Hamburg is made up of several very individual neighbourhoods, each with their own character and charm. Much like other German cities such as Berlin and Cologne, Hamburg is a diverse, multi-centric city and these different quarters or boroughs can offer visitors a completely different perspective. But of course, for a true taste of Hamburg, all these areas need to be explored.
Not sure where is best to stay in Hamburg? Not surprising when the city has 105 different districts, but to make things easier, here is a guide to the most important five neighbourhoods in Hamburg.
Check out why I fell in love with Hamburg here.
Hamburg for party people: ST PAULI
Perfect for: party people, stag dos/hen dos
St. Pauli is Hamburg’s most famous neighbourhood and probably one of Germany’s best known neighbourhoods. Here you’ll find the infamous Reeperbahn, the infamous sinful mile, as well as Europe’s largest red light district. But there’s plenty more to this district than just sex shows and beer.
What to see in St. Pauli
The Reeperbahn is probably the biggest draw here in St. Pauli, but away from the main strip, you can find plenty of quieter streets with great bars and cafes.
You can’t miss a walk down to the Landungsbrücken, one of the symbols of Hamburg. This is where day trips and tours of the busy industrial harbour depart from and where you can pick up some great (and downright tacky) souvenirs.
Beatlesplatz is a must for any fan of the Fab Four. The legendary band perfected their sound playing gigs in St. Pauli, helping to creating the area’s reputation for great music and live shows. The square’s cut-out outlines of the band members make a great photo opp.
Planten un Blomen is a nice park in the area that leads to the Alster Lake – great for starting a Sunday cycle around town.
Ditmar-Koehl Strasse is the heart of the city’s so-called Portuguese Quarter and a great place to find some good restaurants.
What to do in St. Pauli
The walking tour from the St. Pauli tourism office is well worth doing to get a glimpse of what makes this area so unique. You’ll also get an insight into the borough’s fiercely independent history.
Head to Luicella’s for exotic flavours of ice cream.
Go shopping in the many independent boutique stores. Be sure to pick up some great St. Pauli merch from Bridges & Sons.
When the sun is shining, chill out in Park Fiction, St. Pauli’s coolest green space, which has great views over the cranes and ships of the harbour.
Where to stay in St Pauli
We stated in Ibis Hamburg St Pauli Messe, which has a great central location and is close to the U-Bahn stop St. Pauli, but is quiet enough for a very good night’s sleep.
Hamburg for luxury: ALTSTADT
Perfect for: lovers of luxury
The Altstadt forms the heart of Hamburg city centre. This is where you’ll come across plenty of canals and waterways, as well as the Binnenalster, the inner Alster lake, and the beautiful ring of buildings that surrounds it – ideal for romantic evening walks.
What to see in the Altstadt
The impressive Hamburg Rathaus or Town Hall dominates the skyline in this area. We only ventured into the first courtyard on our visit, but there are plenty of guided tours of the building.
Any architecture buffs (like me) or simply people who like to think they know something about architecture (like me) should make a bee-line for the Kontorhäuser buildings and the Chile Haus, which have recently been added to the UNESCO list as excellent examples of impressionist architecture.
The pedestrianised half of Deichstrasse is full of nice cafes and restaurants and has a lot of out-door seating. I would definitely recommend heading here for lunch.
What to do in the Altstadt
Hit the shops: the city’s main shopping street, Mönckebergstraße (also known as the Mö) is also found in this part of town.
Mahnmal St. Nikolai is one of my clearest lasting impressions of Hamburg. The former city cathedral was destroyed during the fire-bombing of Hamburg in WWII and instead of being reconstructed, was preserved as a monument to the conflict. The former church basement now houses a permanent exhibit dedicated to three turning points in WWII: the bombing of Hamburg, the destruction of Warsaw and the bombing of Coventry.
Where to stay in the Altstadt
There are two stand-out options for accommodation in the Altstadt: the Park Hyatt and Reichshof. The former is the go-to hotel for almost all celebrities staying in Hamburg and with its palatial interiors, it’s not hard to see why. Meanwhile, the Reichshof is a living part of city history, having been given a full renovation in recent years. It’s particularly well-known for its beautiful restaurant and great food.
On the other side of the scale, the innovative and popular Generator Hostel Hamburg is closeby.
Hamburg for families: HAFENCITY
Perfect for: families, boat-lovers
Found just to the south of Speicherstadt, HafenCity is the new face of Hamburg. A quickly developing modern hub, the area is a self-sufficient mini-town, with its own brand-new high-street (Überseeboulevard), apartment buildings, schools and restored sights.
Well-connected but away from the busy hub of the centre, HafenCity is a great place for families.
What to see in HafenCity
When it comes to things to see and do, HafenCity is a bit of an attraction in itself. The neighbourhood is still under construction on former industrial land and is designed to be true ‘lifestyle quarter’ with a mix of office buildings, apartments, recreational facilities and green spaces. Simply walk around the area to see a new neighbourhood come to life.
What to do in HafenCity
The Maritime Museum is a great port-of-call (geddit?) for anyone with an interest in all things seafaring. From the top floors you can enjoy great views over neighbouring Speicherstadt.
The long-awaited Elbphilharmonie is opening next year and it slated to become the icon of Hamburg. The building is pretty ambitious an towers above most buildings, but I can’t say that it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen… Still, the interior looks set to impress.
Where to stay in HafenCity
25Hours Hotel HafenCity is probably the coolest hotel in the city. Designed by young people for young people, the hotel boasts plenty of innovative design features and some highly instagrammable sights, including a special room dedicated to listening to your favourite vinyls. Their restaurant also serves up some great food, including some excellent Fish and Chips.
Hamburg for tourists: SPEICHERSTADT
Perfect for: tourists, museum-lovers, instagrammers
Speicherstadt is the star of the show. This historic region is where you’ll find Hamburg’s most instagrammed streets and sights, as well as its premier tourist attractions.
What to see in the Speicherstadt
To take in the borough’s factories and industrial heritage, you need only to walk around its cobbled streets. But don’t miss the photogenic Wasserschloss or the equally pretty Fleetschlösschen.
What to do in the Speicherstadt
If you see one tourist attraction in Hamburg, make sure it’s Miniatur-Wunderland. I cannot overstate just how friggin’ cool that place is. Yes it’ll be crowded, yes it’s a bit on the expensive side but worth it? Completely.
For those wanting to learn more about one of Germany’s most unusual city districts, I would recommend going on one of a number of walking tours or heading to the Speicherstadt museum.
Where to stay in the Speicherstadt
The Ameron Speicherstadt is proudly the first and only hotel in the Speicherstadt, but there are plenty of options close by if you prefer to stay on ‘dry land’.
Hamburg for hipsters: SCHANZENVIERTEL/STERNSCHANZE & KAROLINENVIERTEL
Perfect for: hipsters, millennial city-hoppers, urban explorers
The twin districts of Karolinenviertel and Schanzenviertel (also known as Sternschanze) are the new alternative heart of Hamburg. If hipster is still a cool word to be using (and not just a dying marketing buzzword), then these areas are most definitely the most hipster places in Hamburg.
The streets here are full of students and are thronging on Friday and Saturday evenings. Ideal for anyone wishing to get to know the ‘real’ Hamburg.
What to see in Schanzenviertel & Karolinenviertel
Like true hipster hotspots, this corner of Hamburg is devoid of conventional (dare I say it ‘mainstream’) tourist attractions or sights, but if you’re looking to orientate yourself in the remember, then don’t miss the hubs of Markstrasse, Schanzenstrasse and Schulterblatt.
I also loved the beautiful symmetry of Beckstrasse, which is dominated by two identical rows of houses along a cobbled street.
What to do in Schanzenviertel & Karolinenviertel
Drink, smoke, eat, chill. These are the main activities here so don’t stress too much about what to do or what not to do, simply ‘go with the flow’ (as the young people say).
Having said that, the creative boutique All My Friends is a great place to pick up some more alternative Hamburg souvenirs or other quirky items for your home.
Where to stay in Schanzenviertel & Karolinenviertel
Superbude St. Pauli has a great reputation and their Rockstar Suite is specially designed for groups, i.e. stag dos. Despite the name, this hostel-cum-hangout is just around the corner from Schulterblatt (although it is still just a short walk to the heart of St. Pauli).
Hamburg is a pretty great city and much like a smorgasbord of culture, it has a little something for everyone, meaning you can just have a small taste of everything or dive right in to your favourite scene.
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, some of which are included above. All opinions, however, are my own.