Get the most bang for your buck in beautiful Berlin. (Photo: iStock)
Luxury travel usually comes with very high prices, but to feel rich even if you don’t have a platinum credit card, head to Berlin. In the two decades since the Berlin Wall came down, the city has been revived and rebuilt, with a resurgence of five-star hotels, elegant restaurants, and compelling cultural centers. But Berlin doesn’t seem to know that is again one of Europe’s great destinations, so prices remain low. As an added bonus, the favorable euro-dollar exchange rate means you can go opulently upscale in Berlin for the cost of a hostel and street food in, say, New York. Here’s where to go to feel rich on the cheap.
The Regent offers luxe accommodations without an exorbitant price tag. (Photo: Regent Berlin)
This opulent five-star hotel is both elegant and comfy, and every detail is handled right — from the expensive amenities in the bathroom to the in-room fruit plate which is replenished daily. The gracious public spaces include a tea room and a chic outdoor lounge, and the quiet lobby bursts with beautiful flower displays. Even the gym feels luxurious and spa-like. Breakfast is served in the Michelin-starred hotel restaurant, Fischers Fritz, with a sumptuous buffet of breads, granolas, and fruits. Waiters bring a tiered tray of cheeses and meats to your table (fancily draped in a white table cloth) and encourage you to order any preparations of eggs and pancakes from the excellent kitchen. Amazingly, you can get a room with breakfast included for under $200 a night. (Prices vary by season.)
Admire the beautiful architecture of Gendarmenmarkt Square and then treat yourself to some chocolate. (Photo: Wolfgang Scholvien/visitBerlin)
Directly across from the Regent Berlin is one of the prettiest squares in the city, with the archictecturally beautiful German and French cathedrals (Deutscher and Französischer Dom) that were built in the 1700s and destroyed in the war — then rebuilt to their previous splendor. The German Dome, restored in 1996, now has a permanent exhibition dedicated to the German parliament, but since there’s no charge to enter, simply climb the spiral staircase and marvel at the architecture. When you’re done, cross the street to the luxe chocolate shop Fassbender & Rausch, where you can get a drink made with your choice of milk or dark chocolate from Venezuela or Ecuador, for about $4 (affordable decadence!).
See an afternoon concert on the cheap or just stop by for a tour to explore its beautiful interiors. (Photo: Sebastian Runge/Konzerthaus)
The classically-inspired concert hall on Genarmenmarkt Square has gilded ornamentation and stunning chandeliers. You can take a free tour, or better yet, buy tickets for a performance. The schedule may include Mozart and Schubert or the premiere of a brand new piece by a world-class young composer. At evening performances, locals dress up for the occasion and stroll the lobby at intermission sipping white wine and champagne. But you can get the same elegant experiences at afternoon performances, which are available for as little as $6.
Indulge in a decadent feast of a sandwich at Mogg and Melzer. (Photo: Øystein Alsaker/Flickr)
Located in a former Jewish girls’ school that now contains art galleries and (curiously enough) a museum celebrating the Kennedys, this cozy restaurant describes itself as being open from 8 a.m. “until late.” With shiny wooden tables and comfy purple sofas, it’s a hidden-away spot for talking, lounging, and eating huge pastrami sandwiches. Because of the location, it’s sometimes referred to as Berlin’s Jewish deli — though the popularity of pulled pork sandwiches suggests otherwise. Sandwiches big enough for two to share are about $12.
The Tea Lounge at the Ritz Carlton. (Photo: Ritz Carlton Berlin)
Sitting on the edge of the pretty Tiergarten Park, the Ritz has a dramatic staircase in the lobby and the gracious Tea Lounge for drinks or traditional English afternoon tea. The five-star Ritz is a new landmark on Potsdamer Platz, an area that had been devastated by bombings during WWII and left empty during the Cold War. The area has now been fully rebuilt, with high-rise buildings, including a trendy Sony Centerwith shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and currently, an open-air art fair. With rooms at this Ritz-Carlton going for as little as $150 a night, this may be the one ritzy experience you can afford.
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Head to the Bode for some great art and great snacks. (Photo: iStock)
The five amazing museums on Museum Island are worth days of visiting, with not-to-miss sites including the extraordinary Ishtar Gate of Babylon in the Pergamon museum and the Eygptian exhibits in the Neues Museum. At the northernmost Bode Museum, one of the loveliest experiences is the café. Take a seat on the indoor balcony, under the elaborate dome, where you can look out on the rich finishings of the museum while indulging in pastries, cheesecake, and small plates for well under $10.
Explore the lavish grounds of Sanssoucci Park. (Photo: Andreas Levers/Flickr)
While you’re living royally in Berlin, see how Frederick the Great did it by taking a day trip to his summer palace in Potsdam. The small (for a palace) roccoco residence, built in 1745, is an explosion of colorful whimsy. You can skip the long line (and $19 ticket) at the main palace and walk through the beautiful grounds and terraced gardens at no charge. At the opposite end of the gardens, the New Palace, built twenty years later, is less visited and less expensive. Since you’re required to put on slippers over your shoes to walk through, you practically skate along the long shiny floors, admiring the Baroque splendor.
Head to the Kulturforum for art, architecture, and even an open air cinema. (Photo: Kulturforum)
This center of museums and galleries near Potsdamer Platz was a symbol of West Berlin in the post-War period. Now with the area around it thriving again, the best idea is simply to walk around, admiring the architecture, including the glass-and-steel New National Gallery, built by Mies van der Rohe. During the summer, a big plaza turns into an open-air cinema seating 1000 people. Arty films show each night, and tickets are about $7.50.
Snack, shop, and explore your way through the lovely courtyards. (Photo: Ted and Jen/Flickr)
Tucked away behind a small entryway near the Hackescher Market, these eight interconnected courtyards were developed in 1906 and then renovated in the 1990s. The first courtyard is the most visually stunning, with Art Noveau buildings decorated in blue Moorish ceramic tiles. But keep wandering back to the smaller courtyards that are filled with shops, art displays — and great charm. No charge to sit on a bench and take in the scene.