Edited by Jess Wright
When asked the question what is Hamburg famous for, I have two answers; the first being that Hamburg is simply overflowing with breathtaking bodies of water – rivers, canals, and lakes, so magical and reminiscent of my childhood in Albania. The second answer? A nightlife to rival any in the world. And that’s not just my opinion either; Hamburg’s nightlife was voted best in the world by a recent survey that asked participants to vote according to affordability, local friendliness, safety, and fun factor! It’s easy to see why Hamburg is an easy winner, having all of this in abundance. What love most about the nightlife in Hamburg is the absolutely magical atmosphere! There are so many amazing things to do in Hamburg at night but I’m going to share only the best with you in this Hamburg nightlife guide. If wondering what to do in Hamburg in one day, make sure you take some time out for a nap, because tonight I’m taking you out on the town!
St. Pauli neighborhood
My first experiences of Hamburg nightlife, and now firmly one of my favourite things to do in Hamburg at night, is a night out in St. Pauli, Hamburg. This neighbourhood promises a good time to people from all walks of life – it’s not uncommon to see people in their 60s dancing in the clubs and having a fantastic time. Forming the heart and soul of Hamburg’s nightlife scene, St Pauli is famous as the Hamburg red light and party district, home to the infamous Hamburg Reeperbahn, nicknamed “die sündigste Meile” (the most sinful mile) for obvious reasons. Scattered between an eclectic mix of underground clubs, upscale cocktail lounges and affordable bars are a variety of strip clubs, sex shops, and even brothels – and most of these venues are open till dawn. With the erotic art museum nearby, you have all the ingredients necessary for sin city. Don’t be alarmed if you’re seeking a more vanilla night out; it’s not all x-rated! The streets of St. Pauli are lined with some of the best bars in Hamburg, as well as restaurants, nightclubs and discotheques. All considered, it’s the perfect example of nightlife in Hamburg, and the scene of spectacular debauchery for many a soul, from 15th century sailors to the Beatles. This vivacious neighbourhood has so much to offer I would consider letting a local show you to some of the best spots in St. Pauli at night.
Perhaps not in every Hamburg nightlife guide, Zum Silbersack offers a worthy party – only, the student edition. This cheap student haunt is rowdy and packed to the wooden, tavern-like rafters with a cult following that has put this establishment on the map as a Reeperbahn legend, delivering cheap drinks and air-guitar ballads since 1949. If a no-frills, roll-your-sleeves-up, gritty sort of night out is what you're after then this is the spot, full with smoky atmosphere and sticky floors. Here you’re in for a serving of hearty carousing, loud and passionate singing-along, boisterous banter and of course numerous shooters washed down with Astra beer.
A far cry from humble Zum Silbersack, Le Lion offers a far more sophisticated experience. A stylish cocktail bar with a view over Hamburg, this elegant venue which is known across Germany is decorated in a manner reminiscent of bars in the fancy hotel lobbies portrayed in Hollywood films. Poised on a velvety stool across from luxurious wallpaper behind the low-lit bar, you’ll wish you were wearing a pencil skirt and heels or maybe a suit, sipping an Old Fashioned, but don’t be intimidated – though the bar exudes luxury, the atmosphere is informal and the clientele a mixed hat. Step in for a classy cocktail or two, served with an air of luxury and personal attention.
Große Freiheit 36
No good night out is complete without music to tap your toes to, and for live music Große Freiheit 36 is legendary. Famously one of the stop on the Beatles’ debaucherous exploration of Hamburg, and the venue of one of their very first gigs, before they achieved stardom! With the capacity to take an audience of 1500 enthusiastic music-lovers, this venue has hosted famous musicians across all genres ranging from pop, rock, metal, hip hop, funk and even salsa. Lit on the outside by a smorgasbord of retro neon, it’s impossible to miss and you’ll find yourself intoxicated by the energy before even stepping foot inside!
A versatile music venue, Prinzenbar is another prime spot to get you shaking your hips ‘til the small hours. While electronic and house DJs rule the roost in this baroque-style bar, it also offers live music across a variety of genres including indie, funk, reggae, and hip-hop. The striking combination of baroque-inspired chandeliers and cherubs with dramatic red lighting and gothic detailing make will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into an Anne Rice novel, and combined with spine-tingling DJ sets you might just party as though you were immortal in this memorable venue.
Sternschanze, though only a short walk from the Reeperbahn, offers a distinctly alternative vibe with leftist tendencies and an almost electric atmosphere that in warmer weather spills onto the streets with jovial drinking and dancing party-goers. Perhaps one of the best examples of this quirky and somewhat strange area is the Rote Flora musical theatre; home to squatters of all ages for almost 30 years. Initially the squatters moved in as part of a political protest and, once victorious, simply never left. A walk between the two districts will lead you to many golden finds including Goldfischglas, a retro bar with diverse clientele and the funky Le Fonque. If you choose to boogie all night long be sure to stop in at Kulturhaus 73 and Uebel & Gefährlich, a former WWII bunker. For some serious off-the-beaten-track action head under the Sternbrücke bridge where you’ll find underground clubs such as Fundbureau, the Astra Stube, and the Waagenbau.
Truly living up to a motto that promises ‘prime variety’, Kulturhaus 73 is a venue so dynamic in its offering that you could stay from day to night. Not much to look at from the outside, a world awaits within this cultural center that combines café, bar, club, and cinema. This flexible spot is perfect to catch a live football broadcast on the big screen or a craft beer with friends. More lively among things to do include attending a music concert in the grand hall or a DJ set in the basement and you can rest assured that this is far from touristy; in fact, weekly visits to this vibrant venue have become ritual for many of the local residents.
Another must on the list of any muso, Le Fonque states its claim to fame as “excellent music”, though one could argue that liberal use of the color red could certainly be another. The intimate red-lit bar, behind an equally red façade, does indeed offer an excellent selection of music, adhering to a strict “vinyl only” policy when playing the wide variety of funk, soul, boogie, disco, and jazz. The very red bar makes for a cozy setting frequented by a local crowd and offers affordably priced fare.
Zoë II Sofabar
It might seem a strange theme to base your bar on, but Zoë II’s comfy selection of lived-in sofas and shabby-chic decor of the romantic era make for a picturesque setting, ideal for Insta snaps. By day it offers a serene cup of coffee but comes to life at night when cocktails are the preferred beverage of choice. As the evening wears on the sofas fill up, and a trendy, lively vibe takes hold. Laid-back and charming, it promises a relaxed night out and Zoe III – right next door – is equally worth a visit, if only slightly less classical in appearance.
Take in the sights of the harbor
Of course, we’re not all party animals and a milder night might be on the menu for you. In that case, why not start off the evening with a peaceful dinner at the harbour. The harbour is one of my favourite places to visit in Hamburg, and an excellent place to find your bearings. It is also the spot where you will likely be catching most of your ferries whilst exploring the city. Offering beautiful views of the ships and dark lapping waters of the River Elbe, there is a wide selection of restaurants to choose from and makes for a good place to enjoy traditional Hamburg specialties like Fickenwerder Scholle, a fish dish widely available in Hamburg.
What better way to spend a romantic evening than on a boat, gently navigating the canals of this UNESCO world heritage site. Stop off for a stroll through the artfully lit alleys and canals, enjoy the aromas of roasting coffee and spice as you wind between warehouses that forms part of one of the largest trading posts in the world. You will be hard-pressed not to admire the ingenuity of the fleets – canals that work with the tides, filling and emptying to allow travel by ship. Traveling the narrow canals aboard a small barge, you’ll have the perfect vantage point to enjoy breathtaking architectural details, tactfully illuminated and shimmering in the reflection of the water below.
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