Hamburg is ideal for a city weekend break from the UK, with the flight from London Stansted taking around an hour and a quick hop on the train from the airport to the city centre Hauptbahnhof taking around half an hour and costing 3€.
Often overlooked in favour of Germany's inimitably cool capital, Berlin, Hamburg has shaken off the seedy reputation of old and has emerged as a vibrant and cosmopolitan destination. It is fairly navigable by foot, although it is well-served by the S- and U-bahn public transport systems.
My Hamburg Top 5
Speicherstadt and HafenCity
Strolling along the Reeperbahn
Exploring the Flakturm and Planten und Blumen Gardens, stopping off to admire the monument of Bismarck
Taking in the view from St Michael's Kirche
Walking along the shore from HafenCity to Stilwerk - past Fischmarkt, U-boot museum and Landungsbrücken
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Scandic Hamburg Emporio, (price range: £90-£208 based on average rates for a standard room) which in our view was in the perfect location. It is an eco-friendly chain hotel but still manages to feel unique and intimate. We picked it for the design-centric vibe and the excellent Trip Advisor reviews (there was a review from somebody who gave it 1* as it reminded them too much of Ikea... the clue is in the title, pal! *rolls eyes*). We were impressed with our room which featured an enormous bed and... separate duvets! Well. What a revelation! Why have we not thought of doing this at home?! No more fighting over the duvet in the wee small hours = bliss! Anyway, the room was comfortable and spotless with a huge double shower.
We opted for the hotel breakfast each day at 12€ and it was well worth it. There was an excellent selection of hot and cold food, teas, coffees, juice and pastries - all with a healthy dose of hygge due to the soft designer lighting and well placed tea lights. We found this huge breakfast kept us going most of the day!
Another option we considered was the hip 25hours hotel in HafenCity. Similarly priced to the Scandic, we popped in here for a couple of Astra beers and were impressed by the quirky decor; it just wasn't in our preferred location for this trip. I'd love to go back and stay here, though!
What We Did
We hadn't planned anything in particular before we went. Truth be told, we just wanted to spend time together and we spent most of our time just wandering around chatting - catching up as husband and wife, instead of just this co-parenting team we tend to usually be. I've spoken before about how the Christmas season can become overwhelming for me, and this was just the antidote.
We headed out on the first day towards the sea. We strolled down the Jungfernsteig, admiring the Rathaus on the way, and then onto Mönckebergstraße, both streets being the main thoroughfares of the city. We then crossed over onto the Speicherstadt and headed towards the coffee museum (naturally!). This was well worth a stop - great choice of coffee (and cakes) with quirky decor - chairs upholstered from coffee sacks and a building rich in memorabilia celebrating Hamburg's rich maritime heritage.
The architectural difference stood on a bridge between the Speicherstadt and HafenCity is truly quite incredible. I loved exploring this little area - marvelling at the modern design and just people watching in general! The stretch of Am Kaiserkai towards the Elbphilharmonie was particularly spectacular, bathed in beautiful winter sun and filled with people just perambulating, some with hot glühwein in their hands.
One thing we noticed was how all the modern developments were sympathetic to Hamburg's heritage and status. Many buildings come to a point, or were shaped to resemble the bough of a ship, for example. We ended the day with a stroll through the Reeperbahn - it's just got to be done, really, hasn't it? It wasn't as tacky as I thought it would be, but it wasn't my cup of tea either. We did, however, delight in sending inappropriate photos to our group chat of some of the products on offer in the Reeperbahn shops! ;)
We'd aimed to hit the Fischmarkt on Sunday for an early breakfast but, alas, the allure of a lie-in proved too irresistible. Instead, we brunched at the hotel and then headed out to the Deichtorhallen to infuse ourselves with some cultural, arty shiz. We also fancied checking out the Kunsthalle, but were conscious of time with flying back that evening. Instead, we walked over to St. Michael's Kirche and climbed the 453 steps to the top for a magnificent view of Hamburg. It really was quite breathtaking to think this city had been rebuilt after being nigh on obliterated by Allied bombing during Operation Gomorrah in the Second World War, where 40,000 civilians had lost their lives.
From here, we fittingly headed to look at one of the few remaining Flakturm, called Heiligengeistfeld. It isn't open to the public, but it is still fascinating to wander around the concrete behemoth. Apparently, it is now used for music lessons and houses a nightclub! The Flakturm is pretty adjacent to the renowned Planten und Blumen park so we had a stroll through there, checking out the ice skaters. James had wanted to visit the Bismarck Monument so we meandered to see that... for him to express great disappointment that the monument wasn't a tribute to the battleship, as he'd expected, but rather the Prussian politician and diplomat. Trust me, I was belly laughing for much of the day after that!
If it had been spring / summer, I'd love to have spent some time jogging around the Altona, enjoying a Biergarten or perhaps going out on a boat, but alas - it was January, snowing and freezing. Wrapped up in our winter finery, we certainly made the most of our trip, in spite of the weather!