Hamburg has always been on my bucket list but somehow I never managed to pay a visit to the city nicknamed the Pearl of the North. My time living in Germany is running out in two weeks so I finally seized the opportunity of fleeing Berlin for a weekend to visit an old friend in Germany’s second largest city. Coming from the big rival city – some people tend to force a decision between Berlin and Hamburg – I was a little nervous whether I’d like it there or not, but soon realised that I did not have to decide, but simply fall in love with Hamburg just as much as I did with Berlin.
I enjoyed it so much, that I collected a list of 30 things to do in the pretty harbour city:
1. Pay a visit to the port. Either get aboard a tourist boat offering one-hour-tours (15-20€) or be money-efficient and do as the locals do by taking the ferry line 62 from Landungsbrücken (St. Pauli Landing Bridges), which is part of the public transport system (1,90€). It takes you to the fish market, past the modern seaside architecture, the Elb-beach, across the port and back.
2. A stroll up and down Landungsbrücken is a great way to watch the ships come and go, treat yourself to some ice-cream and mingle with the other travellers.
3. Relax at Strand Pauli, a cool beach bar situated between Landungsbrücken and fish market filled with knick-knack like rusty cars, colorful lanterns and loungy chairs – perfect for a sundowner.
4. Rent a bike and follow the Hafenerlebnisroute – a trail leading through the labyrinth of freighters and containers.
5. Go underground through the Old Elbe Tunnel. It opened up in 1911 as a pedestrian and vehicle tunnel. Today it is still open for pedestrians and cyclists and is a great way to cool down on hot summer days! On the other side you can relax on a bench in the sun away from all the city noise, yet only a few minutes away.
6. Register for StadtRAD. Hamburg’s publicly accessible bikes are stationed all over the city, registration fee is only 5€ and the first 30 minutes ride are free!
7. Visit the Gaengeviertel. This is urban development in progress: in 2009 the initiative Komm in die Gänge (get into gear) started to restore the historic Gaenge district(U2 Gänsemarkt) which was left to decay for decades. Today it is a lively neighborhood of artists, craftspeople and creative folk hosting exhibitions, dance classes, guided tours through the area and much more!
8. Explore the city centre: the main shopping street Mönckebergstraße, the historic city hall area, Jungfernstieg right by the water and the town canals at Stadthausbrücke – a great place to enjoy a coffee and lunch at Erste Liebe Bar (Michaelisbrücke 1, S1 Stadthausbrücke).
9. Climb the stairs of St. Michael’s Church (nicknamed “Michel”) – don’t worry, an elevator does most of it. The top opens up a new perspective and gives you an overview over the city and the port.
10. Hop on a boat tour from Jungfernstieg, the starting point of Alster tourism. Here you can book any kind of tour around the second largest river in Hamburg. It runs into artificial lakes in the city centre – great spots for sailing, boat tours and a nice walk. The loop is about 9km long, so plan a whole day!
11. Chill at the park. Hamburg’s city centre is framed by a green corridor: Elbpark, Planten un Blomen, the parks around Alster and Stadtpark (city park) in the north. People like to come here to hang out, have a BBQ or work on their tan!
12. Explore the waterways individually and rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Rental places are everywhere but our favourite pick is SUP Club Hamburg, one of the only two places in Hamburg to get a Stand-up paddleboard (Goldfisch Rental, Isekai 1, U3 Eppendorfer Baum).
Their mission is to combine sightseeing with a workout. From Isekai you can paddle the network of channels or down to lake-like Außenalster.
13. HafenCity is a development project which, unlike the urbanization of rural areas, is supposed to revitalize a central part of Hamburg’s city centre. In 2003 the first office building opened and since much more has happened. The development of HafenCity will offer space to live, work and thrive and is designed for people from different professions, families, students, artists and others. The goal is to enlarge the city center from Jungfernsteig all the way down to the river shore. The project offers free guided tours through the area explaining the masterplan HafenCity.
And definitely check out the Elbphilharmonie concert house, which was only opened earlier this year!
14. Interested in photography? House of Photography at Deichtorhallen showcases local and international artists in temporary exhibitions.
15. Architecture! HafenCity and Speicherstadt are the perfect miniature example of Hamurg’s typical skyline: a mix of old and new buildings. The blueish glass tower rises high right next to the historic red-brick building, and hey there’s an apartment complex that looks like a modern art museum. The blend of styles and materials is carried out throughout the city and along the Elbe. When on ferry 62 you’ll see lots of it!
16. Listen to good tunes on the street. Hamburg is a city of music and it is not hard to find, as plenty street musicians line up on the corners of the city center and hip Schanzenviertel. Or head to Mojo Club for an actual gig!
17. Feel the European soccer vibe in St. Pauli. This part of the city is the home of legendary soccer club FC St Pauli at Millerntor (U3 St. Pauli). Even if you are not a regular guest at a stadium, being part of the fan crowd during a game is an experience for itself.
19. Schanzen district is one of the most popular and hip areas of Hamburg (U3 Sternschanze). The best addresses are along Susannenstraße and Schulterblatt – a street named after the shoulderblade of a whale. Our favourite pick for brunch is Park Café (Susannenstraße 1). In the evening these streets turn into a cool place to hang out.
20. Fancy a special event location? Just around the corner, but a lot calmer than the bars at central Schulterblatt is the Mobile Blues Club made up of a tiny construction trailer and a loungy outside area (Schulterblatt 102).
21. Check out the weekly organic farmer’s market on Schulterblatt, every Thursday from 1.30 to 6.30pm.
24. Grab a bite and try some tasty Flammkuchen. The perfect address for this traditional meal (tarte flambee, a kind of French pizza) is Jimmy Elsass (Schäferstraße 26). But hurry if you want to get one of the tables outside on the street – they fill up quickly after 7pm!
25. A night out at the Reeperbahn (also referred to as Kiez), is a must for every Hamburg visit. While Reeperbahn, Große Freiheit and Hans-Albers-Square are worth a glimpse, the clubs at Hamburger Berg are a less touristy way of spending the night on the dancefloor. Our choices: Rosi’s Bar (Hamburger Berg 7), Hotel Hongkong (Hamburger Berg 14), Hörsaal (Spielbudenplatz 7) and the new opened Mojo Club (Reeperbahn 1).
26. Fancy a night out on a boat? Frau Hedi’s Tanzkaffee sets sail of the boat MS Hedi every weekend and hosts different clubs, events and concerts.
27. Clubkinder is a helpful event platform which updates you on creative clubs and special performances throughout the city.
28. Raise your glass like a local and fill it with Astra beer. This beer brand is the official partner of FC St. Pauli and has by now reached a status far beyond an ordinary beverage. Simply cool!
29. The Altona fish market is probably the most iconic landmark in Hamburg. Open every Sunday from 5 to 9.30am its crowd is a colorful blend of still drunk party people, curious tourists and clever bargain hunters. The outdoor booths offer everything from fresh fish over baskets filled with fruit and vegetables to yummy sweets in huge bags. Inside the market hall bands perform hit songs to sing and dance along, and suddenly drinking beer at 8am seems normal!
One thing you have to do at the fish market, even though it’s very early, is to eat a Fischbrötchen (a bun with fish and some salad). My choice: eel.
30. Spending a day relaxing at Elb-beach (reached by ferry 62, stop Neumühlen) is a great way to end a trip to Hamburg and recap what you’ve seen . Grab some beer, a picnic blanket and a single-use BBQ grill and dig those feet into the sand. If you’re lucky one of the big cruise ships like Queen Mary 2 arrives or leaves Hamburg in the evening – an impressive spectacle!
I really do love my hometown Berlin, but it’s nice to get once in a while and Hamburg just might be the perfect next best city trip in Germany. Have you been to Hamburg? What is missing from this to-do list?