Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city, but truth be told, I didn’t know much about it before my visit. Normally, we focus on small town experiences and outdoor adventures, though having fallen in love with pretty much every other German town I’ve ever visited, I was excited about the possibility of discovering a bustling city I knew very little about. Other than correctly assuming that the word ‘hamburger’ originally derived from Hamburg, it is a fairly unfamiliar city, at least to those of us in the US. Based on current trends, however, I have a feeling that’s all going to change within the next few years! Hamburg already has one of the fastest-growing tourism industries in Germany and with so much to offer, it’s a city definitely worth checking out on your visit to Deutschland!
I left the city with two main impressions, on which I will elaborate as I share with you about my brief time in Hamburg – 1) H2O: Hamburg is a city built on water & 2) H2.0: Hamburg is a city reinvented!
H2O: Hamburg on the Water
Water is everywhere you look in Hamburg and the city thrives because of it. The Port of Hamburg is by far the most important port in Germany and one of the leading sea freight reloading points in the world. Alster Lake, a right tributary of the Elbe River, provides the playground for a myriad of water-based activities. The canals create the perfect backdrop for a city built on and around water. There are more than 2,300 bridges in Hamburg, which is more than Venice, London, and Amsterdam combined!
Harbor Cruise in Hamburg
Besides biking around the city, another perfect way to explore Germany’s second largest city is by boat. Experience the historic canals, along with Hamburg’s flourishing port, by hopping on-board a harbor cruise. Most tours start and end at the floating docks of Landungsbrücken. Visit the Hamburg Tourism website to learn more about the different types of available boat tours ranging from hop-on/hop-off barge tours to speed boat experiences.
The Port of Hamburg: “The Gateway to the World”
Hamburg’s location along the Elbe, just 62 miles (100km) from the North Sea, connects the Port of Hamburg to ports around the globe. Over 36 million tons of bulk cargo is handled at the Port of Hamburg, transporting everything from oil to coal, along with cereals, feed, fertilizers, and so much more. It is the largest import hub for coffee and one of the leading reloading spots for spices. Hamburg is the prime port of transit in Europe for raw cocoa and tea. So, while the seemingly endless number of cranes may be a bit of an eyesore, when you consider how vital the Port of Hamburg is in transporting goods to all corners of the globe, suddenly this industrial part of the city becomes much more valued and appreciated.
Fun Activities on the Water in Hamburg
Summer is the perfect season to visit Hamburg! With mild temperatures and a decent amount of sunshine, you’ll definitely want to spend most of your time outdoors! On a beautiful day, you’ll see locals and tourists alike sitting along the water’s edge and enjoying a wide range of aquatic activities. Alster Lake becomes the focal point of all things recreational. Besides jogging or biking along the 4.5 mile (7 km) path surrounding the lake, you’ll want to get out on the water to really enjoy all it has to offer. Rent a sailboat, kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board. Hop on a steamship or simply ride the hop-on/hop-off water taxi around the lake.
Each year in late August, Alstervergnügen (Alster Fair), takes place around Alster Lake. During this 4-day event, attractions and performances from over 500 national and international artists, acrobats, and athletes can be seen all along the water’s edge. Enjoy delicious local food, rock out to live music on 4 different stages, and enjoy a fantastic fireworks display once the sun goes down. Whether you make it to Hamburg for Alster Fair or not, we’d encourage you to visit during the summer months to take full advantage of the warmer weather and outdoor activities.
International Maritime Museum
Housed in Hamburg’s oldest storehouse is the world’s largest private maritime collection. Professor Peter Tamm Sr. shares part of his massive personal collection made up of 26,000 ship models, 50,000 construction plans, 5,000 paintings and graphics, more than 2,000 films, 1.5 million photos, 120,000 books and numerous nautical devices, historic uniforms, militaria and maritime objects. Informative displays and exhibits telling the history and stories from 3,000 years of seafaring are beautifully displayed over 9 exhibition ‘decks’ covering 118,000 sq ft (11,000 sq m). Pick up an audio guide to get the most out of your visit. Furthermore, you can join in on a themed guided tour (Tuesdays 11am-12pm) or the Captain’s guided tour (Thursdays 3-4:30pm), both of which are included in the admission price. You can also try out the high-tech ship simulator (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 2pm) to try your hand at being a boat captain! For more information about the Maritime Museum, including opening hours and ticket price, check out the Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg website.
H2.0: Hamburg Reinvented
Whenever in a new city, we try to get as high as possible, though it’s not what you think! In Hamburg, the bell tower of St Michaelis Church provided just the view over the city I was looking for. It was from these heights that I was able to see just how beautiful and revitalized the city of Hamburg is!
New Year = New Beginnings
From St Michaelis, I caught an amazing view of an exciting new structure years in the making in its finals weeks of construction. In January 2017, Hamburg will open the doors to its brand new state-of-the-art concert hall – Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (bottom center). Its design is a product of the creative imaginations of renowned Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. In blending the old with the new, the foundation of this dazzling glass structure is the former Kaispeicher A, a historic warehouse once used for storing tea, tobacco, and coffee. The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg will consist of three concert halls with a diverse music program, a comprehensive music education program, and a hotel, in addition to The Plaza, a public viewing platform offering amazing views over the city. It will be a venue rich in musical tradition and diverse in its cultural scene bringing together music lovers from all different genres. And let’s be honest… who doesn’t love music?!
Unique Architecture in Hamburg
Hamburg is a city of striking contrasts, which is one of the main things I loved about it! Some large cities start to look the same block after block, but everywhere you turn in Hamburg, there is a different look which doesn’t appear out of place or mismatched. Here, there is a graceful merging between the old and the new, and in the case of the Elbphilharmonie, that blend happens within the same structure. From historic brick warehouses to baroque churches to modern high-rises, Hamburg has it all! The Town Hall, built in Renaissance style, is well over 100 years old, while Hafencity (mentioned below) won’t be complete for at least another decade. The city will continue to morph into an eclectic mix of old and new architecture and as such, I’ll need to visit again in a few years knowing that this already wonderful city is only going to get better!
The Old and the New
The HafenCity Project is currently underway to utilize former port and industrial land in order to enlarge Hamburg’s city area by 40%. Its task is to define a new downtown in both urban planning and architectural terms and the project isn’t set to be complete until at least 2025. This development project is setting leading-edge standards for the future through sustainable urban development and it’s exciting to think about what Hamburg will be like less than a decade from now. So, while the city will always have its historical charm in places like the warehouse district, Hamburg is quickly becoming a city for the 21st century!
See the difference between the historic warehouse district (left) and the modern HafenCity neighborhood (right).
Blast from the Past: The Beatles in Hamburg
Before we focus too much on the future, let’s take a quick look back at Hamburg’s more recent past. Most people think of Liverpool when they think of The Beatles, but did you know that they actually got their start in Hamburg? We joined Stephanie, creator of Hempel’s Beatles Tour, and visited many of the sites where The Beatles lived and performed during their brief stint in Hamburg (1960-1962). Our tour included stops at Indra, Kaiserkeller, Top Ten, and Star-Club music venues, along with Bambi Kino (a theater where they once lived) and a hidden courtyard that served as the cover for Lennon’s Rock’n’Roll album. The awesome thing about this tour is that Stephanie is a fantastic singer, so not only did we visit places now famous because of the The Beatles, we were treated to a private performance of several of the songs that made The Beatles famous!
Where to Eat in Hamburg
Having only spent a day and a half in Hamburg, I’m not exactly an expert on the city’s restaurants. With close to 3,000 choices, there’s no way anyone would ever have time to visit them all, even if you lived there! What I can do is introduce you to two of the restaurants I really enjoyed during my visit and hope that you’ll check them out during your trip to Hamburg!
Chill in a lounge chair, hammock, couch, or bed as you chow down on delicious food and sip on a cold brew or creative cocktail at Strandpauli, located right on the Elbe River! Enjoy the funky glow of colorful lights as you watch the boats go by for a truly unique dining experience.
Address: St. Pauli Hafenstraße 89, 20359 Hamburg
Pauline is a charming cafe with cozy corners and delicious eats. I can vouch for the spinach dumplings – simply delicious! Pauline offers a fair amount of vegan and vegetarian options, and on the 1st Sunday of every month, their brunch is completely vegan! Tip: Unless you read German, bring your translate app, as the menu is completely in German!
Address: Neuer Pferdemarkt 3, 20359 Hamburg
Where to Stay in Hamburg
Located in the heart of the warehouse district, Ameron Hotel Speicherstadt is a modern hotel in a historic building. Each of its 192 rooms are former offices of the coffee merchants who were involved in the global coffee trade in these warehouses from 1887 on. (An interactive Coffee Museum is just steps from the hotel.) The hotel’s décor combines the formal idiom of the 50s and 60s with modern industrial materials such as wood, glass, granite, leather, and chrome. A variety of room types are available with differing amenities and views. ->Check Availability & Current Prices<- Also available to guests are the Vitality Spa (fitness room) and Cantinetta Ristorante & Bar (fine, traditional Italian restaurant), in addition to one heck of a breakfast buffet!
Check out the Hamburg Travel website for more information and tips for visiting Hamburg! You may also want to consider purchasing the Hamburg Card (starting at €9.90) so you can explore the city by bus, train, and harbor ferry and receive discounted admission at more than 150 tourist attractions.
We’d like to thank Hamburg Marketing GmbH for sponsoring our visit to the city. As always, our write-ups are an accurate reflection of the experiences we had. This post contains affiliate links, which simply means if you click on one of our links, we may receive a small fee, at no additional cost to you.