Germany's self-proclaimed "gateway to the world", Hamburg is also the country's largest port. Its modern take on coastal life can be exhilarating to both visitors and those who call it home. Thanks to a perfect balance of bustling maritime atmosphere and slick, metropolitan vibe, Hamburg is a unique hub of contemporary culture and style in northern Germany.
Hamburg: city layout
The River Elbe flows directly through Hamburg and the central port area. Here you'll find the city's shipping industry as well as the gleaming new commercial and residential structures of the ambitious HafenCity redevelopment. You'll reach the bohemian neighbourhood of St. Pauli and its infamous centre of Hamburg nightlife, the Reeperbahn, as you head west from the harbour.
Set slightly behind the harbour to the north is the lively traditional city centre. Northwest of here, there are the alternative and trendier districts of Altona and Sternschanze – also known as Schanzenviertel.
Things to see and do in Hamburg
Early risers can head to Altona's famous fish market, which takes place very early on Sunday mornings. Market stalls selling fresh fish and seafood line the banks of the Elbe. Round these gather crowds of tourists, locals and even the odd reveller on the way home from Saturday night's festivities run overtime. The market is usually packing up by mid-morning – the rest of the day can be spent strolling around the sprawling Planten un Blomen park.
One of the city's major landmarks is St. Michael's church. Climbing the stairs to the pinnacle of the tall spire affords stunning vistas. It also allows you to get up close to see its mighty bells at work.
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From affordable chains to independent guest houses offering boutique services, Hamburg's accommodation caters to all budgets. Young travellers like staying in St. Pauli to experience the best of Hamburg nightlife. The Reeperbahn red light district is infamous for its debauchery, but you'll also find some of Hamburg's more popular – and classier – bars there.
If you're in the mood for a bit of peace and quiet, Winterhude will place you right next to the city's largest park. Families prefer the calmer vibe of Hohenfelde, a leafy residential area north of the city centre and next door to Alster lake.
Many modern hotels and residences have taken over former industrial buildings and created Hamburg's most polished and sophisticated area, HafenCity. Sternschanze is another stylish part of town, but with a more laid-back vibe and younger crowd. This district is an excellent option if you want to sample nightlife that isn't quite as raucous as St. Pauli's.
Even though people often equate Hamburg with the hamburger, it isn't considered a traditional dish here. Fresh, locally caught fish is ubiquitous around the port area; herring, lobster and eel are particular favourites. If you're not into fish, there are many other German classics to try, such as the bratwurst – a grilled sausage in a white bread bun.
The majority of restaurants around the harbour area in HafenCity specialise in seafood. Even those that don't will still feature fishermen's wares in at least one dish. For more seafood delicacies, you won't find it fresher than at one of many food trucks serving up generously stuffed sandwiches at the fish market.
Chic eateries line the banks of the Elbe river and Alster lake and will tempt you to while away your time over a large glass of crisp Riesling. Most offer a refined setting for enjoying high-end German cuisine, and nearly all have unbeatable views of the water. For dining out on a budget, Sternschanze is a hotbed of trendy and affordable cafés, bars and bistros.
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In a city once famous for its sea merchants, it's no wonder shopping is still a big part of Hamburg's culture. Can't find exactly what you're looking for in one of nine shopping centres or along one of many shopping streets? There are various bustling flea markets.
You can rummage through vintage trinkets and hunt for bargains at Flohschanze market or sample local jams, honeys and other edibles at the Isemarkt farmers' market. The St. Pauli night market even caters for night owls looking for an evening snack.
Mönckebergstraße is the city's traditional shopping street. Here you'll find national chains alongside the mighty Alsterhaus department store, which is often compared to New York's Bloomingdale's. An extremely affluent area, Eppendorf is home to many high-end retailers. Alongside antique shops and dainty boutiques, many goldsmiths and potters have their workshops in this upmarket district.
Hamburg's best shopping centres
Each of Hamburg's vibrant neighbourhoods plays its own part in creating the city's eclectic culture and nightlife. From the boisterous bars of St. Pauli to the colourful musicals at the world-renowned Theater im Hafen, there's plenty of entertainment to suit every taste.
Most of the night-time action takes place on the famous Reeperbahn, an eclectic mix of trendy nightclubs, small local pubs and theatres. You'd rather have a quiet night sampling local brews in a more low-key neighbourhood? Try one of the authentic German taverns on Grossneumarkt square and Lange Reihe street. If you're spoilt for choice, opt for a bottle of Astra Urtyp, a beer from one of the city's most popular breweries.
Just off the Reeperbahn, the Stage Operettenhaus is a contemporary theatre showing big-name musicals. In the same area, the Imperial Theater is one for crime fans – the venue specialises in whodunnits and murder mysteries. Hamburg is also known for its acclaimed opera shows, and the State Opera aims to bring the genre to a wider audience.
Hamburg's best galleries
Hamburg isn't just about the port and nightlife – it also does a great job catering for families and young children. Kids can run around the zoo and various parks, and at least one of the city's excellent museums should pique their interest. Dining out is never a problem; almost all restaurants serve children's menus for smaller appetites and fussy eaters.
Kids can have an adrenalin-pumped day at the Hamburger Dom. The largest funfair in Germany, it opens for extended periods in spring, summer and winter. Every Wednesday is family day, when myriad acrobats, jugglers and clowns perform. They also hold a fireworks show every Friday evening at the Heiligengeistfeld area of the fair.
The Miniatur Wunderland's model railway is the world's biggest. The model town is made up of sections based on real towns across Europe and America, as well as an area dedicated to the fictional town of Knuffingen.
Family friendly restaurants in Hamburg