Hamburg | Travel Guide
Be holiday ready...
Update June 8: Germany closed its borders to non-essential visitors from the UK over concerns about the Indian variant of Covid circulating here. Germany is on our amber list, and the FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the whole of Germany.
Negative PCR, Antigen or LAMP test 48 hours before arrival.
When you're there:
Private gatherings are restricted to two households, or up to five people. Restrictions are in place, but differ between states, depending on the rate of infection.
Traffic light status:
Germany has been confirmed to be on England's amber list meaning it would be legal to travel there for any reason, including a holiday, if the country were open to UK visitors. At time of writing the FCDO advises against non-essential travel to Germany.
Hamburg Travel Guide
Guten tag and welcome to our essential guide to Hamburg – the only place to find out everything you need to know before you travel.
If you're like us, then before setting out to this criminally overlooked city, you might have only known it as one of the big German cities that isn't Berlin. We're here to tell you that it's so, so much more than that. Hamburg is a city on the water, and as Europe's third-largest port, Hamburg is known as Germany's 'Gateway to the World'. The river Elbe is the source - the main artery that brings Hamburg to life. From river tours pacing the canals of the Speicherstadt to the container ships loaded by crane in the harbour, trade and prosperity brought to Hamburg by the river Elbe shaped the city from its foundations. But not everything great in Hamburg sails down the Elbe. From sky-scraping concert halls to miniature model railways. From Vegas-style red-light district nightlife to cool, underground gourmet restaurants. Hamburg is a modern, global city with a rich history and culture, and something to fascinate everyone.
Located in the north of the country, Hamburg is commonly referred to as Germany's second city, with nearly two million inhabitants and many more tourists visiting throughout the year. With a blend of cosmopolitan cityscapes, picturesque waterfronts and a surprising amount of green areas for a major city, Hamburg truly has everything for a European city break. In fact, 14% of the Hamburg city area is made up of green spaces and recreational areas.
Here's what to expect from our Hamburg Travel Guide:
Weather in Hamburg
The weather in Hamburg largely mirrors what we expect in the UK. The hottest month is July, which has an average temperature of 17°C (62°F), making it slightly milder than what were used to. The thermostat can drop quite sharply in the winter, with temperatures rarely rising above 0°C (33°F) in January. We visited at the end of February and got by in jumpers, but we recommend packing a raincoat, hat and gloves just to be safe.
Travelling to Hamburg
Starting your trip with Holiday Extras will always set you off on the right foot, which was exactly the case when we went to Hamburg.
Still wiping the sleep from our eyes, we headed up from Holiday Extras HQ to Gatwick, the promise of adventure keeping us awake! Arriving in good time, we dropped off our checked luggage and made our way to our Clubrooms Lounge to fill up on the buffet breakfast to prepare for the journey ahead.
The easiest way to get to Hamburg from the UK is via a short flight of about an hour and a half. From the airport it was easy - we booked a transfer in advance and before long we were at our accommodation, resting up before our Hamburg trip truly began.
Travelling around Hamburg
You don't need to fork out a small fortune on taxis to take you from A to B - it's easy to travel like a local and use the city's public transport network. Hamburg public transport (often referred to as HVV) is extensive and efficient, made up of the U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (overground), bus and ferry routes within the city centre as well as several regional train services to Hamburg suburbs and beyond. Much like London, Hamburg's transit network is split into different zones, ranging from central A and B out to regional E, some 60km outside the city.
If you're planning on using public transport often during your trip, then we recommend picking up a Hamburg Card, available online, at HVV vending machines, service centres, tourist offices and many hostels and hotels. They cover all forms of public transport within the central A and B zones, and offer additional discounts at many of the city's museums, restaurants and shops. A one-day card, which is valid until 6am the following morning, costs 9.90 for one adult and up to three children under the age of 14. A three-day card costs 25.50. Unlike many European cities, you do not need to validate your ticket upon departure, but should keep it to hand in case of inspection. Almost all central Hamburg stations are wheelchair accessible, with designated points on the platform to board the train.
Here's some of the choices of transport on offer:
Hamburg's equivalent of the London Underground, there are four U lines through town, marked up in blue, red, teal and yellow on the city's public transport map. Services run around every five minutes, covering the central Hamburg districts. A single ticket in zones A and B costs 3.30. These are really handy, as they allow you to change lines, as well as method of transport (bus, S-Bahn, etc.) to reach your destination, just bear in mind that these won't cover a round trip. Instead, a day ticket is 7.70, or 6.40 off-peak if you set off after the 9am rush hour. And for travellers looking to let loose in the Reeperbahn, the U-Bahn operates a 24-hour service over the weekend.
Similar to our very own DLR, Hamburg's six S-Bahn lines operate like the U-Bahn, only above ground and extending more widely across the city. You'll need to keep your ticket with you while on board, and can use it through the night on weekends.
Our top tip: line S1 also connects Hamburg Central Station with Hamburg Airport.
Hamburg has an extensive bus service throughout the city to get you where you need to go, including night services (routes 600 to 688) Monday to Friday. The same ticketing prices and procedures apply and you can buy your ticket from the bus driver.
Like many major European cities, Hamburg is very bike-friendly, with flat roads and dedicated cycle paths. Just find one of the many red Stadtrad bikes, which you can pick up and drop off at stations all over town, and you'll be off in no time. The bikes are free to ride for the first 30 minutes, costing eight cents per minute thereafter, up to a daily cap of 12, making it one of the most affordable methods of transport, and one of the best ways of experiencing Hamburg up close.
As with most destinations, we think the best way to get an authentic lay of the land is on foot. Most of Hamburg's centre is within walking distance, and with plenty of green spaces, you're never far from a scenic route. In our experience, some of the most memorable places we discovered were found taking the path less travelled rather than following a strict itinerary. And if you ever wander a tad too far, you're never far away from a train or bus station to rescue you back to where you need to be.
Eating in Hamburg
We decided to walk as much as we could, and that certainly helped to build up an appetite. Thankfully, there are plenty of great places to eat and food to try throughout Hamburg for all meals, dietary requirements and tastes. Here's a selection of some of our favourites.
Wherever we are in the world, no day officially starts until we've had our first cup of coffee in the morning and Hamburg has a strong relationship with coffee that goes back centuries. Thanks to its port, the city became one of the largest coffee markets in the world by the end of the 19th century. This legacy lingers today, with famous coffee houses Tchibo and J. J. Darboven being founded here.
However, with breakfast being the most important meal of the day, you'll need something more substantial to accompany your morning beverage. Hamburg has you covered on this front too, where you can try a delicious franzbrötchen - or French roll. Inspired by croissants after the occupation of Napoleon's troops in the 19th century, you won't find these pastries anywhere else in the world. Traditionally made with sugar and cinnamon, nowadays you'll have plenty of varieties to satisfy your sweet tooth, ranging from marzipan to pumpkin seeds.
If you're looking for something to give you some energy for the latter half of the day, then try some authentic German labskaus. A favourite of Hamburg sailors for generations, this dish is made from corned beef, mashed potatoes and onions, with pickled beetroot, pickled gherkin, herring and fried egg commonly served as sides. If the name sounds familiar, it might be because its been adopted in Liverpool as scouse. It might not look particularly appetising, but get past it looks and you certainly won't regret it.
What trip to Hamburg would be complete without sampling the cuisine named after the city - the hamburger!
Everyone we asked in Hamburg told us that we'd find the best burger at Dulf's Burger. Dulf's started as a tiny burger stall in 2014, but their focus on innovative, handmade, sustainable burgers took the city's food scene by storm. Now they have two locations in Hamburg, and a skilled team of butchers, bakers, barbecuers and bartenders - but still pride themselves on their homemade style of hospitality.
The food at Dulf's Burger is truly incredible. Everything is handmade from scratch by the team here at Dulf's - the beef is ground here without adding any preservatives. The bread is baked here in three variations - sesame, brioche, and ciabatta. Even their sauces are made by their own hands, and the flavours that this food brings to the table is indescribable.
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Things to do in Hamburg
Fully topped up on food and drink, we were ready to start exploring some of the best things to do in Hamburg. By no means is this an exhaustive list, as there is just so much to see and do in this remarkable city; even if you stayed a couple of weeks we think you'd struggle to fit everything in, but here are a selection of some of our favourites.
Hamburg is a city on the water. In central Hamburg, the river Elbe divides off into smaller, narrower canals that interlace a beautiful district called the Speicherstadt, which means City of Warehouses.
Some of the most picturesque places in the city are around the Speicherstadt, and most city and harbour tours will go through here. The iconic warehouse facades are one of the most recognisable sites in Hamburg.
Miniatur Wunderland is located in the Speicherstadt, and was founded 18 years ago by twin brothers Frederik and Gerrit Braun. It's billed as a model railway attraction - but when you get in, you'll see it's so much more than that. There are 1300 trains in the exhibit, over 100,000 moving vehicles, and 400,000 human figurines.
Train tracks weave through the walls, up the stairs and around the exquisitely detailed dioramas that fill the building. The exhibit also runs on a simulated day and night cycle that lasts around 15 minutes so you can see what every diorama looks like after the sun goes down. There are recreations of the city of Hamburg, the Alps, America, Switzerland, and much much more.
You'll also find the Hamburg Dungeon right next door, which is also pretty popular, so if you love live horror shows, you should definitely take a look in there too.
River tours are a staple of Hamburg tourism and taking a trip on a clear day is a wonderful way to squeeze in a city full of sights in just a few hours. Most tours will take you through either the warehouse district or the commercial harbour (which is of course still in use today), but we booked a two-hour tour that covered both.
Seeing the Speicherstadt from the water is unmissable, but our favourite part was definitely the harbour. The tour boats will take you up close to indescribably huge shipping container cranes and cargo ships, which makes you feel tiny by comparison. It was a unique experience that we wouldn't have been able to enjoy without booking a tour - and we can't recommend it enough.
Some boats are fully accessible, but we'd recommend asking when booking your ticket just in case. Many also offer snacks and drinks for your journey, but be aware that card may not be accepted as a form of payment.
Germany is renowned for its world class chocolatiers, and who better to help us find the best than chocolate experts? In the heart of Hamburg is a wonderful place - a chocolate museum called Chocoversum!
Here you can learn about chocolate production from bean to product, and even have a go at designing your own unique bar of either milk or dark chocolate, with toppings of your choice. A tip from experience, rose flavouring mixed with Lotus Biscoff isn't the taste sensation we were expecting!
Planten Un Blomen
Planten un Blomen - which translates literally as plants and flowers - is the name of a huge park in the inner-city of Hamburg looking up at Hamburg's iconic spire, the Heinrich Hertz TV Tower.
Planten un Blomen has everything from a tranquil Japanese garden to water-light concerts, and if you're visiting with your family, kids will love the huge playground. And the whole park is free to enter!
St Michael's Church
St. Michael's Church, often simply referred to as Michel, is the most famous church in the city, and also the largest - seating 2500 people. The steeple is 132m high, and is such a prominent part of the Hamburg skyline, that historically, it was used by sailors to navigate the Elbe.
But the best part? The steeple contains an awesome viewing platform with 360 degree views of the city. We could see everywhere we'd been that day - the Speicherstadt, Minatur Wunderland and the harbour. The low afternoon sun was the icing on the cake of an already spectacular view.
There is an elevator to the viewing platform - so we decided to take the easy way up, then walk back down. We didn't regret it - the body of the church tower is fascinating, and the descent took only a few minutes.
Whoever we asked, and wherever we looked, time and time again, one place came up as soon as we mentioned views. The Elbphilharmonie.
The Elbphilharmonie was completed in 2017, but thanks to its striking shape and central location, has already become one of Hamburg's most iconic buildings. Often referred to by its nickname, Elphi, the Elbphilharmonie is one of the largest, and most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. You don't have to be a music lover to enjoy the views. The eighth floor viewing deck is open for free to the general public, and is known as The Plaza.
If you can tear yourself away from the balcony views long enough, The Plaza also has a bar and coffee shop. It's the perfect way to start the day. Getting up bright and early was worth it to see the city come to life.
The Reeperbahn is a street in the St Pauli district, which is one of the major centres of Hamburg's nightlife.
The Reeperbahn is lined with restaurants, night clubs, and bars - and as you can imagine, that means it's a central point for tourists too. You should expect to see a stag do or two if you visit! But a night out isn't the only reason tourists are drawn to the Reeperbahn - it's also the city's main red-light district, and the clubs and bars are interspersed with strip clubs, sex shops and brothels. It's an assault on the senses - bright, loud and colourful - and a part of Hamburg's diverse history.
To wrap up
That's it from our time in Hamburg. We hope this guide has helped to highlight how Hamburg is one of the most underrated city break destinations in Europe, and has plenty to offer for all ages and interests.
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