72 Hours in Hamburg: A Weekend in Germany’s Cool Second City

Hamburg might not attract as many tourists as Berlin or Munich, but it has plenty to offer visitors. Its rich history is fascinating and there is something for everyone to enjoy – from culture vulture to foodie to party animal. Here’s my guide to 72 hours in Germany’s second largest city.


Day 1

Hamburg was founded in the 9th century and prospered as a key Northern Europe trading post as part of the Hanseatic League. Hamburg has seen its fair share of action over the years, having been ravaged by The Great Fire of 1842 and devastated by Allied bombings in WWII. So, while the Old Town has witnessed plenty of destruction , it’s been rebuilt numerous times and is a fascinating part of any visit to Hamburg.

Rathaus (Town Hall)

The Rathaus towers above the Markt (Market Square) and still serves as the seat of local government. It was built in the late 19th century after the old city hall was burnt down in the Great Fire. The large clock adorns the tower while figures from Hamburg’s long history line the façade of the building. Check out the hidden courtyard at the back of the building with a Hygieia fountain and its neo-renaissance statues. You can even explore inside the building on a guided tour. On the edge of the square there stone monument stands to commemorate the dead of the First World War.

Rathaus, Hamburg
Rathaus, Hamburg
Statue at the Hygieia fountain in the Rathaus courtyard, Hamburg
Statue at the Hygieia fountain in the Rathaus courtyard

Alsterarkaden Shopping Arcades

The historic Alsterarkaden date back to the post-fire resurrection of Hamburg and today are home to designer shops, jewellers and cool cafes . The shopping galleries also lead to the Mellin Passage – Hamburg’s oldest shopping arcade. Alsterarkaden provide a great alternative to the modern chains located just around the corner.

Also Try: Neuer Wall, one street up from the Alsterarkaden deals in luxury brands and is one of the most expensive shopping streets in Europe. Mönckebergstraße or “Mö” as it’s known to locals, is the main shopping street of the city and home to big department stores including a massive Saturn electronics megastore (biggest in Europe apparently).

Alsterarkaden, Hamburg
The arches of the Alsterarkaden and a boat navigating Kleine Alster

Binnenalster and Außenalster

This pair of manmade lakes are formed by the Alster River and have been a feature of the city for centuries. The smaller Binnenalster (Inner Alster) is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike and is just a stone’s throw from the Rathaus. The bigger Außenalster (Outer Lake) is a haven for water sports fans and joggers who make use of the track snaking its way around the lake. Apparently the water is clean enough for swimming, but when I visited it was way too cold for me to even consider going for a dip!

Binnenalster, Hamburg
Binnenalster

Elbe River

The Elbe has played a huge role in Hamburg’s history as a major port and trading hub throughout the ages and is almost synonymous with the city. Today, the port provides a great backdrop to strolls along the river lined with floating restaurants, outdoor bars and street food stalls. Ferries and tour boats drift past blowing their horns. At night the river is bathed in neon lights from the Theater im Hafen (Theater in the Port) across the water and the passing ships. The just-opened Elbphilharmonie concert hall dominates a peninsula in HafenCity and is an impressive sight (even if locals’ opinions of the new landmark are divided).

After enjoying the views, it might be time to try some traditional Hamburg food. Fischbrötchen (fish sandwiches) are hugely popular in Hamburg and Northern Germany, and come in many varieties including herring, salmon and even prawns. I recommend the smoked mackerel – it was delicious! Fresh fish and tasty German bread make for a great combination especially when they are washed down by a cold locally-brewed Astra beer.

Sunset, Hamburg
Beautiful colours as the sun sets behind the Port of Hamburg
Fischbrötchen, Hamburg
Fischbrötchen

Reeperbahn

After a stroll along the waterfront, climb the steps to Davidstraße. At the top continue past bars, liquor stores and the hidden entrance to the short Herbertstraße, infamous for its prostitution and serving as a mini red light district. You will soon reach one of Hamburg’s most famous locations, the Reeperbahn. An iconic nightlife destination, Reeperbahn is a hub of clubs, restaurants and sex shops. We walked down the street and watched groups of young men drinking beer outside bars and musicians setting up their equipment in Spielbudenplatz next to the street. The cowboy bars, throngs of tourists and almost enough neon to rival Vegas, Reeperbahn of today is very different to the road that got its name in the 17th century when it was used as a ropewalk, producing rope for dockyards in Hamburg.

Reeperbahn, Hamburg
Klubhaus, a popular event venue on the Reeperbahn

Day 2

Fischmarkt

If you time your visit to include a Sunday, the historic Fischmarkt should be at the top of your list! The fish market has been going strong since 1703 and is popular with tourists and locals alike. You can walk along countless stalls selling fruit, vegetables, souvenirs and, of course, fresh fish. Stall holders shout over each other promoting their wares and crowds gather to grab bargains. Early risers mingle with revellers going strong after a night on the Reeperbahn, enjoying coffee and Franzbrötchen (warm cinnamon pastries) while looking out over the Elbe.

Walk around, taking in the sights and smells before heading inside the Fischauktionshalle (fish market hall) to experience its festive atmosphere. Even early on the Sunday morning, the place is full of locals enjoying a breakfast of Fischbrötchen washed down with cold beers, while bands perform upbeat numbers on stage and even on the long communal tables. It’s a bit of a surreal experience but one of my all time favourites. Embracing it is key – singing along to Sweet Child O’ Mine while enjoying a Bratwurst sausage and a cold Erdinger at 8am will soon feel normal! When in Hamburg…

Hours: Open every Sunday. In winter (November to March) 7.00 a.m. – 9.30 a.m. In summer (April to October) 5.00 a.m. – 9.30 a.m.

 

Fischmarkt, Hamburg
Some of the produce on display at Fischmarkt
Fischmarkt, Hamburg
Live band, beer and table dancing all before 8:30 am!

Russian U-Boat

History buffs will enjoy the Russian U-434 submarine right next to the Fischmarkt which now serves as a museum. It was in active use by the Russian Navy as recently as 2002.

Hours: Mon – Sat: 09:00 a.m. – 08:00 p.m, Sun: 11:00 a.m. – 08:00 p.m.

Price: Adults €9, children €6

Russian U-Boat, Hamburg
Russian U-Boat, Hamburg

Harbour Boat Tours

To get a unique perspective of Hamburg and its lifeblood river, a boat trip is essential. The Landungsbrücken area has plenty of tour companies offering harbour tours , ranging from hop-on-hop-off barges and dinner cruises to speedboat experiences. Canal tours are also popular and there are plenty of options depending on available time and budget.

IMG_3639

Speicherstadt

From Landungsbrücken, it’s a short stroll to the recently UNESCO-listed Speicherstadt, the warehouse district of Hamburg. Construction of the area started in 1883 and the area was intended to be a customs free zone for companies who wanted to store goods in the area. Wander around, crossing the loading canals and checking out the impressive red-brick facades of the warehouses themselves. The district is still used for storage and has one of the world’s largest stores of carpets. A boat tour along its canals will get you up close to the beautiful buildings and visiting at night is a special experience, due to the area being illuminated by hundreds of spotlights.

Speicherstadt, Hamburg
One of the loading canals in Speicherstadt, Hamburg
Speicherstadt, Hamburg
Speicherstadt is also home to popular Hamburg museums, which occupy old warehouse buildings

Elbe Beach

A locals tip! Catch the ferry to Elbe Beach – situated on the banks of the Elbe, overlooking the cranes in the port of Hamburg. A couple of busy cafes serve beer and light meals while people relax in deckchairs, watching the ships drift by. It’s full of activity in the summer as locals sunbathe, paddle in the river and play volleyball before enjoying drinks in cool bars and restaurants along the beach. Impressive mansions overlook the beach and it’s possible to enjoy some walking trails in the area before catching the bus back to the city.

Elbe Beach, Hamburg
Elbe Beach, Hamburg

Day 3

Historic City Centre – Free Walking Tour

I really enjoy free walking tours and always look out for them when I visit a new city, as they can be very informative and fun. For those unfamiliar with the concept, there is no upfront fee for the tour – you just pay the tour guide whatever you feel it was worth at the end.  I decided to do the Historic City Centre tour but there are quite a few different ones available. Check out all the tours at http://www.robinandthetourguides.de/en/. I definitely recommend these guys!

The tour started at the Rathaus and continued to the site of the Old Town Hall which burned down in the Great Fire of 1842 before continuing to Deichstraße, the street where the Great Fire itself started. We wandered through cobbled alleyways and stuck our head into office buildings with open paternoster elevators, learnt how goods were winched through warehouse windows in Speicherstadt and what effect World War II had on the city. The tour guide, Matej, was funny and very knowledgeable and we were sad when it was time to end the tour at St Michael’s Church, one of the most famous sights in the city.

How: The tour starts at 11:00 am every day at the main entrance of Rathaus (town hall). Look out for the yellow umbrella. Tour length: 2 hours

A shop front in Deichstraße, Hamburg
A shop front in Deichstraße
Free walking tour, Hamburg
A group shot at the end of the Free Walking Tour

St. Michael’s Church

The church is one of Hamburg’s main sites and its most famous church. It has a rich history and was built in 1641 but has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times since.   It’s worth checking out its beautiful pulpit and marble altar as well as the ornate organs inside. The more adventurous can also climb the 450 steps to the tower with fantastic panorama views around Hamburg – it can get very windy up there but it’s definitely worth the trek! On the way up, you can check out a multimedia exhibition about Hamburg’s history and see the church bells at the top! If you don’t fancy the walk, you can take the lift up. There is also a crypt on site but I somehow managed to miss it on my visit!

Hours: May to October: every day 9.00 a.m. – 8.00 p.m. (last admission: 7.30 p.m.)
November to April: every day 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. (last admission: 5.30 p.m.)

Price: Tower: Adults €5.00, owners of Hamburg CARD € 4.00
Children €3.50, owners of Hamburg CARD € 2.50

Crypt: Adults €4.00, owners of Hamburg CARD € 3.00
Children €2.50, owners of Hamburg CARD € 1.50

St Michael's Church, Hamburg
St Michael’s Church, Hamburg
View from St Michael's Church, Hamburg
View from St Michael’s Church, Hamburg

Hamburg Museum

If you are interested in Hamburg’s rich history, this museum is the one to visit. Located just a few minutes’ walk from St. Michael’s Church it’s right next to the Planten un Blomen park. The museum houses exhibitions that give an interesting insight into the history of the city and its prominent role in Europe over the ages. I learnt about the city’s maritime past and present, how the city expanded over the centuries and explored a replica of a steamship’s bridge. The museum isn’t huge and I was able to explore it in a couple of hours – and I would definitely recommend a visit if you wanted to learn more about history of Hamburg. Click here to find out more about its collections and exhibitions.

Hours: Tue – Sat 10.00 a.m.  – 05.00 p.m, Sun 10.00 a.m. – 06.00 p.m. Closed Mondays

Price: Adults: 9,00 €, owners of HamburgCARD: 5,00 €, Children Under 18: Free

More Info: Hamburg Museum Official Website

A cannon at the Hamburg Museum
A cannon at the Hamburg Museum

Planten un Blomen

Dubbed the “green heart of Hamburg”, Planten un Blomen park is the city’s most popular park and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. It has lakes, multiple gardens (including the largest Japanese Garden in Europe), playgrounds and even a greenhouse complex. In the summer, there is loads going on – from concerts for adults and fun events for children to a nightly water and light show. Skateboarders enjoy the roller and in-line skating rink which turns into a huge ice rink in the winter. It’s a great place to escape the city and spend time with a good book or people watch.

Hours: May – September 7.00am – 11.00pm, October – March 7.00am – 8.00pm, April 7.00am – 10.00pm

Planten un Blomen park, Hamburg
Planten un Blomen park, Hamburg

Enjoy farewell drinks at Zoe 2 (Sofabar/Su*B)

Spend your last night in Hamburg by enjoying a drink in this cool St. Pauli hangout. It’s stylish with vintage furniture, comfortable sofas and worn walls. The drinks menu is great with many classic cocktails and beers available. This is where locals go and you won’t see many tourists as it’s outside of the city centre – definitely a great place to chill out and people watch. If you get hungry, there are some good restaurants in the area.

Getting There: Click here for a map. The nearest U-Bahn station is Feldstrasse. Click here for reviews/more info

A beer at Zoe 2, Hamburg
A beer at Zoe 2

The Trip

What: Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city. It’s located on the banks of the river Elbe.

Where: Hamburg is located in the north of Germany. It’s 179 miles/288km away from capital, Berlin.

Getting There: There are regular flights to Hamburg from many European airports. In the UK, Ryanair and EasyJet fly from various cities, including London, Manchester and Newcastle (from around £30 return, flight time around 1.5 hours). Hamburg International airport is clean and spacious and has won numerous awards, including Best Regional Airport in Europe and is a breeze to get through.

Getting Around: Take the S-Bahn train (route S1) from the airport to Hauptbahnof (Central Station) – around 25 minutes one way/€2.50. For more info, click here.

It’s easy to get around by public transport – it’s possible to buy single, daily and weekly tickets to save money and time. See here for info.

Hamburg CARD: The Hamburg CARD provides good value for visitors, offering free public transport and discounted entry into many attractions and museums as well as various special offers.

Hamburg might not be as well-known as Munich or Berlin but it has plenty to offer visitors. Here's my guide to 72 hours in Germany's second largest city.

51 thoughts on “72 Hours in Hamburg: A Weekend in Germany’s Cool Second City

  1. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    I haven’t really considered Hamburg as a City to visit as I didn’t actually know a lot about it so your post was a real insight for me! I will have to skip the fish market, I like to see my fish in the ocean but I would definitely go to Elbe Beach, the idea of sitting in a cafe with a beer and people watching sounds great! Love the free City tour as well, you get to see so much and learn a lot about a place that you would never know if you didn’t have someone to give you inside knowledge. Pinned for future reference! #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Angie, it’s a great city and Elbe Beach was a really cool thing to check out especially as there weren’t any tourists around!

  2. tracy collins says:

    I have only ever been through Hamburg by coach on my way to Aarhus so its nice to see a bit more of the city that I have before! looks like an interesting city! #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks Tracy. Definitely worth lingering a bit longer next time – German cities are generally great for sightseeing!

  3. jenn | By Land and Sea says:

    With all the shopping, nightlight, and different areas of town, it looks like there is plenty to do here! I would spend a lot of time checking out the gardens I think! Does the Japanese garden have cherry trees? They are so pretty when they blossom!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      There are indeed Jenn and there is even an annual Cherry Blossom Festival in the park! You would love it!

  4. Anna says:

    Holy crap that Fischbrötchen looks sooooo good! It’s like a fillet-o-fish on crack. That’s making my mouth water. I would probably try one sandwich of each! I’ve heard some stuff about Hamburg before and didn’t realize it’s Germany’s 2nd largest city! And how nice that it has a free walking tour. Such a good way to get an introduction to the city and to your bearings.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Anna, it was delicious! Hamburg is a fantastic place for a break. Next time I would love to visit in the summer as it was REALLY cold when I went

  5. Garth says:

    Wow really comprehensive guide Alexei, love it especially as Hamburg is somewhere I want to visit, so will pin this. Good idea to try a free walking tour, gonna try that the next place we go, oh and that Fischbrötchen sandwich looks interesting!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I really enjoyed Hamburg, Garth and it’s a great place for a weekend break! Easy to navigate and with plenty to do!

  6. Sandy N Vyjay says:

    Hamburg has the pristine charm that most if not all of the European cities and towns have. The water bodies are enchanting and lend a surreal tinge to the city. I was specially fascinated by the Statue at the Hygieia fountain in the Rathaus courtyard, never seen anything like it.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah the statue at the fountain was pretty cool. You are right – there is definitely something about European cities, isn’t there?

  7. Oana says:

    I haven’t been to Hamburg although I visited other places in Germany. Your guide is really detailed, it seems to have plenty of places to visit. I haven’t tried the free walking tour by now, I might give it a go in the next trip. That sandwich – damn, it looks good!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Free walking tours are a great way to get started in a new city and you usually learn a lot of cool local tips too!

  8. Only By Land says:

    I have been to many German cities but never Hamburg. Your pictures make Hamburg look just as good as the more popular German cities. As an Erdinger fan I’m glad you photographed this beer! I love how in Germany the beers come in tall glasses!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Hamburg is great – definitely different to the other German cities I’ve been to! The beer is so so good, I agree!

  9. Caretogofree says:

    Thank you for this guide! Had not considered this as a destination to visit in Germany, and it looks absolutely amazing! The harbor boat tour sounds like the perfect way to get a good view of the city and Elbe beach looks like my kind of place!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Definitely a great city to visit for a weekend! Plenty to see and do and the beach would be amazing in the summer!

  10. Anna says:

    Hamburg is my favorite German city after Berlin! Was there in February once and it was soooooo cold! Your post reminded me of all its wonderful sights though – would love to go back!

  11. David says:

    I’d heard good things about Hamburg despite it not being as popular as Berlin or Munich, so it’s nice to see some photos that show it as a really interesting destination. The morning fish market sounds like a bizarre and fun experience and one not to miss. Will have to visit when I get a chance to see more of Germany.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      They are very different cities but you will have an amazing time in both! I have been to Munich many times but was really glad to find Hamburg such a great city to visit!

  12. Natasha says:

    Absolutely want to go here! I have been wanting to go to Germany for a good while now but could never decide on where.. Now I have my answer. Thank you.

  13. Jean says:

    Oh Hamburg looks beautiful. And with so much to see and do. Added it to my list of places to see when we return to Germany

  14. Megan Jerrard says:

    Fantastic itinerary, thanks for sharing! Hamburg has such a unique harbor charm, and there’s nothing like smelling the crisp sea air! My favorite is the famous Sunday fish market, you can listen to the seagulls and have a chat with the proud local merchants. So I was so glad to see this included in your itinerary 🙂

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Such an incredible place! I am glad that my visit was over a weekend so I got to visit the market! Was definitely one the highlights of the visit!

  15. Claudia says:

    You make Hamburg look lovely. It’s been decades since I’ve last visited this bustling city, perhaps time for a return trip? Love your photo of the loading canals in Speicherstadt! Industrial architecture is fabulous.

  16. Cat says:

    I am thinking of visiting Hamburg on my next Europe trip! That free walking tour and harbour boat tour seem like a great way to see the city. Thanks for the tip on Hamburg CARD – I will need to look into it!

  17. sara | belly rumbles says:

    I love Hamburg, I could spend hours walking around and just drinking it all in. Would be happy to grab a Fischbrötchen for lunch and then keep going. Plus there is the free walking tour that you mentioned. Didn’t know that existed, will need to check it out next time I am in town.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Definitely one of my favourite cities in Europe – so much to see and do! I would love to explore further afield when I am next there!

  18. Chrysoula says:

    That is a great guide. I had no idea there were so many things one could see in Hamburg. I especially like that Hamburg isn’t only a modern city but has a picturesque old town as well.

  19. Michelle says:

    I want to visit Hamburg and I’m feel really exciting about this place. Your pictures truly amazing, anyway i liked it)
    I’ll going to try free city tour, but didn’t hear about company which you recommended, you enjoyed your tour?
    I know about big companies which providing free city tour like Sandemans and Generation tours but i’m always open to new opportunities

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