Built on its connection to the ocean, Hamburg is Germany’s ‘Gateway to the World’. From here, the Elbe River winds its way across Europe to Prague; in the other direction lies the stormy North Sea.
One of the world’s great commercial ports, Hamburg also has three passenger terminals, making it a major cruise destination, too.
The compact city centre is packed with visitor attractions. The Maritime Museum and quirky Chocolate Museum are both worth a visit, while fashion fans will love the chic boutiques on Gänsemarkt and Neuer-Wall.
Seafood-lovers will be in heaven, with a choice of affordable cafes in the studenty Schanzenviertel area or fine-dining options in the waterside Fischmarkt. Alternatively, visitors can head to the Portuguese Quarter for a memorable Mediterranean-style grill.
Hamburg is a music mecca, too – you can see where it all started for the Beatles, then attend a classical concert at the Elbphilharmonie, the city’s futuristic concert hall.
If you prefer peace and quiet, Hamburg can offer leafy parks, quiet canals and the beautiful Alster Lake, and you can even enjoy a sundowner in a beach bar at the river’s edge.
Hamburg’s famous Museum Mile comprises five major galleries. At the north end, close to the Hauptbahnhof Nord, is the venerable Kunsthalle, an imposing red brick building that houses one of Europe’s largest art collections. At the southern end is
the Deichtorhallen, two 19th-century market halls transformed into an impressive minimalist art space featuring avant-garde installations and photography.
St Michael’s Church
The Baroque Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis, known as ‘Michel’ by locals, is Hamburg’s most famous church. At least 2,500 people can fit inside its massive nave, and its 132-metre copper-covered spire has long been a welcoming landmark for seafarers.
A rigorous climb up to the bell tower is rewarded with spectacular views across the city and harbour.
Sailing ships and beach bars
You can taste the romance of life on the high seas aboard museum ships including the Cap San Diego and the magnificent three-masted Rickmer Rickmers, which is permanently moored at the Landungsbrücke. A bracing ride on the river bus will take you to Oevelgönne Museum Harbour, where you can admire historic vessels from the age of steam.
Right next to the harbour are the colourful little houses where sailors used to live, and next to these is the Elbe beach. In summer, locals and visitors alike flock here to see and be seen at the trendy beach bars, the most famous of which is the Strandperle.
Grosse Elbstrasse in Altona is good for riverside dining but the best time to go is very early on a Sunday morning, when locals congregate at the Fischauktionshalle to see bands play until dawn. Early birds and night owls unite along the shores of the Elbe river to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere (it’s also a great place to buy souvenirs).
Snap and go
Futuristic architecture combines perfectly with historic UNESCO-listed warehouses in this newly developed district. You can easily explore on foot, but a night-time canal cruise offers an unforgettable experience.
Hamburg’s new concert hall is an architectural wonder that has redefined the city’s skyline. Resembling a hoisted sail, it’s as famous for its budget-busting construction as for its brilliant acoustics. You can visit for free and enjoy spectacular views from the public observation platform.
Grab a bite
Locals love TV chef Tim Mälzer’s Bullerei restaurant, but for a more traditional (and cheaper) treat, try the classic Fischbrötchen – pickled herring in a roll with gherkins and onions – at Brucke 10 near the fish market.
If you’re visiting on a Saturday, don’t miss the fantastic Flohschanze, Hamburg’s most popular flea market, where you’ll find a great selection of vintage clothing, furniture, books and records at very reasonable prices. The market is open from 8am to 4pm.