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What to do in Berlin, Germany: your insider's guide

Looking for everything you need to do in Berlin? We've got the best restaurants, bars, shops and even walks that will get you under the skin of the city

There's a certain preconception of Berlin: dark, smoky clubs; pounding techno; late nights and even later mornings.

Mostly, food beyond currywurst and kebabs (and, on the other hand, a burgeoning vegan movement) doesn't really get much of a look-in when it comes to most people's idea of the German capital.

The separation of East and West Berlin meant that the city's food scene has been a bit of a late bloomer. But 31 years later, a multicultural population and a recent influx of techies (so much so it's given rise to the moniker Silicon Allée) means it's ripe for a culinary explosion.

For every achingly cool party or trendy wine bar, there's a hole-in-the-wall churning out humble but no less delicious cooking – an accurate distillation of the city's rep for pretension mixed with raw, down-to-earth charm.

And, of course, there's a blending of the two. Classic German cooking is getting a glow-up from chefs who have trained around the world, and the likes of schnitzel, spätzle (noodles) and potato salads are getting a contemporary makeover.

Berliners are famously direct and tough to impress, so you know they won't take revamps of their favourite dishes lightly. They love food, but expect to get good value for money: for the most part, you can eat out pretty cheaply, and well.

Rather than having a central area where all the cool things are, life in the city revolves around various neighbourhoods. They're smaller and less built up than London areas – more South London than Shoreditch. Kreuzberg, Prenzlauerberg, and Neukölln are the holy trinity, and where you'll find most (but not all) of the good eating.

But wherever you end up staying, Berlin's transport network is incredibly efficient (obviously), so you're never more than 30 minutes from the action. A destination packed with life and culture, it's primed for a post-pandemic city break.

As always, though, Covid-19 is making things unpredictable, so check the latest travel restrictions before you book.

Berlin, Germany: the best places to stay

Max Brown Ku'Damm

Uhlandstraße 49

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Max Brown is a hotel group with a clutch of boutique offerings around Europe, and it stands to reason that its Berlin outpost is as boutique as they come. The rooms are comfortable and gorgeous, the breakfast spread is unrivalled, and – Max Brown's USP – the team are always in the know about the best things to do in the surrounding areas. What more could you ask for from a city break base?

maxbrownhotels.com/kudamm-berlin

Michelberger Hotel

Warschauer Str. 39-40

Tongue-in-cheek creativity reigns supreme at this unique hotel in Friedrichshain. Its rooms range from Cosy – meant for one, or a 'couple in love' – to The Big One, which has six single beds and is ideal for families or groups. We particularly like the Band suite, which has four single beds arranged around a structure that looks a bit like an indoor house. The hotel also has a bar, a courtyard that holds events, a decent restaurant, and is ten minutes from the infamous Berghain, perfect for when you inevitably don’t get past the bouncers at 5am.

From £70;michelbergerhotel.com

Henri Hotel

Meinekestrasse 9

If your trip to Berlin is going to involve more refined activities than dancing till the early (or late) hours, look to this plush, Wes Anderson-esque hotel located in the sophisticated Charlottenburg neighbourhood, formerly – and still – home to the city’s most affluent residents. It’s got all the parquet floors and stucco work characteristic of Berlin interiors, but they’ve been given a 21st-century lift by white walls and some seriously comfy soft furnishings. In a nice touch, the hotel serves abendbrot – a typically German dinner of breads, dips and snacks that’s included in the room rate – although you do have to pay extra for the excellent breakfast spread that’ll set you up for a day’s exploring.

From £95;henri-berlin.com

The Weinmeister

Weinmeisterstraße 2

If this hotel’s name makes you think you’ll be glugging bottles of the good stuff, well, you’re wrong. Sorry. But that’s not a bad thing – it’s actually a reference to its location on a street in the downtown Mitte district, close to key tourist sites like Musee Insel, an island in the middle of the Spree river that’s home to the city’s main museums and galleries, and the DDR Museum, which explores what life was like in former East Germany. The Weinmeister, adorned with street art-style murals, is part edgy art stay, part pristine boutique hotel at a great price, but what really makes it a good choice is the surrounding neighbourhood and easy access to the rest of the city.

From £85;the-weinmeister.com

The tastiest restaurants in Berlin

Sahara Imbiss

Various locations

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If you haven't nailed a plate of Sudanese food from Sahara Imbiss, you haven't really been to Berlin. This hole-in-the-wall joint has become so popular it has six outposts around the city, one in each of the main neighborhoods, which means you're never too far from falafel and fried halloumi. Get it to go, pick up a beer from a Späti (off-licence) and polish it off in a park.

saharaimbiss.de

Umami

Bergmannstraße 97

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Bergmannstraße is one of the central thoroughfares in Kreuzberg, with restaurants, trendy clothes shops, thrift stores and bars aplenty. Head to Berliner favourite Picknweight to buy your weight in weird and wonderful pre-loved garms, then head to Umami to eat your weight in noodles from an extensive menu of Indo-Chinese dishes and cocktails.

umami-restaurants.de

Otto

Oderbergerstraße, 56

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Otto is heralded as one of the most significant recent German restaurant openings in Berlin. This is partly because chef-patron Vadim Otto Ursus is a native Berliner (a surprisingly rare breed), but also because of his experience: he's spent time at Koks on the Faroe Islands, Maaemo in Oslo, Loco in Lisbon and the Noma pop-up in Tulum, Mexico – a well seasoned CV if we ever saw one. The sommelier is an alumnus of St. John, from our very own London town, and the combination of the two makes for the kind of restaurant that even jaded Londoners would be excited to hear about on a visit to the German capital.

@otto_berlin

Huong Que

Bergmannstrasse 96

A deal between East Germany and the Communist government of Vietnam in the 1980s, as well as south Vietnamese seeking refuge from the Vietnam War in West Berlin, means Berlin has a flourishing Vietnamese population, and plenty of Vietnamese restaurants to show for it. Head to Huong Que in trendy Kreuzberg, an intimate space serving up oodles of noodles. In keeping with the city’s rep for great vegan food, there are plenty of animal-free options that don’t compromise on flavour. 

huong-que.de

Getting there

Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Berlin Schönefeld from £55 return, or fly with easyJet from London Gatwick from £46.93 return. British Airways flies from London Heathrow to Berlin Tegel from £157 return.

Curry Mitte

Torstrasse 122

Scoffing currywurst while on the hoof in Berlin is a cliché, but when you know you’re going to do it anyway you might as well get it right – and it’s all about finding the perfect balance between the sausage, the sweet, tangy sauce, and the dusting of spice. We like Curry Mitte in all its neon-lit glory because you can get wurst made with both organic beef and pork, the chips are always fresh, and you can also get a pint of Berlin’s finest in a meal deal that’ll set you back less than a fiver.

currymitte.de

W Pizza

Fuldastraße 31

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Pizza, shmizza, said no one ever. But not all pizzas were created equal, and knowing where to go when you need a slice of that kind of pie is an essential part of getting to know any city. Thankfully, you have us, and we've done our research. For a weekend plan, stroll along the Landwehr canal and stop off at various snack points en route: a coffee and a pastry from La Maison (more on which later), and W Pizza, where all the pizzas are exceptional, but the picante is really the thing you should order: spicy sausage and creamy, dreamy burrata. Expert's note: if you get it to go, take a knife, fork and a napkin so you can scoop it all up. And for extra Berlin points, play ping pong at the tables outside the pizza joint.

@wpizzaberlin

La Maison bakery

Paul-Lincke-Ufer 17

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The caneles from La Maison are kind of bewilderingly delicious. They're so small, but truly a mighty sweet treat that seem to involve some sort of wizardry to achieve that custardy on the outside, caramelised and crisp on the outside texture. Ease yourself in with one (or two) of these moreish bites; then make your way through this cornucopia of pastries – pear and hazelnut danishes, croissants, pain au chocolat are all worth a shout out – and pick up a lovely loaf of sourdough to see you through the week.

lamaisonberlin

Mama Shabz

Reichenberger Str. 61a

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When you're feeling down, a visit to the warm and vibrant colours of Mama Shabz is just the ticket – and the Pakistani-inspired food is just as inviting as the décor. There are parathas to make your heart sing, samosas to warm the cockles of your soul, and a biryani that'll have you back on track from your very first bite. In the words of the wise: good food, good mood.

mamashabz.com

Where to drink in Berlin

Jaja Bistro

Weichselstraße 7

What to do in Berlin: restaurants: Jaja Bistro

Where there are hipsters, there are wine bars. And behold! Jaja Bistro, a natural wine bar and hipster hideyhole in Neukölln. It was set up by two Parisians who wanted to bring wine to the beer-swilling masses of Berlin, and despite it originally being a tough sell, the bar has since expanded to offer seasonal small plates and a sophisticated tasting menu for a mere €36. There's a 300-wine-bottle strong cellar dominated by French bottles (but with strong German, Italian and Spanish representation), and a menu with dishes like tomato and almond with blackberry, sour cherry, lovage oil; or cauliflower and jerusalem artichoke with dried olives, cucumber and mint.

jajawein.de

Bonvivant

Goltzstraße 32

What to do in Berlin: restaurant Bonvivant: a vegetarian cocktail
What to do in Berlin: restaurant Bonvivant: a vegetarian spread

A relatively new addition to Berlin's drinking and dining scene is Bonvivant, a vegetarian cocktail bar and bistro. So far, so Berlin. The drinks list comes from Yvonne Rahm, winner of the World Class Bartender Germany Award in 2018, with twists on classic cocktails: a cosmopolitan becomes an Almost Cosmo, made with vodka, lemon, cranberry juice and agave; while the Bloody Thomas is a red-spattered serve with tequila, pink pepper, lime, agave and beetroot. Of course, the food is vegetarian, engineered by chef Ottmar Pohl-Hoffbauer, a member of Slow Food Germany's Chef Alliance. Everything is as locally sourced and sustainable as possible – case in point is the Old Broccoli dish, with the lesser-loved green veg prepared four ways – puréed, fried with chanterelles, steamed and fermented stalk and roasted flowers.

bonvivant.berlin

Klunkerkranich, Neukölln

Karl-Marx Straße 66

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Sure, you'll find rooftop bars in almost any city – but watching the sun casts its rosy glow over the skyline with a drink in your hand means they have an enduring magic, no matter where you are. Klunkerkranich in Neukölln is no exception: squatting on the roof of the parking garage at Neukölln Arkaden shopping centre, it has sand-covered floors that give it a beach bar vibe, despite it being several stories high. Up-and-coming DJs spin the decks, there's an urban garden, and the space regularly holds events including the Kranich Food Market for street food and produce. A bit like if Frank's in Peckham did a Berlin popup.

klunkerkranich.org

Badfish

Stargarder Straße, 14

Germany might be better known for riesling and pilsner, but Badfish, in the concrete streets of Mitte, looks to New York and Chicago for inspiration. Brick and dark wood interiors set the scene for a drinks list of craft beer – with a guest selection from North America and around Europe – and extensive whisky list. The order of the day is an old fashioned, or Badfish's signature Honey Whiskey Sour. More recently, Badfish has opened a barbershop around the corner, complete with fully stocked bar.

badfishbarberlin.com

Kater Blau

Holzmarktstrasse 25

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Kater Blau is a cooler-than-cool riverside bar during the day and a nightclub by, er, night, with a vast outdoor space that makes it the ultimate summer hangout. Kick back with pizza, beers and cocktails as you watch the ducks and hipsters basking in the sun, or head to its two indoor dancefloors for a brilliant music roster with some of Berlin’s best DJs. There’s even a wooden boat that doubles as a chill-out area. Like most clubs here, the bouncers can be picky – we’d recommend starting your night at FAME, the site’s restaurant. The food’s surprisingly decent, and it may well make it easier to get into the club later.

katerblau.de

Berlin, Germany: The best things to see and do

Explore Potsdam

Potsdam is technically another city on the outskirts of Berlin, but it’s easily reached by S-bahn in 40 mins. The area’s lush woods and lakes made it a summer playground for Prussian royalty and its islands are home to many of the kings’ summer palaces. Visit the opulent Sanssouci palace, built to rival Versailles; feast your eyes on art at the swish new Museum Barberini; or head to Alexandrowka, a rural Russian village that’s made up of 14 farms and an orthodox church but still sits in the middle of town. Weird, but we like it.

Go shopping

Budapester Str 38-50

You’ve gone to Berlin, now it’s time to get the t-shirt – or in this city’s case, a set of garms that’ll make you look effortlessly cool, even if it took you hours to achieve. Enter Bikini Berlin, a 1960s high-rise next to Berlin Zoo that’s been turned into a hub for shopping, food, workspaces, a cinema and other recreational facilities. Think along the lines of a hipper, more German version of Boxpark and you won’t be far off the mark. It’s the place to hit up permanent boutiques or explore pop-ups from up-and-coming new brands before sitting down to hoover up a merguez hot dog topped with pear and gorgonzola.

bikiniberlin.de

Museum der Dinge

Oranienstraße 25

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If you’re a hoarder, boy have we got a treat for you. Berlin’s Museum der Dinge, or ‘Museum of Things’, is essentially a giant room filled with, well, stuff, ranging from Siamese cat-shaped salt and pepper shakers to a Sony Ericsson mobile phone from 2006. Sounds weird, yes, but start reading the lengthy wall texts and you’ll find yourself sucked into a story of good and bad design that’s given moral and political context. Quite frankly, it’s fascinating, and it’ll make you look at everything you own – and everything you want to own – in a whole new light.

museumderdinge.org

Hallesches Haus

Tempelhofer Ufer 1

What to do in Berlin | Hallesches Haus

Hallesches Haus describes itself as a lunchroom and general store. This vague hipsterish description actually means that it's a good place to work from during the week, if you're working remotely – there's good Wi-fi, good coffee, good snacks, and even better salads and sandwiches. And at the weekend, it's ideal for an all-day brunch, the kind where you pitch up at a big table for a coffee and while away the whole day as friends come and go, making your way through the menu. The large, light space features old cracked tiles, some of which have been turned into craggy faces by some enterprising creative. The space is also home to a shop selling cool knick-knacks, ranging from books and hand-made face masks to natural wine and hand-blown glassware. Bring your credit card.

hallescheshaus.com

Kadewe

Tauentzienstraße 21-24

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For something a little bougie, you can't beat a glass of fizz and a small bite in the food hall at the KaDeWe – similar vibes to the rooftop at Harvey Nichols. The name is short for Kaufhaus Des Westens, shopping house of the West, and harks back to when the city was still divided. Today, it's still a posh department store, including a foodhall. Stock up on gourmet cheese, meats and more, before settling in for a bite to eat – there's plenty to choose from, but you'll probably find us at the seafood counter with a glass of champagne.

kadewe.de

Teufelsberg

Why not take a wholesome break from all that drinking and dancing and go for a nice walk? Grunewald (which literally means "green forest") is a lovely area with, er, forests and walks – and one of the best-known among them is a little hike up to Teufelsberg, a former US spy station during the Cold War. Gawp at 70s-era design, then sit on the hill and drink in views over the city. 

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