When I mention “canals and trading power in medieval times” you may expect me to speak about Venice, but this time I’m speaking of Hamburg, Germany. This northern country’s “Gateway to the World” is an exciting stop for a city-break and offers much to explore and enjoy.
Hamburg is a major port in northern Germany and one of the busiest in the world. This beautiful and liveable city features hundreds of canals that are begging to be explored. It’s officially known as the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg which refers to the Hanseatic League formed in the late 12th century. The Hanseatic League was an influential group of merchants and market towns in Europe that had mutual interests, trade routes and they banded together to increase prosperity and protect themselves from pirates.
The Hanseatic League was very powerful from the 12th until the 17th Century and included towns in the League as varied as London and Ipswich in England, Krakow in Poland, Frankfurt and Berlin in Germany and Stockholm and Malmo in Sweden.
If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it!
You’ll probably fly into Airport Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel which is serviced by many European and low-cost carriers. The airport is located about 30 minutes from the city by S-Bahn which connects you to the central station and costs only €3.30 (£2.86). Hamburg has an excellent public transport system with buses running continuously. Look out for the “Nachtbus” (night bus) if you’re out on the town; they operate all through the night. Hamburg is also one of Europe’s great walking and biking cities.
There is just so much to see in this city, from Inner Alster Lake dotted with boats and surrounded by cafes, to historic monuments, fun museums and culture centres. Here are my favourite places to visit:
- Speicherstadt– This World Heritage Site is also known as the “City of Warehouses”. It was created as a storage district for the city’s port and features Gothic Revival architecture. It’s a great spot to walk around, cross over canals and admire the architecture while you stop for coffee or a snack.
- Elbphilharmonie– This beautiful building is home to one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world; The Great Concert Hall. There are around 1000 curved windows giving it the shape of waves and providing incredible light and sound effects. At the very top you can find an observation deck that offers up incredible views.
This is a friendly building, it waves to everyone!
- Miniatur Wunderland– You’ll feel like a giant in this miniature wonderland. It fills a whole warehouse in Speicherstadt. The owners have been adding to its detail over 16 years. The scenes have so many moving parts; from people to traffic to windmills and even a space shuttle.
- Harbour boat tour– This is the best way to see the waterside districts. Public ferries depart at Landungsbrücken and make round trips all day long.
- St Michaels Church– this is Northern Germany’s most famous Baroque church for its long and incredible history. It had to be totally reconstructed in 1912 after it was brought down by a lightning strike first in 1750 and then a fire in 1906. You can visit the observation deck, which is 100 metres up and offers incredible harbour views.
- The Rathaus (City Hall)– This elegant Neo-Renaissance building is open to the public to explore its exhibits and grounds. It is the seat of the government of Hamburg and as such, the seat of one of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. You can take an hour-long tour to learn about the history of the building. I just love that the seat of government is called “The Rathaus”!
- Planten un Blomen– This stunning park might just be one of Europe’s best urban parks. It features 47 hectares of gardens, ponds and greenhouses to enthral you. It’s perfect for enjoying a stroll or picnic during the summer months.
You’ll have a bloomin’ good time here!
- The Portuguese Quarter– The area around Ditmar-Koel-Strasse in the Neustadt district has been inhabited by Portuguese and Spanish immigrants since the 1960s and 1970s. It is the best area to try classic Mediterranean foods, seafood and the famous pastel de nata custard tart just like in Lisbon and even Macau!
- St Pauli Fischmarkt– This awesome market is not solely focused on fish. The market sells everything from flowers to meat and even clothing. You can try local snacks and chat with friendly residents.
- Flohschanze flea market– You don’t want to miss this Saturday flea market for all the trinkets and vintage finds that your heart desires. You can find just about anything at this flea market from retro clothes to vintage furnishings and jewellery.
- Dialogue in the Dark– This unique and interactive museum will leave you really thinking how you experience the world. This museum was created with the perspective of a blind person. You are blindfolded and have to use your other senses as well being led by a visually impaired guide.
As a multi-cultural centre of commerce, you can bet that Hamburg has incredible cuisine options. Here are my favourites:
- Literaturhauscafé– This beautiful restaurant is housed in a neoclassical 1839 villa that was lovingly restored by a mystery donor in 1985. Try some of their seasonal and regional dishes as you dine under opulent chandeliers in this upscale venue.
This is a great place to meat!
- [M]eatery– The name says it all. This restaurant serves steak and they do it well; from tartare to juicy burgers and even surf and turf. This venue is definitely for carnivores.
- Fischereihafen Hamburg– This restaurant has been run by the same family since the 1980s and offers an elegant venue with gorgeous harbour views and soft lighting. It’s the perfect romantic spot to enjoy first-class seafood. The Prince and Princess of Wales have even dined here.
Here’s a Pro-tip: If you’re looking for afternoon drinks or lunch, look no further than Hamburg’s version of the Caribbean; StrandPauli. This is a beach paradise on Hamburg harbour. Here there are deck chairs where you can sink your toes into the sand under palm trees while experiencing a relaxed island vibe. It’s totally unexpected and cool!
As you would expect from a port town, Hamburg’s nightlife is excellent. Here are some of my favourite spots:
- Logo Club– This is the best live music venue in town. Both local and international talent rock the stage at this excellent club that has a capacity of 450 people and is nearly always sold out. Remember that the Beatles honed their skills in the clubs in Hamburg! The city’s music legacy is strong.
- Clockers– This speakeasy-style bar oozes charm and is the best spot in town for locally-made gin. The bar distils their own and even hosts gin tasting evenings. The décor is also seriously cool with tree branches and chesterfields.
- Skyline Bar 20up– This stylish hotel bar offers incredible views. You can see the vast harbour and landmarks of the city twenty floors up, through floor to ceiling windows, while you sip a cocktail.
Hamburg has a vast variety of quality accommodation options. Here’s where I recommend you stay:
- Tortue Hamburg– This boutique hotel is located right in the heart of the city, it was expertly designed by Stephen Williams and Kate Hume to have individually styled rooms with gorgeous views. Their excellent restaurant and bar are a great addition to your trip.
- Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten– This 5-star hotel is perfectly placed on Alster Lake and its luxury spa is always inviting. Its comfortable rooms are elegant and stylishly designed. The hotel features a Michelin 2-Star restaurant.
- Henri Hotel Hamburg Downtown – These spacious suites and studios are beautifully designed with lots of wood and well thought-out furnishings. You can opt for a kitchenette in some rooms if you want the freedom to cook for yourself!
What’s up, Dock?!
Hamburg is an awesome destination! When you can combine history, high culture, excellent food and comfortable accommodations, I call that a win-win! Enjoy wonderful Hamburg!