Hamburg, with all of its international trade and wealth that it has become so big for, has remained humble and one of the neatest cities on Earth. Its port city vibe and maritime spirit are at the heart of this town and only a few things in this world match it. Even with all of the history of wartime and bombings, the city remains largely how it was a century ago. Standing on the banks of the River Elbe, your eyes will fixate on the riverward-facing buildings and the history that is echoed from the Middle Ages. There are plentiful things to do in Hamburg and places in Hamburg that will have you itching to visit longer. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll know exactly what to do in Hamburg.
There’s even more to Hamburg than Germany’s largest port and its rich Middle-Aged history. I’ve never been to a city with such a multi-cultural cuisine and friendliness to foreigners. Matter of fact, there wasn’t once when visiting places in Hamburg that I felt like the odd-man-out. There were always other foreigners wherever we went which must have played a big part in its diverse cuisine.
I’ve backpacked around over half of Europe in the span of three years, and I still believe the spirit and maritime culture coupled with its long history makes Hamburg one of the top European backpacking destination. The best advice I can give is to invest in a Hamburg City Pass which I will talk about later.
Germany is a country geographically placed in the central part of Europe. It borders its Austrian neighbors to the south, French neighbors in the east, and shares a bit of its border with seven other European countries. It is, truly, very well-located for any American tourist backpacking through Europe routes and is one of the most popular countries for travel in Europe. Its capital, Berlin, is located only two hours to the east of Hamburg by train. Hamburg can be easily reached using the European Interrail system. Now, all you need to do is prepare for your trip.
Things to do in Hamburg
There are plenty of things to do in Hamburg that can keep you busy for as long as you want to stay. You will know what to do in Hamburg in a day or you can stay for a whole week – that’s part of the reason places in Hamburg make the city so brilliant on anyone’s ‘Euro Trip’.
Here are a few must-see places in Hamburg on anyone’s itinerary:
Warehouse District is one of the most famous places in Hamburg. Whether it is crossing its plethora of bridges, taking a riverboat tour through its narrow channels, or doing one of the other many things to do in Hamburg that are found inside the district, you’re sure to spend most of your time in the area.
Miniatur Wunderland is not only one of the coolest things to do in Hamburg, but also one of the most surprisingly fun interactive museums of Europe and is certainly one of my favorite places in Hamburg. With replica models of some of the world’s most traveled cities, you’ll remain in awe the entire experience.
Dialog im Dunkeln is one of the places in Hamburg I really gained perspective of its spirit. In completely darkened rooms of an old warehouse, blind people will guide you through to show you a day in their life. I was surprised at how fascinating it could be.
Park Planten un Blomen is the largest inner-city park and one of the top things to do in Hamburg for locals. You’ll see them out there by the dozens on a nice sunny day.
Schmidt Tivoli is a theater located at St. Pauli’s Spielbudenplatz. If you don’t know what to do in Hamburg, check the performance times because maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch a show.
Port of Hamburg (River Cruise) – The city of Hamburg is a port city at the core. The port is huge and is one of the main places in Hamburg where you can find all of the things to do in Hamburg. Catch a river cruise, just make sure the tour guide is speaking in English!
Treppenviertel is a neighborhood with winding alleys, steep stairs, and miniature mansions with views over the Elbe River that make it one of my favorite places in Hamburg. Take a camera with you at sunset for optimal photo opportunities!
Hamburg Zoo (Tierpark Hagenbeck) is one of the places in Hamburg that show-off its history so well. Beginning more than a century-and-a-half ago, the zoo houses some of the rarest species on the planet. That’s a long time for a zoo to be in operation.
Aussenalster (Outer Alster Lake) is the larger of two artificial lakes formed by the Alster River which offer some of the best outdoorsy things to do in Hamburg. Day trips from Hamburg are an easy bus ride away!
Church of St. Michael is a huge cathedral from the 18th Century is one of Hamburg’s most well-known landmarks. A climb to the top is one of the most historical things to do in Hamburg as there is tons of information about the city on the steep hike up.
Relaxing on the Beaches of Hamburg. . .wait, what?
I was visiting one of my good friends, Monja, who is a Hamburg native. She spent a few weeks of her time showing me around the best local spots and tourist areas in three different German cities; Hamburg, Cologne, and Dusseldorf. However, she also showed me the places that don’t get enough attention from tourists.
One day, we met up with some of her local friends and together they took me on a tour of the famous Warehouse District and snuck me on to a riverboat cruise tour that ended up being guided by a German speaker. They spent the entire hour translating historical facts for me and couldn’t wait to get a beer at the end.
They guided me down Reeperbahn, which is a smaller version of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, down the long hill to the river where all of the sudden I was walking under palm trees in the sand as people were laying out on beach beds catching a few afternoon rays. How could this be possible? There’s no sea or ocean within dozens of miles of the city of Hamburg.
As soon as I could figure out I was still in Hamburg at the Hamburg City Beach Club, my friends had bought me a traditional German beer and I had taken my claim to one of the few beach beds available. There are several beach bars in Hamburg along the river River Elbe all with a different vibe perfect for any Hamburg beach-goer.
The Tale of the Tape on Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg is the second-largest city in the country of Germany with around 1.8 million citizens within its city limits in the north of Germany. Hamburg is known worldwide for multiple things. Its renowned river port is one of the busiest in Europe and has brought international trade to Germany for centuries.
Places to eat in Hamburg
If you want a taste of the local cuisine further than downing an all-too-popular German beer, try these traditional foods:
A wiener-schnitzel is the most controversial part of German cuisine. It’s a large, battered, flattened, breaded and fried slab of veal. Despite what Germans will tell you, most Austrian neighbors believe they cooked the first schnitzel.
Bratwurst is the center of all German culinary experiences. If you go to Germany without tasting a German bratwurst, did you actually go to Germany? Careful, the mustard in Germany is more bitter than Americans are used to.
Abendessen is a traditional German dinner consisting of rye bread or toast, cold cuts, cheese, salads, pickled vegetables, or canned fish. It’s a pretty average meal if you ask me, but the Germans devour it.
Best time to travel to Hamburg
Hamburg is an easy place to travel year round. The Hamburg Christmas Market is one of the most popular in Germany and one of the very nice traditional things to do in Hamburg.
A Hamburg summer brings with it blossoming nature, a typically fresh and dry climate, and picture perfect sunsets over the River Elbe.
However, my favorite time to visit Hamburg is late spring. Particularly in May when there are less tourists, lower prices (in the traveling ‘off-season’), and the beer is just as cold!
Where to stay in Hamburg?
Ideally, to maximize your time, try to stay near the Warehouse District. However, as summer months can be very busy around the city (especially if you don’t book your accommodation in advance), I found another great neighborhood to stay in is the Blackenese area. It is about twenty minutes, or so, by S-bahn train from the city center. However, it’s a beautiful riverside community with budding nature and many of the best hotel in Hamburg.
How to get there/get around:
It’s not necessary to take a taxi around Hamburg city center. Even if leaving the center, the S-bahn and U-bahn can surely get you where you need to go.
The city has a top-notch public transportation system including ferries for river rides. For most visitors’ Hamburg itinerary, a Single Ride Ticket or a 24-Hour Ticket will suffice, but there are other options available like a Week Long Pass or Hamburg Card.
Personally, I saw it fit to purchase a Hamburg Card at the beginning of my stay in Hamburg. For about $12, you can travel freely on any of Hamburg’s modes of public transportation including the bus, U-bahn, S-bahn, and ferries. It also gives you discounts at some of Hamburg’s most popular tourist stops. Inquire about a family group discount if traveling with a family.
American Survival Guide
Traditional German Meal
A traditional dinner near the Hamburg Warehouse District will cost you nothing out of the ordinary; $10-$12 will usually cover a delicious traditional entrée. I recommend the The Vlet for an unforgettable night of culinary specialties and food until you roll out of the building down the River Elbe.
A Night Out
A beer in the heart of Reeperbahn was surprisingly affordable, but it also wasn’t a budget traveler’s dream. Usually you can find a pint in Hamburg’s off-brand Red Light District for anywhere from $3-$4 per. Reeperbahn was one of the most fun things to do in Hamburg.
A Bratwurst stand in the middle of the Hamburg Warehouse District will cost you about $5.80 for a nice budget lunch. The price is even a little lower as you get further out from the heavy tourist areas.
An all-inclusive Hamburg City Pass is the ideal offer to see this city in its entirety. The card is available for 24, 48, or 72 or 120 hours and let’s you do most of the top tourist things to do in Hamburg.
Hamburg doesn’t have a particularly appetizing range of accommodation options on AirBnB and I would normally choose to opt for a hotel or hostel. Generally speaking, you can usually find an entire apartment in Hamburg for anywhere from $40-$60 on a nightly basis.
For an individual room, one person can normally find a bed for less than $30 per night.
However, if you journey outside of the heart of the city just a bit, prices drop dramatically and you can find a bed for as cheap as $17.
Hamburgers are German speakers with their own dialect. Check out this basic German language guide before you go! However, overall, everyone can speak pretty clear English in this region of Europe.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Hamburg – or Germany, in general – is a country a part of the European Union – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Americans have adopted over time. There are, also, a lot of stereotypes we have made about Europeans that just aren’t true. For example, not all Germans drive BMW’s!
With that being said, there are some cultural differences in everywhere you go. Embrace those – they’re the best part about traveling because those differences educate you.
In Germany, tipping is common. A 5% tip is an acceptable amount as waiters tend to make a higher salary in Germany. Be careful that gratuity isn’t already included on your bill and you know what to do in Hamburg when it comes to tips!
Discover what to do in Hamburg
Hamburg left me very conflicted about my travels in Germany and I will certainly be back in the future. It hasn’t got the same feel as the rest of the German cities I visited. I hope after reading this you feel comfortable with what to do in Hamburg.
If you want to find out more about how to travel Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.