Cozy cafes and welcoming wine bars, indulgent spas and winter walks…
Winter in Berlin has a fearsome reputation – but like the famous Berliner Schnauze, it’s really not as bad as all that. Sure it gets chillier here than in many Western European cities, but then we are ostensibly an Eastern city and winters here have nothing on those in Canada, Scandinavia, Russia or, er, Antarctica.
Even when temperatures drop to the minuses, which they invariably do, it’s possible to have a really good time thanks to the city’s almost absurdly vibrant indoor culture of cafes, bars, museums and galleries. Plus much of the time it’s either snowing – which can be fun! – or warm enough to take a stroll or an urban hike. Before you know it, the birds will be singing again and you’ll be starting to peel off the layers.
The first thing you’ll probably want to know is where the city’s coziest cafes are – places where you can hole up with a good book or a friend, and watch the snow and rain fall as you enjoy some hearty home-made soup, a slice of cake or a calming hot chocolate.
We have a round-up of just these kinds of spots here – but we can briefly recommend Wohnzimmer (Prenzlauer Berg), Winterfeldt Schokoladen and Bilderbuch (Schöneberg), Macondo and Tres Cabecas (Friedrichshain) and Salon Schmuck (Kreuzberg) and Die Weinerei in Mitte.
For a more elegant villa-style experience and/or a long, leisurely brunch, try Cafe Einstein, Cafe am Literaturhaus, Café Strauss or Villa Tomasa. There’s many a jazz cafe in Berlin, even if it isn’t famed for this style of music anymore – we’ve an excellent round up of the best over here. And if you need a book to take along, check out some Berlin-themed literature here and here, and our comprehensive list of local bookshops here.
To fight any unwanted bouts of flu, it’s best to keep those vitamin levels topped up. Our round up of juice bars recommends the city’s best places to get your health-fix.
When you want something more substantial than just Kaffee und Kuchen, Berlin has plenty of welcoming restaurants for filling up on hearty comfort foods.
Traditional German food is a great winter warmer and Charlottenburg’s Kurpfalz-Weinstuben has been serving up its popular Palatine menu for over 75 years. For a taste of Southern Germany, Alpine and Bavarian classics can be found in Kreuzberg’s Cafe Obermaier.
For a change from the routine kebab, Turkish restaurant Defne in Kreuzberg serves generous helpings of lamb and grilled vegetable dishes. Speaking of vegetables, Prenzlauer Berg’s Lucky Leek is where all vegans and vegetarians should head to work on their winter layer. Meat eaters can pig out at Jewish deli Mogg, with one of the hefty pastrami sandwiches.
Even though Berlin has a dismal Indian scene, all is not completely lost as Chutnify is great for a spicy kick. Tastee’s Caribbean food and Samakki Talad Thai canteen style Thai eats are also worth a visit for those wanting to spice up the winter months. There’s also some great Peruvian food at Cevicheria that’ll warm your cockles.
Welcoming Watering Holes
Nothing warms the cockles on a cold night like a local pub with a welcoming atmosphere, decent beer vom fass, and a regular clientele. As with cafes and restaurants, Berlin has multitudes of these places, though you can find a list of some personal favourites here.
Modern interpretations of these places we can also recommend include Kreuzkölln’s Das Gift, Neukölln’s Natanja und Heinrich, Bellmann Bar and Das Hotel in Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain’s Hops & Barley microbrewery, Charlottenburg’s Diener Tattersall – and, if you’re in Prenzlauer Berg, Wohnzimmer again. Head further north to Wedding where Offside has a great array of warming whiskys and also local brews from Beer4Wedding.
Wine & Cocktail Bars
A pleasantly refined way to get through a sub-zero night is to enjoy an elegant bar. Wine lovers will probably already know Weinbar Rutz, which has a fantastic selection of wines and a high-end restaurant to boot. Cheaper but still high quality is the recently opened Cordobar in Mitte, which specialises in Austrian and German wines but has rarities from all over, plus a small but distinguished bar menu.
Up in Prenzlauer Berg, Weinstein has over 200 wines as well as excellent food, while Neukölln has a great new-ish spot in Vin Aqua Vin; if you’re down in Kreuzberg check out Hammers, which serves decent wine in a deliberately down-to-earth atmosphere. Kamine und Wein is a cosy hideaway in Wedding that not only has a fantastic wine list, but they have another quirky way to battle the winter cold…they also sell fireplaces!
If you prefer cocktails, we have a round-up of some excellent Berlin cocktail bars here – though we should probably add to that list the wonderful Schwarze Traube in Kreuzberg, Schöneberg classic Stagger Lee and Chartlottenburg’s Rum Trader.
Berlin’s multitude of museums really come into their own during the colder months. As well as the excellent-but-obvious big hitters – Museum Insel, Deutches Historisches Museum, DDR Museum, Neue Nationalgalerie, Jewish Museum, Berlinische Galerie, Gemäldegalerie etc. – there are also lots of lesser-known museums worth exploring.
Music fans will love the Ramones Museum in Mitte, design aficionados might want to head for the dizzying Museum der Dinge or the small-but-committed Alphabet Museum, and film heads will enjoy the Film Museum at Potsdamer Platz. West Berlin has the stately Käthe Kollwitz Museum, the Bauhaus Archiv and Museum Berggruen, while the former East has some fascinating historical museums like the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst, the GDR-era Museumswohnung in Hellersdorf, Hohenschönhausen’s former Stasi Prison and the Stasi Museum. For those who are often lost for words, inspiration can be found at the Buchstaben Museum. Fancy something a bit left field? Check out the curious Design Panoptikum on Tor Straße.
Contemporary Art & Photography Galleries
As well as museums, Berlin has plenty of superlative contemporary art spaces. Among the best-known are the Hamburger Bahnhof, the KW Gallery, me. Collectors room, DB Kunsthalle, and the Boros and Hoffmann collections (the former housed in a WW2 bunker, the latter in a former factory). But there are hundreds of smaller galleries worth checking out; some of our favourites include Galerie Volker Diehl, DAADGalerie, König, Eigen + Art/Lab, Galerie Crone and Carlier Gebauer. For a really comprehensive list, hop on over to Art Berlin Contemporary.
Berlin is pretty hot on photography too. The gorgeous Martin Gropius Bau often has world-class exhibitions, as does the much-loved C/O Berlin. Camera Work is an elegant two-story space hidden off the busy Kantstrasse that shows the likes of Diane Arbus and Irving Penn as well as new photographers, while the small but fab Kicken Gallery hosts four large exhibitions per year of museum quality.
Also worth exploring are Photo Edition Berlin, Seven Star Gallery and – for Berlin-specific work – Fenster61, a 2 x 2 meter shop window in Torstrasse organised by street photographer Christian Reister, that’s used for changing monthly photo exhibitions.
Cosy Kinos & Berlin Films
While it’s sadly true that the city’s excellent outdoor cinemas have closed their doors ’til summer, we can take heart that there are many fantastic indoor kino options. Both Kino International and Kino Babylon are worth visiting for their architecture and history alone, though they also have consistently great programs – as does the Zeughaus Kino at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which often shows rare art-house and historical films. The Yorck Kino Group run a dozen or so mostly intimate art-house cinemas – the Babylon Kreuzberg, Neues Off and Kant Kino are especially impressive.
Prefer to rent a movie (or watch one on your hacked Netflix account)? No problem, there are lots of Berlin-themed flicks you can catch up with here. If you’ve watched all those, congrats! Now try this more obscure list from cultural history professor and ‘Walls Of Berlin’ author Stephen Barber.
Live Music & Classical Concerts
Although well-known for being a techno paradise, Berlin has a multitude of thriving music scenes, from metal and indie rock to world and classical. You can catch indie shows most nights of the week at a range of venues from the Admiralpalast, Magnet and Lido to Monarch, the legendary SO36 and Schokoladen. For a really intimate concert experience, check out the Sofa Salon sessions, which take place each month in people’s front rooms. And if you’re interested in hearing what’s happening on the local scene, read this piece and also this local music blog run by its author.
While the Berliner Philharmoniker is the most famous venue in town for classical music, there are several other great spots, such as the Konzerthaus, the Haus des Rundfunks and – for experimental and avant-garde music – the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Radialsystem V. For a more intimate experience, Wedding’s Piano Salon Christophori is unbeatable.
If you can’t find anything to suit your tastes you can always spend a few hours looking for hidden gems in one of Berlin’s great record shops.
Spas & Saunas
Liquidrom is one of the most famous spas in the city and great if you feel like a massage, sauna or hearing DJs underwater. For a high-end splash, try the Spa de Rome, which is housed in a former jewel vault below the Hotel de Rome (itself once a bank) and features a 65-foot swimming pool, treatment rooms and fancy marble columns. Similarly plush (and comprehensive) is the Hotel Mandala’s 11th floor Ono Spa.
For a more affordable and down-to-earth experience, Olivin Spa & Sauna is small but has a Finnish sauna, friendly service and massages. Pankow’s Saunarivm, with its somewhat kitsch Roman-temple theme, has a Finnish sauna and winter garden, while Mitte’s Lützow Sauna squeezes in several sauna rooms, massages and a pool (with Buddha statue).
For a proper Oriental scrub-down, the Sultan Hamam in Schöneberg should do the job, while the ladies might also enjoy the no-frills, multi-kulti, women-only Frauenzentrum Schokoladenfabrik in Kreuzberg. Finally, we have to mention Stadtbad Neukölln, not only for its handsome neo-classical architecture and interior, but also because it has Finnish and herbal saunas and a “Greco-Roman” thermal bath. And Vabali, of course, offers aromatherapy saunas and massages, pools and fireplace rooms in an soothing Balinese setting.
Family Winter Fun
Winter can be pretty fun for kids – at least when it’s snowing (see below). On rainy days, the city’s abundant kindercafes come into their own. We have a round-up of these coming soon, but among the best are Kiezkind and Das Spielzimmer in Prenzlauer Berg. For something more interactive, try the Kinder Labyrinth in Wedding or MACHmit in Prenzlberg.
For something sportier, the city has lots of indoor pools as well as a few excellent indoor climbing walls. And then there are the child-friendly museums: the Naturkünde Museum with its dinosaurs, the sprawling DeutschesTechnik Museum, which has real, life-sized trains and aeroplanes, and – if they’re musically inclined – the Klingende Museum (Museum of Sound). Loxx Miniatur-Welten is a great option for kids of all ages, while slightly older kids might enjoy the Computerspielemuseum on Karl Marx Allee.
If the weather’s not too cold, you could also take them to one of the two zoos (one of which has a fantastic aquarium if it does get cold) or one of the city’s several animal farms and petting zoos (we can recommend Pinke Panke, Moritzhof or Family Farm Lübars). If you want to make a day of it, whisk them off to the Science Museum or Biosphäre in Potsdam, or take them for a ride with some huskies. For something completely different, try a visit to the weird and wonderful Tropical Islands, where you can also stay overnight.
Skating, Sledging & Skiing
Just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors! There are quite a few opportunities to layer up and make the most of the weather, especially if its snowing. Berlin has several
in districts like Wedding, Charlottenburg, Lichtenberg and Neukölln; and there are hills for sledging in most districts too. Some of the most popular Rodelbahnen can be found in the city’s parks, i.e. Viktoria Park, Volkspark Friedrichshain, Mauerpark, Hasenheide and Humbolthain. For a full list of popular snowy hills, click here.
You can even get some skiing action on some of the bigger hills outside Berlin: Teufelsberg is a popular location, as are the Müggelberge, the Trümmerberg im Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg and the Freizeitpark at Lübars.
The hoary old cliche goes that there’s no such thing as the wrong weather – just the wrong clothes. Unless it’s -20 outside, there is some truth in the fact that the cold is usually not as bad as you might think once you’re out there and, y’know, actually doing something. Being staunch advocates of walking the city – see our neighbourhood tours and themed walks, some of which operate through winter – we enjoy both random flaneûring and conceptual jaunts, such as our self-made Three Peaks Challenge and our hikes around the Berlin Ring Bahn and the fabulous Berlin Wall Trail (Mauerweg).
A stroll along the Spree or the Landwehr Canal is always pleasant, even – or especially – when they’re iced over. Or you could do an architectural walk through the city. The options are limitless and, really, the worst that can happen is you have to jump on a train or tram home or, better still, dive into one of the city’s many cafes or bars.
Feeling really adventurous? Wild swimming isn’t just for summer, as our contributor Jessica J Lee can attest to.
If all of that feels like too much adventure, you can always warm your hands over a glühwein at one of the city’s Christmas Markets throughout December. See you there, perhaps…