Latest update: 19 May 2023
Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. It is so big that it is impossible to see all the sights of Hamburg in one weekend. So you really have to make some choices, and of course, I’m happy to help you with that.
Hamburg: city of opposites
I experience Hamburg as a mix of extremes. In the middle of the city is a beautiful lake, the Auβenalster. A place to relax. Joggers, sailing boats, picnics, and jeu de boules next to the water, surrounded by the most beautiful villas. And just a ten-minute walk away, you suddenly find yourself in the red light district or among activist refugees. Or you sail between big ships and thousands of containers. On the Große Freiheit street, there are a disproportionate number of clubs and bars and a Catholic church in the middle of that nightlife. I like the variety, but it sometimes feels a bit contradictory. Whatever you think of it, at least there’s always something to explore in Hamburg.
Hamburg’s 104 districts
It is an impossible task to see all the districts during your city trip to Hamburg. Hamburg has no fewer than 104 districts! Sometimes a neighborhood consists of no more than a few streets or even houses. Those neighborhoods are still reasonably manageable, but others are often bigger and have many sights. Click on the district’s name to go directly to the tips for sights and activities, or just read them all for your weekend in Hamburg.
- St. Pauli
- Planten un Blomen (not a district, but a park)
- Port area
Tip! Buy a Hamburg Card for discounts on sights, attractions, public transport, and more.
St. Pauli tips: raw Hamburg
St. Pauli is one of the larger districts of Hamburg. Here, the nightlife takes place on the infamous Reeperbahn, where tourists exchange glances with dodgy types and bachelor parties go on well into the night. It is also the neighborhood where you will find a lot of street art, skating rinks, action groups, and hipster places.
Tip 1: The famous/infamous Reeperbahn
The Reeperbahn is in the middle of the St. Pauli district. During the day, there is not much to do on this street, but at night it is bustling. Mainly tourists, it seems. The Reeperbahn is a street almost a kilometer long. The street and the side streets consist of neon lighting, sex clubs, bars, and fast food chains. This part is called der Kiez (the red light district). Not the prettiest area, but a must when visiting Hamburg. I had a fun evening in the Mash Up, but probably the pub next door, or the one next to that, is exactly the same because they all look the same. But above all, be surprised by clubs such as Große Freiheit 36 and Molotow, where bands perform regularly.
Tip 2: The Beatles and St. Pauli
Once, a long time ago, the Beatles were in Hamburg. And the people of St. Pauli are proud of that. At the end of the Reeperbahn, you will find the Beatles-Platz. A rather pathetic, pee-smelling little square where the silhouettes of the Beatles are. When the Beatles were still an amateur band, the gentlemen regularly performed in obscure clubs in Hamburg. These performances eventually led to their first record; the rest was history. So, if you want to know all about it, a Beatles tour is a fun activity in Hamburg. You pay a visit to many more Beatles sights, and their story comes to life.
Tip 3: People-watching in St. Pauli
A few streets behind the Reeperbahn you end up in the middle of the residential area of the Hamburgers. The atmosphere is entirely different. St. Pauli is a somewhat more alternative neighborhood, so there’s always something new to enjoy: from a new mural to a new coffee spot. On the terrace of Kraweel, it is wonderful to watch people pass by while enjoying an excellent breakfast and coffee. Also, check my blog article for more breakfast tips in St. Pauli and other neighborhoods. .
Tip 4: The Alter Elbtunnel
The Alter Elbtunnel is located at the Landungsbrücke. The Alter Elbtunnel was built in only three years and was primarily meant for dockers and shipyard workers. They got to work in no time. The tunnel is over 400 meters long and more than a century old. So you can imagine that the tunnel is no longer sufficient for this time’s large amount of traffic. Therefore, a new Elbtunnel was built in 1975.
The old one is worth a look though. You can get there on foot, but also by car. You have to enter an elevator that takes cars down one by one and then make the crossing. Every now and then, an illegal party is organized in the tunnel. That is mainly a very cool idea, but the execution is a bit less cool: the sound is terrible and far too soft for a tunnel full of people.
Tip 5: Relax in the sun at Strand Pauli
Strand Pauli is not a beach, but it is a beach club. A lovely and lively spot on the river where you can (according to them) enjoy hot beer, lousy food, and bad service. That’s far from the truth luckily. I recommend checking it out. Two other beach clubs are a little further down the Elbe river, but this is the nicest place. Fun and laidback with some music in the background that gets louder as the day progresses.
Tip 6: Street art in St. Pauli
Walking around St. Pauli, you can’t escape it: street art is everywhere. The question is whether or not you like it. People have a knack for putting ugly tags on every wall they see. Often the artists are not so much concerned with making a beautiful mural but with getting their message across. If you want to know more about it, see if you can book a street art tour, for example, at Alternative Hamburg.
Tip 7: Visit an FC St. Pauli match
The black flag with the skull is the fan logo of the FC St. Pauli soccer club. It may not be their official logo, but true St. Pauli fans embrace the skull. A football match of FC St. Pauli can be intense. Not necessarily on the field, but especially in the stands. Fireworks, chants: a St. Pauli fan goes all out. Check on the football club website if there is a game when you are there.
Altona tips: fish and water
The Altona neighborhood is all about fish. You’ll find the area between the river and St. Pauli, and it is especially a must-visit on early Sunday mornings.
Tip 8: The fish market on Sunday in Hamburg
Sunday morning. Early. Very early. The fish market is going wild. In the summer, at 5 a.m., and in winter, from 7 a.m. to about 9:30 a.m., numerous roll herrings, eels, and beers are sold. Every Sunday morning, there is also a ‘regular’ market on the banks of the Elbe, but the large hall is the place to be. Expect a band playing, rows of long tables with puddles of beer, and people dancing by the stage. The fish market is a party. You can either join the fish market festivities after partying all night or simply get up early. My curiosity wins over my alarm clock, and I thank myself: it is a unique experience.
Tip! I recommend skipping the fischmarkt brunch. Read why in my blog about breakfast in Hamburg, and discover where you should go to have a good breakfast!
Tip 9: Drinking coffee and shopping in Altona
Altona is a bit of a suburb of Hamburg but very lively. It has beautiful stately buildings, and the small center of the district (just next to the Altona station) has lovely shops and excellent coffee cafes.
Tip 10: Superbude Altona Hotel
A fun hotel in Altona is the Superbude Altona Paradise hotel. They have paid much attention to the decor: colorful, funny details and well cared for. From the hotel, you walk to the bus stop in less than five minutes, which takes you to the center in a straight line. It’s a great alternative to a hotel in the center. Check the availability on Booking.com.
Tip 11: Walk through the parks of Altona
You will find some nice green parks in Altona just behind the coastline. They are not very big, but you can take a short walk and enjoy the peace and greenery.
Tip 12: Visit the Elbstrand
In the summer, you can cool off on the Elbstrand; in the other seasons, the Elbstrand is ideal for a long walk on the beach. At the end is a vast stone: Der Alter Schwede (location). It’s a (not so impressive) sight, but mainly helpful to serve as the end point of your walk to turn around. Then you choose a nice beach bar on your way back for a drink!
You can also walk on the small street right above the beach. It leads you past cute houses, and you have a view over the river. This is the Elbwanderweg.
Planten un Bloomen tips: the green Hamburg
Planten un Blomen is actually not a neighborhood at all. Instead, it is a huge city park that borders many different neighborhoods, so that’s why I mention it separately.
Tip 13: Visit the different gardens
In Planten un Blomen, an entire section has been set up as a botanical garden, as if you were in Japan. Think exotic plants and trees, lakes, and rock formations. The park has a kind of allotment garden that Hamburg residents take care of. Here you will find a lot of flowers. Furthermore, Planten un Blomen mainly consists of lots of greenery, small lakes, and lovely places to have a picnic or take a walk. The park is at its best in spring and summer. Although fall is nice too. In winter, there is an ice rink. So just visit it whenever you’re there, whatever the season.
Tip 14: Hit the mini-ball! Mini-golf
You can play minigolf in the Planten un Blomen city park. Fun with kids but just as fun with adults. I really hadn’t done this in years: miniature golf. And to be honest, I’ve had my share for the next couple of years, haha. Still, I think it’s a pleasant pastime for a sunny afternoon. You can spend an hour trying to hit different holes for a few euros.
Tip 15: Roller skating in the park
In summer, it’s time to roller skate to disco music at Roller Skate Jam. The owners rent out roller skates from a van. Do you dare relive your childhood? From time to time, roller skating parties are also organized in Hamburg’s clubs. Check the Facebook page to find out where and when.
HafenCity tips: modern Hamburg
The old ports of Hamburg are being transformed into a completely new residential and recreational area. Everything has to be finished by 2025, and a lot has already been built up in recent years. The construction is modern: a lot of steel and glass. Even the metro station is beautiful. You visit HafenCity mainly to marvel at the buildings and to visit the restaurants.
Tip 16: The Elbphilharmonie
The Elbphilharmonie is built on top of an old warehouse and is the radiant center of HafenCity. It opened in 2017 and is already an iconic building. Especially impressive to see from the water. You can visit a concert in the Elbphilharmonie, and you can visit the Plaza. The latter is free, or you can buy a ticket in advance to get priority access. That ticket costs €2. The Plaza is a platform that offers views of the river, harbor, HafenCity, and Speicherstadt. Or, go for a full tour of the Elphilharmonie. Claim your spot.
Read more about visiting a concert at the Elbphilharmonie.
Speicherstadt tips: Instagram-worthy Hamburg
Looking for a pretty spot for an Instagram moment in Hamburg? Then head towards Speicherstadt around sunset. The old warehouses, in combination with the water and the light, are stunning. In the dark, the area is lit with 800 spotlights.
Tip 17: Stroll through Speicherstad (day and evening)
Because Hamburg is a proper port city, much storage space is required for all goods transported by ships. Nowadays, we use large sea containers that are immediately shipped to their next destination. Between 1883 and 1927, many warehouses were built on the River Elbe. The area is about a mile long. You will mainly find brick warehouses on piles. The buildings are like an island in the city on the Elbe river.
A whole neighborhood had to be evacuated to create this part of Hamburg. About 20,000 people had to move in 1883. Later, some warehouses were lost in the Second World War. Some parts were rebuilt in the following period.
Since July 2015, Speicherstadt, together with the housing blocks in the Kontorhausviertel with the Chilehaus, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Totally justified! Some of the warehouses are still used as storage space by the way.
Tip 18: Visit the DialogHaus
The DialogHaus is a memorable experience. You can join various tours to experience what it is like to be blind or deaf. I found it really insightful and fun. You can read all about it in this blog.
Karolinenviertel tips: relaxed Hamburg
Another great piece of alternative Hamburg: the Karolinenviertel. It borders St. Pauli and has a bit of the same vibe but is less raw and gritty. It’s tiny, so just turn into different streets to discover the neighborhood.
Tip 19: Vintage, flea market, and vinyl
The Karolinenviertel houses dozens of second-hand shops, record stores, and cafes. The poorest people used to live here; in the 1980s, the neighborhood was given a makeover, and now it is a popular residential area. There is a pleasant relaxed atmosphere, and it feels friendly. No real sights, just a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. And you will also find a lot of street art. You can visit the flea market if you are in Hamburg on a Saturday.
Tip 20: Find street art
You don’t have to search for street art Karolinenviertel: it’s everywhere. So just look around you!
Gängeviertel tips: artistic Hamburg
The Gängeviertel is a small part of Hamburg that was slated to be demolished. That was stopped, and now the neighborhood is a center for art and culture. Several artists have established their workshops in this district, which now also has a cultural center (Die Fabrique) where exhibitions and performances occur. No wall has escaped the street art either here!
Tip 21: Discover the Gängeviertel
So the tip for the Gängeviertel in Hamburg is actually quite simple: go explore. The Gängeviertel is a bit tucked away between the modern buildings. At the Valentinskamp, there is suddenly a passage into the Gängeviertel. It’s called the Schierspassage, and it continues to the Speckstraße. Don’t expect to spend hours; it really is a tiny neighborhood. Few tourists have found their way here, making it extra fun.
Old Town Tips: Historic Hamburg
The Altstadt and the Neustadt form the core of Hamburg, the center. Many large offices, shops, restaurants, and places of interest can be found here. Due to the Great Fire of Hamburg, much of the Altstadt has been rebuilt, so the historic center is relatively new. Altstadt starts at the Alstermeer, a lovely lake for recreational purposes.
Tip 22: Hamburg Rathaus
I find it hard to imagine that Hamburg’s town hall was built on 4000 wooden piles. But, of course, you can’t see any of that when you’re in the square. The town hall was completed in 1897 after the old town hall burned down in a major fire in the city. The town hall is in use, but it’s open to visitors. Guided tours are even possible. They only cost €4, and you can just show up.
Tip 23: Alsterarkaden
After the great fire of Hamburg in 1842, not only the town hall had to be rebuilt. Hamburg then also received the Alsterarkaden. The arcade arches feel a bit Italian. You’ll find all kinds of shops and cafes between the arches. I secretly find it more fun to admire it from the stairs on the other side and see the reflection in the water.
Tip 24: Alster Lake
The Alster Lake actually consists of two parts: the Außenalster and the Binnenalster. The Binnenalster is the smaller lake in the Altstadt. Hamburg’s city wall used to run right through the Alster Lake, giving them the names Binnen and Außen. Both lakes are now separated from each other by a busy road. The Binnenalster lake is mainly for visual entertainment, and the Außenalster is popular for walking and running (a round trip around the lake is 7.4 kilometers). On sunny days, the lake is occupied by rowers, sailors, and other water sports enthusiasts, while others picnic and sunbathe on the shore.
Neustadt tips: the not-so-new Hamburg
Neustadt lies between St. Pauli and Altstadt. It is not necessarily all new construction that you see here, as there are still many historic buildings. In addition, you will find several museums entirely devoted to musicians. And the shopping is good in Neustadt, especially at the chic shops around Jungfernstieg and Große Bleichen.
Tip 25: Krameramtstuben
Right next to the St Michaelis church (Hamburg’s most famous church from which you also have a beautiful view over the city) are the 17th-century houses of the merchants’ guild. At the time, these houses were built for the widows of the deceased members of the guild. Enter the gate at the green posters announcing the restaurant Zu den alten Krameramtsstuben am Michel. You end up in a small street where the houses are so close together that taking a nice overview photo is impossible.
If you visit the Hamburg Museum, you can also enter one of the houses. A visit to the restaurant is also worthwhile because you get to see a Krameramtsstube inside and try typical German food.
Port area tips: maritime Hamburg
Since Hamburg is such an important port city, I recommend taking a closer look at the harbor. The sea containers, the gigantic ships: what an unknown world.
Tip 26: Harbor tour in Hamburg
The Elbe runs through the middle of the city, so a boat trip is inevitable. You have several options regarding the type of boat and how long the cruise lasts, from a typical tourist boat to a sailing tanzkaffee. Several tour boats depart from the Landungsbrücke. In principle, buying a ticket is unnecessary, but an online reservation is a smart decision if you want a specific boat trip. Most boats depart from the Landungsbrücke. You usually sail through the harbor and the city, including through Speicherstadt and past the Elbphilharmonie.
Tip 27: Sailing tanzkaffee Frau Hedi
Frau Hedi is such a party boat: a pretty ugly boat but super fun. We make an hour’s trip for five euros while enjoying a drink and a dance. Naturally, some dance more actively than others, and only at the end the party turns wild. After mooring, you will not be the first to decide to sail along for another round. More information.
Blankenese tips: the holiday Hamburg
Blankenese is a short drive from the center, and I suddenly feel on holiday. Chic villas and huge houses alternate on the hills. This part of Hamburg is said to have 5,000 stairs. It is known as the district with the most stairs in the world. Blankenese is located on the River Elbe and has a thin strip of beach. When I’m in Blankenese, it’s no use to me because it’s bad weather. The water is very high and I’m almost blown away by the wind. In the summer there are beach bars here to have a nice drink after you have wandered through the streets and conquered the stairs.
About the Hamburg Card
I absolutely recommend purchasing a Hamburg Card. This is the discount card of Hamburg with which you get a discount on many attractions and sights and you can also travel for free on public transport. Discounts are valid on harbor tours, museums, restaurants and much more. The Hamburg Card is available for 1 day to 5 days. Make sure to check you’ve got the best deal: there are single and group tickets. It is usually cheaper for two people to buy a group ticket. Even if you only use the Hamburg Card for public transport, you can save money on your Hamburg weekend.
Want more Germany inspiration?
Useful links for your Germany trip
- Travel guides. I love the practical guide books from Lonely Planet. You can buy them at Bol.com and Amazon.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Transavia often has good deals, but definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Train and Bus Travel with NS International or FlixBus to Germany. And reserve bus seats with Busbud, 12Go or Omio. More local trains via Save a Train.
- Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Natuurhuisje. Or try Campspace. Would you rather stay in a hostel? Check Hostelworld.
- Money. Your bank cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at Freetour.com and GuruWalk, and try Baja Bikes for bike tours.
- Attractions and museum. Interested in a 5% discount on museums and other attractions? Use this discount code at Tiqets: KIMOPREIS22
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? The Dutch among us can try: ANWB vakanties or Sawadee, or maybe Tui, D-Reizen, Sunweb, and Vakantie Discounter?
Or, try a yoga retreat.
Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission – at no extra costs to you of course!
First published: august 2015. Updated since.