The maritime city of Hamburg exudes wealth; as the centre of international trade in the 19th– 20th Centuries, it is one of the wealthiest cities in Germany. The city’s old moniker “The Gateway to the World” may be a little over-zealous, but you can’t knock it for ambition. Today, the city capitalises on its waterside location, wealth and naval roots, proudly embracing its heritage through dazzling architecture and mouth-watering seafood restaurants. Overlaying this old-world ambience is a vibrant young city full of colour, arts and electro-music. The result is an exquisite juxtaposition of cultures and eras that just works. Whether you are planning to visit for a city break or a week or more, there are plenty of enticing things to do in Hamburg.
The first thing to do in Hamburg is visit the Harbour, the city’s economic and cultural hub. With over 800 years of history, there are a number of ways to take in the world’s third biggest port. Start with a walk along the waterfront, where you can admire the array of vessels, from working boats to luxury yachts; grab a coffee (or something stronger) from one of the perfectly situated cafes and bars, and browse restaurants, with their tantalising seafood menus. You can book a boat tour and admire the city from the water, or go underwater with a visit to The Russian submarine museum, U-434. Situated on the edge of the port, U-434 was built in 1976, and was active in the Russian fleet until 2002. It is the largest espionage and hunting submarine in the world, and offers a chilling insight into the Cold War. Similar in design to Kursk, the Russian submarine which sank in 2000, the museum gives a good idea of the basic living conditions faced by submariners.
No visit to one of the world’s leading harbours would be complete without a trip to the fish market, and Hamburg’s Fischmarkt will not disappoint you! Located in St Pauli, the market was built in 1703. Over three centuries later, it is a treasure trove of fresh fish, nuts and other produce, as well as souvenirs and antiques. The Fischmarkt is open every Sunday from 5-9 a.m. (yes, you read right. In the morning). The antisocial hours don’t put people off though – as many as 70,000 people will visit in one weekend; some set their alarms and get there early to grab the freshest produce and others arrive later for breakfast, hoping to grab a bargain. Many others just don’t go to bed; there are few more surreal ways to end a night out in Hamburg that a trip to Fischmarkt, with the rowdy hawkers shouting their wares. Whether you plan on rising early or pushing on through, make sure the Fischmarkt is on your list of things to do in Hamburg.
Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour
Who doesn’t love a hop-on-hop-off tour? A convenient way to see as many of Hamburg’s sights in as little time as possible, a day on the red double decker is a perfect way to see Hamburg, particularly if you are pushed for time. As the name suggests, you can hop off where you like, spend as much (or as little) time as you want at your chosen stop, before catching the next bus. There are commentaries in English and German, and you will be given the option to upgrade your fare to include a one-hour cruise from the harbour, where you will get fantastic views of Hamburg’s impressive warehouse district. The ticket is valid all day, so you can take your time and go at your own pace.
Mahnmal St Nikolai
St Nikolai Church was the tallest building in the world from 1874 – 1876. Today, it is the second tallest in Hamburg, coming after the TV Tower. Tragically, the church was partially destroyed during WWII; it has since been named Mahnmal St-Nikolai. In the crypt of the former church you will find an unsettling yet honest and measured exhibition, representing three core events of World War II. Discover the horrors of German’s bomb attacks on Coventry in 1940; learn in chilling, unflinching detail of Germany’s decimation of Warsaw and Operation Gomorrha; and gain an insight into the terrifying reality of the British and Americans’ 3-day and 3-night air assault on Hamburg, during which 35,000 inhabitants were killed and much of the town centre was razed to the ground. The level nature of the exhibits doesn’t cast blame upon any nation or action, but upon the act of war itself and, whilst sobering, is an important part of Hamburg’s history, and its past and present relationships with the world.
Big kids and small can’t help but be enchanted by a miniature village, and Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland is something truly special. Even the most sceptical tourists will be unable to suppress their delight and awe at the largest miniature railway in the world, complete with 930 trains, 228,000 trees, and 3,660 buildings and bridges. The perfect, miniscule perfection of each building and figure (of which there are 215,000) has been achieved by more than 230 employees, working a combined total of nearly 600,000 hours – the equivalent of one person working 24 hours a day for more than 68 years! A perfect miniature train whistles gracefully, if predictably, through the Alps; cars glide through Hamburg’s main districts; and trains speed through regions of Austria and Scandinavia. One of the most recent additions is the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, but the most staggering sight for most is the moment when a miniature A380 Airbus soars from the sky and lands in a perfect, fully functional, mini replica of Hamburg City Airport. If this wasn’t on your list of things to do in Hamburg, it should be! If you want to avoid queues in high season (these are not miniature), book online in advance.
From the flippant, to the evocative, the cultural to the historical, there are so many things to do in Hamburg that it may seem impossible to fit them all in. Our advice is to take your time, enjoy every moment, and start planning your return trip!
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