(Updated April 2020)
Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, prides itself to be the “most beautiful city in the world”. Obviously, this catchphrase is highly exaggerated.
However, there definitely are alluring views that make you yearn for undiscovered shores. Germans call it Fernweh – loosely transalted to aching for distance.
I’m sure the maritime charm and traditional openness to the entire world will amaze you.
Now, this Comprehensive Guide to Hamburg will take you to the city’s most beautiful corners.
- Welcome to Hamburg
- Practical Information
- By the Waters
- Alter Elbtunnel
- Streetart on the Water
- Elbphilharmonie and HafenCity
- On the Waters
- Hamburg is a Beach
- Parks, Gardens, and Woods
- Miles and Miles: Reeperbahn and Kunstmeile
- Merchants and Hobgoblins
- Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte – Museum of the History of Hamburg
- Rickmer Rickmers
- Cap San Diego
- Landmarks and Memorials
- Inventions and Traditions
- Fish and Beyond
- Fish – excellent and cheap
- Fish – at the most authentic location
- Fish – excellent and expensive
- Other Pleasures
- Pinnable Pictures
Welcome to Hamburg
Hamburg is a so-called Free and Hanseatic City. Hence, it always has been self-governed and independent from the federal structures of its surroundings. Already from the 12th century on, the city had been a member of the Hanse League. This league was a federation of almost 200 trade cities – kind of a very early European Union. I’ve introduced this fascinating association in my post on its ‘Queen‘, the city of Lübeck.
To this day, Hamburg has a certain special position among German cities. While Germany is divided into 16 Federal States, Hamburg is not only a city, but also one of these States. Hamburg shares this status with two other cities, namely Berlin and the relatively small city of Bremen, by the way.
Having always been a center of commerce and trade, until now Hamburg among the wealthiest cities in Germany. But the Hanseatic Hamburgers enjoy a certain understatement and usually don’t flash their cash.
Sounds unique? It is. And the following roundup will prove that there is much more to explore and experience than you’ve ever imagined.
As You Get There
Arriving at the Airport
Hamburg has an international airport which is kind of a joke since it’s relatively small and provincial. Still, the advantage is that it’s really close to the city center and easily accessible by public transport.
The city train S-Bahn #1 is going from the airport to the central station every 10 to 20 minutes between 4 a. m. and almost midnight,. However, even if you need to take a cab from anywhere in the city center, it shouldn’t cost more than 25 €uro.
For first orientation, you’ll find dispensers with information and free city map right at the airport next to the baggage claim.
Arriving at the Train Station
If you happen to arrive by train, mind you there are three stations serving short and long-distance destinations. The central station is called ‘Hauptbahnhof‘ and located in the very center. Then, the ‘Dammtor‘ station is close to the university and the convention center. Finally, Altona is the hub for the trains going further north.
If you are coming from the south, don’t get confused when your train stops at Harburg station. And more importantly, don’t get off there if Hamburg is your final destination. Harburg is a suburb of Hamburg, from here you still have another ten minutes to go.
However, there is the University of Technology TUHH located in Harburg. That’s the university where Mohammed Atta studied. Don’t remember him? He became famous for flying a plane into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Another event that made Hamburg internationally infamous was the G20 summit in 2018. Some brilliant minds had the not so smart idea to organize this widely criticized event not only in the very heart of a city with 1.8 million inhabitants. No, to add fuel to the fire, it took place at a convention center right next to a traditionally rather left-wing and anarchistic neighborhood. You might remember the outcome.
After going through customs at the airport, you’ll find bank booths as well as ATMs. Also, there are banks and ATMs all over the city.
Since 2001, 19 European countries have been paying with €uros, and Germany is one of them. The exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0,91 EUR (April 2020), but you can check the conversion on this page.
Gate to the world – of course, most people speak pretty decent English. In the city center, even the announcements on buses and subways are bi-lingual. Nevertheless, for some useful words and phrases, you might want to practice a little with the help from e. g. Babbel. The first lesson is free and already supplies you with useful basic vocabulary.
Note In this article, I’m writing out some of the German names of brands and places. Consequently, you will notice that there are letters that might not exist in other languages:
First of all, there is the letter ß that exists only in the German alphabet and it’s by no means a B. It’s a ‘sharp’ S as in kiss. In writing, you can actually replace it with a double S.
Then, there are three more vowels, ä being the easiest one since it’s pronounced like an open e as in head.
Ö and ü are tougher, ö being pronounced more or less like the e in her. Finally, the letter ü is like the u in huge.
Tourist Information and Deals
Although it’s been picking up over the last years, in comparison to other places, international tourism is not overflowing the city. Therefore, touristy goodies and services are not exactly overwhelming.
Yet there is the Turbopass Hamburg granting you free use of all public transportation including the S-Bahn from and to the airport as well as the ferries on river Elbe. You can either get it on arrival at the Hamburg Airport (Hamburg Welcome Center, open daily from 6.30 a. m. to 11 p. m.) or the Hamburg central station (Radio Hamburg Ticket Center, entrance Glockengießerwall, open daily from 8 a. m. to 8.30 p. m. (weekends from 10 a. m.) or you order it online on their website.
There are so many different options – for adults, teens, and small children, for one up to seven days, with or without public transport. Therefore, you better check their website. On this site, you can also order it right away.
Hamburg City Card
Depending on what you intend to do and whether you travel by yourself or with others, the Hamburg city card might be another good option for your stay. It includes all public transportation, too, but you get only a discount on certain activities, no free entrance. On the other hand, you get discounts for theater and musical tickets, at selected restaurants, etc. Hence, it really depends on your itinerary which card is the best for you. Consider the huge price difference, too.
(+ up to
as a group)
To choose the right pass, keep in mind that a ticket for public transportation costs €uro 7,90 for the entire day and €uro 6,60 if bought after 9 a. m. It’s good for one adult and up to three kids age 6 to 14. Alternatively, there’s a group ticket for up to 5 people any age for €uro 12,40, but only valid after 9 a. m. You get this and further information on the transport company’s website.
Free Walking Tours
As in many other cites, one of the coolest ways of getting to know the place is to join a free city tours. In Hamburg, you can choose between Sandeman’s New Europe, which actually is a chain operating in many other cities, too. Or you join the really Hamburg-oriented Robin and the Tourguides – I love them already for the name!
Meet the guides right on the Rathausplatz, the town hall square. Sandeman’s have a red umbrella, Robin’s Guy(de)s have yellow ones.
It’s a free tour – but please, don’t forget to tip…
Accommodations in Hamburg are rather pricey. Here are some centrally located hotels of different price ranges – as well as a youth hostel with a million-dollar view!
Low price – good location
Superbude has a great concept: Functional furnishing, ingeniously upcycled decoration, cool atmosphere. The St. Pauli-branch is located between to hip neighborhoods, the neighborhood at Spaldingstraße is not very alluring, but it’s close to the city center.
Superbude St. Pauli *
Juliusstraße 1 – 7
Middle price – convenient location
Since its renovation about three years ago the old Hotel Reichshof is part of the Hilton chain and accordingly luxurious – and a bit pricey. Right across the street is the main station, so it’s very centrally located.
However, around the train station are all these people that hang out around every train station in the world, so it’s a bit depressing and maybe even scary when you’re new in town.
The hip neighborhood around Lange Reihe as well as the Alster lake are within walking distance.
Reichshof Hamburg *
CURIO Collection by Hilton
High price – premium location
Ok, so this is Hamburg’s newest hotel, located right at the Elbphilharmonie – let’s just not talk about the price at this point. If you’ve recently found a diamond mine, book yourself in a room with a view over the harbor and enjoy life.
Platz der Deutschen Einheit 4
Middle price – premium location
Before the finished the Elbphilharmonie, the Hotel Hafen Hamburg, located right over the Landungsbrücken, was indisputably the accommodation with the most breathtaking view.
Well, obviously, the view is still there and you can get a room here at a surprisingly low price. Even if you chose not to stay here, you should have a drink at their Tower Bar, 62 meters / 203 feet above the ground.
Hotel Hafen Hamburg *
Low price – premium location
Actually, it’s quite an exception to have an accommodation with one of the best views at one of the lowest prices in town.
On a slope of the river Elbe’s right bank called ‘Stintfang‘ is one of Hamburg’s youth hostels!
Of course, there were plans to build a luxurious hotel here, but youth senatrix Paula Karpinski (1897 – 2005) achieved against all odds to keep the youth hostel there. In her honor, the square in front of the hostel is now called Paula-Karpinski-Platz.
Jugendherberge Hamburg – Auf dem Stintfang *
Another fun fact about the Stintfang that even many Hamburgers don’t know:
Since 1995, on the Stintfang’s south slope, there is a little vineyard! It was a gift from the organizer of the ‘Stuttgarter Weindorf’ – the ‘Stuttgart Wine Village’ – an annual culinary fair taking place on the Rathausmarkt, the town hall square, from 1986 till 2015.
Vineyard….well, we are talking about 100 vine stocks here.
Every year, 40 to 50 bottles of “Hamburg Stintfang Cuvée” are gained. Exclusively, the city’s guests of honor receive it as a gift.
There was no vintage in 2010 since the crop had been sacked. In 2016 another 90 percent was gone.
Hence I guess that some Hamburgers actually might know about this quirky vineyard….
By the Waters
If you’ve booked yourself in one of the three last listed accommodations, you are already there, right next to Hamburg’s main attraction: the harbor!
Since it’s the harbor that made Hamburg the wealthy yet worldly metropolis and even partly shaped its geography, a visit to the city’s core should start right here.
The Landungsbrücken, the gangplanks, are centrally located at the most scenic part of the harbor. On one of the towers not only a clock, but also a flood marker indicating the river Elbe’s water level.
There is an underground – U-Bahn – as well as S-Bahn-stop here. Just cross the bridge towards the water.
Strolling up and down the gangway on the waterline, you enjoy the best views. You can shop some – quite tacky – Hamburg souvenirs or sample a ‘Fischbrötchen‘, a fish sandwich. There are some great activities like a harbor tour or the visit of one of two historic vessels. We’ll get to that, just keep on reading.
One of the coolest things to do at the harbor is actually below the waters. The Old Elbtunnel was built in 1911. For the longest time, it was the only way to cross the river. Apart from the ferries, of course.
To get down to the tunnel which is 24 meters below street level, you can climb down some stairs or take an elevator.
Pedestrians and Cyclists are crossing the 426 meters long tunnel for free and around the clock. Cars are allowed on one track from 8 a. m. to 1 p. m. going from Landungsbrücken to the southern bank. From there back to Landungsbrücken, they can cross in the afternoon between 1 p. m. and 6 p. m. Also, they have to pay 2 €uro each way.
From Steinwerder on the southern bank, you enjoy one of the best views on Hamburg’s most iconic skyline.
The Fischmarkt translates to fish market – which is a fine example for the similarity of German and English. Now that you’ve learned this fact, please also note that it is one of Hamburg’s most quirky traditions and not to be missed.
Every Sunday morning, locals and tourists, nighthawks and early birds alike meet for shopping and snacking at the huge market around the ‘Fischauktionshalle‘, the former fish auction hall. Here, they stock up on veggies and fruits, bread and cheese; oh, and fish, obviously.
You can get a hearty breakfast snack like a fish sandwich or enjoy a free jazz concert inside the auction hall.
The market takes place every Sunday from March 15 to November 14 from 5 a. m. to 9.30 a. m. and from November 15 to March 14 from 7 a. m. to 9.30 a. m.
Streetart on the Water
If you keep walking from the old fish auction hall outbound, you’ll get to the former industrial part. Here are still some of the cold stores, but mostly some trendy small shops and rather costly, industrial-chic restaurants.
However, it’s absolutely worth the walk on those uncomfortable yet picturesque cobble stones.
Further west along the river Elbe, the streets are lined with fishmonger’s where you can purchase the freshest catch. Or you enjoy it right there at some small’n’simple but excellent eateries.
While for many years, this place has been an El Dorado for foodies, it is great for the street art aficionados, too.
Hamburg does not have this wild passionate muralist scene that they have in many other cities around the globe.
However, the feminist art project FrauenFreiluftGalerie, women’s open air gallery, around Hildegard Schuster has in several places around Hamburg paid tribute to working (class) women.
There is a particularly high density of impressive murals in this part of the Große Elbstraße.
Elbphilharmonie and HafenCity
The next and newest building on the harbor front is the controversial Elbphilharmonie, the Elbe opera house, opened in January 2017.
For 9 years, the building of Hamburg’s prestige project was the talk of the town. However, not in a good way. Neither because it was designed by Swiss star architects Herzog and de Meuron – readers of my blog know for instance from this post that I love this creative team lot.
No, it’s infamous for an incredible miscalculation: Instead of the budgeted 241,3 million €uro and an opening in 2010, at the opening in 2017, the amount had added up to 866 million €uro.
This tells you a little bit about the indeed flattering prejudice of German correctness and efficiency.
But now it’s done and everybody is all happy and proud – so please pay at least the “Plaza” a visit and enjoy the view of this harbor like from the bridge of a ship.
Since the building houses also a hotel (see the Sleeping-section of this post) and two restaurants (on the 5th and 8th floor and a beer bar and souvenir shop on the 6th floor), you can even spend a little more time.
Europe’s Largest Inner-City Development Project
Right behind the building begins the HafenCity, which is Hamburg’s newly built neighborhood. This terrain used to be the container port that was more and more abandoned.
Today the HafenCity is Europe’s largest inner-city development project. It’s expected to be completed in 2025 and will then have increased the city center by 40 percent. It will offer more than 6,000 flats to about 14,000 inhabitants and jobs for up to 45,000 people.
There is a brand new campus welcoming students from all over the world and the publishing house Der Spiegel and the Dutch-British company Unilever have also already moved their businesses there.
Completed by spacious squares and places, slowly but surely it’s finally losing its antiseptic ghost town atmosphere.
To learn more about this mega-project, I suggest you visit the exhibition at the Kesselhaus. There you can also join a guided tour.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (free entrance)
Being at the Kesselhaus, you find yourself already in the middle of the Speicherstadt, the harbor’s old storage house district. Since 2015, it’s been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At these rows of beautiful brick houses, the Hamburger merchants used to store coffee, tea, carpets and all the other goods and treasures coming in through the harbor.
Today the ancient structures house hip agencies and a range of unusual exhibitions:
First of all, there is the…
At this warehouse museum, housed in original structures from 1888, especially kids enjoy the hands-on exhibitions dealing with different aspects of how the quartermasters in charge used to store, examine and improve imported goods such as coffee, tea, cocoa, spices and much more.
Am Sandtorkai 36
Phone: 49 – 40 – 32 11 91
Opening hours from March to November Monday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.,
December to February Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.
To get more detailed information on storage and handling of spices as well as learn about their benefits, the Gewürzmuseum, the museum of spices, is the place for you – especially if you are travelling with kids:
Open daily from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.
Close your eyes – do you feel like being in Colombia or Brazil? If so, you’ve probably found the Kaffeemuseum-Burg, a place all about coffee.
You can visit an interesting exhibition, joyn educational seminars on everything coffee-related, and, of course, enjoy all the treats at their cozy café.
A nice place to stop, a good place to shop.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
English guided tours only on Sunday at 1 p. m.
The Hafenmuseum, Hamburg’s only in 2005 officially opened Harbor Museum, is a branch of the Museum of the History of Hamburg and obviously dealing with all the shipping-related topics that were – and are – relevant in an industrial port.
It’s idyllically located in the heart of the HafenCity.
Unfortunately, they are taking winter breaks, which makes sense insofar, that the exhibition doesn’t take place only inside. On the premises is also all sort of heavy machinery to be admired, that is mostly still functioning.
Check out their website if they are open so you don’t go there in vain.
Open from April 1, 2019: Sunday to Monday from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (weekends to 6 p. m.)
I don’t think that you’ll get bored just because you cannot visit the Hafenmuseum before April: One of Hamburg’s most visited attractions is the Miniatur Wunderland – and that’s open year-round.
This miniature wonderland is the world’s largest model railroad layout, hence you’ll find places and attractions from all over the world, set up not only in a very precise and artistic way, but very often with a twinkle in the eye.
The brothers Frederik and Gerrit Brown have been building the wonderland on 1.490 square meters / over 16,000 square feet since 2000 – and they still keep on building: Visiting the open workshop is one of the greatest things to do.
Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg
Kehrwieder 2, Block D
The exhibition is open year-round. Nevertheless, an online reservation is highly recommended! It’s fun to look around on their website, anyway, since there are already many pictures from the magnificent installation.
Another must-see is supposedly the Hamburg Dungeon. I personally am not so much the theme park-dungeon-type, but it’s based on true events in Hamburg’s sinister past so it might bring history alive in a fun yet scary way.
One of the themes at the dungeon is infamous buccaneer Klaus Störtebeker who had lived in the late 14th century. He was beheaded in Hamburg. Actually, there is a statue of Störtebeker marking the very spot were an executioner chopped off his head.
Holding the Head Up High
According to one of the many legends on his persona, the burgomaster of Hamburg promised Störtebeker to set all of his men free that the buccaneer would be able to pass after having been beheaded.
Brave Störtebeker made it past eleven men – then the headsman threw the executioner’s block at his feet.
After the pirate stumbled and fell, the burgomaster ordered to behead all 73 pirates.
Open daily from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (July and August 6 p. m.)
English tour on Friday, Sunday and on public holidays at 10 a. m.
Just like at the Miniatur Wunderland, pre-booking online is highly recommended.
Well, whether Störtebeker’s story is true or someone simply a nicely spun yarn – in Hamburg, it’s all about waters and seafaring and no stay would be complete without having been…
On the Waters
There are many different boat and ferry rides to chose from, a trip through the harbor is the most popular one.
Hafenrundfahrt – Harbor Cruise
Just go back to the Landungsbrücken and you’ll run into gentlemen announcing loudly the next trip.
I personally do not like it that much since seeing the industrial harbor from close isn’t that alluring. Therefore, I prefer to walk the Speicherstadt.
But being a visitor – especially if you’re from a place where there is no harbor – you might enjoy it. There are different companies offering tours of one or two hours as well as a one hour night cruise beginning at six.
A much cooler way to navigate along the river Elbe is taking ferry #62. This is actually the way locals cross since it is part of the regular public transportation system.
Therefore, you might want to avoid the rush hours in the morning and in the late afternoon.
For the price of a standard ticket, the ferry takes you along all the sights like the harbor, obviously, the Fischmarkt, the new and modern Docklands, the Museum Harbor with the old ships and boats, the yacht harbor at Teufelsbrück, the Airbus plant all the way to the former fishermen village Finkenwerder.
Today, it’s a rather boring middle-class residential neighborhood, so don’t bother to get off. Just stay on board since, after a couple of minutes,. the ferry goes back to Landungsbrücken and will take you right where you’ve started from.
If you like, you can make this trip, of course, a hop on – hop off tour and visit the sights you please along the way.
Note: Every year in on the weekend around May 7, the harbor anniversary is celebrated with a big parade of different historical ships. Which is nice – and a huge funfair along the Landungsbrücken – not very different from any other funfair. For me personally, the horror since I’m really not a funfair person.
Nonetheless, there are many visitors coming to Hamburg just for this event, so if you are into this sort of fun, you will absolutely love it.
Fleetfahrt: Canal Tour
The ‘Fleete‘ are waterways built in the past to get the goods from the harbor into the city.
Since this commercial purpose nowadays is obsolete, most of these canals were filled. However, those that remained and give the city center a romantic twist, can be explored on a highly interesting cruise where you learn much about Hamburg’s glorious past as a merchant city.
You can join the two-hour cruise at the Jungfernstieg jetty at the lake Alster (check the map below)
The waterways cruises are taking place daily from March 30 to October 28 at 10.45 a. m., 1.45 p. m. and 4.45 p. m.
Alsterrundfahrt: Alster Lake Trip
The river Elbe is not the only water supplying Hamburg with the most stunning views: The Alster lake – divided into the parts, the inner and the outer Alster – is another place where you can do the most amazing things by and on the water.
Actually being a river, too, the Alster runs on 56 kilometers from Henstedt-Ulzburg in the federal country of Schleswig-Holstein south towards the river Elbe.
Therefore boat trips are not only possible, albeit these are the most popular ones, on the lake, but there are other options to chose from. All this is listed on their website.
It’s the same company that organizes the waterways tours, so check the details above.
The Alster cruises are daily taking place from March 30 to October 7 from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. every 30 minutes and from October 7 to 28 at 10 a. m., then from 10 a. m. to 4 p. m. every 30 minutes and a last one at 5 p. m.
Hamburg is a Beach
If you’ve taken the ferry to Finkenwerder as I suggested above, you’ve probably noticed the beach in front of the posh villas to your right.
It’s not world’s greatest beach, I give you that, but going on a walk along the river watching the big freight ships passing by to Rio, Hong Kong, and Shanghai….*sigh*, no wonder I became such a globetrotter.
If you really want to hit nice beaches, you have to go either to the Baltic sea like the island of Fehmarn.
The Northern sea is rougher, more picturesque and has tides, but to get there from Hamburg takes two to three hours.
Cuxhaven: An Extra Tour
Very special: off the shore at Cuxhaven is Neuwerk, an island politically belonging to Hamburg – although 140 km / 87 miles away. The island is tiny – you can walk around its 3 square kilometers / 1.16 square miles in about one hour – maybe you’ll run into one of the 40 (yes: forty!) inhabitants. And it’s very calm – private cars are forbidden.
When the tide is low, you can cross there walking. However, you should always do this in a guided group since venturing by yourself might be extremely dangerous as the water comes back really quick. That’s the reason why you can always walk only one way and on the way back you need to take a boat.
If you are interested in this really very special tour, you can get all the relevant information online. A regional train takes you from downtown Hamburg to Cuxhaven in less than two hours, so if you are halfway organized, you can do it easily as a day trip.
The season goes from April to October.
For more ideas of where to go on a day trip or weekend, check my post on Island Hopping in Germany.
Along the beach from Altona to Nienstedten
But now back to the beach in Hamburg: If you walk it from its beginning in Altona all the way west, you get to the posh part, the rich neighborhood of Blankenese. Yes, it’s a long walk of about 8 km / 5 miles, but it’s very scenic, not traffic, just beach and then trails in some greenery, but yes, it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours.
Instead of goggling jealously the mansions overtowering the river, rather leave the trail at Strandhotel Blankenese (or if you’ve already passed it, go up at the jetty Blankenese just a stone throw away and possibly better to identify).
King of the Hill
Now just climb up the old, narrow alleys of the Treppenviertel, the stairs quarter. You’ll immediately realize where this picturesque part of Hamburg has its name from.
It used to be a fishermen’s village and the most part of the cute old houses can be reached exclusively over the about 5,000 steps leading you up and down. When the sky is clear and you can see all the way to the Elbe’s south shore, the Treppenviertel has a bit of Mediterranean flair to it.
Once uphill, try to catch your breath, enjoy the view of the peaceful river rolling towards the northern sea – and then turn east and walk about 1.5 km / 1 mi down the Elbchaussee to the Hirschpark, since now we are getting to another great asset Hamburg has to offer, the…
Parks, Gardens, and Woods
Everybody will notice that Hamburg is an extremely green city. Most streets are tree-lined and there are little parks and meadows in every neighborhood. As a matter of fact, 71 percent of the city’s area has some sort of vegetation to it. Therefore, I point out only the city’s biggest green patches which are
The Hirschpark, the deer park, is as I mentioned above, located at Hamburg’s richie-rich neighborhood Blankenese.
The territory was bought in the late 18th century by merchant Jean Cesar Godeffroy. To this day, Godeffroy’s villa can be admired (albeit not visited) and wildlife such as deer, peacocks, and waterbirds are also still there.
A nice place for a tea break is the Witthüs, a small cottage thatched with reeds. The Witthüs has even a Michelin Plate, so it’s very popular and you better make a reservation.
Enough of richie rich, let’s go back to the city center and Hamburg’s second-largest park, the Stadtpark (the largest one is the Altonaer Volkspark, but I impossibly can take you everywhere).
This central park offers something for everybody: Of course, there are many vast meadows where the Hamburgers enjoy themselves playing all sorts of ball games while not far from them, large families from all over the world are firing up their barbecue on weekends.
There are playgrounds for kids and a swimming pool made from a natural pond.
Also, you can relax and enjoy a snack at various cafés and bars.
During the summer months on several days a week, there are concerts taking place at the open-air stage, so you don’t even have to pay entrance to hear some of the greatest international pop and rock stars for free since the music can be heard in the entire park.
Alster and Alstertal
I already introduced you to the lake and the river Alster. And where there is a river, there is a river walk. It is possible to walk – or cycle, Hamburg has, like meanwhile most big cities, a system of bike rental that’s especially recommendable during the summer months – from the lake-part of the Alster all the way up north towards its source.
Unfortunately, it’s not an uninterrupted trail, but it consists of different parts: some narrow trails along the river, some trails crossing pleasant parks, but also so parts that are on regular roads.
However, if you feel like exploring the city on a bike, you can start on the lake’s northern shore, go along Leinpfad and continue according to the route I’ve marked in the map at the end of this post. I ended it at Ohlsdorf cemetery, the largest park cemetery in the world. If you like, you can, of course, continue further up north.
Planten un Blomen and Wallanlagen
Another centrally located public park, very popular with the Hamburgers, is the Planten un Blomen, which is Low German for Pflanzen und Blumen, i. e. plants and flowers.
It was founded in 1821 and is a manicured park arranged in various gardens like the rose nursery, the apothecary garden, and a traditional Japanese terrace.
There are different snack bars, a hothouse with tropical plants and a huge playground for the little ones.
In summer, there are often musical performances taking place. The most popular are the light concerts at the great water fountain where the colorfully illuminated waters move up and down according to the classic melodies. Kitsch as kitsch can.
Planten un Blomen garden is part of the green belt along the former, historic Wallanlagen, the erstwhile rampart. This belt stretches basically from the Alster lake across the city all the way to the neighborhood St. Pauli on the bank of river Elbe. One of its main attractions is the roller rink that in winter is transformed into an ice rink.
Behind High Walls
There is a really quirky aspect to the Wallanlagen. In its neighborhood are the courts and behind the criminal court is for obvious reason the remand center. Right next to the park.
Often you see – and hear! – the inmates’ relatives and friends standing at the wall fence, yelling messages. The inmates closest to the wall pass the greetings to those who cannot see the fence; this part of the story I know from hearsay, no experience on my side. Of course, this is not really legal – but it’s kinda hilarious to observe.
Have I just mentioned St. Pauli, Hamburg’s traditional marine and the working-class neighborhood around the red light district? Well, I guess this rings a bell in the ear of every sailor in this world.
Miles and Miles: Reeperbahn and Kunstmeile
In the 17th and 18th centuries, today world-famous Reeperbahn started out as a ropewalk, i. e. an area where they made ropes for the seafaring. This, of course, attracted sailors and boatsmen, the guys were thirsty and lonely, they went to bars, they met these painted girls, one thing lead to another…you know how it is.
It became the red light district and got the nickname being the ‘most sinful mile’ (sündigste Meile). However, today the Reeperbahn and the adjacent streets are a wild mix of sex shops and brothels, but also of trendy clubs and bars, restaurants and theaters.
Although you might get to see irritating things, it’s far too frequented to be really dangerous. Beware of pickpockets and most of all of scam when you get involved with strangers at – erotic – bars.
And the Beat Goes On
St. Pauli’s claim to fame is also the fact that the Beatles started their worldwide career right here at the Starclub. John Lennon is quoted: “I might have been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg”.
From 2009 to 2012 the Beatles were remembered at the exhibition Beatlemania which sadly had to close down for financial reasons.
Today, there is the Beatles-Platz, the Beatles square, remembering the famous debutants. But if you want to learn more about this, you can join one of the Beatles tours following a guide who was actually there when the magic happened.
The tours are taking place Thursday to Sunday at 5 p. m. (also in English)
Reading this post you’ll think that the Hamburgers spend all their life outdoors on ships, beaches, and parks. This would be a brilliant idea if only the weather was better. Being so close to two oceans in Northern Europe means lots of rains – and we’re talking this annoying light, but constant drizzle here. Terrible.
Kunstmeile: An Art Mile
But Hamburg is ready for this: Although it’s certainly not Germany’s most exciting destination for arts and exhibitions (there are even much smaller cities offering much better shows), it has about 60 museums, and five of them are located along the ‘Kunstmeile’, the Art Mile, between the central station and the outskirts of the HafenCity.
Hamburger Kunsthalle – Hamburg Art Museum
Already the Kunsthalle’s structure is outstanding since the Art Museum consists of three individual, partly only subterraneously connected buildings from different eras.
Firstly, there is the old building from the 19th century, built and decorated according to classic renaissance architecture.
In the early 20th century another building was added – it’s located closer to the central station. It’s was built in a neoclassicist fashion. The third building, the gallery of contemporary art, was finished in 1997 and stands closest to the lake Alster so that the old building is practically framed by its two younger brothers.
The Kunsthalle owns a collection of paintings and sculptures from the medieval times to contemporary and covers practically every era. Particularly noticeable are the paintings from German Romantic by Caspar David Friedrich, Philipp Otto Runge, Wilhelm Leibl and Anselm Feuerbach.
They also own some of the most important works by German impressionists Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (Thursday to 9 p. m.)
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg – Museum for Arts and Crafts
Founded in 1876, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg’s Museum for Arts and Crafts, was Germany’ third of his kind after Leipzig and Berlin. Divided into fourteen sections, it houses about half a million objects.
My absolutely favorite part is the section on German expressionism and Bauhaus including a show of bizarre masks and theater costumes by Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt. Also very interesting is the Bauhaus furniture and the ‘Frankfurt kitchen’ by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky from Austria, probably the first female architect in the world.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (Thursday to 9 p. m.)
Kunstverein in Hamburg, the Hamburg Art Society
The Kunstverein, Hamburg’s art society, was founded 200 years ago in 1817 to promote the arts and make art accessible for the broad public.
It is one of Germany’s oldest art associations and at its present location – at a former market hall just like the Deichtorhallen mentioned below – since 1993. I’d say that the exhibitions of contemporary art taking place at the Kunstverein are mostly rather extreme, hence a bit quirky and for a specialized audience.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday and on holidays from 12 noon to 6 p. m.
The Deichtorhallen Hamburg – the halls used to be a covered market – is one of Europe’s largest exhibition space for contemporary art and photography.
The steel-glass-structures from 1911 resp. 1913 have attracted art aficionados with their spectacular exhibitions of world-renown artists since 1989.
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a. m. to 6 p. m. (every month’s first Thursday to 9 p. m.)
Bucerius Kunstforum – Bucerius Art Forum
The Bucerius Kunstforum is found at a prime location next to the town hall in the very center of Hamburg.
This gallery, financed by the foundation Zeit-Stiftung (Die Zeit is a very prestigious national weekly newspaper published in Hamburg), doesn’t own a collection, but organizes every year four exhibitions on different topics and from various art epochs.
Opening hours daily 11 a. m. to 7 p. m., Thursdays to 9 p. m.
If you are like me and cannot get enough of art and exhibitions, then you probably should consider getting a Kunstmeilen Pass, a combined ticket for all five venues.
The regular one costs €uro 36 (with the a. m. Hamburg Card only €uro 28,50) and can be used for one year (one time access to each venue).
For tourists, there is an even better option: The Kunstmeilen Pass for three consecutive days costs only €uro 25 or €uro 20 with the Hamburg Card.
You can buy it at any of the five participating museums or at the tourist information points quoted above.
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 428 131 314
Merchants and Hobgoblins
Once you’re done with the Bucerius Kunstforum, the last stop on Hamburg’s Kunstmeile, you can just go next door:
The Rathaus, Hamburg’s town hall, houses the office of the “Bürgerschaft“, the legislative assembly of the federal state of Hamburg and the “Senate” which is the federal-state government.
The imposing building was built between 1886 and 1897 in a neo-renaissance style. It’s not only impressive outside, but it’s also very beautiful inside so that I can highly recommend joining a guided tour.
If your German is good enough to follow a local tour, you can join a daily tour from 11 a. m. to 4 p. m. (Saturday to 5 p. m.) by the hour.
Tours in English and French are not performed on a regular basis, so please inquire by calling + 49 – 40 – 42831-2064 (workdays from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.) or get information and register using the information hotline + 49 – 40 – 428 31 24.
Under the same number, you can get also info on tours in Lower German that take place once a month.
Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte – Museum of the History of Hamburg
To get the most complete overview of Hamburg’s exciting history, there’s no better place to visit than the Museum of the History of Hamburg. Opened in 1922, it owns the largest collection of municipal history in all of Germany.
Trace the history all the way back to the 9th century when Hamburg’s predecessor, the Hammaburg, used to be a village with a population of about 200 fishermen, farmers, and craftsmen.
Find out how it grew to an important commercial center with an internationally operating harbor. Every aspect of life in Hamburg over the centuries is taken into focus.
A visit is recommendable for everybody, but especially kids will enjoy exciting trips back in time: There is a special self-guided tour with 50 different stops at the museum, one of them being a real piece of the steamship ‘Werner’, built in 1909 and scrapped in 1960.
Open Sunday to Monday 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (weekends to 6 p. m.)
Since at the History Museum there is only a fragment left of the ship ‘Werner’, you might wanna explore an entire one – no problem at the third-largest harbor of Europe!
If you’ve been to the harbor before, you’ve certainly noticed the striking dark green tall sailing ship – the Rickmer Rickmers.
It was built in 1896 and named after the builder’s grandson. Since 1983 it houses i. a. a museum and became one of Hamburg’s landmarks. Originally furnished cabins can be admired for instance on a scavenger hunt. The sporty folks might even climb the shrouds while the rather cozy folks enjoy refreshments at the restaurant.
Open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
Cap San Diego
Less flashy and less romantic, but worth the visit nevertheless is the Cap San Diego, a former general cargo vessel built in 1961/1962.
For twenty years the Cap San Diego was cruising the seven seas – mainly between Hamburg and South America. And although today it’s a hotel and a museum, the Cap San Diego is still seaworthy and can be hired for special occasions.
On board, there are galleries showing temporary exhibitions as well as a museum where you can learn everything about modern seafaring in two different exhibitions and on migration to the New World through the port of Hamburg at the show “Ein Koffer voller Hoffnung”/”A Suitcase Packed with Hope”.
Open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (unless the Cap San Diego is on tour)
The exhibition “Ein Koffer voller Hoffnung“/”A Suitcase Packed with Hope” on board of the Cap San Diego was the first show remembering Hamburg as the starting point to the New World for many migrants from Europe. Between 1850 and 1934, about 5 millions passed through the harbor of Hamburg.
Since most of these immigrants were rather from the south of Germany or even from Eastern countries such as Russia and Poland, they came to Hamburg not having any shelter while waiting for their ship to leave. Hence they squatted in the streets which became a social and hygienic problem.
Waiting for the Passage
Therefore Albert Ballin, founder, and owner of the shipping company Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft, short HAPAG, got the idea to build a reception center for those waiting; for obvious reason, he was very interested in these migrants to keep coming to Hamburg and taking his ships to America.
On the southern outskirts of Hamburg, a little settlement was built, consisting of clean dorms, dining halls where three meals a day were served – at that time a big luxury. There even were facilities like a playground for the kids and cinema. And there were two churches, a Catholic and a protestant one, and of course, a synagogue – since many of the migrants were Jewish fleeing the Eastern European pogroms.
Emigration and I
I am a child of emigrants – my parents migrated in 1968 from Czechoslovakia to Germany after the Soviet occupation. Therefore, the faith of immigrants, the stories of leaving everything behind in search of better always touches me very deeply – and I spent hours at Ellis Island, looking at pictures, seeing fear and hope in the eyes of the people.
Consequently, I was very happy when Hamburg finally acknowledged its role in migration from Europe to the ‘New World’ and first installed the exhibition at the Cap San Diego (see above) and eventually re-opened the halls at the BallinStadt.
The Krameramtsstuben, the Grocers’ Apartments, were homes for widows of members of the Grocers’ Institute. Today, there is only one of those courtyards from the 17th century left. The timber-framed buildings are now occupied by small shops, galleries, restaurants, and a museum. They can be found a bit hidden behind two 1700s buildings which front the street.
Next to the entrance to the courtyard is a restaurant by the name of “Krameramtsstuben” that serves traditional local cuisine.
Landmarks and Memorials
The Krameramtsstuben are just across the street from the most important Landmark in Hamburg, the St. Michaelis church aka the “Michel”.
Make sure to visit the church’s viewing platform – it grants you an unforgettable view of the city and the harbor. You can climb the 452 stairs – which should take about 12 minutes. However, you can also take an elevator on the 1st floor, but be aware that you have to climb 52 stairs in any case. The tower clock – the largest in all Germany – measures 8 meters.
St. Michaelis is a protestant church that is the predominant confession in northern Germany. Besides the regular services, you can often enjoy beautiful concerts there, too.
St. Katharinen was founded in the 13th century when the city was extended. Its neighborhood was the quarter of the shipbuilders and beer brewers.
Eventually, mainly wealthy merchants moved to this area, many of them being Dutch immigrants who had to leave their country for religious reasons.
St. Katharinen was named after the Cyprian princess Katharina.
The church is mainly famous for its copper tower, decorated with beautiful golden details like ‘Katharina’s’ golden crown. It’s considered Hamburg’s most beautiful church tower.
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 30 37 47 – 30
Like the Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, St. Nikolai is rather a memorial than a church: It’s basically left in its damaged state and the permanent exhibition „Gomorrha 1943 – The destruction of Hamburg during the aerial warfare“.
A glass elevator takes visitors up the fifth highest church tower in the world.
From the viewing platform at 76 meters, you can overlook the harbor, the Alster lakes, and Hamburg’s city center.
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 37 11 25
Open daily from May to September from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. and October to April to 5 p. m.
Inventions and Traditions
So there is world’s largest graveyard (it’s still negotiable if that’s actually an asset…) and one of Europe’s largest gallery for contemporary art and Germany’s largest church clock – but besides all the superlatives, to me, Hamburg’s greatest ambassador is Nivea, a brand that’s known everywhere around the globe.
Yes, the company Beiersdorf, that launched this modestly snow white (hence the name: ‘niveus’ – Latin for ‘made of snow’) in blue tin canisters with simple, bold white lettering on it, is located in the very center of Hamburg.
The first tin was sold in December 1911, and before the cosmetic industry – also within Beiersdorf – increased and started to manufacture different creams and lotions forever type of skin and dermatologic need, generations of German kids and adults alike used Nivea as their only skin emollient.
Since then Nivea extended its range of creams and lotions and recently they’ve even launched a perfume with the typical Nivea-smell.
Nivea Finds a Home
In 2006 the first “Nivea-Haus” was opened in Hamburg. Besides being a store where you can purchase every purchasable Nivea-product you can image, they also have a SPA where they treat you with….take a wild guess!
NIVEA Haus Hamburg
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 82 22 474-0
Open Monday to Saturday from 10 a. m. to 8 p. m.
Of course, you can get the products also at every supermarket or one of Germany’s many drugstores. In Hamburg, you absolutely have to check out:
Budnikowsky is a drugstore chain that you will find only in Hamburg and some well-chosen destinations up north. The Hamburgers call it affectionately Budni and I love to shop there, too.
I don’t understand why Germany is famous for cars and beer. The great thing about Germany is the drugstores; the only nation that has similarly good drugstores are the US, all the others cannot compete since there is always missing one section.
Budni and the other German chains have it all: body care, cosmetics, and make-up, but also washing powder, rags, and brooms. And of course whole foods – dry and fresh and even some convenient whole food like soups and pizzas.
But since they want to sell their toothbrushes, they also have sweets – and even a variety of vines.
No other drugstore in the world – US aside – has all that!
Besides the popular brands which they already sell at a very good price, they also have a couple of house brands. Those are of excellent quality and really cheap. It’s their fault that I’m schlepping my care products around the world with me from Germany – nowhere else do I get an excellent sunscreen for less than 5 bucks; nowhere.
For you, as a visitor, the most interesting products should be their line of stuff in the red and white design taken from Hamburg’s emblem, the red and white Hammaburg.
There are pens and diaries and of course T-shirts and bags and household stuff like bowls and cups and salt and pepper shakers – go there and check it out if you intend to buy souvenirs since all this stuff is at an unbeatable price; and it’s actually a piece of Hamburg from a real store founded here when in 1912 Iwan Budnikowsky opened his first soap store.
There are a couple of Budnikowsky stores in every neighborhood.
Another place where you can browse for nice, not tacky Hamburg souvenirs is the Kölln Haferland – the Kölln Oat Land. Just like Nivea is a synonym for all-purpose cream, Kölln stands for oat flakes. Kölln flakes have been manufactured since 1820 in Elmshorn, on the outskirts of Hamburg.
In 2014, Kölln opened its flagship store in the city center. Oatmeal flagship store.
I know, doesn’t sound too sexy, but actually it’s very nice, especially for visitors. Of course, you get all their ready-made products and mixes, but they can mix your individual Müesli for you. Or you can do it yourself at a special bar – which is great fun, especially for kids!
They also have a very pleasant deli where you can enjoy good coffee, freshly made snacks.
They also have some reasonably priced Kölln and Hamburg related merchandise that make a great souvenir.
Open from Monday to Saturday 8 a. m. to 6.30 p. m. (on Saturday from 9.30 a. m.)
Another breakfast treat only known in Hamburg would be a Franzbrötchen. This is a sweet roll filled with cinnamon that makes every Hamburger’s mouth water.
You get Franzbrötchen at each and every bakery in Hamburg. The best ones, however, you get at Dat Backhus. Again, also this name is in Lower German, meaning Das Backhaus, translating to bakery.
At Dat Backhus, Franzbrötchen come also in different flavors such as whole grain, chocolate, with raisins, with apple and more.
Besides selling all sorts of exquisite bread and cakes, they also have a small deli. Here you can enjoy hot and cold drinks with a sandwich or pie.
There is one really close to the Kölln Haferland:
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 30 37 40 63
Opening hours are Monday to Friday 7 a. m. to 6.30 p. m.
Saturdays, they are open from 8 a. m. to 6 p. m.
Fish and Beyond
There are thousands of options to choose from. There is the North German cuisine which due to the proximity to two Seas, obviously, consists mainly of fish dishes. There are restaurants run by immigrants from all over the world. Besides the Portuguese quarter close to the harbor, there are tons of Middle Eastern, Asian, African restaurants. Also, there are, of course, numberless Turkish Kebab shops.
But let me introduce some of the best fish places:
Fish – excellent and cheap
Unfortunately, my favorite Daniel Wischer-restaurant was closed down in 2016. It used to be in the middle of Hamburg’s biggest shopping area. Basically no shopping spree was complete without fried haddock and potato salad.
Fortunately the same year they opened a new branch right next to the town hall – which is actually much nicer; but I don’t want nice, I want tradition!
For traditionalists like me there is still the one at Steinstraße close to the central station. Here you’ll feel like walking right back into the 70s – furnishing and staff included.
No matter which location you prefer, the food is always excellent: fresh, tasty, plenty; no wonder – Daniel Wischer has been frying fish since 1924!
Große Johannisstraße 3
20457 Hamburg T
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 36 09 19 88
Open Monday to Saturday 11 a. m. to 10 p. m.
Phone: +49 – 40 – 32 52 57 95
Open Monday to Saturday 11 a. m. to 4 p. m.
Fish – at the most authentic location
One of the most original restaurants and bars is the Feuerschiff* right in the harbor. This light vessel was built by Philips & Sons in Dartmouth/England in 1952. With a crew of eight men, the ship used to be a sea-mark off the English coast. After 36 years, it was replaced in 1989 and has thenceforth ‘retired’ in the harbor of Hamburg since 1992.
Besides being a restaurant serving typical Hamburg cuisine, it also is a bar and club. You can even spend the night in one of the berths. Although they are tiny, they are equipped with everything an accommodation needs – at a reasonable price.
To party, check their event calendar. There are concerts and other fun events taking place regularly. For instance, every Monday, they are having a Jazz night from 8.30 p. m.
Phone: +49 – 40 – 36 25 53
Open daily from 9 a. m. till 10 p. m.
Fish – excellent and expensive
Since 1981 the Fischereihafen Restaurant down by the riverside has been Hamburg’s synonym for elegant and excellent dining. I think there isn’t one German – and international – celebrity that came to Hamburg without paying this culinary institution a visit. Of course, the prices are accordingly – and don’t bother to go there without making a reservation.
The Freudenhaus translates to house of pleasure. Since it is located right in Hamburg’s red-light district, the name might sound a tad misleading. So don’t be surprised if people either frown or crack up laughing when you tell them you’re going to the Freudenhaus. Mind you, in German, Freudenhaus is synonymous for brothel.
However, at this Freudenhaus, the pleasures are exclusive of culinary nature. Classic home cooking, pimped up comfort food, Hamburg’s fish classic. No matter what, this house definitely is full of pleasures that you’ll enjoy in a very plushy, fun setting.
Not exactly cheap, but very recommendable!
Open daily from 5 p. m.
Need to know how to get to all these places? Here is a great downloadable map of Hamburg’s public transport system.
For extended information on the country, consult my post All you need to know before going to GERMANY
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