The dynamic city of Hamburg is not only the second biggest city in Germany, it is home to one of the biggest ports in Europe and has a well-earned place as the wealthiest city in the country. Perched on the banks of the majestic River Elbe, the free and Hanseatic city is situated just over 100km away from the North Sea and boasts a booming population of a whopping 1.8 million residents.
The long-time international socialite of Germany, the city has always strived for independence, and has long been known as one of the most vibrant and successful international ports, trading successfully since the middle ages; proving to itself and the world of its ability to continue to be a tenacious achiever in its own right, and proudly touting the nickname of Boomtown Hamburg.
Today, the city is perched on the fringes of what is now one of the most valued and important harbours in all of Europe and has resolutely built a status that has managed to flourish through much adversary and devastation. Notwithstanding the major business background, the city is also the home to the vivaciously beating heart of the German media world.
Sprawling mansions, opulent villas and expansive townhouses are evidence of its wealth and stature as history dictates it, despite large parts of the city being destroyed in the air raids that devastated many parts of Germany in the Second World War. Much of the heritage has been restored to its former glory as the city was rebuilt, and historic buildings and architecture are a testament to the pride the citizens take in their incredible city.
The city just oozes charm as students and media executives rub shoulders with the super wealthy, and the city has managed to put itself into a class all on its own.
Best Time to Go
Germany itself has a decent climate all year round, making it the perfect destination for every type of traveller to visit. And because of Hamburg’s close proximity to the ocean, it is a destination that will suit those visitors who don’t really deal with the cold and snow in the winter, as it has a more oceanic climate. The weather is generally mild all year round, and snow is rare. Although the summer months of June, July and August are hotter than the rest of the year, you don’t get the soaring temperatures as you would say in Munich.
It rains for more than half the year, with averages of 130 days of rainfall recorded annually. But summer temperatures a cool and mild with highs reported no much more than around 21°C (70°F) during the peak of summertime.
Summer is the best time to go would be between the months of May and September, but be prepared to pay seasonal prices for everything. Hotels and air fares are sky high and there are queues to get into everything.
If you are not a fan of crowds, then fall would be the best time to go; the crowds have died down a bit and the prices are not so steep. December, January and February are cold, but Christmas sees a tourist boom as people flock into the city for the festive season. Even so, don’t think you can leave a winter holiday booking to the last minute, this is Hamburg, and it is always busy.
Getting Around in Hamburg
Being in Germany, Hamburg has an excellent public transport system; everything is on time and works like clockwork. There is a fantastic bus and train network that for the most part has service right throughout the night, especially on weekends. During the week in the outlying areas, you may find that there is no service after 11pm, so you would just need to check before you hop on.
The buses arrive and leave from the Rathausmarkt which is near the town hall and there is a special nachtbus or night bus service that will cover the service between the outlying areas and the center of the city. You can get tickets from the vending machines at the train stations and there are some at the bus stops as well. The bus drivers are very helpful and knowledgeable and will tell you which kind of ticket that you need to buy in case you are not sure. For visitors, the Hamburg Card is very handy, as it includes entrance to museums, sights and the public transport system and can be bought from all the bus drivers and ticket offices.
Public transport is very busy before 9am and between 4pm and 7pm; it is more comfortable for tourists to plan your day around those times. Bicycles are a very popular way to get around the city, especially during the summertime. Bike rental shops are all over the city and some hotels offer the facility too. Dedicated bike lanes make it simple to navigate your way around on your own, but maps are available from the tourist information centers.
Major Attractions and Sights
Miniatur Wunderland, is the world’s largest model railway and is broken up into 5 distinctive sections. You can see the breathtaking, miniature landscapes of Hamburg, America, Switzerland, Southern Germany, the German coast, the Alps and Scandinavia. There are working mechanized ships on real water, complete with a fully functional airport display with airplanes that can fly.
The Hamburg Zoo is a privately owned family zoo that was started in the early 1900s by Carl Hagenbeck Jnr, in his time a prominent wild animal merchant and trader. There is an entire rainforest, sea and desert in the zoo’s colossal troparium. There is a dolphin show, plenty of places to eat, lots of playgrounds for kids and enough to keep an entire family busy for the day.
Speicherstadt is an historic area that was used as a warehouse district, and when the ships used to come into port and offload their cargo the district was heaving with aromatic spices, silks and coffee. Unfortunately there are not tours through the inside of the buildings, but the experience and ambience of the district is worth the trip.
Planten un Blomen is a delightful park that is a favorite among visitors to the city. The summer time is obviously the best time to go and visitors can enjoy water, light and music shows. In winter they open an ice rink. The park is absolutely beautiful and perfect for a day’s outing with the kids.
The Rathaus (Town Hall) is bigger than Buckingham Palace, and this colossal town hall is one of the most popular sights in the entire city. A tour through this stunning historical landmark takes almost an hour and is worth every minute. The opulence, lavish interiors and majestic state rooms were inspired by the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
The Hamburg Dungeon is a must see for anybody out for a bit of a thrill, although perhaps not suitable for younger children as the adventure could be quite scary. A theme tour and grizzly presentations, demonstrate most graphically the darker, foreboding times of the city of Hamburg. Be whisked away into time and experience floods, fires and executions.
Chilehaus is an architectural feat of genius, and the brain child of architect Fritz Hoger who was commissioned to build it for a wealthy merchant. Brown bricked, the Chilehaus has been designed to resemble that of a massive ocean liner, complete with terraced balconies fashioned to look like decks, and was built in 1942.
Shopping in Hamburg
When it comes to shopping, Hamburg has it all, and be prepared to part with plenty of hard earned cash. Meander through the main shopping district as a start, in the middle of the city – the Mönckebergstraße. And if you really want to splash out on designer gear then head off to Gaensemarkt.
There is a brand new mall at the Alster Lake, just around the corner from the town hall, called the Europa Passage which is a must-go destination for any retail therapy enthusiast.
If you are after vintage and second hand treasures, then the best place would be to head out to Hot Dogs Marktstrasse, Kleidermarkt and Kurze Muhren.
Hamburg has quite many shops which claim “Second Hand”, but are more of an outlet. It’s still worth a visit though.
Eating Out in Hamburg
Foodies will be delighted with the choices and range of cuisine available in the steamy city. Traditional Hamburg dishes to try are Birnen and Bohen und Speck, or pears cooked with bacon and green runner beans, bratkartoffeln – pan fried slices of potatoes and pannfisch, which is pan fried fish. Order lots of zitronenlimonade to wash it down with – half beer and half lemonade, and you are good to go.
When it comes to desserts, you are in pastry heaven. Put the diet on hold and feast on a local favorite the franzbrotchen – a flat croissant like pastry that is filled with sugar, cinnamon and raisins and quite unique to the city.
Another favorite is thick, juicy ‘’hamburger’’ patties called frikadelle, served with vegetables and potatoes with gravy, rather than in a hamburger bun and are absolutely mouth-watering.
Try Lühmanns Teestube, which is a fantastic sidewalk café perfect for a scrumptious meal, and famous for their pastries and baked goodies. The Delta Bistro is quite pricey, but worth a bit of a splurge and has some fantastic local meat dishes, some say the best in the city. Hamburg has a great number of Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.
Nightlife in Hamburg
When it comes to a good night out on the town, you can be sure that these German folks know exactly what’s for what. And no matter what your music taste, you will be able to find a cozy corner for a chilled beer or a dance floor that will tickle your fancy until the wee hours.
There are lots of festivals and open air concerts on during the year, and are very popular during summer, so if you are looking for something with a bit more culture that just one cocktail after another, you may just be in luck. Everything from opera, orchestral concerts, and trendy lounge clubs to underground grunge clubs – Hamburg has it all and then some. And with the public transport system being on hand right through the night, you don’t have to worry about finding a taxi back to your hotel when you are all partied out.
Try out Lago Bay which is located between Hamburg City Beach Club and Hamburg del Mar. You’ll find it a trendy place for a cocktail and to lounge around at the pool; make your way to the Moroccan lounge next door once the sun goes down.
Strandpauli is a great lively place to head out to for a relaxed evening overlooking the harbor. Tango the night away under the thatched reed roof, let your toes sink into the sand and feast on sausages, washed down with plenty of beer and cocktails.
Of Local Interest
There are cultural, historical, music and arts festivals held throughout the year in Hamburg, and there is something on in the city for every season. Summer happenings are hugely popular as many of the events are held outside, the weather is great and people are out and about. The end of the year is also popular as there are some very special traditional markets that are held here in the run up to Christmas and the festive season in Hamburg is effervescent. There are loads of beer festivals, sporting events such as the International German Open Tennis held here every year in July, and the Hamburg Harley Days Festival which is a must-not miss for motorcycle fans from around the world, is held every year in the city in June.
The Wutzrock Festival
Every year, the Wutzrock festival is great for all music lovers and heaven for rock music enthusiasts. It is in close proximity to the city and the best part is that the entrance to the open air festival is completely free of charge. Normally held over the last weekend of August, it is located at the Eichbaumsee, which is situated conveniently next to the train station.
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