While I lived in Hamburg I have been giving friends a tour of the city quite frequently. Since I do not live there at the moment (to give tours) but people ask me to give them “a list of what they should see” I figured I could make a central one here. If you have anything to add that people should see – just let me know! 🙂
This is going to (obviously) be a longer post. It might also be interesting for people who just want to get to know more about the city. In general the city seems rather relaxed although it has 1,7 Million inhabitants! You definitely don’t feel the stress that you would expect at this size! 🙂
Main Tourist Attactions
When you arrive in Hamburg from Central Station, you should first get a 3 day ticket for the public transport for slightly less than 20 Euros. It takes you pretty much everywhere, which is worth a lot in a big city like Hamburg! Then take the South Exit and head for the city hall by going along the major shopping street of Hamburg. Be prepared for Starbucks in a Temple, 25m buses on line 5 (longest ones in Europe, they have 2 joints) and a marvelous city hall! 🙂 In this city hall they also have guided German and English tours for about 2,5€ – definitely worth it! With decorated session halls (one with completely embossed walls in leather), marble from Egypt and interesting customs it makes quite a stop.
The Downtown has been rebuild in about 1843 after a big fire wiped out 1/3 of the city and Hamburg was wealthy enough to rebuild it in style! Still today you can see the Alsterarkaden with expensive stores from the city hall, which you can recognize by the big arcs. At its end you will reach the Jungfernstieg, which is the oldest paved road in Hamburg and boards directly on the Alster, the big inner lake of the city, on which you will find tour ships as well.
In summer the lake features a big fontaine, in winter a 25m christmas tree. On Jungerfernstieg you will also find Streit’s Theatre, where they show Movies in their original languages and have an English sneak preview every Monday evening – but get tickets early, because they are sold out one week in advance already! The entire show is a ritual with 45 minutes of trailers, the audience doing already choreagraphies to it and auction for old movies up front. Worth a visit if you stay longer! In this area they also have the famous German christmas markets.
From the Jungfernstieg I usually take my friends to the harbour with Subway line U3 until the station of Landungsbrücken, which eventually rests on stelts above the street and has a good view over the harbour! Once you arrive there, you can take a paid ferry round trip and you also have 3 options, which I will just describe consequitively:
Ferry to the Hamburg Beach (Line 62 until Neumühlen-Oevelgönne)
The ferry is also included in the 3 day ticket! Do not get the ferries to the musical on the other side (Lion King) but rather the one to the beach – line 62 leaving to the right side. A rich merchant once said “Hamburg does not have a beach – I will give them a beach!” and piled up 500m of sand on one spot. It is still pretty popular in Hamburg. On its end you will find the cafe “Strandperle”, which also serves beer. 🙂
When sitting on a summer night on this beach on a campfire, you can see the ships on the container port load and unload with beautiful illumination! Hamburg has Europe’s 2nd biggest container port (after Rotterdam). If you are on the city tour, take the ferry back to Landungsbrücken or one station further again. (If you are just passing through and are hungry – wait for other places, this one is rather expensive.)
Interesting side story: A bit towards the beach you can also see a small figure swimming on a buoy in the water – a small African figure of 1,56m. It was intended as an art project to mark the spots in Hamburg that had to do with slavery (you will also find one slinging from a giraffe in front of the city zoo e.g.). One of these was also placed on top of an old storage hall facing the street. Apparently it was not directly recognizable as a wooden figure, since the suicide rate in the nearby psych ward tripled, since people got “inspired” by the “guy about to jump off the roof”. They eventually took it down again…
Speicherstadt & Hafencity
If you more towards the left side of the harbour, you will find a big canal seperating a bigger “island” from the land. This is the so called “Speicherstadt” (cargo city). At the end of the 19th century Germany was slowly integrating territories and cities into the country, but so far Hamburg always resisted, because they feared a decline in attractivity for naval traffic. They only joined once they were promised a tax free zone in which ships could unload their cargo (mostly coffee, which was then refined here) and other ships picked it back up. Only if you brought it onto the “main land” you had to pay taxes. Today this storage houses still feature the biggest miniature exibition of live-running trains, cars and even an entire airport – “Miniature Wonderland” – on a surface of about 50.000m² – definitely worth a visit! They put so much love into every detail and everything is under constant movement – like a fire department incident. They also have several other interesting museums (like the customs / smuggeling museum) and the expensive Hamburg Dungeon – a scary ghost house if you will. Entering is at own risk! 🙂 Behind the Speicherstadt you will find the Hafen City – a new part of the city currently under development with expensive suits and locations. The Hamburg Philharmony is placed here as well (the big building overarcing everything else). It was intended to cost about 150 Million € and already went 3 times over that price! It has become so unexpectedly expensive that by now the city and the construction company only communicate over a lawyer!
When you walk from the Station Landungsbrücken to the right, you will see a parking lot and after it a green dome. This marks the entrance into the old Elbtunnel. It was built slightly before WW1 when the German Emperor wanted to extend his fleet beyond the British one’s size and also have his workers build during winter. The exit is on the other side of the river. The docks used to employ some 2000 people in Hamburg but had to cut down quite a bit.
In 2010 they have been bought by some Arabian company. Even todays cars can still pass it by de- and ascending again through elevators just barely big enough to hold a car! When you come out on the other end, pass around the corner of the building on the left and walk towards the water again. You have a good view over the city skyline from there. It is best at night!
Hamburger Michel (Michaelis Church)
One of the definitely famous sights of Hamburg is the Michaelis Church, called “Michel” by locals. You can see the tower from the Harbour already. It is a very round church and actually features 3 organs and a crypt! What also makes it interesting is the possibility to mount its tower over the 422 steps (last time I counted them) or the elevator. 🙂 You have a marvelous view over Hamburg and can see the sites you have just been and the ones I will still tell you about. These are also explained with little tables directly near the looking glasses you can use. In winter they also have a station with the famous German Glühwein two floors below the top one. Walking up (or down) you can see the old clock works and the bells (beware of them ringing when you pass by!).
Side excurse if you find it: 150 from the Michel there are the Krameramtsstuben. They belonged to the old chamber of commerce which hosted the widows of fellow merchants on the first floor. On the ground floor you still have little cafés, a local shop with custom made candy and a big picture on the wall depicting a lot of Hamburgs famous citizens and their stories. Let’s see how many of them the locals around can explain to you! 🙂
Once you are done in the Harbour, take the subway U3 again to the station “Sternschanze”. This is the “hip” quarter of the town. It used to be quite the alternative quarter of the city until the rent prices were raised to make profit from its popularity. This was triggered by the construction of a high class hotel inside the old watertower in the park nearby. Groups of punks and other opposers sometimes even violently protested, so that police patrols were going around the construction side all night. Also today you still have the oldest occupied house in Hamburg here – called “Rote Flora“. Today it is a cultural youth center. You can easily recognize it by its rundown appearance and occasional homeless people sleeping on the steps. Still it has several good parties every once in a while! 🙂
Still this quarter is very alternative at times: on the 1st of May there are big demonstrations and usually in front of the Rote Flora there is a 3x4m bonfire which often turns into the epicenter of sometimes violent riots. I was once sitting in a restaurant and had to explain why suddenly 14 troop cars and 3 water launchers of the police were passing by the restaurant – to a place 200m away from us. I still like the quarters flavor though. 🙂 It is still quite international with lots of bars to hang out in.
Also one of my favorites – the “sofa bar” which is at the end of the quarter towards the kiez. You will have to go this direction anyway if you want to do real party. 🙂 At this end of the quarter (slightly back into the street “Schulterblatt”) you also have “Jim Burrito”, a cool mexican food place – my favourite one actually! 🙂
Kiez & Altona
Within walking distance of the “Schanze” you have the party area “Reeperbahn“. It is famous all over Europe and has some quite unique traits: It is at the same time the party and red light district and still features some operas, operettes, a wax figure cabinet, a bigger square for live gigs and the smallest police district of the city with the most work. 🙂
When you go about half way down the street and turn left right after the police station, you will soon hit the “Herbertstraße“, which is only allowed for guys to enter. If girls enter they are supposedly sprayed with urine with from watercanons. Why? Well, it is a shopping street – with live girls on display…
Coming out the other side you will find yourself close to Hans-Albers-Platz, one of the party epicentres here. On it you have 3 things I always visit: 2 Irish Pubs with Live Music (Molly Malone and The Acadamy), the cheapest pizza store around (2 euros for some hand made pizza from the wood stove!) and the Cobra Bar – a quite alternative pub. Rock lovers can also still check out King’s Calavera on the corner. 🙂 Talking about corners: on this part of the street you will have to fight off the prostitutes constantly offering your costly favours. You will recognize them by their fanny packs and feather plummed jackets – so girls better do not go on the street with those or expect the question how much you cost!
Coming back on the Reeperbahn Street turn left until you see the “Große Freiheit” (Great Liberty). It is the street with the highest club density, features the last live-sex-show-theatre in Germany (Safari Club) and the place where The Beatles became famous in Germany! (Kaiserkeller) Today this place belongs to “Große Freiheit 36”, which offers parties and concerts (Blink182, Duran Duran, Petshop Boys and several others played here already!). Upstairs you have the Galeria, where you have Latino Music every Saturday. The same applies for the main hall every Thursday – with Caipirinha for 2€ and free salsa lessons if you come at 9pm! 🙂
If you step out of that very locale, you will see a church (!). That’s right – a church on the party street! It is actually the reason why the street got its name!
Remember I told you Hamburg joined the German country only at the end of the 19th century? At that point everything north of the city belonged to Denmark – also this part of the city, which was outside the city walls back then, but many Germans lived here. This part of the city was (and still is) called “Altona” by Hamburgians – which stems from “al to nah” – “all to near”. The Danish were simply “too close” in the eyes of the citizens.
So the Germans around here asked the Bishop (which was (Danish) Catholic and not (German) Lutheran like the citizens of this part of the city, if they could build their own church. The bishop allowed it under the condition that it had no bell tower, so that it could not be bigger than any of his own churches – which was considered the “great liberty / freedom”, hence the street name. If you check that church today you will find mostly Eastern European citizens and if you check the street poles right in front you will find offers to rides to Warsaw, but also marriage proposals for 30.000€!
If you go back up Reeperbahn on the other side of the street you will come across “Hamburger Berg“, which features some rockier places and the bar “Lucky Star” with famous shots – called “Mexicaner” (Mexicans). Give them a try to life the full experience! To also REALLY achieve the full experience, you have to go to the “Fischmarkt” (fish market), which opens Sundays at 5 am in the summer and around 7 am in the winter.
You do not only find fish there but also hot chocolate, more live bands and something like a flea market. Some bars around there also only open at 5 am with more live music. 🙂 Go there directly from the party and do not bother “waking up early to experience it” – it is not the same! Parties in Hamburg usually last long and then end up on the Kiez. When I went to other cities I was usually surprised that parties ended at 4am already! So prepare for a ride! 🙂
Side story: there is another unique street in Hamburg: Sierichstraße, which is a one way street that changes its direction depending on the time of the day. Cool huh? 😉
There are some major events in Hamburg that you should attend if you are in the city around that time.
Also the Hamburg harbour now already features more than 850 years and is celebrated each year with a big event with live stages and other according events. Check it out but be prepared for a big crowd!
A big crowd can usually also be seen at other events. If you talk about Queen Mary II in Hamburg, you do not refer to the British Queen – but to a cruise ship built in Hamburg, which returns several times a year on cruises and for inspection. Thousands of people see it entering and leaving the city and being flanked by all smaller ships in the harbour then. It might be interesting, but do not expect to be able to catch a ferry at that time. 😉
Christopher Street Day is the biggest parade of the city – the gay and lesbian parade! More than 1 Million people parade along each year and demonstrate for equality. Hamburg is rather liberal in this aspect and also one former mayor was openly gay, which might have been a contributing factor. Quite fun if you let it be and simply join! 🙂
Another fun day is the World Astra Day – a festival celebrated also at the harbour each year by a local beer brand – Astra beer! Also expect funny ads from them all year around on bus stops (let somebody translate you all the puns they have on them ;)).
Besides Europe’s biggest inner-city graveyard (in Olsdorf) and a very big park, in which you can even rent canoes to go around the city(!), there are several other attractions:
Another place to visit is the big Hamburg Zoo in the North of the City. It is over 125 years old and features quite a lot of animals. (And the little giraffe figure at the entrance I mentioned earlier.) It is a bit costly though.
The Markstraße (market street) is a street close to the Subway station “Feldstraße” and has a lot of alternative and weird shops to check out – give it a try! 🙂
Very close to it is also the “Hamburger Dom” (Hamburg Cathedral), which is actually the biggest leisure fair in Hamburg (and only happened to start in a cathedral but was soon moved outside). It happens 3x a year for about a month and is on the big square between Sternschanze and Kiez (right by the big aerial bunker). Wednesdays are family days with reduced prices! 🙂
One thing you will also notice around the city are all the water carrier figures. This was a man in the 18th century who inherited the house of a general called Hummel, with who’s name the kids around town used to tease him. Carrying the water he was usually too slow to get them, so he usually called out “Mors” (let’s just say “butt”) with which he threatened to spank them once he got a hold of them. This today leads to the almost official Hamburg war cry “Hummel Hummel – Mors Mors” for soccer games and the like.
Störtebecker was one of the more famous pirates of the 16th century. He was rather successfull until he was captured and put on trial in Hamburg. He was sentenced to death but still managed a bargain: that after being beheaded, all the members of his crew that he still managed to run by would be freed. Tale has it that he still managed to free some 17(!) members of his crew until somebody stuck out a leg to make him trip… His skull was put on a stick in the harbour to frighten potential other pirates. Only in about 2009 one of the found skulls has actually been confirmed to belong to Störtebecker with about 85% certainty – they did not treat them that well back then …
When you take the public transport in the city, you might wonder what all the station names mean. They are actually rather funny! Check out the English translation and let me know which one is your favorite! 😉
And here a short version of the Hamburg presentation – check out some of the picks as well! 🙂
And another one about Germany, while we are on it 🙂