We have been lucky to host several guests since moving to Hamburg. Using their visits as an opportunity to explore our new city in more detail, we try to take them to different places for eating, drinking and sightseeing. As it happens, Hamburg has much fewer tourist attractions than the cities we’ve previously lived in: London and Rome. Whereas there are dozens of blogs, guide books, websites and apps dedicated to tourism in those cities, Hamburg is much smaller and less touristy. We have had to be creative about what to do and where to go, to avoid too much repetition for us, and to ensure a Plan B in case it rains (which it does often!).
So, if you visit Hamburg, where should you go? If you live here, which places would be interesting, enjoyable and unusual for your guests?
Firstly, I’ll direct you towards my post from April where I talked about some of the places we had visited in Hamburg (Fischmarkt, St Michaelis, St Pauli’s street art scene, the Hamburg Dom funfare and much more).
Here are some more ideas…
Feel like a giant in Miniatur Wunderland
Miniatur Wunderland is described as “the largest model railway in the world, and one of the most successful permanent exhibitions in Northern Germany”. How many of you are train enthusiasts? Probably not many. However, don’t let this description put you off! Miniatur Wunderland is really interesting and the attention to detail is incredible. Every visitor I have taken there loved it.
I’ve posted about MW before, and have revisited since then. As I’d already done a general overview, I was able to focus more on the funny characters the model makers have sneaked in. Some of the models and situations range from the risqué (think teeny topless sunbathers) to the downright saucy!
Visit a museum or art gallery
Hamburg has some museums and galleries which are reportedly worth a visit. I must be honest, most of these I have not visited yet. As most of London’s museums and galleries are free to enter (at least to see the permanent exhibitions), I find it annoying having to pay to enter these in other countries. Especially if it is €8-14 per person depending on the museum. However, we are in luck! In Hamburg, many state museums and galleries offer discounted entrance fees on Thursday evenings, after 5pm. Check the specific websites for details, but you can save between €4-6 euros by going on a Thursday evening.
Some museums which may interest you:
- The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe – The what now? It means Art and Industry. It has permanent and temporary exhibitions on design, sculptures, ceramics, ancient art, art nouveau, Islamic and East Asian art, fashion and photography. I have actually been to this one and recommend it.
- Rickmer-Rickmers – If you visit Hamburg’s harbour, you can board a large sailing ship which is permanently moored there. It costs €5 entry per person (before any discounts or concessions are applied) and I think it is well worth the money! You can explore all the levels of the ship, looking into the cabins, reading about life on the ship (the information boards are in German, with some translated into English). When I went, there was even an exhibition of local artist’s paintings of Hamburg available for sale!
- Submarine U-434
- The International Maritime museum
- The museum of Hamburg history
- The museum of ethnology
- The Sankt Pauli museum
- The chocolate museum – good for those of you travelling with children (or with a sweet tooth). Apparently you can watch the chocolate-making process, make your own custom-made bars and try some samples as part of a guided tour.
- The Hamburg Dungeons – they do guided tours in English at 10am on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
- The Altoner Museum
Visit the largest cemetery in Europe
Opened in 1877, Hamburg’s cemetery – Ohlsdorfer Friedhof – is the largest cemetery in Europe and the largest rural cemetery in the world! There are 1.5 million burials, across 280,000 grave sites, and lots of beautiful sculptures, mausoleums and chapels. There are lots of regular citizens buried there, as well as some famous politicians, actors, musicians and artists. Notable burials include Helmut Schmidt (Chancellor of West Germany, senator and minister), Herbert Weissner (the first mayor of Hamburg), Carl Hagenbeck (inventor of the modern zoo) and Gustav Hertz (physicist and Nobel Prize winner).
Take to the seas!
Well, the river or canals anyway. From Landungsbrücken harbour, you can travel by ferry along and across the Elbe river. If you buy a day ticket for the HVV public transport system, ferry journeys are included in this. For example, you can board at Landungsbrücken and get off at Altona (Fischmarkt), or the (impossible-to-pronounce) Oevelgönne Museum Harbour stop. If you choose the latter, you will find some bars and cafes near the beach and beautiful houses along Elbchaussee to admire and covet.
Or you can travel further into Hamburg, on a river tour via one of the many providers. I used Alster Touristik when my parents last visited. We thought it was very good value for money. We paid €19 per person but discounts are available for children and groups. The tours last two hours and there are audio guides in English (and possibly other languages, best check the website for this information). The audio guide included lots of facts and trivia about Hamburg. There are different routes available – we chose the grey Alsterlauf route. Alternatively you could captain your own vessel – be it a sailing boat, rowing boat, canoe, kayak or paddle board! This website helpfully lists the locations for renting boats. Prices vary depending on how many people are in the boat, but you should expect to pay between €10-15 per hour depending on the vessel.
Do an organised walking or bike tour
Along with traditional double-decker bus tours, Hamburg has walking and bike tours which might interest you. I did the street art walking tour (in English) with Alternative Hamburg. It included lots of information about local artists and specific pieces of art, along with local history and facts about the neighbourhoods we walked through. At the end, you leave a tip (you can determine how much you want based on what you thought of the tour). Alternative Hamburg also offer beer tasting tours, bike tours and street art workshops where you can create your own masterpieces! Robin and the Tour Guides do daily walking tours in the historical city centre, St Pauli, Harbour and Reeperbahn areas (in English, German and Spanish). On Friday nights, they do beer tasting tours in English. HH City Cycles does bike tours in English or German, in many different areas of the city (central and further out).
If you would rather explore the city at your own pace, you can easily rent a bike via the city’s Stadrad system. It is easy to register, and every bike journey from 1-30 minutes is free of charge. After 30 minutes, you pay a measly 8 cents a minute. You can rent a bike for 24 hours for only €12.
Enjoy the traditional and international food scenes
When you think of German food, what do you think of? Currywurst? Schnitzel? Sauerkraut? Pretzels? Hot dogs? All served with a pile of potatoes? Well, you’re not far off. You will find all those here. Currywurst, pretzels and hot dogs are considered ‘on-the-go’ snacks and can be excellent value. For example you can get a currywurst or hot dog for €3-4 and a freshly baked pretzel for 75 cents!
German food can be very stodgy and meat-heavy, but the city’s culinary scene is evolving. Lots of restaurants offer the traditional German staples that its citizens know and love, along with freshly caught fish for a lighter alternative. There is a varied international food scene, so don’t worry if you’re a vegetarian, vegan or on a diet – you won’t starve in Hamburg! You can find food from many different countries and nationalities. Turkish food, such as falafel and kebabs, are particularly good here.
One of the things I like most about living here is the city does not feel crowded to me. At 1.8 million inhabitants, it is considerably smaller than London and Rome, so even on weekends, it doesn’t feel too busy. Sure, if you go shopping on Mönckebergstraße (the main high street) on a Saturday afternoon, you should expect some queues. However, you rarely have to wait for a table in a restaurant for mid-week lunches and dinners, and even at the weekends it is possible to just turn up, without a reservation.
Of course, it is a good idea to reserve a table whenever possible (especially for a group of 4 or more). Luckily many of the restaurants take online reservations, through platforms like Open Table. Whereas London’s restaurants are notorious for their irritating ‘No reservations’ policy (and subsequent enormous queues), and restaurants in Rome rarely had functioning websites, let alone the means to take online bookings. As someone who dislikes using the phone in her own language, let alone another, I am very grateful for online reservation options!
After all those bike tours, walking tours, museums and meals, your feet will be tired out! Visit my favourite park in the city – Planten um Blomen. This park is absolutely gorgeous, with Japanese-themed gardens and tea houses, water shows (which are lit up during the summer nights, and accompanied by classic music during the day & night performances), a rose garden, a lake, playgrounds, a miniature golf course, an ice-skating rink, a conservatory full of tropical plants, cafes and a bandstand for live music.
If you are on the east side of the Alster lake, you might prefer to go to Stadtpark, which is nearer. In the 366-acre park, you will find a big lake, a planetarium, sporting halls, an outdoor lido, a former water tower, an athletics stadium, bronze statues scattered around the park and plenty of picnic areas and benches to relax on!
I hope you enjoy exploring Hamburg. If you have any more suggestions, leave a comment below!
The Curious Sparrow