Airy, elegant, and surrounded by water, this northern metropolis is Germany’s second-largest city and one of its most beautiful. In fact, it’s one you may find yourself visiting again and again due to its distinctive blend of scenic beauty and architectural legacy.
It gives off the feel-good impression of being cosmopolitan but isn’t overwhelming. It’s in equal measure sophisticated and alternative, innovative and provocative, with state-of-the-art design leaving its mark in the HafenCity district as well as the Reeperbahn enticing visitors for a night out in the well-known red-light district.
Depending on how much time you have in Hamburg, make the most of it with a variety of activities. This is where the city’s different neighbourhoods come into play, offering everything from historical grandeur to upmarket tree-lined streets to young, bohemian vibes.
Here are three neighbourhoods not to miss.
HafenCity, Hamburg’s newest district and Europe’s most ambitious development project of the past decade, lies at the junction of historical and modern Hamburg. This futuristic cityscape built into the Elbe River competes with pioneering cities such as Barcelona, Sydney, and San Francisco.
HafenCity’s ‘lighthouse project’ is without a doubt the glistening Elbphilharmonie concert hall that juts out on the horizon with graceful panache. The stunning wave-like glass volume built on top of the 70-year-old Kaispeicher warehouse is tailor-made to capture the colour of the sky.
Particularly magical to visit and photograph around sunset, Hamburg’s new star attraction since 2017 is also one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world.
Designed by renowned architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the structure includes two concert venues, the Westin Hamburg Hotel and The Plaza viewing platform on the 8th floor. The complex also hosts several restaurants, bars, luxury apartments, and more.
For a bite to eat with panoramic harbour views and specialty craft beer, reserve a spot at Störtebeker Elbphilharmonie, which also features live music from time to time.
Photo on Störtebeker Elbphilharmonie
Also not to be missed in the harbour area is Deichtorhallen Hamburg in the creative Oberhafen neighbourhood next to HafenCity.
The expansive former market halls and architectural monuments house contemporary art and photography in three separate buildings, with the new Phoxxi exhibition venue set up until 2025.
Phoxxi serves as a temporary home for the House of Photography while the southern hall is being renovated.
While you’re there, if you enjoy authentic cuisine, plan on dining at Oberhafen-Kantine, a quirky (and crooked) brick building serving regional specialties since 1925, such as Labskaus, a seafarer’s dish of beef, beetroot, and potatoes served with pickles, egg, and herring filets.
Photo on Instagram
Right nearby, Hobenköök serves a similar offering of seasonal and regional foods in a unique restaurant and market venue located in a historical warehouse. Here you’re certainly spoilt for choice, so wander around until you find what most tickles your appetite.
For a decidedly different feel, join the locals for a relaxed exploration of Karolinenviertel. This is the perfect spot to start the weekend off right, at a hip café. There’s nothing like a hearty brunch followed by some smart shopping, and on Marktstraße you can do exactly that.
The dollhouse-style Gretchens Villa café is a must and a fan favourite since 2010. Filled with darling little shops, one-off labels, and vintage finds, this neighbourhood is your best bet for boutique haunts.
Photo on Instagram
From a rather shabby and tired part of the city in the 1980s and 90s housing students and working-class residents, Karoviertel, as it’s referred to in short, has blossomed in recent years as an alternative district with much-improved housing and a slew of independent stores.
With quirky design shops such as award-winning Lockengelöt, where oil drums are repurposed into cabinets, coffee tables, and home bars and vinyl records are turned into wall sconces (and much more), this area is as Brooklynite as its army of thrift stores.
For more spending nirvana, satisfy your appetite for knick-knacks at the Flohschanze flea and antique market held every Saturday (but make sure to check before going) next to the decommissioned Neuer Kamp slaughterhouse.
Haggling here is part of the fun – and expected by merchants – so try your best at securing some treasures to take back home, be it an art print, a piece of jewellery, or a lucky find of vintage fashion.
Nightlife here comes with many rewards for music lovers, in particular at Lattenplatz, the square in front of the Knust live music club, where many Hamburgers love to hang out.
Located inside an old abattoir, Knust is where many international rock and pop artists hold concerts; the venue also hosts disco nights and the odd football game on television.
Photo on Instagram
Given Hamburg’s ample access to water, a day trip to Blankenese should come as no surprise. In fact, it could well become the cherry on top of your visit, a joyful escape from the big city into what was once a fishing village directly on the Elbe River.
Hop on the S-Bahn from Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, for a one-hour direct journey to Blankenese, a well-heeled, residential district brimming with half-timbered fishermen’s houses and stately pre-war villas where captains and pilots used to live.
Photo on Tripadvisor
As you arrive, you’ll be transported into a chic, maritime charm with white houses dotted alongside the river and up the hill, awash with perfectly manicured gardens setting the scene.
It almost looks Mediterranean – certainly not Hanseatic, as you’d expect, still being in Hamburg.
You’re in for a good workout as you explore Treppenviertel with its crisscrossing stairs, winding alleys, and picture-perfect old-town looks. This neighbourhood is very quaint and provides a sharp contrast to the dynamic city centre, although not located very far from it.
Here you’ll be pausing often enough, either to catch your breath (Did I say stairs? Yes, about 5000 of them!) or to take yet another picture of this idyllic part of western Hamburg.
A treat awaits after climbing to the top of 72-metre-high Süllberg. The views over the Elbe River from this hill are at their best from the Süllberg terrace, where you’ll also find a peak of gastronomy.
Boasting two Michelin stars for his Seven Seas fine-dining restaurant and five-star hotel, Karlheinz Hauser, who runs the ship here, has certainly set the bar high regarding exceptional service in this swanky district.
And with container ships passing by and the huge Airbus industrial facility in the background, the views could not be more captivating.
Photo on Instagram
Upon descending, grab a coffee or dessert at one of the beach cafés, the most celebrated being the Beach Pearl, and meander along the long Elbe Beach. Make your way towards the lighthouse for panoramic views of the river from up top.
It’s also worth having a look over at the Oevelgönne Harbour Museum, an interesting display of sailing ships and boats from the 19th and 20th centuries moored near the colourful little houses where sailors used to live.
While you’re still on this side of the city, take a stroll through Jenischpark as well. Designed in the late 18th century as an English garden for the family of a senator by the same name, the park includes the Jenisch House and Ernst Barlach House museums.
Read more about Hamburg in Baltic Outlook.