The Question: We're heading to Berlin on a budget, and are looking for quiet and affordable hotels. Plus, we want to know what tourist traps to avoid. Suggestions?
In terms of top European capitals, you're coming to the right destination. Average hotel rates in Berlin were around €76 ($99) a night last year, according to Hotels.com, far below those in London, Paris and Rome.
The city is an economical place to sleep because hotel investment has remained competitive since the fall of the Berlin Wall, says Kirsten Schmidt, a representative for visitBerlin ( visitberlin.de), the city's official tourism organization. "This means great quality and low rates."
Here are her three suggestions for budget sleeps:
The Meininger Hotel chain ( meininger-hotels.com) combines hostel and hotel features: Think dorms or single rooms along with public spaces that include bars, guest kitchens and terraces. Room rates at its three-star Central Station location run from €31.50 to €135 ($41 to $175) a person.
Motel One ( motelone.com), meanwhile, doesn't sacrifice style for price with its peacock-blue accents, shag carpeting and sleek bars. Its eight Berlin properties include the centrally located Alexanderplatz and new Hauptbahnhof location. Morning croissants and yogurt cost extra, but you may not mind with double room rates starting at €84 ($109) a night.
With the city's Circus Hotel ( circus-berlin.de), you can choose from its hotel, hostel or apartments. The hostel offers a ton of convivial extras, such as free beer on Mondays, quirky walking tours and a David Hasselhoff shrine in the basement bar. Peak rates range from €23 ($30) for a dorm room to €80 ($103) for a double. The hotel offers artistically decorated double rooms starting at €90 ($116). Features include iPods loaded with Berlin beats, a garden courtyard and a restaurant featuring "honest German cuisine." Though not a budget option, the luxury, boutique apartments start at €130 ($168) a night for a one-bedroom, and €300 ($389) a night for three bedrooms.
As for other trip savings, consider picking up city passes – such as the Berlin Welcome Card and Berlin Museum Pass – to cut costs. (Check visitberlin.de for details.) You can also skip taxis in favour of cycling, says Schmidt, who has tried Fat Tire Tours ( fattirebiketours.com) and Berlin on Bike (berlinonbike.de).
Eating out can also consume a lot of your coin. Schmidt recommends snacking on city favourites: "Doner and currywurst stands are plentiful and in all major shopping areas. Some of the most famous – Mustafa's ( mustafas.de) and Curry ( curry36.de) – are right next to each other in City West."
Or find accommodation where you can make your own meals, suggests Paul Sullivan, who founded story-rich Slow Travel Berlin ( slowtravelberlin.com). "Berlin is a relatively cheap place – in Western European terms – to travel, though it is getting increasingly expensive." He suggests renting an apartment from Be-My-Guest ( be-my-guest.com) or Roomsurfer ( roomsurfer.com) and eating in less-touristy neighbourhoods, such as Friedrichshain, Kreuz-berg and Neukoelln.
As for that contraption the tourist trap, Sullivan says there are many less-congested and insightful areas to explore:
"If you're a fan of classical art, try the amazing and criminally overlooked collection of Old Masters in the Gemaeldegalerie near Potsdamer Platz," he suggests. Nearby, check out the "Espresso lunchtime" shows at the Berliner Philharmoniker or award-winning National Neues Museum ( www.neues-museum.de).
Explore the work of an important German artist at the intimate Kaethe-Kollwitz-Museum ( kaethe-kollwitz.de) in Charlottenburg and then have lunch at the Literaturhaus Cafe, "especially if it's warm and there are seats available in the garden."
"For first-timers, I'd recommend strolling through the Tierpark and maybe a beer-garden lunch and row on the little lake at Cafe am Neuensee. On a Sunday, you should definitely head to the Mauerpark, a former section of the Berlin Wall that now hosts a weekly flea market and, in summer, an amazing public karaoke session."
Karaoke, art, raising a mug to the Hoff: no shortage of things to do in Berlin. And with the money saved, maybe you can extend your stay.
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