Hamburg, Germany, is often in the shadow of its flashier sister, Berlin, but that’s not to say this Hanseatic city doesn’t have its appeal. Far from it. Hamburg, with its seafaring past and friendly locals, will entice and excite any visitor.
Founded in 808 by the Emperor Charlemagne, the city has long played an important role in European culture and trade, with numerous tribes calling it home. It’s a city built on resilience—the Danes couldn’t control it; the Black Death couldn’t destroy it—which you see in the tough but outgoing manner of the residents. Today, this maritime metropolis on the River Elbe is a hub for students, artists and professionals alike. It’s the second largest city in the nation, making it an important financial and tourist hotspot. Read on to find out where to eat, play and stay in this vibrant city.
Hamburg boasts a wide array of cuisines for every palate, with traditional seafood and Central European eateries among the favorites.
A visit to Hamburg wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through the open-air Fischmarkt, which attracts more than 50,000 visitors every Sunday. As a maritime city, Hamburg is replete with freshwater fish. Grab a fish roll and sit on the banks of the Elbe as you watch the ships float by.
If you want a sit-down seafood meal, Jellyfish can’t be beat. Wunderkind chef Stefan Fäth serves up modern multi-course takes on sustainable seafood in rustic yet elegant environs. The lighting is low but bright enough to feel like home.
While fish certainly gets top billing, Hamburg also has a wealth of great hamburger spots. Yes, we know the all-beef patty is synonymous with the U.S.A. but Hamburgers—the people, not the food—take pride in the fact that the dish is from the German city. Head to The Bird, a small chain based in Berlin, for 250 grams of New York–style meat, onion, pickles, lettuce and onions that would make any Yankee proud.
For special occasions, Basil & Mars is worth the splurge. The expansive Michelin-starred restaurant features hardwood floors, high ceilings and wooden tables surrounded by comfy orange chairs. Expect Mediterranean specialties with an Asian twist. Try the seared tuna with wasabi salad and the salmon fillet with sesame spinach and yakitori sauce. Both are light and refreshing and won’t make you feel sluggish afterwards. If you’re particularly adventurous—and hungry—opt for the Tomahawk steak, a powerhouse of fat that delivers a wallop of flavor. If dinner sounds like too much of a splurge, the smaller lunch menu is an affordable alternative.
Vegans don’t get short shrift in Hamburg. Lovers of spicy Chinese cuisine will delight in the offerings at Cai Kitchen, a Szechuan restaurant in Karolinenviertel. Expect spicy and flavorful dishes such as wonton soup with pickled radishes or rice noodles with soy, topped with kimchi and fermented chili sauce.
Hamburg is a city known more for its nightlife than its museums, ranking it as one of the top destinations for anyone looking to have a fun time after hours.
The large LGBTQIA community means there are myriad clubs and bars that are welcoming of everyone. The famous St. Pauli district is the place to be for anyone looking for alternative clubs. House music aficionados can get their groove on at 136 The Club, a minimalist space with Baroque furnishings. Out-of-tune warblers might find their perfect track at the iconic Wunderbar, a cozy gay club that has been around for nearly three decades.
If a more subdued but no-less-fun night is on the cards, head to Uebel & Gefährlich. Situated in a former WWII bunker, the club features hip hop and rock acts as well as the hottest DJs this side of the Atlantic.
Beer lovers aren’t left out in the cold. Locals and tourists alike head to Gröninger brewery, the oldest in the city, for authentic pilsner. Copper kettles vie for space with exposed brick beams and tables big enough for that bachelor party. The pilsner is light in color and body but has a creamy white head with a dry finish.
For more than a century, the Art Deco Strandhotel Blankenese has been welcoming visitors to Hamburg. The boutique hotel, which was renovated in 2009, affords guests a variety of rooms and suites, all with Bulgari toiletries and modern artwork and many with views of the River Elbe. Beds are enveloped with white duvets and colorful throws, offering comfort and style. Leather armchairs, brocade walls and bathrooms with rainforest showerheads complete the ambiance. Opt for the single rooms, which are cozy and comfy and make you feel as if you’re staying in a Parisian chambre sous combles.
Enjoy breakfast, cake and snacks in the salon, replete with red and pink velvet chairs and tufted brown leather sofas and chairs. Watch the world go by through the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows as you savor classic German cakes and tortes.
Cozy and offering old-world charm, the Hotel Mare is your home away from home in Hamburg. The staff extends a warm welcome as they take guests to their bright and airy rooms, many with balconies and all with hardwood floors and views of the city streets. It’s an ideal place to relax after a night out on the town.
Breakfast is served in a homey room with wooden tables and windows overlooking the garden. The latter is a great spot to sip a coffee or tea as you plan the rest of your stay. After a day of sightseeing, relax in the tub with a good book. The beds are comfy and inviting, aiding in a restful night sleep before your return home.