Hamburg for First-Timers
Hamburg is a fascinating city. Despite being some 60 miles away from the ocean, it exudes a refreshing oceanic charm. It’s Germany’s biggest port and second most populous city, and yet on a cloudy weekend afternoon, a walk through the back roads of the warehouse district can be a tranquil and enthrallingly isolated experience. There’s a lot of things to do in Hamburg, thanks to its interesting history, architecture, and music scene. It’s an ideal accompaniment to the Berlin, which is just a short train journey away.
Things to do in Hamburg
1. Walk the harbor district
Hamburg’s harbor is an important shipping hub for the whole of Germany. It’s also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Ships from around the world sail the narrow canals. Whether you’re a fan of all things maritime, or just like to let your imagination wander as you see foreign boats glide past, a morning walk around the harbor district is thoroughly rewarding.
Insider tip: For the best view of the harbor, head to Michel – the largest church in Hamburg. You can climb to the top of the church’s belfry for spectacular views of the city below.
2. Eat a fish sandwich
If you have your sights set on a famous fischbrötchen, or fish sandwich, then head to the popular Fishmarkt nice and early on a Sunday morning. The market opens at the crack of dawn and only runs for a few hours. It’s the perfect location to get hold of fresh fish and a famous fish sandwich, as well as other produce. There’s a distinct atmosphere that makes this a captivating place to visit – whether you’re just starting your day, or ending a long night.
Insider tip: The market’s unusual opening hours have caught many tourists off guard. To be safe, you’ll need to get there close to 5 a.m. in summer and 7 a.m. in winter.
3. Visit miniature train wonderland
Hamburg is home to the world’s largest model railway at Miniatur Wunderland. The facts and figures surrounding this miniature railway heaven are incredible. There are approximately 50,000 feet of track, 900 trains, and 12,000 wagons. These trains travel through seven sections – the Alps, Austria, Hamburg, the United States, Scandinavia, Switzerland, as well as a full miniature airport. Amazingly, some of the models are still under construction. It’s well worth a visit, whether you’re a fan of model railways or not.
Insider tip: This is one of the most popular attractions in Hamburg. If you want to beat the queues during peak season, book your ticket and timeslot online early at www.miniatur-wunderland.com.
4. Explore the warehouse district
If your imagination is still running wild after a visit to the miniature wonderland, continue exploring the warehouse district or Speicherstadt nearby. The iconic red-brick houses may appear uniform and orderly from the outside, but behind those walls are high class products from around the world, including spices, chocolate and coffee. This is arguably the most impressive, accessible, and significant warehouse district in the Europe. Because of this it became a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1991.
Insider tip: If you’re looking for a new perspective, board one of the tour ships that ride the waterways.
5. Party in the Reeperbahn
Hamburg’s red light district is one of the city’s most popular party centers, but it’s fascinating to visit even if you’re not looking to dance the night away. Many locals refer to it as die sündigste Meile, or the sinful mile, owing to the surplus of brothels, sex shops, and strip clubs. There are of course regular restaurants and bars in between, and if you’re looking for a gritty night on the town head here at least once during your stay.
Insider tip: This is where the Beatles cut their teeth before rising to world fame. There’s a tribute to the band at the start of the road.
6. Head to the beach
Spend the day at the beach without leaving the city. Hamburg takes its love affair with the sea very seriously, and on a good day locals strip down to their swimsuits and flock to Strand Pauli on the banks of the Elbe River. The outlook may be a slightly grimy port, but that’s exactly what makes it so special. Massive cargo ships coast past in a strangely elegant fashion, construction cranes on the opposite bank work overtime unpacking new arrivals, and you can sit back with a cocktail and watch it all go by without a care in the world.
Insider tip: There are several bars, restaurants, and beach clubs in the area. But if you want to keep it authentic and go for a swim, head to Strandperle. This is the city’s original beach club, and they have a simple menu, good drinks, and the perfect laid-back atmosphere.
There’s a lot of things to do in Hamburg. It’ll leave you wanting more, and yearning to return. The city has struck a perfect balance between gritty authenticity and charm, and whether you choose to walk the harbor and dockyard, lose yourself in miniature wonderland, or bask in the sun on one of Europe’s most original beaches, it won’t be long before you’re planning a return visit on your next Eurail trip through Germany.
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