Frequently described as the gateway to the world by its proud citizens, Hamburg has welcomed merchants, traders and travellers for centuries. Tucked away in northern Germany, the country’s second metropolis has a personality all of its own.
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Germany’s main port has infused the city of Hamburg with its maritime spirit. Today, the Hanseatic City is best known for its nightlife and eclectic architecture as well as being one of Germany’s most diverse cities.
If you ever overlooked Hamburg for its cousins Munich and Berlin, think again. Here’s an area guide to help make the most of your trip to one of the coolest cities on earth.
WHAT TO DO IN HAMBURG
Wandering the streets of Hamburg is the best way to see the contrasting and distinctly different neighbourhoods.
St Pauli quarter is famously known around the world for its football. It’s also been Hamburg’s entertainment hub since the 17th century. The 930 metre long Reeperbahn is home to the infamous Red Light District, bars, nightclubs, strip clubs and cabarets alongside top notch restaurants and live music venues.
An eclectic mix, you’re guaranteed a fun night out. Well if it’s good enough for the Beatles, right? It’s where the Fab Five (including Stuart Sutcliffe who left the band after Hamburg) kick-started their career in the early 1960s. Fans should visit the Indra Club and not miss Beatles Platz commemorating their Hamburg history at the street corner of Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit.
WHERE TO GO
Every Sunday in the small hours of the morning around 70,000 locasl and visitors congregate at the famous Fischmarkt in St Pauli. It is of course much more than just a mere fish market with exotic fruits, spices, flowers on sale and live music for entertainment. Open 5a.m. to 9:30 a.m it’s certainly a fun and boisterous way to spend a Sunday.
Sankt Pauli Fischmarkt | Große Elbstraße 9 | Hamburg
WHERE To EAT
breakfast – Pauline
Hunt down this cosy French style cafe and bistro tucked away on a residential street. Popular with locals, it’s said to be one of the best places for breakfast in Hamburg.
Expect homemade croissants, jams and waffles and quiches, salads and pastas for lunch. Sunday brunch is a big hit as is their offerings of delicious vegetarian and vegan fare.
Pauline | Neuer Pferdemarkt 3 | 20359 Hamburg | Website
Vegan food – Happenpappen
This popular little vegan restaurant is located almost opposite the U-Bahn Feldstraße. Happenpappen offer a changing lunch menu including salads, sandwiches, curries, cakes and desserts. In the evenings there are also delicious burgers which can also be served in buddha style bowls. Even veggies can enjoy a hamburger in Hamburg!
Happenpappen | Feldstraße 36 | 20357 Hamburg | Website
APeritivo – das standard
Traverse the Reeperbahn to visit Hamburg’s first aperitivo bar. Jasmine Baltres brings a small piece of Italy to the colourful streets of St Pauli. Settle into the intimate low lit, shabby chic venue with peeling walls, wooden chairs and communal dining tables for an unusual concept in dining.
A selection of Stuzzichini (Milanese inspired aperitifs) is served not to order but at regular intervals with every drink purchased. The menu is mostly vegan and changes daily depending on the seasonal produce purchased by Jasmine on the day.
The delicious alcoholic (and non) cocktails also embody the seasonal vibe. The Signature Spritz with Prosecco came with rosemary, cucumber, lavender or pear and thyme. On our visit we experienced delicious plates of toasted sourdough bread accompanied with moreish vegan lemon butter and honey cherry tomatoes; warming cauliflower, white bean and oriental herb soup topped with pomegranate and praline, cantucci biscuit, chai spice and dry persimmon sweet treats to name a few.
Das Standard | Große Freiheit 90 | 22767 Hamburg | Website
food hall – rindermarkthalle
In the meat district of St Pauli a former livestock market has been transformed into a vibrant market featuring a range of artisanal food shops, a grocery store and a mouthwatering food court. This is the place to hit if you fancy sampling Hamburg’s local delicacies such as franzbrötchen pastry and currywurst or some of its tasty multicultural offerings like Cig Köfte Turkish vegan wrap.
You can even experience live cooking demonstrations as we did by Michelin star chef Thomas Imbusch. Despite building his restaurant around nose-to-tail dining, he created a vegetarian menu for his Hamburg restaurant 100/200 Kitchen. We devoured a sublime pumpkin and brussel sprout dish. Anyone who gets me raving about brussel sprouts deserves a medal.
Rindermarkthalle | Neuer Kamp 31 | 20359 Hamburg | Website
where to drink
rooftop – clouds
The famous Dancing Towers at the start of the Reeperbahn is home to the elegant bar and restaurant Clouds on the 23rd floor.
Head to the top for incredible panoramic rooftop views. In the summer the roof terrace comes to life where you can lounge on the day beds and enjoy the Moët Ice Champagne Bar.
Clouds | Reeperbahn 1 | 20359 Hamburg | Website
Hamburg – Altstadt and neustadt
The city centre of Hamburg is formed of two areas Altstadt (Old Town) and Neustadt (New Town). Enjoy traditional buildings to elegant shopping arcades with cafes and galleries and views of Alster Lake.
WHERE TO GO
St Michaelis Church at Night
St Michaelis’ with its cooper roof is one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in northern Germany. Heading up a 132 metres to the top of the historic spire is beautiful by day but even more spectacular at night.
A lift takes you to the top for panoramic views of the Hanseatic city. If you’re brave enough you can climb even higher up to the the bells.
Marvel at Rathaus
The neo-Renaissance Rathaus (Town hall) is one of the most interesting city halls in Germany and has more than 647 rooms. It is the seat of the local government of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and located in the Altstadt quarter of the city centre.
WHERE To EAT
traditional – krameramtsstuben
A stone’s throw from St Michaelis church is the historic quarter of Krameramtsstuben which vividly shows how Hamburg lived in the 17th century. Down a small lane are former homes for widows of members of the Grocers’ Institute. Built between 1620 and 1700, they are among the oldest surviving residential buildings in central Hamburg, now occupied by small shops, galleries, a museum and restaurant.
Entering the traditional cosy Krameramtsstuben restaurant is like a step back in time – Full of character complete with vintage decor and low ceilings. Authentic German and Hamburg cuisine from schnitzel to labskaus and a dessert called the Hamburger Rote Grüze – a delightful red berry compote served with vanilla custard, cream and sprinkled with almonds.
Krameramtsstuben | Krayenkamp 10 | 20459 Hamburg | Website
Speicherstadt and Hafencity
The seven storey red brick warehouses on the Speicherstadt waterfront are an iconic Hamburg symbol. It’s the world’s largest complex of warehouses built into the Elbe river between 1883 and the late 1920s and also gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015.
What to do
ADMIRE THE Elbphilharmonie
Hamburg’s newest landmark, the grand Elbphilharmonie – you’re practically in architecture paradise. The bold design for the concert hall by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron of London’s Tate Modern fame, places a futuristic tower of glass on the shell of a brick industrial warehouse.
Even if you don’t manage to get your hands on a concert ticket, visit the Plaza and enjoy spectacular views of the city and harbour.
take to the water
Hamburg is a city defined by its connection to the water. The Elbe River brings in the cargo ships from the North Sea and the Alster Lake sits at its heart.
The port is one of the city’s main attractions. Head to the floating docks at Landungsbrücken and hop on a harbour tour or how about a cruise through the canals of historic Speicherstadt and the beautiful Alster Lake dotted with yachts and fringed by leafy banks.
WHERE TO EAT
farm to table concept – hobenkÖÖk
Hobenköök literally translates as Harbour Kitchen , the former freight yard has been converted into a 600 square metre dinner hall and food market. The industrial space is split in two bringing a unique concept in dining. It houses an open kitchen where the chefs recreate Northern German classics, giving them a modern and fresh twist using sustainable, seasonal slow-food.
The market sells everything from craft gin and coffee, to artisan meats, cheeses and pickles from more than 200 regional producers.
Hobenköök | Stockmeyerstraße 43 | 20457 Hamburg | Website
Hamburg Original – Oberhafen kantine
This crooked little building next to Hobenköök is a real Hamburg original and the last remaining canteen. Part of the old Hamburg harbour traditions, it’s where affordable meals for workers were served through small windows. Some say that it was in these canteens where the hamburger was created – as a simple on-the-go meal of meat in bread.
Built in the 1920s the restaurant has survived several storm floods which led to its slightly tilted nature and just adds to the charm. The menu is more traditional with labskaus, rote grütze and of course hamburgers!
Oberhafen Kantine | Stockmeyerstraße 39 | 20457 Hamburg | Website
Fondly called Schanze by locals, the former working-class district has nurtured the city’s alternative culture. The last decades have brought about a wave of gentrification, but there is still a laidback shabby feel to the area. The young locals come here for the hip Hamburg scene – cheap eats, lively bars, boutiques, trendy cafes and independent record shops.
WHERE TO EAT
sweet treat – Herr max
A former fish shop founded in 1905 is now the finest patisserie in Schanzenviertel. Herr Max is the place to visit for extraordinary cake creations and the most scrumptious afternoon teas.
There are always vegan and gluten free options and I’m told the raspberry tarts and cheesecakes are swoonworthy.
Herr Max | Schulterblatt 12 | 20357 Hamburg | Website
WHERE TO DRINK
The streets of Hamburg are now seeing a third wave coffee movement. Elbgold is the largest and well known coffee house incorporating the whole bean-to-cup approach with onsite roasteries. The flagship store is hidden in a former meat-packing house, just off the buzzing main streets of hip Sternschanze.
There is an in-house bakery too with baguettes, bagels and cakes on offer alongside the freshly brewed coffee.
Elbgold Schanze | Lagerstraße 34c | 20357 Hamburg | Website
East of Hamburg’s Central Station is the neighbourhood of St Georg rich in diversity. The bustling and colourful main thoroughfare Lange Reihe is filled with galleries, shops, restaurants and bars, much of which comes from the city’s vibrant LGBT community.
Along the Steindamm shopping street and Hansaplatz square, many shops and eateries are run by members of Hamburg’s Turkish, Indian, Irani and Afghan communities.
WHERE TO EAT
Café Gnosa draws an easygoing gay and straight crowd in St Georg. The stylish art deco style cafe has been serving sumptuous cakes since the 1950s. Try the pear-cream gateau, Lübecker nut cake or rhubarb strudel.
Café Gnosa | Lange Reihe 93 | 20099 Hamburg | Website
where to stay in hamburg
GINN Hotel Hamburg Elbspeicher
Located right on the harbour in the district of Altona, the hotel location isn’t exactly central but nonetheless has its advantages. Only 550 yards from the historic fish market, the huge tourist attraction is a hive of activity on Sunday mornings.
The environmentally conscious hotel offers 130 rooms on the third, fourth and seventh floors, whilst the main reception, restaurant and bar reside on the top floor. Dimly lit corridors lead to dark seductive rooms decorated in greys and blacks with custom-made wood-and-steel furnishings.
A wraparound balcony provides great views of the harbour. Perfect when you’re musing over the great breakfast buffet choices and fantastic vegetarian options.
Ginn Hotel | Große Elbstraße 39 | 22767 Hamburg | Website
How to Get to Hamburg
Hamburg Fuhlsbüttel is the city’s international airport, located 9km north-west of the city centre is served by British Airways, Easyjet and Ryanair.
Don’t forget your Hamburg Card
Purchase a Hamburg Card to save time and money when visiting Hamburg. You can enjoy exclusive discounts during your stay with free access to public transport, discounts on Hamburg sights, museums, restaurants and more.
For more information on Hamburg head to Hamburg Tourismus website
Have you ever been to Hamburg? Where are your favourite places? Let me know in the comments box below.
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