In general people are pleasantly surprised after visiting Hamburg. It’s not the first town that comes to mind when thinking about going to Germany, so I felt like Hamburg might be an underrated city, Germany’s best kept secret. So I decided to spend a weekend in Hamburg and I’m not gonna lie, I really liked it too! I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is the most beautiful city in the world, but Hamburg has its charm. Unsurprisingly, more and more people visit Hamburg every year. What to do in Hamburg? How is it over there? How to spend a weekend in Hamburg? Follow the guide!
Description of Hamburg
Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany after Berlin and before Munich. Located in the north of the country, Hamburg is Europe’s third largest port! We don’t think about it but the port activity is very important! Another distinctive feature: it’s the city with the highest number of bridges in the world, there are 2,496 of them! More than Amsterdam and Venice! With its canals and numerous gardens, Hamburg is seen as the big lung of Germany.
In Hamburg only, people say “moin” to say hi, and not Guten tag like anywhere else in the country. It’s fun to observe. You’ll notice it’s a dynamic city and there’s a big Turkish community. Many people under 30 live here (60% of housing are occupied by one person only). Knowing we’re in the second largest city of Germany, it’s no wonder Hamburg has on average the largest living area per capita in the world.
Not everything is perfect in Hamburg. Schmuddelwetter is the name to define the typical weather in Hamburg. It means… rotten weather! People often say “Berlin is poor but sexy, Hamburg is rich but tries to be sexy“. Indeed, the city might seem a bit sad with the weather, often dreary… Anyway, let’s see all the things to do in Hamburg!
Things to do in Hamburg
Hamburg and its city center
First off have a walk in the city center of Hamburg. You’ll find Mönckebergstrasse and Spitalerstrasse, two streets with numerous stores, perfect if you wanna go shopping: clothes, high tech, deccoration… There’s everything! There are also luxury stores a bit further in Alsterpassage.
The Hamburg canals
Head to Speicherstadt to see the Hamburg canals. Speicherstadt means city of warehouses. It’s the largest warehouse complex in the world. It’s the district of former sailors, this is where the boats were unloading their goods. The atmosphere there is a bit special, it’s a bit mysterious, especially after the sun sets. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the Hamburg Dungeon but also the Spice Museum. Click here to go on Speicherstadt walking tour. Click here to go on a city center and Speicherstadt bike tour.
The Hamburg port
Hamburg is Europe’s third largest port after Rotterdam and Antwerp, you have to see it. It’s the emblematic place of the city! By the way people call it the port of the world because of its important port activity. To get just in front of the docks, take the subway and get off at Landungsbrücke. To visit the port, it’s better to take a boat. Click here to go on a cruise allowing you to discover the Hamburg port.
It’s a mix between a monument, a concert venue, a hotel and a luxury residence! The building, with its particular architecture, has a 2,000 seats concert venue, another 500 seats concert venue and a 5-star hotel with more than 200 beds. The lower side of the building is made of red bricks and the upper side is made of glass. On top of the building, you have a view of Hamburg and its port. Click here to go on a guided tour with a small group.
The Hamburg city hall
You have to see the city hall (Rathaus). It was built in the early 16th century and is located close to the Alster lake. The city hall houses the meeting rooms for the Parliament and the Senate of the federate state of Hamburg. The city hall also houses the Hamburg Stock Exchange, the oldest financial service in Germany.
The place to be if you’re looking for debauchery! Head there nighttime! You’ll find bars, clubs, strip joints, brothels… Once they arrived in Hamburg, this is where the sailors came to drink and have fun. There’s a police station there, this is the one recording the most complaints in the whole country! Sex, drugs, alcohol… Everything is there!
Reeperbahn (which means red light district) is the most famous city in the area with all its bars, sex shops, casinos, cabarets, prostitutes… Did you know that before they blew up, the Beatles made a name for themselves in Hamburg? They performed 99 nights in a row in Moondoo, a famous club still open to this day, located in Reeperbahn! By the way, be careful of the scams there (the flirtatious woman who’s gonna cost a lot of money!). Click here to go on a Sankt Pauli walking tour.
For your information, there’s a beach in Hamburg! Elbstrand is a real white sandy beach where you can relax. I’m not gonna lie, this is not the most beautiful beach in the world (we have a view of the cranes not far). Still, there’s a relaxed vibe and the area is quiet. The weather wasn’t great when I was there but apparently it’s crowded when it’s sunny and people get a tan.
Walking along the Alster
Take some time to walk along the Alster. It’s a huge lake, about 56km (35 miles) which was created artificially. Take some time to watch the tourist river boats passing by, and admire the fountain in the center of the lake.
St. Nicholas church
Go see the St. Nicholas Church! Its tower was partially destroyed during World War II, but it’s possible to get on top of the church. It’s 5 euros! You’ll be able to admire Hamburg, its historic center and the port area!
Ballinstadt (the emigration museum)
I’m not really into museums but I loved visiting Ballinstadt, the emigraton museum! We learn about the history of thousands of people who fled Europe to go to the US! There’s the list of all the 5 million people who left Germany from there. This visit reminded me a lot of my visit to Ellis Island in New York City. In fact, the two visits complement each other: here is the emigration museum, in NYC it’s the immigration museum. It’s 13 euros to get in. I wrote an article about my visit to Ballinstadt museum.
St. Michael’s church (Der Michel)
The St. Michael’s church (Der Michel) is the largest Protestant baroque church in North Germany. You can get on top of the church’s tower (with the stairs or the elevator). Once you’re on top, once again you’ll be able to admire Hamburg and its canals. Inside the church there’s an exhibition about the history of the church.
The botanical garden
You have to see this garden! A real haven of peace in Hamburg! There’s a japanese garden, water jets, a rose nursery. There’s also a lake inside the garden. Summertime, there are water games daytime, and concerts in the evening. The ideal garden to relax!
A long time ago, this area was known for its drug trafficking, a dodgy neighborhood. Today there are numerous fashion artists, painters… It’s also the gay district of the city. I saw a huge community coming from Western Africa (many of them were speaking French). There are hairdressing salons for black people, etc.
Other things to do in Hamburg
There are numerous other things to do in Hamburg. I didn’t go but the Kunsthalle is a popular art museum! It exhibits the masterpieces of painter and artist Casper David Friedrich. Have a walk in Ottensen, the little Paris of Hamburg. It’s a trendy area now, but it used to be where punks and drug dealers were hanging out. You can also go to Eppendorfer Baum to admire the beautiful buildings there.
There’s also the fish market on Sundays you can go to. In the evening, head to Sternschanze, an area with many bars terraces, concert venues… Fabrik is an institution in Hamburg. It’s a cultural center dating back to 1971, with concerts, parties, debats, exhibitions, a farmer’s market… It was closed when I was in Hamburg. Finally, you have to eat a hamburger in Hamburg. Yep, hamburgers are from Hamburg!
If you’re spending some time in Germany, check out my Germany travel tips article!
Activities in Hamburg
Here are a few activity ideas to enjoy your weekend in Hamburg:
- enjoy a guided tour of the main tourist attractions in Hamburg. Click here to buy a skip the line ticket.
- go on a private walking tour of the city of Hamburg with a local guide. Click here to find out more.
The Hamburg Card
The Hamburg Card is so handy, get it! It allows you to enjoy unlimited travel with public transportation and the ferries too, and you get discounts on numerous tourist attractions of the city. Click here to buy it. If you’re into art, take the Kunstmeile Hamburg Pass. It gives acces to 5 art galleries, including the Kunsthalle (I talked about it earlier). Click here to buy it.
How to get to Hamburg
It’s easier to get there by plane. If you’re already in Europe, there are flights daily from many countries going to Hamburg. Click here to check the latest flight prices. You can also head to Hamburg by train if you’re already in Germany. Finally there’s the bus. It takes longer but it’s cheaper. Click here to check the prices.
How to get around in Hamburg
You’ll notice many locals get around by bike. I didn’t do it so I don’t know the prices. But as I said earlier, get the Hamburg Card! Public transportation is included.
Best time to visit Hamburg
I went there during winter and I immediately realized I didn’t enjoy the full potential of the city. It was cold and many terraces were closed. It’s better to get there when the weather is nice, between April and September.
Where to stay in Hamburg
For a detailed list, check out this post listing the best hotels in Hamburg. If you’re traveling on a budget, the Arena Hostel Hamburg is a great hostel! Click here to check the photos, reviews and availability. If you prefer mid-range hotels, you’ll like the Chez-Ronny. Well located, quiet, friendly staff, large rooms… Click here to check the photos, reviews and availability. If you’re into luxury hotels, I suggest you the Fairmont Hotel. Great breakfast, the staff really takes car of you, well located, clean… Click here to check the photos, reviews and availability. Finally, click here to check the hotels available in Hamburg.
Hamburg travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resourcesTravel resources page! This list of travel accessories can also help you out!
- Don’t travel without travel insurance! Here’s why get travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to Germany? Get a free quote here!
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it! Here’s why use a VPN when traveling!
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