Classy shops, model ships and sex shows – whatever your fancy, Germany’s biggest port can cater for it. Jenny Southan finds an appealing combination of high life and low morals in Hamburg.
1. City Hall
Start your tour at the Rathausmarkt, an attractive area with broad shopping streets leading to the main station and the Alsterfleet waterway flowing into the Norderelbe. Dominating the square is the 19th-century Rathaus (City Hall), a lavish Neo-Renaissance structure with a blue-green copper roof. Both the parliament and the senate are based here, and tour guides will tell you with great pride that the Rathaus has more rooms than Buckingham Palace. Around the back is a quaint courtyard with a fountain and outdoor seating where you can enjoy a drink or snack in fine weather. Tours cost €3 and are available hourly Monday 10.15am-3.15pm, Friday 10.15am-1.15pm, Saturday 10.15am-5.15pm, and Sunday 10.15am-4.15pm. Tel +49 40 428 312 406, hamburgische-buergerschaft.de.
Built after the destruction of Hamburg’s great fire of 1842, this elegant arcade, with its white arches, wrought iron balconies, potted geraniums and outdoor terraces, was inspired by the architecture of Venice. Wander over the bridge and you’ll find plenty to tempt you in the upmarket shops and cafés – from the tasty Middle Eastern snacks at Saliba and Godiva’s rich chocolate milkshakes, to the glinting Fabergé and Damiani goods in Crown Juwelen, and classy yachting gear in Gaastra. Visit saliba.de, godivahamburg.de, crown-juwelen.de.
3. International Maritime Museum
Hamburg is, above all else, a port city, and to get a taste of its seafaring past head for the Maritime Museum in the new docklands district of HafenCity (a 15-minute walk or one stop on the blue metro line from Jungfernstieg to Messberg). Opened in July, the museum occupies nine floors of the enormous red-brick Kaispeicher B building, the oldest remaining storehouse in the city (the tenth floor can be hired for events). The owner, Peter Tamm, was granted e30 million to create the ultimate exhibition space for his personal collection of model ships, made of everything from gold and ivory to cloves, bones and amber. The more than 50,000 objects on display also include maritime paintings, naval uniforms, recreations of cruise ship cabins, posters from the 1920s and scale models of warships. Entry is e10. Open Tues-Weds and Fri-Sun 10am-6pm, Thursday 10am-8pm. Tel +49 40 300 92 300, international-maritime-museum.com.
4. Boat trip from Landungsbrucken
If the Maritime Museum gives you a yen to be out on the water, catch the subway to Landungsbrucken, where a walkway leads to a long jetty. In summer, the wharfs are thronged with tourists eating fish sandwiches at outdoor cafés and looking at the boats. One-hour tours of the seaport in English are available from March to November, departing from various landing stages (€12). On board, get a beer and a pretzel, and sit back and take in the sights. Most impressive of these are the close-up views of cranes and vast container ships – Hamburg’s deep-water harbour covers more than 70 sq km, and processes cargo from more than 10,000 companies. Visit abicht.de, hafen-hamburg.de.
5. St Michaelis Church
Back at Landungsbrucken, make your way to St Michaelis Church on Englische Planke, a fine example of baroque architecture. Enter from the side and take the tiny lift up the clock tower, where you will emerge 82 metres above the ground. Above you hang the bells – four of which were melted down in 1917 to make weapons – and a spiral staircase leads up to the highest point. Walking around the circular platform you can see the whole of Hamburg spreading out: to the north, you can spot the television tower; to the east lie the Rathaus and the St Jacobi Church; to the south, the River Elbe separates the centre from the docklands; and to the west sits St Pauli, home to the infamous red-light district. If you’re dining at the nearby Krameramtsstuben am Michel, they can meet you at the church, take you up the tower, and serve you a bottle of sparkling wine. The tower is open daily May-Oct 9am-8pm, and Nov-Apr 10am-6pm, entry €3. Tel +49 40 376 780, st-michaelis.de.
6. Krameramtsstuben am Michel
Cross the street and pass through a little cobbled alleyway (look out for the mural on the wall depicting the history of Hamburg), and you’ll come to the Krameramtsstuben am Michel. This olde-worlde eaterie resides in a row of 18th-century cottages, which were built to house 20 widows of the deceased members of the Krameramt (Guild of Grocers). The traditional fare includes dishes such as sauerkraut soup with curry, fruit and almond cream; fried salmon fillets, spined loach and zander kiwishell decorated with scampi, béarnaise sauce and dill potatoes; and red berries in syrup with vanilla sauce. A good selection of set menus is available. Open midday to 10pm. Tel +49 40 365 800; or visit krameramtsstuben.com
St Pauli has a lot to offer in terms of theatres, nightclubs, restaurants and bars, but it’s best known for the red-light area around the Reeperbahn. To really get a feel for the place, come here at night, when it’s thronging with people and glowing with neon signs and shop fronts selling all manner of strange goods. Here you’ll find everything from live sex shows in Safari (safaricabaret.de) to the pub (Gretel and Alfons, gretel-und-alfons.de) where Paul McCartney ran up a huge bar tab when the Beatles first came to the city in the Sixties, only to return in 1989 to pay it off. The most famous street is Herbertstrasse, but if you are expecting it to be like Amsterdam, think again. While a few prostitutes in black PVC miniskirts loiter outside, overseen by burly men in red-lit windows upstairs, the street is partially barricaded by concrete walls and signs read: “Under 18s and women verboten!” Female visitors ignoring the prohibition should be prepared to be shot at with water pistols and jeered at by the hookers.
The Hamburg Card gives free travel on public transport and discounts on museums and sightseeing tours – prices start at €8 for a one-day pass. For more information visit hamburg-tourism.de.