These Less Touristy Berlin Neighborhoods Have Parks, Bars, and No Crowds
Explore Berlin like a local in these lively, grown-up neighborhoods.
Berlin’s reputation as a party city sticks to it like glue, but the clubs and bars that are such a draw for international revelers tend to be located in the ever-hyped neighborhoods of Friedrichshain, Neukölln, and Kreuzberg. Unlike many European capitals, Berlin is huge—It’s nine times the size of Paris—and you can easily miss out on cool-in-their-own-way, far less touristy neighborhoods right in the city center, especially if you blow into town just to go out.
Central Berlin is considered everything within the circular S-Bahn line called the Ringbahn. In general, the party destinations fall farther east within this area. If you’re landing in the city ready for art, history, or just pretending to live like a local, you may be better served by heading west, to three areas that have much to offer, and not much in the way of third-wave coffee shops and “heute leider nicht”—that means “unfortunately, not today,” the signature rejection at Berlin club doors.
Bordered by the Spree and various canals, Moabit—where I’ve lived for almost a decade—is technically an island, and it feels like one, too, thanks to the area’s uncrowded parks, restaurants, and bars. To the south and southwest are my other preferred stomping grounds: the more au courant but still adult-feeling Schöneberg, and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, a district marked by leafy squares and grand apartment buildings, which can feel more genuine than the city’s trendier quarters where change sometimes seems to be the only constant.
Best things to do in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf
This well-to-do district had its heyday in the 1920s, when it was home to the city’s most famous cabarets and theaters. Today, it’s where I go for more upscale, time-weathered offerings than in my own neighborhood, whether that’s walking the manicured grounds of the Baroque Charlottenburg Palace (in summer, look for the herd of sheep, and in December, visit the Christmas market held in front of the Schloss) or browsing the Antikmeile, a whole street dedicated to mom-and-pop antique stores since the 1970s. Start at Berliner Sammelsurium, which also sells coffee and cake, and work your way north, with a stop around the corner at Wald Königsberger Marzipan, a century-old, family-owned marzipan shop.
Berlin’s Museum Island in Mitte gets a ton of well-deserved attention, but in similar fashion, right across the street from Schloss Charlottenburg, you’ll find a small collection of excellent cultural institutions all right next door to one another. The Museum Berggruen is home to a formerly private collection of modern art, the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg specializes in Surrealism, and the Bröhan Museum offers 20th century decorative arts.
This district is also where to head for some of the best Asian food in Berlin, starting on Kantstraße, long home to a veritable plethora of Asian restaurants. The sushi restaurant 893 Ryotei is one of the street’s trendier offerings, but if you’re on a budget, I’m partial to the chicken katsu at the absolutely no-frills Udagawa, or the popular, pint-sized Taiwanese Lon-Men’s Noodle House down the street. And on Fridays through Saturdays in spring through October, Wilmersdorf’s Preußenpark is home to the Thaiwiese, a beloved open-air Thai food market ideal for picnicking.
Berlin isn’t really a prime destination for German cuisine; that’s Bavaria. But you’ll find the classics in Charlottenburg surrounded by a good bit of patina, whether it’s a homey schnitzel at the 70-year-old Diener-Tattersall or a more upscale version at Jules Verne, both located near leafy Savignyplatz, where every other person looks like an out-of-work theater director. Berlin was also once the capital of Prussia; for representative cuisine, there’s cozy Marjellchen. The Café im Literaturhaus Wintergarten, in a 19th century former villa, is ideal for the afternoon tradition of kaffee und kuchen (“coffee and cake”).
For a drink at any time, head to Schwarzes Cafe, open 24 hours a day and best known as one of David Bowie’s haunts during his Berlin years. Finally, if you’re looking for a door almost as tight as famously choosy Berghain’s without having to leave the neighborhood, try your luck at tiny Rum Trader, one of the city’s oldest and most idiosyncratic cocktail bars.
Out of the three neighborhoods in this guide, Charlottenburg is your best option for hotels. An outpost of the Hoxton opened last May, with a fun lobby bar outfitted with Northern European flea market finds plus an Indian restaurant serving killer butter chicken. Equally design-minded but spiritually the Hoxton’s opposite is the family-run Wilmina, a serenely austere hotel that opened in 2022 in a landmarked former women’s prison, with a small rooftop pool—open all year for the brave—and tucked-away garden courtyard, both reserved just for guests.
Best things to do in Moabit
Quiet and multicultural, Moabit is ideal for visitors who try to feel like they live in the cities they visit. Start your day at Domberger Brotwerk for a coffee and the city’s best sourdough, and take it to the nearby banks of the Spree, some of the least overrun riverfront in town. Have lunch at one of the Lebanese restaurants on Huttenstraße—the hummus at Big Bascha is a standout—or just east, get delicious Turkish gözleme (stuffed flatbread) to go from Kırşehirli Gözlemeci. End your day with dinner at the Arminiusmarkthalle, one of the city’s last three remaining historic market halls. If you’re visiting from spring through fall, you can also get your biergarten fix at the very literally named Biergarten am Kleinen Tiergarten, which is tucked behind the 19th-century church St. Johanniskirche and is too low-key for a website.
And if you really want to make like a local, spend at least part of a day at Vabali, a 20,000 square-meter sauna complex which is the one place in my neighborhood I can always count on non-Moabiters to know about. Just keep in mind that German saunas are textile-free and co-ed. If that’s not your thing, see what’s happening at Kulturfabrik, a longstanding mixed-use cultural space with a tiny movie theater and a bar, and get a sense of history down the street, at a scenic memorial park that was once an infamous Nazi political prison.
As of September, Moabit is a bit better connected to the rest of the city thanks to an extension of the M10 tram line—take it all the way to Friedrichshain, if you must. New openings in the neighborhood already feel like they’re accelerating. Some of my favorites among the recent additions are the French wine bar Triiio, which makes a great croque madame, the coffee shop Brühgruppe, where you can also get an espresso martini, and the candlelit bar Perlou, which, unlike many bars in Berlin, actually separates smoking and non-smoking rooms. These days, it also feels like another storefront gallery shows up every time you go for a stroll, with Moabit’s diffuse contemporary art scene anchored in ZK/U, an artist residency space in a former railway depot with a nifty public garden.
One area where Moabit could stand to improve is its hotel offerings, which are still slim. That said, budget travelers should be comfortable at the Wallyard Concept Hostel, which also offers private rooms. To make the most of the area’s Spree-side neighborhood, book a waterfront room at the Abion Spreebogen with a great view over the river.
Best things to do in Schöneberg
Where David Bowie lived from 1976 to 1978, close to Kreuzberg and Mitte but less touristy, Schöneberg is the area where everyone I know would like to find their dream apartment—although thanks to Berlin’s housing crisis, that’s unlikely to happen. But stroll from Goltzstraße down Akazienstraße, passing mom-and-pop shops selling chocolate, wine, historic clothing, craft supplies, and just apples—or go people-watching on a sunny weekend afternoon at the Park am Gleisdreieck, a park built over a former rail depot which borders the neighborhood to the east—and it’s easy to see the area’s appeal.
Schöneberg has something to tempt just about every type of tourist. Just west of Nollendorfplatz, you’ll find many of the gay bars the area is known for. From there, walk to Viktoria-Luise-Platz, both because it’s beautiful and there’s great vegan Sichaun food to be had. Nearby, go for pizza and a negroni at Sironi and ice cream at Jones Ice Cream, both of which tested the waters with stands at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg, then decided to make their permanent home over this way. Browse antique books at Antiquariat Thomas Mertens or Antiquariat Ihring (no website), or get an unusual feel for local history at Schöneberger Südgelände, a rail yard that sat empty from 1952 to 2000, and is now an urban green space. For a fancier excursion, head to the huge department store KaDeWe—I don’t go for the luxury brands but instead skip to the top two floors, which are devoted to food and drink of all sorts. Finally, on Saturdays, don’t miss the market at Winterfeldtplatz, where you can get everything from local produce and wool slippers to licorice and gözleme (stuffed Turkish bread). Schöneberg is also home to one of the city's newest museums, Das Kleine Grosz Museum, which is devoted to the works of Georg Grosz, best known for his drawings and paintings of 1920s Berlin life.
And hey, even if that dream altbau (old building) Schöneberg apartment ain’t happening, at least visitors can sort of stay in one. The Residenz Begaswinkel is housed in a renovated neoclassical building, and if you don’t mind staying a bit south, Das Literaturhotel is fully outfitted with 19th century German furnishings.