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Hamburg, Germany

Where is Hamburg?

Hamburg is a city in northern Germany on the banks of the Elbe river. It is the second-largest city in the country with a population of nearly two million people.

It's also part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, which boasts a population of over five million people.

Hamburg is classed as a German city-state and is the second smallest state in the country (only the city-state of Bremen is smaller).

An aerial view of Hamburg city centre
Hamburg city centre

It is the largest port in Germany and its maritime heritage plays a large part in the history of the city. It was a member of the medieval Hanseatic League and a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. The official title of the city is the 'Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg'.

Because it is known as a port, many people think that Hamburg is near the sea. In fact, it is 100 kilometres away from the coast - much further from the North Sea than London is.

In fact, many English will compare the city more to Liverpool than their capital.

They are both significant maritime cities with rich histories of emigration and immigration. Liverpool sits on the Mersey, Hamburg has the Elbe.

Liverpool's waterfront once was and Hamburg's Speicherstadt warehouse district still is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

An aerial view of Hamburg city centre
The Speicherstadt, Hamburg's historic warehouse district

Both cities love football. Liverpool is home to Everton and Liverpool, while Hamburg houses Hamburger SV and FC St. Pauli.

And, of course, both cities were pivotal places in the story of the Beatles. Born and raised in Liverpool, they honed their skills in Hamburg, playing long sessions in the city's red light district clubs.

These days Hamburg is a major hub for media, commercial, logistical, and industrial firms. It is the seat of Germany’s oldest stock exchange and the world’s oldest merchant bank.

So take a look at this Hamburg travel guide and explore what this fascinating city has to offer...

How to get to Hamburg

Nearest airport to Hamburg

Hamburg Airport is the city's international airport located 8.5 kilometres north of the city centre. It is Germany's fifth largest airport and offers flights from various German and other European destinations, as well as a few services to other continents (Dubai, for example).

The airport is on the local regional rail network and can be reached by the S1 line from Hamburg city centre.

Train station in Hamburg

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof is the city's central railway station. It is the main interchange for Intercity services, regional trains and the underground railway system. Hamburg is served by frequent national and international rail services as it is one of the most important railway connections in northern Germany.

However Hamburg has a number of other mainline railway stations within the city borders. Probably the best known is Hamburg Altona, situated to the west of downtown Hamburg and the point at which a number of Intercity long-distance services terminate.

The others are: Hamburg Dammtor, near the Alster lake; Hamburg Harburg, to the south of the Elbe in Lower Saxony; and Hamburg Bergedorf, to the east of downtown Hamburg.

Bus station in Hamburg

Hamburg is also served by numerous long-distance bus operators such as FlixBus, BlaBlaBus, and Eurolines, which connect Hamburg to German and other European destinations. Hamburg's central bus station, ZOB Hamburg, is located near the Hauptbahnhof, making it convenient for travellers to transfer to other modes of public transport upon arrival.

Driving to Hamburg

Hamburg is connected to the following roads on the German motorway system:

  • the A1 runs from the ferry crossing to Denmark past Lübeck to Hamburg and then on to Bremen
  • the A7 runs from the Danish border near Flensburg down to Hamburg and continues to Hannover
  • the A24 connects Hamburg with Berlin

Where to stay in Hamburg

Hamburg neighbourhoods

Hamburg offers a diverse range of neighbourhoods, each with its own unique charm and character:

The Altstadt ("Old Town") is the heart of Hamburg and the perfect starting point for exploring the city's historic sites, shopping centres, and cultural venues. The bustling downtown area is home to the impressive Rathaus ("Town Hall"), St Michael's Church, and the picturesque canals that weave their way through this lively district.

HafenCity is the newest district of Hamburg, where the old docks are being redeveloped and some new hotels and apartments have been built. It is relatively close to the centre and often has attractive views of the river Elbe, although there is little atmosphere in the evenings (go to nearby Speicherstadt) and still plenty of building work taking place.

St Pauli is sometimes described as a 'colourful' district. It's actually better known as the home of the Reeperbahn, a red-light area of bars, clubs, and theatres. Not a neighbourhood for those seeking a quiet break, although the accommodation closer to the green areas at the eastern end of St Pauli is likely to be less 'lively' in the evening.

Sternschanze or the Schanzenviertel, just to the north of St Pauli, has something of a hipster vibe with its trendy cafes, cool boutiques, and graffiti-decorated streets. Stay here for a youthful, energetic feel.

St Georg includes the area to the north of the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. Like many districts close to city train stations, the immediate surroundings are not particularly inviting, although there are quite a number of hotels in this area. It is obviously convenient for bus and train connections and has a multicultural selection of restaurants.

Outer Alster covers the peaceful and affluent neighbourhoods that border the Alster Lake. This area has lovely parks, waterfront promenades, and luxurious residential properties. As you might imagine, accommodation prices here are not the lowest in Hamburg.

Hamburg accommodation map

If you know when you are planning to go but haven't decided on accommodation, then use the map below to get an idea of which properties are available and to compare prices during the period you wish to travel.

Enter your proposed dates and use the '+' to zoom in on a location and reveal more properties. Click on the price above a property to see more information.

(Please note that this selection will also include some guesthouses, pensions and self-catering apartments for those who are interested in that form of accommodation!)

Check Hamburg accommodation availability

Alternatively, if you would like a list of properties available on your proposed dates of travel, use the search box below to find accommodation:

Getting around Hamburg

Hamburg offers a variety of transportation options to help you explore the city. The public transport network consists of buses, underground (U-Bahn) and suburban (S-Bahn) trains, making it simple to reach any destination within the city.

The Hamburg Card is a great choice for those looking to save time and money. This card provides unlimited travel on public transportion, as well as discounted entry to numerous attractions, including museums and guided tours.

Those looking to save a few Euros can pick up a day ticket from the Hamburg public transport authority (HVV). The prices are dependent on how many zones you want to include but generally slightly cheaper than the Hamburg Card.

The U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains are quick, reliable and easy to navigate. There is no real difference between the two as the U ('underground') trains are often above ground and the 'S' regional trains are sometimes underground.

Both can take you to the main points of interest and run frequently, so you shouldn't have to wait long for a connection.

Buses are another convenient option for getting around Hamburg. They offer extensive coverage across the city, and some routes even run 24 hours a day. Bus stops are clearly marked with route maps and timetables, ensuring you know exactly where you're going.

The ferry stop at the Fischmarkt in Hamburg
The ferry stop at the Fischmarkt in Hamburg

If you're keen on seeing more of Hamburg's waterways, ferries are a unique and enjoyable way to travel. They are also part of the public transportation network, so you can use your Hamburg Card to ride them. Hop on a ferry to see the famous harbour, pass the Elbphilharmonie concert hall or simply relax and enjoy the view.

There are plenty of bike rental stations around the city for those who prefer exploring Hamburg on two wheels. Cycling is an excellent way to experience Hamburg's charm up close and personal, particularly in areas with dedicated bike paths.

Hamburg history in brief

Hamburg was founded in the 9th century as a missionary settlement, 'Hammaburg', to convert pagans to Christianity. It wasn't until the 12th century that Hamburg became an important port city, when Emperor Frederick I granted it a charter for duty-free trade.

Hamburg became a founding member of the Hanseatic League, an alliance of merchant guilds and market towns across northern Europe. The city flourished as a major hub for transatlantic trade during the League's heyday (14th-15th centuries). It acquired immense wealth, influence and a growing population, all of which contributed to its development into a booming commercial centre.

Historic houses backing onto the Nikolaifleet in Hamburg
Historic houses backing onto the Nikolaifleet in Hamburg

Hamburg further established its independence in the 16th century by embracing the Protestant Reformation. With the opening of its 'free port' in the 19th century, the city underwent rapid industrial development, expanding its trading influence worldwide.

The two world wars had a major impact on Hamburg, causing considerable damage to the city. However, Hamburg recovered quickly, especially after World War II, capitalising on its strategic location and regaining its status as a major port and trading centre.

Today, Hamburg's Hanseatic heritage is still evident in the cityscape - Gothic brick architecture and winding canals pay homage to a trading past. Meanwhile, modern infrastructure underpins its enduring status as Germany's 'Gateway to the World', reinforcing Hamburg's continued relevance on the global trading stage.

Hamburg's historic attractions

Much of the Hamburg's history is connected to its maritime heritage.

Its renowned warehouse district on the Elbe river, the Speicherstadt, has been chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This complex maze of canals and warehouses along the waterfront recalls Hamburg’s trading heyday and the nearby International Maritime Museum goes into great detail about the seafaring history.

The 'Wasserschloss' in the Hamburg Speicherstadt
The 'Wasserschloss' in the Hamburg Speicherstadt

Many of the most historic buildings in Hamburg were destroyed in the terrible bombing raids by British and American aircraft in World War II.

The spire of St Nicholas Church ('Nikolaikirche') - once the tallest building in the world - stands in the centre of the city as a memorial to the inhabitants that died and the destruction of the city.

Probably the most famous Hamburg church, however, is likely to be St Michael's Church ('St Michaelis'). Familiarly known as 'Michel', this Lutheran church offers a panoramic view of central Hamburg and the outer Alster lake.

The neo-Renaissance Hamburg town hall building ('Rathaus') was built in the late 19th century as a statement of the city's resilience following a devastating fire. Topped by a majestic clock tower and decorated with intricate stone carvings, the Rathaus houses over 600 rooms - more than Buckingham Palace.

👉 Discover more about the sights of Hamburg

Hamburg cuisine

Hamburg, Germany's second-largest city, boasts a rich food scene influenced by its harbour location and international connections.

Seafood is obviously a staple in Hamburg, thanks to its coastal position and historic ties to the fishing industry. Visitors can indulge in fresh, high-quality fish dishes at numerous restaurants and markets throughout the city.

One of the most famous destinations for seafood enthusiasts is the Hamburg Fish Market, held on a Sunday morning and offering a lively atmosphere and a chance to sample fresh produce.

Hamburg is also known for its hearty local dishes. Some iconic selections include Franzbrötchen (cinnamon buns, which were allegedly created for French occupying troops in the Napoleonic era) and Labskaus (a potato, beetroot, corned beef, and egg dish, a version of which is known as 'scouse' in Liverpool).

👉 Discover more about fish dishes and fish restaurants in Hamburg

Shopping in Hamburg

Hamburg offers plenty of shopping opportunities for visitors. The city centre features many well-known international brands and department stores, especially along the Mönckebergstraße, one of the main shopping streets. The elegant Neuer Wall is known for its luxury boutiques from top designers.

For a more unique Hamburg shopping experience, check out some of the city's historic arcades and passages like the Alsterarkaden or Hamburger Hof. These gallerias house smaller shops in interesting architectural settings.

The Alster arcades in Hamburg city centre
The Alster arcades in Hamburg city centre

Neighborhoods like Sternschanze and Karolinenviertel are great for indie fashion, vintage finds, artisan goods and quirky gifts. Hamburg's Schanzenviertel district in particular has become a trendy area full of young designers and unique stores.

Several large malls like Hamburger Meile and Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum provide options for those wanting a classic modern shopping center. Traditional markets such as the Isemarkt and Fischmarkt are perfect for browsing local wares and fresh foods.

Guided tours in Hamburg

Take one of the organised guided tours around Hamburg
Take a boat tour around the harbour or explore the history of the city with one of the local tour guides.

Seasonal events in Hamburg

Hamburger DOM

The Hamburger DOM is a festival and fair which takes place three times a year. It is the largest traditional 'folk festival' in northern Germany, regularly attracting well over 10 million visitors to the Heiligengeistfeld near the FC St Pauli stadium each year.

The word 'Dom' means cathedral in German and the original fair, which dates back to the 11th century, used to be located next to the Hamburg cathedral. This was demolished at the start of the 19th century and the fairs moved to the current location in the 1890s.

Hamburger Dom 2023-24

  • Winterdom 2023: 10 November to 10 December 2023
  • Frühlingsdom 2024: 22 March to 21 April 2024
  • Sommerdom 2024: 26 July to 25 August 2024

Hamburg Hafengeburtstag

The Hafengeburtstag in the Hamburg harbour
The Hafengeburtstag in the Hamburg harbour

Every May, Hamburg celebrates the birthday of its harbour, a centuries-old tradition and one of the world's largest harbour festivals. The event includes a huge maritime parade, fireworks and tours of historic ships, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Hafengeburtstag Hamburg 2024 Dates

The dates for the Hafengeburtstag 2024 are 09 to 12 May 2024.

Hamburg Christmas Markets

Like every large and small city and town in Germany, Hamburg celebrates the Advent period with Christmas markets. Hamburg has quite a number of popular markets from the more traditional ones in the city centre to the more extravagant version of Santa Pauli in the Reeperbahn district.

👉 Discover more about Christmas markets in Hamburg

Day trips from Hamburg

The extensive public transport network around Hamburg makes it easy for visitors to explore a little further afield while staying in the city.

The reasonably-priced rail services operated by the local transit authority HVV and the Deutsche Bahn regional train tickets mean that other historic Hanseatic League cities such as Bremen and Lübeck make a convenient day trip from Hamburg.

👉 Discover more about day trips on the train from Hamburg