(Photo: Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden, Ben Garrett via Flickr/CC Attribution)

Steglitz-Zehlendorf

For a taste of what we all probably imagine when we think about Old World splendor in Europe, head to the district of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. It's a combination of two districts in the southwestern section of Berlin, both of which were part of West Berlin. Today, Steglitz-Zehlendorf is full of upscale homes, historical villas and lots of green spaces.

Spend time in the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden; on Lake Wannsee; wandering in the Grunewald Forest; or on Peacock Island, reachable only by ferry. See how the Prussian royalty lived with a tour of the 19th-century Glienicke Palace. Visit the Allied Museum to learn about post-war Germany, and cross Glienicke Bridge to see where spy exchanges once took place.

Steglitz-Zehlendorf is Berlin's most affluent district, and cultural attractions, shopping and dining options are plentiful. Settle into the relaxed life of Steglitz-Zehlendorf, and you'll feel right at home. Enjoy a performance at Schlosspark Theater or view modern art at the Haus am Waldsee Museum. During the summer months, check out the concert schedule at the Botanical Garden, browse the boutiques along Schlosstrasse, or go treasure hunting at the Steglitz Town Hall flea market every Sunday.

(Photo: Spandau Citidel)

Spandau

Given how big and cosmopolitan Berlin is—it's nine times the size of Paris—it might be hard to believe there's a district within Berlin that feels like a small, rural town. But it's true. Spandau, set in the western part of Berlin, offers a peaceful small-town ambiance along with easy access to central Berlin.

Spandau was, until 1920, an independent town, and it retains its own charming town center. Surrounding the center are wide meadows, forests and farmland. It's a piece of the German countryside just a half hour by public transportation from the big city.

Spandau is not entirely rural. You'll find Berlin's largest pedestrian area with 160 shops in Spandau. And Spandau's Old Town on the Havel River offers traditional German shopping at its finest. Historical points of interest include the Spandau Citadel, built in the 16th century, and the 15th-century Gothic House (Gotisches Haus). Today, the citadel houses a museum and is used for special events such as open-air concerts during the summer.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is at the heart of Berlin. Formerly two separate districts, one on either side of the Berlin Wall, this area is at the center of the Berlin map. It's also one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city today.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg straddles the Spree River: Friedrichshain on the eastern side and Kreuzberg on the western side. The two sections are connected by the historical Oberbaum Bridge, which is depicted in Berlin's coat of arms. This heart of Berlin exemplifies a city that's always changing, while still holding onto its past.

A must-see in this district is the East Side Gallery, the longest section of the Berlin Wall that is still standing, with 105 pieces of original art on the panels. This is where you'll find the famous Checkpoint Charlie (and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum) as well as the exceptional Jewish Museum.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is extremely diverse, with a buzzing cultural scene—especially after dark. Whether you're in the mood for dance or theater performances (the area is home to Berlin's only English-language theater company) or you prefer to get your own groove on at a nightclub, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has you covered. In particular, Friedrichshain is the center of alternative cool in Berlin today.

—by Jessica Spiegel

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