A local’s ultimate guide to Hamburg, Germany
Photos and guide by Jennifer Schlueter
Hamburg has been called “the gateway to the world” for ages and guarantees to provide you with all that comes with this label. You can experience the ritziest neighborhood with the most elegant architecture, but, not far away at all, dive into the wild, uncensored red light district and party until sunrise. As Germany’s greenest city, strolling through neighborhoods will entice you just as much as its maritime flair. All kinds of art lovers, foodies, culture enthusiasts, bikers, and pluviophiles mingle here. And whether you’re looking for the most stunning views of the city, beautiful strolls, the funnest nights, or the best shopping areas, this guide has got you covered! A detailed description of Hamburg’s most famous areas and what you can expect from them is also included.
How to get to Hamburg
Hamburg can be reached via most major and budget airlines, easily via train because of its three large train stations or via car, of course.
Tips: For train tickets, book as early as you can on reiseauskunft.bahn.de and you’ll get the deals.
For car pooling, choose blablacar.com, a reliable websites which lets you offer rides, so you can pick up travelers and split the cost of your gas with them OR ride with someone else. Thanks to reviews, it’s a great, safe way to travel, save money, and the environment.
HVV.de is Hamburg’s website for all your public transportation needs. Busses, subways, and commuter railways run on weekdays every 5-10 minutes, as early as 4.30 a.m. until around 1 a.m., on weekends all night. Plenty of night buses are available for your convenience as well. To save you money, Hamburg offers multiple day or weekend tickets at any ticket machine.
Hotels to stay in
I’ve stayed at the following hotels in Hamburg and can recommend all of them – each for different reasons:
For incredible design, art books, and delicious breakfast, check out the Gastwerk Hotel in Altona.
To stay in the suburbs or go on old-timer (picnic) tours, check out Privathotel Lindtner.
For the best views of Hamburg, check out the Westin inside the Elbphilharmonie.
Notorious areas including things to do
Blankenese’s Treppenviertel makes you feel like you’re somewhere in the Mediterranean with its houses on a (for Hamburg pretty high) hill and its many staircases with great views over the Elbe. Its inhabitants are mostly from the baby boomer generation or older, retirees, and some younger, wealthy families from generation X. Go here for views, a sand beach, and for your Sunday afternoon stroll.
U1, U2 Jungfernstieg
S1, S2, S3 Jungfernstieg
Hamburg’s city center offers plenty of shopping – no matter your budget. Whereas on Mönckebergstrasse, you’ll find stores such as Zara, Mango, and H&M, on Grosse Bleichen and Neuer Wall, you can shop at Louis Vitton, Dior, etc. But don’t only look at the shops, also admire the churches or the impressive town hall. Walk around the Alster or get yourself a coffee or ice cream from somewhere near and just join the locals for the nice view at Jungfernstieg (also if you want to be seen or check out some eye candy).
The harbor area is notorious for the fish market on Sunday mornings, at 5 a.m. to 9.30 a.m., also easily reachable after a night out on the Reeperbahn to sober up. You can find fruit & veggies, fish or tropical flowers and more here. Walking through the Elbtunnel or enjoying the view from Steinwerder is also a must, and so are museum ships and a stroll along the Landungsbrücken until the Elbphilarmonie (where you can attend classical concerts) or a beach bar during summer. If you want to grab a bite, have one of Hamburg’s iconic Fischbrötchen (fish rolls).
S21, S31 Sternschanze (Messe)
Or Sternschanze – is Hamburg’s hip & trendy, but at the same time left and alternative district, including the Rote Flora – a house whose inhabitants would like to be autonomous. Students love it here because something’s always happening. If you like vintage & second hand shopping or independent designers and boutique stores during the day, Schanze’s got you covered. At night, there are plenty of restaurants, bars, and a few places to get your groove on. It’s the less touristy alternative (literally) to Reeperbahn/St.Pauli.
U3 St. Pauli
S1, S2, S3 Reeperbahn
Known for Germany’s most sinful street, the Reeperbahn, there’s nothing you can’t do there. You can dine or have a drink at the rooftop bar at Tanzende Türme, attend a play in one of the theaters, shop at the night farmers market on Wednesdays, dance in a beer tent or enjoy rides at the Dom fair (happens during spring, summer & winter), go adult toy shopping, check out Herbertstrasse, see prostitutes come out towards the evening hours, chill with wax figures, witness a strip or transvestite show, peak into the notorious Molotow nightclub, or party until the morning hours at one of the many clubs – forgive me if I forgot to mention the other 1,000 things. To have seen this place to its fullest extent, go here during the day, party at night and stay until the morning hours to witness how fast it can be “clean” again.
U3 Borgweg (Stadtpark)
Not only can you have great food at one of the many restaurants here, you can also go to the Stadtpark (city park), Hamburg’s third largest green area. Here you can play chess or mini golf, beach volleyball or soccer, run or exercise otherwise, rent a canoe or stand-up paddle board, or just chill out with a book. During summer nights, people come here to barbecue and it’s easy to meet strangers. There’s an outdoor swimming pool right next to the park, and also Hamburg’s planetarium you can visit.
Walking around here will take you back in time! You’ll see where everything from Europe’s third biggest harbor gets stores – mostly oriental carpets, coffee and tea (Yes, Hamburg’s known for both of these beverages!). You can also visit one of the many museums here or the Miniaturwunderland. If you’re a history buff, this is your spot!
U4 HafenCity Universität or Überseequartier
Hamburg’s newest up and coming part for university students and millennials, close to the Elbe, boasts many shopping opportunities, Greenpeace’s headquarters and lots of startups. Great for young crowds and creatives.
All subways and commuter railways: Hauptbahnhof (main train station)
Formerly known as a rather rough part of Hamburg, St. Georg is now an up and coming, extremely ethnically diverse part of the city with a plethora of restaurants, bars and shops from international owners. On weekend nights, Hansaplatz and its surrounding streets are bustling with all kinds of crowds.
A district where you can find most locals enjoying life, full of youngsters, students, and young families, somewhat international, with a variety of restaurants and bars, mostly along Osterstrasse. Best for experiencing a lively Hamburg.
PLANTEN UND BLOOMEN
S11, S21, S31 Bahnhof Dammtor
Ever seen the famous fountain shows at the Bellagio in Vegas or in Barcelona? Hamburg has its own version at Planten und Bloomen, a huge park also with a tropical greenhouse, botanical garden, minigolf, roller skating during summer, ice skating during winter, and lots of cultural events year-round. You’re guaranteed to see something – whenever you go.
U1 Kellinghusenstraße, Hudtwalckerstraße, Lattenkamp
U3 Eppendorfer Baum, Kellinghusenstraße, Sierichstraße
This ritzy part of Hamburg is great for one of Germany’s most beautiful markets, the “Isemarkt” (Tuesdays and Fridays), for strolling through parks and admiring elegant house facades, but it’s best for exclusive dining and eating healthy with its many restaurants, brunch spots, and gelaterias.
Where to stay in Hamburg
Now that you have a feel for Hamburg’s various areas, decide for yourself where you want to stay. For hotels, get 15 Euros off using booking.com and if it’s your first time renting from Airbnb, use this link to get 20 Euros off your first booking!
Tours to take besides the obvious
- A food tour with Eat the World – Hamburg will let you get not only a taste of Hamburg of its trendiest areas, but also of its history.
- If you like riding bikes, take your own or rent one to take a tour with HH Cycles around one of Hamburg’s many areas while listening to a guide sharing Hamburg’s history.
- Did you know Hamburg has hundreds of bunker relicts from both world wars? They were even maintained until 2007, in case a war would break out. If you love history, a tour through Hamburg’s underground with Hamburger Unterwelten e.V. will suit you well. Also available in French and Spanish.
- Stefanie Hempel’s tour has a unique take on Hamburg: The Beatles. The tour takes you through Hamburg’s red light district while telling you everything you want to know about the world’s most famous band.
- Ever wanted to ride on a bus which turns into a boat? Try the HafenCity Riverbus Cruise through HafenCity and a part of the harbor. These cruises are available in English soon.
- Do you love old-timer VW Bulli’s? Well, Hamburg’s Waterkant tours will take you around the city and outskirts (if you want) in one!
You cannot leave Hamburg without having seen its most notorious, most sinful street – and take a tour while you’re there.
- Luciano, who calls himself the Godfather of Hamburg’s Kiez, can bring ladies into the Herberststrasse, which is normally only meant for men. But if you rather want to join Germany’s most famous transvestite on one of her tours – Olivia Jones – please do! These tours are only available in German.
- Up to three people fit into Hanseatic Helicopter Services‘ helicopters and can enjoy a 20- or 30-minute flight over Germany’s greenest city. Available for people speaking any language because you just have to enjoy the view!
Strolls to take
- Around the Alster
- In the “Stadtpark”
- Up and down Blankenese’s Treppenviertel
- Along the harbor/Landungsbrücken area
- Planten & Bloomen park (enjoy the fountain show in the summer)
- For a beach walk, start at Hoppe’s Restaurant and take Övelgönne street
Places to eat
- Carl’s (French & German)
- Coelln’s Mutterland (German) – best Franzbrötchen in Hamburg!
- Landhaus Scherer (German)
- L’Orient (Lebanese)
- Karl’s Cafe und Weine (Ethiopian)
- Engelke (Italian)
- Liman Fisch (Seafood)
- meatery at SIDE (International) – incredible steak
- Piment (International)
- VLET in der Speicherstadt (non-traditional German)
- VLET an der Alster (German)
- Von der Motte (German “fast slow food”)
Places to shop
- Mönckebergstrasse (mostly H&M, Zara, and other known retailers, but also more exclusive ones)
- Altona (mostly H&M, Zara, and other known retailers)
- Hamburger Meile (mall)
- Neuer Wall (internationally renowned designers)
- Grosse Bleichen (internationally renowned designers)
- Schanze (vintage & second hand, independent designers)
Areas for a fun night out
- Schanze (mostly bars, student crowd, great for live music, rock & alternative)
- Grosse Freiheit (clubs and bars which play Top 40, house, electro & some hip hop, mostly tourists)
- Hamburger Berg (a range of unique bars)
- Landungsbrücken (plenty of beach bars during summer)
Check VirtualNights.com for events, but also the Facebook pages of Hamburg’s clubs.
Cultural evening events
Whether you want to check out an Escape Room, enjoy a play, concert or reading (all of these are possible on a ship as well!), see a musical, search for your desired activity on this website.
Where to go for the perfect view
For a view of the harbor from the other side, go to the old Elbtunnel (Alter Elbtunnel) and walk through it (you’ll walk 21 meters below the Elbe, which is pretty cool in itself) and stop at the viewing platform in Steinwerder. If you don’t like crowds, walk a bit further south on Hermann-Blohm-Strasse and take a left on Am Fährkanal. Then you’ll find yourself East of the Elbtunnel’s platform and West of where all the musicals take place. Here, you’ll have a bit more peace. Both places are great for sunsets or sunrises.
For a view of Hamburg from afar, you can go to the top of Wilhemsburg’s war bunker (Hamburg’s 2nd largest one after the one in St. Pauli), which has a 360 degree terrace with an amazing panorama.
For a view of the inner city, pay 4 Euros to go to the top of Hamburg’s Michel.
For a rooftop terrace view with cocktails and food, check out Tanzende Türme on Hamburg’s Repperbahn.
And one last tip: Whatever you do, don’t EVER forget your umbrella! All Hamburgers know…
A big thanks to Eat the World Hamburg, Gastwerk Hotel, HafenCity Riverbus, Hamburger Unterwelten e.V., Hanseatic Helicopter Services, Luciano, Olivia Jones, Privathotel Lindtner, Stefanie Hempel’s Beatles Tour, The Westin, and Waterkant Touren for supporting me on my trip to Hamburg. As usual, all opinions are my own!