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    Top 10 Things To Do In Hamburg - Recommended By A Local

    By Lory Kuqo

    October 1, 2021

    Top 10 Things To Do In Hamburg - Recommended By A Local

    Edited by Jess Wright 

    Flush on the River Elbe and two of its tributaries – each connected to an artificial lake – Hamburg is a city surrounded by water; magical is the word I would use to describe it. Dotted with lakes that freeze over in the winter, and flowing with canals and rivers frequented by ferries, Hamburg is a veritable Waterworld. In a city with over 1.8 million people (the second largest in Germany) that boasts a varied art scene, from traditional to street art, museums, and an abundance of local delicacies, you might be hard-pressed to choose just what to spend your time doing. Luckily for you, I love my city and I can provide many fantastic things to do in Hamburg, all you need to put together the perfect Hamburg itinerary. If you’re short on time, you could take a look at this 24 hour Hamburg itinerary – jam-packed with what to do in Hamburg in one day and another handy Hamburg travel guide. If you’re visiting Hamburg for the first time you’ll need some tips and tricks to get the best out of your experience. Firstly, Google Maps is your very best friend. Well, next to my list of what to do in Hamburg, of course.

    Take in the sights with a harbor tour

    The harbour is one of my favourite places to visit in Hamburg. Something about the view of the ships and the sound of lapping water takes same back to my childhood home in Albania. With a wide selection of restaurants and views to enjoy, it is also the place to catch a ferry to take you around the city. Not only is this one of the cheapest ways to see the city and find your bearings, it’s also an excellent opportunity to enjoy the waterways of Hamburg; after all, what is hamburg famous for? Starting from Landungsbrücken, the harbour ferries are part of the public transportation network meaning that you can use them with a standard day ticket, and explore without limitations.

    Tour the famous Elbphilharmonie

    Famous among Hamburg attractions, the Elbphilharmonie is recognizable as one of the most photographed (and photogenic) pieces of architecture in the city since its opening in January 2017. A vision of glittering peaks, and wave-like glassy structures, this example of architectural mastery houses a concert hall and performance space, as well as a five-star hotel and dining area. Tallest among Hamburg’s buildings, it sits monolithic on the skyline, so large you can see it from just about anywhere you go in the city, the brilliant flipside of this being that you can see just about everything in Hamburg from the free viewing platform at the top! This is a must-see in Hamburg, a perfect spot to enjoy a great panoramic view of the city and sunset.

    Indulge your inner child at Miniatur Wunderland

    It might seem like the most touristy thing you could do, but there’s a reason this wonder hit number one on the list of things to do in Hamburg. This tiny “Wunderland” boasts the world’s largest model train exhibit, an ever-expanding affair displaying miniature recreations of Hamburg, Austria, and Scandinavia, to name a few. True to life with lights set to recreate sunset and sunrise, and remarkable details with almost everything animated including planes that take off, it is easy to get lost in the details so set aside a decent amount of time to explore each and every nook and cranny. Take your time and you might be able to discover the hidden surprises left there to delight the careful observer, like Chewbacca in the forest!

    Stroll through Speicherstadt

    Close to the Miniatur Wunderland, this UNESCO world heritage site makes for a romantic setting at night. Stroll through the artfully lit alleys and canals, winding your way through the world-famous warehouse district, you might be treated to aromas that haven’t changed for centuries; scents of roasting coffee and spice drift your way in what is still one of the largest trading posts in the world. Stop for a cup of tea, or to peruse the traditional Persian carpets, or simply pause to admire the ingenuity of the fleets – canals that work with the tides, filling and emptying to allow travel by ship. At high tide you might consider traveling the narrow canals aboard a small barge, giving you the perfect vantage point to absorb the breathtaking architectural detail and fairytale mystique of the brick facades and steel bridges tactfully illuminated and shimmering in the reflection of the water below.

    Treat your taste buds with a visit to the Fischmarkt

    If you feel like a trip back in time (100 years or so), be sure to make a turn at the Fischmarkt in St Pauli, a spot that you will undoubtedly get to visit if taken by the urge to explore Hamburg’s food scene. Each Sunday, lively hordes (70 000 to be more specific) of locals and visitors rush to this boisterous market to get their hands on the delicious market wares. With marktschreier (market criers) that can be heard blocks away you can be sure you won’t miss out on the expertly displayed heaps of farm-fresh fruit and fish. Start your day here as early as 5am with a coveted fish sandwich and perhaps a coffee to wash it down. After that fill your basket with all manner of delicious goodies; eel, shellfish, cherries and bananas, all fresh from the farm or cheap at wholesale prices. 5am might seem an ungodly hour when on holiday, but be sure to get there bright and early because come 9:30 the bell tolls to signal the end of the shopping day, and the beginning of church services; an ancient arrangement arising decades ago from a compromise between fisherman and the clergy. The red brick and metal dome that has become iconic to Hamburg is an elegant historical artifact of Roman market style and, still-standing after significant bombing damage during WWII bombing, the restored building is worth a visit.

    Park Planten um Blomen

    If the urban setting of Germany’s second-largest metro area has you craving some greenery, there are plenty of green spaces throughout the city for you to enjoy and take some time out to escape the urban sprawl. Voted Europe’s green city of 2011, Park Planten um Blomen–growing since 1821–plays host to famous musical and theatrical performances, and is a peaceful place to spend a day of relaxation, watching the red squirrels in the trees, lost between the blooms on some 47 hectares of green space. This is a space ideal for children; with a playground, water-light concerts, fountains, and ice skating rink to choose from, don’t expect to see your children all day long. Affectionately considered the green heart of the city, the various thematic gardens such as a Japanese garden rose garden and an English garden promise to enthrall. Other beautiful green spaces worth a visit are Loki Schmidt Garten and Dahliengarten.

    Visit the city center

    When asking what to do in Hamburg there is always another body of water, or historical building to visit. The city center has a bit of both! Rathaus, the ornate, neo-Renaissance “Town Hall of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg” – quite a mouthful – is an excellent representation of a city with a proud and prosperous identity. One of the few historic buildings to have to survive Allied bombings during WWII, The Rathaus City hall still performs its traditional governmental functions. Whilst in the city center be sure to visit Jungfernstieg, the urban boulevard that forms a public waterfront, with views onto the lake and the lake's fountain. I love to spend time here in the summer months, enjoying the many events that take place throughout the year on the terrace. It is also a good place to enjoy a meal or a coffee and has some romantic historical significance being the place where families would introduce their unmarried daughters to society in a special event known as Jungfernstieg (maiden stair walk). Jungfernstieg also offers direct access to some of Hamburg's largest shopping malls, where I love to practice one of my personal skills; bargain hunting! If you are smart and have a good nose for a deal, you can pick up some golden finds at very good prices.

    Explore old and new architectural innovations

    Another of the more historic among Hamburg activities, the Church of St. Michael, an enormous 18th-century cathedral, is another of Hamburg's architectural masterpieces. With the capacity to house over two thousand church-goers, this iconic feature of the Hamburg skyline is also a brilliant example of Baroque architecture with gold-capped columns, and a bell tower that measures 106 meters tall. At such a height the bell tower offers an Insta-worthy view of the city, 360ºof Hamburg for a for a small fee. If you visit at the right time you might even get to hear the chiming of the bells, a familiar and well-loved sound throughout the city. For a slightly more modern appreciation of German engineering, you simply must visit the Elbtunnel. Stretching a whopping 426.5 meters, the ELbtunnel(24 meters under the Elbe river) is free to pedestrians and connects the Landungsbrücken piers in St. Pauli with the port via an other-wordly underwater tunnel. Once an impressive technical innovation, it now offers a direct route for city-dwelling pedestrians and cyclists wishing to cross below the river to Wilhelmsburg or Altes Land, and a peaceful walk for visitors who often enjoy the observation platform south of the river. Panoramic views of the city from the platform and the Art-Deco beauty of the tunnel beneath make this a popular pick among photographers.

    Visit Blankenese neighbourhood

    Nestled into the side of a hill, with steep flights of steps to deliver you to the many handsome villas, the riverside suburb of Blankenese is a delight to visit! You would never guess at the humble beginnings of this long-ago fishing village, being as it is today one of the wealthier districts of Hamburg. Enjoy a picturesque, if somewhat strenuous - with 5000 steps - stroll between the villas and mansions of this historic ‘district of stairs’. At the bottom of the hill, along the banks of the River Elbe, you can reward yourself with a coffee or a pastry at one of the waterside cafés. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to catch sight of the hulls of one of the shipwrecks located outside the international shipping strait. These have been allowed to remain in this resting place primarily due to the scenic views they offer the affluent Blankenese neighborhood.

    Night out in St Pauli (on Reeperbahn)

    With so much to do in the day, you are probably going to be worn out come sunset, but dig deep and indulge in an extra coffee because the nightlife in Hamburg rivals the best in the world! To me, it’s the magical atmosphere of the place, bars that are overflowing with merrymakers and people simply dancing and having a good time in the street that makes the nightlife here so amazing. The best nightlife can be found in Hamburg's St. Pauli district, one of the two major centers of nightlife. Though it is perfectly good for a relatively PG night out, it is also the city's major red-light district. Here you will find a street nicknamed die sündigste Meile (the most sinful mile); a name it has earned because though it is home to relatively innocent restaurants, nightclubs, and discotheques it is also lined with strip clubs, sex shops, and even brothels. The erotic art museum nearby is worth a visit for the more adventurous among your party, and if you don’t find everything you’re looking for in this nightlife district you can explore the second one – Sternschanze – or take a read through this helpful Hamburg nightlife guide.

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