As a harbor city located in the far north of Germany, Hamburg has been known for centuries as the "gateway to the world." One of Hamburg's most famous sons, novelist Wolfgang Borchert, lovingly described the city as "more than a heap of stones, roofs, windows, beds, roads, bridges and street lamps. It is more than factory chimneys and traffic jams—more than the screeching of seagulls, squeaking of trams and thundering of the railway—it is more than ships' horns, whirling cranes, curses and dance music—oh, it is so much more!" Even writer Heinrich Heine, who did not always sing Hamburg's praises, returned again and again, just as many visitors do. Hamburg has an air about it: on the one hand, it is a busy and bustling metropolis; on the other, an elegant and cozy seaside idyll. Whatever your impression may be, you'll never get tired of Hamburg!
The City Center The city center, which lies between the
Altstadt The Altstadt(old town) contains many of the city's most historic buildings, including the 9th century
Kontorhaus Quarter The historic
Pöseldorf/Harvestude The upmarket Pöseldorf/Harvestude district lies on the Outer Alster's western shore. Dominated by rows of late-19th-century townhouses and ornate, neo-classical mansions, this area is a favorite of young professionals. Everything is extremely trendy, which has led to the district being christened "Schnöseldorf" ("Little Snot's Town") by locals. Harvestuder Weg, home to many foreign consulates and company headquarters, is one of the city's most sought-after addresses, while Alsteruferweg is perfect for a relaxing stroll.
Universitätsviertel The University Quarter lies to the west of Rothenbaumchausee. As you may expect, this is an exciting part of town with plenty going on. Most of the people who hang out in the bars, cafés and clubs are either students or media types.
Eppendorf Eppendorf is another popular residential area. The streets are lined with elegant turn-of-the-century townhouses, and many small rivers flow through the district. Be sure to visit the
Altona This former autonomous Danish city was annexed by the Nazis in 1937. The most heavily-populated part of Hamburg, it is a multicultural working-class neighborhood. Architecture junkies will love the "Kontorhäuser," the renovated factories, the imposing classical
Blankenese Lined with ancient trees and ornate villas, the 10km-long Elbchausee has been described as the "most beautiful street in the world" and leads the way from Altona to the exclusive district of Blankenese. Famous for its white fishing huts, historic country residences, parks, gardens, views of the River Elbe and its winding paths and narrow stairways, this is a favorite haunt for locals and visitors alike.
Schanzenviertel/Karolinenviertel You may be forgiven for thinking that time has passed by the Schanzenviertel and the Karolinenviertel. These two districts are extremely multicultural and are great for people-watching. Their numerous watering-holes, tea rooms and ethnic shops make them a perfect place to visit night or day. Yet the fact that they have been "discovered" means that their original character is struggling to survive.
St. Pauli Hamburg's notorious red-light district is the liveliest and most vibrant part of town and the 30,000 people who live here are an eclectic mix of young and old. The legendary
Whatever you choose to do in Hamburg, even if it's simply taking a walk in one of the city's many parks and gardens (Hamburg is Germany's greenest city), you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself!
Visitors to Hamburg can't complain about lack of accommodation. The city contains practically every kind of lodging, from exclusive hotels with every imaginable luxury to budget-sensitive youth hostels. Over 250 hotels and boarding houses offer a total of 30,000 beds, all of which are badly needed, as over four million tourists, trade fair visitors and business people stay in Hamburg every year.
Many hotels are strategically situated near airports, railway stations and main roads. The Airport Hotel Hamburg, for example, offers banqueting facilities, an art gallery and a fine restaurant, but at 130 EUR (at the cheapest) for a single room, it is firmly fixed in the upper price bracket. Kock's Hotel Garni and the Mercure Hotel Hamburg Airport Nord are also located close to the airport, while Best Western Premier Alsterkrug Hotel is just a few minutes drive along the road into town. Hotel Rex and Hotel Helgoland are good bets if you are travelling along the A7 motorway in the North, as too are Hotel Restaurant Engel and Hotel Restaurant Ausspann. In the South, establishments like Quality Hotel Ambassador or the Forum Hotel Hamburg, Hamburg's second largest hotel, offer a comfortable night's rest. If you are heading east, then Hotel Berlin or Hotel Eggers near the A24 motorway are good choices.
The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is, as you would expect, surrounded by hotels. Examples include the Hotel Europäischer Hof, Hotel Terminus Garni, Maritim Hotel Reichshof Hamburg, Hotel Fürst Bismarck and Steen's Hotel. Minotel Metro Merkur is a good and inexpensive alternative. Many other establishments are located within walking distance of the station, such as Hotel Alte Wache, an old town house with a classic atmosphere.
Many visitors prefer to stay in the picturesque hotels and guest houses near Lake Alster. The luxurious Kempinski Hotel Atlantic is one of the finest examples and has been a fixture in Hamburg's hotel scene for over 90 years. Other excellent places in this part of town include the tiny Aussen Alster Hotel, the modern Wedina Hotel, the charming Relexa Hotel Bellevue Hamburg and the traditional Prem with its lovely garden and first class restaurant. The comfortable Crowne Plaza Hotel is also nearby.
The district of Rotherbaum on the western bank of Lake Alster contains the exclusive Hotel Inter-Continental Hamburg, which is home to the Spielbank Hamburg casino and offers wonderful views of the lake. Upmarket Eppendorf is home to the Abtei, a fantastic villa with beautiful gardens. Other recommended places in the area are Hotel-Pension Am Nonnenstieg, the Japanese-style Nippon Hotel Hamburg, and the apartments on Klosterallee or Oberstrasse. The Grand Elysée Hamburg, Hotel Amsterdam-Garni and Hotel Vorbach are located slightly further south, near the university and exhibition centre.
Many trade fair visitors choose to stay at the Radisson SAS Hotel Hamburg, which is home to "Hamburg's highest nightclub" ("Top of the Town Bar and Lounge," located on their 27th floor), and which offers direct access to the Congress Centrum CCH and the Planten un Blomen park. Other decent alternatives are Hotel Baseler Hof on the Esplanade, Hotel Oper and NH Hamburg Norge.
Big names in the city centre include the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten and Park Hotel Hyatt. The latter boasts its own nightclub ("The Shark Club"), a large health and fitness centre and two restaurants. Other quality lodgings include the Renaissance Hotel Hamburg and the Steigenberger, located on an island in the Neustadt which hosts the Fleetinsel Festival every summer.
Hotel Hafen Hamburg towers high above the Landungsbrücken, close to the River Elbe and Reeperbahn. The nearby district of Altona is home to Hotel St. Annen and Best Western Raphael Hotel Altona. Hotel Imperial (also home to the "Imperial Theater") faces the Operettenhaus and is an ideal starting point for night-owls. The same is true of Hotel Ibis Hamburg Altona near the Altona railway station. Entertainment is also guaranteed at Hotel am Holstenwall. Situated near the city centre, the hotel has two excellent restaurants and its own theatre, the "Neues Theater am Holstenwall." Across the street, you can go for a walk around the historic city fortifications, the Wallanlagen, or visit the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte.
The picturesque district of Blankenese is known for its beautiful villas, leafy parks and exclusive hotels and restaurants. Places like Hotel Louis C. Jacob and Hotel Blankenese are also popular.
Several international hotel chains have branches in Hamburg: Ibis, for example, has hotels in Altona (Hotel Ibis Hamburg Alster) and Hotel Ibis Hamburg Wandsbek. You'll also find the 3-star Novotels Novotel Hamburg Airport, Mercure Hotel Hamburg City and Novotel Hamburg Arena. There are also several motels in town. The wacky sixties Motel 21 in Horn has provided the backdrop for many a German TV show, while Motel Hamburg on Hoheluftchaussee caters to an international clientele.
Among the city's youth hostels, mention should be made of Jugendherberge auf dem Stintfang. Located on a hill near Landungsbrücken, the hostel offers lovely views of the river and is extremely close to the city centre. The Jugendherberge Hamburg - Horner Rennbahn has an open fireplace (great on Hamburg's cold winter evenings!) and is ideally located for horse-lovers and punters with the race-track next door. The independently-run Hamburger Jugendpark Langenhorn e.V. offers great sports facilities, while many backpackers head for Instant Sleep Backpacker Hostel in Schanzenviertel, which has its own laundrette and internet café.
Whichever place you choose, it is always advisable to inquire beforehand about reduced weekend rates or special offers, which include tickets for the theatre, or access to trade fairs. You should also bear in mind that many hotels boost their rates at peak times, such as during the holidays and major trade fairs.
Theatre, Opera & Literature Hamburg has a diverse theater scene which is guaranteed to satisfy every taste. If you like light theater, head for Komödie Winterhuder Fährhaus or St.Pauli-Theater, while Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg and Ernst-Deutsch-Theater are top addresses for theater classics. Thalia Theater is well known for its innovative productions of modern pieces, such as the Black Rider by Burroughs, Waits and Wilson, or Lou Reed and Robert Wilson's Poetry. If you're in town with the kids, then they'll be spellbound by the performances at the Theater für Kinder, while the legendary Schmidt Theater on the Reeperbahn puts on brilliant variety shows for adults.
Although modern and unassuming on the outside, the interior of Hamburg's Staatsoper (State Opera House) is one of the most opulent in the country, and hosts performances by many of the world's greatest ballet and opera stars. The best place for classical music is undoubtedly the Musikhalle - Laeiszhalle. Hamburg also has a reputation as being Germany's musical capital. Although Cats has left town after thirteen years at the Operettenhaus, Phantom and other spectacular shows make this theater a firm favorite. If you are interested in readings and literary events, pop into Hamburger Literaturhaus, which features regular readings by world famous authors.
Concerts As most people here will be keen to tell you, The Beatles' route to world stardom began in Kaiserkeller, which has now been turned into a disco. Nowadays, top live acts perform above the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg's most prominent club, Große Freiheit und Kaiserkeller. Freiheit's arch rival, Disco im Docks, is located just around the corner and attracts equally prominent bands. Markthalle puts on gigs by lesser-known bands, and its atmosphere is second to none. Other blues, jazz and rock concerts take place in Fabrik, a former factory in Altona.
Hamburg also has several great venues for open-air gigs. The Volksparkstadion (officially, the HSH Nordbank Arena) and Trabrennbahn Bahrenfeld regularly host top acts, but probably the best-known venue for open-air concerts is the Stadtpark. If all that's not enough for you, then head to Scheeßel for a whole weekend's worth of music at the annual Hurricane Festival.
Museums & Exhibitions Admittedly, Hamburg isn't known for being a particularly artsy city, but it does offer a host of interesting museums. Hamburger Kunsthalle is home to one of Germany's best collections of ancient and modern art, while the architecturally charming Deichtorhallen puts on some great contemporary art exhibitions. If you're interested in seafaring, then Altonaer Museum is the place for you, featuring figureheads from ancient galleons, as well as an impressive collection of models and nautical instruments. The museum of Kunst und Gewerbe exhibits a thousand years worth of arts and crafts, while the Museum of Ethnology boasts an impressive collection of exotic items from faraway places. If you want to learn more about Hamburg, then be sure to visit the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte (Museum of Local History), which contains a model of "Hammaburg," the medieval settlement from which Hamburg gets its name. If the weather is good, then it may be worth taking a trip along the river to the Museumshafen (Boat Museum) at Övelgönne, the final resting place of many an ancient vessel.
Cinema Hamburg hankered after good cinemas for years, but there is now a multitude of fine film theaters in town. The Ufa-Palast on Gänsemarkt and the gigantic CinemaxX at Dammtor are the most centrally located, but if you prefer to avoid the rush that normally accompanies the latest Hollywood blockbuster, then head for the Zeise Kinos, located in an old factory in Altona. Other well-known cinemas include Grindel Filmtheater, Holi and Streit's on Jungfernstieg. The Abaton and Metropolis show director's cuts and art films.
Nightlife When it comes to nightlife, the first place most people think of is the Reeperbahn. If you want to have fun, then there's no avoiding the district of St. Pauli, where you'll find the best nightclubs such as Mojo Club, Molotow, Panoptikum, Disco im Docks, Große Freiheit und Kaiserkeller, as well as plenty of theaters, like St. Pauli-Theater and Schmidts Tivoli, museums like Hans Albers Museum and Panoptikum, dance halls (Cafe Keese) and of course, Germany's most famous red-light strip! If you've spent a night on the town and need a hearty breakfast to sober you up, then there's no better place than the fish market.
Sports Hamburg offers limitless sporting entertainment for both active sports people as well as spectators. Hamburg's main football team is HSV Hamburg, who play in Germany's premier division, the Bundesliga. Their home is the wonderful Volksparkstadion, which hosted some games of the 2006 World Cup. The city's other major soccer team, FC St. Pauli, play in the atmospheric Wilhelm Koch Stadium and are currently in the second division. HSV share the Volksparkstadion with Hamburg Blue Devils, an American football team that has become increasingly popular over the past few years.
The city marathon, the Hansaplast, attracts over a million spectators who turn out every year to cheer the runners along the 42km-long course. If you'd like to take part but need to get fit first, then Hamburg's parks (Volkspark Altona and Stadtpark) and the leafy area around Lake Alster are great jogging territory. Many young people now prefer to roller blade or cycle through the parks, although it is doubtful that they will ever be able to compete with German cycling legend Jan Ullrich, who visits the city regularly to take part in the Vattenfall Cyclassics race.
If you're more interested in water sports, then Hamburg, with its numerous lakes and canals, offers splendid conditions for rowers, sailors, water skiers and canoeists. Horse racing fans should also get their money's worth at the Trabrennbahn Bahrenfeld and Hamburger Derby-Woche in Hamburg Horn. Swimmers should visit Alster-Schwimmhalle, while tennis fans can watch the stars whack the ball around the court in the Rothenbaum Championships, which take place every spring.
Hamburg, "the gateway to the world," boasts a plentiful variety of international cuisine that's available at almost any time of the day or night. Yet despite so much foreign influence, Hamburg still offers its own unique local cuisine which visitors shouldn't miss.
Traditional north German dishes don't generally win many prizes in gourmet magazines, and sceptics and first-time visitors can get unnerved when they hear about dishes like Birnen, Bohnen und Speck (pears, green beans and bacon), Aalsuppe (eel soup) or Labskaus (fish and meat stew). However, if you take a closer look at Hamburg's local specialties, you will realize that there is nothing especially strange about them. They are based on the same fresh ingredients which the surrounding countryside has provided for centuries. Most traditional dishes are seasonal no-frills affairs, and reflect North German simplicity mixed with a touch of the Danish love for all things sweet.
It goes without saying that one of this seaside city's staple ingredients is fish. Late spring is the perfect time for Maischolle (spring plaice), which can be found in hundreds of restaurants and snack bars all over the city. Finkenwerder Ewerscholle (fresh plaice fried in bacon and served with boiled potatoes and a side salad with a sweet cream and lemon dressing) is a specialty best tried in sophisticated fish restaurants like Fischereihafen Restaurant, Deichgraf, Alt Hamburger Aalspeicher and Stock's Fischrestaurant. A popular summer specialty is "Matjes" (herring) served with green beans and bacon, while a prawn sandwich makes a good snack between meals.
Aalsuppe (meaning literally "eel soup") doesn't actually have any eel in it: the name comes from the North German word for "everything," meaning that the soup consists of all kinds of summer vegetables, as well as ham and sweet prunes. Another late summer specialty is Birnen, Bohnen und Speck, a stew based on a particular variety of pear that ripens in August. All this lovely fruit comes from Altes Land, a giant orchard south-west of the city. Labskaus was created by fishermen in the Middle Ages, and is a wonderful illustration of the proverb "necessity is the mother of invention." In the days before refrigerators, fishermen could take only salted meat with them on their long voyages, and they made it edible by boiling it into a thick broth with potatoes and onions. Mashed together with a herring, some beetroot and a pickled cucumber, the result looks slightly strange, but is extremely tasty. Try it out at places like the Old Commercial Room or Zum alten Senator.
Hamburg has a fine choice of restaurants that offer seasonal German fare, such as asparagus in the late spring / early summer, and smoked pork, sausages and fried potatoes in the winter. The dishes on offer at places like Ahrberg or Markgraf are a fine mix of creative and traditional cuisines. For typical Bavarian fare, head to Franziskaner. Or head to Zur Schlachterbörse for a large, no-frills steak. "Neue deutsche Küche," the German equivalent of nouvelle cuisine, is best tried in modern establishments like Anna, Allegria and Bit am Jungfernstieg.
The city also boasts a number of top chefs and exclusive gourmet restaurants such as Wollenberg, Michael Weißenbruch's A Table and Hans-Peter Engel's Restaurant Haerlin in the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Fine hotel restaurants include Hotel am Holstenwall and Prem. If you want to enjoy a view of the river while dining in style, then you'll be well catered to by upmarket establishments such as Landhaus Dill, Landhaus Scherrer, Sagebiels Fährhaus, and Hotel Louis C. Jacob. Café und Restaurant Engel in Teufelsbrück has a wonderful terrace -- perfect for dining on a balmy summer evening. The range of international cuisine is enormous and is too varied to go into great detail about. Medded, for example, is a top address for Egyptian specialities. Vegetarians should head for Laska's, Tassajara in Eppendorf or Suryel in Altona. Mr.Green restaurant chain also offers great veggie food at reasonable prices.
Hamburg has a large choice of restaurants that are open late: Arkadasch, for example, serves up Turkish delights until 2a, Bar Hamburg specializes in fine fish and meat dishes, Bolero is great for tacos and fajitas, while Max & Consorten is a good bet for late-night croques. Numerous garden restaurants offer visitors the opportunity to dine outside in the summer. Places like Röpers Hof in Othmarschen, Landhaus Walter in the Stadtpark, or Café Schöne Aussichten in Planten un Blomen park are particularly pretty. If you are looking for something different, try the rotating restaurant at the top of the Heinrich-Hertz-Turm, or chug along the river in the Louisiana steamboat's gourmet restaurant.
Hamburg abounds with cafés where you can enjoy a big breakfast or pop by for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake in the afternoon. Each district has its own particular favorites: Witthüs and Strandcafé in Blankenese, Schotthorst in Eimsbüttel, Cafe Lindtner in Eppendorf, Fees Restaurant & Bar near the Holstenwall, Café Unter den Linden in the Schanzenviertel, Destille in St. Georg, and September in St. Pauli. Otherwise, head for Grindelallee, a street near the university loaded with cafés.
If you prefer a liquid diet, Hamburg is definitely the place for you! The beer situation is particularly good, as there are several local breweries, many of which have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages. Visitors can take guided tours through the Bavaria-St. Pauli brewery and the Holsten brewery—drinks included, of course! Otherwise, you can pull your own pints at Brauhaus Joh. Albrecht or enjoy a glass of Weißbier and barbecue your own sausages at Brauhaus Hanseat.
The large variety of different bars and pubs means there is something for everyone. The Reeperbahn in the red-light district is the hotspot for the younger generation. Happening places include Amphore, Blauer Peter IV, The Chinese-Mandarin-Lounge, Meanie Bar and Roschinsky's. The Schanzenviertel is home to countless atmospheric little pubs, the smallest of which is Kurhaus. You could also try places like Schilleroper, Saal II, and Bar Rossi. A firm favorite in multicultural St. Georg is Max & Consorten, but Café Gnosa has become equally popular, especially among the gay and lesbian crowd. The district of Eimsbüttel is well served by R&B, Meisenfrei and Maybach. There are also plenty of cocktail bars in town, the most stylish of which are Ciu's, Bar Hamburg, Cairos and Havanna.
Wine connoisseurs will be in their element at Allegria or Schwender's, with a choice of over twenty open wines which you can enjoy on the outdoor terrace in the summer. Cremon's wine vault in the old town is full of old-world atmosphere, while Weinlokal Schoppenhauer serves up great meals accompanied by fine wines in a warehouse just around the corner. Another excellent wine selection is available at Zur Traube in Ottensen, an 80-year-old establishment located in a beautiful, architecturally significant building recognized as such by the city of Hamburg. If you fancy a bit of "DIY wine," then head to Lemitz Weinstuben (in Eimsbüttel) in the autumn, where you can help harvest the grapes and see how wine is fermented.