One of the world's greatest ports, Hamburg is proud of its maritime past, but is forward-looking too. Great food, entertainment, art, and architecture combine in a city that it's hard not to fall for.
There's enough heritage in Hamburg to satisfy any history buff, from UNESCO-protected warehouse districts like Speicherstadt to the poignant ruins of St. Nicholas' Church and fascinating museum ships like the Cap San Diego, which also hosts a museum of emigration.
Back on dry land, Hamburg is endlessly entertaining. Take a stroll down the famous Reeperbahn and stay in bohemian St. Pauli to sample the area's vibrant bars and clubs. Or stick to the Altstadt for the stunning seafood at Deichgraf before a show at the Thalia Theater.
And that's just scratching the surface. There are Beatles tours, soccer matches, art galleries, and much more to explore in Hamburg.
Hamburg is full of historical sights. The beautiful ruins of St Nicholas' Church, the splendid UNESCO-protected warehouse districts of Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus, the war memorials in Ohlsdorf Cemetery, and the beauty of St. Michael's Church will fill anyone's vacation itinerary.
When your sightseeing day is over, Hamburg is just getting started. Modern Hamburg is a nexus for electronic DJs, and every night you'll find clubs in St. Pauli open until dawn, while Winterhude and Altona aren't short of excellent bars either.
Hamburgers love art, as you'll discover when you visit the enormous Kunsthalle, which is home to a permanent collection of 700 works (and is totally free of charge). Art lovers won't want to stop there, though, with smaller spaces like the Vera Munro Gallery and the Deichtorhallen offering plenty of delights.
Hamburg takes food very seriously indeed, and its cuisine is oriented towards the sea. Places like Elbfisch or Deichgraf serve up local specialties of the highest quality, but even the street food is delicious, with filling falafel and doner kebabs available at bargain prices.
Hamburg has long been a commercial center, and this is reflected in its diverse collection of markets. The Fischmarkt in St. Pauli is the most famous (and a great place to find seafood snacks) but flea markets like Turmweg and Immenhof are better places to track down obscure records, vintage clothes, and local craft products.
Summer hits Hamburg in early June and departs in early September. Between those months, you can expect fine sightseeing conditions (and great weather for harbor cruises). The beer gardens by the river will be full, and street festivals will be ubiquitous. If you want a cheaper vacation, April and early May could be better, with lower room rates and quieter museums and galleries. Christmas is also a major event in Germany, so festive breaks would work well too.
Hamburg Airport (HAM) is around eight miles north of the city center and has a couple of connections to North American cities. However, connecting flights via Berlin, London, or Paris may be needed. When you touch down, the S1 S-Bahn train is the best route into town and costs EUR3.20. Failing that, expect a taxi to cost around EUR25-30.
Hamburg's Hauptbahnhof has connections to major cities like Munich, Berlin, Copenhagen, Zurich, and Cologne, along with indirect links to Paris and London, so getting to the city by train is a real possibility.
If you are driving from Berlin, take the A24 straight to Hamburg. Those coming from Bremen need to take the A1, while the A7 runs from southern destinations like Hanover and southwards from the Danish border.
Hamburg has excellent bus connections, and all intercity services stop at the ZOB (central bus station). Companies running services into the city include Eurolines and Flixbus.
Hamburg has some exceptional places to stay. Leading modern boutique hotels in the center include the Mövenpick, the Henri Hotel, and the Gastwerk, which has a unique ex-industrial setting. The Atlantic Kempinski has a beautiful waterfront location, as does the Fairmont Hotel, and other leading five-star options include the Royal Meridien and the Park Hyatt. All offer superb, comfortable, and convenient places to stay.
The Altstadt - literally the old town, Altstadt is Hamburg's historic core. It's where you'll find Hamburg's five historic churches, along with the Rathaus, a wealth of attractive shopping arcades, and some of the city's very best restaurants.
Speicherstadt - officially protected by UNESCO, Speicherstadt is Hamburg's major warehouse district. If that sounds unexciting, think again. Buildings like the Chilehaus are stunning works of 19th-century architecture, while the area also hosts great attractions like the quirky Miniatur Wunderland and the International Maritime Museum.
Sankt Pauli - an infamous nightlife center and bohemian community, Sankt Pauli is where Hamburgers go to have fun and express themselves. The Reeperbahn (red light district) is world famous, but the Fischmarkt and the Star Club (which hosted the young Beatles) are also highlights of any trip to Hamburg.
Hamburg's public transportation system is a real highlight of the city. Buses are efficient and run all night long, while the U-Bahn and S-Bahn only shut down between 1 am and 5 am in the morning. The best ticket to get is the Tageskarte, which lasts from 9 am until 6 pm and costs EUR6.20 for one adult and three children, which is an absolute bargain.
Hamburg's reliable taxis start with a meter drop of EUR2.80 and then it's roughly EUR2 per mile after that. With relatively low rates like that, getting around by taxi is an excellent option for nightlife fans and families alike.
There are plenty of day-trip destinations not far from Hamburg. Lübeck and Bremen both have enough attractions to fill a day, and with your own car, you can reach them in no time. Car rental outlets in Hamburg include Europcar, Sixt, Avis, and Enterprise, and rates can start from as low as EUR15 per day.
If you are hunting for vintage clothes or antiques, flea markets like Flohschanze in Schanzenviertel or Immenhof are the place to go. If you are looking for fashion boutiques and luxury stores, head to Mönckebergstraße or Spitalerstraße in the city center. With jewelers, designer stores, chocolatiers, footwear boutiques, and plenty more, they are fantastic places for an afternoon of window shopping.
If you need to stock up on groceries or essentials during your stay in Hamburg, the best places to go are supermarkets like Lidl, Edeke, and REWE (although it's more fun to shop for food at the Fischmarkt). Expect prices to be comparable to major US cities, at around EUR2.70 for a gallon of milk and EUR2 for 12 eggs.
Food is one of Hamburg's great obsessions, so be sure to try a few of the city's leading restaurants while you are in town. Leading eateries to check out include the acclaimed Seven Seas, cozy bistros like Bistrot Vienna, and seafood experts like Deichgraf. Die Bank is an elegant brasserie, while Il Buco is an exceptional Italian option. Expect three course meals at the best restaurants to cost upwards of EUR30.