I bet you didn’t know that Hamburg has more canals than Venice! And it has so much more to offer to the curious wanderer. The citizens of Hamburg will proudly explain how their city is the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, never having being conquered by the Roman empire.
It is my home-town since last year, so I have been exploring its nice neighbourhoods and sights during most weekends that I have been in town and there are still quite a few places left to check out.
Short and sweet
Harbour city, great river and lake combo, multicultural, elegant, fresh air, lot of green space
Top must see: Miniature Wonderland, Town Hall visit, Speicherstadt, Alster lake boat trip, Fishmarket visit, Reepabahn nightlife
Eating out: Fresh fish and German food (potatoes, sausages, curry wurst), nice drinks near Repahbahn and by the water
When to visit: Best during the Harbour’s birthday in spring, in summer or before Christmas (nicely decorated and with a lively Christmas market)
To get by: German or English
Did you know? Hamburger (the food) is related to Hamburg: immigrants from Hamburg who moved to US used to eat these interesting bread slices with meat in between, so the locals attached to it the name “Hamburger”.
Rathaus – Hamburg’s Town Hall
Hamburg was heavily bombarded during the second World War, so many antique and beautiful buildings were destroyed. Luckily this wonderful piece of architecture survived a 500 kilo bomb that fell just in the middle of it, but didn’t explode! It is probably the most iconic building of Hamburg, so you have to pass by, take your snap in front of it and book a tour to check out its internal (it has magnificent rooms and nice decorations, as you can see below). The nearby shopping area is also worth strolling around, offering lovely views while sipping your coffee.
And while you are in the area, why don’t you stop for a nice tea in this cute Tea House in Bergstrasse (hidden on the second floor)?
Lake walk and boat tour
In central Hamburg you will find 2 lakes, next to one another: Inner (small) and Outer (big) Alster lake. You will need 15 minutes or so to make the round of the small one and more than an hour for the larger one. The walk is very pleasant, the views really nice and the houses by the lake are gorgeous (especially near Schöne Aussicht street). So if you have some time, I would recommend you make the round or rent a small canoe/pedal boat from Bobi Reich to check out the lake in a more romantic setting.
You can also rent a city bicycle from the many locations throughout the entire city and the centre. You will need to download the Stadrad app to unlock the bicycle and use a credit card for the payment (it is free for the fist 30minutes).
The best miniature collection in Europe and the largest of its kind in the world. What started as a crazy idea by the twin brothers Braun in 2000, has now become the No1 attraction in Tripadvisor and truly a must. It features more than 260.000 figurines, 130.000 trees, 10.000 wagons and loads of trains, cars, and lights. These are all displayed in many settings: Swiss Alps, Rome love, concerts in US, Scandinavian cities, Hamburg’s airport, Hamburg’s football stadium and more. Book tickets early online, as it gets very busy. And make sure you keep an eye for funny hidden stories (like a cheeky boy spying on a naked couple in the forest, superman coming to rescue people from fire, toilet paper stuck in someone’s foot as they walk out of the public toilets etc).
Speicherstadt – Hafencity – Landungsbrücken
Speicherstadt is a cute neighbourhood of Hafencity (10 minutes walk from the City Hall) and the area where Miniature Wonderland is located. Red bricks and old trading buildings evidence the important role that the city played as a trading hub. It used to be the largest port in Europe, now having moved to the second place (after Rotterdam).
You can take a river boat tour to the harbour, which includes a small stroll around the Speicherstadt. Personally I didn’t find the tour that amazing: the Speicherstadt piece was nice, but the harbour itself was a bit boring with loading cranes. I would choose the lake tours over the river ones.
Also known as the red light district area. The name comes from the ropes that used to be produced here for the ships (an intense job using long stretches of roads – bahn – to interconnect the material manually into thick long solid ropes (reep), a process now replaced by the automatic machines). As the sailors and captains would pass by to buy their supplies and entertainment (especially the latter!), the neighbourhood developed into the epicentre of the red light houses and bars. Today you will find the area buzzing with life daily and even more so on the weekends, when the bars and clubs are frequented not only by the youngsters, but also bachelor parties.
Walk by river Elb
You can walk, go for a run or cycle by the river Elb. I find particularly cute the nice houses by the river. They used to be the captains’ houses once upon a time and most of them have retained their old charming decor and gorgeous gardens with lovely flowers. You will probably watch some big ships passing by with tons of containers onboard.
A great time of the year to visit the Harbour and generally the city itself is the Hafengeburtstag – the birthday of the Harbour, the first week of May. In 2016 the Harbour celebrated its 826th birthday and more than a million spectators, among them many tourists from abroad, visited the city. The event is celebrated every year in style, with many ships travelling from far away to pay their respects to the harbour and many visitors joining the celebrations. It is a very nice atmosphere, with ship parades, concerts, food markets and parties. When coupled with warm weather, it offers an amazing long weekend getaway. I will prepare a dedicated article on this, so you can plan your Hamburg visit around Hafengeburtstag.
Great selection of flowers and plants, in a large park, beautifully presented and for free! Need more to convince you? I particularly liked the “Smells” section, they had lovely herbal smells in various boxes (lavender, cinnamon, rosemary etc) and it was a true delight to your senses to explore them. You can take a book with you, find a nice spot and enjoy the setting. There is a Stadrad station just outside if you are cycling around, where you can drop and pick up a bicycle.
Family time at the Zoo
One of the largest Zoos in Europe, Hagenbeck zoo is one of the top attractions in Hamburg. A great day out for all, the entire family will enjoy seeing the animals up close, as well as feed the elephants and the giraffes. Most importantly, Hagenbeck was the first Zoo that introduced open space for the animals surrounded by moats, rather than cages. This replicates better the animals’ natural environments.
While there are too many places to keep you occupied in Hamburg, if you are staying a bit longer and would like to tick off few places during the same trip, Hamburg offers great alternatives. Check out our article about Lübeck and Lüneburg. They are great to visit all year around and very easy to get to from Hamburg either via train or car, less than 1 hour away!
Hope you will be visiting my city soon and if you are in town give a shout. Until then Tschüssssssssss (the Bye version in Hamburg – it can have as many “s” in the end as you want!)