Hamburg. Birthplace of Angela Merkel, Johannes Brahms and Karl Lagerfeld. Eponym of the hamburger. Home to one of the most infamous red light districts in Germany.
Often overlooked in favour of her better-known sisters Berlin and Munich, this picturesque city sprawling across the banks of the Elbe is something of an undiscovered gem for most tourists.
Have you heard about the lake? Smack bang in the middle of the city and bordered by grand, regal buildings. Or the canals? Criss-crossing the city nearest the Elbe, and giving Hamburg a claim to Rival Amsterdam or Bruges for the title of ‘Venice of northern Europe’.
There’s plenty to see here and even more to do, so here’s a guide to some of the top activities to include on your Hamburg itinerary.
We’ve all dreamed of standing astride a city, a giant, the power to crush the tiny, scurrying humans below us like ants. Well, now you can go partway to making that dream come true, at Hamburg’s Minatur Wunderland.
This popular attraction, rated #1 on TripAdvisor, is the largest model railway system in the world, with 30 trains, nearly 14,450 railway wagons, 228,000 trees, 215,000 figures, 8,850 cars, 13,000 metres of track, and 3,660 buildings.
It even flips from day to night every 15 minutes, and you’ll see landscapes from Austria and Scandinavia, as well as replicas of famous Hamburg districts.
Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! You’ll get to see all these and more at the 25-hectare Hamburg zoo, which boasts a huge array of over 1,850 animals from every continent.
It has one of Europe’s biggest elephant herds, one of the deepest walrus pools in the world and a whole section devoted to the polar regions, where you can see polar bears, seal cubs and arctic seabirds.
Hamburg Fish Market
Hamburg’s bustling fish-market is a fantastic experience, regardless of whether you’re a fish lover. As well as a smorgasbord of fresh seafood, there are exotic fruits, nuts, flowers, and teas from all over the world.
You’ll find this open-air market next to the historic fish auction hall at the Hamburg harbour, and it’s open every Sunday between 5 and 9am.
Despite the early opening hours, it is always packed with locals, tourists, and night owls who come here after partying on the Reeperbahn.
One popular activity that you may not immediately associate with Hamburg is wake boarding. However, the city is a great place to try both this and water-skiing out, whether it’s on the Elbe or at one of the surrounding lakes.
As well as offering fantastic photo opportunities, these water sports are a great way to inject some adrenaline into a Hamburg trip. You can book a wake boarding excursion through The Stag Company.
Germans are famous for their love of beer, and Hamburg is no exception, even hosting its own version of Bavaria’s Oktoberfest.
A great way of sampling the city’s best pilsner is to combine it with some sightseeing on a beer bike. Ideal if you’re visiting with friends, these mad-looking contraptions will see you pedalling around Hamburg as a group, drinking beer to your heart’s content and getting to know the city a bit more in the process.
If you like tunnels, you’re in luck. The alter Elbtunnel is an old, atmospheric tunnel built in 1911, used by cyclists and pedestrians to cross under the river to this day.
You can reach it via staircases or ancient, creaking lifts, which descend into a cavernous entrance chamber. Walk the tunnel’s length and go up the other side for great views back of the city.
It’s also a pleasantly cool spot to escape the sun if it’s a particularly warm day.