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Hamburg is northern Germany’s beautiful port city, running over with old-school charm and picturesque romance (with a few raunchy winks to boot!). And with the opening of its new philharmonic hall, Hamburg is shining out on the map, being swiftly named to both NatGeo’s and the New York Times’ lists of Places to Visit. So, what can you do in Hamburg?
Germany can be tricky place to visit for traveling professionals, in part because the strict labor laws mean most businesses are closed by 8 p.m. Hamburg is a typical Germany city in this regard, but it has enough notable exceptions that you’ll can get a good sampling of the city during your Hamburg trip, even after the workday is through.
Explore the Speicherstadt
There’s no better place to start exploring Hamburg than the Speicherstadt, the old warehouse district fronting the Hamburg harbor. You can do this two ways—by trolling the waters or strolling the streets. Book an evening harbor cruise, which takes you first out into the Elbe to view Hamburg from the water (including the impossible-to-miss Elbphilharmonie, the famous old Hamburg fischmarkt, and, if you’re lucky, the Queen Mary 2 when she docks through northern Germany), and then through the canals and steep red warehouses of the Speicherstadt, which historically housed cocoa, coffee, tea, spices.
If you’re walking, don’t worry—the Speicherstadt is very safe and extremely well-lit. The lights actually make for a gorgeous stroll, playing up the architectural details and throwing reflections onto the churning water. While you’re unlikely to be able to catch a show at the philharmonic hall due to sold out performance, don’t miss the Elbphilharmonie Plaza, open daily from 9am-midnight for spectacular 360 views. It’s free to visit, or 2eur if you want to skip the line with a reservation.
At the end of the Speicherstadt is the postcard-perfect, Wasserschloss, a tiny castle restaurant perched at the Y-break of two canals. I highly recommend spending your per diem on a plate of delicious German food, especially if you can get an outdoor table.
Who know you could see the world in one city? Miniatur Wunderland is the largest model train station in the world and recreates the world in intricate detail throughout one of the larger warehouses in the Speicherstadt. Ok, model trains…what’s all the fuss about? The sheer scale of these installations is nothing short of wondrous—a massive recreation of the Alps stretches two floors, boats float in real water, and the minute attention to detail (keep your eyes out for funny details like a unicorn beneath mini Neuschwanstein, an amorous couple in a sunflower field, and the conspiracy theory installation) is amazing. In my opinion, one of the most interesting sections is the historical one, which recreates Hamburg during the Luftwaffe—and the functioning airport will keep you entertained in a different way.
Opening times: 365 days a year, from 9:30am-6pm. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and weekend, they typically have extended hours, to at least 8 pm, but sometimes stretching to midnight! You can check their detailed opening times and reserve tickets in advance on their website.
Amsterdam’s got nothing on the red lights of the Reeperbahn, nicknamed die sündigste Meile, or “the most sinful mile” in German. While visiting a district famous for sordid parties and the erotic arts might seem like an odd suggestion for a work trip, the Reeperbahn is famous for another reason as well—to quote John Lennon, “I might have been born in Liverpool, but Hamburg is where I grew up.” The Beatles got their start playing the rock clubs in the Reeperbahn, most notably the Star Club, which has since burned down. You can still see plaques commemorating the Fab Four on the face of different venues in the city, and can organize an after-hours Beatles tour (by request) that shares the detailed history and crazy stories of early rock n’ roll.
Running down the center of the Reeperbahn is the Spielbudenplatz, which regularly hosts food truck evenings, theme nights, outdoor concerts and movies, and biergartens, and is a local favorite. Or escape to Strand Pauli, a self-made beach with a fun, boho vibe and fantastic views of the harbor. If it starts to feel too grimy on street-level, escape to the nearby 20Up penthouse bar, enjoying a cocktail and a luxurious view over the city (pictured below).
Enjoy the Alster
Hamburg is built around two lakes, the Außenalster, Outer Alster, and the smaller Binnenalster, or Inner Alster, which are settled into the center of the city like a figure-8. Available until 6 are boat tours that take you around the edge of both lakes—just note that the tour guide typically only speaks German. After 6, you can watch the sunset (and the swans) from Jungfernstein, with a cold beer or wine to go. If the weather is nice, the Binnenalster is small enough to walk around in about 30-40 mins, the Außenalster will take closer to an hour and a half—especially if you stop for a beer at any of the cafés the ring the lake.
After Work Parties
The German word for after work? Feierabend, or party evening. As a society, they work hard and play harder. Every Thursday night, catch any one of the many After Work parties around the city—the original and best known is held at Café Schöne Aussichten (Café Beautiful Views), which features a rotation of DJs spinning House, Latin, and/or Club hits, indoor and outdoor bars, a large dancefloor, and a sprawling terrace that overlooks the nearby Planten und Blomen botanical park. I recommend exploring the gardens if the weather is nice and the season is on—in the summertime they also do evening light and fountain shows choreographed to music!
If you can make it before 7pm, register for their guestlist and you enter for free. Otherwise it costs 7eur and includes one free drink of choice.
And there you have it! A little history, a little culture, a little party, and a little nature—all the components of a beautiful city and all the makings of a great evening out. Just make sure to pack an umbrella for the inevitable port city drizzle!
Guest Writer & Photographer
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