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Known for its reputation as both the wealthiest city in the country and its media hub, Hamburg is also the site of one of Europe’s largest, inner-city architectural projects, entitled HafenCity. Traditionally a political bastion of the center-left, the gay-friendly city is rich in culture and filled with historical landmarks like the opulent Rathaus (town hall), the baroque church of St. Michael, and the Neo-Gothic Speicherstadt warehouse district.
Long-reputed as a city of gay tolerance, Hamburg’s legendary red-light district, known as the Reeperbahn, is a hotspot for both straight and gay travelers. While the main thoroughfare, known humorously as “die sündigste Meile” or “the most sinful mile,” is a predominantly heterosexual destination of choice, the nearby streets of Talstrasse and Gross Freiheit, with their sex clubs, shops, kinos (cinemas) and cheap eats are perfect for those LGBT visitors with a taste for something off the beaten path.
With the rivers Elbe and Alster flowing throughout its core and a dense network of canals and bridges to traverse, the city’s waterway system is even more impressive than anything found within Venice or Amsterdam. Gay and lesbian travelers will find themselves enthralled with a seemingly endless list of festivals, recreational activities and sightseeing attractions to explore. From the renowned Hamburg Staatsopera and the famed Fischmarkt, to the burgeoning electronic music scene and the trendy boutiques and shops of Hanseviertel Arcade, art and culture are alive and thriving here.
While Hamburg has a U-bahn system like Berlin and Frankfurt, it is essentially all above ground, but all the better to view the historical sights and the ever-evolving architecture of the city. Grab a Hamburg CARD online before you arrive to the city and receive discounts on tours, theater, restaurants and attractions, as well as free travel by bus, train and ferry.
Looking to satiate your adventurous palates with something beyond schnitzel, sauerkraut and spätzle? Hamburg has it all.
Das Feuerschiff: An old, converted channel lightship anchored near the Überseebrücken, the bright red restaurant, known for its delicious local fare, engine room bar and river deck views, features live jazz on Monday nights and Sunday brunch. (City Sporthafen, Vorsetzen, www.das-feuerschiff.de)
Bullerei (pictured): Helmed by celebrity chef Tim Mälzer, this popular restaurant and café in the center of the Schanze, is a meat and fish lover’s Valhalla. Housed within the halls of an historical live-stock hall, the platters are large and the bowls of pasta with lamb bolognese in the adjacent front “deli” are divine. (Lagerstr. 34, www.bullerei.com)
East: Nestled in the heart of St. Pauli in a former iron foundry, the ostentatious decor, wave-like pillars and vault ceilings of East are overshadowed by the mouthwatering Euro-Asian dishes cooked live before you and the fresh sushi and sashimi offerings. Late at night, the bar and restaurant morphs into a nightclub. (Simon-von-Utrecht-Strasse 3, www.east-hamburg.com)
Nil: Another St. Pauli favorite, this bistro-style restaurant features classic German-Euro cuisine in four and six course meals. While the menu is small, the fish and vegetarian options are superb and the celebrity spotting are plentiful. (Neuer Pferdemarkt 5, www.restaurant-nil.de)
Cox: Deutschland collides with the romance of Paris, in one of the Reeperbahn’s trendiest restaurants. The diverse menu features spices from around the globe, delectable dishes like braised rabbit and a fricassee of turbot, mussels and morels in a saffron cream sauce, and a sexy, red leather-accented decor, perfect for it’s red-light district setting. (Lange Reihe 68, www.restaurant-cox.de)
Cafe Gnosa: Featuring some of city’s best coffee, cakes and pastries, this quaint art-deco café is known for its all day brunches and ever-rotating exhibitions. Found within the gay and lesbian neighborhood of St. Georg, the selection of pies are to die for and the sidewalk seating is perfect for people watching while sipping an espresso. Sehr gemütlich. (Lange Reihe 93, www.gnosa.de)
Unlike Berlin, finding inexpensive hostels and hotels in Hamburg can often be an onerous task, but there’s always a unique place to lay your head at night, whether you are traveling on a strict budget or looking for luxurious comfort.
25Hours Hotel: This red-hot chain of swanky hotels is found throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but here in Hamburg, it’s located in the trendy area of Ottensen, close to the night-life and ports of the Kiez district. A boutique hotel for the hipster with discerning tastes, the rooms are a funky marriage of 60s and 70s retro and post-modern chic. (Singapurstraße 1, www.25hours-hotels.com)
Superbude St. Pauli: This brand-new, über-trendy hotel and hostel in the St. Pauli district features brightly-painted walls and a striking industrial decor. Costing a fraction of what you’d spend to stay in other Hamburg hotels, there are double, quadruple and shared mixed rooms with bunkbeds for 6, as well as a daily breakfast buffet at The Kitchenclub in the lobby. (Juliusstraße 1 - 7, www.superbude.com)
Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg: Built in a 19th-century water tower, this unique, 4 star hotel provides soundproof rooms with dark wood decor and an on-site sauna, spa and bar all locate close to the the U and S-Bahn in the bohemian Schanze area. (Sternschanze 6, www.moevenpick-hotels.com)
Side Hotel: Located near Alster Lake, this gorgeous, glass-sided hotel feels like an ever-evolving theater for color and light, with its vibrant interiors by Milan designer Matteo Thun. The décor is stylishly minimal and modern and the spa and and indoor pool are incredible. (Drehbahn 49, www.side-hamburg.de)
Gastwerk Hotel (spa pictured): Yet another architectural marvel redesigned for practical use in the 21st century, this hotel was formerly a former power station and gasworks from the 1890s. Europe’s first loft-like hotel, features natural light that floods the entirety of the space and a Moroccan-inspired spa. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience. (Beim Alten Gaswerk 3, www.gastwerk.com/hotels-hamburg)
Generator Hostel Hamburg: If you are traveling on a budget, this bright, sleek, modern hostel, housed in a former recording studio once frequented by the Beatles, offers private rooms for couples in addition to all the communal spaces with 6 and 8 beds. There is an airy cafe in the lobby to wind down after a day of sightseeing. (Steintorplatz 3, generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/hamburg/
Outside of London’s West End, Hamburg has become a European mecca for musical theater fans, so if the sex shops, boat rides, variety of museums and shopping won’t suffice, you can always catch the latest theatrical spectacle.
Reeperbahn (pictured): Theaters, sex cinemas, bars, clubs and prostitutes posing like mannequins in storefronts abound on this colorful street in Hamburg’s red-light district, that once housed Europe’s largest brothel. (St. Pauli district, www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/best-of-hamburg/st.-pauli-reeperbahn/)
Fischmarkt (Fish Market): Open every Sunday from 5 to 9 a.m., this 300 year-old, open-air market features fresh seafood, flowers, teas, and exotic fruit from around the globe in the historic fish auction hall of the city. (Große Elbstraße 137, www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/hamburg-maritime/fish-market/)
Speicherstadt: The largest warehouse district in the entire world, this beautifully imposing complex still stands atop a foundation of timber-pile, housing luxurious goods like coffee, cacao, spices and oriental rugs from around the globe. (Located between Deichtorhallen and Baumwall, www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/hamburg-maritime/speicherstadt/)
Miniatur Wunderland: Plane, trains and automobiles reign supreme here in Hamburg, but on a much smaller scale. Hamburg’s world famous model train and miniature exhibition is a wonder to behold and one of the tourist highlights of the city. (Kehrwieder 2-4/Block D, www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/best-of-hamburg/miniatur-wunderland/)
MKG Hamburg: One of the city’s most vibrant museums and cultural institutions, the Museum für Kunst and Gewerbe regularly features clever exhibits highlighting fashion, design, the evolution of Apple, the globalization of wealth through mass media and now, the history and art of tattoos. (Steintorplatz, www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/culture-in-hamburg/culture-from-a-to-z/museum-fuer-kunst-und-gewerbe/)
Hagenbeck Zoo: Founded at the turn of the 20th century, this open enclosure zoo eschews cages, letting the animals roam within semi-natural environments. From its four-level tropical aquarium to the new arctic landscape, the Tierpark Hagenbeck is Europe’s most charming and humane zoos. (Lokstedter Grenzstraße 2, www.hamburg-travel.com/attractions/best-of-hamburg/tierpark-hagenbeck/)
If you are weary of all the sightseeing and need to get your dance on or listen to some jazz, Hamburg’s nightlife and party scene has something for everyone. It might be globally overshadowed by Berlin, but the city’s club-life is undeniably diverse and thriving.
Ex-Sparr: Located in the heart of St. Paul in the Reeperbahn district, the drinks are cheap and the club hits come fast in this red-lit, laid-back, popular bar on Hamburger Berg. (Hamburger Berg 4, www.ex-sparr.de)
Halo/SM Bar: Party until dawn. Featuring a constantly revolving cast of international DJs, this young, exclusive, 2 in 1 venue is one of the leading House clubs in all of Germany. While Halo is stylish and modern, SM Bar is slightly more naughty, with disco balls, red velvet curtains, mesh cages and beds. (Große Freiheit 6, www.haloclubbing.de)
Birdland: There might not be anything sophisticated about the interior of this basement jazz club, the lack of an interesting visual aesthetic matters little when the swing, modern and avavnt-jazz is this incredible. From Chet Baker to Wynton Marsalis, the venue has been drawing top notch talent since it opened in 1985. (Gärtnerstraße 122, www.jazzclub-birdland.de)
Grosse Freiheit 36: From the Beatles to Kylie Minoque, this legendary live music venue is the oldest and largest club in all of Hamburg. Great draft beer in half-pints, the hall is packed, rowdy and features some of the best acoustics in the city and a killer sound system. (Große Freiheit 36, www.grossefreiheit36.de)
M&V Gaststätte (pictured): The name goes back to the historic Hamburg distillery named “Mulzer & Voelk” from the ‘20s, this charming gay bar might look tiny from the facade, but the huge space is filled with historic furniture and a sparkly bar. (Lange Reihe 22, www.mvbar.de)
Golden Pudel Club: Popular DJs from Berlin frequently head north to play at this unconventional, non-flashy underground club, which offers some of the most authentic clubbing experiences in the city. It’s a little trashy, a little punk, and a whole lot of fun. (St. Pauli Fischmarkt 27, www.pudel.com)
Please find out more about Germany at www.germany.travel/lgbt.