Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city. This city in Northern Germany has one of Europe’s largest ports as it is connected to the North Sea by the Elbe River. The city has many canals, tons of green space and is a great destination for culture seekers, as it’s well known for opera, theater and television studios. The maritime history and distance from the Alps makes Hamburg a unique German experience, very different from Munich or Berlin, which is a great reason to visit Hamburg.
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HafenCity is a new downtown development, replacing old sheds with upscale residential and office space. With prime waterfront property, HafenCity has 64 projects completed, with another 70 or so in the works, to be completed by 2020. The development will include 7,000 residential units, plus restaurants, bars and retail, as well as parks and green spaces. One of the more recognized buildings in HafenCity is Elbphilharmonie, one of the largest concert halls in the world. The building is a modern glass structure, set atop an historic warehouse, creating an interesting architectural contract, along the banks of the Elbe River. Check the website for the current calendar of performances.
Adjacent to HafenCity, Speicherstadt is a warehouse district now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located at the port, all of the buildings are constructed on timber pile foundations. The district is a popular talking point of the harbor tours offered to tourists, due to the unique history and architecture. While some buildings remain functional warehouses, many of them have been converted into museums, such as the German Customs Museum and the Hamburg Dungeon.
One of the museums located in Speicherstadt is Minitaur Wunderland, a model railway display, which is the largest of its kind in the world. Construction began in 2000, and there are nine sections completed with several more planned through 2026. It includes miniature models of Hamburg, Austria, the United States, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Italy, with several UK models planned for the future.
International Maritimes Museum
Another popular Speicherstadt museum is the International Maritimes Museum, celebrating Hamburg’s seafaring history as an important port of Europe. Housed in one of Hamburg’s oldest warehouses, the museum has an extensive collection of model ships, maritimes art, sailor uniforms and photographs. There’s even a Lego model of the QE2, made with nearly 800,000 Legos!
Ballinstadt Emigration Museum
Another very interesting historical museum in Hamburg is the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum. Located in a former emigration station in the port of Hamburg, this museum documents the millions of Europeans who passed through Hamburg on their way to the New World between 1850 and 1939. The museum also serves as a genealogical research center for those looking to peek back in the family tree using passenger lists from 1950 to 1934.
Harbour Boat Tour
As with many water-locked cities, getting out on the water is a key experience to have while visiting Hamburg. A boat tour can give you a unique perspective as you travel through the canals and rivers. There are barges, speedboats, dinner cruises, twilight cruises, just about any kind of cruise you’d like to see Hamburg from the water. You can even rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and cruise under your own power.
Planten un Blomen
One of the most popular parks in Hamburg is Planten un Blomen, a large urban park with plants, flowers, fountains and walking paths. There is a pharmacist’s garden with medicinal herbs and plants, greenhouses, a rose garden, and a Japanese garden, complete with a Japanese teahouse. In the winter, a skating rink is available or in the summer, there is miniature golf, outdoor chess and various performances. Planten un Blomen is a great place to grab a quiet moment in Hamburg, or to bring a picnic dinner to watch the lighted fountain show.
Hamburg’s art museum, or art hall, is the Kunsthalle. The collection covers seven centuries of European art, spread across three connected buildings in the Altstadt district. Four sections categorize the art as “Old Masters,” 19th century art, classical modernism and contemporary art. Inside, you’ll find works by Gaugin, Munch and Andy Warhol. Each year, approximately 20 special exhibits rotate through the Kunsthalle, meaning there will always be something new to see. The museum is open every day except Monday.
St Pauli District
St Pauli is Hamburg’s red light district, and where the most nightlife can be found. Reeperbahn is the main street running through St Pauli, which also has many restaurants for all budgets, as it’s popular with students. The St Pauli pier has seafood restaurants and you can catch a boat tour from there. St Pauli is also home of St Pauli FC, the Football Club, so this area is a great place to catch a game, either live or on the big screen. From St Pauli, you can enter the Elbe Tunnel, which is a unique option for pedestrians and cyclists to get across the Elbe, as Hamburg residents have been doing for over 100 years as this was the first river tunnel in Europe.
The Hamburg Fischmarkt is world-famous, and sells a lot more than fish. Operating since 1703, the St Pauli Fish Market now has vendors selling fish, fruit, flowers and souvenirs. Every Sunday morning, crowds descend on the market, some still out from the night before in nearby St Pauli, to enjoy coffee or fish sandwiches. Live music may help to drown out the shouting voices of all the vendors competing for sales, but be warned, this is not a mellow experience! Be ready for loud sounds and bold smells!
Another fun neighborhood in Hamburg is Sternschanze, complete with a lively nightlife scene. In the 1970’s, the neighborhood transformed from a working class area to one popular with students, and today is undergoing gentrification which brings in boutiques, cafes and tourists. Even so, the area still maintains an alternative vibe, with a whole host of eclectic bars to choose from.
Dialog in the Dark Museum
More of an exhibit than a museum, Dialog in the Dark is not unique to Hamburg, but it does make an interesting stop on your Hamburg itinerary as it is the first permanent Dialog location. The goal is to create awareness and empathy of the challenges faced by the blind. Visitors to Dialog in the Dark are led through various rooms in complete darkness, accompanied by a blind guide. The rooms replicate the sensation of walking through the park, taking a boat ride, eating in a cafe, all while heightening your other senses. The exhibit is located in the warehouse district, and reservations are recommended.
Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe
This is Hamburg’s Museum of Arts and Crafts, and is one of the most important museums of its kind in Europe. It includes artifacts from ancient times to the present, spanning many cultures including European, Asian and Islamic, with a special emphasis on Greece and Rome. The porcelain collection features East Asian tea ceramics, and a fashion and textiles exhibit. There is even a restaurant in the museum, Destille, which is very popular, especially for its selection of whisky. Like many museums, this one is also closed on Mondays.
The Tierpark Hagenbeck is a zoo dating back to 1863, when it was a private collection of a fishmonger named Carl Hagenbeck and is now a non-profit operation under the sixth generation of Hagenbeck’s. Hagenbeck was ahead of his time, envisioning a zoo without bars, with animals in open viewing enclosures, the likes of which are very common today. In 2007, the family opened the adjacent Tropen-Aquarium Hagenbeck. The website lists hours for the feeding times of each animal, if that’s something you’d like to view. The zoo and aquarium are open seven days a week, although the hours will vary by season.
Almost a suburb of Hamburg, this quaint neighborhood is a stark contrast to the bustling city, and was once a fishing village. You can take the metro to Blankenese, or a ferry from St Pauli, and then climb nearly 5000 stairs to the hilltop for incredible views. The neighborhood has a Mediterranean feel, with winding brick alleys and whitewashed homes lining the hilly streets. There is a main street, Blankeneser Bahnhofstrasse, which has shops, restaurants and cafes. For outdoor lovers, there is a lovely hiking trail along the Elbe river to Blankenese, which you can also see from a harbor tour.
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