Tours: Culture & Nightlife, From Day to Night
By OUTTraveler Editors
Get your comfortable shoes on, because when you’re looking to experience the diverse opportunities in a foreign culture, you’re going to want to start your viewing pleasure during the day, but make sure you keep on going through night. When you’re hitting Europe’s Gay Greats, you’ll have plenty of museums and galleries and more to choose from, but why not also end it all with a cocktail -- or two.
You don’t want to miss Zurich’s historic sites, so start with its churches. The surprising stained glass windows of the Grossmunster Church were commissioned from German artist Sigmar Polke, seven windows are composed of abstract slices of colorful agate, and five others with whimsical figurative portrayals of Old Testament stories. Across the Limmat River the Fraumunster church’s windows are also the attraction: these beauties by Marc Chagall. While in the area, make sure to discover Cabaret Voltaire, the original birthplace of the Dada art movement, and not too far from the Kunsthaus museum, where you’ll see a mixture of modern and contemporary works in the beautiful Art Deco building. Don’t get stuck in the historic quarter: Head over by tram (or bike) to Zurich West. This trendy neighborhood is where the city’s artists, designers, and younger crowd have taken up residence or come to hangout. The Schiffbau is a great place to start: the historic shipbuilding hall is now home to theater performance spaces, a restaurant, the tower bar and a jazz club. Nearby is the famous Freitag flagship store (you can’t miss the tower of stacked freight containers), which is your landmark for Club Supermarket (Geroldstrasse 17), a young gay-friendly dance club. But to take in the gay scene, head to Cranberry (Metzgergasse 3), where you won’t be disappointed with the first-rate cocktails and ability to meet all the locals. Although nearby Club T&M and Club Aaah! (Marktgasse 14) will soon be closing their doors, the owners are apparently transferring to the party to the basement of gay-owned Hotel & Bar Platzhirsch (Spitalgasse 3), which they also own, so you can just pop upstairs to your bed after a long night dancing.
The first and last thing you will see in Cologne is, of course, its cathedral, which is Germany’s most visited site and the second largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It’s adjacent to the city’s train station and is a landmark that shouldn’t be missed. Located within easy walking distance are the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, where you can explore the Roman history of the Rhineland or, once you’ve had your fill of the old, check out the new at the Museum Ludwig, which has an impressive collection of modern art. For something a bit more tasty, head to the Rhine and the Schokoladenmuseum, which takes visitors on a journey of the 3,000-year history of chocolate and its production. You won’t want to miss the nearby “crane houses,” a mixture of offices and apartments reminiscent of the shipping cranes once in the harbor. For a more intimate experience, try the Belgian Quarter, which isn’t a national enclave but the fact that all the streets are named after cities in Belgium. Here you’ll find a party atmosphere with bars and kioks with easy, friendly patrons. Grab a Kolsch (the standard beer) at St. Michael, a pub with the same name as the nearby church, where you’ll meet locals. Once ready for the gay nightlife, head to Rudolfplatz. a hub of activity. You may try to start off at the divey Schampanja (Mauritiuswall 43) for an authentic experience or the friendly Ex-Corner (Schaafenstraße 57-59), where patrons are used to tourists, and where it will surely only be the start of the evening.
It’s easy enough to enjoy the culture along Amsterdam’s canal rings, including the famous Anne Frank House, but for an altogether distinct experience, rent a bike (MacBike is a great option) and hop on the ferry to Amsterdam-Noord. The newest attraction north of the historic center is the breathtaking EYE, the institute dedicated to Dutch film culture and heritage. A program of films and activities are planned throughout the year, but just grabbing a seat and taking in the incredible views of the city harbor is worth a visit. A cycle tour will take you through neighborhoods most visitors never experience, such as the Tuindorp Nieuwendam, a quaint garden village with orange roof tiles and gabled roofs. Follow a path and you’ll eventually find D’admiraal Chalk Mill, the only wind-powered trass chalk mill in the world. Grab a bite to eat at Stork Restaurant, housed in former aircraft manufacturing facility, it will give you more of a sense of the industrial history. Back along the canal rings, don’t miss De Pijp, the working class area is a welcome thrum of cafes and cultures. Located near the Museumplein, you can get your Van Gogh experience or gawk at the newly expanded Stedelijk Museum, before heading over to have the Heineken Experience. You also won’t be far from Reguliersdwarsstraat, the street where a majority of great gay bars are located. Grab a cocktail at the classy Eve (Reguliersdwarsstraat 44), then head on over to the newest scene spot, Ludwig II (Reguliersdwarsstraat 37,). Some may remember it as Amsterdam’s most famous gay bar the April, but now Casper Reinders has transformed into a fashion/DJ destination with low lighting and great tunes.
While everyone must have a visit to the Grote Markt—mainly to see the gorgeous city hall (built in 1565), take a photo in front of Brabo’s statue (throwing a hand, where the city gets its name), and linger by the ostentatious Guild houses—don’t get stuck in the tourist square. Instead search for the entrance to the Vlaeykensgang, a 16th-century alley that’s been preserved and also has cozy bistros and a gallery. After visiting the must-see Rubens House, the former home and studio of the painter, head over to the Plantin-Moretus museum, located in the monumental home of one of the inventors of book printing in the 15th century. Stop in at MOMU, the fashion museum, to get a taste of why Antwerp has been a fashion destination since the 1980s or just travel down Nationalestraat, known as the fashion street, where designer Dries Van Noten has his flagship store. But it’s not all a high-end catwalk, so head in the other direction, toward the port, which is what has made Antwerp such an essential city for centuries. On the way stop in at the Sint-Pauluskerk, which has an unusual (to us) calvary mountain, a massive organ, and a unique collection of Rubens, Van Dijck and Jordaens paintings. Once at the water’s edge you can’t miss MAS, the red tower that houses the museum of the city’s history (and has porcelain hands on the tiles). Once you’ve exhausted order a Deconinck at Red Star Cafe (Van Schoonbekeplein 9) or head on over to the stand-and-model Heffenhuis (Falconrui 59). If you’re feeling ambitious, head back toward Popi Café (Plantinkaai 12) over by the river. Then you’re sure to follow the trail to the string of latenight boites.
You won’t have any problem finding options when it comes to an art-filled experience. Start with the National Gallery of Denmark. Not only will you find artwork ranging from the Renaissance to contemporary in the permanent collection, a range of traveling exhibits keep things lively. Then, for a real excursion, head a bit further afield. Located in northern Zealand with a grassy, wooded sculpture park facing the Øresund, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art has had recent special exhibitions such as Women of the Avant Garde 1920-1940 and photographs by Andreas Gursky. But the environment outside and train during the trip there is as beautifully moving as the art inside, pack a picnic and linger for a bit. But for a truly unique experience head to Christiana, an 85-acre "freetown" commune (since squatters took over military land in 1971), that is not entirely under the jurisdiction of the city. You can walk away from the busy parts and discover hand-built architecture and small shops with homemade design objects. When it’s time to wind down, designer Fugu Cocktailbar. It stands for Freddy’s Unique Garden Union (and it does have a live fugu fish aquarium), but it’s the chill, relaxing atmosphere that permeates the place that makes it a great inexpensive destination: in the outdoor Asia-centric garden, you’ll forget you’re even in Denmark! But once you’re ready for a bit more action, head to Cosy Bar, which attracts a younger crowd who like to dance until the early morning hours.
Stockholm is as much a collection of islands as it is a city, best viewed by hopping from one floating oasis of artistic culture (and drinking) to another. Start at the Millesgården, a sculpture garden, antique museum and art gallery originally built as the home and artistic studios of sculptor couple Carl and Olga Milles. For those looking to combine nighttime activities with art, head immediately to the downtown island of Djurgärden and check out the Spritmuseum. A museum for Swedish liquor, it functions as a crash-course in the joys of local drinking culture (don’t miss the Absolut art collection, boasting contributions from the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Harin, and Annie Liebovitz). If the artwork inspires you to purchase some of your own, the next stop must be world-famous auction houses Bukowski’s or the Auktionsverk. The latter, also known as the Stockholm City Auction House, opened in 1674 and is the world’s oldest. Auctioning is thirsty work, so once you’re done it’s best to head south to the island of Kungsholmen and check out the Malarpaviljongen, a floating bar/restaurant that attracts lots of gay party-folks during the warm months. Finally, you must check out Berns, the historic hotel, concert hall and art venue -- but most importantly its basement gallery-cum-nightclub 2:35+1. They host a very popular dance party called Glory Hole, considered one of the best in the Stockholm. The atmosphere is “apocalypse-burlesque,” and in true Scandinavian inclusivity, amidst the couture-clad drag queens and gay clubkid revelers are plenty of straight folks who just wanted great music and a hot dance floor.