5 must-visit places in Hamburg - a fascinating and fun German city
Hamburg is perhaps overlooked compared to other German cities when it comes to European city breaks but, as it only takes around an hour to fly from London, it’s an easy option for the weekend - read on for my tips on a wonderful visit to Hamburg.
The city has been a major port for hundreds of years as it was developed around the River Elbe and therefore has a rich maritime history. It’s perhaps most famous now for The Beatles and their pre-fame gigs in the Reeperbahn area in the early 1960s. The city itself has several distinct neighbourhoods ranging from Altstadt, the centre of old Hamburg, to St Pauli, the beating heart of Hamburg’s notorious nightlife.
I visited in January 2023 on a cold but bright weekend. I had a fantastic time exploring the city and found it easy to navigate using public transport with the people friendly and welcoming. Here are just a few of my tips for a wonderful weekend in Hamburg.
#1 Eat here: Ashoka restaurant, St Pauli
On the northern edge of St Pauli, we visited this Indian restaurant on a Friday evening and found it packed. Thankfully, we’d called and booked ahead and so were shown straight to our table.
The soft orange of the walls and dark wood decor gave the room a warm glow, particularly with candles dotted around the room. We were presented with English menus and were soon spoilt for choice. The menu featured dishes you'd see at any Indian restaurant in the UK - bhuna, jalfrezi, pakora, bhaji to name a few. We had worked up an appetite after a day of sightseeing and ordered vegetable pakora to share and then a Paneer Karahi and Chicken Tikka Masala along with basmati rice and roti bread to dip in the sauces.
When the food arrived, we weren’t disappointed. We had generous helpings of paneer and chicken and the rice was fluffy and soft. The bread too was delicious and, when the bill came, we had a pleasant surprise. The whole meal, including our beers, came to just over 70 Euro - a bargain for such a delicious meal.
#2 Shop here: Blendwerk stationery
On a Saturday afternoon, we took a stroll through the St Georg district. Historically, the neighbourhood was perhaps run down but, in recent years, it has started to gentrify and now, along the main street Lange Reihe, you can find a variety of interesting shops and bars as well as more than a few cafes and restaurants. It’s not only a very multicultural area but also the centre of Hamburg’s LGBTQ+ community.
It was on Lange Reihe that I found Blendwerk, an independent stationery shop and, as stationery is my nectar, I was soon inside. What a find! A long, packed shop full of writing paper, diaries, notebooks, writing sets, planners as well as pens, pencils and accessories.
The usual brand names were there but also independent makers. I found notebooks of all sizes from pocket size to large sketchpads. I made a new discovery here, a brand called Clare Fontaine. I bought three notebooks here, very restrained of me, and all three were only 18 Euro.
There's plenty to see and do along Lange Reihe even if you're not into stationery. Lots of cute cafes and bars, as well as quirky shops, line the road.
#3 Drink and eat here: Cafe Thuns then Kypros restaurant
When I’m on holiday, I always want to find the local areas that tourists might not make the effort to go to and, in Hamburg, this was the Altona area. It’s only a few stops on the S-Bahn from the centre of the city and well worth making the trip West for.
We explored around the station as it felt too cold to venture down to the restaurants and bars that line the river on the Elbmeile. As we wandered, we spotted several very cool bars and lots of bustling restaurants and passed groups of locals as they headed out on their Saturday night.
Making our way down Rainstrasse, we walked past a busy bar and, seeing just a couple of free tables, made our way inside. This was Cafe Knuth, a high-ceilinged space with a small bar and kitchen but lots of seating space. The interior was painted in soft cream with wooden tables and chairs and long booth seating along the walls.
We settled in with our drinks which we ordered from a friendly waitress who spoke great English. I noticed a blackboard listing around four menu options - all vegetarian. We decided not to eat here but the spinach lasagna with salad looked delicious and was a very generous portion size.
We were soon back out in the cold again and decided to try a local Greek restaurant, Kypros, just 5 minutes walk from Cafe Knuth. The restaurant was heaving and, for a horrible moment, I thought we'd be turned away but, luckily, they found us a space between two larger groups. The place was full of locals, always a good sign, and we were soon ordering hummus, chicken souvlaki and lamb chops. The service was fast, even though it was very busy, and all the waiting staff were attentive and friendly.
Ferry #72 is a short 10-minute trip from the Landungsbrucken ferry stops along to the famous Elbphilarmonie concert hall. Sitting on the open-air terrace on the boat as it sails past the concert hall gives you an amazing view of the different angles of the building. You don't appreciate from a distance just how tall it is, or that its shape changes as you approach and move away.
Ferry #62 sails in the opposite direction from Landungsbrucken westwards and past the beaches of Elbstrand. You can leave the ferry at Altona and investigate the Elbmeile with its many shops, cafes and restaurants. There is another strip of beach here too which would be lovely in the sunshine.
We stayed on the boat and carried on, sailing past a line of luxurious houses that top a small ridge. We also passed several of Hamburg's most recent architectural additions to the waterfront including the Dockland building which resembles a cruise ship moored at the docks. Again, we didn't explore here but there is a rooftop terrace with panoramic views back to the city.
The ferry is a circular route so you don't have to leave it to then wait for a return ferry. Stay on and sit back in the outdoor seating area and let some of the leafiest areas of Hamburg glide past you as you return to Landungsbrucken.
#5 Eat here: Nord Roast Coffee and Whiskey Plaza on Diechestrasse
As a tourist, it's very likely you'll end up in the old warehouse district Speicherstadt and neighbouring HafenCity where the Elbphilarmonie is located. We struggled to find a decent place to eat that wasn't a chain or a burger. We decided to walk over the canals five minutes back from Speicherstadt and were rewarded with a lovely lunch and a pitstop at one of Hamburg's best coffee shops.
On the Deichstrasse, where Hamburg's Great Fire of 1842 started, you'll find some pretty, restored 18th Century homes, some of which are now restaurants. Nestled in amongst these buildings you'll find Whisky Plaza, a small, dark pub with a tiny terrace overlooking a canal at the back. The back wall of the bar is filled with hundreds of bottles of whisky and the decor of wooden booths and dark curtains gives it a warm, cozy feeling. The menu was short but hearty. We ordered an Irish Stew and tagliatelle with mushrooms and beef and, while we waited, watched ducks bobbing along the water.
Further along the street you'll find the busy Nord Coast Coffee Company. It's a large space with tables downstairs and up on a mezzanine level. We did have to wait to gain entry and, when we were inside, there was a permanent queue. It was very much worth the wait though and, as some of the profits go to social projects, you can feel virtuous while enjoying your coffee!
The U-Bahn and S-Bahn network is reliable and efficient and the best way to traverse the city. The U-Bahn trains that run through Alstadt and towards Landungsbrucken are elevated for part of the journey and along the riverside, providing great views across town and over the water.
The S1 train from the airport is the cheapest way to arrive in Hamburg and is only around 30 minutes from the airport to the central station.