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10 Reasons You Don’t Know You Want To Go To Hamburg

Whitney Richelle is an American journalist based in Florence, Italy. She blogs, hosts and edits videos, and works as project manager for studentsville.it. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Hamburg’s not on your European travel checklist. You’ve never seen a picture of it. And you’re not even exactly sure where it is. No, you don’t really know anything at all about that German city – not even the fact that you’re dying to get there.

1. You Love Water

Situated on the River Elbe, Hamburg is home to the largest port in Germany. But that means so much more than ships, docks, and cranes – we’re talking canals, and lakes, and beaches. You can cruise down waterways crossed by over 2,300 bridges, and while it won’t be in a gondola, that’s more than any city in the world – even Venice. Getting wetter, in the middle of downtown’s spindly church spires and turquoise copper rooftops, there’s a lake lapping at its palaces. On the Chicago-esque Alster, glide off in paddle boats, kayaks, sailboats and tour boats toward white waterfront villas and swaying weeping willows that make it hard to believe the other shoreline is a city center. And whether you sunbathe at the sand beaches here or along the river, you’ve got to cool down with a tall glass of “lake water.” Alsterwasser (Alster water) is a typical summertime drink of lager beer (usually Hamburg-brewed Astra) and lemonade.

Insider Info:
Alster Lake & Boat Tour Metro Stop: Jungfernstieg
Boat Rental Company List
Alstertouristik Canal & Lake Boat Tours
Sand Beaches: Övelgönne beach, Falkensteiner Ufer, Wittenberge beach, Blankenese beach

2. Your Favorite Color is Green
20% of Hamburg is parks, gardens, nature reserves, and recreational areas, so that’s about a one-in-five chance of finding yourself picnicking on sprawling lawns or strolling along tree-lined, waterfront trails. The city’s most popular park is Planten un Blomen (Plants and Flowers), 47 acres of botanical paradise. Free entrance gets you access to the largest japanese garden and tea house in Europe; tropical and cactus greenhouses; rose and apothecary gardens; and the epic fountain shows, featuring 99 nozzles shooting streams up to 36 meters high (118 ft.) The best performances are the Wasserlichtspiele (Water Light Play) concerts after dark, when the whole production gets illuminated in kaleidoscopic colors and synched to the rhythm of classical music scores – Bellagio style.

Insider Info:
Planten un Blomen (site in German only):
Metro Stop: Stephansplaz
Water Shows: 14:00, 16:00 and 18:00 daily, from the end of April to mid-October
Water & Light & Music Shows: Nightly at 22:00 from the end of April to the end of August, and at 21:00 from September to mid-October
Contact Email: plantenunblomen@hamburg-mitte.hamburg.de

3. You Take It Easy
Hamburg is one of the most affluent cities in Europe, but its wealth isn’t conveyed in designer clothes or luxury cars; it’s celebrated in the simple art of enjoying life. Take a cue from the Hamburgers (not the patties, the people) and lie in the grass, sit by the shore, don’t take your coffee to go. It seems like the locals are the ones on vacation here, which explains all the beach bars in the heart of the city. It doesn’t matter if most of them aren’t actually on the beach/shore, they’ve brought in the palm trees, umbrellas, and sun loungers to fool you. And what’s that between your toes? SAND. Drink a mojito barefoot and ask yourself if you got on the right plane.
Insider Info:
Beach Bars (Free Entrance): Hamburger del Mar (local favorite, port view), Central Park (massage with your drink, no water view), Strandperle (on the riverbank), Strandpauli (closest to the Reepherbahn, port view, always packed)

4. You Know How to Haggle
Hamburg’s most popular market gets the whole city up at the crack of dawn once a week. Some are drawn to the Fischmarkt (fish market) by its volatile low prices, others, by the notorious performance of frantic hand gestures and staccato German cries as one seller tries to out-bid the next – but everyone stays for the same reason: brunch. In the nearby Fischauktionshalle (fish auction hall), squeeze yourself in at a communal table to feast on fresh fish, meats, eggs, cheeses, fruits, and just-baked pastries amongst the locals. With everyone around you knocking back beers and tapping their feet to the live band, it feels like Saturday night never ended (precisely because most of them have been partying on since then). Take your haggling even further at the Isemarkt, which, despite being Europe’s longest market, is still relatively undiscovered by tourists. Stands of traditional sausages, seafood spreads, dark pumpernickel breads, garden produce, sticky sweets, flower blossoms, international specialties, spices, crafts, and clothing take you on a nearly one-kilometer-long (0.6 mi) sensory adventure under the city’s elevated metro rails.

Insider Info:
Hours: Tuesdays & Fridays 8:30 to 14:00
Metro Stop: Between the Eppendorfer Baum and Hoheluft stops
Hours: Sunday mornings, 5:00-9:30 from mid March to mid November, 7:00-9:30 from mid November to mid March
Metro Stop: Repeerbahn or Landungsbrücke (10-minute walk from either)
Fischauktionshalle (site in German only):
Address: Große Elbstraße 9
Brunch Hours: 5:30 – noon from April to September, 6:00 to noon from October – March
Price: €16.50-€21.50 per person, depending on the menu
Reservation Email: info@fischauktionshalle.de

5. You’re Not A Vegetarian 
In a city where the people are called “Hamburgers,” it’s a good bet that meat is on the menu. Sources say that the American beef patty itself originated in Hamburg under the name Frikadelle, thicker and without the bun, the way you can still find them in the city’s restaurants and markets today. Then there’s the burger’s wild red-headed cousin, Labskaus, a regional specialty made with corned beef, beetroot, potato, and onion, usually topped with a fried egg. As with all of Germany, pork, from Birnen Bohnen und Speck (green beans with pears and bacon) to currywurst (a hot dog seasoned with curry powder ketchup), is all the rage. But what makes Hamburg a culinary standout is the surf to go with all that turf. Pannfisch (pan-fried fish) is common cuisine thanks to the city’s steady supply of river fish like carp, pike, perch and trout; and sea fish like mackerel, salmon, tuna, and herring (the latter of which you can find fresh or pickled on, and in, practically everything).

Insider Info:
*Try traditional Hamburger restaurant, Deichgraf (site in German only), for heavenly time-tested recipes in an elegant setting on the canal:
-Address: Deichstrasse 23
-Hours: Mon – Fri, 12:00-15:00 and 17:30-22:00; Saturdays, 12:00-22:00; Sundays (July, August, and September only), 12:00-21:00
-Metro Stop: Rödingsmarkt
*For a new take on regional dishes, Fillet of Soul (site in German only) serves up fusion cuisine masterpieces in a modern space next to the city’s contemporary art gallery:
Address: Deichtorstraße 2
Hours: Monday, 11:00-15:00; Tues – Sat, 11:00-24:00 (kitchen closes at 22:00); Sunday, 11:00-18:00
Metro Stop: Steinstraße

6. You’re Bored By Traditional Museums

If you don’t like museums, see if visiting a few of these doesn’t change your mind. More than 5 million Europeans set sail from Hamburg to America, and at the BallinStadt Emigration Museum, not only can you search passenger lists for distant relatives, you can walk through period sets complete with talking, costumed mannequins with quite the stories to tell. At Spicy’s, you can smell, taste, and feel your way through 50 crude seasonings at the world’s only spice museum. And who couldn’t appreciate classical paintings with cross-eyed subjects and the pink and blonde (German?) version of Michelangelo’s David at the Diechtorhallen exhibition center for contemporary art and photography – the biggest of its kind in Europe? One last curiosity is the mind-boggling Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway museum with more than 12 km (7.5 mi) of tracks. But it’s not at all just trains, there is literally an entire small-scale world inside. If you’ve never seen Austria, Las Vegas, Scandinavia, or the Grand Canyon – this is your tiny chance.

Insider Info:
BallinStadt Metro Stop: Veddel
Diechtorhallen Metro Stop: Steinstraße
Miniatur Wunderland Metro Stop: Baumwall
Spicy’s (site in German only):
-Address: Am Sandtorkai, 34
-Tickets: €3.50
-Hours: Tues – Fri, 10:00-17:00; also open on Mondays, July – October
-Booking: mail@spicys.de
-Metro Stop: Baumwall

7. You’re Ready To Take Nightlife to the Next Level

There’s a street in Hamburg where city nightlife rubs elbows with a bona fide red light district and explodes into a mecca of rebellious debauchery, and it’s called the Reeperbahn. Bars next to strip clubs. Dance clubs in between cabarets and sex shops. The flashing neon lights attract young and old, bachelors and bachelorettes (stags and hens for you Brits), Hamburgers and locals. You don’t have to be a regular to the scene to enjoy these uncommon nights out, but it helps to have a friend in the neighborhood. The St. Pauli Tourist Office offers tours in English by local guides who share the quarter’s unusual history, reveal its hidden sights, tell you where to absolutely go and what’s better left alone, and take you to their favorite bar(s) for a drink (or three) together.

Insider info:
Reeperbahn Metro Stop: Reeperbahn
St. Pauli Tourist Office Tours in English (Fridays and Saturdays at 21:30)
8. You’re a Beatlemaniac
Take it from John Lennon himself, who later quoted, “I was born in Liverpool but raised in Hamburg,” a very significant part of the Beatles early history unfolded in, none other than, the city’s red light district. From 1960 to 1962, the startup band played a total of 281 concerts in the St. Pauli quarter. You can visit the sites where the group once rocked out up to 12 hours a night and 98 days in a row, venue’s like the Top 10 Club, The Star, The Indra, and The Kaiserkeller – the last two of which are still functioning music clubs today. In Beatles Plaz, a city square shaped like a giant vinyl record, no true fan can resist taking their picture framed in the outline of band member-shaped statues (that extra one off to the side is Pete Best). Just make sure you turn around to get the colorful Reeperbahn in the background, not the dull storefront across the street.

Insider info:
Beatles Platz Metro Stop: Reeperbahn
*All sights where the Beatles played are along or near Reeperbahn street

9. You Think Bigger Is – Almost Always – Better 
So you love big cities but could do without how they can be dangerous, dirty, and hard to get around? In Hamburg, you might be alarmed by the overt kindness and English-speaking prowess of strangers, the only trash you’ll see is at the bottom of recycling bins, and it will be difficult to grasp exactly how you’re getting around so quickly in a city seven times larger than Paris and twice as big as London. The metro and bus system runs. like. clockwork. And for those of you traveling with no destination, a sightseeing loop through Hamburg’s most popular neighborhoods on the Die Roten Doppeldecker (Red Double Decker bus) will leave you with quite a few in mind. Observing from your second-story seat under the sun, or hopping on and off at some of the 27 stops delivers a sweeping overview of this XL city in just 90-minutes.

Insider Info:
The HVV: Hamburg’s Public Transportation (Metro & Bus)
Die Roten Doppeldecker Sightseeing Tour
All Die Roten Doppeldecker Tours
*Guides speak German and English. Tell them you don’t speak German and they’ll translate.


10. You Appreciate Good Value
Hamburg is no budget traveler’s Eastern Europe, but for being a big city on the west side of the continent, it’s on the low end of the spending spectrum. Compared to popular tourist destinations like Paris, London, Rome and Barcelona, your money will last longer and get you a higher standard of quality for the same price. Plus, if you like seafood and drinking, you can indulge at absurdly low prices in the city center: around €3.50 for a catch-of-the-day sandwich on a pier, and €2.50 for a beer at a bar. Another great deal is the Hamburg Card, an €8.90 ticket good for 26-hours of unlimited bus and metro rides, and additional discounts of up to 50% at 130 restaurants, tours, and attractions.

Insider Info:

*Brücke 10 has a patio seating on the pier and arguably the best fish sandwiches in town (site in German only):
Address: St. Pauli landing bridges / bridge 10
Hours: Mon – Sat: 10:00-22:00, Sundays 9:00-22:00
Metro Stop: Baumwall

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