ketchup and doner kebabs, a Turkish inspired flat bread filled with sliced meat. Both are delicious, cheap, and filling enough to keep you going through an afternoon navigating this great city.
What interests you most about visiting Berlin?