Hamburg has a rich and chequered history being one of the former members of the highly influential and powerful Hanseatic League. Germany’s second-largest city is well-known for its canals, entertainment district, maritime spirit, diverse architecture, and Scandinavian feel. We recently spent a glorious weekend in Hamburg and want to list our recommendations for the best things to do in Hamburg. Whether you have 2 days in Hamburg or 3 days in Hamburg, let us help you make the most of it!
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Table of Contents
How to Get Around During Your Weekend in Hamburg
The best way to see Hamburg and discover its many hidden gems is on foot. It is a pedestrian-friendly city and you will truly appreciate its charm by walking. This resonates particularly strongly when sightseeing in central Hamburg. Many of the major attractions in these areas are within comfortable walking distance of each other.
In order to save some time and get to some of the further lying attractions, you should make use of Hamburg’s excellent and easy to use public transport. This includes the U-Bahns, S-Bahns, and buses as well as a range of boats and ships. You can switch between a bus, an S-Bahn or U-Bahn and ferries, without having to purchase a new ticket.
One of the cheapest ways to travel on the transit system is to buy a day ticket, which costs only about 8 EUR. Ticket vending machines are found in all U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, as well as at centrally located bus stops. You can find more information about fares and tickets and how to plan your trip using public transport here.
Should you be visiting Hamburg in the warmer months, getting around on a bicycle is also a good alternative and a fun way to see the city. Hamburg is extremely bicycle-friendly, and many city streets have dedicated bike lanes.
The terrain of Hamburg is rather flat, allowing for easy and relaxed transport. The easiest way to rent a bicycle in Hamburg is by signing up for the city’s bike-sharing systems like StadtRAD and Donkey Republic which have service points all over the city. StadtRAD is free for the first 30 minutes, after that, your trip will cost 10 cents per minute or 15 EUR per day. Donkey Republic is slightly cheaper at 12 EUR per day.
I would advise against using taxis as they are quite expensive, and you’ll unnecessarily run up a high bill. However, taxis are often a good option late at night. You can hail a taxi on the street, order one online or by telephone, or pick up one at one of the numerous taxi ranks located strategically across the city. Hansa Taxi is one of the companies you can check out if you want to travel by taxi.
Is the Hamburg Card/Hamburg Pass Worth It For 3 Days?
If you’re spending a long weekend in Hamburg, it’s definitely worth investing in purchasing the Hamburg Card or the Hamburg City Pass. The Hamburg Card accords you free unlimited access on all public transport in Hamburg and up to 50% discount on approximately 150 attractions.
For our 3 days in Hamburg, Jacky and I invested in the Hamburg City Pass which also accords you free unlimited access on all public transport and free admission to the most popular Hamburg attractions and sights.
Your Weekend in Hamburg Itinerary
For this weekend itinerary to Hamburg, I have decided to give you a good mix of popular sights and off-beat corners. I’ve divided the itinerary in such a way that it gives you a multifaceted view of the city. For your convenience, this post includes a free map that highlights the main points of interest in Hamburg for three days. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
I understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see in Hamburg over the course of three days:
Day 1: Central Hamburg
Day 2: Alternative Hamburg
Day 1 in Hamburg: Central Hamburg
Day One of this ‘3 days in Hamburg’ itinerary covers the most notable points of interest in the center of Hamburg, which are among the city’s most popular sights.
Start your 3 days in Hamburg at the famous Jungfernstieg boulevard. Jungfernstieg is one of Hamburg’s oldest streets dating to 1235 with a storied history. Its favorable location on the Binnenalster led it to be popular with the upper bourgeoisie. The street acquired the name ‘Jungfernstieg’ because, in the old days, wealthy families used to bring their unmarried daughters (Jungfern in German) for a stroll in search of a prospective groom.
Needless to say, it has undergone several changes since its founding and in 1838 Jungfernstieg became the first street in Germany to be asphalted. With grandstand-like steps along the edge of the shore, Junfernstieg is easily among Europe’s most attractive promenades. It’s really a pleasure to take a stroll down Jungfernstieg as it is an ideal place for shopping, strolling, and relaxing.
Many of the big names in fashion have their flagship stores on Jungfernstieg, and you’ll find exclusive jewelry and interior design shops. Along with haute couture and prêt-à-porter from the fashion elite, there are more affordable stores housed in Neoclassical buildings. The Alsterpavillon (Alster Pavilion), Hamburg’s best-known café is also situated on Jungfernstieg, directly on the Binnenalster.
Hamburg was founded by Charlemagne as Hammaburg in AD 808 shortly after defeating the Saxons and forcing their conversion to Christianity. The etymology of Hamburg is a bit uncertain. The first element ham derives from the Old High German word “hamma”, meaning “back of the knee” or “bend”, in reference to the city’s position on a river bend promontory; or from the Middle High German word “hamme”, meaning “enclosed area of pastureland.” Burg is German for “fort,” in reference to the moated castle built there in 825.
2. Alster Lakes
The lovely Alster Lakes have been an integral part of Hamburg’s life ever since the lakeshore was reconfigured after the Great Fire of 1842. Außenalster (Outer Alster), the larger lake is separated from the smaller Binnenalster (Inner Alster) by the Kennedy Bridge and the Lombard Bridge.
The upper parts of Außenalster weave through some of Hamburg’s most affluent areas and you can get a glimpse of fancy sailboats on the lake and the magnificent villas on the banks. It is a perfect place to sail or paddle a boat.
A large number of restaurants line the Außenalster’s shore, all of which are packed during good weather. An expansive green space called the Alstervorland stretches along the lake’s western shore and is used for leisure activities. The famous Hotel Atlantic Kempinski is situated along the shores of the Außenalster. This hotel, which Hamburgers fondly refer to as “the white palace on the Alster” has often served as a location for films and television shows.
The Binnenalster is responsible for much of Hamburg’s inner-city charm. The lake itself is about 2 meters deep and popular for all kinds of watersports. It is also popular with joggers going on their exercise runs and locals meeting up for coffee at one of the several kiosks and bars on the tree-lined banks.
The famous Alster Fountain in the middle of the lake shoots water nearly 40 m (130 feet) into the air. The fountain operates between 9 and midnight from March to November.
The Binnenalster is lined on three sides by sumptuous buildings that form a beautiful backdrop to the water. The most famous of these is the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (Four Seasons) which has remained a firm favorite with the rich and famous since its opening in 1897.
3. Kunsthalle Hamburg
The venerable Kunsthalle Hamburg (Hamburg Art Museum) is one of Germany’s largest and best-known museums and is a must-see attraction in Hamburg for anyone with an interest in art. The museum covers an astonishing 700 years of art and you can easily spend a couple of hours being awed by some masterpieces here. The museum opened to the public in 1869 and the vast collection provides an insight into various European art movements, with an emphasis on 19th-century German Romantics and German Impressionists.
Two of the most famous paintings at the Kunsthalle are Caspar David Friedrich’s dramatic “The Polar Sea” and Philipp Otto Runge’s beautiful “Morning”. Don’t forget to check out the outstanding altarpiece painted for the St. Peter’s Church in 1379 by Master Bertram, Hamburg’s first painter known by name.
The Old Masters section includes work by the likes of Lucas Cranach the Younger, Goya, Rembrandt, and Rubens. The Kunsthalle added a four-story, cubelike extension, the Galerie der Gegenwart (contemporary gallery) in 1996. The modern art collection here is quite large and especially strong in 20th-century art and greats like Francis Bacon, Munch, Picasso, Warhol, and Yves Klein are on display. Munch’s “Girls on the Pier” is a notable highlight of the collection.
The cost of admission is 14 EUR. The gallery is closed on Mondays and is open from 10:00-18:00 on other days.
4. Alster Arcades
The iconic Alster Arcades (Alsterarkaden) are one of the best things to see in Hamburg. They are home to some of the most exclusive places for high-end shopping and fine dining in the city. The numerous boutiques and fashion stores selling designer goods here lure visitors to loiter for a while, as do the wine bars and bistros.
The Alster Arcades were constructed after the Great Fire of 1842, in which the majority of the buildings between Binnenalster and Rathausmarkt burned down. The elegant colonnade was designed in Venetian style and is home to numerous street cafés that offer a lovely view of the water.
You’ll also see a big gray monument opposite the Alster Arcades that commemorates the swathe men and young boys of Hamburg that perished in the First World War stands. The inscription on one side of this poignant monument translates as ‘Forty thousand sons of the city who sacrificed their lives for you’. This monument did not please the Nazis, however, who erected a more belligerent monument in the vicinity of Dammtor station.
Hamburg is one of the wealthiest cities in Germany and home to the most millionaires in the country.
5. Hamburg City Hall
Hamburg’s City Hall (Rathaus) is a stunning edifice that dominates the center of the city, making it one of the most notable points of interest in Hamburg. Erected in 1886–97, this Neo-Renaissance palatial building is a testament to the city’s wealth in the 19th century. The building is massive, built atop 4,000 wooden stakes, with dimensions of 111 meters by 70 meters, and its tower is impressive 112 meters high.
It has 647 rooms – and for some reason, the Hamburgers seem proud that this is apparently six more than in Buckingham Palace. The facade is richly adorned with the bronze statues of 20 former German emperors. You’ll also notice that the entrance portal of the Town Hall is adorned with sculptures, paintings and Hamburg’s coat of arms. The four copper figures above the door represent the virtues of a good citizen.
The Hamburg Town Hall is the seat of the Hamburg City Council and Senate. At a cost of 5 EUR, you can take a guided tour of the city hall which will take you through some of the state rooms. This will provide you with interesting snippets of information about the city’s history and political system.
The “Great Banquet Hall” is one of the highlights of the interior. The hall is dominated by three giant chandeliers and features a stunning painting in the background of Hamburg’s port at the beginning of the 20th century. The parliament chamber and council chamber are also worth seeing. Tours are mostly offered in German but there are at least 3 tours in English at 11:15, 13:15 and 15:15. Tours last for approximately 45 minutes.
The City Hall’s interior courtyard is home to the lovely Hygieia Fountain which commemorates the cholera epidemic of 1892 when almost 9,000 people were killed in just over two months. Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health watches over the waters from the top of the fountain. The adjacent Rathausmarkt square is the heart of Hamburg and the location for many concerts, festivals, and protests.
6. St. Peter’s Church
While you’re sightseeing in Hamburg, you’ll notice that the city center’s skyline is dominated chiefly by the towers and spires of its five principal churches. The oldest of these parish churches is St. Peter’s Church (St. Petri Kirche), thought to have been built in the 11th century.
The church was expanded into a Gothic hall church in the 14th century and was finally completed with the addition of the second nave in the 15th century. The church’s facade was all but destroyed when it fell victim to the Great Fire of 1842 and the church was subsequently rebuilt in Neo-Gothic style modeled on the original.
Miraculously, the church remained relatively unscathed during World War II and contains many old artworks that were rescued from the fire. Be sure to check out the lion doorknob on the left door of the main portal which dates from the 14th century and is considered the oldest artwork in Hamburg. The church spire is 132 meters high and visitors can climb 544 steps to the viewing platform at 123 meters. The view of the inner city from here is sublime, and the climb is worth the effort.
Hamburg is a veritable shopper’s paradise and is often considered Germany’s shopping capital. The spectrum of goods on offer ranges from elegant and chic to unique and you can find stuff from fashion and jewelry to furniture and antiques, from interior design to arts and crafts. Shopping in Hamburg is an absolute delight with large shopping centers, ritzy passages, and countless small boutiques at your disposal.
Mönckebergstraße (or “Mö” as it is affectionately called by Hamburg natives) is the premier shopping street in Hamburg that leads from the Rathausmarkt to the Central Station. Many of the stores here are housed in former office buildings. Europa Passage, Hamburg’s largest shopping area containing more than 120 shops on five floors runs between Mönckebergstraße and Jungfernstieg.
8. Kontorhausviertel & Chilehaus
The Kontorhausviertel (warehouse district), with its many impressive office buildings, is one of the best things to see when spending a weekend in Hamburg. The area was developed in the early 20th century under the aegis of Fritz Schumacher, Hamburg’s city-building director. The office buildings, designed in the Expressionistic style of the 1920s, form an indelible piece of architecture in Hamburg’s skyline.
Along with the Speicherstadt, the Kontorhausviertel was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Most of the huge building frames were built from reinforced concrete with clinker facades and copper thatched roofs. Some of the buildings included here are the Sprinkenhof – which is the largest office complex, the Montanhof – with its many bay windows, and the Meßberghof – with its charming spiral staircase that winds its way up to eleven floors.
The most striking of these edifices is the ten-story Chilehaus (Chile House), arguably the most famous office building in Hamburg. Due to its thin, unconventional form has been nicknamed “Ozeanriese” (ocean giant). The building is reminiscent of the prow of a ship due to its angular form, especially when viewed from the prow side in the east.
The Chilehaus was constructed between 1922-24 and quickly became symbolic of both Brick Expressionism architecture and Hamburg’s economic revival post WWI. The building’s 4.8 million dark bricks absorb the sunlight, giving the building a magnificent glow at various times throughout the day. The name “Chilehaus” comes from a Hamburg merchant, Henry Barens Sloman who derived his wealth from trading in Chile and commissioned the building.
9. St. Nikolai Memorial
The erstwhile St. Nikolai Church (St. Nicholas’ Church) was erected in the 12th century and was one of Hamburg’s five principal churches. This Neo-Gothic church was once the tallest church in Hamburg reaching a height of 147 meters.
During the air raids (Operation Gomorrah) of World War II, much of St. Nikolai Church suffered heavy damage barring the spire. However, it was decided not to rebuild the church and the ruins of the original church have become a memorial (St. Nikolai Memorial) to commemorate the people who died during the air raids and to remind everyone of the horrors of war.
The crypt was converted into a museum with a permanent exhibition on the destruction of Hamburg. The exhibition depicts the life, death, and resurrection of the church. There are several photos show the church’s interior in all of its pre-WWII glory alongside bits salvaged after the bombing (including some original stained-glass windows).
The tower still stands tall above the shell of the former church and you can take the glass elevator to the viewing platform at 76 meters. From here, you are accorded wonderful views of Hamburg, as well as historical photographs of the cityscape, allowing an intriguing contrast of the skyline before and after 1943.
The St. Nikolai Memorial is open daily from 10:00-18:00 (May-September) and 10:00-17:00 (October-April). The entrance costs 5 EUR.
History 101: Operation Gomorrah
Hamburg was a chief target for Allied bombers during World War II due to its large port, munitions factories, and transportation links. After studying what, The British decided to use the same techniques on Hamburg that were employed by the Luftwaffe during their bombing of Coventry (Coventry Blitz) in 1940. The air raids began on the 24th of July but were most severe on the night of July 27, 1943, when the RAF Bomber Command hit targets first with explosive bombs to open roofs, and cut through streets & water supplies(making it hard for firefighters to respond), then followed up with incendiary bombs. Temperatures of nearly 1000°C set the streets ablaze, trees were uprooted, and cars were tossed into superheated air. In three hours, the inferno killed approximately 35,000 people and reduced 21 square kilometers of Hamburg to rubble and ashes.. At the end of the eight-day bombing campaign, which included US raids, about 42,000 people had perished and countless were left homeless. The firebombing of Dresden that took place two years later is more well-known, but more people died in Hamburg. The attack was given the codename “Operation Gomorrah” after the biblical city of Gomorrah, which was completely consumed by fire and brimstone by divine judgment.
One of the things you’ll notice during your 3 days in Hamburg is that the city is surrounded on all sides and filled to the core with water. As a consequence, a network of 22 canals twist and weave their way around the inner city and offer spectacular views of the surrounding architecture. Hamburg doesn’t quite live up to its moniker of ‘Venice of the North’ but there are still some good canals.
Nikolaifleet is definitely the prettiest one of all the canals in Hamburg. It used to be the main river mouth where the waters of the Alster flowed into the Elbe River. Get your cameras ready here as the gentle curve of Nikolaifleet and the backside of the buildings on Deichstraße provides an unbeatable instagrammable setting.
The word fleet comes from the medieval German word “fleten”, which was used to describe the flow of water. However, unlike the canals, the fleets were originally dependent on the tide, and their water level fluctuated with the tide. Many of the fleets were gone in the 19th century and in the existent ones, locks regulate the level of water today.
One of my very favorite places to see in Hamburg is Deichstraße. This former 14th-century merchant street is one of the oldest streets in the city and a throwback to ‘Old Hamburg’, providing a glimpse into the city’s Hanseatic past.
Deichstraße is forever linked to a tragic chapter in Hamburg’s past for it was here in the warehouse of the house at No. 42 that a fire broke out in 1842, that turned into a huge conflagration lasting several days.
A large chunk of the 17th-19th merchants’ houses on Deichstraße have since been restored to their original state. The house at No. 37 survived relatively unscathed despite the savage fire and it is the last merchant house in Hamburg that has remained in its original state. Many of these old houses are now home to bistros and restaurants. Be sure to see the narrow channels that run between the houses and lead to the water.
The Hanseatic League was an alliance of trading guilds that established a trade monopoly along the coast of Northern Europe in the Middle Ages. By joining the Hanseatic League, Hamburg’s fortunes flourished and it became the leading German trading and warehousing city between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
12. St. Michael’s Church
Cap off the first day of sightseeing of this weekend itinerary of Hamburg at St. Michael’s Church (Hauptkirche St. Michaelis). Of all the churches in Hamburg, St. Michael’s Church is the one you don’t want to miss. This 132-meter tall church, known to Hamburg locals simply as ‘Der Michel’, is the city’s best known architectural landmark and the city’s skyline wouldn’t be the same without it.
The church has had a turbulent history and has undergone many transformations. The first church, built in 1649–61, was felled in 1750 by a lightning strike; the second, built in 1750–62, burned down to the ground in 1906 and was completely rebuilt in 1907–12 with the aid of numerous donors.
To our surprise, the interior was very interesting as well. Protestant churches are often rather austere, this one showcases Baroque splendor including some amazing organs and the marble pulpit. The highlight, however, is the imposing Neo-Baroque altar whose glass mosaic depicts the risen Saviour with hands raised in blessing. Beneath the church lies the vast 17th-century crypt which holds the remains of over 2400 people.
Go up to the observation deck at 106 meters for the best panoramic view of Hamburg. You can either walk the 400+ stairs up to the tower or take the elevator.
Entrance to the church is free but if you want to go to the observation deck it costs 5 EUR. Opening hours of St. Michael’s Church are 09:00-20:00 (May-September), 09:00-19:00 (April & October), and 10:00-18:00 (November-March).
Day 2 in Hamburg: Alternative Hamburg
The second day of this ‘weekend in Hamburg’ itinerary focuses on some of Hamburg’s popular but slightly overlooked attractions. It also covers distinct neighborhoods which give the city its unique character.
1. Planten un Blomen
Kick-off the second day of your three days in Hamburg at the glorious Planten un Blomen, Hamburg’s prettiest and most serene green oasis. This wonderful park covers 47 hectares and is filled with an impressive array of lawns, ponds, exotic plants and flowers. A multitude of events including concerts in the music pavilion and water-light- concerts on the lake are held at the park in summer.
The park is divided into several sections. The botanical garden with its tropical greenhouses features exotic plant species from all corners of the globe. The Pharmacist’s Garden (Apotheker Garten) features a wide variety of medicinal herbs and plants. The Japanese garden here is the largest one of its kind in Europe. It is truly amazing and features captivating rock formations, small ponds, and an authentic teahouse.
The garden is one of the city’s most beloved places for those looking to relax. Highly recommended! Opening hours of Planten un Blomen are 07:00-20:00 (January-March, October-December), 07:00-22:00 (April), and 07:00-23:00 (May-September). The entrance to the park is free.
2. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
The fabulous Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Museum for Arts & Crafts) or simply MKG is one of Europe’s foremost applied arts museums. The museum is housed in a palatial 19th-century Neo-Renaissance building and the vast collection, which spans from ancient times to the present day, is spread across four floors. Jacky and I really enjoyed this museum and there is so much to see that it would take several days to take it all in.
Some of the highlights include the ‘Antiquities’ collection with works from the ancient Orient, Egypt, and Classical antiquity, the ‘European’ collection (Byzantium to Historicism) which includes a large number of excellent works from the Middle Ages, and the photography collection with over 100,000 images.
The MKG’s collection of historical keyboard instruments (including harpsichords and pianofortes) is exquisite and shouldn’t be missed. Our favorite was probably the world-famous ‘porcelain and faience ware’ collection which is home to the celebrated Meissen china.
The museum’s Mirror Room (Spiegelsaal) is a standout room with lovely wall and ceiling decorations mainly designed in the classicist and rococo styles and represents a piece of historic bourgeois living culture.
The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe is open from 10:00-18:00 (Tuesday-Sunday), being open until 21 on Thursday. Admission costs 12 EUR.
3. Sternschanze Quarter
Take some time during your weekend in Hamburg to explore the Schanzenviertel (Sternschanze Quarter). Sternschanze or simply ‘Der Schanze’ (as Hamburgers fondly refer to it) is Hamburg’s independent, counterculture hub that is the city’s answer to Berlin’s Kreuzberg and New York’s Williamsburg, and along with St. Pauli is the hub of Hamburg’s nightlife.
Sternschanze is a former working-class district that is well known for its leftist leanings. In the old days, it was a run down problematic area that has become popular among students and creative types who have transformed the neighborhood into a colorful district. The neighborhood is being gentrified and it has become chic to live in the Schanze with a lot of yuppies moving in. It still retains much of its working-class feel though.
The blend of modern and historical architecture makes the neighborhood exciting. There are a lot of dilapidated buildings full of anarchistic graffiti-scrawls and street art. Nowadays, many Hamburg locals favor this area over the tourist-filled and iniquitous Reeperbahn.
The Schanze was definitely our favorite neighborhood in Hamburg. We loved its quirky vibe, rich cultural diversity, street art, quaint boutiques, flea markets, vintage shops, cafés, and restaurants. Schulterblatt is the very core of the Sternschanze and where most of the activity in the area happens. It is lined with numerous restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines. The side streets around here are also abuzz with activity.
The presence of the infamous Rote Flora cultural center on Schulterblatt just enhances its anti-establishment aura. This former derelict theater has been squatted since 1989 and is a bastion for left-wing radicals and emancipatory politics, much to the chagrin of political right-wingers who want to shut it down.
4. Treppenviertel Blankenese
If time permits you should make the trip to the Blankenese neighborhood, a slice of the Mediterranean in Hamburg. What was once a modest fishing village is now one of the most affluent and scenic districts of Hamburg. In the 18th century, wealthy Hamburg merchants stumbled across this idyllic village and built country houses, transforming the area in the process.
Treppenviertel (Stairs Quarter) is the highlight of Blankenese and it consists of a network of 58 stairways (4864 steps in total) connecting them. Cascade down the frenetic tangle of stairways and winding alleys while marveling at the resplendent whitewashed villas located between Strandweg and Am Kieke berg. It’s a no brainer that this ritzy suburb of Hamburg is home to more millionaires than any other German city.
5. St. Pauli & Reeperbahn
No trip to Hamburg would be complete without visiting the raucous St. Pauli neighborhood. St. Pauli is a gritty neighborhood that in the past gained notoriety as a haven for love-hungry sailors due to its proximity to the docks. It used to be an unloved suburb and once reeked of sleazy nightclubs, sex shows, and brothels. St. Pauli is still home to the biggest red-light district in Europe and there are plenty of sex shops and strip bars to be found here.
However, with the onset of gentrification, the area has undergone somewhat of a facelift. Today it is a diverse neighborhood with working-class areas and bourgeois residential streets luxury condos and music venues. St. Pauli is also home to the world-famous cult football club ‘FC St. Pauli’. To get a better insight into this intriguing neighborhood, you can opt for this excellent St. Pauli & Reeperbahn guided walking tour.
History 101: Beatles in Hamburg
St. Pauli is also known as the area where the Beatles famously refined their act in the early 1960s playing in clubs just off the street, playing 12-hour-long gigs in front of drunken revelers, sailors, prostitutes, and hooligans. This association with the city purportedly led John Lennon to say “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.” The Beatles first arrived in Hamburg in August 1960 having been signed by Bruno Koschmider, a nightclub owner and entrepreneur with a dodgy history. Their first gig was at Koschmider’s Indra Club and they initially stayed in a couple of windowless rooms in the back of the Bambi Kino cinema. Over the next two and a half years, the Fab Four visited Hamburg five times and played almost 300 concerts in the city. You can still visit some places where they performed, including the Kaiserkeller (Grosse Freiheit 36), Indra (Grosse Freiheit 64), and Top Ten Club (Reeperbahn 136). Five life-size steel silhouettes made to resemble a vinyl record at Beatles Platz pays homage to the original five Beatles.
Reeperbahn is the main boulevard in St. Pauli and is colloquially known as “The World’s Most Sinful Mile” and “Kiez”. The name “Reeperbahn” is derived from the old Low German word Reep meaning “heavy rope”. In the 18th century, thick hemp ropes were produced here for sailing ships in the Hamburg docks.
Reeperbahn has gained a more respectable image of late and is Germany’s answer to Broadway with its many theaters and playhouses. Some of the renowned theaters here include TUI Operettenhaus, Schmidt Theater, Schmidt’s Tivoli, and the St. Pauli Theater. These places have played a key role in Hamburg’s ascent as a musical theater mecca.
Spielbudenplatz is the historic core of the Reeperbahn and is responsible for the area’s regeneration. Popular attractions here are the Panoptikum wax museum and the Tanzende Türme (the two towers that are reminiscent of a dancing couple).
During the day, the area is quiet – it only comes to life after 20:00 and then knows no official closing time. Take a stroll down Reeperbahn and witness the most popular entertainment and gambling street in Europe in full swing. The neon-heavy Grosse Freiheit recalls the area’s swinging Sixties vibe, popularized during The Beatles’ stint. The street’s name – Great Freedom – refers to a liberal area of free trade and religion in the seventeenth century, rather than loose morals.
The red light district is centered around the Reeperbahn and you’ll find the areas many sex shops and strip clubs here. Street prostitution is still common on Davidstraße so you might still encounter hookers here.
Don’t fear though, this area is naturally heavily policed, and on the corner of Reeperbahn and Davidstraße, you can find the most famous police station in Germany, the Davidwache. In addition to being busy, this brick police station, festooned with ornate ceramic tiles, also features frequently in German films and television programs.
There are a few seedy streets to the south of Reeperbahn, principally Friedrichstraße and Gerhardstraße that are the focus of boozing. The most notorious street of Hamburg’s red-light district is Herbertstraße. We were a tad surprised to find that this street is sealed off by a barrier and females are prohibited from entering (although legally they are allowed since it’s a public street).
The prostitutes working here got fed up with troops of school and pensioner bus parties strolling through with cameras in hand. Similar to the De Wallen area in Amsterdam, scantily clad prostitutes sit in windows and turn on their ‘charms’ to entice customers.
I went down Herbertstraße expecting something sordid but was rather surprised to only encounter pairs of giggling blokes. The sex industry is still active here but what was once a sleazy haven for sex hungry jocks has trickled down to more of a tourist sight to tick off on your Hamburg itinerary.
Day 3 in Hamburg: Maritime Hamburg
Day three of this ‘3 days in Hamburg’ itinerary principally focuses on the most popular attractions connected to Hamburg’s maritime history and port, both of which have shaped the culture and fortunes of the city.
1. Fish Market & Fish Auction Hall
The final day of this weekend in Hamburg itinerary begins at the legendary Hamburg Fish Market (Fischmarkt). It is an absolute must for every visitor to the city. This buzzing market has been around since 1703 and takes place every Sunday morning attracting thousands of visitors.
The fish market takes place on the shores of the Elbe River on the border of the St.Pauli and Altona districts. The best time to go there is early in the morning. It is worth skipping breakfast and indulging in the various delicacies on offer here.
Although it is a fish market, there is a horde of other items on sale here such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, potted plants, fruit, small animals, jewelry, bric-à-brac, souvenirs, and other paraphernalia. The clientele is a curious mix of early birds and night owls hovering around the stalls to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
The best thing to do at the Fish Market is to observe the various vendors who are engaged in a shouting contest over competing for business. We found this spectacle highly entertaining and it just adds to the vibe of the market.
The adjacent Fish Auction Hall (Fischauktionshalle) is where you can expect to see people swaying and swilling away beer with live jazz and rock music playing in the background. Contrary to its name, no fish have been auctioned here for ages.
Opening hours of the Hamburg Fish Market are 05:00-09:30 (15 March to 14 November) and 07:00-09:30 (15 November to 14 March).
2. Old Elbtunnel
The Old Elbtunnel (Alter Elbtunnel) aka the St. Pauli Elbtunnel is an iconic part of Hamburg’s industrial and maritime heritage. It was constructed in 1911 at a depth of 24 meters under the Elbe River. This is the longest river tunnel in the world spanning a length of 426.5 meters.
The revolutionary tunnel was built as a means for enabling easier access for thousands of harbor workers living on the north side of the Elbe to get to the shipyards on the south side, where they were employed. The tunnel is 6 meters in diameter and is decorated with light-blue ceramic tiles that feature glazed terracotta reliefs of nautical motifs and vintage signage.
The northern entrance at Landungsbrücken with its vivid green dome Art Nouveau building adds to the elegance of this place. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The Old Elbtunnel is open 24/7 and is free to enter.
3. St. Pauli Landing Bridges
A visit to the iconic St. Pauli Landing Bridges (Landungsbrücken) is one of the best things to do in Hamburg. The Landing Bridges comprise ten floating pontoons, measuring 700 meters in total. The Landing Bridges were built in 1839 as a place for steamships to dock before heading overseas.
Today, the complex consists of the Art Nouveau reception halls, with archways to the pontoon, two corner towers, and cupolas. New pontoons were added after the complex suffered heavy damage during World War II.
Virtually all harbor cruises depart from here. The buskers, the slightly tacky souvenir stalls and boat companies touting their tours create a colorful hustle and bustle in this area. Numerous restaurants, bars, and food kiosks are also found along the St. Pauli Landing Bridges.
4. Hamburg Boat Tour
Water is the common denominator in Hamburg and is the lifeline of the city. Despite being located some 100 km from the North sea on the river Elbe, Hamburg is the second-largest port in Europe. Since water is such an intrinsic part of Hamburg’s DNA, it’s criminal to come here and not go on a boat tour.
Boat tours are the optimum way to see Hamburg’s harbor and waterside districts. Taking a boat tour is also the best way to get close to the docks, massive containers, hulking cranes, and the enormous freighters. The live commentary on board is insightful and entertaining. You can order a drink to sip as you take in the breathtaking scenery from the deck.
There is a rich assortment of sightseeing boats, harbor tours, and ferries. The routes are all quite similar. Choose the boat tour that suits you best. Most of the tours are in German with some English language tours. Many of the boat tours depart from the St. Pauli Landing Bridges. We ourselves were very content with this one hour harbor cruise.
Hamburg natives regard 7 May 1189 to be the birthday of their port. It was allegedly on this day that Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa awarded customs-exempt status to ships that sailed the Elbe River all the way from Hamburg to the North Sea, securing the city’s merchants the trading privileges they had long sought. Hamburgers continue believing in its authenticity even though the document in question was later revealed to be a sham. Every year, on 7 May, hordes of people flock to the port to celebrate its birthday.
5. Rickmer Rickmers
The three-masted Rickmer Rickmers sailing ship is one of the highlights of Hamburg’s harbor. This 97-meter long windjammer has had a long and colorful history after its construction at the Rickmers shipyard in Bremerhaven in 1896. It was initially used in the saltpeter trade with Chile and from 1912 till 1962 was used by the Portuguese Navy as a cadet school ship.
One of the most notable features of this ship is its figurehead (designed to protect the ship against bad luck and to watch over its course) which is modeled after the four-year-old grandson of the founder of Rickmers shipyards.
Rickmer Rickmers has been moored as a museum ship at Landungsbrücken since 1987. It’s a great pleasure to roam the decks, explore the crew’s and officers’ quarters, the galley, and even the engine room. You can get a good idea of what it was like to live onboard from the museum’s displays and learn about maritime travel.
Two of the highlights of the interior are the Map Room where a selection of navigational instruments are on display and the stylishly decorated Officer’s Mess. Adrenaline junkies can climb the ship’s masts and rigging that rise to 35 meters on Saturdays and holidays.
Rickmer Rickmers is open daily from 10:00-18:00. The price of admission to the museum is 5 EUR.
6. HafenCity & Elbphilharmonie
HafenCity is the burgeoning waterside quarter encompassing the Speicherstadt that was formally established in 2008. It is the largest urban construction project in Europe of the 21st century and is being built partly on a site that a generation ago was deemed as an industrial wasteland.
This city within a city is forecasted to double the population of downtown Hamburg with a plethora of new waterfront condominiums, swanky high-rises, offices, art galleries, shops, restaurants, and cafes. Many of the most notable points of interest in Hamburg can be found within HafenCity.
The ambitious project is slated to be finished between 2025 and 2030, but visitors can already revel at some of Europe’s most visionary architecture here. I am really curious to see how it looks after it has finally been finished.
The Elbphilharmonie or ‘Elphi’ is the daring new landmark in Hamburg that is the centerpiece of HafenCity. It is a mesmerizing structure that is perched atop a former cocoa warehouse on water. Elbphilharmonie’s glistening glass facade resembles a rippling water wave, alluding to the city’s maritime past.
The interior includes a spectacular concert hall, a hotel, a public plaza, restaurants, 45 luxury apartments and a huge viewing platform with a 360-degree panoramic view of Hamburg and the harbor. It’s free to gain entry to the main foyer and to walk around the building for views of the city. Otherwise, you can take this fantastic guided tour of the interior of the Elbphilharmonie to get some intriguing facts about the building.
Hamburg is Germany’s most important media city. It is home to more than 13,000 companies in the industry. Popular German language publications like DIE ZEIT and DER SPIEGEL have their headquarters in Hamburg. Many successful films have used Hamburg as a backdrop such as ‘Hanna’ and ‘The Odessa File’.
7. International Maritime Museum
The International Maritime Museum is one of the best places to visit when spending 72 hours in Hamburg, The largest seafaring museum in the world has been housed in the oldest preserved warehouse (Kaispeicher B) in HafenCity. It is a fascinating place to discover more about Hamburg’s rich maritime history and all things nautical.
The museum’s nine floors are peppered with a staggering 26,000 model ships, 50,000 construction plans, 5000 illustrations, 2000 films, and a mind-boggling 1.5 million photographs and much more. Remarkably, virtually the museum’s entire collection was amassed by one man, Peter Tamm, the former chairman of Europe’s largest digital publishing house Axel Springer SE.
Each floor represents a different theme: paintings and ship models; deep-sea research; the history of merchant shipping and cruise ships; exploration, colonization, and warfare; uniforms, medals, and insignias from over the globe; the history of shipbuilding; global seafaring history; and navigation.
Between the first and second floors is a giant model of the RMS Queen Mary 2 made entirely of 780,000 LEGO bricks. Jacky and I especially enjoyed the ninth floor miniatures, the model building workshop, and the information on the boat and sail types. The best way to explore the museum is by riding the elevator to the top floor and working your way down.
My only gripe with the museum was that a lot of the information is only written in German and only the bigger information boards have an English explanation under them. To get around this issue, you can hear all of the stories by purchasing an audio guide. One can easily spend 3-4 hours here and this museum should not be missed.
The International Maritime Museum is open daily from 10:00-18:00 and the cost of admission is 13 EUR.
Adjacent to the harbor, you will come across the Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s historic warehouse district and the largest warehouse complex in the world. After Hamburg joined the German Customs Federation on merging with the German Empire in 1871, a separate free port became necessary. The warehouse complex was built between 1885 and 1927 and an older neighborhood was demolished to make room for its construction, leaving 24,000 people displaced.
It was the largest and most modern logistics center of its time with cobblestone streets, bridges, and waterways. In total there are 15 warehouses and a series of individual buildings, the vast majority of which are constructed in the eminent red-brick Neo-Gothic architectural forms (paying homage to Hamburg’s Hanseatic past).
The buildings here stand on oak log foundations and are typically five to eight storeys tall and equipped with winches. The warehouses, which once stored cocoa, cotton, rubber, silk, tea, and spices now mainly house electronic goods and oriental carpets. Some of the buildings also house swanky offices, showrooms, and funky restaurants.
The Speicherstadt is a major tourist attraction today and is one of the most beautiful places in Hamburg. Along with the Kontorhaus district, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Light projections in the evening create a magical atmosphere on buildings, bridges, and canals. Let yourself be carried away into the past and be enchanted by the charm of the old architecture.
Hamburg has approximately 2500 bridges, which is more than the number of bridges in Amsterdam, London and Venice combined.
Speicherstadt is home to one of the most instagrammable locations in Hamburg, the Poggenmühlenbrücke (Poggenmühlen bridge). The presence of Wasserschloss, a moated red-brick castle girdled by mighty storehouses in the background, has made this place very popular.
In spite of the name, no royalty resided in the building; instead, it was used by dockworkers, and now you will find a tea shop and restaurant inside. The Kornhausbrücke is another notable sight in Speicherstadt. The bridge gets its name from the surrounding corn warehouses and has statues of maritime explorers Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama flanking its entrance.
The wonderful Speicherstadtmuseum traces the history of the Speicherstadt through work equipment, sample wares, and historic photographs. The best thing about the museum is that you can also touch the exhibits and sometimes even taste them.
9. Miniature Wonderland
Cap-off your weekend in Hamburg at the delightful Miniature Wonderland (Miniatur Wunderland), one of the most popular and fun things to do in Hamburg. It is basically the largest model railroad in the world featuring nearly 1400 square meters of little trains clacking their way through wonderfully faithful miniature replicas of several cities and countries.
You don’t need to be a railroad buff or an adolescent to appreciate the sheer wonder of this place. The detailing of towns, cities, vehicles, trains, stations, airports, beaches, waterways, volcanoes, and the rest of the exhibits is simply spellbinding. Every 30 minutes or so the lights are dimmed to simulate nighttime, and the whole place takes on a different dimension.
The miniatures representing the US include Las Vegas and Mount Rushmore. Other places included are Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia, Hamburg and of course, Germany. The Miniature Wonderland team plans to add more miniatures in the future. Each section is interactive and entertaining.
Push buttons permit you to be a part of the miniature action and make windmills spin or cause spectators to break into raptures if a goal is scored. This place gave us so much pure unalloyed joy that Jacky and I were walking around like starstruck kids. It’s difficult to choose a favorite theme section since all of them are equally impressive. But we particularly loved the Scandinavia and Austria miniatures.
Since this is one of Hamburg’s most popular attractions, it’s best to book ahead, especially on weekends and holidays, when waiting times can be very long (1-2 hours). Ticket prices vary depending on the time of your visit. Book the priority entrance as it allows you to skip the long queues. We were mighty glad we did.
What to Eat in Hamburg
When spending a long weekend in Hamburg, you should definitely try some yummy Hamburg food. Hamburg’s cuisine is dominated by a mixture of fish dishes and hearty home-style fare. Some of the dishes that are inextricably linked with the city are Finkenwerder Scholle (a plaice dish garnished with bacon and shrimp and baked in the oven) and Hamburger Aalsuppe (Hamburg eel soup). Perhaps, the three most iconic Hamburg foods are Labskaus, Fischbrötchen & Franzbrötchen.
Labskaus is a traditional seaman’s stew that is made of finely chopped salted beef, potatoes, red beetroots and other kinds of vegetables, such as celery and leek, as well as salted herring. A fried egg is placed on top, and dill pickles are served on the side. It is accompanied by tasty farmer’s bread and goes best with a chilled beer.
Fischbrötchen is a simple bun sandwich made with fish (traditionally with pickled herring or soused herring) and topped with onions, pickles, and remoulade. It is also made with other seafood such as mackerel, salmon, fish patties and shrimps. The fischbrötchen is synonymous with Hamburg like Currywurst is synonymous with Berlin. You really must try one!
Franzbrötchen is a small, sweet pastry, baked with butter and cinnamon that is a staple in Hamburg’s bakeries. It is traditionally made only with sugar and cinnamon, but sometimes ingredients such as marzipan, chocolate, or raisins. What makes it unique is that it is doused with a sugar-cinnamon mix before going into the oven for caramelizing. This gives the pastry a crunchy coating during the baking process.
In addition to the traditional cuisine, Hamburg’s gastronomic scene is diverse and the city offers a vast range of restaurants serving good food. Even the pickiest eaters won’t have a problem in finding something they like.
Where to Eat in Hamburg
Hamburg has plenty of great dining options offering all sorts of cuisines. We recommend the following establishments during your 3 days in Hamburg:
1. Gaststätte Fisch Imbiss – great seafood place in the Sternschanze area.
2. Old Commercial Room– fantastic joint offering local North German specialties like labskaus near the Church of St. Michael.
3. Hofbräu Hamburg – a traditional Bavarian restaurant close to the Binnenalster.
4. Hanmi – yummy Korean restaurant in St. Pauli.
5. Ristorante Cantinetta – cozy Italian place in the Speicherstadt.
6. Freudenhaus St. Pauli – a lively restaurant in St. Pauli serving good old German cuisine and culinary delights such as suckling pig roast and veal escalope.
7. Braugasthaus Altes Mädchen – Hamburg’s largest craft beer brewery and restaurant. You can choose from locally made brews and 70 other craft beers from around the world. Great food in the form of burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, fish cakes, rib-eye steaks, etc.
8. Deichgraf – a fantastic restaurant that serves authentic Hanseatic cuisine like labskaus, salted herring, and finkenwerder scholle.
9. Brücke 10 – one of the best places in Hamburg to try fischbrötchen.
10. Elbgold Röstkaffee – one of the very best cafes we’ve been to, located in the Sternschanze neighborhood. They also have several locations all over the city.
11. Nord Coast Coffee Roastery – amazing coffee shop on Deichstrasse with great breakfast.
12. Milch Feinkost – another gem of a cafe near close to the St. Pauli Piers.
13. ZEIT Café – nice selection of coffee and delicious cakes in the center.
Where to Stay in Hamburg
Since most of Hamburg’s attractions are located in the city center area, it is best to select a hotel close to the center. Even if you stay further out, it’s a good idea to stay anywhere on the metro line (i.e. 5-minute walk from the nearest metro station), which is part of Hamburg’s excellent public transit system.
With approximately 300 hotels, there is something to suit every taste and budget in Hamburg, from impeccable five-star hotels to avant-garde to low-cost chains.
Hostel: Generator Hostel, a great choice right next to the Central railway station.
Budget: Motel One Hamburg-Alster, unpretentious choice in the St. Georg district.
Mid-range: Hotel Europäischer Hof Hamburg, an excellent choice within 2 minutes of the Central railway station.
Splurge: Hotel Atlantic Kempinski Hamburg, a sumptuous top-choice pick on the Alster that has been the first choice of celebrities visiting Hamburg. It has also served as a set for numerous films.
Now, what do you think? What would you recommend seeing during a long weekend in Hamburg? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!