The city centre of Hamburg is formed by the districts of Altstadt and Neustadt, as well as the new district of Hafencity immediately south of Altstadt. Within the three, you will find most of Hamburg's iconic sights, including the artificial pond of Binnenalster in front of the city hall and the rows of densely packed warehouses hovering over narrow canals, called Speicherstadt. HafenCity has completely transformed the old port of Hamburg, now filled not only with striking modern architecture, but also providing brilliant views over the river Elbe.
The area is both a tourist centre and a large shopping area. It also includes the offices of major companies based in Hamburg, as well as high-end restaurants and other extablishments catering for well-off locals and tourists alike. The nightlife, however, is limited and incomparable with that of St.Pauli. You will also find more air and greenery there and in the neighbouring Altona (which features a long and varied riverbank), as well as in the city's North, which includes the large lake Aussenalster and the Stadtpark, the largest park in the city.
By public transport
Most visitors to Hamburg will probably enter the city via Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the city's main train station, situated on the northeastern edge of the district. This is where all the long-distance and regional trains stop, and the city's S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines converge, connecting it to the other parts of the city. If you arrive at Hamburg Fuhlsbüttel airport, S-Bahn line S1 connects the airport directly to the Hauptbahnhof.
Should you decide to drive into central Hamburg, there are parking lots on and around Deichtorplatz a few blocks south of Hauptbahnhof and the shopping district.
The five main churches of Hamburg
Central Hamburg has five Lutheran churches bearing the title of Hauptkirche, or "main church". They stem from various ages and are some of the most recognizable landmarks and orientation points, scattered across the centre with their tall steeples, easily visible from afar.
- Hauptkirche St. Jacobi, Jakobikirkhof. St. Jacobi has been a parish since the 12th century, when it was not even within Hamburg's then city walls. The present-day church is a reconstruction of the late medieval one from the 15th century, which was destroyed during the second world war. The reconstruction afforded St. Jacobi with a visibly modern roof and steeple.
- Hauptkirche St. Petri, Bergstrasse. St. Petri has been a cathedral in the 12th century or possibly even earlier. As with other Hauptkirchen, the present version is one of many successive, and was actually only completed in 1878 after the great fire in 1842 consumed its predecessor. In turn, however, St. Petri survived the Second World War relatively intact. Of note are the large ornate door handles in the shape of lion heads, which have actually survived both the fire and the war.
- Hauptkirche St. Nikolai. All five main churches of Hamburg were damaged in World War II. But in contrast to the other four, St. Nikolai has not been re-erected making it a memorial against war. The steeple is still standing and visitors can take an elevator to the top for a view of the city The price to take the elevator is €3.70.
- Hauptkirche St. Katharinen. Situated on an island, it traditionally served as the church of the seamen. The base of its spire, dating from the 13th century, is the second oldest building preserved in the city. The church is also famous for its centuries-old organ, played by Bach when he was visiting the city. The instrument was actually destroyed to a large extent by the wartime bombings, but has been meticulously rebuilt and is playable again.
- Hauptkirche St. Michaelis (Michel). The youngest and the only baroque church of the five. The current building is actually not the original St. Michaelis - the one that formerly stood in the location (built 1647-1669) was destroyed by a lightning strike in 1750 and it was not until 1786 that the present church was erected on the site. From the tower you'll have a great view over the city.
There is also another Hauptkirche St. Nikolai in the north of Hamburg, built as a functional replacement of the destroyed one. Altona, which was a separate city until the 20th century, has its own Hauptkirche as well.
- Hulbe-haus. dating from the beginning of the 20th century as most buildings around, but looking much older
- Radio Hamburg. Under the building you can visit the remains of the bishops tower, from the 11th century. On the other side of the road, you can currently see excavations in progress, seeking the remains of the small fortress Hammaburg, which was erected in the 9th century giving Hamburg its name
- Spitaler Straße / Mönckebergstraße. The area west of Hamburg's central railway station is mainly a shopping district
Around city hall
- Rathaus (city hall), Rathausmarkt 1. Closed during official events. Hamburg's impressive was built in 1897 out of sandstone in neo-Renaissance style, including a 112 m tower. The square in front of the city hall is the Rathausmarkt, hosting many events especially in summer. Inside there are several magnificent halls used for representative purposes and sittings of government and parliament. These can be visited in guided tours (M-Th 10AM-3:15PM, F-Su 10AM-1:15PM, half-hourly in German, hourly in English and French Admission is €3 for adults, €2 for Hamburg Card holders and €0.50 for children.
- Hamburger Börse (House of Commerce) (The building behind the city hall). Between the buildings, there is a little courtyard called Rathaushof with its fountain Hygieia-Brunnen
Following the canal to the right and crossing the traditional shopping road, Jungfernstieg, you quickly get to the artificial lake Binnenalster. Boat tours take you to the even bigger artificial lake, Außenalster, directly behind he Binnenalster with lots of sailing boats in summer.
Around St. Nikolai
- Patriotische Gesellschaft. The building of the Patriotic Society was erected following the great fire of 1842 on the former site of the old town hall of Hamburg. Built using the most modern technology at that time, including concrete substructure, and featuring modern techology such as flush toilets, it was nevertheless kept in a style that was an interpretation of the surrounding medieval architectural heritage. Of note inside is the large hanging clock by Aloys Denoth.
- Trostbrücke. with the statues of Graf Adolf III and Bishop Ansgar on both sides
- Zollenbrücke. Hamburg's oldest remaining bridge from the 17th century
- Chilehaus (Chile House) (Metro U1, station Meßberg). The house, depicting the form of a ship, is probably the best example of the 1920s style of "Kontorhaus" architecture. Large office buildings are displayed in the typical, northern red brick style.
- Hopfenmarkt. The hop market with its fountain Vierländerinbrunnen
- Alte Deichstraße. Ensemble of traditional half timbered merchant houses
- Nicolai Fleet. This is the site where Hamburg's harbour was some centuries ago
- International Baptist Church (IBC-Hamburg). Biggest English-speaking church in Hamburg. Meets 12:30-2PM on Sundays. Large Young Adult Group that meets Tuesdays as well.
At the southern end of the Alte Deichstraße, you see where the harbour moved afterwards. There is a canal called Zollkanal. Looking to the left, you see the Speicherstadt, a large district of warehouses from 1888. Some are still in use, but others have been converted to apartments. In 2015 the Speicherstadt was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- The Hamburg Dungeon, Kehrwieder 2 (U3 "Baumwall", Bus: 6, 111). Is a live-action presentation of the "darker times" of Hamburg. It is probably mostly suited for a younger, easily impressed audience. But it might not be suitable for young children. Tickets € 23, kids under 10-14: € 19.
- The Miniatur Wunderland, Kehrwieder 2. Is the world's largest model railway layout. The panoramas include parts of Hamburg, the Alps, the American west, and a Scandinavian exhibit which features automated ships on a body of water. It also has an airport exhibit with automated planes which taxi and fly. Tickets: € 12, kids under 16: € 6.
Behind the warehouse district Speicherstadt a totally new quarter, the HafenCity, is being shaped and erected on unused industrial ground, nerved by channel, docks and basins. It is Europe's largest project of city development, creating a whole new quarter from scratch in a former harbour region.
- Elbphilharmonie. New 'architectural lighthouse' of Hamburg. On the top of a huge old warehouse a 110 metres tall modern philharmonic hall with glass façade and waveshaped roof is being built. Completion is scheduled for 2016 (but has been pushed back in the past), when advance ticket sales will begin.
- Elbphilharmonie Information Pavilion. guided tours around €5, €3 discounted.
- HafenCity Kesselhaus InfoCenter, Am Sandtorkai 30. open Tu-Su 10AM-6PM. Here can find information about the new buildings and whole district. The InfoCenter also provides free guided tours
- HafenCity View Point. Look at the erecting process from an orange observation tower, which allows nice views on the HafenCity, the harbour, and the river. Free admission.
- Hanseatic Trade Centre, Am Sandtorkai 74-77 (Kehrwiederspitze).
- City und Sportboothafen (opposite of the metro station "Baumwall"). Hamburg's city and yacht harbour..
- Feuerschiff LV 13. The big red lighthouse ship hosts a restaurant today.
- Überseebrücke. This is where formerly big cruise liners docked when coming to Hamburg.
- Gruner + Jahr. Hyper-modern building of the publishers
- Krameramtswohnungen (Close to the Michel, off the road Krayenkamp). The shopkeeper-office-flats are the last example of a typical 17th century housing estate.
- Flussschifferkirche. Germany's only floating church in Rothenburgsort.
- Kunsthalle (art museum), ☎ +49 428 131-200, fax: +49 428 54-3409, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Glockengießerwall north of Hauptbahnhof. Open Tu-Su 10AM-6PM, Th 10AM-9PM. The museum houses an important collection of paintings from the 19th century with works from Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, Philipp Otto Runge, Caspar David Friedrich, Adolf Menzel, and modern arts. It rises on both sides of a paved court. The Baroque building on one side has the older works. The areas under the courtyard and the other, modern looking building house an extensive collection of very modern art. There are some extremely fine pieces, but the quality is uneven and the curacy curious at times. For instance, in a far back corner with minimal climate control and no observation are four or five gorgeous French Impressionist paintings which are among the finest in the museum. Adults 12 €, Concessions 6 €, Family Day Ticket 18 €, under 18 free admission.
- Deichtorhallen. The Deichtorhallen is one of the best known exhibition galleries worldwide. The historical buildings are divided into an exhibition hall for contemporary art and the "House of Photography". Together the two buildings organize a highly diverse program of changing exhibitions.
- Hamburg Museum (former: Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte). Holstenwall, close to Underground station "St. Pauli". This is the museum of city history, bringing the past to life with a lot of models showing the development of the harbour and the city. The club "MEHEV" is showing a 40-year old and one of the largest scale model railroads here.
- Maritimes Museum. Privately owned museum in HafenCity near Speicherstadt district houses a collection of thousands model ships, construction plans, uniforms and photographs on ten floors in the oldest preserved warehouse in Hamburg (from 1879). Normal ticket € 12.50, discounts apply.
- Speicherstadtmuseum (Dockland Museum). branch of Museum of Labour located in docklands warehouse. History of the district and tea and coffee trade. Entrance: € 3.60, discounts apply.
- Traditionsschiffhafen (Sandtorhafen in HafenCity).
- Museum cargo ship MS Cap San Diego. Museum cargo ship moored at the port of Hamburg. Hosts temporary exhibitions. Accommodation in cabins is possible.
- Automuseum Prototyp, Shanghaiallee 7 (HafenCity). Open 10AM - 6PM, Mondays closed.. Museum of car prototypes, nice shop inside. Tickets €9, kids <14 €4.50.
- Deutsches Zollmuseum (German Customs Museum). Admission € 2.
- Bucerius Kunst Forum, Rathausmarkt 2.
- Spicey's Gewürzmuseum (Spice Museum). Located in the Speicherstadt. They claim to be the world's only spice museum.
- CHOCOVERSUM HACHEZ Schokoladen-Museum, Meßberg 1 (U1 Meßberg), ☎ +49 40 41 91 230-0. 10AM-6PM daily, including Sundays. The Chocoversum is a "museum" run by chocolate manufacturer Hachez from Hamburg's fellow Hansestadt Bremen. Rather than focus on exhibiting historic artifacts, it presents the process of making chocolate from the plantation up to the finished confection. There is also a studio where visitors can try their hands at being a chocolatier. 90-minute guided tours are provided everyday. € 14, dicsounts for children, disabled, families and large groups.
- Hamburgische Staatsoper. Hamburg is home to the Hamburg State Opera House, one of the leading opera houses in Germany. It holds great historical significance, as in 1678 the first public opera house in Germany was built in Hamburg at Gänsemarkt Square, which is where the opera house is still located today.
- Laeiszhalle. The Laeiszhalle is the main classical music hall in Hamburg, with two halls: the kleiner Saal and großer Saal. You can see the schedule on their website. For online ticket purchases, use Ticket Online.
- The Rover Rep Theatre, Großneumarkt 8, ☎ +49 40 317 31 41. At the Irish Rover. English language pub theatre under the Irish Rover at the Großneumarkt. High class professional productions in a special atmosphere.
- Thalia-Theater, Alstertor 1. New directors and the continuing cooperation with young important writers based on the confidence in a strong and vital company lead to international acknowledgment.
Spa and fitness
- Club Olympus Spa & Fitness, Park Hyatt Hamburg Hotel, Bugenhagenstrasse 8, ☎ +49 40 3332-1234, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Alsterarkaden (North of the Rathausmarkt.). The white arcades over the canal are Hamburg's prime shopping location
- Europa Passage, Ballindamm 40. The latest must-see is the newly built shopping complex Europa Passage, near the town hall at the Alster lake.
- Hanse Viertel. A large shopping centre, originally erected in early 20th century
- Souvenirs. A good and not-overpriced souvenir shop is directly located on the town hall square under the glass roofage. Typical souvenirs are statues of the Michel Church or the town hall, the water-carrying dogsbody Hummel hummel Mors mors, blue road signs like Reeperbahn, and a post card of the red light district.
- Vintage and Rags, Kurze Mühren 6 (U-Bahn: Mönckebergstraße).
- In the central station, you can get all kinds of snacks, including the fast food chains. But also fresh fish — Hamburg or Sushi style.
- As elsewhere in Germany, the Galeria and Karstadt department stores have a restaurant on the top floor. Open from morning to afternoon, you can have a decent meal at an affordable price.
- Galatea, Ballindamm (On a boat on the east side of the Binnenalster). Good Italian food.
- Kartoffelkeller, Deichstrasse 21. Large range of dishes with potatoes at their heart, including lots of traditional German dishes, eg Herring and Potatoes. Mains €10-€15
- Parlament, Rathausmarkt 1, ☎ +49 40 70383399, fax: +49 40 70383398, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Traditional local food in the amazing basement of the Rathaus. Mains ca €20.
- Cafe Paris, Rathausstraße 4, ☎ +49 40 32527777, e-mail: email@example.com. 9AM-11:30PM. Classic French bistro in a beautiful historical building. Good place to get a coffee and pastry, or enjoy a leisurely lunch. Ground floor is very loud, crowded and busy. Upstairs (when entering turn right) is a quiet restaurant with a small bar (all food is also served at the bar). "Tartar" and "steak frites" can be strongly recommended.
- Vapiano (three locations within Hamburg). A chain, Vapiano serves Italian food, in a trendy, friendly atmosphere. By the entrance you will get a "credit card", you show when you order food in the different kitchens. You pay when you leave. Fill your boots for around €20.
- Die Bank, Hohe Bleichen 17, ☎ +49 40 2380030, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Contemporary and classy German food using seasonal ingredients. Die Bank is just that, a former bank, with a money themed contemporary decor. It's a classy place to be seen - dress fabulous.
- Brauhaus Joh. Albrecht, Adolphsbrücke 7 (at the Alster canal), ☎ +49 40 367740. Cosy brewpub with good beers and food. beers €4.
The accommodation options in the city centre are mostly mid-range to upscale hotels. For more variety of accommodation options, see other districts.
On the floor
There is a Church mission on the West side of the main train station, mainly for homeless people and people with problems. But it's very clean, people are friendly, and if one is humble and polite, there is a good chance you can enter to chat (even in English) and sleep there on the floor in your sleeping bag. The night shift opens the place at midnight and everyone has to leave before seven in the morning.
Nevertheless, as a traveller, you should contribute some money to run the volunteer's service or at the very least offer some help. Remember: This is not a place for the unprepared traveller and definitely not a hotel!
- Barceló Hamburg, Ferdinandstrasse 15. Thoroughly modern business hotel in the second row of buildings to Binnenalster, which is visible over the rooftops of neighbouring buildings from the hotel's top floor. All the facilities you may expect, but the gym is an extremely small and narrow room.
- AMERON Hotel Speicherstadt, Am Sandtorkai 4. A comfortable, modern hotel with interesting interior appointments right within Speicherstadt
- 25hours Hotel HafenCity, Überseeallee 5. Germany's prime design hotel chain never disappoints with hotels featuring a mix of modern, retro and various pop-culture influences throughout. The restaurant is also a highlight in its own right.
- Lindner Hotel Am Michel, Neanderstrasse 20. Lindner is a chain of German upscale'ish hotels with nothing particularly special, but solid service standards and well-appointed rooms. The hotel's name is a bit of a stretch, as it is not immediately next to St. Michaelis church.
- Scandic Hamburg Emporio, Dammtorwall 19. One of the Swedish chain's southermost outposts is an all-new hotel opened in 2014, with an architecturally interesting building and Scandinavian flair throughout, meaning minimalist but tasteful appointments and lots of wood. Relatively large rooms, but most with views of opposite walls. Location on the edge of Neustadt is quite convenient for those visiting the CCH.
- Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Complementing the Atlantic on the other side of the Kennedybruecke as one of Hamburg's finest and oldest hotels, Vier Jahreszeiten has been overlooking the Binnenalster since the early 20th century, expanded and refurbished many times since. Today it is managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and provides most comforts and amenities a contemporary luxury hotel can, but be aware that it has no swimming pool and the fitness/wellness offering is limited in comparison to its competitors.
- Park Hyatt Hamburg, Bugenhagenstr. 8. The Hyatt took residence in an exquisitely-decorated historic building, and provides an oasis of relaxed tranquility in the busy area neighbouring the Hauptbahnhof. Rising to the challenge of fellow luxury hotels in Hamburg, the Park Hyatt offers no less than 1000 sqm of spa and fitness facilities.
- Marriott, ABC Strasse 52, ☎ +49 40 3505-0. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. 4-Star hotel with 270 guest rooms and 8 suites, also has a Body Care Centre with indoor pool and whirlpool as well as 416 m² conference facilities. Restaurant and piano bar with live music.
- SIDE, Drehbahn 49. Under the unassuming name you will find one of Hamburg's finest design hotels, rivaled perhaps only by the Sofitel. Rooms are kept in minimalist white and are protected from any outside interference by a double facade. The SkyLounge on the 8th floor features a unique view of the city.
- Sofitel Hamburg Alter Wall, Alter Wall 40. Quite nondescript on the outside, the Sofitel shines inside with perfectly balanced and tasteful minimalist design, and of course great service standards.
- Steigenberger Hotel Hamburg, Heiligengeistbrücke 4. Situated right on the Alsterfleet, the Steigenberger is housed in a building made to look in line with Hamburg's traditional canal architecture. Inside you will find the usual German idea of Gemuetlichkeit combined with the chain's usual high standards of service. Of note is the gym and spa area with views over the neighbourhood.
- Renaissance Hamburg Hotel, Grosse Bleichen. The Renaissance is located in an interesting early 20th century building, which is a part of the Hanseviertel. Inside a bit dated, but with the usual Marriott quality.