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Among german destinations, Berlin gets more attention from gay and lesbian travelers. But Hamburg, the nation’s second-largest city and its economic center, offers some very compelling reasons why LGBT jet setters seeking a vibrant, inclusive destination should give it a closer look.

A beautiful city, Hamburg blends modern and historic architecture, setting them against an intense green cityscape and the dramatic visual backdrop of the Alster and Elbe rivers. Visitors will find Hamburg’s city center easily, and its extensive public transportation system is accessible and easy to use. For me, though, Hamburg’s appeal is best told through its urban districts. With over 100, they are as diverse as the city itself. Here, a few of my favorites:

St. Georg
St. Georg is the heart of Hamburg’s gay scene, and Lange Reihe its main artery. Travelers on the amiable street will enjoy an eclectic mix of coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, and bars. I spent a few hours meandering the street in search of gifts, and found delightful stores including modern gifts and home design shop Kaufhaus Hamburg (Kaufhaus-Hamburg.de), gay and lesbian bookstore Männerschwarm (Maennerschwarm.de), and artist-created clothing store The Art of Hamburg (The-Art-of-Hamburg.de).

The largest urban development project in Europe, HafenCity is a new vision in modern living built on the port of Elbe and expected to grow Hamburg’s city center by 40%. It’s home to the great shops and restaurants of the Überseequartier and fantastic harbor views of cruise ships as they arrived and departed.

One of the neo-gothic brick buildings in the Speicherstadt, or Warehouse District, part of HafenCity, houses the most unexpected delight of my trip. An early morning rain left me in search of something to do closer to my hotel. As it turned out, the Miniatur Wunderland (Miniatur-Wunderland.com) — with its tag line, “Come see the biggest miniature train system in the world” — offered the only option at that time of day, so I set off skeptically. The tag line turned out to be a bit of an undersell. It contained over 43,000 square feet of tiny landscape where ski slopes and mountain towns came to life, busy cities bustled with traffic and an airport’s planes took off and landed. Two hours later, I left a convert.

St. Pauli
Hamburg’s most famous neighborhood — and most notorious — St. Pauli draws thousands of visitors to its streets wanting to experience a taste of the city’s more prurient exploits. Casinos, strip clubs, and sex shops line the Reeperbahn, St. Pauli’s main thoroughfare. For the less adventurous, restaurants, nightclubs, and bars also abound.

St. Pauli also claims some of the city’s largest musical theater productions among its attractions. Interesting fact: Hamburg ranks third, behind New York and London, among the world’s most successful centers for musical theater. For a gay venue, check out Wunderbar or 136° on Saturdays

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25 Hours HafenCity, (pictured, above) a hopping design hotel in HafenCity, offers its diverse clientele extras like a sauna. Riffing on its waterfront location, the hotel’s quirky design includes a conference room in a shipping container and lobby restroom sinks fashioned from industrial pipe. Its restaurant, Heimat Küche & Bar, is worth a visit — especially for the fish and chips — even if you’re not a guest. 25Hours-Hotels.com/HafenCity

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Kyti Voo, a welcoming bar for gays and lesbians with a large happy hour list and ample street-side seating, is ideal for people-watching in St. Georg. Nearby Bar M & V is a pub-like establishment with sexy, young bartenders serving a mostly male 30s and 40s crowd. Go for the great beer list and its hilarious, magazine-like menu. KytiVoo.de; MVBar.de

Although not a gay bar (the crowd leans more hetero), Olivia Jones Bar hosts burlesque drag shows that get the whole audience dancing and singing. Olivia-Jones.de

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Set in a beautiful brick building in the Überseequartier that seems to float on water, Wasserschloss serves a modern German menu with a twist; veal schnitzel with green tea breading, and rooibos crème brûlée with strawberry salad. The first floor retail salon stocks a great many varieties of tea and accessories. Wasserschloss.de

Located on Lange Reihe, Cox Restaurant offers a great menu of elevated fare like white asparagus soup with salmon dumplings, and lamb shoulder with feta and herbs with zucchini fries, served in an upscale bistro setting. Restaurant-Cox.de