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  • Germany-Holsten-gate - Landscape surrounding Holsten Gate in Lübeck, northeast of Germany, one of the most famous German buildings in the world.
  • Germany-Hafen-city-evening - HafenCity, part of Hamburg, Germany, on the Elbe River in the evening.
  • Germany-town-hall-square - Town hall square in Lübeck, Germany.
  • Germany-town-hall-at-christmas - Christmas illuminations light up the evening sky outside the town hall of Alster on the Elbe River in Northern Germany.
  • Germany-Hamburg-dungeon - Actors at Hamburg Dungeon. Built in 2000, the tourist attraction provides a journey through Hamburg’s dark history in an actor-led, interactive experience.
  • Germany-Hamburg-sunset - Sunset over Hamburg, Germany.

Hamburg travel guide: What to do & see

our guide

The vibe

Hamburg is a beautiful and successful commercial port city that has been nicknamed the Hollywood of Germany. All of the German bigwigs call Hamburg their home, which is no surprise. Simply stroll though the canal region of Hamburg, dine in one of the many fabulous outdoor cafes or enjoy a beautiful coastal sunset, and you will want to call this glorious city home as well.

To delve further into the depths of Hamburg's past, first travel back to the year 810. This is the time of its founding by Charlemagne. At the mouth of the Elbe River, this port's prime location helped aid the northern German merchant cities in their efforts to continue their shipping domination in the Baltic and North seas. Hamburg was very fortunate to have remained undisturbed by the Thirty Years War. In fact, Hamburg grew profusely as the years went on, and became one of the world's richest cities just up to the point of World War II. Today, Hamburg remains a leading port for carrying cargo, as well as a great port for cruise passengers venturing along the River Elbe. A lot of cruise ships visit Hamburg, and you'll likely find yourself in awe of one of many modern, upscale cruise centers here.  

There are plenty of places to explore in Hamburg, for example, Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) buildings, the 14th century houses of Deichstrasse and the Kontorhausviertel. These are some of the oldest places to visit in beautiful Hamburg.

Visit Hamburg and delight yourself with its many canals while walking along a fraction of the roughly 1,000 bridges here. Take pictures of the sunset's reflection upon the water as the swans swim merrily by. Take a look at the most popular view of the five churches and the Rathaus that create the most fascinating skyline. Hamburg will not disappoint as a city that simply defines the grand charm of Europe. 

Cruise ships that call on Hamburg

Top reasons to go

  • Hamburg's canal region with cafes and shops.
  • Coastal views, along with nearly 1,000 bridges.
  • Alster twin lakes, complete with a four-mile shoreline filled with incredible views.
Town hall square in Lübeck, Germany.
Freitag / Courtesy of Lübeck und Travemünde Marketing GmbHTown hall square in Lübeck, Germany.

Top things to do & see 

Sightseeing

Hamburg provides its visitors with an incredible amount of sights to see and places to go, but if you had to choose only one, definitely visit Alster (U-bahn stop: Jungfernstieg). The Alster twin lakes provide the most beautiful scenery, as the small boats sail along their calm waters. Daydream with the locals who only wish they could live in one of the multi-million dollar homes that own the view. Bike or walk along the shoreline that runs for four miles, and envelope yourself in the friendly atmosphere.

A beautiful promenade that overlooks these Alster lakes, and is also the prime shopping area, is Jungfernstieg. It is a very old boulevard that was laid out in 1665. Practically hidden are several passages that lead to almost a mile of shops that are pleasantly air-conditioned. Also among these shops are arcades, many of which have been there since the 19th century. In fact, Salem's Bazaar was the very first arcade and was beautifully covered by glass in 1845.

Looking for something along the lines of the French and Italian Riviera? Then discover what may just be the most beautiful part of Hamburg. A picturesque fishing village, Blankenese (ferries depart from Pier 3), is as beautiful as it was essential in the 14th century as a ferry terminal. Houses, surprisingly enough, did not turn up in this key location until the late 18th and 19th centuries. Blankenese is defined by the paths and stairs that lie between houses tightly hugging its steeply sloped hillside. Enjoy the local flare and the taste of the produce from the fruit and vegetable market there. Feel like some fresh fish and a fine view while you wait? Then hop on over to Sagebiel's Fahrhaus (Blankeneser Hauptstr. 107, 040-861-514), a former farmhouse where Kaiser Wilhelm once enjoyed his birthday.

Shopping

Hamburg offers its visitors quite a magnificent array of merchandise, which makes it one of the best shopping spots in Germany. It has elegant boutiques that feature Germany's premier designers. Included in Hamburg's many malls are arcades, movie theaters and fine cuisine. A wonderful shopping district where you can stroll down streets filled with boutiques, restaurants and cafés is Poseldorf (North of downtown). The key streets here are Milchstrasse and Mittelweg, so be sure to go and visit them first. Looking for antiques? The best place to go is Antik-center (Klosterwall 9-21, 040-326-285). A combined 39 shops are located in this old market hall, and it is the perfect place to find antiques from any time period. Fine jewelry can be found at Wempe (Jungfernstieg 8, 040/3344-8824).

Nightlife

Nightlife can be found in abundance at The Reeperbahn (St. Pauli district). Here you can catch any show you can possibly dream of and have a nice drink to accompany it. One of the most popular dance clubs is After Shave (Spielbudenpl 7, 040-319-3215). It is often packed with the trendiest people, and every night promises a lively scene. Birdland (Gärtnerstr. 122, 040-405-277) is also one of the most popular bars and clubs, specializing in the jazz scene. The live music can vary from New Orleans traditional sounds to avant-garde electronic beats.

HafenCity, part of Hamburg, Germany, on the Elbe River in the evening.
Ralf Brunner, Diplom-Fotograf / Courtesy of Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus e.V.HafenCity, part of Hamburg, Germany, on the Elbe River in the evening.

Outdoor activities

Biking is a fun and healthy sport that can help you explore all of Hamburg's secret spots. Another fun mode of transport, in the more traditional sense, is horseback riding. Hamburg is very fond of horses and the derbies held in the city. A good place to rent a horse would be at Gut Wendlohe (Oldesloerstr. 236). It is unfortunate that swimming is not allowed in the Elbe or the Alster Rivers because of the health hazards, but swimming is still a favorite activity in Hamburg. Stop at the Bartholomaus-Therme (Bartholomäusstr. 95, 040-221-283), where there are two indoor swimming pools in this 19th century spa. If being outdoors is more appealing, one can go out on the Alster by renting a sailboat or rowboat. Many places hire them out at a reasonable hourly rate.

Best bets for dining

The dining has to be good to satisfy the selective tastes of those wealthy professionals who help make Hamburg such a first-class city. Restaurants vary from the very chic to the down-home taverns that define it as a harbor town. If neither extreme suits your taste, there are plenty of cozy in between restaurants with wonderful menus, such as:

  • The Ahrberg (Strandweg 33, Blankenese, 040/860-438) has a warm atmosphere that fits perfectly with its traditional German menu and seafood dishes.
  • Restaurante Porto (Ditmar-Koel-Straße 15) serves "delicately grilled fresh fish and enough potatoes to satisfy the most voracious appetite" for about 18 euros, says the New York Times. 

Best time to go

The best time to visit Hamburg is the months between May and September when the weather is warm. This also means that there are lots of tourists around. For fewer crowds, visit in the fall. The temperatures will be in the 50s and 60s, but the benefits might be worth the chill.

When you arrive

Docking information

Cruise ships dock at the Port of Hamburg (Hamburg Cruise Center E.V.), which is not too far from the center of the city. There are several ways to get there that are equally accessible and reliable.

Getting around

The bicycle is a great way to see the city at your own pace. Hamburg is very accommodating to this way of travel, and it has set up bicycle lanes adjacent to all the major streets. Public transportation is quite popular in this city. They have two trains, the U-bahn (underground) and the S-bahn (above-ground). Buses are timely as well, and provide customers with terrific service during the day and night. Hamburg has myriad taxis that make for a convenient way to travel around the city. They run seven days a week and can be hailed from the street or picked up at a taxi stand.

Need to know

Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens will need a valid passport.

Language: German; however, many Germans speak at least a little English.

Currency: The Euro.

Safety: Hamburg is generally a safe city. Watch out for pickpockets, especially in the area around the Mönckebergstrasse, Central Station, on the Reeperbahn, in buses and on trains, but also on crowded escalators and any other crowded places.

Wikivoyage contributed to this article. 

Your take

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Overheard

“Imperiously perched at the western tip of the gleaming new Hafencity is the stunning Elbphilharmonie, costing 789 million euros. ... The juxtaposition of brick and glass, old and new, practically begs to be seen as a metaphor for Hamburg's marriage of traditional and modern industries.”

New York Times

“The Herzog & de Meuron-designed Elbphilharmonie opened in January 2017. The 360-foot-tall glass structure sits atop an old warehouse, its spiky roof evoking sails and the city’s maritime past.”

New York Times

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