Hamburg came highly recommended to me by everyone I met that has been there. The only problem was that no-one could explain why they liked it, except that it has a port and therefore is surrounded by water. It is true that the water adds a lot to this city in the way of a nicer climate than a lot of Germany, as well as the lovely rivers traversing the city being pleasing to the eye. I allocated six nights here, more days than anywhere else in Germany, in order to discover what everyone loves so much. I found a clean, organised city with no shortage of things to do. It is easy to get out of the city for trekking or bike riding in incredible parks. The city itself has some amazing parks including an indoor tropical garden at Planten un Blomen. It also has some pretty interesting night life areas and christmas markets.
Naturally, I started my stay by exploring the city on foot. This bought me to many christmas markets, the harbour and the shopping area. The harbour has a multitude of shops for dinner, although I found the restaurants a few streets back had better prices and didn’t have the large crowds of some of the bigger restaurants on the banks of the port. A necessary attraction here is the Elbe Tunnel, which goes underneath the river to reach the island to the south of St Pauli. It is a long way down, especially because I am scared of heights. I challenged myself by walking down the stairs, instead of the lift, with legs shaking the whole way down, and then again on the way up.
Attraction: The Elbe Tunnel
Getting there: take the U1 or U3 from the Hamburg HBF to Landingsbrücken station, then head west into the large domed building.
The best way I found to get around the city was by buying a pass for the Hamburger Verkehrsverbund (HVV), which was €26.80 for 7 days in the Hamburg area. This pass works for all trains, buses and ferries. I took the ferry #62 from Landingsbrücken along the river to Finkenwerder, a small town about 30 minutes out of Hamburg. I didn’t find much to do in Finkenwerder so just went for a walk until dark so that I could catch the ferry back at night to see the port lit up.
So enough of the port, gardens are more my thing. The Plantum un Blomen is a large part in the centre of town with heaps of different areas, my favourites being the Japanese garden and the botanical garden. Throughout the park there is heaps of chairs to relax and look at the many lakes while pondering the joy of travel. The Japanese garden is the biggest, and self proclaimed best, Japanese garden in Europe. It is close to the botanical garden, a large hot house for plants from all over the world. I even found an Australian Eucalyptus here! This area was great to warm up, and remind me of the nature I left behind in Australia.
Attraction: Planten um Blomen
Getting there: Take the U3 to St Pauli and walk east to get to the entrance
I heard about the Christmas markets in St Pauli, the red light district, and decided I had to go and check it out. It was not really what I expected, although maybe I should have considering where it is located. A room behind the bar had a stripper, and stalls sold chocolate penis’s and adult costumes. A walk around the area revealed hookers on many of the streets and a huge party street with nightclubs of every genre. The clubs open at 10pm, and are pretty dead until 11pm. Saturday is the big party night, with many people staying up until morning and going straight to the St Pauli Fishmarkt. I didn’t do this, however did go to the market and it was fantastic. The markets are huge and very entertaining, with sellers of fruit, plants and chocolate yelling jokes at the top of their voice to attract buyers. They speak German so I couldn’t understand them, but I still found their behaviour hilarious. I was lucky enough that the Fish market starts at 7am in winter, rather than 5am which it is in summer.
I love this city, but nature is constantly calling my name, which prompted me to look at trekking in the area. The two places I ended up going were the Forstgutsbezirk Sachsenwald in the East, which was just out of the reach of the Hamburg train ticket, and Rosengarten in the South. Aumühle was a very quite forest, with very few people except a few locals. I came across one man and his dog. The dog came up to me and the man started speaking in German. I thought I would attempt some German saying “Nein Deutsch” (No German) as I’m not sure how to say “I don’t speak German” in German. The man replied in perfect english “So you speak English?”. This is pretty typical in Germany, people seem a little timid about speaking english, but as soon as I try German they seem pretty happy to speak in English.
Attraction: Forstgutsbezirk Sachsenwald
Getting there: Take the S21 toward Aumühle. The forest is to the north, east and south. I took a route to the north.
Rosengarten is a huge regional park and is designed for walking, bike riding and horse riding, with designated paths for each. It is way too big to walk in one day and if I was to go there again I would hire a bike. The maps at the start of the town show many walking and riding tracks, not that I used these, instead opting for going to the nearest part of the park from the Neuwiedenthal train station and started exploring. I cleared my mind walking through the park, after a rather interesting night in St Pauli the night before. I ended near the Freilichtmuseum, where I caught the 340 bus back to Harburg, and the train back to Hamburg.
Attraction: Rosengarten Regional Park
Getting there: Take the S3 to Neuwiedenthaler to get to the southern edge of the park. Push bikes can be taken on trains between 9am and 5pm, so it may be worth hiring one in Hamburg as I didn’t see any for hire near the park.
Tips: If you have time it could be worth staying in this area for a couple of nights as the park is huge; Hiring a bicycle will also be really useful here.
I loved Hamburg and can understand why so many people recommended I visit. It is difficult to describe it with the criteria usually used to judge a city, with nothing particularly special compared to other German cities, except the port. The difference is the vibe and laid back attitude of the people, as well as the close proximity of nature. It is the kind of place where anyone can fit in and find something they enjoy.