“Nowhere does the sky shine so beautifully grey as in Hamburg.”
“Nirgendwo strahlt der Himmel so schön grau wie in Hamburg.”
After a romantic city break to Venice with my husband and a weekend in Paris with one of my friends from Holland, my next city trip was to Hamburg. I went with a large group of female friends (10 in total!). We had extra planned our girls’ weekend away in August to enjoy the city in warm and sunny weather…
Well, the weather wasn’t warm and sunny at all. It was gloomy, rainy and cold. The company and Hamburg itself were fantastic though. It’s a city I would definitely put on your list of places to go to: awesome architecture, positive people, musicals and museums in abundance, lots of water (and that does not include the rain), fantastic”Fischbrötchen” and “Franzbrötchen” and the epic Elbphi of course.
Having listed all that, there are some things I would NOT do when visiting Hamburg. Read on to find out which ones and what my alternatives for you are!
Before I start with the first thing you should NOT do, I’d like to ask you to set aside an existing prejudice against Germans first:
1. do NOT believe that Germans have no humour
Hamburg is a harbour city, which means the people show a no nonsense approach, are hard-working, very efficient and on top of all that they display lots and lots of humour. I just loved this combination of efficiency and humour.
It started at the reception of our hotel (the Madison, very centrally located) and continued with literally every tour we did. Even the waiters in the restaurants we visited served food in an efficient and witty way. Although our native English speaking guide on the free walking city-tour (Sandemans) still claimed that Germans have no humour, I couldn’t agree less. In Hamburg they do, absolutely!
Having set that straight, let’s continue with things NOT to do in Hamburg, assuming you will spend a weekend there, and thus a Sunday. In that case:
2. do NOT have breakfast in your hotel on Sunday morning
Why would you skip your hotel breakfast on Sunday morning? Because of the famous “Fisch Brötchen” of course! Hamburg is known for its “Fisch Brötchen”, fish sandwiches. You can buy them in every street and on every market.
There is even a market called the Fish Market, although they sell much more than just fish there every Sunday morning. There are loads of real market vendors on the Fish Market, selling their products in a very creative and loud way and for very attractive prices. An event in itself.
When you would like to give a “Fisch Brötchen” a go, I advise you to do it there. Simply skip your breakfast on Sunday morning, stroll over the market and end in the Fish Auction Hall to have a fish sandwich and a beer (oh yeah, that is the local way to do it) for breakfast while listening to a live concert in the hall. It will be the type of Sunday morning breakfast you will remember for a long time!
3. do NOT go to the Elbphi for a concert
What? Not go to the famous Elbphi for a concert? This advice will come as a surprise I assume. Attending a concert in the Elbphi is probably on many visitors’ lists of things to do in Hamburg. And that is exactly the problem. It is very hard to get tickets. Concerts are sold out months in advance.
The good news is that you should absolutely NOT despair when you haven’t managed to book a concert.
What you can do instead is book a guided tour through the building. Once you enter the building, you will glide on a wavy escalator (the architect wanted to bring the waves of the harbour visible both at the outside and inside of the Elbphi) and arrive on the main floor with access to the balconies, offering magnificent views over the harbour and Speicherstadt.
Your guide will tell you all about the architectonical thoughts behind the building (such as the wavy escalator, the special windows, the choice for a certain type of floor and so on). Highlight 1 of your visit is the small concert hall and the absolute highlight is the huge hall, with its impressive egg-shape form, enormous organ, special material (for walls, floors and chairs) and of course acoustic qualities. Impressive beyond words.
4. do NOT just do a harbour boat tour
When you are in Hamburg, do NOT only go for a boat tour in the harbour, interesting and impressive as that is. Book a tour on the Alster too. It will be a welcome break in a weekend full of walking and the calm, serene surrounding will give you time to relax body and mind. It’s really hard to imagine that this is the same city, so green, so rural.
5. do NOT enjoy Hamburg’s view from St. Michaels Church
Do NOT go on top of St. Michaels Church to have your view over Hamburg. It’s the most famous church, for sure, and definitely worth visiting. Standing on top of it, however, makes sure you won’t see any of its splendour.
I’d opt for St. Nicholas Church for a view over Hamburg, including St. Michaels Church. Use the opportunity to visit the crypt of St. Nicholas Church too, a very impressive “Mahnmal”. You can read all about St. Nicholas Church and the meaning of “Mahnmale” in a previous blogpost, just click here.
6. do NOT forget to count when you buy public transport tickets
Do NOT buy a public transport ticket per person when you are travelling with others. They have got a fantastic system in Hamburg, that pays off soon when travelling in a group. When you start after 9 am, you can buy one ticket that allows 5 (!) people to travel on that one and only ticket. Worth checking out!
Make sure to rent a bike during your stay as well. Hamburg is a perfect city to explore by bike.
7. do NOT order coffee without cake
Do NOT just drink a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate in the afternoon, but do it the German way. A good German tradition is called “Kaffee and Kuchen” (coffee and cake). Germans do this around 4 in the afternoon, but of course, in a touristic city like Hamburg, they serve it whenever you feel it’s the right time for it.
Go to the Speicherstadt in one of the coffee breweries for an excellent cup of coffee with equally excellent cake. You will be astonished at the large variety to chose from. The Germans would call this the “Qual der Wahl” (agony of choice, but that sounds only half as good as the German version).
When you want a specialty from Hamburg with your coffee, order a Franzbrötchen (a French sandwich). It has got its origins from when Napoleon’s soldiers were in Hamburg and the bakers wanted to create something they knew would sell well with their potential new customers. They went for a croissant, but somehow didn’t get it quite right, resulting in the Franzbrötchens, something like a flat croissant with cinnemon as an additional ingredient. Mind you, full of tast and full of calories! Worth trying at least one (or maybe share one).
8. do NOT go to just any musical in Hamburg
Do NOT visit one of the well known musicals in Hamburg. Hamburg is famous for its musicals, I know, but why go and see something you can see everywhere else, when Hamburg has got its own, unique musical: Heisse Ecke. Mind you, you should speak German rather well to fully enjoy it, but if you do, this is the musical I’d recommend going to.
9. do NOT visit St Pauli during the day
Do NOT visit St Pauli (Hamburg’s Red Light district) during the day. It’s an area to visit at night to party, to watch others party or to do a guided tour. We did the latter and that was very entertaining and interesting.
A warning for the ladies: Do NOT enter the Herbertstrasse. There is a sign telling you NOT to do so and apparently you really shouldn’t. The women working there do not appreciate it.
Another warning: Do NOT take photos in the St Pauli’s area at night. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish who is working and who is partying, and people may feel offended when you take their pictures.
That said, I absolutely felt safe there at night.
10. do NOT forget a raincoat and warm clothes
Do NOT forget your raincoat and warm clothes. The weather in Hamburg can be rather windy and wet (I talk from personal experience, the photos are my witnesses, and that was mid August!!!). An umbrella is only handy when it’s a sturdy one (remember the wind!). Oh, and in case you want to buy new rain clothes, be it coats or wellies, Hamburg is the place to be!
Hamburg has got a lot to offer when it should be windy and wet when you’re there. There are plenty of museums to choose from, and original ones too, such as Spicy’s Spice Museum and the interesting Emigration Museum BallinStadt. For me that museum formed a great step-up to my planned visit to Ellis Island in NYC. In both cases stories about hardships of emigrants/immigrants aren’t that different from stories from emigrants/immigrants these days.
As you can read, there is lots to do in Hamburg and the city is certainly worth going to for a (long) weekend. Plenty of choice for activities on sunny and rainy days!
In case you have been to Hamburg too and would like to add some travel tips, please do so in the comments section below. I am sure they will be appreciated by other readers.
As always, thank you for visiting my blog and have a great day!
Travel tips and useful links:
- In case you want to know more about the German sense of humour, I can advice this Guardian article.
- Free walking tours can be done via Freetour (including the harbour and St Pauli) or Sandemans, where you mainly explore the city centre into more detail. On the website of Freetour you can find other tours too and Sandemans offers a few paid tours as well.
- An overview of Hamburg’s museums can be found on this website.
- To find out what cool events take place when you are in Hamburg, check out this website.
- You can find opening hours for St Michaels Church here and for St Nicholas Church here.
- An overview of Hamburg’s markets can be found here (mind you, some of the information is in German). And here is a direct link to the Fish Market.
- Guided Elbphi tours (in English, Spanish, French and German) can be booked here. To find out the programme and if tickets are still available, have a look here.
Links in German:
- German tours: Waterkant Touren, wobei mann in einem VW Bus die Stadt mit einem Guide kennenlernt, St. Pauli Touren, wobei Einheimische alles über ihr Stadtteil erzählen. Lieber mit dem Fahrrad? Geht auch prima. Schau mal bei Hamburg Radtour vorbei.
- Heisse Ecke kann man hier buchen.
- Die Marke für Regenkleidung heisst Derbe. Es gibt ein Flagship Store in Hamburg. Lieber online? Geht auch!
- In case you want to know more about the German sense of humour, I can advice this Guardian article.