The buzzing port city of Hamburg is difficult to leave after earning a taste of its rich waterfront culture. If you only have one day to breathe it in, you might as well make each inhale count.
The timing of my visit to Hamburg, Germany, contained two inconveniences: one, my train rolled in on a Sunday; and two, said Sunday happened to be the eve of Pentecost Monday (Pfingstmontag). The combination resulted in most shops having their curtains drawn and doors locked, yet this did not hinder me from viewing some of what I believe to be Hamburg’s most vivid scenes.
I started around 10 am after a two hour train excursion from Hannover, and bade the city farewell around 6 pm or so. In eight hours, I learned, saw, ate, sipped, and nearly teared up in awe of the crystal waters dancing with splinters of glass-like sunlight, statues posing proudly over the bridges – worth noting that Hamburg boasts the second highest number of bridges in the world, behind New York City – and a panoramic view that nearly cost me my lungs on the ten-plus minute climb up into the spire.
One day in Hamburg is never enough, but you can make it worthwhile with a bit of clever planning.
1. Chocoversum (Chocolate Museum)
Start your journey in Hamburg at a haven of sweets and treats, the Chocolate Museum, located just 10 minutes from the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Main Station). Collect bags of chocolate-flavored paraphernalia, from rich milk bars to nougats, magnets to small jars of flavored honey, cocoa-scented lotions and body washes, and German-language books with recipes of several types of baked delicacies. For about 13 euros, you can explore the museum’s several exhibits concerning the history of chocolatiers as well as attend tastings of fine truffles and pralines.
2. The Waterfront
Give yourself plenty of time to munch on your freshly-purchased nougat bars and pass alongside the water, putting special focus on the Port of Hamburg (Hamburger Hafen), Germany’s largest port and an area brimming with street artists ranging from statue men to people creating huge bubble patterns. If you’re lucky, you might see the Queen Mary II docked. It is possible to take cruises along the River Elbe from the Port.
3. St. Michael’s Church
The majestic St. Michael’s Church towers over the city’s horizon despite having been destroyed by fire in 1906 and injured by bombings in 1944 and 1945: still it stands and offers a most breathtaking panoramic of Hamburg and all of its lakes, ponds, rooftops, and gardens. The student price is 4 euros to scale the baroque spire, but be forewarned: if the elevator is out of order, you must climb an exhausting amount of stairs. I am relatively fit physically and halfway through was gasping like Gimli on his cross country excursion through Rohan. If heights make you woozy, the interior of the church is still a beautiful piece of architecture, with its pale blue, gold, and white color scheme and admirable pipe organ overlooking the pews of the main hall. Visiting the hall is free.
4. Lunch break: The Portuguese Quarter
Little is more refreshing than enjoying lunch at a sidewalk cafe while basking in the midday sun. After half a day of exploration and following a hike up St. Michael’s, one’s stomach is bound to grumble in want of something hearty and warm. The Portuguest Quarter is located very close to the great church and reasonably-priced options are abundant (I went to O Farol and was not disappointed). Expect to trust in luck if you desire to sit outside on the sunny side of the road, for the benches and tables are generally filled: but don’t fear the restaurants in the shade, or the indoor rooms, for they offer a cozy retreat and the same quality of food. Satisfy your tummy with mackerel or salmon, potatoes, rice, bread and aioli, and radler before hopping onto the next stretch of your adventure.
5. Town Hall & Waterfront
Eye up the beautiful Rathaus (Town Hall) of Hamburg or take a guided tour, then head on another stroll by the water to observe swans and ducks alongside locals and tourists licking ice cream cones and conversing on stairsteps. Walk a bit further down and you will encounter a streaming fountain rising proudly from the center of the water, in which canoes and boats sway about in the breeze.
6. Gelato Before the Road: L’Italiana Gelateria
To end an active day outdoors, grab a massive artistic parfait of ice cream from L’Italiana Gelateria in the Europa Passage shopping center. Everything from fruit concoctions, to black forest combinations and pecan praline masterpieces, to coffee and cakes and spaghettieis are served by the masterful workers behind the bar. The view over the street and towards the water is impeccable as well. If you desire a little retail therapy, Europa Passage contains 120 shops and at least a few should cater to whatever your taste might be.
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