Berlin offers the gamut of places to unpack your suitcase. Just about every international chain now has an offering in the German capital, but more interesting options that better reflect the city’s verve and spirit abound. You can sleep in a former bank, boat or factory, in the home of a silent-movie diva or in a ‘flying bed’.
Berlin has over 142,000 hotel rooms but the most desirable properties book up quickly, especially in summer and around major holidays, festivals and trade shows; prices soar and reservations are essential during these periods. Otherwise, rates are mercifully low by Western capital standards. Options range from luxurious ports of call to ho-hum international chains, trendy designer boutique hotels to Old Berlin–style B&Bs, happening hostels to handy self-catering apartments.
Nostalgic types seeking Old Berlin flavour should check into a charismatic B&B, called Hotel-Pension or simply Pension. But better do it quickly because these types of abodes are a dying breed in the digital age! Pensions typically occupy one or several floors of a historic residential building and offer local colour and personal attention galore. Amenities, room size and decor vary, often within a single establishment. The cheapest rooms may have shared facilities or perhaps a sink and a shower cubicle in the room but no private toilet. Travellers in need of buckets of privacy, high comfort levels or the latest tech amenities may not feel as comfortable, although wi-fi, cable TV and other mod cons are becoming increasingly available. You’ll still find a few of these time warps in the western district of Charlottenburg, around Kurfürstendamm.
Berlin’s hostel scene is as vibrant as ever and consists of both classic backpacker hostels with large dorms and a communal spirit to modern ‘flashpacker’ crash pads catering to wallet-watching city-breakers. Quite common by now are hostel-hotel hybrids that have a standard similar to budget hotels. Many also have private quarters with bathrooms and even apartments with kitchens. You’ll find them in all districts, but especially in Mitte and Kreuzberg, putting you within stumbling distance of bars and clubs.
Dorm beds can be had for as little as €10, but the better places now charge twice as much or more for dorms with fewer beds and en suite bathroom. Dorms tend to be mixed, though some hostels also offer women-only units. Hostels have no curfew and staff tend to be savvy, multilingual and keen to help with tips and advice.
With around 142,000 beds in 795 properties, Berlin has more beds than New York and even more are scheduled to come online in the coming years. You’ll find the entire range of hotels in Berlin, from no-frills cookie-cutter chains to all-out luxury abodes with top-notch amenities and fall-over-backwards service.
The best beds often sell out early, so make reservations, especially around major holidays, cultural events and trade shows. Most properties can be booked online, usually with a best-price guarantee.
Most smaller and midsize hotels are now entirely nonsmoking; a few of the larger ones (especially the international chains) still set aside rooms or entire floors for smokers.
Boutique, Designer & Art Hotels
Berlin being an art- and design-minded city, it’s not surprising that there’s a large number of smaller indie hotels catering to the needs of savvy urban nomads with at least a midrange budget. Properties often integrate distinguished architecture with a customised design concept that projects a sense of place and tends to appeal to creative spirits and travellers searching for an authentic and localised experience. There’s usually great emphasis on the latest tech trends and on such lifestyle essentials as iPod docks and brand-name espresso machines and sound systems. The antithesis of cookie-cutter chains, these types of abodes are sprinkled around the city but are especially prevalent in the Mitte district. Many have succeeded in cultivating the local community with hip rooftop lounges, cocktail bars, progressive restaurants, chic spas and pop-up parties and events.
Practically all international hotel chains now have one or multiple properties in Berlin. Since most conform to certain standards of decor, service and facilities, they’re great for people who enjoy predictability and privacy (or simply want to use up those frequent flyer points). Most have several categories of comfort, from cramped singles to high-roller suites, with rates reflecting size and amenities. Prices generally fluctuate dramatically, with last-minute, weekend or low-occupancy bargains a possibility.
Besides the international chains, there are also some Berlin-based contenders, including Amano (www.amanogroup.de) and Meininger (www.meininger-hotels.com) and German chains like Motel One (www.motelone.com) and Leonardo (www.leonardo-hotels.com).
Renting a furnished flat is a hugely popular – and economical – lodging option. The benefit of space, privacy and independence makes flats especially attractive to families and small groups. Alas, since May 2016 a new law has cracked down on peer-to-peer rentals such as those offered through Airbnb or Wimdu, meaning the supply of legal short-term rental apartments has dwindled significantly.
If you’re planning to stay in Berlin for a month or longer, renting a room or an apartment might be the most sensible option. Try the online platform www.zwischenmiete.de.
Fierce competition has kept prices low compared to other capital cities in Europe. Prices spike during major trade shows, festivals and public holidays, when early reservations are essential. Business-traveller-geared hotels often have good deals at weekends. In winter, prices often plummet outside holidays, with five-star rooms costing as little as €120. Throughout the year, the lowest rates of the week are for Sunday nights.
Midrange options generally offer the best value for money. Expect clean, comfortable and decent-sized rooms with at least a modicum of style, a private bathroom, TV and wi-fi. Top-end hotels provide the full spectrum of international-standard amenities and perhaps a scenic location, designer decor or historical ambience. Budget places are generally hostels or other simple establishments where bathrooms may be shared.
Overall, rooms tend to be on the small side. You’ll usually find that BBC and CNN are the only English-language channels on TV (nearly all foreign shows and films are dubbed into German) and that air-con is a rare commodity. Wi-fi is commonplace and almost always free, but in rare cases access may be restricted to public areas. Few hotels have their own parking lot or garage, and even if they do, space will be limited and the cost as high as €30 per day. Public garages are widely available, but also cost a pretty penny.
Need to Know
Value-added tax (VAT; 7%) has long been included in room rates, but since 1 January 2014 an additional 5% ‘city tax’ is payable on the net room rates, eg excluding VAT and fees for amenities and services. The tax is added to the hotel bill. Business travellers are exempt from this tax.
In Germany, ‘ground floor’ refers to the floor at street level. The 1st floor (what would be called the 2nd floor in the US) is the floor above that.