[HAMBURG] — Ha-Ha-Hamburg. Man, what a city.

If you asked me a year ago if Hamburg was on my wishlist of cities to visit. “Ummmmm, no.”   But, I didn’t know. This is my quick guide of what to do in Hamburg over a long weekend.

I just thought Hamburg was just a big industrial port city in northern Germany. But through the marvels of Instagram, I kept seeing these beautiful shots of this remarkable city, Germany’s second largest and its major business hub, with all of its media, design and shipping headquarters here. Airbus, Unilever, broadcast networks, all here.

Like Berlin — which I covered in recent posts — Hamburg has been undergoing a huge Renaissance. Not just updating, but reinventing itself. With massive cool new developments and stunning architecture, sympathetically blending into to its prestigious older parts.

Ask a German about Hamburg and they go “Ooooooh, Hamburg. Such a beautiful city.”  It ranks 18th on the world’s most livable cities list. Well, over Christmas of 2017, this rube finally got a chance to see what others, obviously, seem to already know. Looking for a needed getaway over the holiday, I booked a last minute flight on Lufthansa, departing five days after I booked.

Take a look at this little video I made…and you’ll see:



Side note: the great direct flight from Denver to Munich flies the polar route, over the north of Canada. During the flight, the whole plane grew silent and suddenly everyone went to the left of the plane. A flight attendant came up to me and my earphones and excitedly said “Did you see? The Aurora Borealis!”  I can’t imagine how much the plane was listing to the left side of the plane as this was happening:



Hamburg — Venice of the North

There are many cities that claim “The Venice of….”  Hamburg is one of them. (Stockholm may argue.)  But Hamburg has over 2,500 bridges — more than London, Amsterdam and Venice, combined — and more than any city in the world. And it has more canals than Amsterdam and Venice, combined. Water is everywhere, in canals, lakes and rivers, and it calms the soul of this city of 1.7 million people.

Hamburg canal map
But Hamburg has over 2,500 bridges — more than London, Amsterdam and Venice, combined. More than any city in the world. And has more canals than Amsterdam and Venice, combined.

A lot of the city was bombed during WWII, including the great Hamburg firebombing that killed 50,000 people and a million people were displaced. I was expecting this city to be like Cologne, a nondescript 1950s/60s war rebuild, but much of the older parts of the city remain in their pristine state.

Hamburg Altstadt
Early settlements in Hamburg go back to Bronze Era in the 9th Century BC. Now, it’s a bustling city built around its clean canals.

The River Elbe — The Lifeblood of Hamburg

When you hear of ports and harbors in most cities of the world, I usually steer away from them. But Hamburg embraces its harbor and nautical history, even building all its major attractions around it, like a grandstand. Offices. Residences. Museums. All unfold with a view over the River Elbe and all its commerce, ferries and busy boats. And boy, is it grand. I never thought a busy harbor, with cranes and dry-docks and marine construction could be so beautiful. But here, it is. The city’s heart beats with it.

Hamburg River Elbe
Most of the city is built around the River Elbe and its many attractions, including ferries and boat tours, celebrating its nautical past.

The river is the center of life in Hamburg. Even when I was there in a December and it was 1C out, the walkways and railings and parks were packed with people.

Hamburg’s Cool Architecture

The architecture of Hamburg spans its rich history. From 12th and 13th Century Hanseatic churches to 1600s warehouses to stunning pre-war Art Deco to modern skyscrapers. No matter what fan of architecture you are, Hamburg has it. All seamlessly blending in together, not fighting.

Rathaus Hamburg Christmas lights
The Rathaus (City Hall) is the centerpiece of the old town. Just gorgeous at Christmas time. You can go up to the bell tower and get great views all over the city.

HafenCity & the Elbphilharmonie

Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall/hotel/condo building sticks out proud. Designed by my favorite architects Herzog & de Meuron, it sits on top of an old fortress of a brick warehouse. Probably was cheaper to build on top of it than tear that thick thing down.

The whole HafenCity redevelopment is one of the reasons I came to Hamburg, being an urban planning freak. Very cool how they wove it in with all the old warehouses and canals.
Really wanted to get a look inside the concert hall, but it officially opened the month after I was there. You’ll find some of the best architects in the world building here, including Rem Koolhaas and Renzo Piano.

You can go up to the viewing terrace and have a look ’round the city, which I didn’t do — too many persons.

This beautiful building says so much. It reflects the waves of Hamburg’s shipping past, reaching for the sky. There’s a whole state-of-the-art concert hall — supposed to be the best acoustics in the world — sandwiched by condos and a full-on hotel.

Just a stunning building. Built on top of a centuries old brick-shithouse of a warehouse. Must have been easier to build on top than have to take down all those old bricks…

Elbphilharmonie cut-away
Look what’s hidden inside this massive structure! Two world-class concert halls, residential apartments, a full-scale hotel. (From the Elbphilharmonie website)


The Speicherstadt — literally meaning “City of Warehouses” — was my favorite part of the city. And obviously everyone else that comes here. Truly stunning. Acres and acres of stout brick warehouses linked by a series of romantic canals. You can’t make up this industrial beauty. So good that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, always what I seek out.

Speicherstadt canal
One of the top tourist destinations in Hamburg, Speicherstadt is a restored warehouse district surrounded by canals.

The Perfection of Chilehaus

Chilehaus was my favorite building in all over Hamburg. Built in 1924, it’s in the style of German “brick expressionism”, which I’d never heard of before, but now am a fan. This enormous block-by-block long building seems airy and light and took nearly five million bricks to build. I can’t even think about how many windows. It’s perfectly preserved and home to many design offices and shops. I kept coming back here.

Chilehaus at night

Hamburg — A City of Museums

Hamburg has some world-class museums, from ancient to modern. I love the Kunsthalle, which had a mixture of everything, in one glorious building.

Kunsthalle gallery
I love museums. Almost love museum buildings as much as the art. Really like how the Kunsthalle is organized, very informative.
Been to a lot of museums but learned a lot here.

Last visited December 2017

Travel Resources

Here’s my interactive map, above.  You can save this link to your phone and use it whilst walking around. These are all the top recommend restaurants, retails stores, museums and other cool sites.

Here is another post I made about where to stay and eat in Hamburg. And another about the coolest minitiature railroad museum in the world located in Hamburg! You have to go there. And here’s a post about the cool little town of Lübeck, a great day trip from Hamburg, about an hour away.

Here’s is the official Hamburg website.

Here is Conde Nast Traveller’s great guide to Hamburg. Rick Steve’s Hamburg guide, if you’re into that. A great Hamburg guide with lots of pictures from The Guardian.

A super good guide from Travel & Leisure on Hamburg. And from The Telegraph, a great overview of Hamburg. And the always dependable New York Times 36 Hours in Hamburg guide.

Here’s another fantastic guide, the Top Ten Cities in Germany from Bookmundi. Check it out.

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