Day One

  • Altstadt

Get your bearings in the centre of town, beginning with breakfast at Café Paris, admiring the architecture of the Rathaus and Chilehaus, perhaps even taking a late-morning walking tour, before climbing to the summit of Mahnmal St-Nikolai to visit its thought-provoking museum, then riding its glass elevator to get an overview of the city.

Wander along picturesque Deichstrasse, one of few surviving remnants from medieval times, then walk down to Landungsbrücke, the main port area, for a harbour tour to get a wonderful view of the city. As an alternative to the tours and their cheesy commentary, travel like a local and take the hop-on-hop-off ferry.

Begin with a beer at Gröninger Privatbrauerei, following it with a classy cocktail at Le Lion, then choose between all-night dancing at Nachtasyl or live music at Cascadas. Then again, you could always do both.

Day Two

  • St Georg

Begin with breakfast (if you can get a table) at Café Gnosa along Lange Reihe, one of Hamburg's most memorable streets. Spend the morning wandering from boutique to craft workshop with a few pitstops for coffee as you go. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe is worth an hour or two, then make your way back to Lange Reihe, through Hansaplatz, before deciding where to eat.

Follow lunch with a coffee or cocktail at a.mora, followed by at least two hours in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the city's premier art gallery, longer if you have the time. For a watery tour with a difference, consider taking a tour out on the water.

  • Dinner at Clouds
  • St Pauli & Repperbahn

Wander along Reeperbahn to get your bearings, and having overcome your culture shock, dive into the nightlife with a beer at Zur Ritze or Zum Silbersack, perhaps a high-class jazz show at Mojo Club, and all-night dancing at Molotow.

Day Three

  • Neustadt

Begin out in the west of Neustadt by wandering amid the boutiques and restaurants of Wexstrasse, perhaps pausing for first-rate coffee from Public Coffee Roasters. Then visit the Johannes Brahms Museum and Komponisten-Quartier, with some beautiful old-world architecture in the vicinity. Continue on to the splendid old buildings of Krameramtswohnungen, before climbing the tower at St Michaelis Kirche for sweeping views.

There are some wonderful museums in Speicherstadt, but none quite so beguiling as Miniatur Wunderland. Speicherstadt Museum and Internationales Maritimes Museum are also excellent. As the light turns golden, head for Elbphilharmonie and enjoy the city's architectural showpiece (perhaps even book a show) in it's finest moment.

Yes, you probably spent last night here, but St Pauli has enough to keep you going for many more. Try some classic neighbourhood bars, such as Golden Pudel Club, Indra Club or Lunacy. Perfectly necessary St Pauli pitstops include Kleine Haie Grosse Fische and Kiez Curry, while there's always great live music at Gruenspan.

Day Four

  • Altona & Elbmeile

There are few places where we'd rather spend a Hamburg morning than in Altona, walking its quiet streets, noting down those bars and restaurants that are a neighbourhood hallmark for later reference. Begin with breakfast at Mikkels, and don't miss the views from Altonaer Balkon.

Catch the S-Bahn back into the centre and spend the afternoon shopping in Neustadt. Focus on the luxury brands – it's difficult not to here – and stop often in the elegant cafes beneath the arches and alongside the canals. Very Hamburg.

By 6pm you'll need to be at the Feldstrasse U-Bahn station for the fun-filled Beatles Tour; either have an early dinner beforehand, or eat afterwards. Follow up with a night in nearby Karolinenviertel or Schanzenviertel, with live music at Knust, or bunker down for all-night dancing in the surreal surrounds of Uebel und Gefährlich.