In case you haven't heard yet - even though that's pretty much impossible - Hamburg is my favourite city in Germany and one of my favourites in the whole of Europe! The city just got everything: a beautiful lake right in the city centre, the wonderful harbour at the river Elbe, lots of interesting museums and of course, lots of good food!
Last year, I visited Hamburg 4 times and I still want to come back way more often. I mean, I pretty much have seen everything there is to see but this city stole my heart. But enough of my claptrap! I have a hotel and restaurant recommendation coming up in the next two weeks but before, I thought it would be nice to provide you with a guide to the city! So here it is - everything you need to know before visiting Hamburg!
- Hamburg is not only Germany’s second largest city – it’s also a German state
- Its Old Town Speicherstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- People there greet each other by saying “Moin” the lower German word for “Hello”
- The city hosts the second largest port in Europe but is situated about 100 km away from the ocean!
- Hamburg is the birthplace of Hamburgers, of course!
- Hamburg has its own airport in Fuhlsbüttel which was already established in 1912 and is therefore the oldest airport in the country. From there, you can get to 125 destinations in Europe, Asia and the US – for example New Jersey and Dubai
- The airport is only about 30 mins away from the city centre by train
- Hamburg can of course also be reached by ship and the city welcomes some of the biggest cruise ships of the world every summer – for example the Queen Mary II
- If you’re on a budget though and Queen Mary II seems a bit too expensive, Hamburg can also be reached by bus and train from all the major cities in Western and Northern Europe
What to See and Do
- There’s two museums in Hamburg that you really need to visit: Miniatur Wunderland and Ballinstadt. The Miniature Wonderland is a huge exhibition depicting half of Europe in miniature form and it’s a paradise for model train enthusiasts and those who want to become one in the future. There are whole towns, countries and even an airport in miniature form with tiny planes starting and landing. Believe me, you’ll end up staring at the tiny trains, houses and people for hours!
Ballinstadt exhibits how people made the move to America in the 19th and 20th century, why they left and what problems they had to deal with along the way. You can follow a few historical people on their journey and once you’ve seen it all, you even get the chance to research your own family’s history. Maybe you’ll find a great uncle of yours who emigrated from Europe to the US whom you didn’t know about!
- Since Hamburg is a harbour city, what better way is there to explore it than by boat? You can do a boat sightseeing tour to see the Old Town of Hamburg and UNESCO World Heritage site Speicherstadt. You can also visit the Speicherstadtmuseum where you can learn all about the history of Hamburg’s Old Town and why it was so important for the city’s development. And next door, you’ll even find the museum of spices – ever heard of anything similar?
- If all the sightseeing makes you hungry, there are two things you should definitely try. And no, I’m not talking about Hamburgers here. First of all, you really should try a Fischbrötchen. They’re typical for Hamburg and basically just a piece of fish in a roll. Absolutely delicious though and you can’t visit Hamburg without trying one of these!
Next on the to-do list for foodies is ice-cream at Jungfernstieg. This is a beautiful place at the Alster, an affluent river of Hamburg’s Elbe, and a perfect spot to eat ice-cream and enjoy some sunshine while looking out on the water.
- Speaking of water, you should also visit Cap San Diego – a former cargo ship which now serves as a museum. It is situated at Landungsbrücken, THE place for you to take a stroll along the Elbe, and also hosts an exhibition on Hamburg’s role during the immigration wave to America in the 19th and 20th century.
- Hamburg probably is most known for its red light district in St. Pauli. I leave it up to you to decide whether or not that’s something to put on your to-see list but if you happen to be in the city on the weekend, you should definitely head to St. Pauli’s fish market between 5 and 7am on a Sunday (yes I know, what an unholy time). The fish market is probably the biggest and most famous one in the whole of Europe (well, Germany at least) and definitely worth a visit!
- Hamburg also is known for its musicals! If you’re able to understand some German, you should definitely look into visiting the theatre to for example see The Lion King.
- If you fancy a look at Hamburg from above, Michel is the best place for that! The Saint Michel church tower can be reached by elevator and offers you a 360-degree-view over the whole of Hamburg!
- Travelling with children? Visit the animal park Hagenbeck and feed elephants, watch lions and spot polar bears.
- Two seasonal recommendations: If you’re visiting Hamburg between December and early January, definitely visit the winter market at Jungfernstieg for some Christmas spirit and delicious food! If you’re visiting Hamburg in summertime however, visit the Beach Club at Landungsbrücken for some cocktails or German beer! It’s the perfect place after a long day of sightseeing!
Hamburg as the second largest city of Germany isn’t exactly the cheapest destination but there are a few tips to afford a visit even if you’re on a budget.
- First of all, try finding a hotel or Airbnb apartment a bit outside of the city centre. Prices are lower and the chances to meet some nice Germans to host you (or a charming little hotel where the owner still welcomes you in person) are much higher! Plus, there’s busses and the metro so that you can get into the city centre within 30 minutes tops.
- Hamburg’s city centre is small enough to be able to explore it on foot so that you don’t have to take public transport all the time and might save some money by getting single tickets when you really need them instead of paying for a week or weekend ticket which is more expensive.
- And last but not least, who needs 5 star restaurants when you can get amazing street food almost everywhere? Fischbrötchen aren’t expensive but absolutely delicious and German bakeries sell sandwiches and pastry for cheap!
I really hope I could convince you of visiting the city and give you some ideas on what to see and do. If you want to read more about Hamburg, subscribe to my newsletter to get access to One Day in Hamburg - a city guide I wrote in collaboration with Lauren on Location.
Have you already visited Hamburg? What did you enjoy most?
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