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Hamburg - Boring or not?

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I have just returned from a dinner party where more than one said Hamburg is boring, and basically "go somewhere else" in Germany. I want to go up to Berlin, after already spending time in Bavaria but due to having tickets for the football World Cup I will need to get to Stuttgart 5 days after Berlin.

I had thought to go from Berlin over to Hamburg and then down to Cologne, travel down and get on the Rhine from Koblenz to Mainz and then to Stuttgart.

Is this good or should I try something else?

Thankyou for any input on this one.

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    I certainly don't think Hamburg is boring. It's a fascinating city, but different parts of Germany have very different characteristics: it's only about 150 years since it became a single country, and Bavarians, for example, think of themselves as Bavarians rather than Germans.
    Hamburg is a great port so is more cosmopolitan than most German cities - I ate in Portuguese restaurants on my last visit. It was very heavily bombed in the war, so lacks quaint old buildings. The people have a sense of humour much more like British people, compared with other Germans.
    That part of Germany is fairly flat so, if you want picturesque scenery with castles, don't go to Hamburg.

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    Boring? Hardly. You can have, see and do everything from super-high-cultural (www.hamburgische-staatsoper.de) to downright raunchy (Reeperbahn area with brothel-street Herbertstrasse) and anything in between.

    Try for a city tour with English commentary

    www.stadtrundfahrthamburg.de (not sure about English)

    www.hummelbahn.de/engl/index.htm (website in Eglish, also arrange for event tickets and such)

    It's a stately old city with a long history of leading the region in trade (Hanse), and its wealth shows in the lush treelined streets in stately suburbs.

    It has one of the world's greatest harbors - see if you can get a tour!

    www.hafenrundfahrt-classic.de

    www.hamburg-tourism.de/Hafenrundfahrten.69.0.html

    www.kapitaen-pruesse.de

    www.hanse-hafenrundfahrt.de/

    www.hadag.de/hafenrundfahrt.php

    "In Hamburg sind die Naechte lang" (famous old song "In Hamburg the nights are long...)

    WK

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    Hamburg is definitely NOT boring. It is not what visitors in Germany expect who usually travel to the south, but it absolutely fascinating. Don't expect much old architecture, but a lot of entertainment ... Hamburg is Germany's most cosmopolitan city. The harbour is one of Europe's biggests. A boat tour is highly recommended. The shopping in the city centre under the arcades is world-class.

    Etc. ...

    However, your trip of five days sounds too ambitious for me. I would skip Stuttgart at least.

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    My husband had a week-long conference in Hamburg, and we never ran out of things to do. The zoo is one of the best, the old churches are fascinating, the botanical gardens are lovely, and the department stores are first rate. I've never seen so many well-dressed citizens.

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    Living there, count me among the ones that love it. You already got great info here that doesn't leave much for me to add.

    I will stress that Hamburg and Berlin are probably not what a majority of tourists expects from Germany as they are by no means quaint or even picturesque.

    Hamburg is, however beautiful - especially during summers. There are not many cities in this worl that I am aware of that sport the luxury of having a huge lake right in the center of downtown where people can run along the shores, go sailing, rowing etc.

    In addition, the port tour is indeed a must IMHO as the port is an integral part of the city and adds a certain industrial majesty or beauty if you wish.

    Stately mansions can be viewed by taking a boat tour along the canals of the Alster departing downtown from Jungfernstieg.

    And even some cute (and slightly quaint) captains houses along Strandweg on the shores of the River Elbe in Oevelgoenne can be seen.

    A myriad of ethnic and domestic restaurants cater to about every taste and the nightlife isn't too bad, either.

    Best of all: It is only a 90 min. train ride by ICE from Berlin's Zoo station.

    Have fun!

    P.S.: Ingo what about your plans of visiting? - Sounds like you've been recently!

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    hsv - no, I have not been to Hamburg recently. I would not have missed to notify you, of course! At the moment I am planning a visit in July - after the World Cup hype is over ;-) I am considering the Steigenberger for a stay. It seems like a good location, and I love the small canal (the fleet) in front of it.

    I will contact you later for detailed planning.

    Ingo

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    Thankyou for your replies. We will be going to Hamburg! We are from Australia and will be happy to see a different part of Germany, and it will be all very different for us anyway. We also have avery beautiful harbour here in Sydney so it will be good to see another beautiful one in Hamburg.

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    Ingo,

    good coincidence. I am currently in Munich and shall be based here through May anyway.

    If you like that "Fleet", do take a look at the Dorint Sofitel Am Alten Wall, too. Its location might be slightly better and its design is stunninng if you like modern minimalist.
    A friend of mine stayed there and enjoyed it- particularly its pool and spa (which, I believe, the Steigenberger hasn't).

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    Thanks hsv, I will have a look at the Dorint Sofitel Am Alten Wall too. Although I am not so much into minimalist design :-) But it might be a special experience, LOL!

    Hope life (and work) in Munich is back to normal after the loads of snow.

    Ingo

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    Another vote for Hamburg, one of my favorite cities in Germany. Having said that, I would never compare Hamburg to Sydney. You have to set your mind on old world northern river port, more reserved/formal than Sydney. No great beaches but it does have a variety of neighborhoods just like Sydney making it more intimate despite its sprawling size. If you don't change your perspective/expectation, you'd easily get a similar impression as your friends did.

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    I also loved staying in Hamburg! What a beautiful city. I have the most memorable dining experiences I can ever remember in Hamburg. The atmosphere / food / service were so pleasant at each meal. I was just passing through on my way to Sweden but it was one of my favorite stops. I still have the postcard I bought in Hamburg on the wall next to my desk at work so I see it every day. I would jump at the chance to go there!
    Have fun!
    Annika

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    plwoo, here you go - just to name a few.

    Café Paris: This authentically French bistro is a nice stop close to City Hall, located at Rathausstrasse No.4. The French owners prepare nice lunches and reasonably priced daily luncheon specials along with a great atmosphere to which the beautiful antique tiles along the walls contribute greatly. A main course will cost you around € 9.-. This is also a great place to people watch, as it is always packed. It is also popular for dinner, you might want to make reservation before, though, to secure a table. Telephone Number is 040- 32 52 77 77. Dinner prices might be slightly higher, but should not exceed € 15.- for a main course.

    Elbe 76: This casual but stylish place in Hamburg's inner city residential neighborhood of Hoheluft is easily overlooked and located in the basement of an old apartment home at Bismarckstrasse 76. Thus its name is slightly peculiar, as it is quite a distance from the Elbe River contributing to its name. They have an extremely popular bar in the front, where they also serve the best Pizze in town IMHO. Try a Rucola/ Parma Ham one for a steep € 11.-. It's worth it. They have perfectly chilled Jever Pilsner beer on tap. Also, they sport a restaurant section in the back, which isn't bad, but I prefer to stay in the bar in the front. For some reason undisclosed to me, they only serve daily special Pizze in the restaurant section. As it's often packed, you might want to call ahead for reservations: 040- 40 02 35.

    Bottega Lentini: Located on Eppendorfer Weg in Eppendorf. Unfortunately, I don't know the street number, but it is just a few steps from the well known pub called "Legendaer" on the corner of Lehmweg. This is a casual Italian place seating most patrons on bar stools. The food is good, the atmosphere casual and it makes for a nice start into the evening, especially, if you want to visit the hip bar Bereuther close by and described below. A main course of Pasta or Pizza will cost somewhat around € 8.-, meat or fish dishes might sell for € 13.-.

    Stocker: I have been raving about Austrian TV- chef Manfred Stocker's restaurant here on Fodors and I will keep doing so. While not inexpensive, this place is not overly expensive and offers excellent value and food of impeccable quality in a relaxed atmosphere. The style of cuisine is mixed: While they offer a couple of classically Austrian dishes, such as Tafelspitz (which I highly recommend) served with an appetizer soup, hash browns, creamy spinach, and a light chive sauce at around € 17.-, they also feature locally and French influenced classic cuisine. Their sumptuous desserts are to die for, and the wine-list extensive (I recommend a Gruener Veltliner white wine from Kremstal at around € 27.- a bottle). They are located in Altona, not far from the train station, at Max- Brauer- Allee No. 80, neighboring the Theater for Children. This is a place for a special occasion and my absolute favorite currently.
    Telephone No. is 040- 38 61 50 56.

    Fischerhaus: A list of Hamburg's luncheon locations would not be complete without Fischerhaus. This is a rustic eatery down by the port located at Fischmarkt No.14. It has two levels. A rustic ground floor that sports a 1950s/60s interior that is pretty ugly and has not been changed much over the decades (it is clean, though) and a modern upstairs. The upstairs section features views of the docks of Blohm & Voss shipyards and the River in front of it. However, I suppose you will find the locals sitting in the traditional downstairs section. The food is nothing spectacular (especially the side dishes), but the fish is fresh and portions are large. In general, this is where I go if I want to enjoy a decent plaice fried in bacon and topped with bacon and butter ("Scholle Finkenwerder style), a classic Hamburg dish originating on the former Fisherman's island of Finkenwerder a bit down the river. You need to drink a beer along with it. Main courses at around € 14.-. I would not recommend this place for dinner, though, as I don't think the atmosphere is worth it.

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    Having explored Hamburg thoroughly on foot and by S-Bahn and U-Bahn and visited most of its main tourist attractions, I have to say that it doesn't have much to offer, when one considers its size.

    It's probably worth seeing, mainly because it's so different from most places in Germany, but two or three days is more than enough for the well-organised, physically fit visitor. More than that would be torture.

    This is a city, which is nearly a quarter of the size of London and is almost twice the size of Birmingham. Yet, dreary, old Brum probably has a greater range of cultural attractions. London's visitor attractions are World-beating: Hamburg's are on the same level as many run-down, provincial cities in Britain.

    If the best that Hamburg can do is offer boat trips around the docks and the Alster and a take-away offering scampi for four hours on Sundays, that's not saying much, is it?

    Far more interesting was Ohrlsdorf cemetery, an absolutely amazing place (although the "eternal rest" of 250,000 souls is somewhat disturbed by the airport's approach paths).

    The airport is not really an international airport at all. Its check-in hall (for carriers other than- all stand and salute- Lufthansa] is vast but doesn't have more than ten seats. A number of those working for the company, which acts as the agent for most foreign airlines, are surly, unhelpful and, on occasion, dishonest. A few, in contrast, are very helpful and friendly. Those employed by the airport itself are generally very accommodating.

    Facilities at the airport are poor. There are few shops for those departing from Hamburg but, strangely, plenty for those, who are arriving! Security checks are, however, conducted very efficiently and quickly. British airports please take note. The "air-side" facilities are almost non-existent. There are about four toilets and two payphones in total and roughly fifty seats for each gate.

    The public-address system is a joke; so pathetic that it's hardly worth having. In British airports, the Tannoy system booms out like Gladys Pugh in Hi-di-Hi, after amplification by AC-DC's roadie. In Hamburg, the not-very-public address system sounds as if it was made by by Fisher-Price and installed by Frank Spencer. Many of the announcements are made by people, who don't even have German as a first language, let alone English. "Muffled gobbledygook" sums it up perfectly. That's when the airport is quiet: if a party of schoolkids or lager-swilling football supporters is passing through, there's no way anyone is going to hear anything.

    The S-Bahn connection to the airport is convenient but the station is three floors below the check-in hall and the lift deposits people in the open air. They have to cross two roads, getting wet and dodging taxis while carrying their cases towards the check-in hall. That was a bit of a boo-boo on the design side of things.

    The Reeperbahn is one of the grottiest places I have ever seen. It looks the way Blackpool looked, twenty-five years ago, but with a dozen strip clubs (and at least three brothels, which advertise openly) thrown in. There isn't even much life about it or fun to be had. I actually felt sorry for the people, who work there. The most exciting things anyone will see on the Reeperbahn are the special offers at Lidl, at the Altona end on the "into town" side of the road.

    The current Star Club in the Grosse Freiheit (the original one across the street having been demolished after a fire and replaced by a brothel) is supposedly a great music venue but the acoustics are pretty awful and everything is just too loud.

    It was the general opinion of tourists that drinks were seriously overpriced in many bars (except the ones frequented by teenage delinquents, who try to get drunk for about three Euro). I can't really comment because I didn't visit many.

    And another thing. The whores on the streets don't always stick to the areas they're supposed to. Quite early in the evening, as I was on my way to a concert, I was grabbed, three times (by three different women) and virtually begged to go with them (for 30 Euro). I got the hard sell from another five or six.

    This was quite disconcerting. I had not been expecting that at all. I thought that this activity would be confined to a small area, well away from the theatres and so on. What surprised me even more was that most were better looking than the rest of females in Hamburg (although that wouldn't be hard because hardly anyone in Hamburg really looked German or Danish) and could speak English better. Both things seemed weird to me, at the time. Luckily, I didn't have to visit the Reeperbahn area at night again, after I'd been to the concert.

    Hamburgers seem to have a very casual, "So what?" attitude towards everything- and towards sex and customer service in particular.

    On a more positive note, I found the Beatles Museum very interesting and well designed, much better than many recently opened museums in Britain. It also had a good art gallery and shop. There's also a walking tour of "Beatles sites" on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

    In general, outside the financial district and central shopping streets, the city isn't very clean or well maintained, by German standards.

    Everywhere one goes, there are Kamikaze cyclists on the pavement (quite legally) doing about 25 mph and also doing their best to cleave pedestrians in two. Again, no one cares about this: it is somwhow "normal".

    Smoking is a big problem too. The air is thick with cigarette smoke, in many places, and some people even smoke in bars and clubs. I thought this was illegal, throughout the European Union. It's as if Hamburgers are perversely trying to show how much they abhor and reject National Socialism by giving themselves lung cancer!

    [For those of you, who don't know, the Nazis were strongly opposed to smoking and did a lot to encourage people to kick the habit. It was in Germany in 1942 that the link between smoking and lung cancer was conclusively proved for the first time. The tobacco industry did its best to dismiss and discredit that research, for about thirty years after the Second World War.]

    The climate is not very enticing. Spring seems to come quite late. It's often cold and humid. It's a port (as the city's defenders constantly remind us) but the weather is still a problem, when the city is trying to attract visitors.

    The cold helped to give me a sense of how grim Hamburg must have been, when five impoverished Beatles [John, Paul, George, Stu and Pete, in case you're wondering.] played there in 1960 and 1961. [By 1962, their terms and conditions were a little better and Stu Sutcliffe had been living with Astrid Kirchherr for about a year. Tragically, he died only a few days before the Beatles returned to Hamburg, to open the Star Club on 13 April 1962.]

    For British visitors, nothing is all that cheap. You'd be lucky to have a decent meal for less than £20 a head, even in pubs and cafes. However, web sites like Travel Republic are good for finding hotel bargains. Travel by train to other towns and cities in the region is also quite expensive. For instance, it took two and a half hours to get to Bremerhaven (which has a superb martime museum) and a return ticket cost about £70. Cheaper tickets were available to those, who were prepared to wait until tea time before setting out and happy to arrive back at 2.00 a.m.. Cheers, Deutsche Bahn!

    Talking of "cheers", why does no one in Hamburg say "Auf Wiedersehen"?

    As for the woman, who said that Hamburgers were well dressed, she must either have been talking about a Hawaiian special with extra pineapple or be one of these people, who is wafted from one ritzy hotel to another in a limo. Many of the people I saw on the streets on Hamburg looked like hippies or tramps. It makes no difference to me how people dress. I'm just making the point that some "first-class" tourists present a very rose-tinted picture. There seemed to be a huge number of unemployed people around the place- especially in the suburbs.

    The S-Bahn wasn't as reliable as one might expect a German transport system to be. The service was interrupted a number of times, during my short stay. In one incident, the driver announced that he didn't know when the fault would be fixed and wandered off, leaving passengers sitting in the train. Normal service wasn't resumed for forty minutes and no railway official was on hand, for about half an hour, to let passengers know what was happening.

    One of the most annoying things of all was the traffic. It does keep moving but there seems to be little escape from it. [In London, there are plenty of jams but, away from the main roads, there are plenty of quiet squares and side streets.] Air quality was sometimes quite poor and, worse still, heavy lorries and delivery vans started rumbling along the main roads at about 3.30 a.m.. That's not too good, if you need to get up early, the next morning. There might be plenty of parks in Hamburg but that's not much good, if people have to trudge through a fume-filled concrete jungle, to get to them.

    Many Hamburgers will still be up at 3.30 a.m to see all the lorries on the roads, if the legend is to be believed. Apparently, true Hamburgers don't go out until 1.00 a.m.. Perhaps that's so that they can avoid the diesel fumes and maniac cyclists.

    [And, incidentally, they don't seem to know much about bikes because 90% of them are riding horrible, heavy, Chinese-made, steel-framed, Dutch-style ladies bikes. Is this another example of Hamburgers' masochism? Move into the late 20th Century, at least, you guys!]

    If Hamburg is interesting, then it is interesting mainly to town planners, anthropologists and sociologists but it's not really orientated towards tourists, unless they're the kind of people, who flit from one perfumed, air-conditioned environment to the next, without ever seeing behind the scenes or meeting real people.

    The shops were rubbish, compared to most major European cities. I think that, more than anything, this deficiency highlighted the fact that Hamburg is not really suitable as a destination for families. The shops definitely were boring, from the point of view of the average child!

    Well, the shops might have been OK, if I had had a huge wad of notes burning a hole in my pocket and had wanted to buy jewellery or a tasteless, modern fountain pen [a snip at £2,500] or treat my significant other to a posh hairdo or let her go on a clothes-shopping spree.

    In the city centre, "ordinary" shops were confined to the Hauptbahnhof arcade (complete with the "inevitable" sex shop upstairs inside the bookshop and next to the post office counter] and the basement of the Europa centre.

    For instance, I spent hours looking for a decent toy shop. I found three toy shops in total. One sold poorly made and overpriced cuddly toys. Another had a better selection but sold nothing that couldn't be bought in other shops from Portugal to Poland. The third was for middle-aged men, who enjoy putting together Airfix models.

    [There was a model of the Hindenburg airship in a window display and all the swastikas had been replaced with big, black dots. Yet, I noticed that German TV had plenty of programmes about the Second World War. Germans have a slightly schizophrenic attitude towards the War at times.]

    Nowhere could I find toys suitable for young children. Is Hamburg really in Germany, a country famous for its toy manufacturers, at all?

    The fact that there are only three or four bookshops in the whole city speaks volumes. That was a real surprise and a major disappointment. Although I can't converse very well in German, these days, I can still read it- just about.

    I suppose Hamburgers order all their books via their iPads, while they're driving (and not indicating or looking where they're going). At least, I assume that that's what they were doing.

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    Just an update to jonny_oh's post above, since I've just come back from a week's home exchange in Hamburg (Eimsbüttel - a pleasant residential suburb about twenty minutes from the centre).

    Our tastes clearly don't coincide: the Kunsthalle and Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe are certainly worth a visit. While I was there, the first had an enjoyable exhibition on the Skagen School in Danish art, and a retrospective on RB Kitaj - in addition to its permanent collection housing several of the best Caspar David Friedrich paintings around. The latter is an interesting general historical decorative arts museum, a mini-V&A if you like. True, I was disappointed by the lack of classical music concerts in the major venues, the season obviously not having started yet but the idea that there are only two or three bookshops in the whole city is clearly nonsense - Yellow Pages lists over 200, plenty of which will no doubt be wholesale or specialist businesses, but I had no trouble finding the books I was looking for. Likewise, it lists over 100 children's toy shops.

    And as for >>In the city centre, "ordinary" shops were confined to the Hauptbahnhof arcade<<, that's just meaningless to the point of incomprehensibility, in my experience.

    I suspect the difference from what we're used to in the UK is that (perhaps something to do with planning law and policy in Germany or the Land) shopping tends to be less dominated by large places in the city centre, with more independent activity in the individual residential localities - certainly, Eimsbüttel is a damn sight better provided for than many British high streets.

    Perhaps a new airport terminal building has opened since his visit but his description is unrecognizable to me. Nor did I pay more than €20 for a reasonable meal in a local pub or café, though maybe my tastes aren't the same as his.

    >>Travel by train to other towns and cities in the region is also quite expensive.<<

    You need to choose your routes (as in the UK). Lübeck is 45 minutes away - day ticket €25.50.

    True, Hamburgers seem to like to party later at night, and bars do have the option of allowing smoking. Likewise, I'd accept that, as a major industrial city and media centre, it isn't geared particularly to tourism - but that's part of the interest and the attraction. And, no, I didn't go anywhere near the Reeperbahn, which I wouldn't be at all surprised to find as depressing a rip-off as Pigalle in Paris or any similar sort of area in any European city.

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