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Nov 7, 2022

Hamburg on a budget

Panoramic view of famous Binnenalster (Inner Alster Lake) in golden evening light at sunset, Hamburg, Germany

For many tourists, Hamburg is relatively unknown, apart from the claim to fame of giving the name to the world's favorite beef patty. But Germany's second-largest city has a lot to offer visitors, from its rich history, stunning architecture, delicious food, and lively nightlife.

And the best part is that Hamburg is surprisingly affordable, especially if you know where to look.

Here are some tips on how to enjoy all that the city has to offer without breaking the bank.

Stroll around the Altstadt

The Altstadt, or Old Town, is the historic center of Hamburg, where the first settlement was founded around the 8th Century BC. However, many buildings were destroyed during the Great Fire of 1842 and the bombings of WWII, so what you see today is a mix of the old and the new.

Start at the emblematic Rathaus, or Town Hall, a splendid Neo-Renaissance building completed in 1897 that today houses the government of Hamburg. It's located in the Altstadtmarkt, the city's oldest square and home to the biweekly market. 

From there, wander through the narrow streets lined with beautiful old buildings, stopping at St. Nikolai church. Dominating the city skyline, St. Nikolai was once the tallest building in the world. Badly damaged during the war, with only the tower remaining, it has been left in ruins as a memorial to the victims of WWII. 

And make sure you visit Deichstrasse, a street lined with the oldest houses in the city, many of which have been converted into trendy restaurants, cafes, and bars. 

Wandering around the Altstadt is completely free, and it's a great way to get a feel for the city's history.

 

Walk along the canals

Hamburg is one of the cities that dispute the title of Venice of the North, but it is the definite winner of the city with the most bridges in the world, with 2,500 of them crossing its canals. A stroll along the canals is a great way to see some of the city's most beautiful architecture and get a feel for Hamburg's unique layout. 

Don't miss the iconic red-brick warehouse buildings lining the Speicherstadt district. This area was once the world's largest warehouse complex and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

You can also take a public ferry rideLink opens in a new tab from the harbor along the canals for a different perspective of the city from the water.

 

The Hamburg music scene

Hamburg has a long history as the capital of music, particularly in the early days of rock 'n' roll. Before their rise to fame, the Beatles famously played in the city's red-light district, the ReeperbahnLink opens in a new tab, at the now-defunct Star Club. And they weren't the only ones; Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, and Black Sabbath are just some of the other big names who performed at the club.

Today, the Reeperbahn is still lively and full of nightlife, and it's the perfect place to enjoy some live music. You can find everything from small underground clubs to large concert venues.

And the Elbphilharmonie is visited just as much for its unique architecture, a design by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron that resembles a ship's sails, as for the world-class classical music concerts it hosts.

Many of the city's music festivals are free, so keep an eye out for those.

 

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Try the local food

Hamburg is known for its seafood, but you can't leave without trying a traditional dish of LabskausLink opens in a new tab. This hearty meal is made with corned beef, mashed potatoes, beets, and herring, and it's sure to fill you up. 

If you're looking for something a little lighter, try a Fischbrötchen, a sandwich made with fresh fish from the harbor. 

For a coffee break, stop by one of the many cafes serving the local specialty, Franzbrötchen. This pastry with French influence (the name literally means "French bread") is similar to a croissant, but it's flavored with cinnamon and sugar. 

And no trip to Hamburg would be complete without trying a Currywurst, a grilled sausage covered in curry ketchup. You can find these sausages sold in stands all over the city, and they make for a great snack on the go.

 

A man is buying flammkuchen or tarte flambee in a food truck

Green Hamburg

Hamburg is not only surrounded by water, but it's also full of green spaces, with over 8% of the city covered in parks and gardens. Plenty of them offer waterfront views, so you can take in the reflection of the cityscape while getting some fresh air.

Head to Planten un Blomen, a 47-hectare park in the center of the city, for a stroll or a picnic, the perfect place to enjoy your Currywurst. In the summer, you can also enjoy free outdoor concerts and theatre performances in the park. 

If you want to take a break during your busy sightseeing day, visit the Japanese Garden. It is the largest one in Europe, and it's a great place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. 

For a more active experience, in the heart of the city center, next to the Rathaus, is Alster Lake, where you can go for a walk or jog along the water. 

And if you want to try your hand at windsurfing or kitesurfing or simply lounge under the sun, you can visit one of the city's many beaches. It's just a short train ride to the North and the Baltic Seas so you can put your feet in the sand and enjoy the ocean breeze.

 

A view of the Japanese Garden in Hamburg with the autumn color of the leaves of the pond and the reflections in the water

Street art and festivals

Hamburg is a city that loves to party, and there's always something going on. In the summer, the streets are full of open-air festivals, many of them with live music. And even when the weather is cooler, there is still plenty going on, from Christmas markets and film festivals to the Hamburger DOM funfair. 

The city is also full of street art, with murals and graffiti everywhere you look. Don't miss the wall and ceiling murals on FC St. Pauli football stadium, which are repainted by a different artist every year. Or take a walking tour of the street artLink opens in a new tab in the Schanzenviertel neighborhood to see some of the best urban art in the city. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore, and you will surely find some hidden gems.

 

Finally…

Whatever you're looking for on your city break, you'll find it in Hamburg without having to spend a fortune. Whether you're into music, food, or just exploring, this German city has something for everyone. Keep in mind that regardless of what you paid for your flight, the destination remains the same so if you score a cheap flight to Hamburg, you’re free to splurge a little more once you get there. So pack your bags and book your ticket, and get ready to explore this vibrant city.

 

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