The Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg

The Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, is one I’ve visited a few times for various reasons. With a wide range of culture and industry, as a destination, the city manages to meet the needs of a wide range of travellers from business travellers to couple enjoying a weekend away and everything in between.

The beautiful city of Hamburg – Photo: Lufthansa

I’ve visited the city for work, as part of a university trip and also for a weekend away with friends, and so have experienced a range of the city’s attractions. So, rather than trying to cover everything, this blog is going to be my top five sights or destinations within the city.

Miniatur Wunderland

This is an absolute must! Based in one of the city’s old dock warehouses, this is an absolutely giant miniature railway and airport which spreads over 2000m2, more than a quarter of the available floorspace. Initially consisting of models of Central Germany, Austria and the fictional city of Knuffingen, the model now also includes Hamburg, the US, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Knuffingen (Hamburg) airport, Venice, wider Italy and a Fun Fair.

Knuffingen airport at Miniatur Wunderland

The airport alone contains 40,000 LED bulbs, 15,000 miniature figures and a massive 100km of wiring! In total the whole of the miniature railway consists of over 15km of track, almost half a million LEDs and has cost €36million to construct. I’ve visited twice and still don’t think I’ve seen it all properly, plus they keep adding to it, with Monaco, Provence, South America, Central America & The Caribbean and Asia sections all being constructed over the next few years.

If you want to visit Miniatur Wunderland, it’s about a 10 minute walk from Baumwall (Elbphilharmonie) U-bahn station on the U3 (Yellow) line. Entry costs €20 and the opening hours are absurd, with a guaranteed 0930-1800 opening, however frequently opening at 0730 and not closing until 0100. According to the website there are only 4 days in October where they close before 2300 and even then the earliest close is 2200.

Some of the amazing scenery at Miniatur Wunderland

Airbus

The next of my top five in Hamburg a bit of a geeky one, but personally well worth the visit. It’s Airbus! The aircraft manufacture’s site is at Finkenwerder airport to the south of the river Elbe and is home to the final production lines of the four aircraft of the A320 family (A318/A319/A320/A321) as well as manufacturing parts for the A330, A350 and A380.

Through their partner, Werksfuehrung, you can undertake a guided tour of the site, and having done both the Hamburg and Toulouse tours, the Hamburg one is far better. Whilst some of the tour is still conducted by bus (mainly the widebody manufacturing), the Hamburg tour includes a walking tour on the ‘shop floor’ of the A320 family production line and get up close and personal with the aircraft. Individual tours cost €24.90 and since August 15th, ‘Covid-safe’ tours have been being undertaken and are available for booking. Full disclosure though, I don’t know how these tours differ from the standard ones.

A Turkish Airlines A320 at Hamburg

Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photo’s on the tour so the photo above is of a very much completed Airbus A320 at Hamburg’s main airport. Tours start at the Airbus Periport at Finkenwerder, and to get there (unless you have a car) you’ll need to take the S-bahn (lines S1, S3 or S21) to Hamburg-Altona and then take the 150 bus to the Airbus (Kehre) stop. According to Google, the bus journey should take around 40 minutes and runs every 15 minutes.

Christmas Market

Some of the top attractions for tourists in Hamburg each year are the city’s Christmas markets. During my visit to the city in 2017 we visited two of the markets, Winterwald, which spreads through the shopping streets around the Mönckebergbrunnen, and the Weihnachtsmarkt, which is the city’s main market located outside the City Hall. As well as these two markets located around the centre, the Weisser Zauber or White Magic Christmas markets sits alongside the Binnenalster (the city’s large artificial lake), whilst the Fleet Christmas market sits on Fleet Island and has a nautical feel. If you’re looking for something a bit different, Santa Pauli is hosted around the Reeperbahn and boasts being the world’s first erotic Christmas market. Yes, I’m just going to leave that there!

The Weihnachtsmarkt outside Hamburg’s Rathaus

The Weihnachtsmarkt is made up of around 80 stalls and fills the square outside the Rathaus, which itself is rather stunning. Brightly lit and featuring a giant Christmas tree, the market ticked all the boxes with plenty of crafted goods, food and mostly importantly Eierpunsch (essentially Eggnog) & Gluhwein (Mulled Wine)! These tasty, warming drinks are a staple of Christmas markets and the beautiful mugs they are served in can be kept as souvenirs at the expense of your deposit.

Generally the Christmas markets open around the 25th November and run until the end of the year, however St Pauli’s X-rated alternative tends to open a week or so earlier for some reason. To get to the markets I’ve mentioned above, you’ll want to head to one of the following U or S-bahn stations: Rathaus U-bahn (City Hall Market); Mönckebergstraße U-bahn (Winterwald); Jungfernsteig U-bahn & S-bahn (White Magic); Stadthausbrücke S-Bahn (Fleet); or St Pauli U-bahn (Santa Pauli)

One of the entrances to the Weihnachtsmarkt

City Nightlife & Reeperbahn

Another of the city’s famous (or infamous) attractions is its nightlife, which, as with any city of this size, is buzzing. Of course, the focus of the city’s nightlife for many is the Reeperbahn, affectionately known as ‘die sündigste Meile’ or ‘the most sinful mile’ due to it being home to Hamburg’s red-light district.

Our exploration into the city’s nightlife actually started in the its second nightlife district, Sternschanze, which it to the north of St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn. Starting at a bar called GoldFischGlas (Gold Fish Bowl) we followed an Indie pub crawl we had found on Google and even within this genre there seemed to be something for everyone. There were some great bars and we were welcomed into all of them, despite looking very out of place at a couple (one was definitely more heavy metal than Indie and seemed to be a bar mostly for St. Pauli football fans). Even at this one though, I felt safe and, as always, the German beer was good.

The local bars are proud of being in St. Pauli

As well as being well known for the obvious, the Reeperbahn is also quite important in music history, with The Beatles having performed in a number of clubs around the district prior to their rise to fame. The city played such a part in the development of the band that John Lennon is quoted as saying “I might have been born in Liverpool but I grew up in Hamburg”. Between the Reeperbahn and Sternschanze districts you can certainly have an enjoyable evening and there is definitely some nightlife to suit everyone in the city.

Have a wander…

As with all cities, my advice for Hamburg is to have a wander and see what you discover! Make sure to take a walk along the promenade of the Binnenalster or around the old docks that the city’s wealth and prestige was built on as you never know what you might find. They’ll always be another hidden gem amongst Hamburg’s streets and waterways!

One of Hamburg’s waterways – Photo: Hamburg.com

To finish off I’m going to leave you with a cool Hamburg fact which, whilst astounding, shows just how much the port and waterways did and still do play a part in the city’s fortunes.

“Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined”

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