What to see in Hamburg in a weekend
Hamburg is one of those European cities that has it all, making it the ideal destination for a weekend away. The best approach with places like this (where there is so much to see and do) is to combine visits to cultural and natural attractions, visits to more relaxed places with the busiest spots, and always to leave time for unplanned activities. On a visit to this city, dominated in the past by industry and trade, you need to spend part of your time seeing the old, nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings used for these purposes; the neighbourhoods that were home to former warehouses; the port area; and the districts where the people who arrived at the city in boats stayed and made their living. A whole, fascinating world waiting to be discovered.
Of course, this German city on the banks of the river Elbe also has modern architecture, well represented in the Elbphilharmonie (or Elbe Philharmonic), a place where you can enjoy concerts and unique shows. Go for walks, look around, try the local cuisine, and relax in parks such as Planten un Blomen or on the shores of the Alster lake, right in the heart of the city.
Itinerary day 1
If you’re still out at 4.30 or 5.00 a.m., head for the Fischmarkt [Fish Market] before you go to bed. At this time of the morning, the place is buzzing while everything is being set up. This is where many people have their last beer of the night (or their first of the morning), with a Fischbrötchen, which is a baguette with herring, oysters, and so on.
This is the perfect place for dinner after a concert or sightseeing in the area. Quiet and welcoming, it offers both a cold buffet and a full menu with regional German specialities. It is also worth mentioning the views of the port and the chance to enjoy beer tasting while you are there.
The Elbphilharmonie, or Philharmonic Hall, is one of the city’s most modern buildings. At 37 metres tall, and with its steel base and dazzling glass façades, it is a sight that no one could miss. The best plan is to go to a concert or show, but if there’s nothing on at the time of your visit, you can tour the building, have a drink here and then go out onto the viewing platform to see panoramic views of the port and the city itself.
The Elbe Tunnel is one of Hamburg’s unique tourist sights. The entrance to the old tunnel is near the port (Metro: Landungsbrücken); the tunnel links the two river banks at a depth of over 25 metres. This feat of engineering, built early in the twentieth century, can be explored on foot. On the other bank, the views of Hamburg are impressive.
A simple but welcoming restaurant, offering every German speciality you could ask for as well as excellent beer. It’s a good place to enjoy a generous mixed platter with sausages, and to recharge your batteries before continuing your tour of Hamburg.
In the Kontorhaus neighbourhood, you’ll find the Chilehaus, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. This imposing structure, with its striking shape that recalls the prow of a ship, is one of the icons of German Expressionist architecture. Its name, Chilehaus, is a reference to Henry B. Sloman, the richest man in the city at the beginning of the twentieth century, who emigrated and made his fortune in Chile.
So that you don’t spend your entire day rushing about, we suggest you pamper yourself with a quiet break in one of the city’s prettiest parks. In the Planten un Blomen, you’ll find lovely spots such as the Japanese Garden, as well as interesting ones such as the Botanical Gardens. In addition, there are children’s play areas and a pavilion with occasional live music.
Itinerary day 2
As you are in the historic quarter, we suggest you eat here before going on to visit the other side of the city. On the ground floor of the Town Hall, you will find the Parlament restaurant whose history and comprehensive menu of typical German flavours are sure to impress. It also offers excellent value for money.
We recommend you spend the early evening exploring the historic quarter, with its attractive edifices such as the Town Hall, an enormous building in the Renaissance style with a 112-metre-tall tower. It is tall, but the tower of the thirteenth century Church of St. Nikolai is even taller at 145 metres. Built in the thirteenth century, this is another essential sight in the city centre. Nor should you miss the Kunsthalle Art Museum on your tour of the centre.
Arriving at the port of Hamburg is like landing in the present of a city whose commercial history stretches back over ten centuries. In fact, this is one of the biggest ports in the world in respect of the volume of containers handled. It is quite an experience to see the enormous ships and the office buildings — and to watch the activity on the quay. You can also go on a boat tour: you get on at St. Pauli and sail along the Elbe.
This restaurant, between the port of Hamburg and St. Pauli, has a quiet atmosphere, a modern décor, and dishes with an Austrian twist. Some say this place has the best schnitzel (Viennese cutlets) in the city... so why not go and find out?
Your next stop is at Deichstrasse, another historic location, but with pretty, half-timbered houses with Baroque façades. Until 1842, the centre of Hamburg was similar to what you see here now, but a huge fire, which lasted almost four days, destroyed most of the dwellings. Nowadays, you can enjoy this attractive scene, although of course the buildings have been restored.
We suggest you spend your second day visiting one of the city’s most interesting neighbourhoods: the district of Speicherstadt. To wander around its streets is to travel back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when this area, full of old buildings formerly used to store merchandise, was at its peak. Today it is an attractive suburb with bridges, canals and interesting cultural centres such as the Customs Museum and Miniatur Wunderland.
Itinerary day 3
After dinner, head for the St. Pauli district, a place with a wealth of stories to tell, but one that no one forgets is that this is where the Beatles stayed in the 1960s. Going from pub to pub remembering their songs is a fantastic way to spend a night. Drop into Indra, Kaiserkeller and Stage Club, and you’re bound to hear tunes you’ll recognise.
Offering views over the lake, this beer garden on the riverbank is the perfect spot to have dinner in the cool as evening falls. Only outdoor tables are available, so this place is particularly fascinating when the weather is good. It is a great place for a light meal, a coffee, afternoon tea or evening cocktails — especially in summer.
A good way of starting your trip to Hamburg is a leisurely visit to the Alster or Binnenalster lake, which is right in the centre of the city. It is an ideal place to relax and enjoy an ice cream while you gaze at the great fountain in the centre of the lake or even take part in some kind of activity, such as a boat trip, pedaloing, kayaking, and so on.