Germany is not a country that I’ve ever spent much time in. I’d only ever briefly passed through Frankfurt airport and spent a night in Lubeck. So when I was invited to attend the Elbjazz festival in Hamburg with Hamburg on Tour I had to do some asking around to find out a bit more about the city. What I heard was that Hamburg is a young, alternative city often referred to as “the new Berlin”. I was afraid of the whole vegetarian situ’ due to Germany’s world renowned love of sausage and meat in general. However, turns out I had nothing to worry about. And honestly, that’s all I had time to think about before I was on the plane! Here’s everything I discovered during my unexpectedly extended (I’ll explain later) trip to Hamburg.
Hamburg Festivals and Everything Else
Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. It’s a port city and is home to Europe’s second largest port. Which makes for some extremely interesting local history and heritage. The river Elbe runs through the city and connects it to the North Sea. The weather in Hamburg was incredibly hot when I was there in June, so much so that there were large thunder and lightning storms due to the heat and humidity. But generally it’s a bit more moderate. The city is sprawling and far too vast to explore everything by foot. However, it is a very pedestrian and cyclist friendly city and the public transport is incredibly easy to navigate. I was surprised to find out that The Beatles spent a couple of years performing in Hamburg in the 60s before they went on to become international super stars! Oh, fun fact, the people of Hamburg are referred to as Hamburgers, which is lots of fun to say.
** IMPORTANT** Pretty much everything in Hamburg shuts down on a Sunday, even the main shopping street and restaurants. So be careful, it can be a really bad day to arrive in the city. There are 4 Sundays a year called “Shopping Sundays” where the shops open regular hours, you can find them HERE. If you’re stuck on a Sunday apparently a couple of shops open in the central station but that’s pretty much it. When I first discovered this I was absolutely blown away. I’m from tiny Dublin, what could be called a Catholic city, and not even we shut down on a Sunday. I bet the retail employees love it though.
Elbjazz Festival Hamburg
In June I was lucky enough to attend the Elbjazz festival. I watched a performance in the ElbPhilharmonie, which is such a STUNNING building with incredible views of the port. And once the thunderstorms had passed I went to the main festival event in the harbour area which felt like a full on traditional festival with wrist bands and beer stands and discoballs hanging from cranes (OK, maybe that part isn’t so traditional). There were three different stages with different varieties of jazz bands playing. The vibe was fun and friendly with people of all ages in the crowd. There were no hammered men leering at anyone. There were no fights. It was good vibes only and I had a great time. Every kind of jazz imagineable was represented at the festival with over 50 different acts. One of the most interesting venues at the Elbjazz festival is the MS Stubnitz, an old deep-sea fishing vessel. Next year the event is on 31st May – 1st of June 2019. Two-day tickets are available for €99.
You can read more about the festival here.
Things to do in Hamburg
1 – Try a Hamburg Festival
There are SO many festivals going on in Hamburg throughout the year. While I was there during the Elbjazz festival there was also a street art festival on. There’s the Hamburg Film Festival, the Reeperbahn Festival, WutzRock and so many more! There’s even an Irish Folk Festival. Hamburg is basically THE place to be if you like the festival vibe. For the full list of festivals check here.
2 – Coffee Tasting
Ok, so coffee tasting is one thing, but coffee tasting in a floating coffee roasterie docked on an island is another experience entirely. This is what we experienced with Public Coffee Roasters during one of their tasting sessions. I never knew that there was so much to think about and look for in coffee. And I LOVE iced coffee, I just had no knowledge about it. So we got to taste coffee from various places around the world (Colombia, Kenya etc) at different temperatures and remark on their taste, texture, aroma and more. Consistency was key. Public Coffee Roasters also have coffee shops in a few locations in Hamburg, so if you want to skip the tasting and just get your favourite coffee then make sure to pop in for your caffeine fix.
3 – Boat Trip
It makes sense to take a boat trip in such a watery city. The water is a great place to get an incredible view of the city. The Elbphilharmonie in particular looks a lot better from a boat. Plus Hamburg is huge and a boat tour enables you to see a lot of the city in a relatively short period of time. Some boat tours only run English-speaking tours a few times per day so make sure to check in advance so that you’re not left completely confused. If you have a bus/metro ticket or Hamburg transport card then you can use that to hop on the more local Hamburg Ferries. They are used by locals for public transport as an alternative to the bus/metro. There are 7 different lines so you can choose which areas of the city you’d prefer to see. Ferries leave every few minutes from Landungsbrucken.
4 – Explore St.Pauli
I had a day to myself during my trip to Hamburg and I spent the morning exploring this charmingly alternative neighbourhood. There’s street art everywhere. No doorway has been left untagged. There’s vintage shops and flea markets and organic cafés. I could have spent hours wandering around St.Pauli. They have their own football team with the skull and crossbones symbol and you’ll see flags, posters and stickers everywhere. St.Pauli also contains the infamous Reeperbahn, where the Beatles made their start and where you’ll find the red light district. It’s a lively area full of bright lights and partying that’s well worth a visit in the evening.
5 – Go Shopping
The main shopping street of Hamburg, Mönckebergstrasse, runs from the town hall to central station. There’s something for everyone there from chain stores to independent boutiques. When I was there I stumbled upon some sort of protest, but like, a happy protest with lots of love and music. No idea what it was about because I can’t read or understand German. I also got myself some VERY cute runners, in case you were wondering. If it’s luxury you’re looking for then head to Neuer Wall where you’ll find brands like Prada and Mulberry.
6- Go to the Beach
Never thought of Hamburg as a beach destination? Yeah me neither. But the Elbstrand beach is just as lovely as any Mediterranean beach I’ve seen and it does get quite warm in the summer in Hamburg. There are some cute little coffee shops and kiosks dotted along the beach as well and it’s a lovely place to have a coffee in the morning.
7 – Visit Blankenese
When I asked Twitter what I should do with my extra day in Hamburg several people recommended visiting Blankenese. SO, I had to see what was so wonderful about it. Blankenese is a beautiful pastel neighbourhood full of roaming roses climbing houses, mirroring the way the neighbourhood seems to climb the surrounding hills. There’s even a small beach at the end with a cute little restaurant at the bottom. The neighbourhood is a labyrinth of winding stairs and alleyways and definitely not for anyone who is mobility impaired. But Blankenese sure is a pleasure to get lost in.
8 – Walking Tour
If you’re on a strict budget then make sure to try the free walking tour of Hamburg starting at Town Hall Square. It ticks off the big boxes with stops at places like St.Nikolai Church, Hafen City and more. The guides are full of knowledge and never pressure you to tip, you only pay what you can afford and feel is justified. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the tour lasts 2.5 hours.
You can find out more here.
9 – Chocolate Museum
I mean, if I was ever going to love a museum it would be a CHOCOLATE museum. The Chocoversum is an extremely interactive museum so you won’t be bored. You get to make your own chocolate bar and taste chocolate too! From cacao bean to finished product, you get to follow the whole journey. And, of course, there’s a shop full of chocolate for you to choose your favourite to bring home. Entrance is €12.00 for adults. It’s the perfect place for chocoholics and pretty much anyone with a sweet tooth.
You can read more about chocolate paradise here.
10 – Miniatur Wunderland
Like tiny things? Like feeling like a giant?? Well, at Miniatur Wunderland you’ll find tiny Venice, tiny airplanes, tiny ferries, tiny U.S.A, tiny Scandinavia and more. Things move and light up and there are lots of hidden fun little secrets to discover in the tiny streets of this miniature world. Admission costs €15.00 per adult.
You can read more about Miniatur Wunderland here.
Where I Stayed in Hamburg
During my stay in Hamburg I stayed in a boutique budget hotel, the Motel One Hamburg Am Michel. It’s in a great location, just a couple of minutes from St.Michaelis Evangelical Church. Breakfast is included, but the hotel gets VERY busy so I recommend hitting the breakfast buffet early to avoid crowds. The hotel design is modern and sleek. I particularly liked the outdoor seating area at the front of the hotel. The hotel is located within easy walking distance of the Reeperbahn. It took me about 20 minutes to walk from the City Hall to the hotel. You can also easily walk to the waterfront district to the Elbphilharmonie in around 20 minutes depending on your fitness level. There’s a bar in reception where you can order drinks and some snacks. There is no restaurant in the hotel but there are plenty nearby. The bed is incredibly comfortable. However, I will say my room in the main building was absolutely roasting. I eventually moved to a room in the second building across the little bridge and it was MUCH better. So do check at reception if you can move to the other building if you room is too warm.
Rooms at Motel One Hamburg Am Michel start from €79 per night.
How to Get to Hamburg
You can fly direct with Ryanair and Aer Lingus from Dublin to Hamburg airport. You can also drive to Hamburg if you feel like having a road trip. I once got the ferry from the UK to the Netherlands with my boyfriend and drove to Copenhagen in Denmark. We passed Hamburg on the way, so it’s an option for those who prefer the scenic route. If you do choose to fly in, it’s very easy to get from the airport to the city centre via the metro. Personally I had a mildly unfortunate experience with Hamburg airport. It basically just completely shut down when I was there and all flights were cancelled for two days so I had to reschedule my flight home for 2 days later. It was something to do with a technical fault. Honestly, I didn’t mind one bit! Hamburg is such a huge city that I needed more time to explore. I could have easily spent a full week there. BUT I’m sure that won’t happen to you so don’t you worry about that. And even if it does, Hamburg is a cool city to be stuck in.
Hamburg on Tour in LONDON
Ok, HERE’S THE EXCITING PART!!!! On September 1st to 2nd Hamburg on Tour will be bringing ‘Hamburg festival’ to LONDON. It will all be kicking off in the The Boiler House in Truman Brewery, Brick Lane in Shoreditch. There’ll be food (INCLUDING CHOCOLATE FROM CHOCOVERSUM), music, drinks and more. And admission is totally FREE. You don’t even need to register. Plus, and this is the best bit, myself and a bunch of other excellent travel bloggers will be there to party along with you!! SO, if you’re in London on September 1-2 then come by and say hello. I’d love to see you there 🙂 Let me know if you can come!
You can read all the full details on the Hamburg on Tour website – HERE!