Edited by Jessica Wright
From being a veritable Waterworld, and easiest to travel by eco-friendly means – namely bicycle and on foot – to the niche jazz clubs only those in the know can locate, Hamburg is a mix of all my favorite things, which goes a long way in explaining why I have been here for four years!
Another thing I love most about this special place is the fact that among the more world-famous attractions – a few of which you will find here – are a variety of cool and unusual things to do in Hamburg that you’d likely never discover without insider help.
The sense of maritime charm that Hamburg is so well known for is so perfectly accompanied by a spirit of revolution and an alternative undertone that permeates the city, allowing quirky neighborhoods and arty hangouts to flourish in old fishing villages and trade areas. To help you discover some of the wonderful and weird things to do in Hamburg I’ve compiled this Hamburg alternative guide, the help of which I hope will lead you to the lesser-known nooks and crannies of the city and a few of many spectacular Hamburg hidden gems.
Somewhat controversial, and for good reason, the Herbertstrasse red-light district is almost entirely male-only – in patronage, that is. In truth the street is full of a female presence, only the woman here are primarily sex workers and women from the outside are vehemently rejected.
This considerably controversial rule is probably the reason this less-touristy street in St. Pauli wins a spot on the list of more unusual things to do in Hamburg. Located near the better-known red-light district, the Reeperbahn, Herbertstrasse is the only street in the city where it is still possible to find prostitutes posing in the windows.
The oldest area of legal prostitution in Hamburg, with around 250 prostitutes reputed to be some of the “best looking” and most expensive in the city, this part of the nightlife in Hamburg is not for the meek – particularly if you are a female tourist daring to enter!
If, as a female outsider you manage to get past the metal barricades that bar entry for the underage and fairer sex – accessing this prime example of Hamburg off the beaten path – legend decrees that you can look forward to being doused in “penis water” or, more specifically, the water used for male clientele to wash up before being seen to.
Far less bawdy is this great example of quirky Hamburg that is hipster not because of trend or fad, but because of generations of a generally determined and – some might call them resistant – persistent population. This little restaurant, situated close to the harbour between old warehouses and tucked neatly under a bridge, might not look like anything to the unsuspecting eye.
By to those who know it Oberhafen Kantine is a hard-kept secret, with delicious homemade seasonal and regional spoils cooked up in a precariously crooked little house where one waitress was rumoured to have worked for 72 years.
Once dubbed by a reporter as “Hamburg's weirdest place,” the dangerously dipping restaurant – given its tilt by ceaseless flood waters – serves up a robust no-nonsense traditional German fare. With little in the way of interior decor, there is still plenty to look at and an abundance of naturally occuring charm in the tiny spot that sits flush against the railway.
One of many cool things to do in Hamburg and another good example of the common Hamburg trope of communal resistance, this once-upon-a-time theatre in Sternschanze was first occupied by squatters in the face of its demolition as part of government plans to develop the area, and has been a community center ever since.
Hosting events usually known only among locals, the Rote Flora is a warm and welcoming graffiti covered-space in which political talks and conferences are held, as well as an increasing number of concerts, parties, and art exhibitions.
Still housing radical leftists and homeless people, the Flora was also once central to the survival of another nearby symbol of rebellion against gentrification, the Golden Pudel. Now a vibey and affordable club that makes up a treasured part of Hamburg nightlife, more on the Golden Pudel and similar Hamburg gems are detailed in this guide.
Partners in civil rebellion, the Golden Pudel, and Rote Flora are equally worth a visit for those with a rebellious spirit seeking out the alternative things to do in Hamburg.
Walk in Blankenese
To the west of Hamburg, right on the banks of the Elbe River and with a direct metro connection is the wealthy suburb of Blankenese. Once a fishing village, this suburb is now a popular residential area for the wealthy citizens of Hamburg.
Reminiscent of the Riviera, the suburb feels almost Mediterranean with stunning beaches to enjoy in the rare sunny weather, a gorgeous hiking trail, a lighthouse, and several quaint stores and markets to browse through.
For day visits, the lighthouse and harbor tours provide unique views of the exclusive neighborhood, as do the steep stairways that lead upside of the hill and wind between the decadent villas and mansions.
Just 30 minutes from the city center, a trip to this polished suburb for coffee and cake and perhaps a pleasant waterfront walk will show a completely alternate side to Hamburg, and if you happen to enjoy this you will almost certainly enjoy a visit to the Alster lakes.
For a detailed write-up on the fun to be had at the Alster lakes, take a read through this guide to the hidden gems of Hamburg.
Contrary to what you might think, you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy this one – a historic warehouse in Speicherstadt that houses an intricate maritime exhibit. Within the HafenCity quarter, Speicherstadt alone is worth a visit to experience the feeling of an old-world trade center, but this hidden museum – the best of its kind in my opinion – is the cherry on top!
With so much history about trade and navy it is entirely relevant for a visit to this Hanseatic city, but what makes the museum a treasured find is a story behind the extensive collection. Peter Tamm began the collection with the miniature ships his mother gifted him as a child, sparking an obsession for anything nautical.
He grew up to sail the world's oceans, collecting over a million images,100,000 books, 38,000 miniature ships, oil paintings, instruments, uniforms, maps, telescopes, and a treasure trove of miscellaneous maritime collectibles during the course of his life.
It might sound overwhelming, but the collection is well organized over nine levels, each with a unique story and theme. To get the full experience start at the top and work through to the ground level, journeying through everything from a giant lego model of the Queen Mary to an exhibit on deep-sea research.
While the Fischmarkt is famous for the delicious foodie opportunities on offer, what makes it unusual is the strange hours it keeps. The only time to visit this Market is six am on a Sunday morning when local vendors of everything from kumquats to eel start crying their wares.
Before the sun has even risen hungry locals begin to descend on the market and by 9.30 the market is promptly closed in time for Sunday church services, as per an ancient compromise between the fisherman and clergy of old.
If you’re more of a night owl than an early riser, don’t stress; as per tradition, it is entirely normal to see drunken revelers who have been up all night indulging in St. Pauli stumble into the 100-year-old fish-market for a Fischbrötchen.
And while you might expect market organizers who arrange their business hours around church service to be a tad stiff about drunkards in their midst, think again – this has become such stock-standard practice that entire wedding parties have been spotted ending their festivities here.
Whether you drag yourself out of bed in time for the market or stop by on the way to crawl under the sheets, here you will discover some of Hamburg’s best fishy delicacies. For guidance on just what to try take a read through this Hamburg foodie list.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dialog_im
Dialog im Dunkeln
If you’ve ever wondered – or perhaps never wondered – what it would be like to be blind, you might have the opportunity to experience it first hand at Dialog im Dunkeln. Translated to “dialogue in the dark”, this exhibition gives visitors the experience of being blind, cultivating awareness, and sparking conversation around the topic.
Visitors can expect to experience everyday environments and activities like a walk in the park, a boat trip, or a cafe visit, all with a surprising addition – total darkness. The exhibition is a clever role reversal where the blind are at a complete advantage and sighted are pushed out of their comfort zones and into the lives of the blind, to gain awareness of the simple advantages they take for granted each day.
Armed with a cane and a blind host – already a master of this environment – visitors are guided through the completely darkened exhibition in small groups, ending at the Dark Bar where visitors can enjoy a drink and discuss the experience of blindness with their friends and helpful, knowledgeable guide. Centrally located close to the harbor, this is an absolute must on the list of unusual things to get up to in Hamburg.
Hamburg is a truly exceptional travel destination – with so much to do it would take a novel to fully outline all the quirky finds. If, after the suggestions above, you are still seeking a few more ideas on fun things to do in Hamburg Germany, you could always check out the Chilehaus.
This is a ten-story building which is an exceptional example of Brick Expressionism with a top that is surreal in its reminiscence of the bow of a ship.
If in the mood for something likely to get your heart pumping, you could catch a St. Pauli football club game at Millerntor-Stadion, where the overwhelming atmosphere of passionate singing of the fans and pure spirit of football is likely to resonate to your core. With the bonus of having the Reeperbahn a quick walk away, you’re in for a rowdy and festive evening no matter the outcome.
Last but not least, if you’re looking for that same high-octane rush but aren’t a fan of sports, head to Hamburger Dom – a German-style amusement park right in St. Pauli. The biggest and the longest fair in Germany, with nine million visitors annually, the park is sure to get your blood pumping with roller coasters and rides, as well as carnival treats and beer to fill up on in between.
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