Hamburg in December is Christmas.
It’s a fact. I’ve been nowhere else in the world that embraces and embodies Christmas quite like Hamburg. It was amazing. It was magical. So magical that I could have cried.
I didn’t, but I was close.
When we decided to move to Europe I knew we had to visit a Christmas market. It’s not that I’m some crazy festive elf—it’s actually quite the opposite—I’m just a really big fan of warm drinks, great food, and twinkle lights. When we saw that Dave had a long weekend at the beginning of December I knew it was fate; so, I pushed for a trip to Germany. I wasn’t picky, anywhere with a Christmas market would do.
When we came across a reasonable flight to Hamburg – a city that peaked Dave’s sustainable development student interest – we knew it was meant to be.
From the moment we booked I was excited: Oh the food I would eat, the drinks I would drink, the cute cold weather clothes I would wear, and the exploring we would do. Needless to say, I had high hopes for this trip, and I am so happy to say that Hamburg did not disappoint.
Exploring Hamburg on Land
Despite what some guides said (*cough* Rick Steves *cough*) we found Hamburg to be extremely walkable, and that was our primary form of transportation.
We decided to kick off our weekend in Hamburg by joining a Free Walking Tour. This was my idea of a compromise – I love a good bus tour, Dave could do without – so we settled on the walking tour. I’d done one before in Berlin a few years ago and was very happy with it, so I researched and booked with the same company in Hamburg.
It was a blustery, chilly day, but the tour guide was a pro. Throughout the two-hour tour he entertained us with facts, stories, and jokes; the fact that he kind of looked and sounded like Trevor Noah made it extremely easy to listen to him on this cold and cloudy day. We started at the Rathaus with a 10-minute history lesson and worked our way through the city, stopping for a coffee near the Church of St. Nicholas before heading to Hafencity and the old warehouse district, Speicherstadt.
Following the tour, we made a quick trip around of Hafencity, admiring the very controversial and still unfinished Elbphilharmonie, before heading back up to Hamburg’s oldest street, Deichstrasse, where we warmed up and devoured a traditional Hamburg sandwich: Fischbrötchen – salmon for me, pickled herring for Dave.
On our second day in Hamburg, we explored Schanzenviertal, a neighbour popular with students, travelers and creatives. Schanzenviertal is “a former working-class district that nurtured the city’s alternative culture, the Schanze has evolved into the epicentre of the hip Hamburg scene, with a good spread of cheap eats, bars and boutiques and a nicely scruffy laidback vibe” (as per Rough Guides). A nice contrast from the downtown core, which is filled with high-end stores and opulence, we really enjoyed this more laid-back, casual environment.
For our last day in Hamburg, we decided to explore the city’s notorious Reeperbahn and the St. Pauli neighbourhood. 1 PM is definitely not the time to explore the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s red light district, as theres no hustle and bustle, but it was the only time we were able to make it down there. We wandered, came across the famous Davidwache police station, and then made our way back downtown via St. Pauli.
Exploring Hamburg by Sea
After taking in the city by land, we decided to kick-off our second day in Hamburg by exploring it from the sea. Thanks to the recommendation several guides (Lonely Planet, Rick Steves), we decided to forgo the expensive (€20/each) harbour boat tours and settles on taking the 1-hour ferry (#64 leaving from Landungsbrück) trip instead, which was included as part of our metro pass. The ferry tour took just under an hour and took us around the Fischmarkt, Dockland, and more. I can’t really image what else we could have seen, because I felt like the ferry gave us a pretty good view of harbour life in Hamburg.
We also took in a very short ferry ride (#72), which again was included in our transit ticket, taking us from Landungsbrück to Hafencity. A very short ride, I really enjoyed getting an up-close-and-personal look at the Elbphilharmonie from the water.
Exploring Hamburg by Train
The public transportation system in Hamburg is amazing: fast, convenient and easy to use. And, inexpensive! Each day, Dave and I would buy the group ticket (good for groups up to five people) for only €11.20 – this gave us unlimited trips on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and the ferries throughout the day. Although we were mostly walking around the core of Hamburg, we still needed to take the train in and out of the city each day, so for us, it more than made sense to invest in the ticket.
The metro wasn’t just an inexpensive way to get in and out of the city, but it also gave us views of parts of the city we may have missed. We mostly took the U3 line, which emerges from underground just in time to give you great views of Hafencity, the harbour and the surrounding area. For an cheap ride to see the outskirts of Hamburg, I would definitely recommend it.
As I said in my opening, Hamburg in December is Christmas. You couldn’t walk 20 meters without stumbling upon a Christmas market. It was amazing!
I wasn’t really interested in the Christmas Markets for the gifts, trinkets and souvenirs, but more for the atmosphere, the lights and the food! While most (all) of the markets had basically the same offerings, we still had a great time wandering around Hamburg, visiting the different markets and sampling different food and drinks.
As we moved from market to market we took the opportunity to explore central Hamburg’s many beautifully decorated streets.
From the markets, to the music, to the lights, it was hard to escape Christmas in Hamburg, but really, in a city this beautiful, why would you want to?!
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