We spend 48 hours in this city rich in history and world class culture
The second largest city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg is a maritime city, renowned as the ‘Gateway to the World', thanks to its position on the great River Elba. Home to the third largest (and oldest) harbour in Europe, more than 8.5 million sea containers are distributed from Hamburg's harbour globally per year via a vast complex of international ships and immense cranes, which are a must see during a visit to this unique city.
While Hamburg may not feature on your list of must-visit European countries, it should. We recently had the pleasure of embarking on a whirlwind tour of the city and from this have compiled our top recommendations to help inspire your visit to this great city, which truly has something for everyone.
Exploring the city - by boat or by hot rod
By Hot Rod
Hot Rod city tour
These cute vintage inspired hot rods are a unique and seriously fun way to tour the city in style, with the main route taking tourists past Hamburg's main attractions. The meeting point for this tour is the Hamburg Landungsbrücken (jetties), near the “StrandPauli” parking lot at Hafenstrasse 89. The tour always gets off to a start at 10:00 a.m., and the last tour departs at 8:00 p.m.During peak season (June—Sept.) tours start two hours earlier and keep driving until two hours later.
With a 160-hectare lake in the heart of the city and the fantastic River Elba, some water activity is a must and there are plenty of options to choose from.
A lake cruise is one of the best ways to see the city from the water. Given there are plenty of boats around, there's no need to book in advance. I recommend the 1-hour harbour cruise , which takes you round the HafenCity (the old warehouse district), giving you an up close and personal view of the the vast complex of ships and sea containers - the heart of Hamburg’s industry.
Whether you’ve sailed before or are a complete novice – as I was - this is a great way to experience the Outer Alster Lake, while learning a few nautical skills to boot. We had a few tense moments on board our small sailing boat, but it all added to the drama!
Areas to Visit
Speicherstadt is the old warehouse district in Hamburg, featuring the largest complex of integrated warehouses in the world. The area recently became a UNESCO world heritage site, thanks to its many unique buildings including the famous Chilehaus building – a masterpiece of redbrick expressionism, located near the city centre.
A stark contrast to the industrial city centre, this old fishing village has an English country village charm about it. Set next to the River Elbe, this area is characterised by narrow, hilly cobbled streets with stunning views of the river and beautiful old quaint houses.
Ensure you stop for some tea and cake at Sagebiels Fährhaus, a cafe with a large terrace and stunning river views. When you're ready to head back into the city, hop on the special small bus nicknamed 'the mountain goat' or take a leisurely 2.5 hours walk along the river. Alternatively, it’s a 40-minute cycle ride or a 20 minute journey on the S-Bhan.
Shenzhen is Hamburg's Bohemian district, located four stops on the S-Bahn from the Town Hall. This area boasts a wealth of outdoor cafes that are great for people watching, coupled with a selection of fantastic boutique shops for a spot of retail therapy. If you're in the need for a sweet treat during the day, stop for cake at Gretchens Zuckerbude - Pâtisserie & Café. Afterwards, you can round the day off with a refreshing beer at the Craft Beer Store, which has quite possibly the largest selection of bottled beer I have ever seen. If you're not sure what beer you'd like, you can try before you buy to ensure satisfaction.
The Art Mile
If you're looking for some culture in Hamburg, ensure you visit the Art Mile, which starts just near the Outer Alster Lake and is home to Hamburg’s newly refurbished modernart gallery Kunsthalle modern. For ease of getting around, the exhibitions are cleverly connected by a network of underground walkways.
HafenCity - Europe’s largest scale urban development
With a growing population of more than 1.8 million people, Hamburg is embarking on Europe’s largest scale urban development, 'HafenCity', which will completely transform the former harbour district. Set to take more than 10 years to complete, the development will cover 157 hectares when finished. It will be fascinating to see this project come to fruition - another reason to return!
Hamburg is peppered with a wealth of shopping malls. From small boutique shops to large shopping centres, such as the Europa Passage, a mammoth shopping centre that spans five floors. For those seeking designer goods, head to Neuer Wall, where you will find a variety of luxury brands including Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Mont Blanc, to name a few.
At this unique shop you'll find quirky gifts, an environmental ethos and brilliant packaging, making it a 'must- see' shopping destination. For those who wish to purchase unique gifts but don't want to be lumbered with lots of packages on the return journey home, they also have an online shop.
A haven for culture vultures
Hamburg is home to world class ballet school, The Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier. Founded in 1973, this classical-creative company's repertoire has been shaped by the work of ballet director and chief choreographer John Neumeier. It ranges from new versions of historical narrative and fairy tale ballets to literary adaptations, including many Shakespeare ballets, and pieces set to symphonic and sacred music.
During my visit, I saw Tatiana, a mesmerising experience, which also included a behind-the-scenes visit to the school, where I learned a lot of interesting facts, including that the dancers often go through one pair of ballet shoes per night, which is pretty expensive given that they cost between £25 - £45 a pair. Bear that in mind when you see the price of the tickets! Given its popularity, bookings are advised.
The Hamburg State Opera
Nearly 400 years old, The Hamburg State Opera was founded in 1678 on the Gänsemarkt, making it the first public opera house in Germany. In 1827, it moved to its present location on Dammtorstrasse. The building was almost completely destroyed during World War II and was re-opened in 1955, with a new architectural design that has been fully retained to date.
January 2017 will see the opening of the hotly anticipated Elbphilharmonie. Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, this impressive bold glass structure sits on the edge the River Elbe and will be one of the top music halls in the world. To check out the programme of music and pre-book tickets visit visit Laeiszhalle.
Where to Eat
This specialist tea spot in HafenCity is a great place to relax and re-fuel by the water.
The best sushi in town. Bookings advisable.
A great place to enjoy a craft beer outside, while hanging out with the locals.
Jacob's Restaurant at Jacob's Hotel
This hotel restaurant has 2 Michelin stars and a stunning terrace overlooking the River Elba - enough said.
Apples restaurant in the Hyatt Hamburg
Pop by to enjoy a fantastic locally sourced lunch on the beautiful terrace of this little gem located in the heart of the city.
Where to enjoy a tipple
With great high ceilings and interesting décor celebrating the heritage of the building, this is a great spot for a break from your city wanderings. At the time of my visit the food wasn’t great, but I would highly recommend it for a cocktail.
The Clouds Bar
Perched on the 23rd and 24th floor of The Dancing Towers, this is a great spot for a late night drink with fantastic views of the city and an outside terrace. For the more adventurous, from here, you can wander into the famous Reeperbahn area for some late night life and discover bars where the Beatles spent their early days.
Where to stay
This 5-star hotel in the heart of the city has spacious rooms, excellent facilities - including a 20 metre pool - and a fantastic restaurant – Apples - which specialises in using locally sourced food. With more than 200 rooms and with an average room cost of £200, this is a great hotel option. They even have their own bee hives on the roof!
If you’re looking for something a bit quirkier, then this small 4-star boutique hotel is a great option. Opened in 2012, this 65 room hotel offers funky décor and a great central location. Rooms from £100 per night.
For those looking for a romantic weekend away, this luxurious 200-year-old 5-star hotel located on the edge of the River Elbe is the place to stay. The hotel has a two Michelin star restaurant and offers 85 rooms and suites, many of which have stunning river views.
Ready to book your holiday to Hamburg? Check out these offers from Booking.com
Here you'll find inspiration for your visit to Germany, a stunning country bursting with historical and cultural delights.