Germany’s second largest city Hamburg is like Berlin’s older sister; understatedly cool, modest and confidently sure of herself, but there’s that shared underlying streak of edginess and rebellion that Berlin brazenly flaunts.
When I was trying to find a word that describes my trip, ‘unexpected’ seems to best capture my experience. Hamburg was totally unexpected. If you’ve never been to Hamburg, you’d have thought the city lived in Berlin’s shadow. You don’t hear too much about Hamburg, but does that translate into ‘boring’? I mean, isn’t Hamburg dull? Everyone’s heard of Hamburg but isn’t it just ‘that northern port town just before Denmark…’?
I love Berlin. So much so that I went back twice in two years, so Hamburg, you sure had it tough if you wanted to steal my attention.
I was sceptical; what would I possibly find in Hamburg that I couldn’t get in the uber cool German capital? But y’know what? After spending three flipping glorious days exploring the city and finding there was more to do than I could physically find the time for, Hamburg turned out to be such a unexpectedly epic city break and I don’t think couldn’t have spent my August bank holiday weekend anywhere better!
So, What Can I Do In Hamburg?
Soak Up The Views Around The Alster
Stepping off the U-bahn, fresh off our flight from Manchester we sought to find our feet with a walk towards the Alster. This is a massive body of water at the heart of Hamburg which had some sort of gravitational effect. In direct contrast to the continual buzz of activity found by the port, the Alster was this oasis of calm in the middle of the city with couples rowing boats, kids throwing food to the ducks and friends paddle boarding across the lake.
Cost: Completely free to take a wander around!
Take A Harbour Boat Trip
You might have figured, the one common theme in Hamburg is water; whether it be the canals, the docks or the vast Alster holding the city together. A Boat Tour around the docks is a must-do whilst in Hamburg in order to fully appreciate the city’s history, its maritime heritage and the sheer size of one Europe’s largest container ports (sitting just behind Rotterdam and Antwerp). Despite the live commentary being in German, we still learned a tonne of genuinely fascinating facts about the different sections of the port with the couple of automated guides which were provided to us. The Boat Tour was super easy going and just what the doctor ordered after our early morning fish market party… more on that later!
Cost: 18 Euro per person for an hour on the boat. Find out more here.
Do Some ‘Speedy Sightseeing’ With A Bus Tour
Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city, spread across different neighbourhoods. Whilst the centre of the town is pretty walkable and you can see a fair amount by foot, we were able to coast around Hamburg’s hotspots; exploring the ‘Chelsea’ of Hamburg, one of the cities most affluent areas where only the super rich brought their London style mansions, driving across to St Pauli, Hamburg’s sleazy, erring on the side of hipster area, home to the largest Red Light District in Europe, and down through the modern HafenCity. This is seriously speedy sightseeing with all the gain and no pain; soaking up the sun on the open top bus!
Cost: 18 Euro per person for an hour and a half discovering the hotspots of Hamburg. Find out more here.
Chocoversum: Discover Chocolate Heaven
In The Middle of Hamburg
Will there be samples? Can I make my own Chocolate Bar? Will I bow out as a chocolate expert? Will I leave, never eating Cadbury’s again? Yes, yes, yes and YES. I will be bold now and claim this is the best chocolate tour I’ve ever experienced. Jaron, our tour guide was infectiously enthusiastic about everything chocolate, with the perfect mixture of cocoa bean education, interesting demonstrations, chocolate tasting at every step of the process and the chance to make your own mess… I mean masterpiece (!) by decorating your own chocolate bar in the Chocoversum kitchens. I exited the tour knowing everything I needed to know about how to select the best beans, what’s in my bars, and with a new-found love of the dark kind!
Cost: 15 Euro for a standard 90-minute tour in English (German and Danish tours also available). Child tickets and other concessions are available at discounted rates. Find out more here.
The Heart of Hamburg:
People Watch Near Rathaus and Alsterarkaden
This was our gravitation point in Hamburg and easily the most ‘typically’ beautiful area of the city. Just across from the smaller part of the Alster is the Alsterarkaden, which is all white pillars and arches; an architectural design inspired by Venice’s Piazza San Marco. This pretty walkway is lined with cafes and restaurants with alfresco dining areas, with some of the best views of the Rathaus.
Cost: Free! There’s no charge to sightsee – score!
Have a Night Out Down Reeperbahn:
Sex Capital of Europe
On the flip side to the high-end shopping streets and the millionaire’s mansions nestled by the Alster, the Reeperbahn is delightfully seedy; a strip of unpretentious bars, live music, neon lights, cocktails and pints, lively clubs, and all the attitude. Did you think Amsterdam had the largest red light district in Europe? No, that accolade goes to Hamburg. A late night on the streets of Reeperbahn is something of an experience as you saunter past the gun shop, across the road from the five-story Sex House and attempt to take a peek behind the hoardings that lead to the strictly male-only street.
Cost: Its free to walk down Reeperbahn, but I can’t comment on the price of ‘extras’!
Fancy a Fish Breakfast?
Get Up Early For The Sunday Morning Fish Market
It’s 5AM in Hamburg, who’s peckish for a fish baguette washed down with a pint? If you’re in Hamburg on Sunday morning this is a uniquely-Hamburg experience that is worth the painfully early wake-up-call (or super late night…)
If you head over to Reeperbahn and follow the crowds to the docks you can shuffle around the outdoor market and then get involved with the party going on indoors. We were greeted by a soft-rock band on stage, playing out to groups tourists, teenagers, and local Hamburgers.
Cost: Free to enter the fish market and enjoy the live music. Try a fish baguette for around 3 Euro and a small beer for the same.
Take Hamburger Summer DOM For A Spin
Three times a year the bright, bold and brash Hamburger DOM comes to town, and this is where you’ll want to be spending your Saturday nights. Sometimes fairs can be a bit lack-lustre, probably overpriced? I’ve shuffled around London Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland so I’m more than used to fairgrounds expecting their clientele to be earning six figure salaries if they want to experience something with a tad more thrills than the Tea Cups. But Hamburger DOM is actually so damn affordable, and it was HUGE. This was an example of a fun-fair done properly. I spent an entire evening bobbing between rollercoasters, themed bars and candyfloss stalls in a alcohol and sugar fuelled happy bubble.
Cost: Free! There’s no entrance fee so feel free to go and people watch. Rides are affordable, starting at a few Euro each.
Wander Around HafenCity
I wasn’t expecting to like Hafencity. I was fully preparing myself for a soulless, dull, industrial space between the Alster and the docks. But HafenCity itself was the definition of industrial-chic; towering renovated warehouse blocks skim canal-sides, and the squares were dotted with modern cafes and bars.
Cost: Free! There’s no cost to sightsee.
Eat All The German Food
(You Guys Do It Best!)
I hold my hands up; I didn’t eat a Hamburger in Hamburg. *sharp intake of breath*. I’m sorry, okay? It’s something I’ll have to come back for… But I did have some epic meals that I can shout about. Firstly, Currywurst gets an honorary mention as always. When in Germany! We also had a meal in chain-pub Hofbrau as I wanted to try the Kasespaztle which for this cheese-lover was everything I’d dreamed of and more. My only regret? Not being able to finish the portion which I swear was fit for three! Another typical German meal is the hearty Pork Knuckle plate which we found at Groninger Privatbrauerei Hamburg, easily the best meal we had in the city, and some superb German beer!
But you’re in Hamburg so you have to try Fischbrötchen (fish sandwich), ideally eaten with a pint in the early hours on Sunday morning at the Fish Market.
Did I eat anything green or healthy? Did I heck! Germany does the best beige food around. Feast, and feast good, my friends.
Cost: Varies, it can be a few Euro for a Currywurst, up to around 15 Euro for a Pork Knuckle. Eating out in Hamburg is a touch more than Berlin, but still affordable.
Go To An Evening Water and
Light Concert: Wasserlichkonzerte
In an utter fail, we tried to reach the Wasserlichkonzerte on Saturday night, only to leave our hotel late, take the wrong U-Bahn and then try and take the wrong road into the park which was closed for construction works. Thankfully Wasserlichkonzerte is a free show that is played each evening in the summer at 10PM in the Planten in Blomen park and we were able to catch it on second and last night in Hamburg. We got there early, grabbed a Fritz Cola from the café and poached a deck chair by the lake side, chatted as we watched the sun set behind Hamburg Television Tower and then enjoyed our stellar view of the water and light show. Lush!
Cost: Free! Bar the cost of a drink or two at the café-bar. To scrimp and keep costs down, bring an evening picnic.
Enjoy Hamburg’s Park: Planten un Blomen
You can forget for a few hours that you’re in Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city when visiting Planten un Blomen, the ‘creatively’ named city-park, literally translated as Plants and Flowers, because I guess it’s uh… just that. There’s a English style rose-garden, steamy tropical greenhouse with all types of cactus, a delightfully instagrammable Japanese garden and a beautiful lake in the middle.
Cost: Free! There’s no charge to walk around the park or gardens, and it’s free to enter the tropical house too.
Marvel At The Hamburg Elbphilharmonie
Architecture-buffs say ‘hello’ to this great-feat of design work set on Hamburg’s habour. This concert hall is free to look at and free to look out from. It’s famous for its creative design that mimics an ocean’s wave, but it’s also well-known for being embarrassingly over-budget. The orginal pledge was 77million Euro’s which rose to a staggering 860million Euro’s upon completion. Well, whatever the cost it sure looks worth it as it’s become a symbol for the city, proudly standing at the Gateway to the World.
Cost: Free! Just queue up to claim a timed ticket and enter the building. Find out more here.
Hamburg, Would I Be Back?
There’s enough that I missed that would warrant a return trip. Hamburg was a city that just kept on giving, be it world class sightseeing, fantastic German beer, good food, unique nightlife, green space, culture and friendly people.
How Much Does It Cost To Stay In Hamburg?
Flights Direct from Manchester to Hamburg: £77 per person flying with RyanAir and Easyjet. this was a little more than we’d usually pay, however, we were flying Saturday to Monday on the August Bank Holiday and prices were at a peak. Considering this – the flight rates were pretty decent!
Accommodation at 25 Hours Hotel Hafen City: Rates start from around 127 Euro per night upwards. we traveled on a UK bank Holiday so naturally, the prices throughout the city were being pushed up due to the demand. you can find hotels cheaper but the 25hour Hotel Hamburg HafenCity was excellent value for a centrally located four-star hotel with bags of charm and quirk. It was coming up to our 1 year Wedding anniversary so staying at 25 Hotels in the Harbour area was a little treat without pushing the boat out too much (seriously bad Maritime pun intended).
Travel around Hamburg: Although we walked as much as possible, we used the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn as well, opting for two day passes for 6.30 Euro per person, which gave us unlimited metro travel. On the last day, we each purchased just one single ticket back to the airport for 3.30 Euro.
Sightseeing around Hamburg: I was warned that Hamburg was a little more expensive than Berlin but I loved the fact that we managed to do so much, most of which was free or great value. Chocoversum was 15 Euro, the Boat Trip was 18 Euro and the Bus Tour was 17.50.
General Expenses – Food, Drink, and Souvenirs: For everything else we took £200 Euro’s of spending money which covered snacks, beers, lunches and dinners in Hamburg for the two of us.
Total cost: £370.40 per person for a three night city break to Hamburg, staying at 25Hours Hotel Hamburg HafenCity. Read my review HERE.
*Disclosure: We were generously provided with complimentary passes for the tours and museum entries as part of the #ComeToHamburg project in return for an honest review of the activities. We were also a media guest of 25 Hours Hotel Hafen City. All opinions here and across my blog, are as always, totally honest and completely my own.