When travelling in central Europe, Hamburg is easy to skip: Berlin takes up the tourists up North and Munich down South, and in the middle you have Frankfurt and Cologne. Having seen Germany more, I must admit that Hamburg is my absolute favourite within this multifaceted country. Being the second largest city in Germany and sixth within the whole EU, it has a lot to offer for both short-time visitors and the people who live there permanently. It is a city of contrasts – European Green Capital of 2011 and one of the leading industrial capitals of the continent – and it is full of life. In the summertime it is difficult not to run into some of the various festivals held in Hamburg, starting from the early May with Hafengeburtstag, the biggest harbour festival in the world, and all through the year until it’s time to set up the Christmas market at the Town Hall square. If you can spend only one day in Hamburg, make it count, and by following these steps that day will remain unforgettable (unless it rains, in which case forget everything that follows).
Wake up early and go for a stroll on the main boulevard Jungfernstieg, which is at its best when bathing in the morning sun, and almost empty except for the Alster swans. Sit on the steps by the Binnenalster lake and breathe in the expecting atmosphere of the yet slumbering city.
Take a walk along the Alster lakes and end up in the most elegant part of the city. Choose one of the many inviting cafes of the area and have breakfast, after which you can follow one of the side rivers of Alster and admire the gorgeous architecture.
3. Planten un Blomen.
Hamburg is full of wonderful parks, but Planten un Blomen is the crown jewel. It is at its best in May and early June when the enormous Rhododendrons are blossoming, but doesn’t lose its charm once their time is past. Rose garden, Japanese garden, Botanical garden, just take your pick, and enjoy the peace of nature at the heart of the metropolis.
This is the best place for outdoor social gatherings, such as picnics and barbecues, and would be the perfect place to enjoy a late lunch while watching the sailing boats float by on the Alster.
A quick drink on the terrace of Landungsbrücken by the Elbe will give you an idea of how massive the harbour and industry related to it actually is: Impressive man-made beauty.
From Hamburg to…Berlin? Schanze is where all the young Hamburgers flee after work for drinks and snacks in one of the hundreds of restaurant terraces. The atmosphere is bohemian, international and relaxed; here it’s easy to completely lose track of time. Unfortunately the bars in Schanze do close up at some point, which means it is time to head for Reeperbahn if you want to make it to…
Straight from a Reeperbahn club to the harbour which is already swarming with life at 5.30 on a Sunday morning. Grab a fresh fish sandwich in one hand and a cold beer in the other and move into the old Fish market hall for the after-party. The hall is full of people dancing to old 50s hits played by a live band, and you feel the energy returning to your body already. One final glance at the sunlit Elbe, and you can go to sleep feeling extremely happy.
What’s your favourite Hamburg memory or travel tip?