For an affordable alternative to the luxury palaces off Potsdamer Platz, check into one of Berlin’s new boutique hotels, such as the Dorint Sofitel am Gendarmenmarkt (50-52 Charlottenstrasse; 49-30/203-750; www.dorint.com; doubles from $375), whose central location, stark but elegant rooms, and excellent restaurant make up for its charmless exterior. A more intimate option, the dainty and provincially decorated 32-room Hotel Hackescher Markt (8 Grosse Präsidentenstrasse; 49-30/280-030; www.loock-hotels.com; doubles from $210), is situated in a quiet courtyard near the city’s Museumsinsel, or Museum Island; the 22-room Hotel Riehmers Hofgarten (83 Yorckstrasse; 49-30/7809-8800; www.hotel-riehmers-hofgarten.de; doubles from $168), a handsome 19th-century building near Kreuzberg’s galleries, has spacious white interiors with cheerful red accents, and an ivy-lined garden.
Even though it has earned a Michelin star for its nouvelle German cuisine, Vau (54-55 Jägerstrasse; 49-30/202-9730; dinner for two $210), like most Berlin restaurants, has a relaxed and unpretentious vibe. Pair the decadent borscht with lobster with one of the more than 250 Teutonic wines from the cellar. Set in a nearby neo-Gothic brewery, Restaurant Maxwell (22 Bergstrasse; 49-30/280-7121; dinner for two $90) serves seasonal dishes, such as poularde breast with cabbage, trumpet mushroom, and onion casserole, to a lively crowd of locals. At Lutter & Wegner (56 Charlottenstrasse; 49-30/202-9540; dinner for two $79), succumb to traditional favorites like Wiener schnitzel (fuel for Berlin’s notoriously rollicking nightlife) before heading off to the swanky Victoria Bar (102 Potsdamer Strasse; 49-30/2575-9977; drinks for two $24), where expert mixologists deftly pour cocktail classics. Try the brandy Alexander.
No trip to Berlin would be complete without a visit to the Gemäldegalerie (4-6 Matthäikirchplatz; 49-30/266-2951; www.smb.spk-berlin.de) for Holbeins, Rembrandts, and Brueghels. Next stop: the Museumsinsel, for Byzantine art at the Bode Museum (1-3 Bodestrasse; www.smb.spk-berlin.de). Cross the river to the impressive four-year-old I.M. Pei-designed German Historical Museum (3 Hinter dem Giesshaus; 49-30/2030-4444; www.dhm.de), then venture north to the KW Institute for Contemporary Art (69 Auguststrasse; 49-30/243-4590; www.kw-berlin.de), the engine behind the Berlin Biennale, and break for lunch at Café Bravo, a glass cube inside KW’s leafy courtyard. Some of Berlin’s finest galleries, including Max Hetzler (90-91 Zimmerstrasse; 49-30/ 229-2437; www.maxhetzler.com) and Barbara Weiss (88-91 Zimmerstrasse; 49-30/262-4284; www.galeriebarbaraweiss.de), have moved to the northern edge of Kreuzberg. Down the street, the Martin-Gropius-Bau (7 Niederkirchnerstrasse; 49-30/254-860; www.gropiusbau.de) hosts visiting exhibitions of contemporary art—a must for design aficionados.
Berlin’s best shopping has slowly migrated east from Kurfürstendamm to Friedrichstrasse, where an impeccably edited selection of designer clothes, cosmetics, and housewares fills the shelves in the Calvin Tsao-designed Departmentstore Quartier 206 (71 Friedrichstrasse; 49-30/2094-6800). Worth a visit for the architecture alone, the Hackesche Höfe, a cluster of Secessionist buildings with Jugendstil elements, houses restaurants, galleries, and boutiques such as Trippen (Hof 4 & 6 40/41 Rosenthaler Strasse; 49-30/2839-1337), makers of whimsical, environmentally conscious shoes. Amble along Schönhauser Strasse (Alte and Neue) to find retro home furnishings, and visit Pro qm (48 Alte Schönhauser Strasse; 49-30/2472-8520), one of Berlin’s best bookstores for art, design, and pop-culture tomes. Finally, to honor the city’s rich artistic past and present, head west to the gift shop at the Bauhaus Archive (14 Klingelhöferstrasse; 49-30/254-0020)— the perfect place to score a Modernist souvenir.