Things to do in Hamburg
Hamburg is after Berlin, the second-largest city in Germany with 1.8 million inhabitants. It has, therefore, all the big city attractions, including a great choice of international gastronomy, a complete cultural agenda, fabulous sights and lots of events. Here you can shop till you drop and most importantly the city is packed with incredible architecture.
A trip to this German metropolis is thus a must for lovers of urban design. Absolute highlights include the 19th-century warehouse district and the historic heart of Hamburg, the Altstadt.
We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.
A city trip to Hamburg
When you get off the train on the east side of the Hauptbahnhof, you will find that the streets in this area are populated by men of all sorts of backgrounds, just hanging there. As a woman, I would rather not walk alone between the train station and the Berliner Tor, especially burdened by luggage. Luckily, I am accompanied by my own men, a.k.a. as my family.
Right, we skip this part of town and quickly head to the old centre, for some serious sightseeing and shopping. Hamburg has, after all, the most millionaires in Germany, and that is noticeable. The city centre essentially serves as a playground for the super-rich with luxurious design shops and haute couture boutiques.
The old town is concentrated at the Rathausmarkt. Here you will find the old town hall. Which is nowadays the seat of the parliament of the German state of Hamburg. The cosy market square is bustling with stalls and street performers.
The Town Hall and the Parlament
The medieval town hall houses an excellent restaurant called the Parlament. In fact, we find the place so charming, we decide to dine there twice, something we rarely do. The food tastes good, is affordable, and the staff is friendly.
With our bellies filled, it is time to explore the rest of the old town.
We see another remarkable building in the Altstadt, the Chilihaus, which was built in the interbellum by a wealthy businessman who gathered his fortune in Chile, hence the name. The building is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Chilihaus has ten floors and covers an area of 30,400 square meters. It is considered one of the finest examples of expressionist architecture of the 20th century. The building houses multiple shops, restaurants and offices.
For those who can’t afford the luxury shops in the old town, there is always Sankt Pauli, a district of Hamburg that is mainly known for its 930-meter long, slightly shady Reeperbahn.
This street is synonymous with the red light district of Hamburg. However, outside the “gentlemen’s clubs”, there is plenty of other entertainment to be found in the form of bars, cinemas and amusement arcades.
A bit down the road of the Reeperbahn is the 400-year-old Jewish cemetery. The final resting place of what was once the largest Jewish community in Germany. The cemetery can only be visited with a guided tour on Sundays.
From the Jüdischer Friedhof in the Königstraße, it is a 600-meter walk to the waterfront. The port of Hamburg is in Europe, only second in size to the Rotterdam harbour in the Netherlands.
Fish auction hall
One of the most outstanding buildings in this neighbourhood is the fish auction, the Fischauktionshalle. Every Sunday morning (early!), you can attend an auction. The rest of the week, the building serves as an event location.
Another curiosity you can find in this area is the (old) Russian submarine. A visit to this U-boot gives a glimpse into the claustrophobic underwater world that navy men endure for months on end.
Following the waterfront, we get to the city’s highlight, the warehouse district, which is, of course, interlinked with the harbour activities.
On an island in the River Elbe is the Speicherstadt, a large complex of warehouses built on timber piles. The warehouses are multi-storey red brick buildings with entrances from water and land. The buildings feature little towers, nooks and terracotta ornaments. One of the oldest warehouses is the Kaispeicher B. It functions as the International Maritime Museum.
As the first site in Hamburg, it was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status. In fact, I found it so special if I had my way; I would have wandered for days at a time in this area to marvel at the architecture.
Sadly, I must go home.
Alternative ways to see Hamburg
Check out these tours for an alternative way to see Hamburg.
Evening Harbour and Speicherstadt Cruise
See Hamburg Harbor’s famous landmarks illuminated at night, navigate through the sparkling Speicherstadt, and glide past impressive container ships on a 1.5-hour evening cruise with live commentary.
Check availability and prices of the evening cruise.
Sex and Crime in St. Pauli – tour for ages 18+
Explore the red-light district of Hamburg on this exciting 2-hour sex and crime tour in the St. Pauli district. Hear anecdotes and details about the lives and loves in this district, and visit the boxing club in the basement of the “Zur Ritze” bar.
Check availability and price of the St. Pauli tour.
With this one day, hop-on hop-off sightseeing ticket, you get to experience Hamburg on a double-decker bus, getting off at any of the tour’s 20 stops along Line A to explore the city. Discover the Warehouse District, Hafen City, Reeperbahn, and more.
- We slept in the A & O hotel close to the Berliner Tor, around 500 meters from the train station. It is a vast, but otherwise fine hotel close to the old town with a great rooftop terrace for those sundowners after a long day of sightseeing.
- Public transport is well organized: a day pass for a family of 5 persons costs €12.50.
- You can rent city bikes at various places in the city, including at the different train stations.
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