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Budget Travel: 5 Days in Hamburg, Germany

Day 1: Arrival

I arrived in Hamburg on a rainy Sunday afternoon.   After a delay and a layover in Istanbul, my travel time totaled almost 24 hours and I was not in the mood to deal with public transit, not to mention I was antsy to see the boyfriend who I was hoping to catch before he had to go back to work.  I sprung for a cab to my hotel, (though the public transit option is totally doable.)  

After checking in and quickly reuniting, we rushed into town where I got to see the show he’s been touring through Europe for the past 3 months, Riverdance.  I’m sure you’re already somewhat familiar with the awesomeness of this Irish dance extravaganza, but if not, check out their site and behind the scenes travel blog!

After the show, we decided to head out with the company for some good old fashioned frolicking.  Little did we know we were headed to the world famous, Reeperbahn, home to the clubs where the Beatles rose to fame in 60s and one of the world’s largest red light districts…no wonder there were so many ladies loitering around the sidewalk in the middle of the night.

Day 2: Recovery

After an epic day of travel and a looong night of drinking, I spent the better part of Monday in bed, and it was glorious- this was my vacation after all.  Our hotel, The Mercure am Volkspark, was about 20 minutes from city center in a lovely but remote location.  Luckily, we found a Chinese buffet next door to gorge ourselves.  When the bf headed to work I decided to detox with a little jog around the area.   I happened upon a massive park just across the street from the hotel, Volkspark Altona.  Complete with several miles of wooded trails, beautifully maintained gardens, two arenas, and endless fields and playgrounds, this park inspired me to run three times during my stay in Hamburg.

Hamburg is an active city, full of green spaces, bike paths, and waterfront walkways, all perfect for a workout combined with some outdoor exploration.

Day 3: Sightseeing 

After my day of detox and recovery, I finally felt ready to check out the city by day.  Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal, changing between blustery, windy, and rainy throughout our stay, but I was not going to be deterred.

We began our day by the pier, which was hard to enjoy without the help of some sunshine, so we took shelter in the nearby St Michael’s Church.  The church is complete with 5 organs, one of which we had the pleasure of listening to during our visit.

St. Michael's Crypt, Hamburg, Germany

We purchased tickets to see both the tower and the crypt.  The crypt is not as creepy as it sounds.  You walk over the engraved stones where the buried are marked and remembered.  Also on display are artifacts from the church’s storied history.  We then ascended to the top of the church tower climbing 453 stairs.  There is an elevator, but we went for the stairs knowing we needed to burn off some of the alcohol and local treats we’d been consuming.  While the wind and rain made it challenging to get a good shot, the views of the city and the port below were lovely- even in the shroud of gray.

St. Michael's Tower, Hamburg, Germany

From St Michael’s we walked to Rathaus- Town Hall.  A beautiful building in the heart of Hamburg.  We weaved through the streets of center city admiring the old European architecture, which housed many familiar, contemporary brands.  My personal favorite was a stunning building right on the canal that looked like it could be a chapel or dignitaries’ residence housing none other than an Abercrombie and Fitch.

Rathaus, Town Hall, Hamburg, Germany

After grabbing a quick bite we walked through the botanical gardens- Planten un Blomen, another beautiful public park, to visit the districts of Karolinenviertel and Sternschanze.  In my research on “things to do” in Hamburg, I had only come across the mention of these districts once, in a personal blog.  So let me put it out there again and say that visiting these districts is a must-do in Hamburg.

I would liken the unique boutiques, cafes, and displays of counter culture in Karolinenviertel and Sternschanze to Williamsburg in Brooklyn- with more graffiti and emphasis on street art.  We spent a few hours getting lost in the winding streets, window shopping, and stopping into a perfectly quaint corner café for coffee before the boyfriend left for work and I returned to the hotel.

Sternschanze, Hamburg, Germany

Sightseeing success.

Day 4:  Drinking and Eating.

After sleeping in, we headed downtown for lunch at a restaurant situated right on Alster Lake, a massive body of water in the heart of city center.  After gorging ourselves, we walked around the lake and found ourselves a fantastic little pub called KlimperkisteThe boyfriend had the night off, so we spent the next four hours enjoying the local watering hole before meeting up with the rest of the company for another trip to Reeperbahn. 

This time I was more prepared.  I had researched the area and found out there was a true red light walkway complete with women in windows selling their wares.  The street is pedestrian only and blocked off by a wall that specifically says “No minors and no women”.  Never one to be told I can’t do something because of my gender, I put my hood up and followed the boys down the street.  Scantily clad ladies filled window after window, and while prostitution isn’t something I encounter with frequency, I can’t say that I saw anything that really shocked me.

Reeperbahn, Hamburg, Germany

After leaving the blockaded strip we continued to a fantastic little spot called Rosi’sComplete with a DJ and a dance floor, I danced the night away while the boys took over the foosball table in the back.

Day 5:  Sunshine

While it never really warmed up during my stay, the sun finally decided to show itself on my final day in Hamburg.  After heading to the bus station to purchase a ticket to my next destination, Groningen in The Netherlands, I spent the next several hours simply walking the city.

This is one of my absolute favorite things to do when traveling (when the weather cooperates).  I take my map and my camera and walk toward anything that looks interesting.  This time I discovered Hafen City, an area where old warehouses and modern architecture meet around the many bridges and canals that keep the city connected.

Hafen City, Hamburg, Germany

From there I walked along the water, watching the neighborhoods change from old warehouses to packed piers to fresh fish markets to quiet suburban parks.  This was one of my favorite parts of the trip and another activity I’d absolutely recommend.  If you don’t want to walk the full waterfront, rent yourself a bike to enjoy it all.

Port, Hamburg, Germany

Final Thoughts, Observations, and Recommendations.

–       Our hotel was removed from city center so we wound up spending a lot on cab rides.  Public transportation is excellent, but with late nights at the Reeperbahn, we relied heavily on this expensive option.

–       With the exception of the St Michael’s church tower and crypt, we did not spend money on any activities.  There are many museums and attractions in Hamburg that require admission, but we found plenty to do for free during our stay, I never felt I was missing out.

–       Hamburg is a very cultured city- there are loads of museums, theatre, street performances, etc.

–       I was in Hamburg at the start of April and it was quite cold (and wet).  Be prepared to bundle up, as exploring the city requires a lot of outdoor time.

All in all, I had a wonderful time in Hamburg and would absolutely recommend a visit.  With loads of public green spaces, bike lanes, vibrant culture, beautiful architecture, and a waterfront location, there’s a lot to love.

Next stop… Groningen, The Netherlands.

Budget Travel Hamburg


Have you ever been to Hamburg, Germany?  What would you recommend?

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