Hamburg city center with town hall and Alster river, Germany

Hamburg City Guide

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Hamburg as part of the Erasmus student programme. Despite being the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg immediately evoked that sense of home and belonging that I had difficulty finding in other cities in the region. Hamburg is a city which unites the impression of a rich, industrial city and also a charming city with gorgeous view of sea and beautiful parks. It is a well-functional apparatus and a commercial centre which nonetheless offers plenty of space for culture: there are theatres, museums and art galleries that are sure to impress even the most demanding art lovers. I could continue to write about all the reasons why I immediately fell in love with this unique city, but I think you already get the idea. Now it is time to offer you some more practical advice on how to reach Hamburg and get around it, what are the main sights you should not miss, where you can get some reasonably priced souvenirs, and what are some of the most important numbers that you should have in your phone in case of an emergency.

Getting to Hamburg

By Plane:  Hamburg is very well connected to other major European and German cities. Located only 8.5 km away from the city centre, the Hamburg Airport is a base of many well-known airlines such as Lufthansa, Eurowings, Condor and easyJet, just to mention a few. It features flights to 120 destinations, including Dubai, Newark and Tehran. From the airport you have easy access to the city center by means of public transport: S1 metro is located right under the terminal. A single ticket costs around 3 euros and it takes about 25 minutes to reach the city centre.
One important note you should keep in mind: the Hamburg Airport is not to be mistaken for the nearby private Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport, which is an airport used solely by Airbus industries. You can find more information about the airport bus in Hamburg here.

By Train: You can travel to Hamburg by train from numerous cities in Europe and in Germany, such as Berlin, Hannover,  Copenhagen and many others. Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the railway station in Hamburg is located in the Hamburg-Mitte borough, in the very center of the city, which can be very convenient if you are here just for a short trip. It is the busiest railway station in Germany and as far as railways go, one of the best equipped ones in regards to the facilities it offers: it includes restaurants, small shops, a pharmacy, several service centres and more.

By Bus: You can easily reach Hamburg by bus from other European cities because kkit is very well connected. There are direct bus lines to Hamburg from Berlin, Prague, Zagreb etc, to name but a few.The main bus station in Hamburg is located about 1.3 km from the city centre, which is only a 17 minute walk. From the bus station you can easily continue to other parts of city, either by Metro, suburban train  or taxi which are all available nearby.

As you can see, Hamburg is well – connected, so you definitely do not have to worry about how to reach it!

Public transportation, getting around in Hamburg

Trains and buses: Public transport in Hamburg is mostly operated by Hamburger Verkehrsverbund (HVV). The most important means of public transport is the U-Bahn (subway) and the S-Bahn (urban rapid train). There are 3 U-Bahn lines, 6 S-Bahn lines and 9 regional lines all of which connect Hamburg and its region. It is important to note that public transport tickets can be used for all public transport means, and ticket prices depend on the zone you are travelling in. Tickets can be bought at ticket machines, from the bus driver, at the HVV online shop or using their mobile app. You can find more information about public transport in Hamburg here.

Taxi: Taxis in Hamburg can be recognized by yellow color and a taxi sign on top. If you wish to call a taxi, there are five companies you can choose from:

  • Hansa-Taxi: Call +49 (0)40 – 211 211
  • Taxiruf: Call +49 (0)40 – 44 10 11
  • Taxi Hamburg: Call +49 (0)40 – 666 666
  • Das Taxi: Call +49 (0)40 – 22 11 22
  • Prima Clima Mobil: Call +49 (0)40 – 211 522

If you prefer ordering a taxi via a mobile app, you can download the mytaxi app or the Hansa-Taxi app. In case you are wondering about the price of your ride, here you can calculate a good estimate of the final price.

Bike: As all cities in Germany, Hamburg is a bike-friendly city, which means that there are many options available when it comes to renting a bike. StadtRAD Hamburg is a bike sharing system used both by locals and tourists. The stations are located at many subway and railway stations in the broader center of the city as well as in larger residential areas, business districts and tourist facilities. You can find more information about StadtRad Hamburg here.

Sights

If you are staying in Hamburg only for a brief period of time, here are some recommendations for the things that you definitely should not miss:

Port of Hamburg

The Port of Hamburg, Hamburger Hafen, is a sea port on the river Elbe. Once you visit this magnificent place, it will immediately be clear to you why it is considered the country’s “Gateway to the World”. Not only is it an industrial center, but you can also see numerous museum ships, musical theaters, bars and restaurants there. In fact, I consider it a modern masterpiece in waterfront location. If you are still not convinced, you may change your mind when I say that this Port’s birthday party easily tops those of celebrities: the annual celebration of the harbour’s birthday remains one of Hamburg’s biggest public events, with boats performing “ballets” and fireworks to round up the evening.

Fish Market

The Fish Market is a must-see for all visitors because it captures perfectly the lively atmosphere of the city. Do not miss the historic fish auction hallat Hamburg’s harbor, which is the second-busiest port in Europe. This is a place enjoyed both by locals and visitors. Inside tip? Try to lower the price of the items you want to buy – the seller will almost always be willing to reduce it for a few euros.

Hamburg City Hall

Hamburg City Hall (or the Rathaus) is located in the city center. Its impressive architecture evokes of power and dominates the entire center of the city. During the winter period, the square in front of it is used for Christmas – related events such as the Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt). There is no better way to get in the holiday mood that to watch the snow falling while you are in the square looking at the Christmas market stalls near the Rathaus.

St. Michaelis Church

If you are exploring the center of the city, do not miss St Michaelis church, one of Hamburg’s most important landmarks as well as the largest church in town. This church is often listed as one of Northern Germany’s most beautiful churches. If you are wondering what the large bronze statue on the portal of the church shows, it is actually the Archangel Michael, to whom the church is dedicated.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

The Elbphilharmonie, or Elphi (as the locals call it), is one of the largest and most acoustic concert halls in the world. What is so interesting about it is that it is a “a concert hall for everyone”, which is their motto. They follow it literary, because not only professionals are included in their ensembles, but they have also founded five orchestras and ensembles for dedicated non-professionals. Inclusion at its most artsy!

Nightlife

From my own experience, nightlife in Hamburg does justify Hostelworld’s report which concludes that Hamburg is the best place in the world for a night out. Surely, there are some other European cities, such as Amsterdam or Berlin, which offer plenty of opportunities in terms of spending one’s night out, however, Hamburg remains my personal favourite. You want to go clubbing? No problem. You want to explore the alternative scene? Hamburg got you covered. Besides the variety it offers, what I find especially important is that the city feels very safe despite its size, the public transport is very well organised so you do not have to organize your night based on bus or train timetables. Here are some of the best places you can explore for some late night fun in Hamburg:

The Reeperbahn is a famous party street in St. Pauli district, and it is the heart and soul of Hamburg’s nightlife. It is Hamburg’s version of the red-light district and it has a place for everyone, regardless of age or music preference. 930 meters long, the street awakens at night, bringing to life numerous dance bars, nightclubs and student clubs. While I am at it, If you are a student, I recommend visiting Ex-Sparr, a bar where many local and international students come for a casual evening out. You should also check out the Irish pubs like Molly Malone and Thomas Read. Not far away from them you can find bars with electronic and rock music. All in all, if you are looking for a place to dance (and drink) the night away, make sure not to miss Hamburg’s party district.

On the other hand, Sternschanze has a more peaceful and relaxed vibe. There you can see those whose taste in music is more on the alternative side.

Hamburg also offers great opportunity for festival dwellers: on the Elbjazz Festival in June over 50 jazz musicians are said to perform. The festivals usually continue during the whole summer, ending in September.

And finally, if you still cannot decide where to go first, I recommend going to the pub crawl because that might be the easiest way to make sure you will have a fun and exciting night (even though your memory of it might be a bit blurry).

Outdoor activities

If you are an outdoorsy person and do not want to miss an opportunity to get some fresh air, Hamburg will not let you down, because there are many options for you to choose from. Interestingly enough, Hamburg is a city with more bridges than both Venice and Amsterdam, so there are plenty of opportunities for a nice stroll. As I have previously mentioned, it is a very bike – friendly city, so if you are looking for a casual recreation it would be best to go to one of many bike rentals in town. You can also go to a cycling tour of the city, where you can visit all the main sights and attractions accompanied by the local guide.

There are also a lot of opportunities for fun experiences in water. One of them is sailing. You can either pick a guided tour (if you just want to relax and escape the noise of the city), or you can set the course with your own crew for an adrenaline packed experience. Rowing is a traditional sport in Hamburg. In fact, the first rowing club in the entire Germany was founded there.

If you are interested in climbing, Kletterwald is the place for you. Situated in the outskirts of Hamburg, it offers plenty of opportunity to test your climbing skills. There are several zones to choose from, depending on your experience, and the staff will help you with everything you might need. The price is 25 euros per person.

For those who prefer a casual stroll in the nature, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Planten un Blomen (plants and flowers), which is the name of the green area alongside the city center all the way down to the harbor. It includes a gorgeous Japanese garden, an apothecary’s garden and tropical greenhouses which will immediately transport you to another place and time. It also provides a spacious playground for children and many cafés with coffee and snacks, so it is perfect for a family outing.

Shopping

Hamburg is a great city for shopping. If you are on a budget, I recommend visiting their Flea Markets, where you can find souvenirs, clothing, jewellery, and art on a very affordable price.

If you prefer visiting a shopping mall, there are plenty of options to choose from. There is Europa Passage, a big mall offering everything you might want to shop for on a vacation. Besides the variety of brands, it also has a food court with different cuisines. Hanseviertel is another shopping mall, which offers a more relaxed and aesthetically pleasing shopping experience. Set over five floors, it offers a good variety of clothes and fashion shops mixed in with several places to eat.

If you only wish to know where you can do your grocery shopping, it would be best to go to Aldi, Lidl or Kaufland, which offer the best value for money. Looking for fresh produce? Then you can visit the farmers’ markets which offer a great variety of seasonal fruit, vegetables, and other goods.

Restaurants – eating out in Hamburg

If you find yourself getting hungry after a long day of sightseeing, Hamburg offers a large variety of restaurants for any taste buds. Fish lovers, rejoice, because here you will have the opportunity to try some of the best fish dishes in the world. On the other hand, if you do not eat meat or dairy, there are many options for you to choose from because Hamburg is one of the most vegan – friendly cities in Europe.

1. Fast food & cheap eateries in Hamburg
If you are looking for a quick snack, I recommend visiting Karo Fisch Restaurant, which offers great value for money, huge portions and no-fuss, nutritious dishes.
If you are looking for a place to eat after night out, Erika’s Eck gots you covered. It is open all night and offers a variety of classic German dishes such as schnitzel in every way you can possibly want. Combined with chilled beer and low prices, this can be a great place to round up your night.

2. Hamburg restaurants: Food & Wine Bars
If you are a person who likes their wine and would like to drink it after a simple but at the same time filling snack (such as pasta or salad), Südhang is a place to go. The entrance might be a bit difficult to find because you have to walk for about 5 minutes from the main road to get to the the wine shop, and once you get there go upstairs to reach the bar. However, do not let this discourage you, because then you would miss a serious treat: the vibe of the place is mellow and cosy, which makes it perfect for relaxing with a glass of wine.

3. Hamburg restaurants: upscale & fine dining
If you want to have a full culinary experience, go to Fischereihafen Hamburg. Both formal and welcoming, this restaurant offers truly outstanding seafood, great view and impeccable service, which all come at a somewhat higher price.

4. Hamburg restaurants: Asian cuisine
For those who prefer Asian cuisine, Hamburg offers some of the best Chinese and Japanese restaurants in Europe. If you are craving  Japanese, you can’t go wrong with Henssler & Henssler, which is considered the best sushi in all of Germany.
If you prefer Chinese, opt for Dim Sum Haus, which is both authentic and casual: it offers an opportunity to try many different small Chinese dishes instead of taking one big meal. This is especially useful if you are still experimenting with Asian flavours and are afraid to order something that you might not end up liking.

5. Hamburg restaurants: vegetarian and vegan restaurants
Hamburg also offers a great variety of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. One of my favourites is Vincent Vegan Lovefood which offers great vegan burgers and fries, as well as vegan currywurst you are sure to enjoy even if you are not a vegan.

Emergency contact information

  • Hospital: In case of emergency the number to call is: 112. The person on duty will inform you about the nearest ambulance and offer you any medical advice and instructions you may need.
  • Dentist: If you require an emergency dental intervention, call Dental Emergency Service (Out-of-Hours): +49 (0)1805 05 0518, and the operator will determine what next steps to take and where is the nearest out-of-hours practice.
  • Pharmacy  / 24 hour pharmacy: There are a large number of pharmacies in Hamburg, and all pharmacies digitally display the address of the nearest 24-hour pharmacy in their shop windows. You can get more information about 24-hour pharmacies on this telephone number:  0800 228 2280.
  • Police (Numbers to call, police stations): There are 24 police stations in Hamburg, in addition to the airport police station and a station at the main railway station Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. If someone attacked you, or if you saw a crime being committed, the number to call is: 110

Exchange Money and using credit cards

If you’re travelling from outside the Eurozone, then you will need to know the mid-market exchange rate for your home currency. When you arrive in Hamburg, there are plenty of exchange offices to change your money in, some of them right next to the bus terminal. Besides exchange offices, you can also change your currency in banks and in post offices. However, they are not open 24/7 so later in the day look for an ATM. I also recommend to avoid changing your money around airports and hotels, because the rates are usually poorer. Also, if you withdraw cash directly from an ATM you will most likely receive the best deal in terms of exchange rates. When using ATMs, avoid being charged in your home currency. When a German ATM offers to charge in your home currency, it normally means you’ll be charged more for the conversion. Get charged in the local currency instead, to ensure a better rate.

Parking in Hamburg

Since Hamburg is so well connected by means of public transport, travelling by car is not necessary to reach or explore this city. However, if you prefer to travel by car, there are several things to keep in mind. Fist, parking in residential areas is restricted. If you are wondering where you can leave your car while you are exploring the city centre, good news is that in some areas close to the centre parking is free of charge if you don’t mind a short walk. Metered parking is also available in many streets on a pay-and-display basis. Please be aware that if you leave your car unattended and parked at the wrong place, there is a big chance that your car will get towed away, and a parking fine is probably not something you want to take home as a souvenir from Hamburg. You can find more information regarding the parking in Hamburg here.

FAQ Hamburg

Q: What river is Hamburg on?

A: Hamburg is situated on the river Elbe.

Q: Is Hamburg safe?

A: While most of Hamburg is very safe, there are some areas that are considered to be a bit sketchy, especially if you are travelling solo or with children. This mainly refers to the area around the main train station, so you may not want to spend more time there than necessary. Also, as in all other big cities, pick-pocketing is a danger in popular tourist zones, so it might be advisable to take extra care of your belongings (especially documents and credit cards) in those areas.

Q: Where to stay in Hamburg?

A: If you are an art lover, I recommend staying somewhere near the Altstadt, the historic centre of Hamburg. The main advantage of staying in the city centre is the fact that many attractions, such as Kunsthalle and Elbphilharmonie are within walking distance. If you are on a budget, I recommend staying somewhere in cheap and cheerful St. Pauli.

Q: Where to buy souvenirs in Hamburg?

A: Since it is a large city, there are little shops with various tourist knickknacks on almost every corner. However, if you are looking for something special to remember your stay by, which won’t break your budget, I recommend going to the Fish Market. Not only is it a food market in which you can try various sea dishes, you can also purchase some affordable souvenirs with the traditional marine theme, such as sailor figures and all kinds of braided ropes.

Q: Did hamburgers originate in Hamburg?

A: While we cannot be certain, it is quite possible that the hamburgers we now know and love owe their name to the city of Hamburg. There is an old traditional dish served in Hamburg which is called the “Hamburger Rundstück” (lit. “Hamburgs Round Piece”), and it looks very much like today’s burger. What’s more, it is also served between two buns, together with pickles and onions, just like the burger.

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