Did you know Hamburg, Germany has more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam combined?
In June I spent a splendid 2 days in this scenic, modern and efficient port city. Because it was a familiarization trip for a small number of individuals in the travel industry, the objective was to see as much as we could in those 2 busy days. Below is a list of my top 10 favorite highlights of the city.
This is one the largest model railway exhibitions in the world. The attraction is comprised of 8 distinct sections on two floors including models of Hamburg, the Hamburg Airport, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia. It is great for all ages whether or not you are a train fanatic. I know I could have spent an entire day here, discovering the intricacies of the painstaking detail and remarkable accuracy and I can see why visitors return-it’s impossible to see everything the first time. I loved the airport model, the planes take off and land! And I was intrigued by the models of Hamburg’s changes depicted throughout centuries.
2. Tower of St. Michaelis Church
The church itself isn’t particularly interesting or grand inside, but the tower boasts an unmatched view of the city. I love going up tall structures (or hills) and looking down on a city below. It helps me to make sense of a city’s layout and to feel more connected. The panoramic view from the top of the tower is amazing and costs a reasonable 5 Euros. I highly recommend going during the early evening, but be forewarned it was very windy and therefore a bit chilly. We enjoyed a champagne toast which was a delightful touch and while looking down upon the city I noticed details that I had seen from the models at Miniatur Wunderland. Although I think the order would have been better in reverse-to see the real city and then to see the model.
After walking around the city with a guided tour, relaxing on an open boat in the sun was a pleasant change of pace. The boat tour takes you on a serene ride around the Inner Alster and the Outer Alster, two artificial lakes formed from damming the nearby river. The lakes themselves were calm, and we saw views of elegant manors along the waterfront. The foliage and the water reminded me of the Pacific Northwest on a sunny day. A little under an hour, the cruise was the perfect length of time and although there was supposed to be an audio-guide, the devices were not working. However, I preferred the cruise without the added technology. You don’t need to be wearing headphones while enjoying a blissful cruise.
With a guide, we were purposefully led to some of the most noteworthy architectural sights in the city, and we had the history of each building’s function and history explained to us. We spent time in the business district, the city center and Hafencity and saw astounding blends of historic with modern architecture all tastefully and expertly designed. We even got to see a revolving elevator in one of the buildings. It’s called a paternoster and it never stops moving. You simply step in or step out of the door-less, open compartment and just like elevators they carry you up or down building floors. Video of a paternoster
Especially because we had limited time, it was extremely beneficial to have a guide. Our guide, Paul Klein was very knowledgeable and showed us a variety of sights and helped us to appreciate and understand Hamburg. Klein conducts general city tours and also provides many specialized tours including ones focused solely on architecture, history and for some tours, he even wears a costume.
Guide Paul Klein, tel. +49-40-3908473, mobile: +49-171-9951116; email@example.com
Located a bit out of the city center but still accessible by metro, the museum’s location is historically significant as 100 years ago the original Emigration Halls were located on the same grounds. It was in these Emigration Halls where 5 million European emigrants stayed before departing Hamburg’s port for the New World. The museum itself has been very thoughtfully designed and laid out and is great for all ages, even young children. There are many interactive exhibits and a wide range of multimedia displays including more than 1,000 historic documents, listening activities with personal narratives and use of their premium ancestry.com accounts on mac computers to research one’s lineage. Overall, the exhibition helps you to understand how and why emigrants left their home countries and ventured to an unfamiliar place on an arduous and uncertain journey.
6. Lunch in Brauhaus Albrecht
This excellent beer house offers authentic, quality German food and a selection of wonderful home-brewed beer. The location is very convenient in the city center and directly alongside a canal with impressive views, wide, open windows and ample seating. I ordered the vegetable lasagna and a delicious beer. Prices are a reasonable 8-12 Euros for lunch.
7. Beatles Tour
This was a fantastic tour! We met our guide Stefanie at the end of the Reeperbahn, a street in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, known for its nightlife and also the red-light district of Hamburg. At the end of the street is Beatles-Platz, a circular plaza made to resemble a vinyl record and with a statue dedicated to The Beatles. There is much more Beatles history in Hamburg than I originally realized. The band arrived in Hamburg not long after they were formed in Liverpool. We saw the first clubs they performed in and their apartment building where they lived above a theater, staying up late each night and waking up early to the sounds of children’s films.
Stefanie herself is adorable, engaging and emotive as well as a talented musician. She tells of the history of The Beatles in the city, shows photographs of young Beatles members and even plays their songs on her ukulele and sings along. She is enthusiastic and genuinely passionate and friendly. She has been giving the tour for 10 years and she was the original operator although some people have since copied her. The tour itself was informative and fun and the ideal length of time and walking distance.
8. St. Pauli Quarter
I truly enjoyed walking around St. Pauli District and getting to know the area. St. Pauli is the same district where we took The Beatles Tour and where the band performed their first concerts. I recommend exploring as many of Hamburg’s neighborhoods as you can. I believe different neighborhoods are the best way to learn about a city and discover its idiosyncrasies. This holds especially true for Hamburg. The city has everything from neighborhoods resembling Switzerland’s order and cleanliness to neighborhoods like St. Pauli with the red-light district, counter-culture, vintage shops and streets lined with overgrown trees. In St. Pauli we witnessed a riot complete with black-mask clad punks dashing around the streets and the police-force shooting anti-riot water cannons which supplied our excitement for that night.
9. Dinner at Nil
Best meal in Germany! We had yellow asparagus with potatoes and hollandaise sauce for the main course. The service was superb and I loved the airy and modern ambiance and beautiful outdoor seating on the back patio. The restaurant has set daily menus with courses which I always appreciate more than overwhelmingly large menus. The food was delicious and I was impressed with the wine. It’s a bit pricey but worth it for a memorable meal.
10. 25 Hours Hotel in Hafencity
I wish all hotels were as cool as this Hamburg hotel. The hotel has live music in the evening and a relaxed atmosphere. It is very trendy and urban but comfortable and stylish. It’s definitely a concept hotel with a nautical theme and refurbished shipping containers being used in the lobby and sauna, but presented in a way that isn’t tacky or uninviting. The breakfast was to die for with fresh fruit, yogurt, orange juice, coffee, an immense selection of cheese and meats and German bread! There is also a smoking room with a record player and dozens of records to play, a tea/coffee reception area upstairs, a computer room with Apple desktop computers and even free bicycle rentals.
The district of Hafencity itself is very young (est. 2008) and still being widely developed although there is an increasing selection of restaurants and facilities located within walking distance of the hotel. If you don’t plan to stay in the hotel, it’s still worth checking out the neighborhood and exploring what it has to offer.