Germany’s second largest city is an oft-overlooked European holiday destination that you may have not even heard of until the recent G20 Summit. But don’t be fooled by Hamburg’s industrial vibe. This major port city may be one of the world’s top shipping and logistics hubs, but what it lacks in clout it makes up for in ample green spaces, intriguing historical landmarks, a vibrant art and culture scene, and the largest red light district in Europe. Should you ever find yourself in Northern Germany, Hamburg has something for everyone, and it will not disappoint.
For the maritime maniac: This city is right up your alley. The Port of Hamburg is the second-largest in Europe after Rotterdam and among the top 10 largest in the world. It welcomes around 200 cruise ships and 600,000 passengers per year, and has 2,500 bridges—more than Amsterdam and Venice combined– that arch over its canals.
- Visit the Museumshafen Oevelgönne (the Museum Harbor): There are about 20 old wooden ships (and yes, one is even named San Diego) which have been restored, some dating back to the late 1800s. Admission is free but it’s a bit far from the city-center so you’ll have to take a bus or ferry to the Neumühlen stop/pier.
- Take a harbor cruise through the Port of Hamburg: Most of them leave from the floating docks of the Landungsbrücken, or the St. Pauli Piers. A 1.5 hour cruise will run you about 15 Euro and there’s no need to book in advance. While you’re in the area… On Sundays visit the Fischmarkt, or Fish Market, in this area which has been a functioning fish auction hall for more than 100 years. Today, it’s a popular venue for brunch and vendors sell any kind of food item your hangover calls for.
- Walk around the Speicherstadt (the Warehouse District): It’s the world’s largest warehouse complex which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. While you’re in the area… Adjacent to the Speicherstadt is HafenCity, the Hamburg government’s newest undertaking to extend inner-city Hamburg. This modern marvel of a precinct boasts state-of-the-art office buildings and residential towers.
If you like sex, drugs & rock n’ roll:
- Stroll through the St. Pauli district: The fact that Hamburg was integral in the rise to fame of The Beatles in the 60s may not be news to you. Home to music clubs The Indra and Kaiserkeller, where The Beatles first played in Hamburg, the St. Pauli district even has a plaza dedicated to the band, the Beatles-platz.
- Avert your eyes (or don’t) in the Reeperbahn: This red light district gives Amsterdam’s a serious run for its money. Known for prostitution and nightlife, Hamburg’s streets of shame are a sight to be seen. Hide ya kids, hide ya wife.
For the ardent architecture buff:
- Bless up at St. Michael’s: This Baroque-style sanctuary is the city’s largest and arguably most famous church. Located near the city-center, this historical landmark has been reconstructed three times (the first was erected in the mid-1600s) and its entrance is adorned with a formidable sculpture of St. Michael defeating the devil.
- Visit the Rathaus (City Hall): Hamburg’s city hall is an architectural marvel dating back to the late 1800s. Its neo-Renaissance structure is held up by sandstone and a distinct-looking copper roof, creating a grand and almost ominous façade.
- Go to the Elbphilharmonie: This concert hall was recently opened in January 2017, and it’s so much more than a music venue. Designed by Swiss architects, it’s an emblem of avant-garde design and acoustics, and boasts a wrap-around balcony on which you can take in epic 360-degree views of the city. If performances are not your thing, you can get a plaza ticket (free of charge on the day-of) and just snap some Instagrams from the balcony.
For the lush:
- Sip on a Hamburg Mule at the Sofitel: The Sofitel Alter Wall has one of the dreamiest back patios and waterside bars. Their take on Moscow’s gingery spirit isn’t so bad either.
- Grab a brew at a beer hall: You’re in Germany, after all. Some of our favorites are: Brauhaus Johann Albrecht, Blockbräu, and Holsten-Brauerei.
For the aviation geek:
- Take a factory tour at Airbus: Boats aren’t the only thing Hamburg has to offer. The European aerospace giant has a large outpost in Hamburg and you can take a factory tour to see how they make things fly. (Message us for more details on how to book!)
For the avid outdoorsman (or woman):
- Smell the roses in Planten un Blomen Park: These botanical gardens are centrally-located and a perfect place for a green getaway. The park has a Japanese garden, a rose garden, and a tropical greenhouse to satisfy all your green thumb heart’s desires.
- Paddle, sail, canoe, or skate on the Alster Lakes: Hamburg cradles two lakes within its city limits- the Außenalster (outer Alster) and the Binnenalster (inner Alster). Depending on the time of year, there are endless water activities to relish in and it won’t take you long to stumble upon a rental facility. If you’re a runner, the loop around the Außenalster is a 4.7 mile (7.5 km) route of beautiful, flat terrain.
For the retail therapy believer:
- Shop ‘til you drop: Neuer Wall is one of Germany’s most posh luxury shopping streets, lined with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Cartier… the usual suspects. If you’re not a big spender (few of us are) you’ll also find stores like Zara, Mango and H&M, which are not exactly unique but always stock styles typical to their market. Pro tip: Unlike U.S. stores which have sales multiple times per year, most European stores always have only two sales per year—and they are blowouts (we’re talking 50%-70% markdowns). So go worship the retail gods in July and December.
For the gourmand:
- Don’t expect to be served wienerschnitzel and pretzels: The cuisine in Northern Germany is a bit different from its Southern counterpart. Here you’ll find the nosh to be less Bavarian and more Danish and Dutch-influenced (lots o’ fish) due to its proximity to the seaside. Hamburg is also a mecca for international noms because of it being an epicenter for global shipping. Friends of the blog recommend: the restaurant in the Sullberg Hotel (in the city’s posh Blankenese neighborhood… also worth a visit), Coast by east (in HafenCity… which has over 250 cocktails) and clouds Heaven’s Bar + Kitchen (a rooftop in the Reeperbahn).
Hope you enjoyed us sharing a little bitte Hamburg with you! Leave us a note, we’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations ☺