Hamburg is praised above all other cities by tourists and even in the 2003 song “City Blues” by Beginner. And I agree! Hamburg is the one, the first, the best of the best, the icing on the cake. My name is Moana Meves. As a tour guide it takes me to the most beautiful corners of the world. Hamburg was my base for five years, my home, my heart. So today I won’t take you on a trip, today I’ll take you home!
Hamburg is more than the collection of its sights. Hamburg especially surprises by extreme opposites. Here anyone can feel at home, whether native or newcomer and everyone looks upon their personal part of Hamburg with immense pride and love. I first got to know Hamburg’s posh side. Eppendorf, one of the best and most expensive residential areas: magnificent old buildings, often with their own little docks along the wild and romantic Alster channels, small boutiques, organic shops and overpriced latte macchiato.
Then I moved to the Veddel, a small Elbe island north of the Wilhelmsburg, between motorway, industrial area and railway tracks. It’s crammed with kebab shops, discounters and people from all over the world. 90% of its population are immigrants. It’s the most unromantic place in the city. Here I made the most contrasting of observations: In the left window of a small shop chic headscarves for the fashion-conscious Muslima of today were displayed, in the right window of the same shop extravagant toys were being sold for certain nightly hours. This is Hamburg! This makes the city so extraordinary. If you really want to get to know and not simply visit the city, I recommend you track down opposites like this.
The Veddel, by the way, offers a historical starting point. The present immigration quarter was formerly one of emigration. Between 1850 and 1939, more than five million Europeans began their journey to a new world and to a new life from here. The Museum “BallinStadt”, located directly at the stop Veddel, shows this part of history in interesting detail.
From there it only takes you ten minutes by S-Bahn to the “Jungfernstieg” in the city centre. It’s the epicentre of Hamburg’s wealth. There is no end to luxury cars parked in front of designer boutiques in the Neuer Wall. Wealth is present everywhere – but with a typical Hamburg understatement. Here it’s well worth to simply observe and do a bit of window shopping. Talking about strolling: how about a walk down the Reeperbahn afterwards as a little contrast?
The “Kiez” (Hamburg’s St. Pauli red-light district) is just a few minutes’ ride away. In truth, St. Pauli is more beautiful at night, when colourful lights flatter the ailing facades and drunkards. But during the day it is definitely more honest. Take it all in at daytime and then come back at half past one at night. Because you can still find them, the real St. Pauli pubs where Hans Albers sounds from the Jukebox. You can also find small, free clubs in side streets like the Hamburger Berg or Hein-Hoyer-Straße. Go there and avoid the actual Reeperbahn with “Magaluf” style party halls and dubious doormen who want to lure you into dull strip clubs with big promises – you’ll always be presented with a large bill at the end, no matter the promises! If you prefer it a little quieter, but still want to get to know the real Kiez in a fun way, I recommend a visit to St. Pauli’s very own musical “Heiße Ecke” in the traditional Schmidt Tivoli. It’s not a glossy musical but enchants with its cosy atmosphere and broad humour in a real Hamburg institution.
If you want to completely avoid an evening visit to the notorious amusement district, I have three personal restaurant tips for you. The culinary variety in Hamburg is huge and there are excellent restaurants to be found in different districts (Ottensen, Altona, Eimsbüttel …). I wouldn’t dare say my three are necessarily the best, but I do enjoy eating there:
- In the Portuguese quarter there is one restaurant next to the other, manly serving Mediterranean food. Because of the proximity to the touristy pier, the quality varies. But I can highly recommend Luigi’s. Luigi serves delicious giant pizzas in a lively and quaint atmosphere. Through the open kitchen you can hear the pizza baker sing “O Sole Mio” at the top of his voice whilst forming the dough into heart shapes for female guests. Very charming!
- Avelino is also very original and authentic. It’s located in the Katharinenstraße, within walking distance of the “Speicherstadt” (warehouse district) but nevertheless far from the crowds of tourists. Here, delicious Spanish tapas are served from a tiny kitchen in a restaurant not much larger (reservation recommended and be aware: In summer Avelino likes to close down his restaurant and go to Spain for weeks at a time and doesn’t much care that it’s also Hamburg’s main season)
- My third tip is directly in Hamburg’s historic Deichstraße at the Nikolaifleet. The Haus der Bretagne (House of Brittany) is specialized in Galettes and Cider. It doesn’t get much more Breton than this and it’s unbelievably romantic to sit outside on the Fleet in good weather. The Galettes, by the way, will completely satisfy your hunger. Time for a nightcap: How convenient that Barley & Malt has opened up directly opposite in the Deichstraße. Connoisseurs and novices can drink their way through the excellent selection of craft beers and whiskeys and let the evening come to an end…or make plans for the next day; How about a trip exploring Hamburg’s green side?
Apart from its unusual contrasts and delicacies from all over the world, Hamburg also surprises with its nature. 540 km² of public green space, which is about 310 m² per inhabitant, make Hamburg the greenest big city (population of 500,000 or more) in Germany. Whether you are taking a long walk along the Alster, canoeing through the canals or lying in the sun at the “Stadtparksee” (town park lake), the recreational value offered by the city is enormous and easily accessible to all.
My favourite park is also the easiest to reach. Located directly in the city centre, it has the name of Planten un Blomen, which literally means nothing other than plants and flowers. It measures 47 hectares and is full of variously themed parks, such as the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden or the Mediterranean terraces. There is also a playground for children and sun loungers for adults wanting to relax. A special highlight are the water light concerts, every evening from the 1st of May to the 30th of September. Pack a picnic blanket or folding chairs, a few treats and a nice bottle of wine and then make yourself comfortable on the surrounding grass. Admission is free. However, be sure to arrive early to get a nice spot on the lawn.
The largest park in Hamburg (389 hectares) is still a real insider’s tip. It’s a bit further out but easily reachable by public transport. The Ohlsdorf cemetery is the largest garden cemetery in the world and is truly an oasis of peace. But it’s also a collection of impressive curiosities and stories. In the summer months they offer very interesting and reverent guided tours. I strongly recommend joining such a tour. Plant lovers will be particularly delighted by the rhododendron bloom in May. If you do not wish to participate in a guided tour, you can also cross the cemetery by bus. The Hamburger transport system (HVV) operates 22 stops within the park.
Speaking of the HVV: S-Bahn, public transport, bus … in several places in this article I already mentioned it and now I will pay homage to it. Often despised by locals, the HVV is the cause of great happiness for many visitors. A day group ticket only costs 11.80 euros and is valid for up to five people and until 03:00 am the following day. But the best is yet to come: you can also use the harbour ferries. However this is no longer secret and therefore extremely crowded on weekends and holidays. Nevertheless, try and squeeze on board and join the fight for a seat on deck. Here is my recommended route. Start on foot from Baumwall or Meßberg.
Stroll through the “Speicherstadt“ in the direction of Hafencity. Majestic brick buildings stand in contrast to modern glass palaces. Architecture enthusiasts will get their money’s worth here.
At the westernmost tip of the harbour you will find a fortress of brick and glass. Long-time laughing stock of the nation (until one began to build an airport in Berlin) and now finally finished: the “Elbphilharmonie” (Elbe Philharmonic Hall). Lovingly called Elphi by Hamburgers, the long wait certainly paid out. Everyone wants to experience it. Even the alternative Reeperbahnfestival is hosting concerts there this year.
After taking all the photos your heart desires go to the ferry dock and take line 72. Enjoy the views of the Michel, Cap San Diego and the Rickmer-Rickmers until you reach the St. Pauli Piers. Here you need to change. If you’re feeling peckish I recommend a short walk to bridge 10, where you can buy the best fish sandwiches. From the pier take line 62 towards Finkenwerder. According to experience it gets very full here, but the ferry crew, true Hamburg natives with original Hamburger moustaches, ensure an orderly procedure. Pass the Old Elbe Tunnel, the fish market and Altona until you reach the harbour museum of Övelgönne.
Get off here and walk further west. You can either take the romantic “Elbwanderweg” (public footpath along the Elbe) through the well-kept grounds or walk along the “Elbstrand” (Elbe beach) directly by the water. It’s just a few hundred meters to Hamburg’s most beautiful beach bar, the “Strandperle” (beach pearl). Order a cool drink or enjoy your own picnic nearby. Sit down in the soft sand and then just look straight ahead. The ships on the Elbe feel close enough to touch and you can see the most beautiful industrial area in the world – the port of Hamburg.
It’s a perfect place to end the day. A place where you realize that Hamburg truly is more than the collection of its sights, more than the contrasts, more than the vast city parks. The harbour town is the gateway to the world; it is a place of longing and home at the same time. And you dream of being on one of those ships, sailing up north out into the world. Start your journey from Hamburg and come back to the most the beautiful of towns, the number one, the best of the best!
P.S. Our tip: The SR Travel trips to Scandinavia also start in Hamburg.