48 hours in Hamburg
Hamburg Ahoi! To get your bearings of the harbour city in style, dress up the smarter side of casual and head for an aperitif at Skyline Bar 20up. With its perky bar stools and floor to ceiling windows, you’ll get cracking views across the St. Pauli district, the Elbe, the new Elbphilharmonie, and the vast port that’s so integral to Hamburg’s identity and history.
Now that you’ve checked out the harbour from up high, it’s time to get closer to the water. Hamburg’s favourite city beach bar, StrandPauli, sits right on the Elbe and delivers laid-back food, a relaxed reggae soundtrack and lashings of ice-cool Astra (local beer) all year long. Come sun, rain or snow, its riverside perch and perennial dose of tropical island chill make it an ideal spot to see in the weekend.
This modernist marvel is a sight to behold and will set your morning off to a fantastic start. In fact, if you do nothing more than stare at Elbphilharmonie you'll go away feeling satisfied. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron and situated by the Elbe, this building fondly referred to as Elphi by locals comprises a vast glass wave perched upon the red brick plinths of an old warehouse. Of course, if you do venture inside you'll discover a wealth of activity and entertainment, but why not reroute through the Altstadt? The buildings are beautiful and the canal offers lovely strolling opportunities.
Fuel up on a hearty serving of steak tartare, bouillabaisse or Merguez sausage and chips at Café Paris, Hamburg’s answer to the French brasserie and an unfailingly popular spot since 1882. Book ahead to secure a table in the evocative Art Deco “Saal” and leave room for a macaroon or two with coffee.
Stroll off the French cuisine with a wander around the Inner Alster lake, before roaming some 700 years of European art history at the Kunsthalle, one of the most important art museums in Germany. Its myriad big hitters run from Holbein and Holzer to Canaletto and Caspar David Friedrich, including the quintessentially Romantic Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.
Before sampling Hamburg’s legendary nightlife, line your stomach at Marend, a quaint and cosy Tyrolean locale on the edge of the party district, promising a relaxed charm and hearty Alpine Knödel (dumplings) in cheese, spinach and beetroot flavours.
It’s time to head to the Reeperbahn, otherwise known as “the Kiez”, Hamburg’s near-kilometre-long strip of after-hours entertainment. With motley hordes of punks, pimps, prostitutes, bachelorette parties and fellow “touris”, this is Hamburg the harbour city in all its rough and ready–but rarely unsafe–glory. Off the main thoroughfare of bars, clubs, and sex shops, you’ll find a patchwork of clubs and watering holes, including Kaiserkeller, where the Beatles regularly played in the ‘60s, and Zum Silbersack, a fabled kneipe since 1949.
Depending on how late last night was (or whether you went to bed at all), it’s well worth heading to Hamburg’s beloved Sunday morning Fischmarkt, open from 5am in summer and 7am in winter through to 9:30am. As popular with bleary-eyed revellers as families doing the weekly grocery run, the market delivers all manner of fish, as well as plenty of market-stall banter, fruit and vegetables, flowers, second-hand trinkets and restoratively salty breakfast sarnies. For those in unwearied party spirits, the adjacent Fischauktionshalle serves beer and live rock bands until closing time.
Once the anarchic heart of Hamburg counter-culture, the northerly district of the Sternschanze has seen significant gentrification over the last decade, with the occupied Rote Flora theatre the last real bastion of leftist dissent. Despite the influx of money and brands, it remains one of the most charismatic districts for a Sunday stroll, with plenty of nice spots for refreshment, from the finest dose of third-wave coffee at Elbgold to old-school café charms and international papers at Café Unter den Linden.
For a dose of fresh air before your flight home, head west to the lovely, leafy Jenisch Park. With its rolling acres and woodland paths, it’s a beautiful place for crisp winter walks as much as lazy sun-lounging in summer. If you fancy a little more culture, pop into the park’s serene Ernst Barlach Museum, a beautiful modernist enclave showcasing the work of expressionist sculptor, Ernst Barlach.