We’re often asked about hotels in Berlin and which of them we would recommend. This is a difficult question to answer, because it really depends on the personal expectations and requirements of the guests. Generally speaking, we can give you some guidelines (please note that as locals, we never spent a night in the hotels mentioned here; we’ve usually only seen their lobby, and our recommendations are based solely upon what we’ve been told by guests who stayed in these hotels).
“Wait, we really don't have time to read this - can you just give us the name of the hotel you would choose?”
- if this is you, check out the the Eurostars. It's not the most luxurious hotel in Berlin, but it is a very good one, and its location is really as central as it could get (no, we don't get any kickbacks, but we probably should...)
► Geography: Berlin is a huge city, about 8 times larger than Paris. Many hotels call themselves in a way that alludes you to think that they are really at Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, etc. Quite often this is not the case. If the hotel has the German preposition “am” in its name, you should be looking more into it – the German “am” means, basically, “next/close to”, and this perception of distance can be really subjective.
► The “Center”: Berlin isn't really a city, but a state (one of the 16 states that make the Federal Republic of Germany). It is divided, in turn, into different districts, which have their own centers. So there is no such thing as “the center” of Berlin. If we trim the list down to the most important centers, we come up with two: The historic-touristic center (in what used to be East-Berlin), and the bourgeois / normal-life center (in what used to be West-Berlin). Let's deal with the historic center first, and then move on to West-Berlin.
► The Historic Center: This is basically where most of the historic sites are located. It's also known as “Mitte" (like “middle", i.e. the center), although the official district of Mitte is way larger, so don't take any hotel just for having “Mitte" in its name. On the map, the historic center lies between Brandenburg Gate on the left, Alexanderplatz on the right, Checkpoint Charlie on the bottom and the northern part of Friedrichstraße on the top (click on the map to get it in a larger scale):
If we look at it in a higher resolution, you can choose between different sub-areas:
Hackescher Markt: Lots of special and unique stores, cafés, bars & clubs, a young atmosphere, within the so-called “Jewish Quarter”. The German word “Markt” naturally means a market, and although some places in Berlin are called “Markt” just for historical reasons (with no real markets taking place there anymore), the Hackescher market does take place twice a week, typically on Thursdays and Saturdays (this may vary due to public holidays). Have a look, for example, at the websites of the Hotel Hackescher Markt, the Adina Apartment Hotel, the Casa Camper, the Hotel Zoe, the Radisson Blu (actually right next to Museum Island but still very close to Hackescher Markt) as well as the design hotel Weinmeister (speaking about design hotels, you should also check out the really spectacular Nhow hotel; it's in the very trendy borough of Friedrichshain, i.e. not at Hackescher Markt).
Gendarmenmarkt: If there’s something left of Berlin’s previously royal flair, it can be felt at this square. Many fine restaurants, boutiques etc. Check out the Hilton, the Regent, the Arcotel John F. (as in “JFK", although he never stayed there) and the Sotifel Gendarmenmarkt (the addition of the square's name is important, because there's another Sofitel in the West - see below).
Unter den Linden: The former royal avenue, though not much of the royal atmosphere is left. It stretches from Brandenburg Gate to Museum Island, so it's right in between the most important tourist attractions. The most prominent hotels here are: The Adlon, the Westin Grand, and the Hotel de Rome. You might also want to check out the less expensive “Apartments am Brandenburger Tor” – just behind the Adlon (so technically, not at the avenue itself, but really close to it). A bit north of Unter den Linden (but still in its proximity) is the train station of Friedrichstraße, which is an extremely central location: This is where the north-south axis of Berlin's public transportation system meets its west-east axis. Check out the NH Collection Friedrichstraße, the Eurostars as well as the Meliã. All three are very close to Museum Island.
Potsdamer Platz: The post-modern area that reemerged like a phoenix after reunification, right on the border between East and West (and, technically, outside of the historic center). There’s only one pre-war building still standing in the entire area (Haus Huth). The Marriott (please note that there is another Marriott in Berlin, in the Axel-Springer-Straße - it's not the same hotel!), the Ritz Carlton, and the Hyatt are all great choices, as well as the design hotel Mandala (the latter also offers the Mandala Suites at Friedrichstraße, closer to Gendarmenmarkt).
This is where the aforementioned sub-areas are located on the map - Under den Linden and Gendarmenmarkt are really next to each other (just about five minutes walking between the two), while Hackescher Markt and Potsdamer Platz are somewhat, but not significantly, further away (click on the map to get it in a larger scale):
If you go for one of these four sub-areas, you basically can’t go wrong. We would avoid, however, Alexanderplatz and Checkpoint Charlie. The reputation of these areas isn't justified, in our humble opinion: There’s not much to do there, and the streets are less than charming. But usually, the hotels in these areas would be cheaper (for example: Ibis at Alexanderplatz, Mercure at Checkpoint Charlie and many others).
► Outside of the historic center: Some tourists like to be where all the touristic stuff is (which makes sense), i.e. in the historic center; but others like to be in hotels that are located “where normal people live". Well, normal people in Berlin, who've already seen all the touristic stuff years ago, are usually not interested in Brandenburg Gate etc. They basically live all around the historic center in boroughs like Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Schöneberg - all of them are very nice, albeit somewhat off the beaten track (unless that's exactly what you're looking for). But the most important center outside of the historic center is the shopping mile of West Berlin, that we'll discuss now.
► West-Berlin's bourgeois center: Not so much history, but lots of shopping opportunities (including the famous KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe), restaurants, cafés, jazz clubs etc., with a somewhat older atmosphere than East-Berlin (people in their 50's-60's). In other words - where our mothers like to stay! This is how it looks like on the map (click on the map to get it in a larger scale):
This is the area around the “Memorial Church" (Gedächtniskirche), which basically includes two main streets: Tauentzienstraße (where the KaDeWe department store is), and the Kurfürstendamm (the electoral princes avenue - usually abbreviated as “Kudamm"). To the north of the Kudamm you'll find Savignyplatz (Savigny Square), around which many good restaurants and a couple of Jazz clubs reside. The main hotels in this area are the Waldorf Astoria, the Kempinski Bristol, the Sofitel Kurfürstendamm, the Hotel Zoo, the Intercontinental as well as the Hotel am Steinplatz. Also in the area is the Crowne Plaza, which offers services for observant Jews (normal, old-style door keys and kosher catering).
► To sum it all up: As you can see, there is no one definite choice. Generally we would recommend you to prefer East-Berlin over West-Berlin, although you have some great choices in West-Berlin too. Eventually it's a question of character: Do you like to be close to all tourist sites? If so, go for the Historic Center. But if you like to come back in the evening to a normal borough, and have a quiet dinner in a restaurant frequented mostly by locals, then West-Berlin might be a better choice.
Either way, you can find hotels in all different price categories; since we couldn't list them all here, we would recommend doing a Google maps search on a specific area (for example: “Berlin Hackescher Markt hotel") - this way, you'll get a map of that specific area, with red dots on it for the different hotels. You can also compare prices using booking.com.
We hope this overview helps in making your decision a little bit easier. If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.
Wishing you a great vacation,
Yoav & Natalie
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