10 Hidden Gems In Hamburg

By Deniz Yaşar, who arrived in Hamburg to complete a masters in energy efficiency and fell in love with a city that appeals to his love for sustainability.
Edited by Jessica Wright

Hamburg is referred to amongst my group of friends as the “Pearl of the North”. It’s a title given in endearment, and a bit of tongue in cheek because though you might encounter the nickname in Hamburg, it is also a title many other northern countrymen bestow on their respective countries. In my opinion Hamburg is the only city truly worthy of the title; a waterborne gem offering everything you might expect from a large and populated trade centre; stunningly clean and shining with contemporary architecture. I don’t exaggerate when I say there is simply water everywhere, one of the characteristics that make this city so unique, necessitating more bridges than any other city, even Venice. This gives the whole place the illusion of being ever by the sea and to perpetuate that feeling of harmony with the elements is a sustainable – a topic very close to my heart – and eco-friendly outlook. This green city is best traversed on foot or by bicycle, meaning that you are at the best advantage to experience Hamburg off the beaten path. The locals of Hamburg, friendlier and more open-minded perhaps than in other German cities, will happily point out some of Hamburg’s secret spots, but to help you get a head start I have outlined 10 hidden gems in Hamburg!

Park Fiction

First on the list of 10 hidden gems in Hamburg and a firm favourite is a place dubbed “Park Fiction” by the locals; an evergreen grassy terrace overlooking the harbour, full with plastic palm trees and a spirit of resistance. Quirkier than the average park, this tiny but popular patch of astroturf is always busily attended by the crowds that gather for a drink or perhaps to enjoy a bit of live music. Embodying a spirit of revolution against the city’s development plans, this park is more than a communal hangout spot and in fact epitomises the collective efforts of St. Pauli residents in retaining St Pauli’s character, green space and harbour views in the face of an onslaught of new upscale buildings and concrete blocks around the harbour. Grab a beer and find soft patch in the artificial park to be entertained by bike and skateboard performers, to watch your kiddies play amongst tulips in the little playground or simply to enjoy a beautiful harbour sunset whilst enveloped in the sense of community that saturates St. Pauli.

Golden Pudel

It’s no accident that Golden Pudel comes as number two on my list, saved from demolition by the same protests that saw the realisation of Park Fiction. Situated close to the Landungsbrücken piers, the club offers spectacular views of the historic waterfront buildings and this major public transport hub. An amalgamation of fascinating Hamburg history, this publically-preserved club was also once a bootleggers' jail. Nowadays it maintains that dedication to a good party; with prices kept low by a loyal local patronage. Where you might expect to pay around 12 euros for a drink, here you can expect to pay a reasonable 3 or 4 with the bonus of an alternative vibe and quality bands and DJs. This late-night classic is run by a legendary ex-punk band and promises a party that will leave you headbanging into the next day, where you can enjoy the view of dawn breaking over the harbour whilst you fulfill the tradition of drunken revellers stumbling into the Fischmarkt for a Sunday morning sandwich of considerable quality!

Birdland

The basement club is a secret Hamburg musical delight, located in the Eimsbüttel district on Gärtnerstraße. One of the best hidden spots in Hamburg, Birdland was entirely unknown a few years ago and is still only really found with insider information. A real treat for jazz-cats like me, this tiny atmospheric club only accommodates a small audience of roughly 150 people. Catering to all sorts of jazz from mainstream to avante-garde (and even jazz-karaoke) the venue hosts several live-jazz concerts weekly with local and international artists and has a free jam session every Thursday where student and amateur musicians perform. The hip venue has a self-service bar with delicious, artfully made cocktails and offers tiered seating that promises a good view of the stage for everyone in the house. The artwork of famous jazz musicians lines the walls, lending a retro feel and fantastic atmosphere to the basement club. Be sure to arrive early to the improv sessions hosted on Thursdays to secure a seat and avoid the considerable disappointment of not getting in!

Altonaer Balkon (Altona)

A terrace sharing some of the characteristics of Park Fiction – including a wider view of the harbour and River Elbe – this popular park provides a relaxing space to chill and catch your breath after busy sightseeing and travels. Unwind while overlooking the harbor activities of boats passing and the loading and unloading of gigantic cargo ships, and perhaps enjoy the spoils of Fisch & So just short trip down the stairs. You could even do as the locals do and get involved in a game of boule. Of course this is an activity best enjoyed in summer when you can lie in the grass afterward enjoying the sunshine. Altonaer Balkon is the perfect spot for a family barbecue or picnic; equipped with children’s playground, art installations and benches to relax on, it is also easily accessible from the Altona train station. This green and grassy terrace with iconic fisherman sculpture also happens to be quite a romantic spot, widely agreed upon as one of the best places to enjoy a sunset in Hamburg.

Badshah Restaurant

Definitely on the list of non touristy things to do in Hamburg, this one might surprise you, being Indian in origin. I find that to find the best food in Hamburg you need to eat where the locals do and this tiny, ambient Indian restaurant in the middle of Hamburg is a local favourite. If you are a fan of Indian food or happen to be vegan, you are probably craving a break from typical German food and even, for that matter, the traditional fare of Hamburg. If so this place with knock your socks off with unbelievably and delicious food. When exploring Hamburg off the beaten path this is an absolute must; the fragrant flavours engulf you the minute you walk through the door and the authenticity of the experience continues throughout the meal – down to the metal trays upon which the food is served – which will undoubtedly be a warm and fulfilling experience. You might not spot this one in decor magazines any time soon, and it could probably do with a lick of paint, but be sure that if you’re a foodie this is bound to satisfy. Be sure to try the ever-popular mango lassi!

Kampnagel

This industrial district and engineering factory turned cultural hotspot and theatre, Kampnagel has a great deal of exciting things going on – art, plays, and well-known international and local musical acts; this affordable venue is certainly worth a visit. Home to several festivals such as the “Internationales Sommerfestival” (International Summer Festival) and Live Art Festival, Kampnagel is one of Germany’s largest production and performance facilities for freelance artists and one of the most important stages for the performing arts. Founded in 1984, the year Kampnagel was converted into a multifunctional theatre complex, it now boats six stages, a cinema, rehearsal space, restaurant and bar and is close to bus stops and the train station. Catering to a diverse crowd, including classic theatre lovers and a younger, trendy crowd, you might be able to catch anything from a ballet and symphony to edgy rock and experimental shows drama shows.

Canoeing And Kayaking In The Alster Lakes

Right at its centre and forming the heart of Hamburg is the manmade Lake Alster, around which the city was built and which now provides a focal point of summer life in Hamburg. During the warmer months the citizens of the city flock to the inner and outer Alster lakes, paddles in tow to enjoy the opportunity to sail and row. This an excellent time to take up kayaking, and as a resident of Hamburg I cannot recommend highly enough this unique way of exploring the Hanseatic City. Not only does the fountain in the lake’s centre make for an impressive backdrop, experiencing the water this way allows unparalleled views of the magnificent buildings along the banks including elaborate mansions with gardens that cannot be spotted from the street, Jungfernstieg, City Hall, and many churches. For the even more adventurous water-sport lovers there is also stand-up-paddling and wide range of boats to rent. On shore the Outer Alster offers a luxurious walk, surrounded as it is by ancient trees, leafy parks and the mansions of the Winterhude, St. Georg and Rotherbaum districts. Maps of the lakes and canals can be purchased at many of the boat-rental places.

Luicella’s Ice Cream

Another great activity for warmer months, and equally as insta-worthy, this local brand of ice-cream makers create ice-cream that is not only exceptional in taste, but exceptional in the ways in which they are working for sustainability! With a few branches already full-steam ahead in Hamburg, the friendly, English-speaking staff offer trial scoops of the wide range of ice-cream flavours including all the favourites like chocolate and raspberry swirl, as well as more unusual ones like avocado and basil, all of which are to die for! Using only natural products the quirky flavours also come in dairy-free vegan alternatives. Very near to the Reeperbahn, this is great for a midnight treat. While Luicella’s might be a little more costly than your average ice-cream truck, the thought and craft that go into each flavour are more than worth the cost and if it just so happens that you discover a flavour you simply cannot part with, there is the option to buy a bucket to stash in your hotel freezer for future cravings.

The Old Elbe Tunnel

Though a leisurely and picturesque walk through the Old Elbe Tunnel is likely to be on every decent guide to Hamburg – it’s certainly in my own guide for what to do in Hamburg in one day – the dim, old-world feeling of the tunnel is appealing to even the more alternative among Hamburg’s visitors, particularly those with a flair for photography. The art-deco tunnel which stretches a whopping 426.5 meters 24 meters under the Elbe river connects the Landungsbrücken piers in St. Pauli with the port, and is free to pedestrians, only occasionally allowing cars through. The other-wordly underwater tunnel, once an impressive technical innovation, now offers a direct route for city-dwelling pedestrians and cyclists wishing to cross below the river to Wilhelmsburg or Altes Land, and a peaceful walk for visitors. Make your way up to ground level at the observation platform south of the river to enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Gängeviertel

In the very centre of the city is what once existed as a living quarter with narrow and winding streets, and is today a proud creative space. Though possibly too well known to remain a secret amongst Hamburg hidden gems, it is certainly considered one of the more alternative things to do in Hamburg. This quirky UNESCO Heritage Site claimed the title of a “site of cultural diversity” and remains even after the threat of nearby cholera outbreaks and later city development plans threatened to have it demolished. In 2009, in the face of said development plans the site was occupied in an attempt to preserve the historical building. After many protests by dedicated activists and artists, Gängeviertel was saved and began to host artistic events such as film screenings, drawing sessions and live music. Today it provides a diversely cultural and artistic space for anyone looking to relax, with impressive performances, astounding street art, and some hip cafés dotting the streets. The area also offers under-the-radar nightlife with a variety of events and underground club nights frequented by locals. For similar experiences of a strange persuasion, take a look at this guide to unusual Hamburg finds!

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