Edited by Jessica Wright
Among my group of friends, Hamburg is referred to 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, its 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 center, stunningly clean and shining with contemporary architecture. I don’t exaggerate when I say there is simply water everywhere. This gives the whole place the illusion of being by the sea. 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 will happily point out some of Hamburg’s secret spots. To help you get a head start I have outlined my favorite 10 hidden gems in Hamburg!
First on the list of 10 hidden gems in Hamburg and a firm favorite is a place dubbed “Park Fiction” by the locals. It's an evergreen grassy terrace overlooking the harbor, full of plastic palm trees and a spirit of resistance. Quirkier than the average park, this tiny patch of astroturf is always busily attended by the local 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 epitomizes the collective efforts of St. Pauli residents. Grab a beer and find a soft patch in the artificial park to be entertained by bike and skateboard performers. Watch your kiddies play among tulips in the little playground or simply enjoy a beautiful harbor sunset while experiencing the sense of community that saturates St. Pauli.
It’s no accident that Golden Pudel comes as number two on my list, saved from demolition by the same protests that saw the realization 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. 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 4 euros. 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. Then you can enjoy the view of dawn breaking over the harbor while you fulfill the tradition of drunken revelers stumbling into the Fischmarkt for a Sunday morning sandwich of considerable quality!
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. Every Thursday there's a free jam session where students and amateur musicians can 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 harbor 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.
Definitely, on the list of non-touristy things to do in Hamburg, this one might surprise you, being Indian in origin. To find the best food in Hamburg, you need to eat where the locals do. This tiny, ambient Indian restaurant in the middle of Hamburg is a local favorite. If you are a fan of Indian food or vegan, you're probably craving a break from typical German food. If so, this place will knock your socks off with unbelievably delicious food. When exploring Hamburg off the beaten path, this is an absolute must. The fragrant flavors engulf you the minute you walk through the door. The authenticity of the experience continues throughout the meal, down to the metal trays upon which the food is served. The ever-popular mango lassi is a must-try!
This industrial district and engineering factory turned cultural hotspot and theater, Kampnagel has plenty 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 multi-functional theater complex, it now boasts 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 theater lovers and a younger, trendy crowd, you might be able to catch anything from ballet and symphony to edgy rock and experimental shows drama shows.
Canoeing And Kayaking In The Alster Lakes
Right at its center and forming the heart of Hamburg is the manmade Lake Alster, around which the city was built. During the warmer months, the locals flock to the inner and outer Alster lakes, paddles in tow to enjoy the opportunity to sail and row. This is an excellent time to take up kayaking, and as a resident of Hamburg, I cannot recommend this enough. Experiencing the water this way allows unparalleled views of the magnificent buildings along the banks that cannot be spotted from the street. For the even more adventurous water-sport lovers, there is also stand-up-paddling and a wide range of boats to rent. The shore of Outer Alster offers a luxurious walk, surrounded 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
This local brand creates ice cream that is not only exceptional in taste but exceptional in how they are working for sustainability! Another great activity for warmer months, and equally as Insta-worthy. 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 flavors including all the favorites, as well as more unusual ones like avocado and basil, all of which are to die for! Using natural products only, the quirky flavors also come in dairy-free vegan alternatives. While Luicella’s might be a little more costly than your average ice-cream truck, the thought, and craft that goes into each flavor are more than worth the cost. If it just so happens that you discover a flavor 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
The dim, old-world feeling of the Old Elbe 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-worldly 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.
In the very center of the city is what once existed as a living quarter with narrow 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 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 historic 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. 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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