Often overshadowed by Berlin, Munich and other well-known cities in Germany, Hamburg has a charm that is so different from the rest of the country.
With its importance as a world player in international trade, fascinating history and tasty food options, be sure to add a day or two in Hamburg to your itinerary. To help you plan your time in the city, here are 7 free things to do in Hamburg:
1. Walk under the river
How many people can say they’ve walked under a river? In Hamburg, they make it easy for you with the Old Elbe Tunnel. Opened in 1911, the tunnel lies 24 metres below the surface and stretches 426 meters long connecting Landungsbrücken with the Southern banks of the Elbe river. It was built to provide an alternative route for dock workers to easily access either side. Today, with many other alternative routes, the tunnel has turned into a novelty with mostly tourists wandering through. However, you can still spot local pedestrians, cyclists and the occasional car still make use of the tunnels. There are lifts that take you into the depths or you can opt to walk down. The whole experience is like a blast from the past and seems out of a movie, but completely worth experiencing.
2. Wander through the Speicherstadt
A visit to Hamburg would not be complete without a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Speicherstadt, literally the City of Warehouses. This 1.5km stretch of land is home to warehouses dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s is a symbol of the rapid international growth of trade during that time period. With canals running through, it makes for a scenic walk if only to just take in the architecture. However, while not free, while you’re here, I highly suggest stopping by Miniatur Wunderland which takes you on a world tour in miniature form. I thought it would be too cliche, but I actually loved my time there and with so much to see and take in, I’d definitely go back!
3. Explore the fish market
Hamburg is a port city through and through. And with it, comes easy access to tasty fish! If you’re in Hamburg on a Sunday, get up early (the market is only until 9:30!) and watch the fishmongers at work. Dating back to the early 18th century, this building has been selling every kind of fish imaginable for centuries. You can also find other goods for sale from fresh fruit to flowers to spices. If you’re feeling brave, stop for a breakfast fish sandwich. Even if you aren’t in Hamburg on a Sunday like I was, you can still wander the streets and smell the fresh and slightly fishy air.
4. Visit the new Philharmonic
The Elbphilharmonie is a new concert hall found in HafenCity. Built above an old warehouse building, the building’s exterior resembles a hosted sail or wave with its glass exterior and interesting shape. The building’s Plaza is open to the public and allows visitors to take in the surrounding views from all angles. The interior of the building is just as magnificent with interesting corners and architecture to discover. To access the Plaza, you will need to collect a ticket for a same day visit from the Visitor Center across the street or at the main entrance area of the building.
5. Explore HafenCity
After your visit to the new Philharmonic, take a wander through HafenCity, one of Europe’s largest ongoing development projects. In contrast to the nearby Speicherstadt, HafenCity is made up of mostly new buildings with the architecture to match. Experience what life would be like living along the water. Wander in and out of shops and restaurants. See how a completely new area of a city is formed and worked into an existing city.
6. Experience Reeperbahn
One of Hamburg’s most (in)famous streets, a visit to Reeperbahn in the evening hours is a must (but definitely not family friendly!). Giving Amsterdam’s red-light district a run for its money, Reeperbahn is located in the district of St. Pauli. The neon-lit street is lined with everything you could want on an evening out on the town from bars to nightclubs to restaurants.There are also strip clubs, sex shops and other similar businesses in this area. The Beatles performed here regularly before they became famous. The street has entered pop culture with many songs and movies making reference to the debauchery that occurs on these streets.
7. Visit St Michaelis Church
Regularly listed as one of Northern Germany’s most beautiful churches, St. Michaelis Church, and its troubled past, is worth a wander. The church’s distinctive copper roof and largest clock bell means you can’t miss it. The church is literally at the centre of the city making it easily accessible regardless of where you are and is close to a number of other important landmarks. While access to the interior of the Church is free, for a small fee, you can head up the church’s bell tower which rises 132 metres above ground offering fantastic 360° views over the city and harbour.
BONUS: Ride the ferry
While technically not free, but if you’re picking up a transportation card, it pretty much is. Instead of paying an arm and a leg for a tour of Hamburg’s, you can take a harbour ferry run by the city. From Landungsbruecken hop on Ferry 62 which runs every 15 minutes. The boat takes you to Finkenwerder and back for € 3.20 (if without a day pass). Just stay on the ferry when you get to the end. While you don’t get commentary (up to you whether or not that is a good thing!), you can still experience the port from in or outside the ferry.