Hamburg Travel Guide (Germany)

Reviewer: Simsi
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Hamburg is Germany’s freewheeling commercial engine and window on the outside world. The port city, in the country’s north-centre, is the country’s second largest and sits astride the Elbe River that links it to the North Sea about 100km from the Danish border. The city’s business life is dominated by its twin industries of shipping and media. The former gives Hamburg its eclectic cosmopolitan flavour and the latter its creative spark and openness to new ideas.

Hamburg Airport

The Hamburg airport is airport is located 8km (5 miles) north of the city and served by a transfer service that leaves every 15 minutes from 0600-2330 and taxis (around 25 Euros). All the major car hire companies have desks in the terminal. See EasyCar.com for the best deals on Rental cars in Hamburg.

Sightseeing Highlights

With its centuries long procession of sailors pouring out of schooners, destroyers, tankers and frigates it’s hardly surprising that Hamburg is home to the Disneyland of red light districts: Huge in scale, creative minds coming up with a new spin on the central theme all the time and a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s in the St Pauli district (ironically named for the celibate apostle) with the Reeperbahn its main street and cranks up in the late afternoon when up to 40,000 people come to cruise its bars, sex clubs, eateries, shows and cafes. Once a sleazy, crime-ridden ghetto, like Times Square it’s been largely sanitised, with the hookers almost an exotic add-on amongst the neon, boisterous crowds and carnival atmosphere.

The Port of Hamburg makes up 12% of the entire city and while a series of wharves and docks is not a usual tourist destination the history and scale of this one makes it worth a look. You can get a good view of of the sprawling complex at the Stingfang stone balcony above the Landungsbrucken U/S Bahn stop or take a cruise to view the harbour at sea level. Other maritime sights include the museum aboard the Rickmer Rickmers an 1896 windjammer and the immigration and shipping exhibits on the newer and larger vessel, Cap Son Diego.

Although not in the same league as Berlin’s showpiece civic museums, Hamburg has an interesting collection. The best include: The Kunsthalle for art from the middle ages to the 20th Century (Klee, Munch, Kokoschka) as well as a series of 19th Century Germa paintings; The Galerie der Gegenwart for modern pieces (Baselitz, Richter Koons, Hockney). The Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe (Arts and Crafts Museum) with a huge collection of everything from jewellery, porcelain, musical instruments and sculpture to posters, interior and graphic design and furniture. The Museum fur Volkerkunde (Museum of Ethnology) with objects and displays such as masks, sculptures, canoes, costumes and musical instruments from Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. The Museum der Arbeit (Museum of Work) focussing on the working environment that has evolved in and around Hamburg.

One of the city’s most idiosyncratic features blossoms for a few hours every Sunday morning and then with its frenetic energy expended lies dormant for the rest of the week. The attraction? The Fischmarket in St Pauli which starts around 5:00am (7:00am Oct-Mar) on the banks of the Elbe just south of the Reeperbahn. Of course, its myriad stalls offer all kinds of seafood – prawns, fish fillets, eels and shelfish but also all manner of flora, clothes, fruit and vegetables and hot snacks for the early risers or late finishers still reeking of beer looking for a bratwurst and roll to soak up some of the night’s excesses. The whole atmosphere is enlivened by the cheeky patter of the spruikers hawking their wares or just flirting with the passers by with a wink and a theatrical leer. Live music pumps from the nearby Fischauktionshalle (Fish Auction Hall) where the audience chorus mixes with the pungent aroma of beer and sausage to fill the senses. Around 10:00am it’s all over for another week and the debris is swept up and the city relaxes into its Sunday before the working week begins again.

Daytrips

Hamburg is less than an hour’s drive away from several Baltic and North Sea beaches. The most popular among Germans are Sankt Peter-Ording, a famous surfing destination, and the North Sea island of Sylt, the country’s northernmost point, boasting one of Europe’s longest unbroken beach strips. Another North Sea island, Heligoland, regularly boasts winter temperatures up to 10° different to mainland Hamburg and is virtually free from pollen.

The medieval Baltic city of Luebeck, 60km northeast of Hamburg, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, while the northeastern suburb of Ahrensburg features a Renaissance castle originally built in 1595. The world’s largest sailing event and one of Germany’s biggest festivals takes place each June in the city of Kiel, located an hour’s drive from Hamburg.

The Altes Land region, featuring farmhouses with elaborately decorated gateways, is the world’s northernmost fruit growing area, as well as Central Europe’s largest.

Must-see attractions

Hamburg is a city filled with street parties, parks, theatre, music, and history. Ohlsdorfer Friedhof includes one of the world’s largest graveyards, Planten un Bloomen features beautiful flower displays, and an old water tower converted into a planetarium is located in the middle of the Stadtpark. The city zoo is Hagenbecks Tierpark.

The HafenCity Viewpoint tower offers the most outstanding panoramic view of Hamburg’s skyline, harbour and surrounding Elbe River. The Alter Elbtunnel beneath the river, decorated with engravings of marine life, fishing boats, and other maritime symbols, is an even more unique way to view the city.

Sailing and boat tours of the city’s harbour and large artificial lakes, Binnenalster and Außenalster, are also popular. Zollenbrücke, Hamburg’s oldest existing bridge, was originally built during the 17th century.

One of Hamburg’s more unusual attractions, the Miniaturwunderland, allows visitors to explore the world without leaving the city. The American west, the Alps, and an exhibit of automated sailing ships representing Scandinavia are all represented in the world’s largest model railway layout.

Most of Hamburg’s small beaches are located between Blankenese and Övelgönne on the Elbe River’s north side. The Elbe is safe for swimming, except for the huge waves created by passing container ships. Visitors may also bring their own grills for beachside barbecuing, as long as they clean up afterwards.

Best time to go

Thanks to the North Sea’s breezes, Hamburg’s summers are usually hot and damp, while winter is typically chilly and windy, but rarely cold enough to freeze water. Hamburg is rarely crowded during the summer because many locals spend their holidays in warmer European countries, but showers are frequent, so rain gear is highly recommended for summertime visitors. The drier spring climate, with weather almost as warm as summer, is perhaps the best time to visit Hamburg. Autumn is also fairly mild and sunny.

Rainy day suggestions

A rainy Hamburg summer day provides the perfect opportunity to explore the city’s several churches and museums. Hamburg’s immense and historic city hall offers daily guided tours in English, French, and German. The steeple on top of the ruins of St Nikolai Church, the only one of Hamburg’s five main churches not rebuilt as an anti-war memorial, offers a beautiful view of the city’s skyline. There are also several English theatre and concert presentations throughout Hamburg.

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