The Many Faces of Berlin
Berlin is one of the most popular destinations in Germany and all of Europe. Known for its culture, architecture, diversity, and storied past, Berlin has a unique character unlike any other city in the world. What many people don't realize is how much variety the city contains.
Berlin is home to ultra-modern urban spaces and pre-war cobblestone streets; sprawling green parks and world-famous nightclubs; Michelin-starred restaurants and underground bars. Your Berlin experience can be something totally unique, depending on which neighborhoods you visit.
Berlin is a sprawling 344-square-mile city composed of 12 districts or Bezirk, which are divided further into neighborhoods called Kiez, each with its own distinct personality. This guide will give you an overview of the 12 districts and help you decide where to stay and what to see in Berlin.
The heart of the capital city, Mitte is the most "touristy" part of Berlin, but for good reason. This is where you'll find some of Germany's most iconic landmarks and historic sites, including the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Television Tower, Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island, and more. Mitte is also home to the Regierungsviertel or government district, where you can visit the sites of some of the most earth-shaking events of the twentieth century. You can even escape the bustling city to explore the stunning Tiergarten Park. If you're visiting Berlin for the first time, you'll likely want to spend some time in Mitte.
The food scene in Mitte reflects the district's identity as both quintessential Berlin and a cosmopolitan center. You can find traditional German food as well as world-class global cuisine. Favorite street foods include currywurst and doner kebab.
Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is one of Berlin’s more affluent districts and is a destination for upscale shopping and fine dining. In line with the neighborhood’s reputation as the posh part of town, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf is also home to Schloss Charlottenburg, a baroque palace dating back to the 17th century. The most famous landmark in this area, however, is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
Neukolln is known for being one of Berlin’s most diverse neighborhoods. Neukolln’s multiculturalism is reflected in the area’s culinary scene. Historically home to immigrants, artists, and students, this bezirk has a more laid back feel than Mitte. Today it boasts a number of independent shops, coffee roasters, cocktail bars, small breweries and artist spaces.
Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are often characterized as the bohemian, artsy, punk, or alternative district.Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is representative of Berlin's rebellious history, though gentrification has softened the neighborhoods' edges a bit. Where Berliners once clashed with authorities after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there now stand art galleries, tech startups and coffee shops.You'll still find a thriving nightclub scene, for which Berlin is famous (or infamous) worldwide. Clubbing is a national pastime, a part of the city's culture and identity; in 2016, a judge ruled that Berghain, a legendary nightclub along the border of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, could be taxed at a lower rate (similar to museums and theaters) because it offered not merely entertainment, but an important cultural experience.
Steglitz-Zehlendorf is best known for its natural setting, especially the Grunewald forest and Wannsee lake. The district also houses the Brucke Museum of expressionist art, and Schloss Glienicke palace. The Glienicke Brücke bridge over the River Havel once served as the location for the exchange of captured spies between East and West Germany and is known today as the “Bridge of Spies.”
Across the River Havel from Steglitz-Zehlendorf lies Spandau, another district with plenty of natural spaces and outdoor recreation like cycling, canoeing, swimming, and more. Spandau is also known for its quiet “old town” Kolk neighborhood, and Zitadelle Berlin, a Renaissance-era fortress.
Like the other districts in West Berlin, Reinickendorf is less hectic and more serene than the city’s center. Greenwich Promenade welcomes visitors to the banks of the Tegeler See lake for boat tours, sailing, and even windsurfing. You can tour historic villages and local history museums, but the most distinctive attraction in Reinickendorf is the Buddhistisches Haus, the oldest Buddhist Temple in Europe.
Tempelhof-Schoneberg is a living monument to Berlin’s transformation over the years. Rainbow flags line the streets in this district that hosts Berlin’s annual LGBTQ street festival. A popular flea market takes place each weekend in front of the town hall where John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.
But Tempelhof-Schoneberg’s most notable attraction is Tempelhofer Field, an airport-turned-park. A fully operational airport for almost 90 years, Tempelhof Airport closed and was converted into a public park in 2008. In a space once used by Nazis, today locals and tourists alike can play a game of cricket, zipline through the trees, enjoy a barbeque, or plant vegetables in the community garden.
Pankow, and its major neighborhood Prenzlauer Berg, are known as the most family-friendly areas of Berlin, with a wealth of lush green parks, children’s museums, and shops. Pankow is also home to Schönhausen Palace and Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery. One of the most popular things to do in Pankow is to visit Mauerpark, especially during the Sunday Flea Market.
Treptow-Koepenick is one of the best destinations for nature lovers in Berlin, with the city’s largest area of forests, waterways, and lakes. On the banks of the River Spree is the idyllic Treptower Park. Here you can enjoy a picnic on the lawn, bike along the riverbank, or take a bout tour of the river and its islands. Outside the park, you can visit Old Koepenick, beloved for its restored 19th century buildings and cobblestone streets.
Lichtenberg is home to Tierpark Berlin, the largest zoo in Europe, and the Berlin Zoo, the oldest zoo in Germany, making this district popular with families.
Dubbed Berlin’s “Asiatown” or Chinatown, Lichtenberg contains a significant Asian immigrant community. Here you’ll find the Dong Xuan Center, a market hall with over 150 vendors specializing in Asian products and authentic Vietnamese food.
Lichtenberg also contains some of Berlin’s most fascinating historical sites, including the Stasi Museum and the German-Russian Museum.
Marzahn-Hellersdorf exemplifies Berlin’s mix of old and new. High-rise buildings make up the district’s facade, but not far away lies Alt-Marzahn, a perfectly preserved old village complete with a windmill and farm. The crown jewel of Marzahn-Hellersdorf is the Gardens of the World, comprised of ten international gardens. Opened in 1987, Gardens of the World contains plants, streams, temples, and tea houses from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Balinese, Middle Easterns, and Italian Renaissance traditions.
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Berlin has so much to offer. Spend some time in more than one district to get a feel for the city's different facets, and experience something new. The best travel moments are usually the ones that take you by surprise.