Welcome to Germany’s second largest city. Sometimes depicted as bleak, tacky, and slightly on the seedy side, Hamburg doesn’t sound all that appealing on paper. However, these preconceptions will immediately dissolve once you discover this beautiful city and its people for yourself.
Here locals and tourists are far more friendly than the German capital- its hip, but without any pretention. After scouring Airbnb, we found ourselves with the wonderful Kyrian, who not only welcomed us to her unicorn adorned home, but also her social circle. Our weekend was a blur of street partying and bar hopping, with the occasional funfair ride thrown in for good measure.
Once again favouring the U/S Bahn tubes as our mode of transportation, we arrived in Hamburg feeling grateful for a change of scene. After the relentless tourist trail of Berlin, we found refuge in the streets of St Pauli, a lively quarter of Hamburg situated on the right bank of the Elbe river. While notorious for its red-light district, St Pauli offers far more than sleazy thrills; wind your way through the leafy suburbs and you can find independent eateries, sophisticated boutiques, and plenty of edgy bars. Gretchen’s Villa is most certainly worth a visit, a small café located on Market Street. Vegetarian friendly, this quaint kitchen serves plenty of healthy plates, as well as delicious pastries if you’re feeling a bit naughty.
If fish is more your thing, there’s an overwhelming choice of seafood down by the docks. One of the busiest ports in the world, Hamburg holds an array of restaurants which serve every type of fish you can think of. Highly recommended is the excellent Brueke 10, which offers the most delightful prawn sandwiches you will possibly ever experience. A big claim to make, I know. Pop yourself down on the jetty, enjoy an ice-cold Astra beer and watch the ships peacefully come and go.
With fish being such an integral part to Hamburg’s history, it’s no great surprise that the city also holds a fish market every Sunday. This has been a tradition of Hamburg since 1703, and sells far more than just fresh seafood. Beginning from an eye watering 5am, the stalls are crammed with plenty of gastronomic treats such as vegetables, pasties, and cooked dishes, as well as household items. There’s even live music and pop up bars for the particularly lively.
After taking in all these culinary delights, it might be prudent to attempt to walk off the worst of the indigestion by taking in the distinct architecture of the city. When pottering around the streets, it’s clear to see that Hamburg holds a unique Germanic culture that uses its industrial roots to its advantage; known as ‘the gateway to the world’, Hamburg has been enjoying international trade since it joined the Hanseatic League back in the Middle Ages. Now one of Germany’s wealthiest cities, and fast becoming a media hub, you can see a striking juxtaposition between heritage and modernity. Featuring post-modern glass facades, enormous brown-brick warehouses and Renaissance assembles, Hamburg feels like an industrial metropolis.
Of course, these architectural horizons wouldn’t be complete without an array of churches. Decked out in typical Baroque fashion, there’s plenty of chapels dotted around the city. While the Church of St Michael is the more famous of Hamburg’s Lutheran constructions, take a walk over to the quaint St Peter’s Church, located on the outskirts of Rathaus. Here you can admire the chapel for free, and if you’re up to it, climb the 500 steps up to the top of the tower. On your way, take a break to admire the church bells. The tower itself promises a stunning panoramic of the city centre and its ports, as well as Hamburg’s labyrinth of canals, bridges and walkways.
If you’re looking to take in some culture during your trip, there’s a range of fantastic galleries and museums located in the city centre. Kunsthalle and Deichtorhallen Hamburg are particularly worth a visit, and feature thought provoking art, exhibition halls and installations. Kunsthalle is in fact the largest art museum in Germany, and holds a diverse range of works spanning from medieval collections of Master Bertram, to contemporary art such as minimalism and photography.
As evening approaches, you’ll soon discover that nightlife in Hamburg is diverse, exciting, and a little chaotic. Seeing as we were staying in St Pauli, it would have been rude not to visit the enormous amusement park of Hamburg Dom, the largest of its kind in northern Germany. Open from midday till way past midnight in summer, Hamburg Dom is a perfect way to liven up your weekend stay. Here you can not only ride old school log flumes and roller coasters, but get rather inebriated whilst doing so (this became somewhat of a routine for us during our trip). Featuring arcades, bars, amusements and eateries, Hamburg Dom is far more than just a few rides. There’s even a beach themed bar area with deckchairs and sand, with live djs pumping out music into the night. Grab a drink and get dancing.
For those looking to keep the night out more traditional, head down to the Reeperbahn. This is the notorious red-light district of Hamburg, but it’s excellent for its choice of bars, clubs, and of course it’s more adult entertainment. The main street offers the biggest, showiest establishments, but head down the smaller winding alleys to find more laid back surroundings, such as those of Lehmitz dive bar and Bei Teresa. Recommended is the beautiful Zoe 2 Sofabar, a unique bar and eatery with contrasting interiors. Add to the graffiti adorned walls, or else relax with a cocktail on the sumptuous vintage sofas.
These smaller bars are not only perfect for escaping the crowds, but also a great place to meet the locals. We had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful inhabitants of Hamburg, and wouldn’t have stumbled across these hidden gems if weren’t for local knowledge. While the sightseeing attractions of Hamburg certainly hold their own, it’s the people of Hamburg themselves that truly made our weekend here one of our favourites. Get to know the people, and you’ll get to know the city. Without sounding too gushy, it’s such a warm and welcoming place, with so many things to do, that you can’t help but be charmed by it. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a cultured city break or even just a mad one with your best pals, you’re guaranteed to have a ball.