Hamburg is the second biggest city in Germany. The city is interesting. So if you are thinking about spending two or more days in Hamburg, I would certainly recommend it. It has a different vibe than Berlin but that might not be necessarily wrong. Hamburg seems to have a much more free spirit than Berlin. Or at least in my opinion. Unlike Berlin that is full of history, Hamburg is full of industry and navy attractions. But not just them. It is also a lot about culture and nightlife.
Two days in Hamburg
A lot of people would come to Hamburg because it has a big airport and spends here the time between flights. So let’s answer the popular question. Aren’t two days overkill? The answer would be no. You can probably spend even 4 days in Hamburg and won’t be bored. But for starters, just to explore the city, two days in Hamburg are quite enough.
Canals and warehouse district
I didn’t know that before, but the center of Hamburg is just filled up with small canals that go around the warehouse district. And these buildings are quite old, so you will get the atmosphere of an old industrial town. There are of course boat cruises, so if you go to the smaller boats, you will get to see even the canals and possible warehouse district from the boat as well as the harbor and piers that are very favorable as well.
All of the warehouses were massive during the second World war. There are still things happening up till now. A lot of them work as offices or still as warehouses but this time not warehouses with weapons.
Yep, here we go again. The boats. But here is a good reason why to visit them, since Hamburg has one of the biggest harbors in Europe. You get to see 5 floors full of boats and everything that even remotely belong to sailing.
You don’t need to be a navy lover to like this place, for example, I spend a good time staring at the boat models and the paintings, while my boyfriend was looking at some technical things. Besides this, you can try to drive a boat here, or get to know more about clothing and pirates.
The museum overall is very interactive and will get you the full context about what is it like to live on the sea. It is also something that is recommended to visit with children. The museum is open every day from 10 am till 6 pm and it cost 13 euros to get in.
New opera house and harbor
The Elbphilmarmonie is one of the musts when it comes to things to do in Hamburg. This massive building that stands out in the harbor area, is a concert hall. Even though it looks fancy, you can get in for just 15 euro during the day, to see all the halls inside. If you are interested in some sort of music show, you will need to book it quite ahead. Or at least if we are talking about famous names. You can also get a ticket to some alternative show a day before for about 40 euros.
If you choose guided tours you will have to choose between whether you will want to see the halls inside or higher levels of the building. I believe you can combine those two but it might be more expensive. Either way, there is a lot of guided tours and everyone has something to choose from.
When finishing the tour through the new opera, go and have a look around the harbor (or again, go for a cruise, I cannot recommend it more). There is quite a lot of other interesting buildings, such as the main building of Green Peace or the Portuguese neighborhood close by. You also get to see their other music halls. Some of them are quite from far saying Marry Poppins and Lion King. They don’t have any other shoes than these two. And yes, they are quite touristy, but if you like these musicals, why not. It is quite an affordable music number, you get to see there.
Even though to me it sounds like the most fun places were located around the harbor, the city center is majestic and should be one of the things to do in Hamburg.
Here it is enough maybe just to walk. Go around the city hall, and the cathedrals and churches. Not all the churches are open also because of the second world war, they were never fully repaired and some of them are beyond repair.
Either way, you get to see a lot in just an hour of walk around. There is also a lake that has one of the most beautiful views of the city. And you get to know a lot about the city, without necessarily hiring a guide. For example, you get to see that some of the buildings are still a bit more damaged. And yes, it is from bombing from the second world war. During summer, there is a lot of pubs with outside seating areas which is nice to just sit and observe there, while drinking German beer.
Trains, mini-cities, world wonders, you say it, it is there. Literally anything. Just in small measures. Very often moving and reacting to different things. Miniature Wonderland is definitely one of the top things to do in Hamburg. And you can spend there quite a long time. The museum is also expanding quite rapidly. And perhaps because of it, it is one of the very few places that you can visit from 7 in the morning till 11 in the evening. But an important thing here: book a ticket! We went there at the beginning of the March, so kinda offseason, and we had to reserve a visit for another day because it was so full. So before you go there, reserve a ticket online. It takes a few minutes and better be safe than sorry.
Extra tip for families: Hamburg zoo
It is a zoo and aquarium. But it is something worth visiting, especially if you have little kids. In the aquarium part (where you don’t need a jacket) are even little tropical monkeys, and some lizards. You can stare at a massive big aquarium for a long time which is quite calming and not just for kids.
The zoo is really big with a lot of animals. And it is also made so you are most likely to see the animals, not just find out that they have a quiet time (well, they can, which is also very important, but at the time when we were there, everyone was outside). So check the feeding time, because that is quite a spectacular show even for grownups.
Nightlife in Hamburg
Reeperbahn and St Pauli
It simply cannot get unmentioned. In case you have never heard about this street, it is about half kilometer place full of strip clubs, brothels, and weird party places. Why go there? It is so bizarre, that most people have to see it in their own eyes. You get to see red lights everywhere, people will try to lure you in (even girls, I was told, that they have male strippers too. Equality, you know!). Brothels and strip clubs might not sound like a place for everyone but you can find here also very fun places with great karaoke or queer bars with live music and those are just worth it. Somewhere between these clubs, you get to find Burger King or even McDonalds. You know, in case you want a really happy meal.
Even though it might sound bizarre, this place is actually like this for a very long time and it has a good reason. Hamburg has one of the biggest harbors in Europe with a lot of navy men coming in and out. This place is very close to it and sailors came here to well, “not to feel so lonely” would be a decent way to put it.
Is Hamburg safe?
This place was and to some extent, it still probably is, the main street of Hamburg underground and local crime. And up till now, you can still get guided tours with this topic. It might sound horrible but actually, if you are just a tourist going through, nothing will happen. Also, there isn’t anything dangerous happening if you decide to visit some of the local strip bars or party places.
There are police cars on every corner and everything is very highly monitored by authorities. Also, this business is legal in Germany, so by visiting bars on Reeperbahn, you are not doing anything illegal. There is only one thing that I would recommend and that would be to definitely watch your drink if you are coming here as a solo female traveler. Hamburg is safe but I do believe that in places like this can things get easily out of your hand.
You can also get a commented tour here, where your guide will tell you everything about this street and yes, it is quite fascinating and you will definitely see the city through different eyes.
When to go?
For Christmas markets, definitely at the end of November/beginning of December. Christmas markets mainly on the square with the city hall but you can also find them here on the main streets and around the center.
For nice warm evenings around the harbor, definitely from May till September. May and September itself will be less crowded since people will get their vacations and will get out of the city. Unfortunately at the same time, cultural events like concerts in Elbephilharmonie and some other concert halls might be closed because it is the end of the culture season. However, you will still have here a nice atmosphere around the harbor and possibly some street live music as well.
All the other months are sort of offseason, but you can also expect not so nice weather. It is a bit of risk to come here both in spring and in autumn because the weather might be very rainy but at the same time, it might get very nice. You’ll never know in these months.
What to pack for two days in Hamburg?
It very much depends on when are you coming. But either way. For colder months don’t forget to bring your rain jacket or winter jacket. They will get handy especially around the harbor when it can get very windy and cold.
Even if you are coming in the summer, take something warmer for the evenings but at the same time, shorts or skirts would be appropriate for warm weather.
For the party, the occasion don’t forget to get some fancy clothes. And if you will be heading to the Philharmonie or other concert halls it would be a good idea to bring some evening dresses with you.
If you are planning to spend two days in Hamburg in the summer, you should also take a bug spray with you. There is a lot of mosquitos around the harbor.
How to get to Hamburg?
Hamburg has one of the biggest airports in Germany and there is a lot of connections to the rest of the world. You can also get very easily from the airport to the city center. It is enough if you jump on train S1, which goes every 10 minutes right to the center or also to the main station if you need to catch the train.
If you are in Berlin and want to continue your German journey, it takes only 2 hours by fast train to Hamburg. However, you can also get here from other places like Denmark, the Czech Republic or the Netherlands. All of them have a direct train several times a day. Besides the train station is right in the city center, so it is easy to get to the hotels here.
The bus would be probably the cheapest option on how to get to Hamburg. You can book Flixbus or other bus connections just for a couple of euros. It will still take only about 3 hours from Berlin. The disadvantage of this kind of travel is only the fact, that busses can be a bit slowlier than the trains and at the same time, they will not have the station in the city center, so you will have to pay extra money for subway.
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