Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg
Again the finally well deserved time to come back to a city I have never returned since the first and only time 9 years ago, Hamburg. Why this long is easy to explain, basically being concentrated in visiting hundreds other cities across dozens of countries across the globe. In a lapse of 9 years I can easily count 90 countries and over 400 cities and places, most of which available here in my travel blog for anyone to enjoy a proper guide. No need to mention this is a great excuse for remaking this entire guide adding lots more to what was there already and bringing it a most up to day bump.
How a city can change in that many years is fascinating to be honest. Back then I remember a lot of cranes and construction going on. The second largest city in Germany was transforming and evolving itself, gentrification at its best and incredible projects coming out from the countless derelict areas around the former docks and factories. Restoring its heritage buildings while designing a proper 21st century city. Today, most of it is done, and new projects being drawn ever since. What has been a very industrial city, suffering from destruction during the WWII raids, the 1962 North Sea flooding, and then from the closure of dozens of factories, re-emerged wealthier each time as a key tourist destination in Germany focusing in business, finance, media, research, education, science, arts and of course what it does best, a major shipping logistic and infrastructure.
Hamburg, together with its neighbouring trade alliance city of Lübeck merely 65 kilometres to the east marked at the brink of year 1241 the origin and core of the powerful Hanseatic League of trading cities; Lübeck itself becoming the capital of such vast network that extended all over the Baltic and benefiting Hamburg ever since in the riches and wealth from the trade.
The fact that the river Elbe passes through the city, creating what is now the second largest port in Europe after Amsterdam, you have a city made prosperous thanks to it’s location and the water ways created since centuries ago. Something you might not know is that Hamburg has more canals and bridges inside its city limits than any other city in the world at over 2500, way more than Amsterdam, Venice and London combined together.
The world’s oldest merchant bank, Berenberg, was established in 1590, and so the oldest stock exchange in Germany, dating from 1558. Unfortunately none of the original buildings do exist today, bearing their newer reincarnations, still, very prominent buildings among the rest of the city itself.
A weekend is the perfect length to stay, however you will fall short of time when planning to reach Lubeck. For that you will need to consider 3 full days. Distances are bigger in Hamburg, and so the location of the sights scattered all over the city.
This region of northern Germany offers a great choice of food, being the following traditional cuisine: Birn, Bohn un Speck (green beans cooked with pears and bacon), fried plaice Finkenwerder style and eel soup among others. Of course the usuals too, such as currywurst (the sausage with chips and curry sauce), stews and great meats. Many restaurants are everywhere around the historical city centre, most of them nice breweries with local food. You will definitely not have any problem finding a nice place with good prices.
For further information about Hamburg visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Germany’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Hamburg
- Saint Georg District Very gentrified, just east of the old town. At its northern boundary is the Außenalster Lake where many grand hotels align the shore and towards the west, the main transport hub in the city with the railway and bus stations.
-Hauptbahnhof The busiest railway station in Germany and a beautiful piece of architecture.
-Kunsthalle Hamburg The major contemporary art gallery located just north of the train station.
-Deutsches Schauspielhaus Established in 1901, is the largest theatre in Germany. Located right across the bridge over the rail tracks from the train station in Hachmannplatz.
-Bieberhaus Also in Hachmannplatz, this office building was designed in 1909, one of the largest back in the days. Now home to the Ohnsorg-Theater.
-Trinity Church Wrongly referred as Saint Georg Church. Few meters north from Bieberhaus. Only its tower represents an architectural value, the rest is a new reconstruction.
-Hanseplatz The main square in the district. Located behind the Deutsches Schauspielhaus.
- Old Town Located within the former enclosed area of the nowadays gone city walls. You can see this circular shape easily on a map. The central point is the City Hall Square.
-Mönckebergstraße The main commercial street linking the central train station with the City Hall Square. Full of grand elegant buildings home to hotels and up-scale retail spaces.
-Spitalerstraße The other main thoroughfare from the train station heading west until its intersection with Mönckebergstraße.
-Saint James’s Church On Jakobikirchhof Street, perpendicular to Mönckebergstraße an only few meters from it. One of the five main churches of Hamburg.
-The Chilehaus Meters away south from Saint James’s Church. This brick expressionist style office building was built in 1922, designed by Fritz Höger and shaped like an ocean liner. A really must see for architect lovers.
-Thalia Theatre One of the principal theatres among the many the city hosts. Its in Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz as you continue down along Mönckebergstraße.
-Saint Peter’s Church Still along Mönckebergstraße already nearing the City Hall. Another of the five great churches of the city. It used to be the Cathedral but was destroyed in past centuries. Right at the opposite side you can find the Dom Platz, with the Fish Market.
-City Hall An impressive Neo-Renaissance building completed in 1897. The façade depicts the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. You can visit the rooms inside on a guided tour. Available in German every half an hour, hourly if in English.
-Hygieia Brunnen Fountain Inside the City Hall courtyard. One of the most representative icons of the city.
-Börse It’s the city’s Stock Exchange Building, the oldest in Germany. You can find it by the southwest corner of the City Hall Square.
-Chamber of Commerce Side by side right behind the City Hall. Another impressive neoclassical construction.
-Trostbrücke Bridge Continuing along the small Börsenbrücke Street from the Chamber of Commerce, you reach it after few meters ahead in perpendicular, crossing over the Nikolaifleet Canal. Notice the statues of Graf Adolf III and Bishop Ansgar at both sides.
-Zollenbrücke The oldest bridge in Hamburg dating from the 17th century. You can see it from the Trostbrücke Bridge as you cross this.
-Saint Nicholas’ Church Just across the Trostbrücke, it remains in ruins after it was severely damaged in the war although its bell tower was kept in perfect shape. It’s the only of the five great churches of Hamburg which was not rebuilt and stands as a monument to WWII. The views from the tower are truly worth.
-Nikolaifleet Canal Meters away from Saint Nicholas’s Church, it is where the harbour used to be in the 19th century, together with the Speicherstadt farther south creating in between, the Cremon Island. Here you will find some of the oldest traditional half timbered merchant houses in Hamburg, notably along Alte Deichstraße towards the west of the island.
-Saint Catherine’s Church Along the east side of the canal and Cremon Island, meters ahead across the Zollenbrücke, another of the 5 great churches.
-Europa Passage Along the northeast side of the City Hall Square. A bit controversial its construction since it meant demolishing some listed buildings. Now its just a boring plain design at the exterior facades, however the interior passage is worth to see. Hundreds of shops and food outlets are within.
-Binnenalster An artificial lake right in the middle of the city where you will get the perfect panoramic view of the skyline along Ballindamm Street and specially from the Lombardsbrücke Bridge.
-The Colonnades This very up-scale street starts from the western shore of the Binnenalster Lake and terminates at the northernmost edge of the Planten un Blumen Park, full of neo-Renaissance houses.
-Saint Michael’s Church West of the city centre across both the Alsterfleet and Herrengrabenfleet canals. Nicknamed simply as Michel, is the landmark church in the city. Right by the main front facade there are beautiful gardens going all the way down towards the river Elbe and main promenade, and the Planten un Blomen Park few meters to the west.
- HafenCity South from the city centre core and old town but implemented within. The area where in the 19th century was located the main harbour of the city. Until recent years, it was Europe’s largest inner-city development, nowadays an amazing place full of apartments and offices, museums, galleries, shopping areas and entertainment.
–Speicherstadt The largest 19th century warehouse district in the world, listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most precious sight in the city, and a very desired place for alternative museums and entertainment.
-International Maritime Museum Home to Peter Tamm’s collection of model ships, construction plans, uniforms and maritime art.
-Miniatur Wunderland The world’s largest model railway museum. You need to come in person to believe it. The size is enormous and the incredible attention to detail has no equal. See the separate photo album below for a better view.
-Elbphilharmonie Constructed on top of an old warehouse was designed by the prestigious Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron. The newest landmark in the city.
- Planten un Blomen Park Created along the entire west side of the former moats of the city walls that once stood. Quite a nice and large open space with lots of landscaped gardens, sculptures, ponds, cafes.
-Johannes Brahms Platz Dividing the park in two, it’s also one of the most imposing squares due to the buildings surrounding it.
-Laeiszhalle At the southeast corner of the square, at the edge of the city centre. Opened in 1908 in Baroque Revival style has since been a very successful and famous concert hall.
-Criminal Court Building Across the road from the concert hall, one of the three main courts in the same area.
-Hanseatic Higher Regional Court The centrepiece monumental structure, in neoclassical style.
-Civil Court Building Aligning by the west side, opposite the Criminal Court.
-Museum of Hamburg Institution founded in 1839, however established at the current location from 1922. Home to a great and ever growing collection of anything to do with the city’s history since ancient times to modern day.
-Bismarck Monument Farther south after the museum. One of 250 monuments to Bismarck worldwide, being the largest of them all.
- Saint Pauli District At the west side of the Planten un Blomen Park. While very residential, the major sight is located towards its southernmost side, the harbour.
-Hotel Hafen Hamburg On a hill overlooking the river and piers down below. Great architecture, together with the other buildings in the same front, the U-Boat Crew House and Institute for Tropical Meidicine.
-St. Pauli Piers One of the major tourist sights, it is also the largest landing place for ferries in the port of Hamburg. Built in 1839 then rebuilt in 1909 was the original docking place for steamers. Nowadays only small ferry and leisure boats docks here. Within the buildings there is a great choice of food and beverage and entertainment outlets.
-Old Elbe Tunnel The Alter Elbtunnel or St. Pauli Elbtunnel as it is commonly known, opened in 1911 linking the city centre to the port at the other side of the river, becoming an engineering landmark. The original lifts for cars and persons (now refitted) and the tunnel itself are a great sight nowadays.
-Saint Pauli Church West from the Piers. Dating from 1820 the main nave designed in Danish style, and the tower completed in 1864.
-Tourist Boat Tour These are generally 1 hour long in duration from where you will get vantage point of view over the city’s skyline and the port activities with the hundreds or giant cranes and ships, with facts given live by a commentator.
-Ferry line 62 As an alternative to a tourist boat, you can get this public ferry from Landungsbrücken to Finkenwerder and back to enjoy a scenic of the harbour for a fraction of the cost, although much faster and without commentator.
- Lübeck The former capital of the Hanseatic League is 65km away from Hamburg and can easily be reached by train or bus. For a full guide about this city, check Lübeck Travel Guide.
Hamburg International Airport is the oldest in continuous operation in the country, and so one of the biggest and worldwide important. Countless airlines to destinations all around the globe, hence easy to access from hundreds of cities. The terminals are connected to the Central Train Station (Hauptbahnhof) via commuter line S-Bahn 1, taking approximately 30 minutes for 3.30 Euros, with trains every 10 minutes. Buses do also link towards other points in the city.
A secondary airport located in Lübeck over 50 kilometres away serves mostly low cost carriers. The shuttle bus A20 goes to Hamburg ZOB (Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof) near the Hauptbahnhof. You can also take the train to Lübeck central train station and change for a train to Hamburg which is approximately 1 hour journey altogether.
Coming overland is fast and straightforward from most of the German cities. Rails and roads lead to Hamburg with direct connections cross-country and beyond to Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary or Czech Republic.
Within the city there is a large network of metro, buses and commuter trains that will bring you literally everywhere you need to go. On top of the usual means of public transport, there are 8 ferry lines along the River Elbe and since these are also part of the integrated transport system, you can take advantage as a tourist for sightseeing purposes rather than taking a designated tourist boat costing 10 times more.
When sightseeing, being the second largest city in Germany the historical centre can be easily visited on foot without the need of any transport. It is very compact however with great open spaces as the lakes and parks, and beautiful to wander around.
Being the second largest city in Germany, second port in Europe and of such importance in transports, communications, business and banking, you can expect the amount of hotels is indeed great, although prices were not as competitive as you could imagine. Expect to pay way over the average, and notably higher for a 4 star property than elsewhere in Europe bearing London and Paris. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In the most recent visit, the choice was the Grand Elysee. A very large 5* property with everything you need in terms of comfort and facilities. At the north of the city right by the Dammtor station very conveniently located in order to reach everything at simple walking distance, or matter of few minutes by metro and commuter trains. Just 5 minutes’ walk to the Binnennalster Lake. The staff was incredibly friendly and professional, the room extra large, very comfortable, clean and beautifully decorated. A giant breakfast with simply everything you could imagine, and a very large indoor heated pool and all spa facilities such as steam room, sauna, eucalyptus sauna, ice-cold bath, quiet and relax areas. It was really a great experience to be here and will strongly recommend without hesitation.
Back in 2010 it was the Accord Novum on Steindamm 68, right by the east side of the train station, in the Saint Georg District. The location was good even though this street was around the red district area. Transports were great with a choice of many buses and metro literally around the corner; plus comfort, quietness and cleanliness was good, and so was the breakfast. Friendly and welcoming staff and overall great experience.
Album from the city
Album for the Miniature Wonderland