This post was last updated on January 28th, 2019
If you want to travel to Germany, consider Hamburg instead of Berlin. Why Hamburg, you may ask? As someone who has lived there for several years, I have to say it’s much prettier and more interesting with its unique maritime charm. It’s a beautiful city that is shaped by the river Elbe and the Alster lake – and who doesn’t love water?
In my previous travel post about Hamburg, I talked about six things to do and see in the city, but this time I want to write a more extended post as I feel that Hamburg is way too underrated and there are so many more things to do and see.
One Week in Hamburg: Why Hamburg Is the Perfect German City
I’m not going to lie: You can see most things in Hamburg in three days. But that would only be scratching the surface of what this harbor city has to offer.
First of all, Hamburg is the biggest city in the north of Germany and can easily be your base for exploring other cities in the region, such as Lübeck, Bremen, and Flensburg, or the islands of the North and Baltic Seas.
Secondly, Hamburg has a rich history. The city was declared a Free City all the way back in 1189 and joined the Hanseatic League in 1321. Ever since that time, it has been an important trade city due to its indirect access to the sea (via the river Elbe), and today the metropolitan region of Hamburg is the wealthiest region in Europe. There is a lot to learn about maritime history in Hamburg which you cannot discover anywhere else.
Third, it’s a lot less hectic than other big cities in Germany. Northerners have a reputation for being cold and distant, but that only means things will be quiet and you’ll have a lot of time to explore the city and its surroundings.
So let me get to my tips on how to spend a week in Hamburg. Here are some of my suggestions on what to see and do in Germany’s second largest city.
How to Spend One Week in Hamburg, Germany
Head to the Speicherstadt and the City Center for a Walk
There’s no doubt that downtown Hamburg with its amazing sights is worth a walk. The best-known landmark of Hamburg is probably its Speicherstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is an old warehouse district with excellent views.
For great photo opportunities in the Speicherstadt, you only have to position yourself on one of the bridges and wait for the best light.
The gorgeous red-brick buildings provide some much-needed color in this often cloudy and rainy city and can add a reddish tint even to the water.
While you are in the city center, don’t forget to check out Hamburg’s five main churches. These Lutheran churches can easily be spotted and are some of the most recognizable sights in the city.
Take an Alster Boat Trip
I have to preface this by admitting that I dislike being on boats. However, Hamburg’s waterways are essential to the city, and taking one of the many cruises is the best way to learn more about the city’s character.
The small cruise boats Take an Alster Boat Tripare also popular with locals and for events because they offer a nice way of escaping the city without physically having to leave the center. They all depart at Jungfernstieg, but make sure you decide on which exact trip you want to take as there are different routes.
Want to save time and money? How about joining the classic tour (“Alsterrundfahrt”)? It will allow you to get the best panoramic views of the city. You may also want to take the “Fleetfahrt” which passes through the Speicherstadt. After having walked through the Speicherstadt already, this will allow you to see it from a different and unique perspective. This cruise will also pass by the modern HafenCity district and Hamburg’s newest attraction, the Elbphilharmonie.
Visit the Schanzenviertel
Although gentrification is an important topic here, I think this neighborhood is a must for visitors to Hamburg. With its many bars, cafés, restaurants, and unique boutiques it’s a popular area for young people. However, it is most famous as the heart of the leftist movement.
The architecture of the Schanzenviertel is particularly beautiful with many neoclassical buildings. The most well-known building, however, is the Rote Flora, a squatted house and former theater.
Unfortunately, as the popularity of the Schanzenviertel has gone up so have the prices in bars while service has gone down. However, you can still have a good time here and enjoy the multicultural atmosphere of the neighborhood.
To enjoy the area at its best check it out on a weekend night.
Marvel at the City’s Architecture
Despite extensive bombing during the Second World War, some of Hamburg’s traditional buildings are still intact. In recent years, the addition of modern structures has created a unique mix of new and historic architecture in the city.
As a merchant city, Hamburg doesn’t have any palaces. However, the men who made their money off of trade still wanted to have this reflected in beautiful houses. The most famous building in Hamburg is the City Hall. You can enter if you wish and even join a guided tour.
Indulge in Local Foods
I have an entire post dedicated to the incredible vegan options in Hamburg. One specialty that I can’t praise enough is the “Franzbrötchen,” a cinnamon pastry you can’t find south of the region. You definitely have to try it.
Explore St. Pauli at Day and at Night
While I mentioned in the past that there are much better areas for going out, I still think most tourists will be curious about Hamburg’s red light district. I would recommend you check out some of the cafés and boutiques during the day and then head to the center of the red light district at night again if you want to see it for yourself.
For me, this area is too noisy and crowded on weekend nights, but I do think most people would find it interesting enough to at least pass through once, especially if they’re from more conservative cities.
See the Port
The port is what made Hamburg what it is today. The city’s wealth was built entirely on trade, and it’s still a significant aspect of everyday life in Hamburg. Seeing the area around Landungsbrücken will give you a nice feel of the city.
Explore the Center of Hamburg’s LGBTQI Scene
St. Georg isn’t an absolute must, but it can be very interesting for tourists. There are several cafés and restaurants, and it’s a very multicultural part of the city.
Day Trips from Hamburg
Once you feel like you have gotten a good feel of Hamburg proper, there are countless places in the region that you can visit next. I’m only going to list three, but don’t hesitate to ask me for more recommendations in the comments.
The old town of Lübeck is so well-preserved that it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s only a one-hour train ride from Hamburg which makes it perfect for a day trip. Walking through the medieval city is an absolute joy and will allow you to see the churches, city gates, old hospital, as well as the houses of two German literature Nobel prize laureates, one of whom was from Lübeck while the other one died there. You may even want to go to the beach if the weather is good since the Baltic Sea is no more than a 20-minute bus ride from the city center.
Bremen is the second-largest city in Northern Germany and particularly famous for the Town Musicians of Bremen, one of the Grimm fairy tales. There is a statue of them next to the City Hall.
Bremen is only one hour by train from Hamburg and surely worth a visit: The City Hall and Roland statue are a UNESCO World Heritage site, there are various museums, and the city center is small enough for a nice stroll.
The fact that Sylt is the most expensive German island shouldn’t keep you from visiting this beautiful island in the North Sea. Given that the train ride takes 3.5 hours you should leave early to be able to spend more time on the beaches which are the main attraction of Sylt. Of course, it would be best to plan a trip to Sylt on a day with beautiful weather. While it may not be warm enough to go for a swim, the cliffs and dunes are remarkable and worth seeing.
Where to Stay in Hamburg
I have a blog post about the best areas to stay on your trip to Hamburg. Whether you prefer an Airbnb, a hostel, or a hotel, is up to you, of course.
Keep in mind that Hamburg is quite an expensive city, and it’s best to book your accommodation as soon as you know you’re going to visit. Otherwise, there will be fewer places to choose from, and at a higher price point.
To Sum Things Up: You Have to Visit Hamburg Now
After having lived in Hamburg for several years, I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to Germany’s second-largest city. While I don’t agree with the locals who regularly refer to Hamburg as “the most beautiful city in the world,” I have to admit that it is quite pretty, especially if you are lucky with the weather. It’s a much more relaxed city than conservative Munich or noisy Berlin and is very classy. If you’re interested in a different aspect of German history, come to Hamburg which is known as Germany’s Gate to the World. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to know more about the north of Germany which is heavily influenced by its Scandinavian past and doesn’t have anything to do with Oktoberfest Bavaria and divided Berlin.
Why the hesitation? Start planning your trip to Germany’s second-largest city now!
Have you ever been to Hamburg? What do you think about my recommendations on how to spend a week in Hamburg? And if you haven’t been yet, is Hamburg on your list?