Getting from A (as in Alster) to B (as in Blankenese)
Hamburg is Germany's second largest city but is still characterised by short distances. This makes it perfect for exploring the city by public transport, on foot or by bike.
Although Hamburg can still learn something from the more bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen, I can thoroughly recommend everyone to get going on two wheels and feel the (more or less light) wind in your hair.
And you don’t have to concern yourself with the practicalities, as it's so easy with the red city bike StadtRAD. You’ll find StadtRAD stations with city bikes at many different locations all over the city. You register directly at the station with your credit card (price: €5), and then off you cycle - the first half hour on the bike is even free.
Image: Dominik Kowanda
A bonus top tip
Get on at the ring line U3 by the town hall - toward Barmbek via Schlump, and enjoy a little city tour.
”Most of the line runs above ground and you’ll automatically be taken through some of Hamburg's most beautiful neighbourhoods.”
If you manage to bag a seat on the left side of the train carriage, you’ll be able to enjoy a fantastic view of the port with shipyards, ships and our new and controversial landmark Elbphilharmonie. After the station Schlump, you’ll drive past the many magnificent houses in Jugendstil and you’ll get the chance to admire all the beautiful and very exclusive homes.
The U3 will also take you past Stadtpark, one of the oldest and biggest parks in Hamburg (Borgweg station).
Charming cafés – Hamburgers love getting cosy
Cosiness is listed pretty high on Hamburg cafes’ agendas, and you’ll often come across slightly shabby, but ultra cosy sofas and randomly thrown together retro furniture - which creates a unique charm with a raw, cool style.
In Hamburg, we generally love eating breakfast out and often do so well into the afternoon. Naturally, I have great experience in this field and would be delighted to share my personal faves.
Kraweel (in the St. Pauli district): A small café with lovingly arranged delights such as quiche, focaccia, homemade cakes, pies and sponge cakes. My favourite is definitely the breakfast ”Groß und salzig” (large and salty) consisting of croissant, toast and rolls, 3 different small goat cheeses, jam, green pesto, fruit, Serrano ham and salami. A serving costs less than €10 and is more than enough for two hungry people. I can also recommend the vegetarian version with humus and tapenade – it’s just as delicious.
Breakfast at Kraweel. Image: Lilja.
Café Absurd (in the St. Pauli district): In my humble opinion, this is where you can find the city's most delicious and cheapest brunch buffet. For a mere €8.50, you can get warm rolls and German laugenstange (a kind of salted baguette) and just about everything you could wish for your dream breakfast: Smoked salmon, different meat cold cuts, mini cream puffs, fruit salad, scrambled eggs, tomato-mozzarella salad, guacamole dip , freshly baked waffles ...
The café is also understandably popular and well-frequented: It can be a good idea to book a table a couple of days in advance.
St. Pauli Graffiti. Image: Martin Abegglen
Gretchens Villa (in the Schanze/Karoviertel district): Lovely cakes in charmingly girly surroundings. The local area also offers many small specialty shops, and just around the corner you can experience the popular Saturday flea market Schanzenflohmarkt.
Elbgold (in the Schanze district): Trendy location in the old Schanzenhöfe. Here coffee brewing has almost become an art form, but the fabulous New York cheesecake is also an absolute must.
The classics – maybe not directly an insider tip but can strongly be recommended anyway.
Enjoy the Alster Lake and the river Elbe
In Hamburg, we love our water: The Elbe, which connects Hamburg with the world via the port, and the Alster Lake, which is in the heart of the city and captivates us day and night with its beauty. Therefore, there’s an excellent reason why shandy in Hamburg is not named Radler as in the rest of Germany, but instead Alster (wasser).
Oh yes, in Hamburg you’ll find many opportunities for being captivated by the water:
Picnic along the grassy river banks if you just want to chill with friends or a walk, jog or bike ride around the Alster, if you're looking for a little more action.
A trip on the water is always lovely - either with one of the steamers that are docked by the Inner Alster, or in a canoe or pedalo on the Outer Alster and through the idyllic and multi-branching canals.
Pedalo on Alster. Image: Lilja
Port trip. Granted, it might sound and feel a bit touristy, but the port does make up a huge part of Hamburg, and the captain’s quirky humour and the wonderful views along the way make it nothing short of a worthy experience.
A trip on the Elbe. As previously mentioned in this guide, you can sail on the Elbe for practically nothing: the HVV day ticket for just €6 is also valid for the HVV ferry.
My personal tip: Get on the HVV ferry at Fischmarkt – there aren’t quite so many people as at Landungsbrücken – and take it to Övelgönne. There you can sit and enjoy life on the little beach. Or you could make yourself comfortable at Strandperle, which is the ultimate cult site at the Elbe. This is where you can see the big sailing ships that sail past. Or just walk along the water to the fancy Blankenese district.
Enjoy all the green areas
In Hamburg it’s not just the abundance of water we can boast about. We’re also very proud of our numerous scenic spots and lush green parks.
From ”Planten un Blomen”. Image: Sarrahhoa
My absolute favourite is the botanical garden ”Planten un Blomen”. It’s located in the heart of the city and is actually only five minutes from our new LanguageWire office. In this 45-hectare park, you’ll find small lakes, large lawn areas, beautiful flower beds, themed gardens and a tropical garden. There are also large playgrounds, a skating rink, which becomes an ice rink in the winter, a music pavilion, where free concerts are held in the summer etc., etc.
A summer classic: Every evening in the summer months, you can enjoy free concerts in the botanical gardens with lights and water on the park lake.
See the city from a seagull’s perspective
High up in the bell tower of Hamburg's landmark Michel - the main church of St. Michaelis – you can enjoy an amazing view of the city.
Sunday morning at the fish market
Fischmarkthalle. Image: Nico Kaiser
At the Fischmarkt in St. Pauli, which is situated directly at the Elbe, the market traders meet at 5 o’clock every Sunday morning, where they loudly attempt to sell masses of fruit, sausages and sweet treats to the locals and tourists who have got up early ... or to the night owls who have come directly from the party and haven’t even been to bed yet. You can always be sure to encounter a very cheery and mixed bunch here. In Fischauktionshalle you can make an early start with your festivities or carry on the party from the night before to live music (5:00am to 12:00pm).
Hamburgers love their hamburgers
Stylish hamburger restaurants are popping up like mushrooms: The selection is large and it’s tricky to give a clear recommendation, as it is often their own subjective factors that make all the difference.
So, you’ll get the benefit of my LanguageWire colleagues’ wisdom (Sebastian and David), as they are regular testers of the wide choice:
Burger Lab (in the Schanze district)
Ottos Burger (in St. Georg and Grindelviertel district)
Gorilla Grill (in the Eimsbüttel district)
Better Burger Company (in the City)
Brooklyn Burger Bar (in the City)
My culinary favourites
Backbord (in St. Pauli): Here you can enjoy a rustic setting, large portions and very reasonable prices. My favourite is the organic schnitzel, which is soft as butter and is served with deliciously crispy fries as its faithful companion. You'll also find a good selection for vegetarians and vegans – such as a vegan curry wurst (with vegan mayonnaise) or a tasty salad with fresh cheese.
Trattoria due da Enzo (in Großneumarkt, just around the corner from Michel): A small Italian restaurant with no fixed menu – as the dishes it serves are based on the ingredients that can be bought freshly at the market in the morning. I particularly recommend this restaurant for its wide variety of delicious starters that are served in such generous portions, it isn’t always necessary to order a main course.
Trattoria due da Enzo, Hamburg. Image: Trattoria due da Enzo
Butcher’s (in Pöseldorf, near Alster): This place serves the city's best steak by far – so if it’s a steak your taste buds are craving, this is definitely the place for you.
Out on the town with cocktails
The street Reeperbahn, which is locally known as Kiez, is famous far beyond Hamburg and described in all the Hamburg tourist guides.
Here you’ll find a bizarre mix of bars, fast food chains, supermarkets and strip clubs, where the so-called Koberer stands outside, trying his utmost to lure curious tourists into the over-priced establishments. At the weekends, when the frenzy of festive clientele are heading for the hardcore party street, a visit to the Reeperbahn can be particularly hectic.
Therefore a good tip is: Take a look at the bustling activity from up above - enjoy a more relaxing drink in the chic Clouds on the 24th floor of the high rise building Tanzende Türme (Reeperbahn 1). The view of the harbour and the illuminated Reeperbahn at night is spectacular.
Clouds, Hamburg. Image: Clouds
Not far from Reeperbahn you’ll come across many other cosy bars in Paul-Roosen-Straße – e.g. Clockers, Luba Luft Bar or 3 Freunde Bar – and of course also around the street Schulterblatt in the trendy and at meanwhile alternative Schanze district.
What’s so special about Hamburg
1. Hamburg is a wealthy city where you’ll find a large number of millionaires, and despite being rumoured as having infamously bad weather, you’ll also see many convertibles - perhaps the largest number in Germany. But ... the citizens Hamburg are otherwise masters of understatement. The only people you’ll spot sporting expensive furs and extravagantly big sunglasses will be tourists. Conversely, you’re much more likely to see celebs in sweaty running clothes as they’re taking their daily sprint around the Alster.
2. In Hamburg, you should ideally refrain from talking too much about Berlin's (alleged) outstanding qualities. Hamburgers love their city fervently and with the strength of conviction claim that ”Hamburg is the world's best city”. In the evening on the Reeperbahn, it is not uncommon to hear a musical tribute to the city such as ”Nordisch by Nature” or ”Hamburg meine Perle”, and the entire pub immediately joins in. Well, so much for the Hamburgers’ otherwise reserved behaviour!
3. The Hanseatic town’s penchant for pyrotechnics. This means there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get to experience a fireworks display if you’re visiting Hamburg. In connection with the DOM - North Germany's largest national festival, which is held three times a year and lasts a month each time - every Friday you can enjoy the spectacle of an impressive fireworks display. The same is done to mark the occasion of the port's birthday, the Japanese cherry blossom festival, three times in connection with the festival Alstervergnügen or when the cruise ship Queen Mary again calls at the port ... In Hamburg it seems quite clear that they can always find an excuse for a fireworks display. Once again, a contradicting element that doesn’t really fit in with the clichéd idea of the Hamburgers’ reserved and reticent manner.
We hope to see you soon in Hamburg.
You’ll be warmly welcomed!
One of the many beautiful canals in Hamburg. Image: Keriluamox