What are the places not to be missed in Hamburg? There are days when I feel almost like a local here, as I have been here 20+ times in the past year, so I have accumulated a few tips on exploring this beautiful city! Recently, I decided to properly stay here over the weekend and explore more than just one thing every visit and that’s how this guide came to be!
Looking to do a longer trip in Germany? Travel Scribes have prepared a wonderful article on 10 hidden, off the beaten path travel gems in Germany (where Hamburg is included too!).
Practical Tips on Exploring Hamburg
Getting there: I took a direct flight from Riga with airBaltic, twice a day on workdays and once on weekends! Takes about 2h to get there.
Hotels: I usually stay in Holiday Inn City Nord. It is not in the city center but closer to the airport and near a beautiful park. There is a free transfer from the airport to the hotel and back. You can get to city center by train here and one ticket costs 3.30 eur.
Getting Around Hamburg
- Public transport is relatively convenient in Hamburg – zones 1.-2. ticket costs 3.30 eur and you can buy a ticket at the station.
- Ridesharing apps: Uber does not work here, so you can use MOIA. About twice as expensive as public transport, and still about three times cheaper than taxi.
- Taxi: most of the time I move around the city using MyTaxi app – you can link a card to your account and never bother with cash (before I started using this app, taxi drivers would frequently tell me their card reader “does not work”).
Best Restaurants in Hamburg
I have seen my fare share of restaurants in this city, as every time I visit, there is a dinner involved! These are my top 6 places:
Mazza – Syrian (Levant) food. My recommendation is to go for the three course menu for 39 euros.You will get an amazing selection of appetizers, main course of your choice and delicious selection of desserts. You will not be disappointed! Also, this place is open even on Mondays and Tuesdays, when many restaurants are closed!
Burgerlich – burgers. Does cheap, tasty and quick exist? Yes, if you are in Burgerlich! You can order everything from a tablet on your table and the food arrives really quickly. I was impressed!
Le Marrakech – Moroccan. This place is absolutely spectactular, looks like a corner of Morocco in Hamburg. After coming here I now really want to visit Morocco! The fresh flowers, beautiful interior, the vibe and of course, tasty food! NB: they do not accept cards from outside of Germany, so cash only!
NENI – Israeli (Levant) food. Go for the appetizers! If there are two of you, take each three appetizer tasting menu and a dessert, you won’t be hungry! My favorite appetizers are baba ganoush, hummus and Moroccan cigars.
L’Amira – another Syrian place, open til midnight, good selection of dishes, not too expensive and good if you are into Middle Eastern food! I like lime tea here.
Ashoka – Indian. I am not a fan of Indian cuisine but my colleague swears by this place and says that it is one of the best Indian places in all of Germany. As I am not a fan of spicy food, I mostly eat butter chicken, appetizers, bread and mango lassi. Jasmine green tea is incredible here!
Shopping in Hamburg
- Germany is a paradise for all the bigfoot ladies like me. I am size 41 on a good day, so I still vividly remember my surprise of seeing size 43 on a shelf and not in the “extra big sizes” section! I have even seen size 46 ladies in a regular store! So shoe shopping it is!
- You can visit some of the central stores like Europa Passage
- My favorite store is Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum a bit outside of the city
- An hours drive, each in the opposite direction are DOC Neumunster and DOC Soltau outlets. I have not been but my friends say there are good.
- If you have forgotten to buy candy and you are at the airport, first head to the ground floor (“arrivals”), there is an Edeka supermarket where you can buy candies, pantyhose or even tomorrow’s lunch. I always stop buy for some goodies (and there is a nice bakery next to it!). A pharmacy just on the opposite side for any last minute cold medication.
Christmas Markets in Hamburg
If you are visiting Hamburg from the end of November til the end of December, you must stop at one of the Christmas markets in the city!
- Santa Pauli kinky Christmas market must be the most famous one! Specific ornaments for your tree, presents and shows. You can also get some mulled wine and some more common presents as scarves, hats and gloves.
- Rathaus Christmas markets and Jungfernsteig markets are more traditional ones – gingerbread, souvenirs and mulled wine.
A few ideas for visiting Hamburg in a bigger group
Visiting Hamburg in a larger group and looking for some team building activities? I have done quite a few of these and can recommend the following:
- Geobound ipad rallye – if there are a few of you (like 10+), you can use this activity as a way to explore the city! Each team gets a tablet with a map and tasks to complete. Tasks are fun – some involve solving riddles, others are to make a picture of small video with a certain topic. The team with the largest number of points wins!
- Sailing in Alster lake – you can book this as an individual activity as well, but most companies prefer to rent out to groups. A professional skipper will teach you some basics and then take you on the lake. You can then either enjoy the views as in a joyride and assist your skipper with controlling the vessel!
- Dinner in the dark – finding your way around and eating in complete dark – a guided experience of total darkness or how visually impaired people see the world.
- Boatride in the canals – you can go with one of the many boats in the harbour and buy a ticket on the spot, but you can also opt for an individual tour and even order food on board!
So what did we do when we visited Hamburg for a weekend? Read below!
The Green Hamburg in Spring & City Parks
The weather was not our side, as all of the week it had been really nice and sunny but the forecast for the weekend was cold and rainy. So on Saturday morning, when it was still sunny, all we wanted to do was go to the park and breath in the fresh air while the weather lasted!
End of April is the very last time to see sakuras (Japanese cherry trees) in Hamburg. Magnolias were in full bloom during the first week of April, and end of April basically the ground under the cherry trees was all pink as the final cherry blossoms were slowly falling on the ground. There are a lot of these trees in city parks across Hamburg, so you will surely see a few!
While walking in the park we noticed a few families of geese, the little ones swimming in a nice organized line as the parents had taken a place at the beginning and at the end of the line. Geese were not afraid of people – they were walking all around us as they got used to us. The only ones they did not like were dogs – as soon as a larger dark dog would appear, all geese would be in the water even if they had been on the ground then.
The park is also nice to see some blooming rhododendrons – beautiful yellow, pink, white and red ones are covering a major area in the park! If you are quiet, you might see rabbits here as well. On rainy days park can still be nice for walking around and exploring the Planetarium on the grounds. It was opened in 1930 and is one of the most visited European planetariums, recently renovated! Some shows are in English as well.
Jungfernstieg promenade, City Hall and St.Nikolai church tower
Our next stop is Jungfernstieg promenade that was a popular place in the 17.-18th century for families with their unmarried daughters, they would walk on the promenade looking for suitable grooms.
Today it is a place to have a nice meal with a view or go take a boat trip on the lake. We decide to continue on in the direction of the city hall Rathaus. Last time when I was there, it was closed and there were some protesters in front of it, today it is open for visitors and we head inside. You can also do a tour. We simply walk through and exit on the other side at the fountain, it is a beautiful yard and there are quite a few other tourists here, so we are happy to continue to the next place!
Next we head to St.Nikolai church, or what remains of it. During WWII it was heavily bombed and the 73 m tall tower is all that is left. You can take an elevator to the top and see beautiful views of the city. It used to be the tallest building in the world from 1874 til 1876!
Across the street from church is Nikolaifleet, one of the most beautiful canals in Hamburg! Turns out the city of canals and bridges is Hamburg, and not Venice or Amsterdam, as one may think! Hamburg has 2500 bridges, which is more than Venice, Amsterdam and London combined! Some of the canals are quite pretty, and we enjoy the view as we head to Speicherstadt or the warehouse district.
Elbphilharmonie, Speicherstadt warehouse district and Miniatur Wunderland in Hafen City
The warehouse district is an iconic place and so is the Miniatur Wunderland, both located in the Hafen City area. The warehouse district has been renovated after WWI and since 2015. Is in the UNESCO list of heritage sites. These warehouses used to be a place where to move goods without having to pay taxes. Now the area has been revitalized and the new gem around here is the famous concert hall – Elbphilharmonie or also called Elfie. This must be one city concert hall, as costs went up from the initial 241 million euro estimate to the actual 789 million euro. If you would like to hear a performance here, book in advance, as the main hall sells out quite in advance. But even if you don’t have a ticket for a performance, you can get a free viewing platform ticket at the main entrance that lets you ride an escalator up to the platform and walk all around it for city views. If you are a really big fan, you can even stay the night here, as there is a hotel located inside!
While we are enjoying the platform, the bridge next to the building rises up – also an interesting view, especially if you have never seen anything like this before!
Soon it starts to rain, so we rush to Miniatur Wunderland, which according to some, is the best sightseeing attraction in Hamburg! Essentially it is a museum of all small things, but primarily – railway models. Best to buy tickets in advance, as there are long waiting times even after you have secured your ticket!
It is fun to see the small Hamburg or mini Amalfi coast with all the detailed houses, but the devil is in the details – first of all, noticing the small buttons to turn on various things – such as a fire in a house or elves dancing and the like. One of these buttons turned on a mini chocolate factory and I even got a real candy out of it (imagine the line of children behind me afterwards!).
There are many “Easter eggs” in the exhibits, if you pay attention. A very bored office worked copying his back, an unfortunate diver grabbed by an enormous crab and so on. You can easily spend hours here! The exhibits transition from day to night every couple of minutes!
Soon it is getting dark and we head to walk around the district a bit more, finding the picture postcard view of Hamburg on the Poggenmühlen bridge. A beautiful view of a smaller house in the middle and illuminate houses on left an right is the instagram view of Hamburg! As the evening is rainy and cold, we seem to be nearly the only ones enjoying the views, as most don’t find such days particularly instagrammable, but we are quite happy with our pictures and soon head to sleep!
Kontorhaus district, Chilehaus and Chocoversum chocolate museum
The next day is as rainy as this, and we head to the city by train. The ride is quick, and the city marathon having Hamburg on lockdown is the primary reason for us to pick something that does not use roads.
We exit on the main station in Hamburg, which is a sightseeing place on its own, but quite crowded. Outside, it seems like a different world, not a soul in sight! Luckily, the rain stops soon and we are at Kontorhous district, right next to the place we left the previous evening. The main stopping place is the Chilehaus, a 10 story office building built in 1924, brick expressionism pearl. We mostly want to see it because it looks like a giant ship. On the opposite side is the Chocoversum chocolate museum, where you can make your own candy bar, but we feel like eating something more and head to NENI for some nice tasty appetizers and main course.
Our final stop is the Elbe tunnel, which is a good 25 min walk from our restaurant, especially considering we stop on every corner for pictures! The weather is finally getting better as we are getting ready to leave.
The tunnel was built in 1911 and was a technological masterpiece back then, 24 m deep and two tunnels each 426 m long. It is still used by cars on weekdays and Saturdays, so Sunday is pedestrian and bicycle only traffic, and the best time to visit, if you want to ride in the car elevator! Fans of German music will recognize it from Scooter music video “One (Always Hardcore)”.
Despite the semi-bad weather, we enjoy our time in Hamburg very much! The green spaces, the beautiful renovated warehouse district and the delicious food. Hamburg is excellent choice for a weekend trip during any time of the year!
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We are thankful to airBaltic for their support in making this article possible!