A Guide to Berlin's Best Neighbourhoods
Berlin is huge. So much so that its districts could be considered their own cities, and would warrant individual guides. But as a first rule of thumb, it's probably smartest and simplest to stick to the neighbourhoods or the pieces of them that are still within the Ring.
This is, already, more ground than anyone can cover during an average, long-weekend-stay here. But it sets a good limit with plenty of possibilities and easy A-to-B. The most interesting hoods in question here would thereby be Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Schöneberg, and Charlottenburg. Let it be known though that Berlin is ideal for spontaneous, casual, intuitive exploration, and that, in essence, most if not all parts of it offer great entertainment, whatever kind, each with their own little quirks, touches and variations.
Mitte is the city’s literal centre and therefore home to many important addresses in terms of politics and the economy. But there’s also lots to see here. Perhaps one of the more eco-posh parts of town – think soon-to-be or wannabe Silicon valley startup bros –, Mitte is great for shopping, especially its lanes all around Weinmeister Strasse, and a healthily luxe lunch at Klub Kitchen. Torstrasse all the way up to Rosenthaler Platz and the Weinbergspark right behind it are stacked with things to sip, taste or splurge on, in all price ranges, including the adorably tiny hole-in-the-wall bar Pik As, or SOTO and The Store for all things high end apparel. Unless you’re just really into mediocre malls, department and chain stores and touristy nonsense, you’re better off steering clear of Alexanderplatz, as it’s full of people and its only real sight worth seeing is the eponymous tower – which you can see perfectly from other angles of town without having to trip over agitated shoppers and commuters. Same goes for the Alexa, the late East Germany’s once glorious shopping centre, now more interesting outside than in.
Prenzlauer Berg belongs to the greater district that is Pankow. It’s the north-eastern section of Berlin and, in many ways, the most conventionally residential. While once a young hipster’s dreamscape, close to Mauerpark’s renowned flea market and bizarre outdoor karaoke stage, P-Berg has now calmed down, the ultimate turf for young families and nine-to-five professionals. It’s great for weekend walks, brunches, the oh-so-German coffee and cake break, or a mellow, cosy evening at a bar, less so for crazy nights out. Its distinctly East German appeal, the Water Tower on Knaackstrasse, tastefully gimmicky boutiques along Kastanienallee, Stargader and Eberswalder Strasse, the rainbow-coloured Oderbergerstrasse, or the Zionskirchplatz just above the neighbouring neighbourhood of Mitte, are some of its prime attributes. With strips of splendid cuisine, like Osmans Tochter or Mrs. Robinson, and day-to-night spots on every corner, including Wohnzimmer and Bar Normal. Again, Prenzlauerberg is known to be more grown-up, a little fancy even, and not really for frivolous partying, so your mood and motivation will determine whether or not this is where you’ll want to settle.
In some ways, this hood is Berlin in its most clichéd form. It’s home, for instance, to Warschauer Straße and the RAW compound, on which a handful of the city’s best-known but not necessarily best clubs rest. This is totally subjective of course, and if you feel drawn to a particular event or line-up at, say, Suicide Circus, or Watergate or Kater Blau along the Spree river, then please do not hesitate. The legendary Berghain – named after Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain – is not far either. Further along the water, you’ll find the Eastside Gallery, a tourist-favourite outdoor showcase of painted remainders of the Berlin Wall, and the Oberbaum Brücke that literally bridges the gap into the heart of Kreuzberg.
Friedrichshain is a bit rougher around the edges than other areas, but also cheaper in comparison to the bordering P-Berg, Kreuzberg or Mitte. You’ll find loads of independent movie theatres, dive bars, book and record stores, consignment shops and restaurants all around Simon-Dach-Strasse or Karl-Marx-Allee, for instance, the latter of which is also a phenomenal display of quasi-namesake Socialist architecture and home to a huge Humana second hand store.
Arguably the hippest of Berlin’s districts – and the most aggressive example of gentrification's clutches. In its wake, what used to be a fairly sleepy neighbourhood for working class migrants, has since evolved to become the capital’s chicest turnstile for just about everything, from home decor to designer fashion to conceptual culinary go-tos. Think of this what you will, but what’s done is done, might as well indulge in it…I guess.
Kottbusser Tor is one of its core quadrants, with its leisure-packed off-shoot streets – think Rose’s, Moebel Olfe or Chungking Noodles – leading down to the canals that border on Neukölln – a summer hotspot – or back up into the thick of the area’s beloved Bergmann Kiez (local synonym for neighbourhood), Mehringdamm. In and along both you’ll be treated to an array of popular food and drink locations, like Hinterland on Gneisenaustrasse, for natural wines and regional, seasonal dishes. Markthalle 9 is an indoor street food hall – great but pricey – around which you’ll find other gems like Sahara Imbiss for Sudanese fast food, Goldene Hahn for yummy, constantly switching Italian specialities, and Lerchen & Eulen for bargain beers and cigarettes, among much else. The Wrangelkiez is also worth a trip, close to both Görlitzer and Treptower Park and the infamously impossible-to-pronounce Schlesische Strasse. During the day you should check out König Gallerie, one of Berlin’s top destinations for contemporary art.
This hood has been fully claimed by the young and starry-eyed from everywhere in the world, but was also known mainly for its large Turkish community. Here, too, gentrification has taken its toll, good and bad, but more on that below. For tourists, Neukölln is great – it’s not expensive, it’s vibrant, and still fairly unpolished. This is where most between the age of 20 and 30 will go out to eat, drink and dance. Up and down Sonnenallee you’ll be treated to an endless selection of Turkish, Arabian, Lebanese delis and supermarkets, true treasure troves to either sit in, take away or buy from for a home cooked meal.
Then there’s everything around Weserstrasse, like Ä and Beuster (beware of influencers indulging in Moules-Frites and Frosé), or up and down Boddin or Karl-Marx-Strasse, close to Hermannplatz and the Hasenheide park. For dancing, head to Sameheads, Arkaoda or, for some pleasantly trashy tunes, to SchwuZ, one of the city’s oldest gay clubs. Least I forget, Tempelhofer Feld: a little cheesy at this point, this is still worth visiting, so long as it’s sunny out. It’s a gigantic former airport runway, now plastered in picnicking, roller skating, prosecco-slurping locals and is just an overall interesting piece of urban property.
A gorgeous district in the West of Berlin. The majority of it is more toned down as far as nightlife goes, but it’s full of good coffee joints, little galleries and antique shops. All around Bülowstrasse is a personal favorite of mine, it’s a bit grimier and you can tell how distinguished the newer architecture is from the older buildings that withstood bombing and decay. It’s a more drastic exhibit of where the past meets the present, or where high end concept stores sit just across the street from strip clubs and hookah cafés. Rüyam on Hauptstrasse is probably one of the best Döner Kebabs in all of Berlin, Da Jia Le on Goebenstrasse serves delicious traditional Chinese dishes beneath a wonderfully tacky crystal chandelier, and Victoria Bar on Potsdamer Strasse is an oasis for elegant yet unpretentious cocktail hours. Historically, Nollendorfplatz is the original gaybourhood of Berlin, with plenty of eateries, bars and shops around, including thrifter-heaven Garage.
Charlottenburg has long been considered the most affluent of districts. The famed KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens, literally meaning "Department Store of the West”), is a true cultural flagship of Berlin. Treat yourself to some fresh oysters and a glass of champagne while you’re there, after browsing through aisles of luxury fashion and a grand selection of beauty and culinary products, if even only to feel rich for an hour. Or stroll down Ku’Damm, one of the oldest streets in town, for a traditional shopping spree and architectural eye candy. On Hardenbergstrasse, just on the edge to the Tiergarten-neighbourhood of Mitte, there’s the C/O Gallery, at which to get acquainted with contemporary photographers’ work, or go around the corner to Jebenstrasse for the Helmut Newton Foundation. Kantstrasse, past the legendary Paris Bar, will lead you to the beautiful Savigny Platz, home to age-old bistros where, to this day, intellectuals, the upper echelon and other caricatures read their morning paper: catch a glimpse at Schwarzes Café from 8am to 3am.