You know those quirky converted spots you can find in some neighborhoods – like a bar that used to be a gangsters’ den, perhaps, or an ice cream parlor in an old bathhouse? Our locals in cities around Europe are always on the lookout for unique places like these, and have written about many interesting spots where old places have been transformed into something new and different.
From art spaces in former religious buildings to photography in jail and jazz in a train station, we have collected some of the most interesting and unique repurposed spaces in European cities. Enjoy them on a future trip, or use them as inspiration to discover a one-of-a-kind converted spot in your own city!
Bey Hamam, Thessaloniki
A “hamam” or Turkish bathhouse is a type of public bathing space popular in many Middle Eastern states of the past, especially the Ottoman empire. This particular hamam, the Bey Hamam in modern-day Thessaloniki, was built in 1444 and is full of history – as well as art, since it was converted into an exhibition space in 2010. Under a beautifully carved and painted ceiling you can view modern art pieces or take part in various cultural events.
Bordel la Grotta, Rijeka
When you pass by a place whose name literally translates to “The Cave Brothel”, it’s impossible not to pop in for a quick look around. No, you won’t find any scantily clad ladies entertaining the patrons – Bordel la Grotta is only a bar and bistro these days. However, it makes for a curious snippet of local history, as the place once used to house the most popular brothel in the city.
Portuguese Centre of Photography, Porto
The 18th-century building housing the Portuguese Centre of Photography was an active prison until the 1974 revolution in Portugal. Following a renovation, this beautiful dark stone building now houses exhibitions exploring the history of Portuguese photography and is well worth visiting. You even have the chance to access some parts of the former prison where famous prisoners were jailed, such as important 19th-century writer Camilo Castelo Branco.
Union Chapel, London
While you can still attend weddings and services every Sunday at Union Chapel, on some days and evenings it is transformed into a glorious music venue. You can enjoy programs ranging from acts such as jazz, folk, rock and soul groups to comedy shows and benefits, all while admiring the Victorian architecture and the light filtering through stained glass. The acoustics are, unsurprisingly, divine.
Rolf Liebermann Studio, Hamburg
There are many architectural gems in Hamburg, and one is this former Jewish temple (you can still see the menorah decorating the window) that was in use until 1938. It was luckily not destroyed during the war and afterward, in 1953, the federal radio station Norddeutscher Rundfunk bought it and converted it into a high profile music studio and concert hall. The Rolf Liebermann Studio, as it is called today, still hosts excellent performances of jazz and other music genres.
Sala Canal Isabel II, Madrid
Sala Canal Isabel II in Madrid is a great example of an imaginatively repurposed space. When engineering and plumbing improved and a water tower was no longer needed in this neighborhood, the pretty domed tower was turned into a super cool gallery space. It focuses specifically on contemporary photography and audio-visual exhibitions. The interior is always cool and often empty, making for a wonderfully private viewing experience.
What could be more of a unique and fun night out than going to a bar in a transformed shipping container? Raum&Zeit (“Space and Time”) is located next to an artificial duck pond and provides a chill, open-air drinking space. The bar was recently taken over by new management that is very well connected in the music scene, so the ducks in the pond have witnessed a fair amount of legendary concerts here in the past couple of summers.
Manchester Climbing Centre, Manchester
Manchester Climbing Centre is housed in a former church and allows visitors to clamber all over its godly interior to their hearts’ content. There are many climbing routes on offer as well as courses for both beginners and advanced climbers. Those who don’t fancy getting physical can rest in the cafe, which looks out over the walls, while soaking up the sun as it streams through the stained-glass windows of this beautiful old house of worship.
Swimming Pool, Sofia
The thing that makes Swimming Pool, an art space/bar in Sofia, such an attractively unique place is that it is an old apartment with a rooftop terrace and (you guessed it!) swimming pool. Sounds like a bohemian spot, right? The structure was built in 1939, providing a rare example of pre-war architecture. Nowadays it has been converted into a contemporary art gallery in the heart of the city and attracts people for its views and atmospheres just as much as for the exhibitions.
Jazz Station, Brussels
Jazz Station is a local favorite hub for jazz events in the Belge capital. On top of the great music performed here, its location in an old neo-Renaissance Flemish train station dating from 1885 makes it charming, historical and quirky. You can still see the train tracks at the back, and the facade itself is beautiful, in the typical Brussels red-brick style.
One of Copenhagen’s most treasured landmarks is Knippelsbro, a beautiful bridge spanning its inner harbor. The bridge is raised a few times a day, a process that is controlled by one of the two iconic copper-clad towers (an engineering ballet that enthralls its audience and infuriates the city’s fleet of taxis). The southern tower, on the other hand, has recently been converted into a cultural event venue. Kulturtårnet‘s minimalistic space leans into its maritime heritage and offers its guests a unique cultural and gastronomic experience, as well as 360° views of the harbor and city.
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