If Hamburg has not caught your attention yet, you can be sure that once you’ve discovered the wide range of possibilities offered by Germany’s main city port with its canals and bridges, and its streets bursting with tradition and innovation, it will be the next destination on your list.
See below for ideas about things to do in Hamburg
Hamburg is a metropolis often overlooked on the tourist map of Germany, with both Berlin and Munich attracting a greater volume of visitors. But this port with its long seafaring tradition and a 1,200-year history is so much more than just a business destination; it is a hub of innovative technology and culture with a host of theatres and concert halls, art galleries and parks – and it boasts more canals and bridges than Venice or Amsterdam!
With its distinctive character, welcoming atmosphere and a cuisine more strongly focused on fish and seafood than any other German city, Hamburg exudes a cosmopolitan, even Bohemian, charm, which makes it the perfect setting for an endless variety of exciting things to do. Now are you longing to see it for yourself ?
Explore the heart of the city
It is always a good idea to have a walk around any city with such a rich historical heritage as Hamburg, and an even better idea to do so with a local guide who can tell you all about the city’s past and its peculiar quirks. Even more so when you consider that you assess the quality of the tour and then pay the guide accordingly, which is what happens with Sandemans and other free tour organisations that are popular in Europe.
The central hub of Hamburg is the area around the Rathausplatz: this is home to the major sights, ranging from the Town Hall to the Chamber of Commerce, and including the old churches of St. Petri and St. Nikolai (whose 106-metre tower affords views over the whole city). You will find Hamburg’s oldest houses (on the streets of Deichstrasse and Cremon), the Alsterarkaden (arcades), the Jungfernstieg promenade, the beautiful Hauptbahnhof or central station, and the inspiring Kunstalle (Fine Art Museum), which houses works by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Andy Warhol.
Travel through the Alter Elbtunnel
The blue lake of the river Alster, in the centre of Hamburg, is as large as the whole of the Principality of Monaco and its Jungfernstieg quay is one of the most picturesque in the world. From here, boats sail to Uhlenhorst, Harvestehude and Eppendorf, the trendiest city-centre districts with their welcoming, avant-garde bars and cafés, where visitors can enjoy a beer and a snack by the lakeside.
The Alter Elbtunnel is a tunnel which passes under the river Elbe and after travelling through it, you can see fantastic views of Hamburg from the opposite bank.
Don’t miss the music performances
Hamburg ranks as the third metropolis in the international music world, behind only London and New York. It should not be forgotten that this was the birthplace of Brahms and of the oldest German opera, as well as the starting point for Plácido Domingo’s musical career. With around 35 privately-owned theatres, the city is one of the great epicentres of opera and musical theatre, so a visit to one of Hamburg’s great auditoriums, such as the Operettenhaus, el Neue Flora and the Theater im Hafen should not be missed.
Explore Hamburg’s industrial past
You cannot really get to know the city without having a look around its port, the second largest in Europe which was built 1189 and occupies almost one eighth of the city. During the nineteenth century, a complex of warehouses constructed in red brick and glass grew up near it, and was extended into canals, as a kind of post-industrial Venice, a unique attraction.
Now known as Speicherstadt, these warehouses, where once the boats unloaded their cargo, have since been converted into centres for shopping, culture and leisure. Walking along these streets is like being transported back into an age of thriving trade.
Visit the International Maritime Museum in HafenCity
This is Hamburg’s oldest warehouse, dating from 1879, and a natural extension of the old quarter, the most avant-garde area of the city. The museum traces the history of the port and the city’s seafaring tradition through its 10 bridges, and by means of fine scale models. HafenCity, considered the most ambitious urban planning project in Europe, will not be completed until 2025.
Among its ultra-modern buildings, designed by renowned architects, is the Elbphilharmonie, or Elbe Philharmonic Hall, one of the most eagerly awaited developments following many years of building work, which already has become an emblem of the city.
Enjoy the best seafood in the heart of the port
There is no more typically Hamburg activity than spending a Sunday morning wandering around the old Altona fish-market on the banks of the Elbe, which sells everything from fresh fish to craft items. The market acts as a showcase for local products and the local lifestyle, linked both to the sea and to trade.
In this context, visitors are invited to board the Cap San Diego, a boat typical of the kind that have docked here for centuries.
Visit the most innovative attractions
Miniatur Wunderland is an intriguing miniature city and, at 1,300 m2, is the largest scale model railway in the world. But this model city also includes amusement parks, boats, ports, an airport, ski slopes, casinos, concert halls, etc. During the first 10 years of its life, this mega complex has involved almost 600,000 hours of work for a staff of over 200, and the plan is to add in 2020 a further 8 themed areas to the existing replicas of parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the United States.
But if there is one original attraction that stands out from the others, it is the Dialog im Dunkeln (Dialogue in the Dark), an exhibition in which there is nothing to see but much to perceive, as visitors put themselves in the shoes of a blind person. In this gallery in District 1, groups of up to 8 people are accompanied by guides, who are themselves either blind or visually impaired, through a 1,000 m2 area to experience activities including shopping and going to a bar, all in darkness.
Lose yourself in nature
Not only is Hamburg the second largest city in Germany, it is also the greenest, with nature and urban life co-existing in perfect harmony. In 2011, it received the European Green Capital Award, and perhaps one of its most distinctive features are the fruit orchards and vegetable gardens to be found behind the Elbe dams: Altes Land to the west and Vierlande y Marschlande to the east. It is also worth visiting the Planten un Blomen, a park that includes the largest Japanese garden in Europe and Hamburg Zoo, with 1,850 animals from all continents.
A night out in St. Pauli
St. Pauli was once a neighbourhood infamous for its unconstrained hedonism, the unmistakeable red-light area which is even larger than the one in Amsterdam. Following this chequered past, the area has now been transformed into the city’s flagship of alternative culture.
In the Reeperbahn, around Hans-Albers-Platz square and along Grosse Freiheit street, countless bars, discos, restaurants and theatres have sprung up, which should not be missed by any visitor wanting to experience the city’s livelier side. This is also the most Bohemian and artistic area, with the hippest spots and galleries as well as the gay district of St. George.