City-break in Hamburg - best places to discover the Northern Charm
As a girl from the south of Germany, I follow the common prejudice: "I could never imagine to live somewhere in the North". Too cold, too rainy and too closed-minded….of course all this is just rumours. I always enjoy my regular trips up North. Especially Hamburg has an unique attraction with its rustic maritime charm. For me it is the northern version of Munich. Although these two cities are very different in their ambiance, they also have a lot of things in common. Charming neighbourhoods, lots of green within the city, plenty of pedestrian areas and cycle routes plus a fun and life loving crowd.
Hamburg Hotels – Where to stay
As in any other city you have a wide choice of accommodation options through all portals. Everybody has a different budget and preference, so I will leave it with mainly one recommendation – the Empire Riverside Hotel (www.empire-riverside.de), where I stayed on my last trip.
Main plus is the view – if you book yourself into a higher floor facing the harbour front. The Empire Riverside is a modern and stylish hotel with a very good F&B offer. Even if you are not staying here, I would highly recommend a visit to their spectacular roof-top bar. Further plus of the hotel is the central location between the harbour (Landungsbrücken) and the Reeperbahn – so for all night owls that´s the hotel for you 😊
Alternatively check out the Ginn Hotel Hamburg Elbspeicher (www.ginn-hotels.com).
* Discover the “Landungsbrücken” area
Main focus is first on the area that makes Hamburg so special – the huge harbour area. Best to start your discovery tour at the “Landungsbrücken” from where you have many options to embark on a harbour tour during the day or at night. You can choose between different operators. The tours are mainly done in small “Barkassen” boats. However if you want it big, go big with a tour on an original Mississippi Steam Boat (www.schaufelraddampfer.de/deutschland/elbe-hamburg). All the tours have a similar routing. They will show you the interesting spots of the harbour, inclusive of the large container / industrial area and the impressive dry docks.
Special tip: if you are looking for a more individual tour on not so common routes, check out www.elbinsel-tour.de – here you have a selection of tailor-made itineraries organized by the dedicated and innovative company owner, Maike Brunk.
In the same area you will also find interesting historic museum ships like the Cap San Diego (www.capsandiego.de), Rickmer-Rickmers (www.rickmer-rickmers.de) or the picturesque restaurant ship Das Feuerschiff (www.das-feuerschiff.de).
Culinary Tip! Don´t miss to grab one of the famous fish rolls “Fischbrötchen” along the way. My recommendation would be at Brücke 10 (www.bruecke10.com). It´s the best thing ever to sit there with your fish roll in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, while watching all the huge container ships pass by day-dreaming from the big wide world.
A further must-do of the area is to walk 426,5 meter under the Elbe River inside the St. Pauli-Elbtunnel (www.hamburg.de/alter-elbtunnel). Bit scary in a way, but a real unique experience, which is free of charge for pedestrians and cyclists.
Hamburg is also known as the Musical City of Germany – so if you want to see one of the spectacular shows as Lion King or Pretty Woman you can cross over by boat from the Landungsbrücken to the musical halls. Check out www.stage-entertainment.de for all current shows on offer in Hamburg and also other German cities.
* Walk or cycle down the Elbe river
With a starting point at the Landungsbrücken I can recommend a varied walk down the river passing by some famous landmarks like the popular Altonaer Fischmarkt with its original hawkers (takes only place on Sunday mornings) or the Submarine Museum (www.u-434.de).
Along the way you will also spot some attractive beach bars, which are immensely popular during summer like for example Strand Pauli (www.strandpauli.de), Dock 13 (www.zum-alten-lotsenhaus.de) or Hamburg del Mar (www.hamburg-del-mar.de).
Make your way further down through the “Holzhafen”(www.holzhafen-hamburg.de), where old warehouses and docks got a modern facelift. However in between you can still find reminders of Hamburg’s eventful past as a port city with dark harbour taverns, wicked bars and brothels waiting for the ravenous sailors.
Marvel at interesting urban street art along the way.
After the Holzhafen you will reach a market hall area called Fischmarkt-Altona, (www.fischmarkt-hamburg.de), which is an ideal spot for lunch in one of the many restaurants and food stalls around. For a more up-graded food experience try Hummer Pedersen (www.hummer-hamburg.de) or dine in the restaurant of the celebrity TV-Chef Steffen Henssler (www.hensslerhenssler.de). Caution! Don´t get confused with the Altonaer Fischmarkt, which I have mentioned before and which is in a different location.
For a post-lunch activity you can climb the 140 stairs of the nearby Dockland building – shaped like a cruise-ship. It´s an office building but due to its significant shape and the public viewing platform, it became a popular Hamburg attraction. Enjoy the impressive view over the whole harbour area.
Afterwards walk over to the historic museum port Oevelgönne (www.museumshafen-oevelgoenne.de).
If you came on foot that would be a good returning point now for you, however if you opted for a cycling tour then it´s nice to cycle down all the way to Blankenese.
* Take a stroll through Blankenese
Blankenese is one of Hamburg´s most picturesque as well as richest neighbourhood. From the “Süllberg” you can enjoy fantastic views over the Elbe river. This upper-class neighbourhood is a vivid mixture of Scandinavian and Mediterranean elements. In the car-free “Treppenviertel” around 5000 steps are leading through a super charming area of renovated Fishermen Houses plus elegant Villas.
Before you leave the area have a coffee and home-made cake in the old-fashioned, but cosy Blankeneser Cafe (Dockenhudener Str. 30). It feels like a ride back in time into the living room of your grandmorther.
* Explore the old docklands of “Speicherstadt”
The Speicherstadt area is a real must-see of Hamburg, as it is the world´s largest historic warehouse complex. This whole area of warehouses and mercantile office buildings is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you are looking for a thrill then the Hamburg Dungeon (www.thedungeons.com/hamburg) is the right thing for you. This kind of historic ghost train will take you through 600 years of Hamburg’s darker history presented by real actors. Nothing for the faint hearted.
After all that thrill, it´s time for a relaxed coffee at the Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei (www.speicherstadt-kaffee.de). The delicious coffee smell will guide your way for either just a coffee to go or a snack inside the Cafe area, observing the coffee roastery.
At the edge of Speicherstad the Elbphilharmonie (www.elbphilharmonie.de) is rising above the buildings. This controversial classical concert hall is loved for its unique acoustic experience, but is hated for its skyrocketed construction costs.
All these are very interesting places to see, however the main visitor magnet is the Miniatur Wunderland.
* Travel around the world “en miniature”
The Miniatur Wunderland (www.miniatur-wunderland.com) is not only Hamburg´s most famous attraction, but is also regularly voted as Germany´s Top 1 place to visit.
To be honest I didn’t expect much before my visit and thought I will just take a small round, as I am not a big fan of model trains. But this place is so much more than a museum of model trains. What has actually started small is nowadays the biggest model railway system in the world according to the Guinness-Book.
The museum is divided into different country and theme areas and lighting will change periodically from daylight to night-time. What I found most fascinating is the indescribable love for details. Every single person or thing in the display reflects 100% reality. You really have to see it, as words can´t do justice. For a visit I would at least plan for around 2-3 hours, actually you could spend the whole day in there.
Watch below slide-show as a teaser…..
* Take a coffee-break at the Binnen-Alster
Hamburg is all about the water, even in the city center. The Alster is Hamburg´s second most important river, but it is a more gentle and slow-flowing stream than its bigger sister (Elbe). In the city center the Alster is forming two lakes (Aussen- und Binnen-Alster), which are nice for a walk or an Alster cruise on sunny days.
For a relaxed coffee the Cafe Alex (www.dein-alex.de) is a good place to observe the lake and the impressive buildings around. It´s also the perfect location for a breakfast or brunch, even on rainy days, as you still have a great view through the large glass windows.
From there it´s only a short walk into the pedestrian and shopping area around the Town Hall.
* Get wild on the Reeperbahn
The Reeperbahn in the neighbourhood of St. Pauli is Hamburg´s most famous street and the epicentre of the lively amusement and red-light district (Hamburger Kiez). Its reputation goes from fancy to wicked, but in any way it´s the place to be for fun, dance and drinks all night long. For those of you who are not familiar with the area, a quick orientation tour:
At day time the Kiez turns into a sleeping beauty. It´s only at night time when the streets come alive. As later in the night as more people are flocking into the clubs, bars and pubs. All competing for attention with their blinking lights and eye-catching advertising.
It was in the small side street “Große Freiheit”, where the Beatles had their first gig in the 60ies. Follow their path on the Beatles Platz or the Club Indra (www.indramusikclub.com).
If you wanna feel the spirit of the past, visit one of the oldest establishments on site, the Ritze (www.zurritze.com) or the most famous music club that hosts big national and international names, the Molotow Club (www.molotowclub.com).
But what makes the Reeperbahn so special in comparison to other amusement districts? It is the fact that in between all the regular clubs, bars and live music pubs you have a number of establishments that are mainly targeting a male audience with their Strip- and Table-Dance Shows. Most famous are the Dollhouse (www.dollhouse.de), Susis Show Bar (www.susis-show-bar.de) and for all Burlesque fans the Bunny Burlesque St. Pauli in co-operation with the also recommended Olivia-Jones-Show (www.olivia-jones.de).
At the enclosed Herbertstrasse only men above 18 years are allowed to enter to seek for further entertainment in one of the sex clubs.
Musical enthusiasts will find their entertainment here as well with shows at the Operettenhaus (www.stage-entertainment.de). A very recommended theatre experience you can get at the Schmidt Theater and Schmidt Tivoli (www.tivoli.de) or the Klubhaus (www.klubhaus-stpauli.de). The St. Pauli Theater (www.st-pauli-theater.de) is Germany´s oldest theatre.
Further place of interest is the Panoptikum (www.panoptikum.de), Germany´s oldest wax figure museum.
The Dancing Towers became a modern landmark of the Reeperbahn. These two buckled towers can be interpreted as a couple dancing Tango or as a reminder of the X-crossed legs of a prostitute. In any case a visit to the rooftop restaurant & bar called Clouds (www.clouds-hamburg.de) or the basement Mojo Club (www.mojo.de) are worth to try.
Don´t miss a walk over the St. Pauli Nightmarket (www.spielbudenplatz.eu) to enjoy fresh food and drinks.
What more to say than: “What happens in St. Pauli, stays in St. Pauli” 😊
The Reeperbahn is also home to Germany´s most famous police station, David Wache. Trouble makers are on the daily schedule here.
Last but not least….
Of course in a city like Hamburg you have a wide choice of foodie delights. I just want to shed the light here onto some traditional hanseatic options. All of them are located in historic and rustic venues, where you will feel the northern maritime charm of the city.
Zum Schellfischposten, www.schellfischposten.de
Störtebeker Fischrestaurant, www.stoertebeker-fischrestaurant.de
Old Commercial Room, www.oldcommercialroom.dee (popular among some national celebrities)
For a different food experience away from the German Nordic Cuisine I can highly recommend a visit to the Portuguese Quarter with a wide selection of traditional Portuguese restaurants and tapas bars (it is located close to the Landungsbrücken in the southern part of the Neustadt area).
Moin Moin Hamburg 🚢🚢