What makes our ‘top things to do in Hamburg’ different? Our insider’s guide comes from a proud Hamburger and passionate enthusiast of this essential city!
This means a guide to some unmissable places, and local tips, you won’t see elsewhere.
We asked Gina Pahl, who visited Belfast to work with us during summer 2018, for her insider’s guide to her home city.
Top Things To Do in Hamburg – Points of Interest
Welcome to one of the coolest cities on earth!
The port city on the Elbe is often referred to as the “Gateway to the World” – and you’ll soon discover why.
Hamburg has so much to offer tourists thanks to its fascinating history, cultural attractions, a real sense maritime charm and the welcoming locals.
Hamburg is also graced with some of Germany’s grandest buildings.
Since you’ll be spoiled for choice, keep reading to discover some must-see places.
Hamburg Shopping – The Jungfernstieg
Being located on the water – the Inner Alster – what makes this a very special place. It is also a good starting point to visit the nearby department stores or the famous and traditional Alsterhaus.
If you’re looking for exclusive accessories, designer furniture and luxury fashion, you don’t want to miss Neuer Wall.
Finding Your Way
It is one of the finest shopping streets in Europe and next to the Jungfernstieg. At the end of the street from Neuer Wall you will find the Town Hall, a useful ”anchor’ to orientate around in the city.
Hamburg Concert Hall – The Elbphilharmonie
The Elbphilmarmonie, a concert hall in the HafenCity quarter of Hamburg, is a true cultural icon.
Classical music, modern music and cultural events have a spectacular home in this superb building. It is truly a building of superlatives and has, understandably, set itself the goal of becoming one of the ten best concert halls in the world.
The fact that it has the best chances to achieve this is not only due to the spectacular architecture but also to the unique, world-class acoustics.
More Than Concerts
But the Elbphilharmonie has even more to offer than concerts. The Plaza, 37 meters above the ground, offering a breathtaking 360 ° view of the city and the harbour. It is accessible to all and free too.
Another reason to visit the Elbphilharmonie is the longest escalator in Europe. It starts at the main entrance to the 6th floor. It is 82 m high and its course is slightly curved – you can not see where it ends! – quite a journey.
A visit is worthwhile, whether for the fantastic view, to learn more about the architecture, meet friends for a coffee and a snack or for a dinner with a spectacular view.
Hamburg Boat Tour – Speicherstadt
One of the reasons why people visit Hamburg is the Speicherstadt. It is another major landmark in Hamburg and one of the main attractions in the great harbour. The district is crossed by what are known as fleets-canals, meaning you can travel by boat to savour the architectural details or you take the city bus tour.
By the way, did you know that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice, Amsterdam and London together?
You can take a boat trip through the Speicherstadt and enjoy the architectural details of the water, or you can take a city bus tour, but I think it’s best if you explore them during a walk.
The Speicherstadt has an atmosphere all its own, especially at nightfall when it is enveloped in an aura of mystery.
At that time of day, the red brick buildings, bizarre gables and turrets and steel bridges are artfully illuminated by 800 spotlights. Enjoy the fairytale atmosphere of illuminated façades, reflections in the water. If you want you can go from Speicherstadt to HafenCity. It is the complete opposite.
Between Speicherstadt and HafenCity is one of my favourite restaurants: “Heldenplatz”. Casual fine dining with great food and excellent service. It’s a small selection of dishes with a French twist.
Also in the evening, the red brick buildings, unique gables and turrets plus steel bridges too are artfully illuminated by 800 spotlights. Enjoy the fairytale atmosphere of illuminated façades, reflections in the water and the spicy aromas of goods from around the world during a walk through the Speicherstadt, 365 days a year.
The century-old historic monument Speicherstadt, is the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex. it was built in 1883 and is located in the Freihafen (free-port).
Some of the warehouses have recently been turned into apartments, others are visitor attractions, while a few still fill their original purpose, storing spices, tea, coffee and electronics.
Hamburg Architecture – HafenCity
HafenCity combines tradition and modernity in a unique way. A true architectural and cultural delight, with (predominantly) new buildings that have a maritime flair.
A viewpoint in the area is worth seeking out as it stands 13 meters high and will offers a beautiful view of the HafenCity and its changes.
Hamburg’s HafenCity is the largest construction complex and inner-city development project in Europe. Besides the office and apartment buildings, you can linger in the many cafés and restaurants.
And there is one more attraction such as Miniatur Wunderland. It is the largest model railway system in the world and definitely worth a visit.
The Elbphilmarmonie is also part of the HafenCity.
Hamburg Landmarks – Michel
Not far from the harbour is one of the most beautiful churches: the St. Michaelis (simply called “The Michel” by the locals). It is the Hamburg’s most important landmark and in its nearly 400-year history, the “Michel” had to be completely rebuilt twice.
The church can fit 2,500 people, making it the largest in Hamburg.
A View of the City
The distinctive copper roof and the 132 meters tower – with Germany’s largest clock bell -are visible from afar. At 82 meters high and after 452 steps, you have a wonderful view of the Elbe and the rest of the metropolis. You should not miss it!
If you can’t face 452 steps, you can also take the lift from the first floor. A look inside the church is also worthwhile.
Surrounding the Michels is the traditional Portuguese quarter. In the 1970s inhabited by Portuguese immigrants. The many restaurants make it a real culinary highlight.
My absolute favourite: pizza at Luigi’s. Not everybody likes it, most of the time you have to wait for your table, it’s always full. But while you wait there is Prosecco for free. The wait is worth it, there is good food, dim candlelight and a pleasant ambience.
Hamburg Piers – Landungsbrücken
Next stop – Landungsbrücken. This floating pierücken is 700 meters long. From this water “station” the harbour cruises, the harbour ferries and the HADAG steamers to Finkenwerder, Oevelgönne and Blankenese start.
Even imposing luxury cruisers set here from time to time.
Did you know that you can also use the harbour ferries with your HVV ticket for suburban train and bus?
Popular Beach Club
The Old Elbe Tunnel, the museum ships Rickmer Rickmers and Cap San Diego are also located near the piers.
A variety of restaurants and souvenir shops go hand in hand with beautiful views. In recent decades, the piers have become one of the most popular promenades in Hamburg.
The Landungsbrücke offers one of Hamburg’s most popular beach clubs. It impresses with the view over the harbour and a cool breeze from the Elbe.
Only a few meters further on is the fish market.
Hamburg Markets – Fischmarkt
The fish market is a loud and bustling experience as, to attract customers, the market traders out-scream each other! You can find fish, fruits, flowers, clothing and souvenirs on the fish market, where they’ve been providing these since 1703.
For the early birds, it is the first stop on a Sunday morning, for the night owls it is the last stop after a night out on the town. After your coffee or your Fischbrötchen (typical of Hamburg) you pass the fish market and the fish auction hall, you come to Dockland.
It is just a ship-like futuristic office building which juts out freely 40 meters over the river Elbe. BUT it offers an observation deck on its roof and can be reached via a public outdoor staircase. After climbing the 140 steps, visitors are rewarded with a stunning view of Elbe and harbour.
Next, we have a look at Hamburg’s entertainment district as the bars and clubs of the Reeperbahn are only a few minutes away.
Hamburg Nightlife – Reeperbahn
I think the Reeperbahn, which Hamburgers called “Kiez”, is Hamburg’s best entertainment district.
Whether chic or just a beer or cocktail in a bar, you will find everything. Bars, clubs, student clubs, restaurants, hotels. During the day the streets are quite quiet. At night it’s a different world you’ll be blinded by the colourful lights and the lively atmosphere.
It is divided into three “parts”…
First “Große Freiheit”: Next, to the clubs and bars, you will also find the Beatles-Platz. The highlights of the square are sculptures of the famous musicians, which are represented in a stainless steel frame as silhouettes. Visitors to the square can fit into the sculptures and become the Beatle themselves.
Then there is the “Hans Albers Platz“: It is characterized by bars and small clubs. In summer it is a popular place because there is a big place in the middle, you can go out with your drink and sit down at a table. And then there is the “Hamburger Berg”. It is a street with many small pubs.
There is no big difference to the Hans Albers Platz, but somehow it is not quite as “chic”. It is hard to say which of the three places is more popular, depending on the mood you have your choice of pub, but they are all so close together that you can change your mind anytime.
But it’s also worth it if you do not want to party. There is a St. Pauli night market, it is not your average weekly market. It takes place in the heart of the Reeperbahn on Spielbudenplatz and has late opening hours. It is a popular after-work venue with live music and offers both residents and visitors an unforgettable shopping and dining experience.
Do you enjoy cocktails? Then you have to try the Clockers Bar.
It’s a nice little cocktail bar in a well-hidden place. Dimmed lights, wood everywhere, branches on the ceiling and absolutely delicious cocktails.
Really snug, exclusive but modern and homely too.
Hamburg Urban Culture –
Without a doubt, Sternschanze is the counter-cultural centre of the city.
The area is especially popular among young locals, who will gladly leave the Reeperbahn to the tourists. Here, you can browse through independent record stores and boutiques or enjoy the cosy cafés, lively pubs and bars around Schulterblatt Street.
The Schanze is also known in Hamburg especially for the strong alternative scene.
The Schanzenpark with its green areas is a popular meeting place for the young and old alike. The Schanzenturm (Schanzen tower) is the undisputed eye-catcher of the park. In the summer there is an open air cinema, it is very nice. You can bring your own blanket or chairs, snacks and drinks and enjoy a movie.
For a drink, I recommend the Katze. It is always crowded, but the atmosphere is really nice.. and cool!
Do you feel like a beer or something to eat? Then try the brewery and restaurant “Altes Mädchen” (Old Girl). They’ll welcome you with food and drinks, great selection of both.
If you are looking for a relaxed atmosphere, good organic bread and craft beer from around the world, you should check this out!
For the best burger in town, be sure to go to Dulf’s Burger. It is located in the Karolinenviertel, not far from the Sternschanze. So tasty, it really does give its name justice.
Hamburg Attractions – Planten un Blomen
If you want to take a break during your stay in the Hanseatic city you can’t miss the Planten un Blomen park in central Hamburg.
Planten un Blomen is popular among Hamburgers and visitors to go for a walk, relax, and be fascinated by nature’s beauty. It offers the largest Japanese garden in Europe, with its clipped hedges and the tea pavilion as well as the romantic rose garden with over 300 different varieties.
A Treat for Plant-Lovers
Meanwhile, a botanical garden with a tropical greenhouse with the tropical greenhouses is an attraction for plant-lovers. The gorgeous green area extends from St. Pauli to the Alster.
Or you explore the park in the evening and end the day with a romantic water light-show with music by the park’s lake. It is a half-hour light show with coloured fountains every night from May to September. A cosy blanket and maybe a bottle of wine are all you need.
Hamburg Planetarium – Stadtpark
Another great park is the Stadtpark. It is not as central as Planten un Bloom, but also worth a visit.
In the summer there are often concerts in the city park. You meet many Hamburgers who have no tickets but sit in front of the forest stage with snacks and drinks on the grass and listen to the band while playing.
You will also find the Planetarium Hamburg there. It is one of the landmarks of Hamburg. Located in a historic water tower in the Stadtpark, Planetarium Hamburg offers a wide range of presentations for children, families and adults.
From the observation deck at a height of 60 meters, which is accessible by an express lift, the building also offers another great panoramic view.
Hamburg’s Gem – A Majestic City hall
Hamburg’s City Hall has such a striking presence in the heart of the city you’ll quickly see why it should be on the top of your to-do list.
It is Hamburg’s seat of government as a magnificent sandstone building houses the city’s senate, parliament and the First Mayor.
The architecture on the 133-metre-wide and 70 deep facade is Neo-Renaissance, and the tower in the centre soars to 112 metres. You won’t believe that it stands on 4,000 wooden poles that had been drilled into the muddy shores of the Alster Lake.
The interior has more of a Historicist design and one of its talking points is the amazing number of rooms inside: 647 at the last count, even more than Buckingham Palace!
From the Townhall, it is not far to the Speicherstadt.
An Eventful History
After several relocations, fires and turmoil, the current City Hall is the sixth version in Hamburg’s history. Construction started in 1886 with 4000 wooden poles that had to be drilled into the muddy shores of the Alster Lake. It was opened in 1897.
A courtyard connects the new building with the Chamber of Commerce and the Hamburg Stock Exchange. It resembles an Italian piazza and is adorned with the “Hygieia Fountain” named after the Greek goddess of health, built in memory of the 1892 cholera epidemic.
As the City Hall is open to the public, you may visit the short-term exhibitions inside and go through to the courtyard, all free to view. Or you can pay a small fee and take an hour-long tour through the town hall and some special rooms. For example, one room is completely papered in leather.
Top Things To Do in Hamburg – A World of Choice
From port views to nightlife, from alternative culture to family activities you’ll find a great range of things to savour in Hamburg.
Viel Spaß! (Enjoy!)