Upon checking into my hostel in Prague, the desk attendant made the usual conversation by asking where I was coming from. When I told him Hamburg, he looked shocked and told me how he’d heard it was a gloomy and gray industrial city. I could’ve fallen to the floor because Hamburg was the exact opposite. It was sunny, bright, and beautiful, but maybe that’s because I went with zero expectations. To be honest, I had no clue what to expect. After spending a few amazing days in Hamburg, I wanted to share my three days in Hamburg itinerary so you don’t have to go with any other expectations than having a great time.
Table of Contents
Where I Stayed
I spent my entire time in Hamburg at Motel One Am Michel. Having “motel” in the name definitely threw me off as motels in America are the last place I’d willingly stay. However, the Motel One’s sprinkled around Europe seem to be the place to be. The rooms are simple, clean, and nicely decorated, but the lobby is what stole the show. The bar and seating areas were gorgeously styled and also the setting for breakfast so I got to enjoy these areas every morning before starting jam packed days.
Motel One Am Michel is located in the St. Pauli and Reeperbahn area which is also home to what is referred as the red light district of Hamburg. It was mentioned several times that a few thousand prostitutes frequent the area just a couple blocks away but if you ask me, it’s easy to spot them. If you see a group of women lined up along the street and they all have on fanny packs, it’s a dead giveaway. There’s even a street in the area where it’s said that women aren’t allowed to go down, just men. This “tradition” goes as far back as Hitler and all I have to say is that if I’m not welcomed somewhere, I’m not even tempted to check it out. Besides, I don’t want bottles of urine thrown at me (this is a real thing).
The St. Pauli area is filled with restaurants: some global chains and others serving local fare, and food trucks for those of you who like to grab your food and go. There are plenty of bars as this area is known for nightlife as well as strip clubs and sex shops. If you stray just a few blocks from the main strip you’ll find hipster neighborhoods galore. If you’re interested in waiting 20 minutes for a slow drip coffee, then you’ll want to check out the coffee scene of Hamburg. There are thrift stores, small cafes with delicious menu’s, and graffiti lined streets that are begging for a photo shoot.
Getting Around the City
Hamburg is one of those cities where I wholeheartedly recommend catching the public transport system to get anywhere. The S-Bahn and the U-Bahn are the trains, but the bus and ferry are also great options. I actually caught the ferry and not only did it beat walking, I got some great views of must-see landmarks like the Elbphilharmonie as well.
A car just isn’t needed in this city. If you’re open to it, a bike is another great alternative as bike lanes from what I could see where mostly on the actual sidewalk as opposed to the street, making it even safer for cyclists. I was able to catch the train from the airport to the city center, around the city, and even to what seemed like the outskirts of town. Because that last instance was late at night, trains were far and few in between, but I made it back to my hotel safe and sound. The Hamburg public transport system seemed reliant, clean, and safe.
After settling into my room I had all of an hour to myself before heading a few blocks away to Ahoi Restaurant Sankt Pauli for a rum tasting before dinner. I never would’ve thought that Hamburg was the place to check out rum, but, when in Hamburg. Our connoisseur, Andre, ran through more than a few rums with us and gave us the backstory on where it was from, how it was made, and how old it was. I didn’t even realize how complicated rum was but it’s one of my favorite spirits so this unexpected experience was nothing short of amazing. To make sure our palettes stayed clear, we were only allowed to have bread and drink water while tasting the various rums. Afterwards we enjoyed typical Hamburg dishes like Panfish, Labskaus and Rote Grütze.
My takeaways from this tasting was learning that liquor can never go bad due to age. Alcohol may go bad because air got into the bottle, or because of the cork, but it should never get so old that it actually goes bad. Also, in the case of rum, it is considered to be from where the cask is stored. A distillery can be in Montenegro, but if the cask is stored in Nigeria, then it is Nigerian rum.
Symphony in the Park
Before settling in for the night we picked up a couple bottles of prosecco and headed to a nearby park named Planten Un Blomen (think Central Park). During the summer you can find a lightshow at the water where classical music is played to accompany the lights. While the park itself is reason enough to visit and explore, this was such a beautiful and relaxing way to end the night. Keep in mind that there’s one show as opposed to a show that starts every hour, on the hour. This area also gets pretty crowded from people sitting out and/or having picnics for the show, so get there early for a good seat.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel we headed to the Elbphilharmonie for a plaza tour complete with a panoramic view of the city. This building sticks out like a sore thumb, albeit gorgeous thumb, along the Elbe River and has been repurposed a few times. I like to think that this is it’s final form. Formerly a warehouse, it originally opened in 1966 and stored cacao. Everything that was supposed to happen in this location ultimately failed but now it’s found it’s footing as the Elbphilarmonie. It contains three music halls, a hotel, a parking garage on the lower levels, and a public plaza offering some of the best views in the city. Let’s not count the eateries and cafe’s.
The main hall of the Elbphilarmonie has a wave shaped roof with a singular dip in the center to represent Hamburg being the center of the world. I happened to get the best views of the building from a ferry that we took to another neighborhood. Even if you have nowhere specific to go, I recommend taking the ferry from this location just to get some great shots of it in all its glory.
My absolute favorite area in all of Hamburg had to have been the Speicherstadt. This warehouse district doubles as a UNESCO site and despite it looking like the perfect location for lofts and other trendy developments, it’s actually protected and is in no way residential. Most of the buildings have been around since the 1800s and are home to offices and museums, but no homes whatsoever.
- Hamburg having a port gave it the chance to be a free state. No other cities or countries particularly wanted want Hamburg had to offer, so that left it to stay independent.
- The entire city can fit Copenhangen nine times and while 40% of the area is green, only 10% of it is water.
- Copenhagen can fit into the harbor (The Elbe).
- Just 10% of the buildings are older than 100 years old.
Lunch at UberQuell
UberQuell turned out to be a pizza lovers dream and while it may be tempting to make your own pizza, you seriously can’t go wrong with the menu as is. Since the weather was very hot during my visit I opted for the watermelon and feta salad as an appetizer but there are so many yummy options to choose from. I washed everything down with an UberQuell IPA and the fact that they had a selection of their own beers may have been my favorite part of the experience.
Explore the Neighborhoods of “Schanze” and “Karolinenviertel”
Trendy boutiques, cafes, and bars pretty much sum up the neighborhood of Schanzenviertel. It’s located in the Schanzen-District between the Schlachthof meat market, Schanzenpark and Schulterblatt, and is probably the opposite of the Reeperbahn. These mellow neighborhoods truly remind me of what Brooklyn has become today and because I lived in Brooklyn for a few years, it kind of felt like home.
Karolinenviertel / St. Pauli is located between Hamburg Messe (Hamburg Fair) and Heiligengeistfeld. It offers a multicultural, creative backdrop for graffiti artists and fashion designers, and for advertising agencies and start-ups that have relocated. From walking down the street you can tell the neighborhood is brimming with creatives. There’s a very hipster vibe to the area and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Dinner at Berta Emil Richard Schneider
When I saw “chicken and waffles” on the menu of this restaurant the American and brunch connoisseur in me immediately put on her Top Chef Judge hat. Because I was still stuffed from lunch I ordered a small (emphasis on small) portion and while it didn’t live up to any American version of the chicken and waffle, it was still tasty. I don’t think their was a single person at our dinner that didn’t enjoy their food or the cocktails. If you don’t have much of an appetite, I recommend at least checking this restaurant out for drinks. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset if you can, the atmosphere is lovely.
Stand Up Paddle-boarding
I had unexpectedly gone stand up paddle-boarding just the week before in Opava, Czech Republic but I was all too excited to have another go in Hamburg at the Supper Club. I didn’t even think an activity like this was an option and I was grateful that it didn’t take place on the huge Elbe River. We glided along the Alster Lake and the city’s numerous canals for quite some time and thankfully not a single person fell into the murky water.
Paddle boating and kayaking are also great options offered if you’re not too confident in your stand up paddle-boarding skills. This is strange to say, but before reaching an opening where we got to peak at the actual city, we paddle-boarded through neighborhoods. As someone who spends hours a day looking at homes on Trulia, it was nice seeing the different homes and areas of a small part of Hamburg. Simply put, they were nice! We even ended up in an upper-echelon neighborhood where homes never even hit the market, they’re either privately sold or passed down.
Lunch at the Supper Club
After workouts come the huge appetites. After a not-so-great burger experience in the Czech Republic I wanted to redeem myself and boy, did I. I ordered the Supper Burger and sweet potato fries and went to town. I wouldn’t be surprised if no crumbs were left on my plate because the food was that damn good. A few people ordered pizza bread or opted for avocado mayo versus the truffle mayo for their sweet potato fries and as usual, we were all left feeling satisfied. Could Hamburg be a culinary capital?
Ending my time in Hamburg at Vogelball was the epitome of a cherry on top. It was the pièce de résistance, if you will. This electronic music festival is a quiet as kept annual festival that I had the opportunity to join during its eighth year. Now obviously this won’t be something that everyone can partake in during their visit to Hamburg but it’s worth noting and if you’re into festivals, plan a trip just for it.
Vogel means bird and that’ll explain why we were all decked out in feathers. The glitter, rhinestones, and fun dresses are just an added touch. What was strange to most of my group was the fact that this festival isn’t really promoted. You could’ve been in Hamburg at the same time as us, or lived there for months, and you may have never have heard of Vogelball.
Like all festivals, you can expect various stages with different artists or DJ’s. The one thing in common is that electronic music is the theme. There were also trips decorations and backdrops for photos galore and well, an array of food. Is it truly a music festival if there aren’t at least 10 food trucks huddled in one area? Me thinks not. The best part of it was that there were many vegan options and plenty of affordable beer and cocktails to add to the experience.