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Morning – explore the independent shops of Karolinenviertel
Kick off the day with breakfast and coffee in Gretchen’s Villa on Marktstraße in the hip Karolinenviertel. Opening at 10am, it’s best to get there before 11am, when it starts to fill up with hungry residents seeking a bowl of Gretchen’s homemade granola or a full gourmet breakfast with a variety of meats and cheeses. Whatever you choose, fuel up for the day ahead, and venture out into the street. Vintage stores, unique boutiques, craft shops and narrow knick-knack shops line Marktstraße: be sure to duck down any side alley that catches your eye to discover your own treasure trove. Independent businesses are the heart of Hamburg and visiting them is a great way to get to know the personality of the city on your first morning.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to buy something, but the price isn’t displayed (which is common in the smaller shops) you can easily ask in German by asking “Wie viel” – pronounced vee feel – and pointing to the item in question.
Afternoon – wander along Hamburg’s river
If you’re in Hamburg in the winter months, head south down to Heiligengeistfeld and the Hamburger Dom, where a winter wonderland takes over the area: funfair rides, German sweets and piping hot chocolate make it an ideal stop on your journey.
If it’s summertime, head straight past and down to the docks: a stroll along the River Elbe in the sunshine show you exactly what made Hamburg the bustling trade city that it is. There are countless stands to grab a classic Hamburg fish sandwich or some chips if you get hungry. And you don’t have to settle for simply admiring the river; pass beneath it by entering the Landing Bridges, a tunnel that runs under the river and often houses special exhibitions.
Afterwards, it’s time to get a different perspective on the city. St Michael’s Church offers a 360-degree view from 100m (328ft) above the ground. Get here to catch the afternoon light and watch the dusky glow descend over the skyline.
Evening – try the catch of the day
The sun is setting and it’s time for dinner. You couldn’t spend a weekend in a harbour town without visiting a fish restaurant, and so now is the perfect time to visit a Hamburg favourite. Brücke 10 and Dock 3, so named for their riverside port locations, are two of the best places to try the catch of the day.
Brücke 10 features white-washed nautical decor, whereas Dock 3 is styled as a beach bar (complete with sandy floor). Both have outdoor seating, with heaters and blankets to keep the night’s chill at bay as you admire the view. Ask the staff in either restaurant for the fresh, daily special to really taste what Hamburg’s fish chefs have to offer.
Night – party on the Reeperbahn
This street is known throughout Germany – you may have walked through it earlier and barely batted an eye, but after dark this avenue of bars and clubs comes alive. Whether you’re looking for a drink, some tabletop games or a place to dance the night away, you’ll find what you’re looking for along this street. A famous favourite of city residents is Große Freiheit 36, right in the middle of the Reeperbahn.
Morning – explore the tranquil Alster Lakes
Once you’ve blown away the cobwebs with a traditional German breakfast of breads, cheese and meats, it’s time for a stroll in a quintessential part of the country’s landscape, and a treasured icon of Hamburg’s scenery: the lakes. If you want to get even closer, there are several small docks around Alster Lakes where you can rent boats during the summer months.
Pro Tip: At any time of year, don’t miss Lombardsbrücke, at the very southern tip. This stunning remnant of old architecture makes for a perfect photo opportunity.
Afternoon – visit one of Hamburg’s most distinctive buildings
Head back into the city to Mönckebergstraße metro station and take the U3 train three stops towards Barmbek, hopping off at the Elbphilharmonie. If you’re not too tired, the weather is good and you’re keen to see more of the city, you could skip the train and walk this stretch in about 30 minutes.
You can’t miss the Elbphilharmonie, the architectural masterpiece of a concert hall on the banks of the river. It’s free to enter and the views of the city from inside are just as stunning as the building’s curved glass windows and scalloped profile.
As the afternoon draws to a close and your stomach starts to rumble, you can have your pick of typical German cuisine near the Elbphilharmonie. The best places to choose include Heimathafen, Zum Spätzle or Deichgraf. All are within a 15-minute walk of the concert hall and serve up local specialities such as fried fish, venison and spätzle (a type of egg pasta, often served in a cheesy sauce).
Evening – discover Hamburg’s alternative side
Dusk in Hamburg on your last day, and you need a new place to enjoy your final evening in the city. For a bohemian vibe, head to the quirky Schanzenviertel district in the north of the city: the neighbourhood is home to independent record stores, graffiti galore and grungy dive bars like Katze.
Night – head to a disco under a bridge
Just north of Karolinenviertel, where the weekend’s itinerary began, is a cluster of clubs. Tucked under a railway bridge on Max-Brauer-Allee, these venues offer a slice of true German alternative nightlife. One recommendation is Waagenbau (open from midnight to 4am) which plays a mixture of live music, electronica and sets by German DJs. If you’re still standing, this is where to close out the last few hours of a perfect weekend in Hamburg.