Germany’s second city is a rock and roll mixture of art, music, and the achingly cool; a gritty metropolis with a heart of gold
Hamburg is a huge port city that’s seen centuries of travelers, traders, vagabonds and dreamers come and go, each leaving their own mark on one of Europe’s most pulsating hubs. Hold on tight, here we go…
If I’ve only got a day, what do you recommend?
Speicherstadt is the largest warehouse district in the world. That might not sound impressive, but it was a city within a city, free from taxation and customs. The warehouses themselves are spectacular Gothic-revival buildings that are now home to galleries, museums and cafes, and there are beautiful views over the canals around every corner.
Built to reflect the red brick of the Speicherstadt, for a view over the city, head to the top of this magnificently imposing concert hall. It’s a world-class music venue containing three performance halls and a music school, and from the Plaza, at the top, you get an unobstructed panorama of the city in every direction.
Explore the waterfront
Walk from Speicherstadt west along the Elbe to the Fischmarkt, passing and exploring the curiosities you find. Enter the Alter Elbtunnel, a pedestrian tunnel under the river, initially built for dock workers but now an art deco marvel than can be accessed for free. For something more sinister, try exploring the Soviet submarine docked just in front of the market, before finishing in the market itself for a seafood snack.
Take a moment to reflect
After all that walking in the brisk Elbe breezes, what about something a little more serene? Head to St. Michael’s Church (the ‘Michel’ as it’s known to locals) dates from 1669 and is one of the city’s most important landmarks. Often voted one of the most beautiful buildings in Germany, it can seat 2,500 people, but there are also 2,425 people who came before you to visit in the crypt beneath the church…
Get some greenery
For a city built on trade and industry, Hamburg is a surprisingly green place, with a number of excellent parks. The Stadtpark is a vast swathe of greenery in the north of the city, while Planten un Blomen is a more sculpted series of gardens comprising walkways, fountains, Zen gardens and hidden glades.
Great! How about a weekend?
Around the world in a couple of hours
Beginning as an idea in the year 2000, Miniatur Wunderland is now the biggest model railway in the world, spanning over 1.5 square kilometers of waterside warehouse. It’s a stunning achievement, and something you definitely shouldn’t miss as thousands of scaled-down vehicles explore landscapes modeled on some of the planet’s most iconic locations.
Get on the water
If you’re on a city break, doing a bit of sport might not seem high on your list, but because Hamburg is built on water, you can see the city from a slightly different perspective. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddle-board and spend a couple of days winding through the city’s canals and waterways.
Museums for all
Hamburg’s Kunsthalle is one of the country’s foremost museums of both art and architecture, with works by a number of the Old Masters. The Zollmuseum (Customs Museum) might not sound immediately riveting, but it’s a brilliant and bizarre journey through the history of smuggling, counterfeiting and seemingly insane lawmaking.
For a truly memorable experience, try Dialog im Dunkeln, an exhibit that involves a blind guide helping you explore places like a public park, a city street, a food market, and even a boat, all in total darkness. For 90 minutes you’ll have a totally different perspective on the world.
Check out its seedy side
Located in the district of St. Pauli, the Reeperbahn is famous as Hamburg’s area of sin and vice, but it’s also live music venues, clubs, galleries, and theaters. Gaudy neon lights, noise, sleaze and some of the best kebabs in the city are all here to show you why the Beatles spent so much time here back in the day!
Spend an evening with the locals
The Reeperbahn is, rightly, a big draw for visitors, but for an alternative way to see a bit of nightlife, do as the locals do. Head to any of the tiny neighborhood stores of St. Pauli, Altona or Sternschanze, grab a €1 bottle of Astra, and hang out on the streets or in the parks, surrounded by students, punks, hipsters, anarchists: the full rainbow of humanity.
Let’s explore further. What’s in the region surrounding Hamburg?
The entire city of Lübeck is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and is a demonstration of what being a thriving, fantastically wealthy member of the Hanseatic League trade association could get you. The medieval capital of the League, it’s one of the crowning glories of 16th century Europe that’s as beautiful today as it ever was. Oh, and for those of you with a sweet tooth, it’s also famous for its marzipan.
It’s about three and a half hours by boat out into the North Sea to the Heligoland Bight, a small chain of islands that have been tossed around between the UK, Denmark and Germany over the last couple of centuries. Take a blustery clifftop walk, eat at one of the small seafood cafes, or wander along the promenade in the settlement of Oberland.
Around an hour from Hamburg is this huge lake surrounded by forests. Declared a biosphere reserve in the year 2000, it’s a peaceful place to hike, cycle, swim, canoe, or camp overnight, away from the noise and bustle of the city.
Romantically located on an island in the town of Schwerin, this mighty pile was built in the middle of the 19th century and is now home to the regional government. Around 90 minutes from Hamburg, once there you can tour the staterooms, roam the gardens, and keep an eye out for the resident ghost!
This expanse of former marshland was reclaimed from the Elbe by the building of dykes between the 11th and 15th centuries, and is now the garden of Germany. Vast swathes of orchards cover the landscape, so hire a bicycle and ride between the pretty little villages, stopping now and again to have a coffee or a slice of cake.
So that’s Hamburg. There’s so much to see in the “Gateway to the World”
No matter how long you stay or what you’re here for, Hamburg will excite you, educate you, entertain you and energize you. It’s certainly a city you’ll never forget.