Last week was a bit of a whirlwind to say the least. I ping ponged across Europe, from London to Porto to London to Hamburg. It’s so easy to flit from country to country while Britain is in the EU, so I figured I might as well make the most of it. In reality, my week wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed, I worked from the Porto office and had a brief 12-hour pit stop in London to unpack and pack before heading to Germany to catch up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 3 years. When a friend from the States is in Europe, it’d be rude not to hop over and say hi, after all Europe is our backyard. For now.
So that’s how I found myself in Hamburg, which admittedly isn’t top of my list of places to visit. But… I actually had a ball! It feels like a city which is on the up, there’s tons of investment and building work going on to transform the city and lots of places to explore. I only stayed a couple of days so this is the briefest guide to Germany’s second biggest city.
What to do
There is a surprising mix of things to do in Hamburg, from checking out a handful of tourist sites to shopping like a local.
If you happen to be in Hamburg on a Saturday, you simply must visit the city’s flea market in the old Meatpacking District. Located across the street from Feldstrasse metro station between 8am – 4pm, it’s a veritable treasure trove of vintage finds from clothing to candelabras. There were so many beautiful, old homeware pieces I wanted to bring back but sadly I didn’t have space in my suitcase so make sure you pack light!
I was lucky enough to be in Hamburg to check out Hamburg DOM, an annual 30 day funfair between Feldstrasse and St Pauli metro stations. It’s the biggest funfair in northern Germany and features horse carousels, roller coasters, food and traditional funfair games. On Friday night there are fireworks at 10.30pm!
You cannot visit Hamburg and not use the Elbtunnel, which runs from St Pauli to Steinwerder. It was originally opened in September 1911 as ferries couldn’t cope with the number of workers needing to cross the river Elbe. It was used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War and has been thoughtfully restored over the years but still retains it’s charm.
The port area and Hafencity are lovely places to spend an afternoon exploring, especially if the weather is as lovely as it was last weekend. The old port area is very pretty and perfect for watching ships and ferries go by, while the developing Hafencity is a fascinating regeneration project. A combination of homes, offices and cultural, leisure, tourism and retail facilities, it’s a city being built within a city.
St Michael's Church
Like the Elbtunnel, you cannot come to Hamburg and not visit St Michael’s church, or ‘Michel’ as it’s affectionately known to locals. A symbol of the city, its mint green roof can be seen from pretty much everywhere in Hamburg. The baroque church is beautiful inside but make sure you take the lift to the bell tower for the most incredible panoramic view of the city.
Where to eat
My list of eateries is uncharacteristically short and I blame Mutterland. I made a beeline for this cute café and loved it so much I ate there for most of my meals!
Mutterland is a super cute little café and deli a short stroll from my hotel and I ended up there for 3 of my 6 meals in Hamburg. It’s just that good. It’s got a cute vintage feel, the staff are lovely and the food is delicious, so who can blame me? I tried the French toast with cane sugar and cinnamon which was so yummy, the couple at the table ordered one each after seeing me scoff mine in record time. I also popped in for breakfast and for a fluffy apple and cinnamon pancake.
After exploring Reeperbahn (more on that later...) I needed somewhere to refuel. Just off the main drag, I discovered Bande Pizza. It’s a pretty well known pizza joint and for good reason. You order a margharita and customise it with whatever you want from a dizzying array of pizza toppings. Each pizza is made fresh to order from the open kitchen and it’s delicious, high praise considering I’m a pizza snob.
Burgerlich is a cool concept restaurant which doesn’t scrimp on taste. Each seat is equipped with an ipad to place your order, which is delivered super speedily. I opted for a quinoa burger with extra fried onions and a fried egg with a side of Burgerlich fries, which were delicious.
Where to drink
The nightlife scene in Hamburg is pretty wild, those Germans really know how to party. You’ll inevitably end up in Reeperbahn as most people do, which doesn’t ever seem to stop partying. Just as well the metro runs 24 hours!
My night started at Sausalitos, a sort-of Mexican dive bar a short walk from Burgerlich. It’s got a cute, friendly vibe and the waiters are super nice, our waiter gave us a round of tequila on him as we were leaving. The cocktails are super sugary so pick carefully. There’s a photobooth by the door so bring some change and make some memories before the tequila kicks in!
Reeperbahn is the “old redlight district” which is very much alive and kicking. Every other door is a strip club or a sex shop and the area is a little rough around the edges if you head off the main strip. I wondered off the main area in daytime and ended up in an estate which literally had a drug dealer on every corner. The main street is a bit wild during the day but the entire area is pandemonium come night time. Bars and clubs come alive and the streets are heaving with people at all hours of the night. I can’t remember the name of the club we ended up at but you’re guaranteed to have a good time wherever you end up.
Where to stay
Park Hyatt Hamburg
After checking out quite a few hotels in Hamburg, I decided to stay in the Park Hyatt. The location was incredible, just a stone’s throw from the central station and just off the main shopping street. Sometimes it’s nice to stay in a big chain hotel; you know exactly the level of service and comfort to expect. The rooms were lovely and spacious, the bed was comfy, I had a walk-in shower as well as a bath and the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly.
And there you have it, my whistle stop guide to Hamburg. Do you have any hidden gems you can recommend?