Like New York and London in the '70s and '80s, Berlin’s cheap rents and anything-goes ethos have made it a hub for international artists, creating a city of restless energy and optimism.

East and North
The Berlin Wall used to run right through Mauerpark, now a focus for street art. Graffiti artists are given free rein on a 300m stretch of wall that remains. Their work is ever changing, sometimes politically minded, but always thrillingly cutting-edge. The park is also home to flea markets and barbecues (btw Bernauer Strasse, Schwedter Strasse & Gleimstrasse; admission free).

A converted margarine factory now home to the Berlin Biennale, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art is a lab for current developments in art, with recent exhibitions featuring the work of Martin Neumaier, Nina Rhode, Helen Mirra, Sean Snyder and Ayzit Bostan (Auguststrasse 69; closed Mon; admission £4.80). While you’re there, check out Me Collectors Room at Auguststrasse 68 – one of the newest kids on Berlin’s art block.

Founded a decade after the fall of the Wall in 1989 and based in an underground apartment since 2002, the Galerie Kurt Im Hirsch is one of Berlin’s few not-for-profit gallery spaces. Regularly updated exhibitions feature the work of local artists as well as international big hitters. Lately the gallery has exhibited sculptural installations by Istanbul’s Haluk Atalayman (Kastanienallee 12; open Fri–Sun; admission free).

The Akademie Der Kunste is one of the city’s oldest cultural institutions, founded in 1696 as the Prussian Academy of Arts. Come here for readings, workshops and exhibits: recent showcases have focused on German abstract photographer Heinz Hajek-Halke and Berlin political art activist John Heartfield (Pariser Platz 4; some exhibitions free).

The Sammlung Boros is a former Nazi bunker that has been transformed into a beacon of contemporary art by advertising guru Christian Boros. Its maze of concrete and stark white walls makes for the perfect backdrop for the works of artists, such as Olafur Eliasson, Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Wolfgang Tillmans. Booking online for its 90-minute tours is essential (Reinhardtstrasse 20; admission £8; tours Fri–Sun).

The Hamburger Bahnhof is a converted 19th-century train station and an eye-catching museum space for art from 1960 onwards. On display you’ll find career-spanning bodies of work from US Pop Art pioneers Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and Germany’s multi-talented 1970s figures Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys (Invalidenstrasse 50–51; admission £9.50; closed Mon).

West and south
The Berlinische Galerie is a whitewashed hall, in a converted glass warehouse around the corner from the Jewish Museum and is a superb spot to take stock of the local scene from 1870 to the present day, including artists of the Weimar period such as Otto Dix and George Grosz (Alte Jakobstrasse 124–128; admission £6; closed Tue).

Part of the enormous cultural complex of the Kulturforum, the custom-built Gemäldegalerie reunites about 1,500 works spanning European art history from the 13th to the 18th centuries, after half a century of Cold War separation. Look out for masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, Dürer, Hals, Holbein and Vermeer (Matthäikirchplatz; admission £6; closed Mon).

The ATM Gallery showcases art works in city environments – street art taken from the street to the gallery, essentially. Exhibitions of international urban art and Berlin-based collectives are changed monthly – recent ones include Various & Gould’s Dadaist, painterly murals and Emess’s neon Pop Art-inspired portraits of selected dignitaries (Eylauerstrasse 13; admission free by appointment).

Where to stay
The friendly East Seven Hostel in Prenzlauer Berg has brightly coloured private rooms with comfy pine-wood beds, and a great outdoor barbecue space in a pretty back garden (Schwedterstrasse 7; private rooms from £35).

If you fancy sleeping with an original work of art, check into Scheunenviertel’s Mitart Hotel & Café, whose rooms are decorated with changing canvasses from up-and-coming Berlin artists (Linienstrasse 139–140; from £90).

The Adlon Kempinski has been Berlin’s defender of grand tradition since 1907. Its striking lobby is merely a taster for the full splendour of its guestrooms and suites and five gourmet restaurants (Unter den Linden 77; from £240).

Berlin Tegel airport is the main international hub, while low-cost airlines mostly use the smaller Schönefeld airport. Both are expected to close in October 2013 with the opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg airport. Berlin is served from the UK by Air Berlin, BA, easyJet, Lufthansa and Ryanair (from £80). The JetExpressBus TXL takes 28–40 minutes to reach the centre from Tegel (singles £1.90). From Schönefeld, AirportExpress trains call at several central locations – it takes 21 minutes to reach Alexanderplatz (from £2.40).

The article 'Mini guide to art in Berlin' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.