Hamburg might not actually be the birthplace of the hamburger, but it has plenty of other things to brag about such as its Hanseatic League past, its standing as a city state, Germany's second-largest city, and Europe's second-largest port city (after Rotterdam). It is also the home of the sinful Reeperbahn and the place that gave the Beatles a start.
Travellers taking Hamburg flights will discover a city criss-crossed by canals. It has an astonishing 2,300 bridges, more than Venice and Amsterdam combined. The lake at the centre of the city, the Alster, is made up of two lakes, the Binnenalster (inner Alster) and the Aussenalster (outer Alster) and is a popular spot.
The Altona Fischmarkt, on the banks of the Elbe river, is a must-go spot. It's open early on Sunday mornings - 4am in summertime, 7am in winter - and over by midday. It's not just the place to go for a bit of cod, there's a flea market that sells almost everything.
Aside from the water and greenery, Hamburg has plenty for culture vultures with theatres, music halls, cabarets and museums. The largest art gallery is the Kunsthalle, which has a fine collection of 19th and 20th-century masters.
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Wet and windy, Hamburg is in the region known for its year-round Reizklima — healthy, bracing climate. The city has warm summers with temperatures reaching the 20s (Celsius) in July and August. July is also the wettest month with more than 7cm (3 inches) of rain.Winters are cold with snow and ice and temperatures dropping to about minus 6 in January. Sometimes it stays cold long enough for the Elbe and city lakes to freeze for ice skating. The snowfall in the city tends to be light.
When to fly to Hamburg
Hamburg is busiest with tourists from May to September, after the students have left the city. This is also the time for folk festivals throughout Germany. Book flights to Hamburg early and reserve hotel rooms ahead of time if you're planning to visit the city for a festival.
March to May and October to early November have pleasant weather and fewer tourists. Cheap flights to Hamburg are found during November to March, when fewer visitors are here, lines are shorter, and you can focus on cultural events.
Getting around Hamburg
From Hamburg’s airport you can hop on the S-Bahn (local train) to Central Station (Hauptbahnhof), which runs every ten minutes. Hamburg Bus Lines take visitors downtown and to the suburbs. A taxi will take around 30 minutes to get you downtown. Trains, subways, harbour ferries and buses can take you around central Hamburg easily.
To get around downtown, take the U-Bahn (subway). Take the S-Bahn (trains) to get out to the suburbs. The two services are connected. Buy bus tickets at Automats and railway ticket counters, and you’ll get a great view of the city in return. For unlimited travel, as well as discounted admission to Hamburg attractions, purchase a Hamburg Card.
It’s fairly easy to drive in Hamburg, but rush hour can slow your travel and parking is expensive. Taxis can be found almost anywhere.
Hamburg insider information
- Hamburg’s port is the largest sea port in the country and the second largest in Europe. Industrial, but also attractive, you can easily spend an afternoon wandering round. Don’t miss Rickmer Rickmers, an old sailing ship permanently moored in the port and now a museum. Built in 1896, it has been used as a cargo ship to Hong Kong, and a carrier of war materials and owned by the Germans, Portuguese and British. Today, the ship houses a museum and on-board restaurant. Entrance is just €3.
- If you find you miss the port when you get home (or you want to take a look at it before you get there), there is a webcam available at the official Hamburg Port Website.
- Hamburg is, of course, said to be where the Hamburger originated. The origin of the dish is reputed to come from the city’s trade connections. Arab merchants introduced a raw version of the dish, called kibbeh, which was a mixture of ground lamb and spices. Locals made a few changes, including the crucial cooking of the meat, and the hamburger we know and love was born…
- With more bridges than Venice, Hamburg is a city on the water. Take a canal boat trip to see it from the river and enjoy the commentary of the ship's captains. You can also hire kayaks or row boats to take to the water during the summer months.
- There are lots of museums and activities catering to children. One of the best is the Puppenmuseum, or Doll’s Museum, a short drive from the city centre. The collection was built up over three decades and contains more than 300 dolls and around 60 doll houses.
- Germany’s nightlife is centred around the Reeperbahn area. The red-light district is also the place where the Beatles first began their career, when they spent three months here in 1960. For a tour of Beatles nightclubs, visit the Top Ten Club on the Reeperbahn, then the Kaiserkeller on Grosse Freiheit and the Starclub at number 39.