Squeezed between scenic lakes and huge container ships on the busy Elbe river, Germany's largest port has, so the locals say, much in common with Venice and Amsterdam. Its dynamism, multiculturalism and hedonistic red-light district, the Reeperbahn, originate from its colorful maritime past.
But, unlike its maritime counterparts, Hamburg remains a hard-working port that is among Europe's busiest. Add to this the independence of a place that has been invaded only once in its history (by Napoleon, no less) and you too will be inspired to serenade the city.
Featured Hamburg Hotel
What To Do
Activity nuts will find boating, hiking and cycling for openers, and Hamburg's flat landscape and nearby mountains invite a range of exercise, from rigorous (biking, skating, skiing) to relaxed (try a steam boat for a laid-back way to see the city).
What To See
One of the city’s most remarkable buildings lies to the south in the Merchant’s District. The brown-brick Chilehaus is shaped like an ocean liner, with remarkable curved walls meeting in the shape of a ship’s bow and staggered balconies that look like decks. Designed by architect Fritz Höger for a merchant who derived his wealth from trading with Chile, the 1924 building is a leading example of German expressionist architecture. It’s situated alongside other so-called ‘Backsteingotik’ buildings (Backstein refers to a specially glazed brick; gotik means ‘Gothic’).
Port of Hamburg
Each year about 12,000 ships deliver and take on millions of tons of goods here. The port accounts for 12 percent of Hamburg's entire surface area. Two vessels that aren't going anywhere are the 1896 windjammer Rickmer Rickmers, which now serves as a museum and restaurant, and the Cap San Diego, a behemoth built in Hamburg during the 1960s.
Hamburg’s baroque Rathaus is one of Europe’s most opulent, renowned for the Emperor’s Hall and the Great Hall, with its spectacular coffered ceiling. There are no fewer than 647 rooms here, but the guided 40-minute tours only take in a small number.
Once, a former fishing village and haven for cut-throats, the suburb Blankenese now boasts some of the finest and most expensive houses in Germany. For visitors, the area's attraction lies in its hillside labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets, with a network of 58 stairways (4864 steps in total!) connecting them.
The 2500 animals that live in Hamburg's zoo have open enclosures over 27 hectares. In addition to elephants, tigers, orangutans, toucans and other creatures, you'll find a replica Nepalese temple, Japanese garden, art-deco gate and a huge aquarium. A petting zoo, pony rides, a miniature railway and playground mean you'll have to drag the kids away at the end of the day. It is 5km northwest of the center; take the U2 to Hagenbecks Tierpark.
When many visitors think of Hamburg nightlife, they immediately think of Angie's. Floy, 'the white queen of soul', plays live as guests - sometimes celebrities - sip cocktails genteelly.
Golden Pudel Club Live Music
In a ramshackle wooden fisherman’s hut, this bar-club was established by members of legendary Hamburg band Die Goldenen Zitronen and gets packed to the rafters for its quality electro, hip hop, R&B and reggae gigs.
One of the few venues along the Reeperbahn with local cred, the retro Meanie Bar is a hang-out for musos and artists.
Hamburg's social schedule is packed all year with concerts, fairs, festivals, parties, conventions and exhibitions, but there are a few stand-out occasions.
Hafengeburtstag (Harbour Birthday) - May
The city's biggest annual event happens in early May and commemorates Emperor Barbarossa granting Hamburg customs exemption. It is energetically celebrated with harborside concerts, funfairs and gallons of beer. See english.hamburg.de for more information.
Hamburger Dom Funfairs - Mar, Jul & Nov
Established in 1329, the Hamburger Dom, held in late March, late July and late November, is one of Europe's largest and oldest funfairs. It's held on Heiligengeistfeld, between St Pauli and Schanzenviertel.
Christopher Street Day - Aug
Hamburg's annual gay pride festival makes the city sparkle.
Food and Drink
Within a spectacularly tiled 1882 butchers’ hall and adjoining art-deco salon, this elegant yet relaxed brasserie serves classical French fare like croque-monsieur (toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich), croque-madame (the same, but with a fried egg) and steak tartare (minced meat, but pan-fried, not raw). Its breakfast for two is a splendid feast.
Alt Hamburger Aalspeicher
Despite its tourist-friendly location, the knick-knack–filled dining room and warm service at this restaurant in a 400-year-old canalside building make you feel like you’re dining in your Oma’s (grandma’s) house. Smoked eel from its own smokehouse is a specialty.
Some of the yummiest ice cream you’ll ever taste is scooped from this little hole in the wall (look for the queues). On any given day, you’ll find around a dozen of its handmade, all-natural flavors like cherry-rippled poppy-seed or sticky crème brûlée.