Hamburg at a glance
If you think Berlin’s just a bit…grubby. Germany’s second city is cleaner and greener, but has just as much chutzpah as the capital.
Hamburg’s street The Reeperbahn might be best known for its peep-shows, but there’s far more there than just naughtiness: clubs, pubs, bars, street-food… it’s a one-stop-shop for all kinds of pleasure.
You probably didn’t know
George RR Martin planned an upcoming death of one of his Game of Thrones characters while on a visit there in 2015.
Suggested reading and viewing
Read The Aftermath (Rhidian Brook, 2013), set in Hamburg in the post-war years; watch Backbeat (1994) for the story of The Beatles’ time here.
- Population: 1.7 million
- Annual visitor numbers: 13.5 million (2013)
- January mean temperature: 0°C
- August mean temperature: 17°C
Things to do in Hamburg
Take one former abattoir, add a TV chef with a sense of humour and some seriously good cuts of meat, and you’ve got Bullerei, a post-industrial steakhouse and favourite with local foodies. The steak is an obvious choice but do save some room for pudding – the homemade ice creams are top notch.
Craft-beer brewing is in its infancy in Germany, and Hamburg’s Ratsherrn was one of the first places to embark on their own range of beers. Pair with delicious dishes at the on-site pub, Altes Mädchen, or shop in the dedicated craft-beer store for hundreds more colourful brews from around the world.
Nordsee Restaurant Landungsbrücken
Where Berlin has the currywurst, Hamburg’s iconic dish is the Fischbrötchen, a crusty butty stuffed with breaded fish – like a much tastier, authentically German Filet-o-FishTM. Find them at the fishmarket from 5am on weekends, or buy from Elbe-front vendors such as Nordsee Restaurant Landungsbrücken, where cheap and cheerful doesn’t mean tough or tasteless.
“Eckkneipen”, aka corner pubs where drinking is somewhat of a competitive sport, abound in Hamburg. Many of these are unspeakable dives in a bad way, but some in a very good way. Our pick is KorallBar, owned by the girlfriend of German EDM hero DJ Koze.
While most of the clubs can be found around the Reeperbahn area, one notable exception is Golden Pudel, down on the harbourside. It might be hard to find, is a graffiti covered sweatbox and the music sways a little too close to techno for many tastes, but it’s a Hamburg institution and worth a visit just for that.
Clubbing at the fish market
Only in this north-sea city have we encountered a fischmarkt (fish market), that doubles as a post-clubbing after party. From 5am on Saturdays, hordes of somewhat tired and emotional party animals – as well as a good mix of curious and curiously sober tourists – descend on this 19th century warehouse down in the docks for live music, one last beer and some fish sarnies. Surreal, but lots of fun.
For all the conventional high street and designer stores, Mönckebergstraße – the Mö to locals – is the place to go. Referred to as Hamburg’s Fifth Avenue, the 800m-long street has a handful of department stores as well as individual, stand-alones for big German brands such as Karstadt, Kaufhof, and Saturn.
Schanze flea market
At the other end of the scale, Saturday’s flea market in hip Schanze is the place to find vintage handbags, bric-a-brac jewellery and one-offs. If the level of merchandise on display doesn’t interest, the salespeople might – punks, hipsters and grannies make this a people watching paradise.
The Karolinenviertel or ‘Karoviertel’ district between Schanze and St. Pauli is ripe for a rummage, especially Marktstraße. Once a second-hand zone, it still has an off-beat vibe but its independent stores are more likely to be stocked with cool-young designers than old tat. Decoy and Boombox are hot picks for streetwear.
The city’s contemporary art scene is thriving. Check out big names at established galleries such as Deichtorhallen photography centre and the Kunsthalle or, for the local Bohemian flavour, hang out with up-and-coming talent at Westwerk, an old paper factory turned art space in the Fleetinsel area.
Hamburg Harbour Theatre and Hamburg Ballet
If you’re a kid, The Lion King at the Hamburg Harbour Theatre is the hottest ticket in town, but adults wanting to expand cultural horizons would do well to try the ballet, where John Neumeier – considered to be one of the best choreographers in the world – has been director since 1973.
St Pauli FC
Spot them by the distinctive black-and-white stripe and pirate insignia – followers of St Pauli FC are known as German’s most intellectual football fans, for what that’s worth. Join them at a game, or in the St Pauli district for pre-match drinks, and get a glimpse of the (sometimes too) real city.
Events to look out for:
- Carnival (Feb)
- The Hamburger Dom (March, July, November)
- Hamburg Marathon (April)
- Port Birthday (May)
- Alstervergnügen lake festival (August)
- Reeperbahn festival (September)
- Weihnachtsmarken/Christmas markets (December)
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