I'm not a cold weather person, and tend to pick sun and sand over snow when deciding where to vacation during winter months. But every now and then, a quick getaway to a northerly European capital, like Berlin, is a smart escape, even in winter. The off-season bargains are well worth exploring -- and our editors screen and publish many great ones on this site. First of all, hotel and air prices are greatly reduced in winter, sometimes as much as 50 percent! Plus, transatlantic flights are plentiful and it's possible to stay at 4 and 5 star hotels at significantly reduced rates.
In Berlin, my favorite smart splurge is the venerable Hotel de Rome. On a trip last month, however, I opted for the Westin Grand. It's equally well-situated and is running some superb winter specials. It's not as plush or trendy as the Hotel de Rome, but still a very good upscale value.
Some other great options are the Hotel Adlon, a classic, traditional choice perhaps best known for the balcony over which the late Michael Jackson dangled his baby boy, Prince Michael II, in 2002. The Regent is similar in style, but smaller and more intimate, while the Lux 11 is a good budget option in a fun part of town.
Also, I like the Brandenburger Hof, a lovely boutique property with outstanding personal service that feels like a mansion because it once was. Though located not far from the Kurfurstendamm (the center of pre-fall Wall life and now one of the most famous streets in the city), the hotel’s setting in a less-than-lively neighborhood in what was once West Berlin is its one arguable drawback. The city center has since shifted, naturally, to the Mitte (middle) district, where the best museums, shops, restaurants, and hotels can be found (all of the hotels I just mentioned are in the Mitte area, except for the Brandenburger).
A friend and I ventured to the Grill Royal one night, wanting to try one of the Mitte’s new culinary “in” spots. Despite the Film Festival goings-on, we were lucky to snag a table and were not disappointed. Definitely a smart splurge, the food, service, and cosmopolitan décor are all outstanding. For a more traditional pick, try Borchard – a high-quality choice on the Gendarmenmarkt serving a French-German menu. And for something completely different altogether – say, Turkish – head to Hasir in the Hackescher Markt square for grilled lamb and hummus galore.
If you do visit Berlin in winter, don’t forget to bring your snow boots! I’ve made this mistake twice now, assuming that if it does snow heavily, the piles are cleared quickly off the sidewalks and streets (like in New York). Not quite. There’s usually a lot of slush everywhere (store owners don’t seem to be bothered enough to take shovel and hand), so take it from me and avoid having to buy a brand new pair of galoshes by coming prepared.