There are many good reasons to spend a weekend in Hamburg, one of them being the possibility to reach interesting sights and cultural highlights by foot. Here’s a short guide to how you can explore Hamburg’s Old Town on your own.
Although Hamburg, like most other big cities today, provides visitors with a broad range of walking tours, it’s still nice to be able to explore the city on your own. Luckily, this is a piece of cake in Germany’s second largest city, because the infrastructure is ideal for the purpose – and the beautiful Altstadt (Old Town), is certainly no exception.
The route takes approximately one hour to complete, and it grants you the possibility of diving into Hamburg’s history and even a UNESCO World Heritage site – the Speicherstadt. But before we get started; let’s have a brief recap of Hamburg’s impressive past.
History of Hamburg:
Today, Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city with around 1,8 million inhabitants, but it was originally founded in the 9th century as a mission settlement to convert the Saxons. It quickly grew, though, and during the Middle Ages, Hamburg was already one of the most important trading centres in Europe. Due to the convenient location of its port, the city became a member of the medieval Hanseatic trading league together with Lübeck.
Today, Hamburg is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe.
Starting point: City Hall, Rathausmarkt
Hamburg’s great city hall was constructed from 1886-1897 and it still houses the beautiful office of the city’s first major. Book a guided tour of the town hall or explore the impressive building on your own. Tickets can be purchased online.
NB! In December, Hamburg’s most charming Christmas market takes place on Rathausmarkt every day from 11AM-9PM.
(Feeling hungry? Stop off for a plate of Fisch’n’Chips at Daniel Wischer on Grosse Johannistrasse 3. They’ve been specializing in quality fish dishes since 1924. It’s also possible to order to-go).
Cross the Börsenbrücke and Trostbrücke bridges
Did you know that Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined? It does – thanks to its vast canal system. When you cross the bridges, you get a feeling of stepping from one world into another. Originally built in wood back in the 13th century, the Trostbrücke remains a symbol of the oldest connection between the old town and the new city. It was rebuilt in 1881.
Originally built in 1195, the Medieval parish church of St. Nikolai has gone through more turbulent times than most monuments in Hamburg. It was destroyed in the great fire in 1842, and it took 32 years to rebuild it, only this time, it would appear much more impressive than before.
Unfortunately, the joy wouldn’t last long, as St. Nikolai was destroyed once again some 100 years later, namely during World War II in 1943. Today, the remains of the beautiful church serve as a war memorial, and apart from having a wander through different exhibitions and events, visitors can access the viewing platform from where they can admire one of the best views of Hamburg. The spire still provides the highest point in the city.
Take a stroll on Hopfenmarkt and Deichstrasse
Continue to Hopfenmarkt – or Hop Market in English. This is a former marketplace in the oldest part of the city, and it lies just in front of the ruins of St. Nikolai Church, where up until 2014 it hosted weekly markets with lots of stalls. Its marketplace history goes back to the 14th century, so you might still feel the presence of history.
From Hopfenmarkt, continue south along the river. If you’re hungry, pass by Hamburg’s oldest restaurant specializing in potatoes; the Kartoffelkeller, on Deichstrasse 21. Since you’re already walking on Deichstrasse, take some time to admire the beautiful historical houses on this street. They’re amongst Hamburg’s oldest townhouses, and several of them even survived the great fire in 1842.
At the end of Deichstrasse, you’ll find Speicherstadt – a famous warehouse district, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This part of the city was built between 1883 and 1927, and apart from impressive architecture and splendid views of the harbour, there are several nice restaurants, e.g. Wasserschloss, where you can enjoy both lunch and dinner. Next door is the ’Teekontor’ – a charming tea shop with more than 250 different sorts of teas from all over the world.
Admire the golden interior of St. Catherine’s Church
On your way back to your starting point, crossing the channel, there’s one last important cultural site you must encounter; the impressive St. Catherine’s Church. It’s the city’s second oldest preserved building and still one of the most important churches of Hamburg.
Legend has it that a famous pirate by the name of Störtebeker had all his gold melted down so that it could adorn the interior of the church. If you plan ahead you can also enjoy one of the many services or concerts held there.