Insider Travel Guide to Hamburg
I guess in the meanwhile everyone knows how I love Hamburg, right? I say it and write it whenever I have the opportunity. In Hamburg, the second biggest city of Germany, I felt home for the first time after I left my home town Istanbul. It is the only German city I felt fully welcome. It might be difficult to get to know people as the Hamburgers are very reserved people. But once they spend time with you and get to know you, you can be sure that you just made friends for ever.
7 years in Hamburg! I spent 7 beautiful years in the most beautiful city of Germany. I felt so comfortable in Hamburg that I started to think that I won’t be moving away. But life is full of surprises.
My partner’s family live near Cologne and we always have been asking ourselves that it is probably a better idea to be closer to the family. My family is 3000 km away in Istanbul anyway and it doesn’t really matter from which airport I take the flight. While we have been playing with those long-term plans in our minds, I got a new job offer in Cologne. I’ve been working for the company for 6 years and had the feeling that I needed a change, anyway. So the timing couldn’t have been better.
After long considerations and pro and con lists me and my partner decided to move to Cologne, after all. I still feel very sad for leaving Hamburg, but I’m very positive and excited about what the future will bring.
Of course I can’t leave Germany’s most beautiful city without writing a detailed travel guide about Hamburg by an insider for you. In the last weeks I’ve been posting quite a lot about Hamburg in Instagram & Facebook and now I wrote down pretty much everything you need to know for a week(end) trip to Hamburg and even more, BUT not everything! Some things just need to remain secret, to be discovered on your own and Hamburg has many of those secrets. Have fun discovering them!
In this blog post: Things to see in Hamburg Things to do in Hamburg Near Water Green Parks of Hamburg Panoramic Views of Hamburg Museums of Hamburg My favourite neighbourhoods in Hamburg What and where to eat in Hamburg Where to have a drink in Hamburg Nightlife in Hamburg Where to stay in Hamburg How to get to/from Hamburg How to get around in Hamburg Weather in Hamburg Day trips from Hamburg
Things to see in Hamburg
Jungfernstieg and Inner Alster
Jungfernstieg is the heart of Hamburg city. Almost every train, subway and bus line stops here. Jungfernstieg is the best place to start your tour through Hamburg. In sunny days I came here to have my lunch sitting in the stairs viewing the fountain in the middle of Inner Alster (Binnenalster).
Rathaus (Town Hall)
Hamburger Rathaus is one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen in Germany. It was built in 1897 and is still the the seat of the government of state Hamburg. Hamburg is one of three city states of total 16 German states.
St. Nicholas’ Church
The Gothic church was destroyed during Second World War and only its tower remains today. The memorial is still the second-tallest building in Hamburg, after the TV tower.
- Entrance fee to tower and museum: 5€
- Opening hours: Oct. – April, daily, 10 am − 5 pm | May – Sept., daily, 10 am − 6 pm
In this historical street you can find beautiful houses dating back 17th century. Deichstrasse is the oldest street in Hamburg’s Old Town and contains some of the oldest buildings of Hamburg.
The Speicherstadt is the former warehouse district of Hamburg, of course near to the harbour. Speicherstadt is the largest warehouse district in the world. It was built from 1883 to 1927 to transfer goods without paying customs. Since July 2015 it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today houses many cafés serving fresh coffee. With the regional typical clinker brick buildings spread all over the canals it is one of the most beautiful districts of Hamburg.
St. Micheal’s Church
Nobody in Hamburg calls it St. Michael’s. It is called simply Michel and it is Hamburg’s landmark. The 132 meter long copper tower is an indispensable part of Hamburg’s skyline.
- Opening hours: Nov-April, daily 10 am – 6 pm, last entry 5:30 pm | May – Oct, daily, 9 am – 8 pm, last entry 7:30 pm
- Entrance fee for the tower: 5€
- Nachtmichel (Michel at Night): There are special opening hours and entrance fee if you want to go up to the tower after sunset. It costs 10,50€. In summer you can go up even after 9 pm, enjoy the views during day light (the days in Hamburg are very very long in summer) and later around 10:30 pm enjoy the sunset and then the night lights of the city.
Just around the corner you can find Krameramtsstuben (Grocers’ Apartments). The buildings form the last of the 17th century enclosed courtyards of Hamburg.
From Michel head to Portuguese quarter, where you can find Hamburg’s best fish restaurants.
At the end of the Portuguese quarter, across the street and you’ll see the Landungsbrücken (landing bridges). Here you can see all the historical ships such as Cap San Diego and Rickmer Rickmers. From above the subway station you have one of the best views of Hamburg’s Harbour.
Old Elbe Tunnel
My personal favourite of all sights in Hamburg! This historical underwater tunnel was opened in 1911 which was a sensation for the its time. The 24 meters deep tunnel is approx. 500 meters long and connects Hamburg with the south side of the Elbe River. The lifts carry pedestrians and vehicles to the bottom. Walk through the tunnel, admire the tube covered with tiles and go up on the other side to enjoy Hamburg’s skyline from the other side.
I guess this is one true Hamburger tradition. You either need to wake up really early on a Sunday morning (!) or you party all night long and end it here in Fish Market listening to the cover band playing in the “Fischauktionshalle” (historic fish market hall) and eating your “Matjes Brötchen” (pickled herring sandwich). I promise you won’t have any hang over head aches next day 🙂
- Opening times: Every Sunday, April-Oct, 5 am – 9.30 am | Nov-March, 7 am – 9.30 am.
Things to do in Hamburg Near Water
The guided harbour tours start in Landungsbrücken. They explain about the harbour and get really close to container ships. There are also tours which combine Harbour and Speicherstadt through the canals.
An alternative to the guided tours is the ferry number 62 (to Finkenwerder) which is part of Hamburg’s public transport network and stops at Fish Market (important landmark for Hamburgers), Dockland (for Panoramic views) and Övelgönne (for Elbe Beach).
All three stops should be part of your Hamburg itinerary anyway. And you will see the major highlights of Hamburger Harbour, such as dry docks and big containers and cranes. If you’re lucky you will even see a big container ship coming or leaving the harbour. You might also see some of the largest cruise ships such as Queen Mary II.
Warning: At the weekend and public holidays these ferries get really crowded.
Hamburg has really a sandy beach, indeed! Well, I’d wouldn’t swim there, but hey it is a beach! If you take the ferry 62 get off in Övelgönne and walk through all the cafés and restaurants. At the end of the street you’ll see the small sandy beach. Take your shoes off, burry your feet into the sand, relax and watch the sunset. If you want to have a beach more for yourself, then walk further to reach the next beach.
Wow how lucky I am for seeing this lake completely frozen. During the winter of 2012 the temperatures were minus 15-20˚C (yes below zero) for more than 6 weeks non-stop. After the ice layer was thick enough it was allowed to organise the so called “Alstereisvergnügung”. There were stalls for food and drinks, people went on ice skating, and even played ice-hockey. Having a hot wine stating on a frozen lake/river was really such a rare unique spectacle for me, as someone from Istanbul where it is rare enough that it snows.
Nevertheless, I hope you have better weather conditions when you’re in Hamburg and can enjoy a walk around the green area of Outer Alster which is about 7,5 km. You’ll walk by some of the nicest areas of Hamburg.
In the canals
When you are already in Outer Alster, go to one of the boat rentals and rent paddle boat or a canoe. Or maybe even go for stand up paddling.
Green Parks of Hamburg
Hamburger Stadtpark (city park) is 148 hectares large and it is the place where most of the Hamburgers spend their weekend in sunny summer days. Here you can have a barbecue, listen to music playing in the open air stage, swim in the semi natural pool, or just walk around and have a drink in the beer garden.
Planten un Bloomen
My office was 5 minutes away from Panten un Bloomen and I took a walk here overtime I needed a bit relaxation. Sometimes I had my lunch sitting in one of the big lounge chairs spread around the park. This beautiful botanical garden is literally in the middle of the city and connects many neighbourhoods. After work I sometimes walked through the park to get down and relax thanks to the green, beautiful trees and colourful flowers.
This park is absolutely the hippest park of Hamburg. All the young people, students, hipsters come to Schanzenpark to chill, have a couple of cheap drinks before going to the bars, to barbecue, or to watch a movie in the open air cinema during summer.
Panoramic Views of Hamburg
For panoramic views of the River Elbe and parts of the harbour go to Altonaer Balkon. It is also a very nice green area to walk along in both directions, either to Övelgönne or to Landungsbrücken.
When you take the ferry 62 you will see this fancy modern building formed like ship. From its observation deck, you have the best views of the Elbe River and Harbour. It is one of the best spots in Hamburg to watch the sunset!
Platform above Train Station Landungsbrücken
As mentioned before, above the subway station (Landungsbrücken) you have one of the best views of the historical part of Hamburg’s Harbour.
Yes, I mean the St. Michael’s Church. As described above, from it 132 high tower you have the best panoramic views of the whole city of Hamburg. And this day and night!
From Park Fiction, near to Hafenstrasse, you have some beautiful views of Hamburg Harbour and Elbe River. It is also a place to have a drink and observe how the local community spend their free time. In this park area the city government planned to build an expensive building but the residents stopped it and at the end the area turned into a public green park for everyone.
Museums of Hamburg
If you’re interested in the history of sailing and want to have a glimpse at how the seamen sailed and lived in a ship for months, Rickmer Rickmers is a good “Ship Museum” to visit. It is located in the harbour, near to Landungsbrücken. The entrance fee is 5€.
Are you fan of model railway? Then this is your place to be! But even if you’re not, this place has so much to offer. There are so many fine details that you’ll forget the time while discovering something new every minute. Keep in mind this museum is not only about model railways it is about a Miniature World!
- Entrance fee: 13€ – A bit expensive but totally worth it!
- Opening hours: Check the official page here
- Waiting line: You can avoid it by booking a ticket in advance. Check the official information for more information.
Hamburger Art Gallery (Kunsthalle)
It has a wide collection of art pieces starting from 14th century till today. It mainly focuses on Northern European artists. If you follow the signs of the tour from one room to another you’ll have a kind of a walk through European art history. My favourite piece is the “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” from Caspar David Friedrich. For entrance fee and opening hours check the official website of Hamburger Kunsthalle.
If you’re interested in photography you should visit the House of Photography in Deichtorhallen. For entrance fee and opening hours check the official website of Deichtorhallen.
Museum of Art and Industry Hamburg (MKG)
MKG’s (Museum for Kunst und Gewerbe) collections are internationally oriented, with particular emphases on European and East Asian art. The collection spans over 4000 years of human history. For opening times and entrance fee check the official website.
Tip: Hamburg CARD
With Hamburg Card you can use the public transportation (bus, train and ferry) for free and also get discount in many attractions including museums and harbour tours, etc. Prices differ depending on the duration and if you buy a single or for a group. For more information check the official website of Hamburg Card.
Tip: Hamburger Kunstmeile Pass
With Kunstmeile Pass (36€ – with Hamburg card 28,50€) you can visit 5 following museums including special exhibitions one-time. The pass is valid for twelve months. Link to the official website of Kunstmeile Hamburg.
- Hamburger Kunsthalle
- Deichtorhallen Hamburg
- Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
- Kunstverein Hamburg
- The Bucerius Kunst Forum
My favourite neighbourhoods in Hamburg
I love Altona! Altona has it all but still not touristy and as spoilt as Sternschanze. Its international multi-cultural flair makes Altona very special. Altona is like a city itself. If you live and work in Altona, you actually don’t need to leave its borders.
St. Pauli & Reeperbahn
I wouldn’t be exaggerating by saying that Sankt Pauli is the hearth of Hamburg. Not only in terms of its location, but also because of what this neighbourhood means to Hamburgers. Sankt Pauli is about the long seaman tradition. It’s about the hard workers of the harbour. It’s about being a rebellion.
The occupied buildings with colourful facades in Hafenstrasse and Park Fiction are good examples to explain how engaged the people of St. Pauli are. Reeperbahn is not only about red light district, but it’s about cultural entertainment. The major music venues and theatres are located in Reeperbahn.
Karoviertel & Sternschanze
Karoviertel, just between St. Pauli and Sternschanze is like an open-air street art museum. Walk down the Marktstrasse and the side streets, to explore it. Carry on walking to get to Sternschanze. Once a poor worker neighbourhood, today turned into a magnet for students and party folks.
Read next: Street art in Hamburg
Near to Michel, in Neustadt there are many small boutiques, nice cafés and restaurants. I used to go to Neustadt for lunch during the week. You can have anything for any taste. Asian, Italian, Swedish, Mexican, Turkish, Irish, German, American, Portuguese, need more? Sure you’ll find it.
Interesting about this place is that some of the buildings of an old nonfunctional factory were occupied by artists and now it is an officially recognised institution, where they organise art exhibitions, workshops and music gigs. You’ll find here some of Hamburg’s finest street art examples of internationally well known street artists.
Read next: Notorious neighbourhoods of Hamburg
I lived in Grindel for 7 years and I can’t think of any better neighbourhood to live in. Its location is so central that I can go to almost everywhere on foot. It is only 15-30 minutes walking distance to almost everywhere in Hamburg, to Sternschanze, to Karoviertel, to St. Pauli, to Altona, to Outer Alster (Außenalster), to Jungfernstieg / Inner Alster (Binnenalster), to Eppendorf, to Eimsbüttel, well, practically to everywhere in Hamburg.
It is also super connected with public transport that you have bus, subway, and train all around the corner.
Thanks to the university there are lots of students around which make the neighbourhood more vivid for sure. There are some really good restaurants of all cuisines. There is a cult cinema, called Abaton which shows NON-popcorn movies from all around the world.
But this is still not all. Grindel is one of the neighbourhoods which was not completely destroyed during Second World War and it is surrounded with the most beautiful buildings from late 19th. If you’re into Art Nouveau architecture you should take a long walk starting in Rothenbaumchaussee, towards Eppendorfer Baum doing zigzags by including all possible side streets on the way. You will be surprised to see some of the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Trust me, it’s simply mind blowing!
What and where to eat in Hamburg
Fishbrötchen (fish bun)
There are many different fish sandwiches with herring, mackerel, salmon or prawns accompanied with onions, pickles or a sauce. For me the best fishbrötchen is either from Fish Market (open only Sunday mornings) or from Nuggi’s Elbkate, a small snack bar at the ferry station in Övelgönne, Elbe Beach.
You either love it or hate it. Boiled beef meet gets minced with beetroot, onions, boiled potatoes and herring and then the mix will be fried. It is served with fried eggs and pickled cucumber and roll-mops (pickled herring fillets, rolled with a slice of pickled cucumber).
Typical Fish Dishes in Hamburg
Well, Hamburg is located at the Elbe River, it is only 1 hour away from North Sea or Baltic Sea. So for sure the Hamburger cuisine is mainly about fish. Different types of herring dishes like Matjes, Bismarck or Brathering, Finkenwerder Scholle (pan-fried plaice) and Pannfisch (pan-fried fish with mustard sauce) are some of the most common ones.
The best fish restaurants of Hamburg can be found in Portuguese Quarter. But my favourite place to eat fish is actually Karofish in St. Pauli. It is not a restaurant for fine dining and all this, but I know them, they know me, and it is in the middle of the St. Pauli, Schanze and Karoviertel triangle so that it is a perfect spot to start an evening out.
Perfect snack for breakfast. It is a typical Hamburger sweet pastry, baked with butter and cinnamon. You can get a Franzbrötchen in all bakeries. Look for Hansebäcker, Nur Hier, Schanzenbäcker or Dat Backhus.
Breakfast is my most favourite meal of the day, but unfortunately I skip it during the week and therefore it is even more important to have a long extensive breakfast at the weekend. Just to make it clear under breakfast I don’t mean just a coffee and a croissant! I mean, at least 3 sorts of cheese, green and black olives, sliced tomatoes and cucumber, scrambled, fried or cooked eggs, honey, and the list goes on…
My favourite places to have breakfast are:
Dinner with Star Chefs
If you want to treat yourself with a fine dinner, in Hamburg there are couple of restaurants of really prominent German chefs who were honoured with stars and some of them have their own TV shows. I can recommend;
- Bullerei of Tim Mälzer in Sternschanze has a really nice ambient but it can get really loud.
- Cornelia Poletto in Eimsbüttel is very small and the tables are arranged a little bit too close to each other, but it’s still fine.
Both restaurants serve excellent food for reasonable prices considering the quality. If you want to go at the weekend, you need a reservation at least 3-4 weeks in advance. During the week it is easier to get a table.
Well, in a city like Hamburg which has been always in contact with the rest of the world thanks to its harbour, of course you can find intentional cuisine from all over the world.
I exclude any typical dinner / kebab bistros, because you can find those everywhere, anywhere. Unfortunately I haven’t found many Turkish restaurants in Hamburg. Most of them have an ambient of fast food restaurants or serve typical kebab dishes only, which is really a pity. Turkish cuisine is so rich but most of the people in Germany know nothing more than döner/kebab, even though more than 3 million people with a Turkish background live in Germany. How many times I thought about opening a cool hip modern Turkish restaurant, which absolutely bans all sorts of kebab dishes… What do you think? 😉
- Kardelen in Neustadt (only during the week between 11-16) – My favourite place to eat Turkish for lunch.
- Peacetanbul in Karoviertel – Their menu is really creative and funny. I love this place.
- Kumpir (backed potato with filling of your choice) in Sternschanze and Grindel
- Caphe Viet in Gängeviertel – (only during the week between 11-16) – I went here for lunch at least once a week.
- Quan Do in City Centre – perfect place to have a break if you’re sightseeing or shopping in the city.
- Thang Long in Grindel
- The Bird in St. Pauli
- Gerüchte Küche in Neustadt and Altona – A cool small family run burger place
- Otto’s Burger in Grindel, Altona and Schanze
Vegetarian & Vegan
- Indian Restaurant Gobinda in Grindel (also good choice for Vegetarians and Vegans)
- Pakistani Restaurant Balutschistan in Grindel
- Afghan Restaurant Hindukusch in Grindel
- North African Restaurant Azeitona in Sternschanze
- Korean restaurant Man-Nam in Karoviertel
- Spanish Restaurant Tapas y Mas in Sternschanze
- Portuguese restaurant Fischfeinkost Delicatessen des Meeres in Colonnaden
- (Top Tip) Portuguese restaurant Caramba Especial in Portuguese Quarter
- German Restaurant Erika’s Eck in Sternschanze for Schnitzel and other traditional German food. But what’s real special about this place is that it is almost 24 hours open and after midnight they offer buns (half-rolls) with smoked ham, cheese, roast beef, etc. for only 1€. Perfect midnight snack for hang over!
- There is a growing food truck scene in Hamburg. Thursday evenings many food trucks gather in Spielbudenplatz in Reeperbahn.
Where to have a drink in Hamburg
- Pretty much every bar in Sternuschanze, Karoviertel, St. Pauli and Reeperbahn – Get in any bar where you find a place 🙂 At the weekends it is a challenge!
- In summer nights you can actually buy your drinks from a “kiosk” or a bar and sit outside on a street corner, in a green park or in a square. Practically everywhere in a pedestrian zone. My favourite place to do this is in front of Knust in Sternuschanze. We call it “Knusten” 🙂
- There are couple of beach clubs. One of the most famous one is Strand Pauli at the harbour.
- For cocktails go to Tiki Bar or Christiansens Bar near Fish Market
Nightlife in Hamburg
For most tourists a night out in Hamburg means mostly in Reeperbahn. Well, there are indeed some must see places in Reeperbahn such as Beatles Square and Grosse Freiheit Street. Just one street away from Grosse Freiheit Street there is the street called Hamburger Berg which is surrounded by bars and clubs everywhere. Most of the Hamburgers go here for a (or more) “Absacker” (nightcap).
For music concerts and clubbing check out the program of
- Große Freiheit 34 & Kaiserkeller in Reeperbahn
- Grünspan in Reeperbahn
- Docks in Reeperbahn
- Molotow in Reeperbahn
- Mojo in Reeperbahn
- Übel & Gefährlich in Sternschanze / Karoviertel – the bunker from Second World War which now is turned into a culture centre
- Knust in Sternschanze
- Golden Pudel in St. Pauli Harbour, Hafenstrasse
Where to stay in Hamburg
OK, I find it very difficult to give an advice for where to stay in a city I lived for a while, because it means I never stayed in a hotel, hostel, whatsoever. Just choose a location which is in the centre. Hamburg centre is very small, so you can walk to almost everywhere. Check Booking.com for best deals.
How to get to/from Hamburg
From the international airport of Hamburg you can catch the train (S-Bahn – S1) to drive to Central Station (Hauptbahnhof). The drive takes about 25 minutes.
From the Central Bus Station (ZOB) near to Central Train Station you can catch a long-distance bus to other German cities, which is a lot cheeper than train, but the drive takes longer. The drive to Berlin takes about 3,5 hours. Flixbus, Berlin Linien Bus and Postbus are some well known operators.
How to get around in Hamburg
Either train (S-bahn), subway (U-bahn) or bus, you have it all in Hamburg. The cool thing is at the weekends they drive all night. Click for a network plan prepared by Hamburg’s official public transport operator HVV. Remember to buy your Hamburg CARD.
Call a Bike
Hamburg is a very flat city which makes it perfect to get around with a bicycle. You can hire one of those city bikes. Almost everywhere in Hamburg you can find the red bicycles. Check the website of Hamburg StadtRAD to check how to hire one. By the way to first 30 minutes is even for free. Hamburg City supports this way a environment friendly city life.
Weather in Hamburg
Recognise this word: Shiettwetter. It sounds like “shit weather”, right? Well, it more or less describes the weather in Hamburg 🙂 It is rainy, cloudy, windy, cold and bitter. But this is something Hamburgers pay in return for living in such a beautiful city and after a while you learn to ignore it. Ohh…. and when the weather is nice and sunny, you forget all the other (360) days of the year with bad weather 😀
Day trips from Hamburg
Hamburg is only 1 hour away from North Sea and Baltic Sea. So it is a perfect place for day trips. Just hire a car and drive in any direction of your choice.
If you choose North Sea side, drive to St. Peter Ording, Westerhever, Husum or Büsum.
If you choose Baltic Sea side, drive to Lübeck, Timmendorfer Strand, Neustadt in Holstein, Heiligenhafen, Wismar & Insel Poel.
Within Hamburg you can go to Boberger Dunes and let yourself surprise that there are dunes in a city.
Read next: 7 day trips you can do from Hamburg
What to pack specially for Hamburg?
- Rain poncho & Winter hat & Scarf – Most of the time it is rainy, cold and windy. Do I need to say more?
Check my Pack List for more useful travel items! By buying products or booking accommodation with these links you’ll be supporting my blog without paying anything extra. Thanks already ❤️
For more insights from real pros I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Germany. For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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