Taking pride in its long trading history, the Hanseatic City of Hamburg has always cultivated its very own style. Hanseatic merchants have a reputation of upholding the idea of respectability and detesting extravagance and lavishness, and they have shaped the face of the city over centuries. Hamburg’s places of interest are closely linked with the city’s history and tradition, and while these sights might not compete with the Eiffel Tower in terms of popularity they are no less unique.
Hamburg offers its guests a large choice of guided tours and city walks, as well as boat trips on the River Elbe and the Alster Lake, and there are even bus tours taking visitors through the container port. Many of Hamburg’s tourists attractions are well within walking distance or can be reached conveniently by local public transport.
Today’s town hall is the sixth in the history of the city and has been the seat of the Hamburg Senate (i.e. the state government) and the Hamburg State Parliament since 1897. It was built in a neo-renaissance style after the Great Fire of 1842. Each year on 24 February, the town hall plays host to the traditional Matthiae dinner with about 400 guests from the realms of politics, business, culture and science as well as the city’s consular corps. With a tradition that goes back to 1356, it is the world’s oldest dinner banquet that is still hosted today.
The town hall’s magnificent interior can be viewed as part of a guided tour. To learn more and to sign up for a group tour in English or French, please call + 49 40 428 31-2064.
The Speicherstadt is more than 100 years old and is considered the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex. In 2015 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated in the former free port, the red-brick building ensemble with its thick walls, copper roofs and blocks and tackles was built on oak piles between 1883 and 1888 and is among Hamburg’s main attractions.
On an area that was once used for storing coffee, tea and other spices, visitors can now marvel at the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway, or experience spine-chilling tales of Klaus Störtebeker, the famous buccaneer, at the Hamburg Dungeon. The Speicherstadt’s spice museum provides insights into the history of the warehouse complex and the lives of stevedores at the time, while the adjacent wine cellar serves as a venue for parties. Restaurants, cafés and quaint historic warehouse floors offer unique event venues.
HafenCity & Elbphilharmonie
A new urban quarter comprising 150 square kilometres has been taking shape between Kehrwiederspitze and the Elbbrücken bridges since 2008: the HafenCity Hamburg district. The HafenCity invites you to discover the International Maritime Museum Hamburg, the Tall Ship Harbour, the statue of Störtebeker the buccaneer, as well as the Cruise Center HafenCity. The cafés, restaurants and other venues of the HafenCity impress with their central location and an unobstructed view of the River Elbe.
The Elbphilharmonie concert hall with its distinctive architecture rises as a new landmark on its plinth of the historic warehouse Kaispeicher A. Designed by architect Werner Kallmorgen, the red-bricked Kaispeicher A was built in 1963 on more than 1,000 concrete piles. Today, it carries the weight of the glassed superstructure of the concert hall above it. Each of the Elbphilharmonie’s 1,100 arched windows is unique. The centrepiece of the building is the grand concert hall at a height of 50 metres, which provides seating for 2,100 persons. For acoustic reasons the concert hall is isolated from the outer walls and rests on giant spring assemblies. The small concert hall seats 550 persons and is intended for chamber music concerts as well as balls and banquets.
The Elbphilharmonie also comprises the Kaistudio, a venue that will be used for experimental music and provides seating for 150. In addition to this, the Elbphilharmonie will house a hotel, a restaurant, 45 residential units and a parking garage. An 82 metre-long, curved escalator leads visitors from the entrance on the east side to a panoramic window overlooking the port. From here you can access the public Plaza square, which is situated at a height of 37 metres above sea level. The Plaza covers an area of 4,000 square metres and is almost as big as Hamburg’s Rathausmarkt square. It offers a spectacular panoramic view of Hamburg.
Hamburg’s most famous and most notorious street has become something of a recognised cultural asset. Today the Reeperbahn is lined with night clubs, theatres, musical venues, restaurants and bars that provide for a colourful nightlife experience. The Reeperbahn, which has a length of 930 metres, owes its seedy reputation to legions of sailors, who in the old days would have spent their week’s pay in the pubs and bordellos of St Pauli.
The name itself, however, goes back to a very honourable trade: the Low German word Reeperbahn means ropewalk – a straight lane where long strands of fibre are laid before being twisted into rope. From 1630, local rope makers would manufacture long ropes of up to 300 metres here, which would be used in the rigging of sailing ships. More recently, the Reeperbahn became a part of music history, when in the early 1960s the Beatles started their world career in the clubs of the St Pauli district. Music continues to play an important role on the Reeperbahn and its many side streets – most notably during the Reeperbahn Festival in September, when the Reeperbahn is transformed into one big live stage. All those who would like to explore St Pauli and the Reeperbahn on foot can choose between diverse themed guided tours.
In the very heart of the city centre, the grand Jungfernstieg boulevard stretches along the southern banks of the Inner Alster Lake. In 1838 the Jungfernstieg became Germany’s first street to be asphalted. With its central location, it is an important traffic hub within Hamburg’s local public transport network. In close proximity to the Jungfernstieg you will find the legendary Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, the historic Alsterarkaden, the town hall, as well as numerous shopping arcades and exclusive retail shops.
The boulevard dates back to the Middle Ages, when a dam was built to facilitate the use of the Alster’s water for a local corn mill. In the 17th century, trees were planted along the road to create a promenade in the city centre, which was primarily used on Sundays, when eminent Hanseatic merchants would take their unmarried daughters (Jungfern) out on a walk, looking for a suitable bridegroom. This social habit ultimately lent the name to the promenade. Today, the Jungfernstieg offers an unobstructed view of the Inner Alster Lake with its fountain and its Alster barges, which start their round trips and sightseeing tours from here.
St Michaelis Church
Situated on Englische Planke in the Neustadt district, the protestant church St Michaelis is considered to be Hamburg’s landmark. Locals refer to this church simply as Michel. The Baroque copper spire with a height of 132 metres can be seen from almost every corner of the city centre. The tower platform can be reached by lift or on foot via 453 steps. From here, the trumpeter of St Michaelis plays a chorale in each cardinal direction every day. The chorale can be heard Monday to Saturday at 10am and 9pm, and on Sunday and religious holidays at 12pm.
Providing seating for 2,500 persons, St Michaelis Church is the largest of Hamburg’s churches. With a diameter of 8 metres it also features Germany’s largest tower clock. Originally built in 1669, the church burnt down twice in the course of its 400-year history and only the foundation walls remained. Today’s architectural design of the building is based on plans from 1762. In this same year, the church’s crypt was completed; it can be viewed as part of a guided tour. St Michaelis Church does not only serve as the venue for religious services, but also plays host to concerts and book readings. Just beside the church building you will find the historic Grocers’ Apartments – half-timbered residential houses with narrow courtyards characteristic of Hamburg architecture of the 17th century.
St. Pauli Landungsbrücken
Strictly speaking, the St Pauli Landungsbrücken piers are floating pontoons that are linked with the mainland though nine moving bridges. The piers have a length of 688 metres and constitute a popular promenade on the River Elbe. The numbers of the individual bridges also serve as addresses for the retail shops and snack bars located here. This is where the HADAG ferries depart, which can be used with a simple local public transport ticket. It is also the point of departure for various barges and excursion boats, as well as the shuttle service that takes visitors to the “Lion King” and “The Miracle of Bern” musicals on the southern Elbe shore.
During the summer months, the catamaran to the island of Heligoland also departs from the St Pauli Landungsbrücken. The impressive terminal building dates back to 1909. It is constructed from volcanic stone and has been declared a protected building. It houses a number of popular restaurants, among them the Blockbräu and the Hard Rock Café, and also comprises a roof terrace and several souvenir shops. The most striking part of the building complex, which stretches over 205 metres, is the gauge tower that displays not only the time but also the water level.
On the western end of the building you will find the entrance to the Old Elbe Tunnel – a technical monument from 1911 with a length of 426.5 metres, which leads you to the southern banks of the River Elbe. The tunnel is open to pedestrians and cyclists 24 hours a day and can also be used by cars for a fee. Many of the dockworkers at the Blohm + Voss shipyard still use this historic tunnel to get to work, and it has also been the venue for exhibitions and other events.
The Alster rises north of Hamburg in Henstedt-Ulzburg as a more or less inconspicuous river. Already in the Middle Ages, it was dammed in order to harness the water power to operate mills. The resulting lake was separated in the 17th century through the establishment of fortifications separating the Inner Alster Lake from the Outer Alster Lake. Today, the two lakes with their green banks, small canals, channels and villas characterise Hamburg’s cityscape and provide a charming setting for leisure and relaxation.
A special feature of the Alster are the more than 100 swans who have chosen the Alster as their wintering grounds and are cared for by the municipality. The Outer Alster Lake covers an area of 164 hectares and is a popular spot for sailing, rowing and canoeing. Lining the shores of the Alster you will find numerous hotels, restaurants and venues with a direct view of the water. The Alster provides various opportunities for group incentives – from dragon boating to Alster cruises. The Alster boat fleet includes historic ships and also comprises modern vessels such as a solar-powered boat and the world’s first excursion boat with an emission-free hydrogen drive.
The River Elbe has always been a lifeline and major traffic route for Hamburg. It provides direct access to the North Sea about 100 kilometres away and has formed the basis for the development of Hamburg’s port. Huge container ships arrive in Hamburg with the rhythm of the tides and bring goods from overseas, the majority of which is distributed to Central Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic States by shuttle boat, rail or road. Visitors to Hamburg can best experience the hustle and bustle of the port handling terminals on a traditional harbour boat trip or bus tour. Alternatively it is also well worth taking a trip on one of the HADAG ferries.
These ferries will take you past the St Pauli Landungsbrücken, the historic fish auction hall and the Oevelgönne museum harbour all the way to Teufelsbrück, where the grand Elbchaussee runs adjacent and the Jenischpark invites you to take a stroll. In the summer, numerous beach clubs transform the Elbe banks into an open-air location that exudes a true holiday atmosphere. For event organisers, Hamburg also offers a wide range of maritime options for unforgettable events with a special Hamburg flair.
Two veterans of former seafaring times are moored at the Überseebrücke and salute you from afar: the three-masted barque “Rickmer Rickmers” and the general cargo vessel “Cap San Diego”. Built in Bremerhaven in 1896, the “Rickmer Rickmers” with its slim green bow and high rigging pays tribute to an era when sleek windjammers would traverse the seas to transport rice from Hong Kong or saltpetre from Chile. Today, the ship with its onboard restaurant and alternating exhibitions serves as a museum and event venue. The adventurous can climb the Rickmer Rickmers’ masts as a team, or learn more about Hamburg’s local history in small groups during the “Hidden in Hamburg” quiz.
The “Cap San Diego” also provides an onboard high ropes course, and whoever climbs it will be at a height of around 30 metres above water level. Built in 1961, this cargo vessel was originally part of a series of six ships famous for their elegant hull shape manufactured by the Hamburg Süd shipping company. It is the world’s largest maritime museum ship still in use and can also be booked for charter trips. The ship’s holds, the salon and the pool deck are available for meetings, receptions and parties. Another museum ship can be found in the Hansahafen just next to the Hafenmuseum: the general cargo ship “MS Bleichen”. Built in 1958, it is even older than the “Cap San Diego”. If you would like to host a party onboard a ship or if you are planning an exclusive outing, you will find a whole fleet of historic ships in the HafenCity district and in the Oevelgönne museum harbour. Some of these are still steam-powered, among them the “Scharhörn” and the “Stettin” icebreaker.
Ballinstadt Emigration Museum
Situated in Hamburg’s port, the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum is entirely dedicated to the topic of emigration. In 1901 it was on this very spot that Albert Ballin, general manager of the Hapag shipping company, had emigration halls built. Between 1834 and 1920, about five million Europeans left their homeland via Hamburg looking for a better life in distant America. While the emigration wave was a lucrative business for ship owners, it also brought problems: diseases that would be introduced on a ship could spread rapidly because of the tough conditions on board.
The Ballinstadt emigration halls were thus a kind of modern quarantine station and also served the safety of passengers, who were often deprived of their belongings by fraudsters before their departure. The museum displays the hardship of these people during the crossing in seven chapters. It also houses a genealogical research centre, where visitors can search for emigrated family members via an interactive program. The spacious halls of Ballinstadt can be booked for events of up to 400 guests. To get to the museum you can use the Maritime Circle Line shuttle, which departs from bridge 10 of the St Pauli Landungsbrücken.