The gateway to the world: This is Hamburg's label which for some, might be a rather daring claim, but as a major port city, Hamburg's maritime background contributed to the creation of the city's strong identity. Hamburg is Germany's second largest city and one of the country's richest cities. At first glance, I'd say Hamburg has a dynamic spirit infused in all its attractions, architecture, culinary delights and residents. So what to do in Hamburg during a first-time visit? We ditched the maps and went on a treasure hunt to discover Hamburg's vibrant districts.
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What to do in Hamburg
To figure out what to do in Hamburg, you need to first decide the aim and outcome of your visit. For instance, we decided to have a cultural and wellness visit in Hamburg, during which, we found incredible photo spots, ate great food and discovered the artsy side of the city. However, for those in search of a more incandescent side of Hamburg, known that this city is sometimes referred to as Germany's party capital. This is because of its insane stag dos which take place on Reeperbahn, a party street located in the entertainment district St. Pauli or Sternschanze. Reeperbahn is also known as the city's red-light district.
Our Hamburg itinerary started with a relaxing walk around the world's largest warehouse district: Speicherstadt. It is located in the port of Hamburg, within the HafenCity quarter and since 2015 it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The warehouses were created with entrances from land and water and designed in a Neo-Gothic red brick outer layer with terracotta ornaments. You can enter the oldest warehouse which houses the International Maritime Museum.
We first fell in love with Elbe River during our romantic Dresden itinerary. With your Hamburg City Cards you can get the river ferry, or better yet, you can book a trip with the HafenCity RiverBus, a cool amphibious vehicle that combines a city tour with a harbour cruise.
Binnenalster is an artificial lake in Hamburg with swans and boats. Around the lake, there is an annual street fair called Alstervergnügen, where visitors can enjoy a variety of food and drinks, as well as live music. It's a fantastic place for a romantic walk and photography opportunities.
If you don't fancy being on the river but want to be under it, then take the Elbe Tunnel, a pedestrian and vehicle tunnel which opened in 1911. It has been modernised since and sometimes it is used for exhibitions. Once on the other side, you can chill in the Bornsteinplatz which is a cool observation deck in Hamburg. We recommend visiting during sunset for softer light and better views of the Elbphilharmonie.
We sure love a sophisticated, cultural weekend. We spent a romantic weekend in Paris where we booked tickets to the opera and we saw one of the best spectacles at Friedrichstadtpalast in Berlin, so we weren't going to miss the opportunity to indulge in a classical concert in one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. Do remember that tickets go fast, so check their official site to book your concert in advance.
Elbphilharmonie is located in Speicherstadt and it is the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg. If you ever wondered, the glass part of the building is meant to resemble a water wave which is a nice touch given the extensive maritime background which creates the city's true identity.
We spent some time exploring St. Pauli district, but only during daytime. As previously mentioned, Reeperbahn is known as the go-to street for entertainment and nightlife. We passed by during the day, and as you can imagine, it was pretty quiet. Since we are not a party couple, we saw no appeal in coming back after dark, but we most certainly saw the appeal for those in seek of adult-only entertainment.
If you love visiting cities for their architectural details, then you will love the City Hall. On the outside, the City Hall is a neo-renaissance gem, with a balcony surmounted by Hammonia, the Hamburg's patron goddess. Hammonia is known to represent the Hanseatic values of Hamburg: freedom, peace, prosperity, harmony, welfare and trade.
Planten un Blomen
We love plants and when possible, we always visit the city's botanic garden. Well, Planten un Blomen is an urban park with free entry for everyone. The park is also well known for its water-light concerts and music performances. We went there primarily for the Japanese garden, with beautifully trimmed trees, a tea house and pond. We spent hours exploring the garden and couldn't wait to photograph its corners with the aid of the sunset's soft colours.
One of our favourite things to do in Hamburg was a visit to the Kunsthalle, one of the largest art museums in the country. First of all, we spent a good 3 hours exploring the museum, and we still feel we didn't allocate enough time. If you love art, then you will enjoy the Kunsthalle. The exhibition is well numbered so you can create a good itinerary which takes you through different eras and styles. I, for example, love the Dutch Golden Age paintings and enjoy the style transition from the 17th century through Amsterdam Impressionism, to post-impressionism notable for rough beauty.
Although I am not a huge fan of contemporary art, I sometimes find ingenious pieces which truly send the right message.
One of the most interesting things in the Kunsthalle was the Dripstone Machine. The Dripstone Machine works like this: rainwater is piped from the roof gutter into the building, then collected in a reservoir. It then passes the biotope which absorbs carbon dioxide and calcium carbonate and drips into the machine room. Over a period of 500 years, visitors will be able to see the formation of a stalagmite which will measure no more than five cm. Imagine that, it would take 500 years to create a 5 cm stalagmite, a true contrast to the crazy events which will happen during the next half millennia.
Where to eat in Hamburg
Hamburg's cuisine has been influenced by its maritime history due to its emphasis on seafood. Worry not though, as we found plenty of restaurants which offer vegan options. For instance, we had dinner in our of the four restaurants which belong to the Grand Elysee hotel and had no issues ordering vegan pasta and Asian wok with rice and vegetables.
Love the cool name which references Pulp Fiction. But beyond its great name, Vincent Vegan has the best vegan burgers we've ever tried. I'm serious, they really were the best. Great tailored service as well and quick turn around time. Now, Vincent Vega is not the place to go for a romantic dinner. On the contrary, think fast food in the mall. Despite all, the food was outstanding and affordable.
If you want a satisfying (large) vegan dish, this is the place to go. It opens at 5 pm though, so make sure you plan accordingly. Almost all their dishes can be made dairy or gluten free. Don't forget to try one of their many sulfur-free red or white wines.
Kaiserwetter Catering & Caterers Hamburg
We stopped here for a quick lunch bite. We ordered the falafel salads with fresh carrot and apple juice. I think we were the only people to sit down and enjoy our lunch and most people picked their items for take out. The location was very good and the food was very nicely done. When visiting, remember this is a cash-only restaurant.
Where to stay in Hamburg
We stayed in Grand Elysee, located in Rotherbaum. Rotherbaum is a lovely district also known as the district of the media due to it being home to various tv stations and press agencies. For those who like photographing quaint quartiers with semi-detached houses and an abundance of leafy boulevards, this is the place to be. After breakfast, we enjoyed a whole morning simply walking around Rotherbaum.
Now that you know what to do in Hamburg, we are sure you are going to love the city and its vibe. It's always so exciting to visit a new destination which is suitable for such a wide range of travellers. As a couple writing primarily for those in search of soft adventure, romance and culture, we were very pleased to have finally seen the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
Special thanks to Come to Hamburg for organising our stay in Hamburg. We had a great time exploring your city and learning about its history. As always, thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.