Hamburg has long been in the shadow of its older brother Berlin – and I have to say with good reason. But instead of complaining about being mini-me, they made it into a top attraction.
Hamburg have a completely different atmosphere than Berlin – less history charm, but more commerce and modern vibes. But Hamburg has nothing to be ashamed of; it was a free imperial city of the Holy Roman empire and a wealthy and powerful Hanseatic City – and the trade history is still dominant. As a travel destination, it’s coming up, and even though I will always prefer big brother, there’s definitely something to do in the harbour city.
Here you find a guide on how to spend 48 hours in wintertime, if you are a cultural traveller.
DAY 1 MITTE
Mitte is the center and where you’ll spend most of your time. In summer it’s green and filled with people sitting outside drinking beer, and in winter it’s all about the Christmas Markets.
Start the day with Hamburger Kunsthalle studying the old masters and the new. I always have to see one of my favourite painters Casper David Friedrich. I’ve even written a paper on his works as an expression of sublime art. Also look out for Cranach, Rembrandt, Renoir, Degas and German Beckmann. The entrance is 14 Euro.
Have lunch at the nearby Vietnamese Quan Do. If it’s completely packed (as in my case) go to Barefood Deli around the corner. It’s a decent place with pasta and wine and hip waiters too busy to serve you. Just my kind of place. The cranberry lemonade is delicious. A cheap alternative is Campus Suite.
With new energy head south to see the city from above. St. Nikolai Memorial is Hamburg’s most important memorial from the war The original main church was destroyed in the air raids on Hamburg in 1943. A glass elevator takes you 76 metres up. I was the only one who dared….
If you have a little extra time, try the hidden and weird Park Fiction Hamburg. Nice in good weather for bringing your afternoon tea and pastry. There’s plastic palm trees, a grassy magic carpet to fly back home on and a nice industrial view of tomorrows area: Hafencity.
Return to the area around Mönckebergstrasse, which is great for shopping both highstreet and more designer brands, so if you need some German quality – get it now. I always get tea and pastries and organic skin care.
During winter, you might be lucky enough to have the Christmas spirit fall upon you from the city’s many Christmas markets. Spend the early evening drinking hot mulled wine, buy small wooden Christmas trees and nutcrackers and just be jolly. Read more on the Christmas markets here: Grog & nutcrackers! 3 Christmas markets in Hamburg.
Otherwise, you can end your evening with a quick kebab with red onions and cabbage (it’s soo good) before prancing off to the Staatsoper Hamburg – the opera that is. Wagner is the most famous one, but you can find something shorter in the program as well. Dress nicely- the Germans do.
DAY 2 HAFENCITY
On the second day – head for the harbour. On the way (for most travellers), you pass the oldest street in Hamburg Deichstrasse built in the 14th century. Many buildings was destroyed by fires, and what was left was bombed in WWII. So not the city for someone looking for ancient ruins.
Hamburg has the 3. largest port in Europa and that is part of the background for World Heritage Site Speicherstadt -the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex which still has the largest storage of spices. You can walk along suspended bridges around the area.
Aim for the water, where you’ll find Elbphilharmonie. The very-late-and-much-over-budget concert hall. You can see a view of the city from the buildings platform for free. There’s a shop, a café and a hotel inside as well. Or just go hear a concert…
Hafencity is also where the surprisingly popular mini attraction is: Miniatur Wunderland -the worlds largest model railway. Okay, so normally not my style, but I spoke to one of the owners the week before, and he really made me curious. And I have to say it’s much more fun than expected. You search for your country, explore all the impressive landscapes, wonder at the technical stuff, and dive deep into the tiny daily situations. Consider buying a ticket in advance in high season. Apparently model railways are for everybody.
To restore your strength find lunch in the area of the maritime museum. We went for the alpine themed and cheap Wildes Fräulein.
Now, a little drunk from the great alpine beer, you leave Hafencity and head for Chokoversum for an afternoon pick me up. Be sure to book in advance if you want the 90-min tour to make you own chocolate.
Across the street is Chilehaus – also part of the World Heritage Site. It’s rare office buildings are so interesting. Notice: it looks like a ship…
End the day with a real pick me up at one of Hamburg’s innumerable bars. I do not recommend the infamous Reeperbahn district for obvious reasons. You’ll have no trouble finding excellent German beer and with a little extra effort German wine. The street Lange Reihe is a little out of the way, but a great place to find watering spots. Even cocktails. So: my mom, younger cousin and I ended up in a gay bar M&V Bar, which was one the best cocktails bars, I’ve been in outside Copenhagen.
PRACTICALITIES IN HAMBURG
Germany generally has really good hotels, hostels and apartments. Since I was staying alone on this trip, I used some of my Hotels.com credit to get a good deal on Hotel Atlantic Kempinski. It’s a grand old lady with charming elevators, shining staircases and a spa.
My mom and my cousin who came later stayed at the hostel chain Generator and was pretty happy. (Until they saw my bathtub, that is… Sorry mom!) It has a rooftop terrace and is just opposite the train station.
For more boutique style 25Hours Hotel comes highly recommended.
Getting to and from the airport is easiest with the train. It takes 25 min. and costs 13 Euro. A good trick is to buy the ticket inside the airport by the luggage pick-up, since there’s a long line at the train station. There’s also one at the platform.
Have you been to Hamburg?