Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, is among the country’s top travel destinations. And, with 104 districts, it has a neighbourhood for every cultural preference – from cosmopolitan to rural, maritime to alternative, and everything in between. Explore them with the help of our guide, and experience the unique facets of this vibrant harbour city. Wondering what to do and where to stay in Hamburg? Read on.
The best place to start exploring Hamburg is the historic old town by Lake Alster. At its heart, you will find the Neo-Renaissance Hamburg city hall, which houses the city’s senate and parliament. Follow the lure of the stores and shopping malls that line Mönckebergstraße and Spitalerstraße streets, and make sure to stop and admire the beautiful St Petri and St Jacobi churches. If you’re looking for a bite to eat, pass the St Nikolai memorial church and head to Deichstraße for some superb and affordable restaurants.
If you’re looking for an upmarket shopping experience, Hamburg’s “new town” is the place to go. The area around Jungfernstieg, Neuer Wall, and Große Bleichen will fulfil every heart’s desire. Stop by Cafe Alexto rest your feet while enjoying a coffee and gorgeous views of the lake. Discover the gorgeous 17th- and 18th-century red-brick buildings of the “composer’s quarter“. Visit the St Michaelis church, from which you can enjoy the best views over the city, and descend towards Landungsbrücken into the Portuguese Quarter to sample the best Mediterranean food in Hamburg.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Hamburg’s warehouse district is the largest of its kind in the world. The red-brick warehouses were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on oak-log foundations. Some of the buildings here are still used as warehouses for exclusive goods such as carpets, coffee, tea and spices, while others house popular museums such as the Miniatur Wunderland and the Hamburg Dungeon. Don’t leave before sampling some of the best products stored in the functioning warehouses, such as the coffee roasted on the spot at the Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei.
A visit to Hamburg would never be complete without stopping by the Reeperbahn, nicknamed the “Most Sinful Mile”. The area around Europe’s longest party street is filled with countless restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs, discotheques and Landungsbrucken, the city’s unmissable floating dock. Some of the places favoured by the locals are hidden away in the side streets and squares, such as on the Große Freiheit, Hamburger Berg and the Hans-Albers-Platz. Don’t be surprised if you see a black flag with a skull and crossbones on every corner – it’s the unofficial emblem of the district’s cult football club, the FC St Pauli.
The HafenCity, one of Hamburg’s newest districts, is among the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe. Here, you can explore beautiful examples of modern architecture; there are residential buildings and offices, playgrounds and park areas, museums and restaurants. At the heart of HafenCity is Hamburg’s most ambitious project of the past few decades, the Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall built on top of an old warehouse building.
This alternative neighbourhood, usually referred to simply as the “Schanze”, is busy at all times of day. The district’s main street, the Schulterblatt, is dominated by the Rote Flora cultural centre that has been squatted in since 1989, representing Schanze’s leftist and alternative vibe. Start your day with breakfast at a Portuguese bakery, enjoy a lunchtime currywurst, drink an after-work cocktail in one of the bars, and go dancing during the weekend. Just around the corner lies the trendy Karoviertel, known for quirky stores stocking garments by up-and-coming fashion designers.
St Georg, slap-bang in the centre of Hamburg between the main train station and Lake Alster, is the city’s LGBTQ hub – Generation Bar is a popular gay bar on the strip. At the heart of the district, you’ll also find restaurants and cafes representing global cuisine – Bar Humburg is a favourite of A-list celebrities, while Frau Möller draws peckish tourists with its steak and beer, served into the small hours of the morning.
Ottensen is a vibrant multicultural district. It’s a residential area with many shopping opportunities, as well as art and culture venues. Explore the shops and boutiques around the Ottenser Hauptstrasse and Bahrenfelder Strasse, and find a bite to eat at the Alma-Wartenberg-Platz. Nearby you’ll also find the Zeisehallen, a refurbished old factory that now houses a cinema, a gallery and a restaurant; and Die Fabrik, an ammunition depot-turned- popular-alternative-concert hall.
This district, near Lake Alster and Hamburg’s largest park, is an upscale residential neighbourhood. The bi-weekly Isemarkt, held under the steel arcs of a railway line, is Europe’s longest farmers’ market, with more than 200 stalls. The neighbourhood’s main street, Eppendorfer Landstrasse, is lined with historic buildings housing trendy little retail shops and boutiques, as well as cafes and restaurants. As elsewhere in Hamburg, the streets of Eppendorf come alive when the weather is sunny, with locals flocking to the restaurant terraces no matter the season.
Once a humble fishing village, Blankenese is now where to stay in Hamburg if you’re seeking some of its most picturesque areas. Slip into your comfortable trainers and spend your day strolling leisurely past villas and historic mansions in the so-called “District of Stairs” with its 5,000 steps. Once you’ve reached the sandy beach on the River Elbe, stop for a coffee in one of the waterside cafes and enjoy the quarter’s Riviera-like atmosphere.
South west of Schanzenpark, this bohemian area is where to stay in Hamburg for a surfeit of street art, organic cafes, independent record stores and dive bars. It’s a great place to eat, sleep and drink for a decent price too. Beer lovers should make a beeline for Braugasthaus Altes Mädchen, a huge craft brewery and restaurant serving 30 handcrafted beers on tap and more than 70 bottled craft beers from around the world. Cocktail fans are better off at Zoë II, a gloriously shabby-chic bar where all the seats are elegant vintage sofas.
The Elbe island of Wilhelmsburg is Hamburg’s largest quarter with around 50,000 residents. A 12-minute ferry ride to the heart of St Pauli quarter, Wilhelmsburg is popular for its riverside living, cosy pubs, old apartments and lively coffee shops. When you’re craving green space, head to Inselpark, once the home of an international garden exhibition but now resplendent with playgrounds, a skate park, forests and even its very own nature reserve.
Shoppers can spend hours strolling the narrow lanes of Karoviertel lined with vintage fashion shops, one-off boutiques and more record stores than one person could ever need. Separated from Schanzenviertel only by the former abattoir, the area has plenty of places to stop when you’re shop-weary too. Try the tiny Café Klatsch for organic dishes and homemade cakes, or Feldstern for great beers and a killer club sandwich.
Siobhan Grogan contributed additional reporting to this article.
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