On my recent trip to Hamburg, I really fell for the city. It took me a long time to get to Germany’s northern metropolis – in fact, I think it was been on my ‘must-visit’ list for close to three years – so I was pretty pleased when Come to Hamburg invited me to visit the city and see for myself what I’d been missing.
Simply put: here are 11 things I loved about Hamburg.
One thing I loved about Hamburg was the harbour. The city has the biggest port in Germany, which is the second busiest in Europe and still one of the largest in the world. And of course, thanks to this huge industry, Hamburg has a completely different feel to other German cities. You can’t escape the importance of water: old industrial canals snake through the old town, anchor motifs are found pretty much everywhere and even today you’ll see a lot of yachts on the lake.
Seeing the city from the water is a must. We explored the harbour on a tour with Barkassen-Meyer – but check the forecast before you go! (Our boat trip coincided with the only rainfall we experienced the whole weekend…)
For great night-time views, head to the Tower Bar at Hotel Hafen.
Top tip: For the best city panorama, take the U3 underground line from the Rathaus to St. Pauli. This portion of the track is raised and winds through the city towards to port. We did this journey several times and I loved it – it feels a lot more like Manhattan than Germany. Transport is free with a Hamburg Card.
Luicella’s has to be the best ice cream in the city. The cute little store is found on a side street in St. Pauli. Expect to queue out the door and be surprised by the range of flavours. You can even suggest your own.
Introducing Hamburg’s hipster hangout; Schanzenviertel is where you’ll want to go out for drinks, food, coffee, shopping, ice cream – pretty much anything, really. The place is abuzz in the evening as the city’s resident hipster/alternative hangout and there’s plenty of hangouts to choose from.
For a mini walking tour, get off the U-Bahn at Feldstrasse and head to Marktstrasse for some alternative boutique window-shopping. Then head back along Schlachthofpassage via the Sunday flea market, before ambling down the beautifully symmetrical Beckstrasse and getting some great shots for Instagram. From there, the main veins of Schanzenviertel (Schanzenstrasse and Shulterblatt) fork off in a Y-shape in front of you. If you want to cover both, head up one street and cut across Susannenstrasse to come back and complete the triangle. If not, simply get lost amongst the sea of locals.
Miniatur Wunderland by day…
Miniatur Wunderland was very probably my personal highlight of the trip. Though it definitely won’t be for everyone, it’s an absolute dream come true for anyone who loves train sets or is just a sucker for attention to detail. You pass throughout several different countries ‘stages’ but it’s impossible to take in all the small scenes that have been put together. (There’s even a spotters’ guide for more obscure features, including an amorous couple getting intimate in a field…)
Oh and I did I mention there is a fully-functioning miniature airport?
…and by night
One of the coolest features of Miniatur Wunderland is that every 15 minutes, the lights dim and it becomes night-time. Street lights come on, lights go on in houses and you can peer in at the detailed scenarios taking place in homes, apartments or buildings.
It’s genuinely really cool.
Cycling around the Outer Alster Lake
Since moving to Germany, I’ve found myself hiring a bike in every new city I visit. Clichéd I know, but it is a great way to explore a new place (particularly on a Sunday when very little is open…).
We cycled around the Außenalster (Outer Alster) before doing a loop of the city. It’s pretty amazing how quickly you leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind and find yourself cycling past huge mansions and watching yachts on the water. Very nice for a Sunday afternoon.
St. Pauli has to be one of the most famous neighbourhoods in the world and is literally a magnet for tourists. This area of the city boasts Europe’s largest red light district, including the infamous Herbertstrasse, which can only be entered by over 18s. But it’s definitely not a simple tourist trap – the place has a pretty interesting history and has long been a haven for tolerance: there’s even a pair of Catholic nuns living just off the Reeperbahn, the city’s infamous ‘sinful mile’. (I bet they love it.)
To experience more than just drunk tourists, I’d definitely recommend the walking tour from the St. Pauli tourist office, who can give you an insight into the neighbourhood’s evolution from pre-Nazi China town to revolutionary squatter strong hold to chic and expensive living quarter.
Did you know the Beatles first made a name for themselves playing in clubs in St. Pauli? (Check out the monument to them on Beatlesplatz.)
Literally, ‘the storage city’, the Speicherstadt is a pretty beautiful area full of renovated warehouses – and let’s be honest, it’s an instagrammer’s dream. The area is another reminder of the port’s importance but today you can find all sorts in the area, from museums to food halls. Hard to believe the whole area was built on a foundation of just timber logs! The largest warehouse district in the world, it was recently given UNESCO status. Not too shabby, eh?
You can easily explore the neighbourhood on a walking tour from Stattreisen Hamburg (English available on request).
So as you might have gathered from previous posts, I’m quite into architecture – but I think most people would be impressed by Chile Haus. It’s famous for being a near perfection example of expressionist architecture but put very simply: it looks exactly like a cruise ship.
It’s pretty beautiful actually and for anyone who is into photography, there are countless cool angles to get a great pic from. In fact, it and several other buildings in a similar style were added to UNESCO last year along with the Speicherstadt. Check them out in the Kontorhaus District.
Brunch at the Hyatt
One of the fanciest and most elaborate brunches I’ve ever had, right in the centre of the city. And yes – they have baked beans!
Hamburg’s je nai se quoi
This list was originally going to be 10 things (classic, right?) but I found there was something else that I really couldn’t put my finger on… the best I can do is sum it up as the city’s identity. At first I tied this in with the harbour and the maritime feel you have at almost every turn in Hamburg, but I think it’s something a little bit more – perhaps an understated pride in being from Hamburg and knowing that that’s something special. There’s also a sense of change and modernity you don’t find in every city – there’s restoration and renovation going on all over town. If I’m honest, I still can’t put my finger on it.
Hamburg is certainly different from other cities in Germany, but it’s more than just a few anchor symbols and a great nightlife… and it’s something worth exploring for yourself.
Disclaimer: I was invited to Hamburg by Come to Hamburg, who provided me with free accommodation, a Hamburg card and free entry into many of the city’s visitor attractions. All opinions, however, are my own.