If you’re seeking an authentic German experience, Hamburg is just the place for you. This city has always been one of the largest and most important in Germany due to the massive port that connects Germany to the rest of the world economically. In fact, this city is often referred to as “the gateway to the world”.
Backpackers may wonder if Hamburg is expensive to visit, especially with all of the luxury hotels and fine restaurants scattered around the city. However, Hamburg has just as much grunge as it may have flair, and budget travel in the city is much easier than you might expect. There are lots of different travel tips you can use to save money, like the Hamburg Card, which allows you to explore Hamburg on a budget using the city’s extensive public transportation network and receive discounts to the most popular tourist attractions.
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The best time to visit Hamburg
The weather is Hamburg fluctuates greatly over the course of the year. The main tourist season begins in May and ends in September. The weather is warm during these months and the city comes alive with different festivals and outdoor events. It’s also a wonderful time to enjoy a boat ride on the Elbe River.
Spring and Fall in Hamburg are also quite pleasant, and the city sees much less tourism during these seasons. This is good news for budget travelers who want to save money on things like museum entrance fees. January and February are the coldest months in Hamburg, so be sure to pack a few extra layers if you want to visit during these months!
What to expect in Hamburg
If you speak German, you won’t have any trouble in Hamburg. There is a strong accent that is distinct from other parts of Germany, but fluent speakers will be able to adjust in no time! Fortunate for us non-german speakers, the population of Hamburg is very well educated. Most people speak at least a bit of English, while hospitality and tourism industry workers will speak fluently. While many Germans have a negative view of Hamburg residents, they are typically willing to help you navigate the city or recommend places to eat or drink. Don’t hesitate to make conversation with the locals here!
The most efficient way to get money in Germany is to use local ATMs. I always recommend contacting your bank beforehand to become familiar with the types of fees that come with international withdrawals or transactions. The official currency of Germany is the Euro, which is used in 19 different European countries. Although Germany is one of the most modern countries in Europe, Germans typically prefer to pay with cash instead of a card. You will be able to use credit and debit cards at many places, but always be prepared to pay with cash just in case!
There is a wide range of opinions in regards to tipping in Germany, but most locals leave a ten percent tip for good service. Be sure to check whether or not the tip is already included at the bottom of your bill too! This service charge is called “Bedienung” in German.
Food in Hamburg
Food in Hamburg is much different than the rest of Germany. While you can find traditional foods like schnitzel and sauerkraut in the city, they are actually traditions of southern Germany. Due to its location near the ocean, many of the traditional, cheap food options in Hamburg include fish. Hamburg has quite an international culinary background because of all the merchants and sailors constantly passing through town.
Aalsuppe is one of the most historic foods that is still popular in the city. It translates to “Eel soup”, but in the past, it was a stew made from all of the leftovers in the house. If you try it today though, there will be some eel in the soup for you to enjoy. For snacking, Hamburg residents love Fischbrötchen, a sandwich made with pickled herring, pickles, onion, and a special sauce. Be sure and snag some of these sandwiches before going for a long walk in Stadtpark or Planten un Blomen. Currywurst and Knackwurst are two types of sausages that are also great food options when wandering around the city.
Fischbrötchen is not to be confused with franzbrötchen, another popular food in Hamburg. Franzbrötchen is a sweet cinnamon roll that is baked with butter and served for breakfast or with coffee. These rolls will definitely hit your sweet tooth, but the best dessert in Hamburg is Rote Grütze. Rote Grütze is a mixture of different berries served with custard and is served both hot and cold. Cheap food in Hamburg is easy to find, and you also won’t have much trouble finding a cheap beer in Hamburg either. Massive beer halls like Groninger Privatbrauerei or Blockbräu serve traditional German food and large steins of beer. You can’t spend time in Germany without trying to finish a beer bigger than your head!
How to get around Hamburg on a Budget
Fortunate for travelers, the Hamburg Card makes navigating public transportation cheap and simple. With the Hamburg Card you get unlimited rides on the city’s buses, light-rail trains, and harbour ferries. For long days of sightseeing, there is really no better option than to buy the card. Public transportation is very extensive in the city and quite easy to navigate. The S-bahn and U-bahn are the quickest ways to get to the city center or out to surrounding parts of the city. For more adventurous travelers, the city’s local bike rental system is another way to see the city on a budget.
Budget things to do in Hamburg
Enjoy the Water
If you’re traveling to Hamburg on a budget, one of the easiest things for you to do in spend time near the water. Hamburg is a port city, even though it remains about 100 km away from the ocean. There are many different ports to enjoy in the city, from the famous Hafencity to the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken Harborfront. The ports of Hamburg are something to marvel at, but you can also enjoy walking around the areas where they are located. It’s hard not to feel the city’s rich maritime history.
Do a Free City Tour
Free walking tours are becoming a staple of tourism in most major European cities, and Hamburg is no exception. There are tours available for the historic center, the St. Pauli harbor and its surroundings, and other tours that focus on specific elements of Hamburg culture. Doing a tour will give you a more contextual understanding of the city and add depth to your trip. Then, when you are wandering around on your own time, you’ll feel more like a local instead of a tourist.
Visit Local Markets
Hamburg has more weekly markets than any other European city. This is great news to those traveling to Hamburg on a budget who want to cook as much as possible. Fischmarkt is the most renowned Hamburg market, with its rich character and collection of different vendors. Isemarkt is the largest open-air market in the city, and you will find many artisan products being sold, from cheeses to textiles. No matter what you’re looking for, you will be able to find it at one of Hamburg’s markets.
Get Lost in Art Museums
Hamburg is arguably the best city to visit in Germany for art lovers. The best part is, you don’t have to pay for entry at each museum if you plan your trip right. The Kunstmeile Card allows you to enter 5 of the biggest museums in the city, all of which are located on Hamburg’s famous art block– Kunstmeile. If you purchase a Hamburg card, you will receive a discount on your art pass too.
Explore Hamburg’s Green Spaces
Wandering around the public parks in Hamburg is completely free and a great way to spend an afternoon. Planten un Blomen and Stadtpark are two of the most popular places where people come to escape the chaos of the city. Planten un Blomen features a botanical garden and an ice rink, both of which can keep you occupied depending on the time of year you visit the city.
Take a Boat Trip on the Harbor
There is simply so much water to be explored in Hamburg. Boat trips go deep into the city’s Alster Lake and also go through the city on the Elbe river. You can also explore the famous Speicherstadt canals when the river is at high tide. One of the best travel tips is to take local public transportation ferries to see some of the same sights on a tour for cheap!
Places to visit in Hamburg on a Budget
Reeperbahn is the famous red light district of Hamburg. Nicknamed “the most sinful mile”, you can find just about anything on this street, from strip clubs to restaurants. Even if partying isn’t your thing, walking down the Reeperbahn at night is entertainment in itself.
St. Pauli Landungsbrücken Harborfront
Located near Reeperbahn is another famous place for tourists to visit in Hamburg, the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken Harborfront. This boardwalk was once a landing place for different ships arriving in Hamburg, but today it is home to a great strip of restaurants, bars, and shops. Hamburg’s notoriety as a port city is due to this incredible harborfront. Two different museum ships, Rickmer Rickmers and Cap San Diego, are also located very near to St. Pauli. You could spend an entire day in this neighborhood and not get bored.
Speicherstadt is also known as the “warehouse district” in Hamburg. It is famous for the canals that weave through massive brick warehouses. There are also bars, restaurants, clubs, cafés, and boutique shops all over the place, making this an excellent place to wander around. You can’t leave Hamburg without stopping by this unique neighborhood.
The City Hall of Hamburg, or Rathaus as locals call it, is the most important government building in the city. It was built in 1897 and is a great place to learn about the history of Hamburg. It remains a functional government building but is open to the public. In front of the building is the central square of the city, which often hosts fairs, concerts, and markets. This plaza is a great place to visit in the city center.
St. Nikolai Memorial
St. Nikolai church was destroyed during the air raids of World War Two, but the structure still remains as a memorial to the impact that the war had on the city. There is a museum in the crypt of the church that gives a great history lesson on how the city transformed because of the war.
Where to stay in Hamburg on a Budget
Backpacking in Hamburg doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of hostels in different neighborhoods of the city where budget travelers will be able to save money. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Hamburg.
There are three neighborhood that I recommend staying in. The first is Schanzenviertel, which was once the bohemian center of the city, but is now the cultural center. There are cafes, record stores, boutiques, and great bars. This neighborhood is great for travelers who want to get immersed in Hamburg and not just feel like a tourist.
St. Pauli is the neighborhood to stay at if you’re looking to party. This neighborhood is a bit sleepy during the day but comes alive at night. You’ll find great music and even better parties any night of the week here. Altstadt is the place to stay for history buffs and those looking to be centrally located. This is the old town of the city, where each corner seems to tell a story. If you stay here, you’ll be near to the most popular museums and sights of the old city. You may pay a bit more for a place to stay here, but you’ll save money on transportation.
Cheap tours to do in Hamburg on a budget
The best way to learn about the Reeperbahn is to take a tour at night. Turn your tour into a drinking adventure with this pub crawl tour. You’ll be able to enjoy some drinks and learn about the character of some of the city’s famous establishments.
This tour is the most comprehensive way to see the city. You can hop on and hop off anywhere you like to not just see, but experience different parts of the city.
The Elbphilharmonie boasts one the best acoustics of almost any concert hall in the world. Taking a tour here allows you to learn about the architecture and the controversial history of the building. Pair your tour with a concert for the best experience possible.
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Hamburg
- Hamburg Like a Local: Customized Private Tour
- Tinas St Pauli Comedy Tour Hamburg
- Sightseeing Hamburg Citytours
- Guided Hamburg City Bike Tour
- St. Pauli Neighborhood And Red Light District Walking Tour in Hamburg
- Hamburg St Pauli Walking Tour
- Discover Hamburg
- Hamburg Small-Group Sunset Sailing Cruise on Lake Alster
- Guided Walking Tour through the Elbphilharmonie
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