The 19th-century Speicherstadt is the largest congruent warehouse district in the world and part of UNESCO World Heritage. In turn, the brand new HafenCity is the largest inner-city development project in Europe. Here the historic meets modern, as headquarters of international conglomerates exist side-by-side with exciting new startups, and the rich reside next to students. While admiring the beautiful buildings, pay attention to a particular detail: as the district is outside of the city’s flood walls, the bottom 7.6 meters (25 feet) of every structure are waterproof.
Standing on sturdy oak log foundations, the Speicherstadt warehouses are crossed by narrow canals, once used to deliver, load, and unload precious goods by ship or barge. The numerous bridges that cross the canals offer picturesque views of the rows of Neo-Gothic brick buildings. Further into the HafenCity, several small ports – Sandtorhafen, Grasbrookhafen and Brooktorhafen – invite visitors to admire ships and enjoy views across the water. There is no area in the city that is more defined and adorned by water than this neighborhood.
The Speicherstadt and the HafenCity are home to some of Hamburg’s best museums. See the spectacular Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest miniature railway, and Spicy’s, exhibiting more than 900 spices from around the world. Explore customs history since the Roman Empire at the Deutsches Zollmuseum, or 3,000 years of seafaring adventures at the International Maritime Museum. Experience the world from a blind or a deaf person’s perspective at the acclaimed Dialog im Dunkeln and Dialog im Stillen, and immerse yourself in the bizarre and eclectic collection of seaman’s treasures at the Harrys Hafenbasar & Museum.
What better place to sample the precious colonial goods – coffee and tea – than among the warehouses that still store and trade them. The Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei roasts and serves some of the best coffee in the city, while the Teekontor Wasserschloss and Meßmer Momentum specialize in brewing a perfect cup of tea. Small snacks can be enjoyed in the numerous bakeries as well as the cafés of the north German Campus Suite chain. And gourmets will relish the district’s excellent restaurants like VLET, Coast by East, CARLS and Wandrahm.
A tour of this neighborhood would not be complete without visiting the grand Elbphilharmonie – Hamburg’s newest landmark. The spectacular concert hall, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, sits on top of Kaispeicher, which was once the city’s biggest warehouse. The heart of the building is the vineyard-style Great Hall that seats over 2,000 people and provides unmatched acoustics. The concert tickets have been booked out for the year but everyone is welcome to visit the beautiful Plaza and enjoy panoramic views across the city and the harbor.
Over the last few years the HafenCity has been discovered by artists, designers and galleries. The area along the Sandtorpark is home to several excellent contemporary art galleries. The Galerie Hafenliebe hosts a permanent exhibition of Zimbabwean sculptures as well as changing art exhibitions. Gregs Gallery and Metropolitan Gallery invite visitors to experience international and local art and artists up close. Across the canal, the iF Design Exhibition features award-winning and innovative design from across the globe.
The HafenCity district is also Hamburg’s up-and-coming nightlife location. In particular the Oberhafen area, once a warehouse and freight depot, is developing into a hot-spot for young artists and various creative projects. One of the city’s newest top clubs is the Moloch, especially popular among the hip millennial party crowd. Another public favorite in the district is the Club 20457 – a unique meeting point of art, literature, and live music.
It’s almost impossible to put away the camera (or smartphone) when encountering gorgeous views wherever you look. But there are some locations in the Speicherstadt and the HafenCity that deliver unparalleled images. Iconic Speicherstadt photos can be taken from the Poggenmühlen-Brücke, particularly during the blue hour. Also a walk over the multi-level connected bridges of Kibbelsteg offers great vantage points. Beautiful photos of historic ships with modern buildings in the backdrop can be taken from the Magellan terraces. And for the best panoramic views climb the Elbphilharmonie Plaza and the HafenCity Viewpoint.