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The 6 Best Things to Do in Hamburg

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Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany and its nickname is the “Gateway to the World.” It’s one of the biggest ports in the world and was the port of exit for millions of Europeans who left for North America. As a port city, Hamburg also has a rich trade history. I’ve lived and studied in Hamburg for several years and grew up in the metropolitan region of this beautiful city. I definitely have a very special relationship with the city. So here’s my list of six free things to do in Hamburg.

​See the Iconic Speicherstadt

Since 2015, the Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s old warehouse district, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Construction of the world’s largest historical warehouse district started in 1883 and ended in 1927. The first building was up in 1888, and the Speicherstadt immediately started to operate.

The purpose of the Speicherstadt was to unload small boats which brought products from the big ships directly to the warehouses.

Some of the neogothic buildings now house museums, such as the Afghan museum, the spice museum, and a customs museum. All of these topics relate to this impressive neighborhood in Hamburg. Rugs from Iran and Afghanistan, as well as spices from all over the world, arrived here. And so officials had to hunt down smugglers who tried to avoid customs. If you think a customs museum sounds boring, think again. It’s really interesting to find out all about the different ways in which people have tried to avoid paying customs.

If you are sightseeing in Hamburg the Speicherstadt is an absolute must.

speicherstadt hamburg
The Speicherstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Explore the Rivers and Lakes

To get really close to the gorgeous buildings in the Speicherstadt take a tour on a tourist boat. Hamburg offers several sightseeing tours, but don’t spend too much money when it’s not necessary. There are special harbor boat tours that cater to tourists. But you can simply take the ferry which is included in the public transport system. Line 62, in particular, allows you to take in beautiful views of the port.

As far as Alster boat trips go, you will have to pay for those. You will really get to see the best of Hamburg and get close to beautiful mansions and their gardens.

Walk Through the Old Elbe Tunnel

A completely different historical site is the Old Elbe Tunnel which connects the neighborhood of St. Pauli with a small island in the River Elbe. You can pass through by car, bike, and even foot, with the latter two being free. For tourists, walking through the tunnel will be the most impressive way to see this historical monument of engineering. When you get down and up try not to use one of the elevators. Take the old spiral staircase instead which allows you to see more details.

Visit St. Nicholas’ Church

Another impressive site is St. Nicholas’ Church which was at one point the tallest building in the world. Allied air raids during the Second World War hit this neogothic church hard. As such, it’s a monument that pays homage to the victims of war and the Nazi terror regime. There was never a complete reconstruction effort so it would remind people of the horrors that took place.

For a small fee, you can even go up with a glass elevator for a magnificent view of the city.

Enjoy Nature

Hamburg is a very green city and has many parks. Planten un Blomen (Low German for “plants and flowers” is in the very center of the city. It features a lake and several gardens and hosts various events in the summer. Entering the park is always free, and you will absolutely love it here when the weather is good.

planten un blomen hamburg
Planten un Blomen in the center of Hamburg.

The Alster is actually a small river, but in Hamburg, people usually mean the artificial lake. Walking around the Alster lake is a nice alternative to sightseeing. You will see beautiful nature as well as some stunning examples of Hamburg’s architecture, including several consulates. While you walk around the Alster you get to see Hamburg from different perspectives.

​Experience the Seedy Part of the City

As a port city, Hamburg is world-famous for its red-light district. Ports and prostitution usually go hand in hand, so it’s no wonder that the neighborhood of St. Pauli, close to the port, is the center of Hamburg’s sex industry. I don’t recommend you participate in any of the offered services, and the area has more to offer than that.

While the better clubs are not in the red light district, tourists flock here every weekend to party. To explore this part of the city, I would suggest taking a stroll along the main street Reeperbahn. But make sure you find out in advance which clubs in other parts of the city interest you. That way you can go to the cooler spots later.

During the day you can check out the port. Museum ships and an old Soviet submarine are only some of the things you can find here. The port is perfect for a nice stroll when the weather is good.

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A version of this post was first published on Girl with the Passport.

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