Looking for a weekend away? Head up north and lose your heart to Hamburg! This wonderful harbor city makes for a great visit any time of the year and has a lot to offer whether you want a romantic getaway, a family break or a lively party weekend with your friends.
Port of Hamburg – Gateway to the World
The Port of Hamburg is situated in the Elbe River basin, only about 100km from the open sea. Thousands of ships from all over the world call at Europe’s second largest port. From the cruise ship terminal to the historic Speicherstadt and the jetties to the modern container port – it’s a fascinating, thriving area of industry around which the entire city of Hamburg has been built.
It’s possible to take tours of the port by bus, but by far the best way to view it is from the water – on a boat. There are numerous tour companies that offer harbour tours through the port, passing right by huge container ships, shipyards and container terminals.
The port also hosts numerous museum ships offering tourists a unique way to learn more about the city’s shipping history. Converted from former passenger liners or barges, each tells a unique story about the history of the city as a shipping and trading post.
In the Museumshafen Oevelgönne, you can visit around 20 vintage ships, including the German and Dutch flat-bottomed vessels, steam tugs and barges. There is also a steam crane, a high-seas cutter, as well as a harbour ferry that has been converted into a café. The star of the harbour is the former lightship Elbe 3. The ships have not only been painstakingly restored but also still sail on occasion as well.
The cargo ship Cap San Diego was built in 1961 and it has been permanently anchored as a museum ship at the Überseebrücke in the Hanseatic city since 1986. The elegant silhouette of this ship, which is still seaworthy, has now become a part of Hamburg’s harbour promenade as much as the Speicherstadt and the HafenCity.
Every Sunday from 5:00am – 9:30am the legendary Hamburg Fish Market takes place (7:00am from mid-November to mid-March). It’s essentially a giant flea market with lots of stalls selling fresh fish, fried fish and pickled fish, too – all ready to eat or to take home and cook yourself.
Pretty much everything that is not bolted down is traded here, as it has been since 1703. From the kilos of fish at a bargain price, dusty porcelain jugs or a chirpy family of ducks. Either get up early, or hit the Reeper Bahn the night before and stay up late – Fish Brötchen (filled rolls) is officially the breakfast of party animals in Hamburg!
The Alster Lake
The 160-hectare Alster Lake in the heart of the city is a true paradise for sailors, rowers and paddlers, but surprisingly has a depth of no more than 2.50 metres.
Its opulent grasslands on the edge of the bank offer plenty of opportunities to be close to the water, right in the middle of the city. Just kicking back on a blanket or a deckchair, jogging “all the way round the Alster,” taking a walk, playing frisbee and boules – the options are endless for you to enjoy this splendid green oasis on land. During some winters, you will even be able to make your way across the lake to the other bank without getting your feet wet. Naturally, the Alster is surrounded by cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or drink with a splendid view of the water.
In the southern part of this area discover the Kennedy Bridge and the Lombard Bridge which separate the larger Outer Alster from the Inner Alster – the latter gives the city centre a quite romantic and maritime air. This is where the Alster steamers take off from Jungfernstieg – a bustling and modern promenade. These steamers run regular services connecting various quays on the Outer Alster. So if you would rather not go out on the lake in a rented paddle boat, canoe or sailing dinghy: Take a tour on the Alster steamer and experience the landscape as well as the silhouette of the city from the water!
Hamburg Town Hall
Hamburg Town Hall was built from 1886 to 1897 and with its impressive architecture dominates the centre of the city. The magnificent sandstone building houses the city’s senate and parliament, which meets every second Tuesday. It’s an impressive building which is well worth a tour, thought it must be arranged in advance.
In stark contrast to restrained Hanseatic style, the Town Hall is has an elaborately decorated façade, flanked by a total of 20 statues of emperors. The Kaisersaal (imperial hall) – named because of the visit by Kaiser Wilhelm II at the opening of the North Sea-Baltic Canal – has a striking ceiling painting that symbolises merchant shipping under the German flag. In the Senate chamber, light passes through the large glass roof: This symbolises the ancient Germanic custom that the council should meet in open air. The Grand Ballroom is 46 metres long, 18 metres wide and 15 metres high. Five huge paintings depict the history of Hamburg from 800 to 1900 and 62 city coats of arms of the old Hanseatic League decorate the walls. The three chandeliers with 278 lights each weigh 1,500 kilograms!
Visit the largest model railway system in the world at Miniatur Wunderland. Discover over 930 trains with nearly 14,450 railway wagons, 228,000 trees, 215,000 figures, 8,850 cars, 13,000 metres of track, and 3,660 buildings and bridges. This intricate and realistic miniature world is perfect for a day out with the kids. It is set over eight sections:
Central Germany and The Harz, with its seemingly endless ICE high-speed route and over 130 trains, it includes beautiful landscapes and replicas of famous Hamburg districts and attractions such as St. Michaelis Church and Hagenbeck Zoo and the Port of Hamburg.
Knuffingen is such a famous ‘mini’ city that it even has its own website (in German)! It is home to 10,000 ‘model’ inhabitants and its local police force are frequently catches speeding drivers using their radar trap. The local fire station is kept pretty busy too.
America draws ‘tiny’ crowds with its desert metropolis and paradise for gamblers, Las Vegas: More than 10% of all Wunderland lights – around 33,000 – are installed here. You can also enjoy mini versions of the Keys and Cape Canaveral as well as of course the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and Yosemite Park.
Scandinavia was set up as the sixth section in 2005. Particularly impressive is the real water basin in which there are currently 16 ships that travel from miniature port to port.
Switzerland opened in November 2007. Here the mountains stand with the 6-metre high Matterhorn as the centrepiece where visitors can hike and enjoy the view once they have reached the summit. There are many astounding highlights, such as the tiny chocolate factory which produces real chocolate, or the open-air concert with 21,000 tiny visitors.
Knuffingen Airport is the latest addition to the attraction, which took 6 years of construction! It offers visitors over 100 aeroplanes and other vehicles with fully automated movements.
St. Michaelis Church
Hamburg has many large churches, but none like St. Michaelis Church – there is only one “Michel”. This famous city landmark is over 350 years old and has been completely destroyed and rebuilt three times between 1641 and 1912.
Experience the fabulous view of view of Hamburg, the port and the surrounding countryside from its platform 132 metres high – there is a lift if you don’t want to attempt the stairs, which is quite a work out. After dark, the panorama of the Hanseatic city from this viewpoint are breathtaking.
St. Pauli & Reeperbahn
When you mention Hamburg to someone, they automatically think of the Reeperbahn and the Fish Market.
So what is ‘the Reeperbahn’? The Reeperbahn means ‘Rope Walk’ and is a street in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district. It’s known for its particularly wild nightlife and ‘adult’ entertainment. It’s often referred to as ‘the most sinful mile’ as it is also the city of Hamburg’s main red light district, and a popular tourist area. The street is lined with restaurants, night clubs, discos and bars as well as sex shops, brothels and believe it or not, a sex museum.
But the Reeperbahn isn’t just about sex and adult entertainment. It is home to the city’s main musical theatres and you can still enjoy a fun and lively night out here without committing any mortal sins. There are plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants for every style and budget, but it is certainly not family-friendly. Even during the daytime it’s not an ideal place to take children.
Musicals & Theatre
Hamburg is renowned for hosting some of the top musical shows in the country. Currently running are Disney’s The Lion King, Disney’s Tarzan, and a brand-new show, Rocky the Musical. Also running is Heisse Ecke, a musical based around the famous Reeperbahn in St. Pauli.
Hamburg has over 40 different theatres – the best known being the Thalia Theatre, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Ohnsorg Theatre, Schmidts Tivoli on the Reeperbahn, and Kampnagel.
The city also has an English-language dedicated theatre. It was founded in 1976 by two Americans and shows a diverse range of plays every season. The programme usually includes a classic American or British drama, a comedy, a thriller, and a contemporary play. Past plays have included the works of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neill, Harold Pinter, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Alan Ayckbourn, Neil Simon, Neil LaBute, and John Godber.
If you want to feed a giraffe, marvel at a baby elephant or watch cute, rare baby animals, at Hagenbeck Zoo you can! The park is home to over 1,850 animals from 210 species in spacious outdoor enclosures that reflect their natural living conditions. The latest attraction is the new Eismeer (Polar Sea). Polar bears, walruses, seals, Arctic seabirds and different penguin species feel at home in the 8,000 square metre complex with 5.3 million litres of water.
A quick trip to the elephant enclosure is a must for every visitor. Few other species are so popular with visitors as the Asian elephants. The gentle pachyderms delight both young and old. Feeding the grey giants with fruits and vegetables is encouraged and unique in Germany.
Younger guests can see dwarf and Ovambo goats up close in the petting zoo and will find lots to play with in the large playground with its Western fort. In addition, there is a suspension bridge, kangaroo jump pit, tiger and elephant path and numerous feeding shows that make the trip through the 25-hectare park into a real experience. Pampas rabbits and dwarf deer as well as magnificent peacocks and various breeds of domestic chicken roam freely around the park.
It’s possible to get tickets to visit both the Zoo and the Tropical Aquarium (see below) at a discounted price.
Hagenbeck Tropical Aquarium
Experience an exciting journey into the world of the rainforest in Hagenbeck Tropical Aquarium in Hamburg. In over 8,000 square metres, visitors encounter small monkeys, large crocodiles, poisonous snakes and the inhabitants of the tropical seas. The true-to-nature design of the habitats is particularly impressive: thanks to real jungle plants, narrow paths and, in some areas, brightly coloured birds flying freely, you actually feel like a jungle adventurer. In over 8,000 square metres, you will encounter 14,300 fascinating animals from 300 species.
The Hagenbeck Tropical Aquarium is divided into habitats: visitors travel through Africa, Asia and South America and discover animals from every continent. At the beginning of the tour is the Madagascar village square. Colourful parrots fly through the air and lemurs move swiftly among the trees and huts. You can even find crocodiles here – feeding times are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at around noon. In Africa, you will encounter tropical reptiles and in Asia various tortoises and iguanas. Four-eyed fish and basilisks greet the visitors on their jungle tour in South America. Even life hidden underground can be explored.
Cave Worlds are the retreat for the giant constrictors. Frogs, bats and other exotic creatures that shun the daylight also live behind the doors of an old cabinet. The path leads through the old mine tunnels to animals that are not seen during the day, such as whip spiders, newts and cave fish in the stalagmite cave.
The Poisonous Snake Village is inhabited by numerous poisonous snakes. Including the longest venomous snake in the world – the king cobra. The green mamba and the Gabon viper from Africa, the Texas rattlesnake and the Australian spiny-tailed skink also call this home. Less dangerous animals such as the bearded dragon, scorpions, cockroaches and tarantulas also crawl over the sandy ground and rocky landscape.
The Underwater World is a peaceful haven of green moraine, colourful corals and a huge Amazonian freshwater exhibit. The highlight of the tour is the unique panoramic window behind the spectacular shark atoll – a huge water basin holding about 1.8 million litres extends behind the 22-centimetre-thick curved pane of glass. Several species of sharks and many other reef inhabitants have their habitat there. Feeding of the large predators takes place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 2.00pm The Makalali Lodge offers a panoramic view of the tropical hall and an overview of the crocodile lake with four mighty Nile crocodiles.
The journey time to Hamburg is around 4.5 hrs drive from Frankfurt, 5.5hrs from KMC and 6 hours from Stuttgart. The train is quicker by an hour from Frankfurt and Stuttgart (it’s about the same as the drive time from Kaiserslautern) and there are some great all-inclusive offers that include train, hotel, meals and in some cases tickets to musicals from the Hamburg Tourist Office, which are well worth checking out. See www.deutschebahn.com for cheap trains from €29 per roundtrip.