Throughout much of its eight centuries of history, Berlin has been renowned for its arts and bohemian culture, which today attracts expats from around the world. Although more than 100 kilometers from the ocean, the German capital boasts two rivers—the Spree and the Havel—and a multitude of lakes that are some of its residents’ favorite summer destinations. Even during its notoriously long winters, Berlin attracts guests with its quaint Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) and world-class events, such as the Berlinale, the international film festival held each February. Year-round tourism focuses mainly on its Cold War history, particularly the 28 years when the Berlin Wall divided its citizens into East and West, but periods such as the Weimar Era have also left their indelible mark on most every corner of the city.
Berlin is known for being one of Europe’s most laidback cities, a place where high heels and bling will actually get you turned away from its notoriously hedonistic nightclubs. The hipness factor rivals that of Brooklyn’s, and the back-to-basics mentality is evident in everything from its numerous localvore restaurants to its citizens’ insistence that the former Tempelhof airport be turned into a community park rather than be sold to developers. Recent years have seen Berlin become something of a foodie paradise, with a new delivery of Michelin stars each year.
Berliners like to boast that their hometown has more museums (170 plus) than rainy days, with many of its most famous institutions—including the Pergamon, the Altes Museum, and the Bode Museum—located on Museum Island in the River Spree. Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror highlight one of the darker eras of Berlin history, while the iconic Brandenburg Gate and Gendarmenmarkt square provide a glimpse at the grandiose architecture of yesteryear. A nonstop calendar of festivals means there’s hardly a week that goes by without Berliners throwing one of their renowned bashes.
Although Berlin has grown much since the country’s reunification in 1990, districts such as Kreuzberg and Neukölln still flaunt their offbeat and fringe culture, while also embracing the numerous ethnicities that have come to define the areas. The aptly named Mitte (“middle”) neighborhood contains the highest concentration of must-see sights, as well as several notable shopping districts. Over in the west, Charlottenburg prides itself on class and refinement, as well as Kurfürstendamm, which Berliners’ laud as their very own Champs-Élysées, on account of its luxury shopping. And while residents still decry the gentrification of Prenzlauer Berg over the last few years, the northeastern district offers some of the best restaurants and mid-range boutiques in the entire city.