Things to Do in Hamburg
Trade has always been Hamburg’s raison d’etre, and today the Port of Hamburg is the largest in Germany.
The sprawling port takes up more than an eighth of the city, with around 12,000 ships a year delivering and picking up goods.
A river cruise is a good way to get an idea of the port’s size and activity, or step aboard the Rickmer Rickmers windjammer to learn more about Hamburg’s rich maritime history. The nearby Cap San Diego is another museum ship well worth stepping aboard.
The Hamburg Dungeon takes visitors on a 90-minute journey through 600 years of Hamburg's dark history. The dungeon has different areas with various themes based on real events in Hamburg's history, as well as two rides and 11 different shows performed in both German and English by live, professional actors. A visit to the Dungeon is a fun yet scary way to experience the things that were left out of the history books.
Gripping storytelling, special effects and rides bring the history to life in a way that will make you laugh and scream. Start your tour with the Elevator of Horror before exploring the Library of Dark History where shadowy figures tell the stories in the books. Experience the Hamburg fire of 1842, try to find your way out of the Labyrinth of the Lost, and see if you can survive the torture chamber. Encounter pirates and ghosts along the way, plus much more terror.
Hamburg’s alter ego is raffish St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn, forever synonymous with strip clubs and the Beatles.
The city’s red light district, the Reeperbahn is a pedestrianised street lined with clubs, brothels and sex shops. Its proximity to the port has attracted sailors for centuries, while more recently the Beatles cut their musical teeth playing the seedy clubs here back in the early 1960s.
The scene is still in-your-face but a little less brutal these days, and up-market restaurants and theaters hosting shows like Cats and the Lion King rub shoulders with the less family-friendly forms of entertainment.
The St. Nikolai Church in Hamburg was mostly destroyed during air raids in World War II. Approximately 35,000 people were killed during the air raids. The ruins of the church now serve as a memorial to the victims of the war. The church's tower was used to help allied pilots navigate, and it still stands today, almost undamaged.
The memorial at St. Nikolai Church includes a permanent exhibition in the crypt of the ruins that depicts the causes and consequences of the aerial war in Europe. Black and white photos show images of the war and the destruction that came with it. The memorial also serves as a cultural meeting place. Concerts, films, and lectures link events, social issues, and conflicts of the present. Events deal with the German culture of remembrance and lectures on current international politics. Germany's largest glockenspiel was installed here in 1993, and it is sounded at concerts to remember the victims of the war.
Deichstrasse is the oldest street in Hamburg, Germany dating back to the 14th century. It is located near Speicherstadt, which is the old warehouse district near the harbor. The Great Fire of 1842 destroyed many of the original 14th century buildings on this street, so most of what you see today are restored 17th-19th century buildings. The tall, narrow, half-timbered houses here represent typical architecture from this region a few hundred years ago.
The harbor and the warehouse district played a big part in shaping Hamburg as a city, and a visit here will give you a glimpse at the city's history. Along this road, you will find many restaurants and pubs. The Johannes Brahms Museum is located at number 39, which is the composer's former home. The Telemann Museum, a great place for music lovers, is also located in this area. Around the corner at Peterstrasse 35-39 is a replica of the Beylingstift complex, a baroque building built in 1751.
The Old Elbe Tunnel, or Alter Elbtunnel in German, runs under the Elbe River from St. Pauli Landing Stages to Steinwerder in the Port of Hamburg. During the 1870s the port area on the south side of the river started to grow, and the number of workers who needed to cross the river twice a day to get to and from work increased dramatically. The ferries that transported people back and forth couldn't keep up with the increase, and they couldn't run in bad weather, so this became a problem. The tunnel was finally approved in 1901, and construction was completed in September 1911. The tunnel has continually been modernized over the decades.Vehicles are carried 24 meters (79 feet) down to the tiled tunnels by vehicle lifts. Today many people still use the tunnel to get to work, however it has also been a protected monument since 2003.
The Elbphilharmonie, or Elbe Philharmonic, is a concert hall located in the Hafen City district of Hamburg. It has been under construction since 2007, and the expecting opening date is in January 2017. The concert hall is being built on top of an old warehouse building, and once it is completed, it will be the tallest inhabited building in the city standing at 360 feet. The eastern side of the building will be a Westin hotel, the lower floors will contain restaurants and a wellness and conference center for the hotel, and the upper floors will have residential apartments.
The Elbphilharmonie will be home to classical music as well as music from the 21st century. There will be a small hall with 550 seats for chamber music, jazz concerts, and banquets, as well as the Great Hall with 2,150 seats for larger performances. The building's integration with the warehouse combines the modern philharmonic building with Hamburg's history as an important port city.
Speicherstadt is Hamburg's warehouse district and the largest warehouse complex in the world. Hamburg's harbor has been an important influence on the city for centuries, and in the late 1800s, the warehouse complex was built. Since so many goods were shipped in and out of Hamburg, it made sense to have someplace to store them. Shortly after, the area received free port status so that goods could be transferred without paying customs. The area consists of several blocks interspersed with canals that lead to the port itself.
Today several of the buildings now hold museums and other tourist attractions. Spicy's Spice Museum tells of the history of the spice trade and Hamburg's part in it. The Hamburg Dungeon shows 600 years of Hamburg's dark history through scary yet funny performances and rides. Miniatur Wunderland has the largest model railway in the world, which runs through several miniature versions of cities, countries, and even a fully functioning airport.
Hamburg's town hall building, or Rathaus in German, was built from 1886 to 1887, and it is located in the Altstadt, or Old Town, in central Hamburg. It was built to replace the old town hall building that burned down in 1842. It was built with an ornate neo-renaissance facade and has 647 rooms. The front of the building features an imposing clock tower and 20 statues of emperors, and the entrance hall is supported by 16 sandstone pillars painted with 68 portraits of important Hamburg citizens. The building houses the city's senate and parliament.
Guided tours of the state rooms are available daily in both English and German, and last 40 minutes. Visitors will get the chance to see tapestries, glittering chandeliers, detailed ceilings, and grand portraits while learning about the history of the building and its importance to Hamburg. Rathausmarkt, Hamburg's main market square, is in front of the town hall building.
More Things to Do in Hamburg
HafenCity, which translates to Port City, is an area in central Hamburg that used to be part of the free port. With the decrease in the importance of the free port, the area dominated by port activities has reduced in size. The city of Hamburg is now developing this area for mixed residential and commercial use. Many of the warehouses are being replaced by apartment buildings, office buildings, hotels and shops, and it is estimated that there will be approximately 6,000 new homes and 45,000 new jobs when it is all completed. At 388 acres, HafenCity is the largest inner city development project in Europe.
Aside from the commercial and residential buildings already finished and in use, the International Maritime Museum of Hamburg has moved into HafenCity. Another big project currently underway is the construction of the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, the home of Hamburg's philharmonic orchestra.
The baroque Protestant Church of St. Michaelis - or Michaeliskirche - is a Hamburg landmark. Its famous clock tower soaring above the city roofs has been a beacon for sailors since the 1680s.
The copper dome and gold clock of St. Michaelis’ 132-meter (433-foot) tower rises above a network of tiny alleys known as the Krameramtswohnungen, lined with half-timbered almshouses from the 17th century.
Take a guided tour of the tower for views over the port of Hamburg from the observation platform, and visit the crypt for a historic tour.
The city of Hamburg played a big part in Beatles history. The famous band made it big in Hamburg and spent their early days playing at a variety of clubs in Hamburg's St. Pauli neighborhood. In 2001 a radio program manager proposed the idea of having a square to honor the band's importance in Hamburg's history. Beatles Platz was finally finished in 2008.
The square has five metal silhouette statues to represent each musician who was at one point a member of the band: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, Ringo Starr, and Pete Best. The drummer statue represents both Ringo Starr and Pete Best, who was the drummer before Ringo. Visitors often stand in the life-sized silhouettes and pretend they are part of the band. The square is actually circular with a 95-foot diameter and was paved black to look like a vinyl record. There are also steel bands with the names of around 70 Beatles songs engraved on them.
Hamburg is famous for its Beatles history. It's the city where the band got their start by playing at various clubs near Reperbahn in the St. Pauli neighborhood, Hamburg's red light district. This is where they eventually gained worldwide fame. Of the many clubs they appeared at, Kaiserkeller, located at Grosse Freiheit 36, is one you can still visit today. The Beatles started playing here in late 1960 after the Indra Club closed. It was a good location for the band since it was closer to the heart of the neighborhood.
Today the club, which is known by its address Grosse Freiheit 36, continues to host live shows and other events. Visitors come to explore the history of one of the world's most popular bands at one of the first clubs where the Beatles performed. It's also a fun place to enjoy more current music and experience Hamburg's nightlife. Nearby you can also see the Beatles Square as well as other clubs, both original and reincarnated, where the Beatles once played.
Aussenalster, or the Outer Alster Lake, is the larger of the two Alster lakes located in Hamburg. It was formed in the 13th century by damming the Alster River. At the time, it was outside of the city walls, which is how it became known as the Outer Alster Lake. The Inner Alster Lake was within the city walls. The lake is almost 400 acres large but no more than about eight feet deep. In order to maintain the charm and beauty of the area, it is a rule that all buildings surrounding the lake must be white and their roofs must be covered with copper.
The Outer Alster Lake is a popular place for boating activities. You can rent sail boats, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, and rowboats at many locations. There are also several boat tours available on the lake. Many people also enjoy jogging or walking around the lake, which is about four and a half miles around. There are also parks where you can have a picnic, sunbathe, or relax in an Alsterchair.
The stores on Jungfernstieg are mostly upscale shops where you can find high-end clothing, shoes, and jewelry. You can also find accessories, bath products, perfumes, cosmetics, and purses. There is also a spa where you can get a massage and other wellness services. Along with department stores and boutiques, there is also a wide selection of restaurants and cafes where you can stop for a meal while you're shopping.
Boating on the Alster Lakes is a special experience in Hamburg, highlighting the historic role of waterways in Germany’s biggest port.
Hamburg grew up around the River Alster, and the waterway has been dammed since the 12th century, transforming a river into lakes. The artificial Inner and Outer Alster lakes (Binnenalster and Aussenalster) are the dammed tributaries of the River Elbe, while the Alsterfleet canal separates Hamburg’s old and new towns. The elegant buildings of Hamburg, Germany’s second biggest city, put on their best face from the Alster lakes and canal. Longer excursions head north, crisscrossing from bank to bank of the Aussenalster.
The Hamburger Kunsthalle is Hamburg’s major art museum, focusing on northern European art since the 14th century.
A range of touring and special exhibitions dot the Kunsthalle’s cultural calendar, from sculpture and abstract art to installations. Highlights of the permanent collection include Caspar David Friedrich’s atmospheric paintings of ice and fog, Manet’s famous painting ‘Nana’, and works by Max Beckmann, Picasso and Klee. New media and contemporary art since 1945 are hosted in the modern Gallerie der Gegenwart building.
Perhaps one of Hamburg’s most unusual attractions is the Altona Fish Market - or Fischmarkt, held every Sunday morning come rain or shine.
Along with the spoils of the sea, you’ll find all manner of goods for sale at this lively slice of Hamburg life. Stalls selling souvenirs, clothing, flowers, fresh produce and plenty of food and drink are set up along the Elbe riverbank, and fun free entertainment is provided by the bellowing stallholders, oompah bands and buskers.
Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, is definitely not your everyday miniature railroad. It’s the largest miniature railroad in the world, and it’s an entire world at a perfect, small scale — one that took 500,000 working hours to create. From software-controlled fire trucks putting out fires in tiny neighborhoods to a 20-foot (6 meter) tall Swiss mountain with alpine skiers and brick tunnels with perfectly timed trains, the features of the different points of interest inside the ‘wonderland’ are not only in perfect working order, they’re filled with details that you could explore for days. Like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ book come to life, the 8 miles (13km) of tracks that wind through Miniatur Wunderland take the visitor on a tour of a tiny world that is utterly fascinating. The airport just might be the world’s most perfect flight simulator, with every possible detail in miniature. There’s a mini Grand Canyon and a mini Las Vegas.
What are the origins of Hamburg, what happened to the Hanseatic League and how did the HafenCity district evolve? All these questions and more are answered in the Hamburg Museum. The museum opened in 1922 as the Museum of Hamburg History and has since been able to amass the largest permanent city exhibition in Germany.
The historical tour of the Hamburg Museum leads from the Middle Ages to the present day, covering how the small fort Hammaburg turned into one of the biggest and most important ports in Europe. Numerous exhibits on shipping, port and emigration, bourgeois home decor, fashion and culture help make the rich history more comprehensive. But apart from the major exhibits covering the past 1,200 years, there are also annual exhibitions, museum festivals, events and Hamburg’s largest model railway to see and attend.
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