As well as being an industrial city and a major port, Hamburg contains numerous fine buildings and offers a rich cultural life, centerpieced by the new Elbphilharmonie, one of the world’s most impressive contemporary concert halls. Historically, Hamburg was a member of the medieval Hanseatic League and a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. Like Amsterdam and Venice, it is a city of canals. Most itineraries include the richly decorated neo-Renaissance city hall; the grand St. Michael’s Church; the old warehouse district (Speicherstadt); and the lakefront promenade (Jungfernstieg). Culinary specialties include Pannfisch (fresh local fish in mustard sauce), labskaus (a hash of beef, potatoes, onion and often beets, topped with an egg and herring) and Matjes (a kind of marinated herring). Here, a Hamburger is a resident of the city, not a menu item.
A Staggering Concert Hall
As the Sydney Opera House did, the strikingly contemporary Elbphilharmonie concert hall (Platz der Deutschen Einheit 4) has quickly become the symbol of its city. Its curvaceous Grand Hall places the musicians at the center, with seats for 2,100 concertgoers surrounding them on all sides. Rather than pay for entry to the observation terrace, have Kaffee und Kuchen at The Westin’s Bridge Bar.
My favorite restaurants in Hamburg include the superlative and palatial Jacob’s Restaurant 20 minutes from downtown (Elbchaussee 401); the cozy and traditional Casse-Croûte bistro (Büschstrasse 2); the stylishly casual Restaurant VLET, set in a converted warehouse in Speicherstadt (Am Sandtorkai 23-24); the chic market-driven Restaurant Heldenplatz (Brandstwiete 46); and the seafood-focused Se7en Oceans (Ballindamm 40).
Hamburg’s charming canals and impressive harbor are fascinating to tour by boat. I recommend either a nighttime Lichterfahrt cruise with the Kapitän Prüsse or the longer Hafenrundfahrt XXL harbor cruise.