Last year for Christmas, my boyfriend got me a Ryanair voucher that we decided to save until after our trip to New York. As we were browsing the Ryanair website at the beginning of October, looking for a great destination to visit next, our eyes landed on Hamburg.
I saw the city a couple of times in passing when I was on my way to visit my aunt and uncle who live in Northern Germany, and I’ve been wanting to explore it properly one day. With the Christmas season coming up, it felt like the perfect opportunity to tick visiting a German Christmas market off my bucket list.
So, we decided to book our flights and I began practising my rusty German ready for a weekend filled with festive spirit!
Considering the fact that each year, an estimated 2 million people visit the City Hall Christmas Market alone, it shouldn’t be surprising that finding accommodation for our dates was no easy feat. We wanted to stay somewhere central that wouldn’t break the bank. Finally, we chose @friends by CitySurfer, a hostel within walking distance from the central railway station that was also really affordable. We paid €108 for 2 nights in a double room with shared bathroom.
As a person who values comfort and privacy, I usually stay away from hostels, but I was willing to give this one a try. Having a shared bathroom was a bit of a nuisance, especially considering that it was absolutely tiny. Our room was also rather cold, but other than that, I can’t fault it. It was clean and quiet throughout the whole stay. There was also a large kitchen and dining room area (with the Netflix fireplace flickering in the background for some cosy vibes) where you could prepare and eat your meals or simply chill with friends.
We could tell the place comes alive in the summer – there is a private beach area outside with a pool and sun loungers. There is also a vintage car that has a barbecue under its hood – you can buy sausages, burgers, and cold drinks at the Beach Kiosk if you wish to have a party. If you want to save some pennies or meet new people, you might want to take staying here into consideration!
Where we ate
Better Burger Company
After we landed in Hamburg and dropped off our bags, we were starving. A quick look at TripAdvisor pulled up Better Burger Company and as we’re both burger enthusiasts, it didn’t take much convincing. My boyfriend chose their classic BBC burger, while I went for the special with beef, Roquefort, and pears. Once your burger is ready, you can pick and mix sauces and toppings at the counter.
Our burgers came with a hearty portion of thick, salty fries with homemade mayonnaise. There were also plenty of delicious sauces to choose from on the tables. The place is small and there is an open kitchen, meaning that you can be sure they prepare everything freshly. We paid €26 for two burger menus including beers – if you’re searching for an inexpensive place serving great food, look no further.
I added this café to our list upon finding out they serve a Canarian specialty – cortado leche y leche, which is essentially coffee with milk and a layer of condensed milk on the bottom. Located in a former milk factory, with the original blue tiles still intact, Milch gives off some serious retro vibes and made for a perfect coffee break stop.
At first, the atmosphere inside this café may seem a little cold due to its minimalistic design, but I can assure you it’s the exact opposite. The barista was very friendly and I absolutely loved my coffee – the only downside is that I don’t know of any local café that serves cortado leche y leche so I could go and get my fix. If you’re ever in the area, I couldn’t recommend Milch enough.
When I was younger, there were summers when I spent days, or even weeks, at my aunt and uncle’s place in Germany. During that time, I got to try many German specialties, one of them being Mettbrötchen – a type of sandwich consisting of a fresh bread roll and raw pork mince seasoned with salt and pepper and garnished with sliced raw onions, which quickly became my favourite.
At first we found a different place to go for breakfast, but when we were 50 metres away, my eyes landed on a typical German bakery like the ones I used to frequent with my aunt and uncle. We decided to go inside and, lo and behold, I spotted some Mettbrötchen among dozens of other sandwiches and knew we had to stay.
At less than 5 euros each for 2 sandwiches and a large cup of coffee, it was an absolute steal. We also got some dessert afterwards. I chose traditional German Butterkuchen (butter cake), which was exactly like the one my uncle would often bring home after work.
On our second morning, we decided to go for one of their breakfast sets with a basket of fresh rolls, different types of toppings and spreads, scrambled eggs, and coffee. It was twice as expensive, but it was worth the price – we were so full we didn’t feel like having lunch that day. Nur Hier is a citywide chain of bakeries and you should definitely go to get an authentic German breakfast experience.
It was the main reason behind our trip to Hamburg and we got to visit four different Christmas markets around the city, including the world’s first erotic Christmas market.
I wrote a separate blog post describing our experience, but here’s a little spoiler – I’m already thinking about what German city we should visit next year at Christmas time!
Rathaus – City Hall
Once you’re in the area, it’d be a shame not to go inside the impressive City Hall building which is open to the public. You can choose to go on a guided tour, visit the exhibitions that are displayed inside, or simply have a walk around which is what we did.
When we entered the building, the first thing we saw was a magnificent ceiling-high Christmas tree with gorgeous decorations. With a beautiful fountain located right in the centre, stepping into its inner courtyard felt a little like being transported to Italy, which can only ever be a good thing.
Miniatur Wunderland is the world’s largest model railway exhibition located in an old warehouse building. When I saw it was rated as the top Hamburg attraction on TripAdvisor, I have to admit I was a little sceptical. I was worried it would be better suited for children and we would get bored easily. After a friend from work assured me it is absolutely not the case and it is a must-see while in the city, we decided to add it to our list… oh boy, am I glad we listened!
The museum is divided into various sections where you can see some of the world’s most famous landmarks. With an astonishing track length of 15.4 km, you can easily spend hours walking around looking for hidden gems. In the case of Miniatur Wunderland, the saying ‘devil’s in the details’ couldn’t be more true – for instance, my boyfriend spotted a certain ghost-fighting trio in the Rome section…
As we walked around the museum, the lights changed from day to night in regular intervals, showing the incredible light installations in full glory. There are also some buttons you can push to activate additional lights or actions.
I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I will just say my favourite section was the fictional Knuffingen Airport where you can observe around 250 planes take off each day. You will have to see the rest for yourself, but it exceeded any expectations we previously had and I will now encourage anyone planning to visit Hamburg to add this place to their list.
Understandably, the museum gets very busy, so pre-booking tickets on their website is an option worth considering – and you can even get a small discount for certain time slots! We didn’t pre-book, as we weren’t sure what time we would be able to visit, but we were lucky enough to get the last two tickets for our desired time slot. An interesting touch is also a board where you can check how many people from each country have visited the museum to date!
Speicherstadt and HafenCity
Speicherstadt is the world’s largest warehouse complex which spans over an area of 260,000 square meters. After I found out Karl Lagerfeld chose this location for a Vogue photoshoot, I knew we had to see this legendary designer’s source of inspiration with our own eyes.
We took a stroll along the canals winding around beautiful red-brick warehouse buildings – did you know Hamburg has more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined? We also admired the modern architecture of HafenCity – a newly regenerated area surrounding the port which is in stark contrast to Speicherstadt, but is worth seeing nonetheless.
In the lead-up to our stay, the hostel staff sent us a couple of e-mails containing various recommendations and fun facts about Hamburg. One in particular caught my attention. The construction of Elbphilharmonie was planned with an initial estimated cost of €77 million, which later rose to a whopping €866 million. For reference – the world’s only seven-star hotel, Burj Al Arab, cost ‘only’ €134 million more.
While you’re there, it is worth visiting Elbphilharmonie Plaza located 37 meters above ground which offers 360° views of Hamburg. Although Plaza tickets are free of charge, they are subject to availability. If you want to pre-book on their website to secure a spot, you can do so at a €2 booking fee.
Teekontor – Wasserschloss
As soon as I saw this tea shop in another blogger’s travel guide, I thought to myself – how good does a shop have to be in order to be mentioned alongside some Hamburg landmarks? Well, I’ve got my answer!
I’m not much of a tea drinker myself, but we wanted to pick up some Christmas presents for family members and it sounded like the perfect place.
From the moment we stepped foot inside, I was obsessed. They have so many tea blends to choose from that it took me a good 20 minutes to pick just one for my mum, AND they have coffee too! If you enjoy a good cuppa, you can’t miss this place!
St. Pauli and Reeperbahn
The St. Pauli district of Hamburg is renowned for three things: its football club, the harbour with the famous Fischmarkt, and Reeperbahn – one of Europe’s biggest red-light districts. While we didn’t wake up early enough to go to the fish market, we headed to St. Pauli one afternoon to attend their very own Christmas market and go for a walk along the Reeperbahn. Not far from Reeperbahn, there’s a gated street called Herbertstraße, commonly called the city’s most sinful street. You have to be male and over 18 years old to enter – any women caught trying to go behind the gates will have some strange liquid thrown at them. It’s a rather peculiar area of Hamburg and we didn’t spend much time there, but it makes for an interesting tourist attraction.
So, that’s the end of my mini travel guide – if you’re planning a trip to Hamburg, I hope it gave you some ideas! And if you’ve already been, what were your favourite places? Would you visit the city again?