Germany’s largest port town and second-largest city (also the country’s richest), Hamburg is where more than 50 per cent of Germany’s newspapers and magazines began, and is reportedly home to more millionaires per capita than any other German city. Bombing during World War II left the city all but in tatters, and as a result the architecture is a mix of some old and a lot of new.
As famous for its parks, trees, harbour and lakes as it is for its lively Reeperbahn red-light district, Hamburg also hosts a wealth of cultural delights including museums, art galleries and theatres. Hamburg was the site of about 300 performances by the Beatles (the first as early as 1960), and still boasts a diverse live music scene.
Meet and greet life-size metal sculptures of the five original Beatles in Beatles-Platz. You can also visit some of the Beatles’ famous hangouts and venues, including the Bambi Kino, the Indra Club, and the Gretel and Alfons pub. Walking tours are available.
The Hamburg Rathaus – that’s town hall to you – is a fine example of neo-Renaissance architecture and considered by many to be the symbolic heart of the city. Although badly damaged in World War II, it has been painstakingly restored and visitors can take 40-minute guided tours.
If the weather is nice, take a boat trip on one of the artificial lakes, the Binnenalster or Aussenalster, or along the River Elbe. As for the world’s largest model railway, Miniatur Wunderland, it’s not just for model train enthusiasts: this place has automated ships, too, and an aeroplane that flies in and lands at a model airport. The Night of Museums event draws a big crowd each April, with about 50 museums opening after dark.
Eat and Drink
Good budget eats are found in Reeperbahn and Schanzenviertel, while the two-course lunch deal at Restaurant Cox, near Central Station, is difficult to pass up. If you want to dine in style, follow the lead of many celebs and even the British royal family and try the Fischereihafen-Restaurant, on Grosse Elbstrasse. Traditional Hamburger food includes various dishes made from the likes of bacon, potato, green beans and even eel. And, yes, the hamburger is purported to have its origins in this town.
But Hamburg really comes into its own in a culinary way after lunch when the clock strikes kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) time! It’s a tradition believed to have begun in the 17th century when coffee beans were first imported to Germany. The Franzbrotchen is a Hamburg specialty croissant-style pastry filled with cinnamon, sugar and raisins.
Where to Stay
Hamburg is made up of a handful of distinctly different districts, so before choosing a hotel, it’s a good idea to work out which district appeals most. If you’re a trend-spotter with an appreciation for fine architecture, the Altona district offers everything from a vast range of international restaurants to eye-catching architecture and a happening nightlife.
Harvestehude and Rotherbaum, on the western side of the Alster Lake, has lots of green outdoor space as well as a healthy student population and the accompanying groovy pubs, cafes and shops. Similarly lively is Saint Georg, in the east of central Hamburg. The prime nightlife district is St Pauli.
For somewhere a bit quieter, try the lakeside accommodation options in Uhlenhorst and Hohenfelde, north of the city.
The pedestrian-only Colonnaden Street is one of Hamburg’s oldest pedestrian streets, and its impressive architecture is matched by a selection of glamorous shops and boutiques.
You’ll find large department stores and a mix of smaller retailers on the city’s oldest shopping street, Monckebergstrasse, in the centre between Hauptbahnhof and the Rathausmarkt. Neuer Wall is your destination for goods such as designer jewellery and furniture and exclusive fashion.
If you like a bit of scenery with your retail therapy, head to Jungfernstieg on the waterfront of the Inner Alster, where you will also find prestigious stores.
Hamburg Like a Local
When the sun is shining, Hamburgers turn to the dependable two-wheel mode of transport. And why not? The city has a bike rental service called StadtRAD that offers bikes for free for the first half hour (for registered users; visit the StadtRAD website if you’re interested). Bikes are then charged out for small change per minute. Canny riders realise they can take a bike out for 29 minutes, return it and borrow another one, all day long, thereby getting free transportation all around the city.