From fun fairs to fish markets and franzbroetchen, Hamburg has an awful lot going for it (and not just stuff that starts with ‘f’). It’s Germany’s third-visited city for good reason. The draw isn’t just its wealth of cool attractions, or its distinctive look, or its banging nightlife… it’s the city’s unique vibe.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my visits to Germany, it’s that Germans are a chilled out, sociable, creative bunch of people, and yet again that’s reflected in its own particular way in Hamburg. Whether you feel like exploring the sleek streets and high-end restaurants of HafenCity, the street art and rebellious atmosphere of the Schanzenviertel, or the neon-soaked debauchery of Reeperbahn, the city’s got you covered. Check out our video and guide to some of the best things to do and see in Germany’s ‘Gateway to the World’.
Getting around in Hamburg is easy. Like any German city worth its weight in wurst, Hamburg is made for cycling – it’s safe and without any particularly gruelling hills. If you’re not keen on the idea (or the weather is terrible) the public transport here is second to none – and that includes the ferries you can board to take you along the banks of the Elbe.
There are lots of superb hotels in Hamburg, but for an affordable and comfortable stay in a stylish and comfortable room, you really can’t go wrong with the Superbude Hostel in St. Pauli. Don’t let yourself be swayed by the ‘Hostel’ tag – this place is super clean, really well designed, and exceptionally friendly with a great breakfast spread too. They’ve even got free bikes you can use (first come first served) and special heat lamps in the bathrooms to keep you toasty after your shower – but the best thing of all about this place is that they bake their own bread and often leave loaves of it at the reception desk along with a giant jar of Nutella, so peckish guests can grab a little snack if and when they need it. That’s hospitality right there.
As with hotels in Hamburg, it’s easy to go high-end with food in the city. But why would you, when the cheap eats are so good? If the Dom is on when you’re there, go and try all of the sausages, sandwiches, burgers and pancakes you can get your grubby little paws on. The Rindermarkthalle , right beside the Feldstrasse train station, is a good place to find delicious and cheap food too. Make sure to try Franzbrötchen at least once in Hamburg; this is the city’s signature buttery, cinnamon-laced pastry, and an absolutely perfect accompaniment to a decent coffee.
For chocolate-lovers, Chocoversum is an absolute Hamburg must-do. You can make a tour of Hamburg’s very own chocolate factory for just €15, and – crucially – this includes the chance to create your own chocolate bar which you package and take home with you. The guides are fantastic and the tours are really interesting; you learn the entire process of chocolate making from bean to bar, with plenty of chances to taste along the way.
Hamburg’s harbour is its heart, and a boat tour of the harbour and the city’s canals is an absolute must-do for anyone visiting the city. Barkassen-Meyer run fantastic boat tours that take you around Hamburg’s wonderful waterways. You’ll float through the famous Speicherstadt (warehouse district) and HafenCity before heading through the sluice gates to cruise past the Philharmonie, the huge docks, the container terminals, and some of Hamburg’s most famous landmarks. Tours run on the hour and are mostly in German, but English audio guides are available.
Der Schanze is a cool little neighbourhood just North of St Pauli that was the hub for the city’s counter culture in the 80s and 90s and remains a little alternative today. It’s a place full of street art, cool little boutiques and cafes, great restaurants and some decent bars too. Keep your eyes out for the famous Rote Flora, and stop for a custard tart across the road from it, in one of Schulterblatt’s lovely Portuguese cafes. This is a vibrant, buzzing area that’s a pleasure to explore, so give yourself some time to enjoy it.
Wherever you go in Germany, you can be fairly sure that you’ll drink good beer. For good beer in Hamburg, make a beeline for the Ratsherrn craft brewery on Lagerstrasse (yes, Lager Street) right on the edge of Sternschanze. It’s a lovely little brewery, and one in which you can take a tour and do a little beer tasting, before grabbing a pint and a bite to eat at Altes Madchen. There’s a store there too, so you can stock up on some bespoke bottles to take away with you.
If you can make your trip to Hamburg coincide with the Hamburg Dom, do. It runs for 30 days every summer, winter and spring so plan ahead. The Dom is the city’s big neon wonderland, a huge funfair full of fast rides, fast food and gluhwein (be careful combining all three of these things at once, things could get messy). The Dom is a great way to spend an evening, whether you’re on a family break or a trip with mates. I heartily recommend finding the stall that sells little mini-pancakes and treating yourself to a tray of those bad boys.
From one neon wonderland to another… well, ok – maybe ‘wonderland’ isn’t exactly how one would describe Hamburg’s infamous red light district. But it’s certainly neon – and you can’t say you’ve seen Hamburg until you’ve seen its seediest side. Where, once upon a time, horny sailors went to get their baser instincts tended to, today its streets are full of tourists, teenagers and touts… and even some families, earlier in the evening at least. It’s a heady, fun place to explore, and a great place to party.
You need to get up early for this (or stay out late, as the case may be), but please believe me when I tell you that it’s 100% worth it. For the people-watching possibilities alone, it’s worth it. You’ll see hoary old fishermen selling their catch, drunk party people that have blown in from the Reeperbahn, families out to get some bargain vegetables, dancers, eaters, fishmongers, and a plant-seller that puts on a show he could charge for. It starts at around 6am and ends at around 9:30 (or a little after). Get a fischbroetche. Seriously.
If you decide to visit the Fischkmarkt of a Sunday, crossing underneath the Elbe is a really nice way to walk/cycle off all the fish sandwiches you should have gorged on. Whether on foot or on wheels, crossing Hamburg’s famous Elbtunnel is a rite of passage for any self-respecting visitor to Hamburg. When you get to the other side, there’s a cool viewing area where you can look back across the river for a superb view of the city.
Flights to Hamburg
- Dee Murray