Dangers & Annoyances
Hamburg is generally a safe city and most visitors visit without encountering any problems. That said, Hamburg is also undeniably sleazy in parts.
- Red-light districts are found around the Hauptbahnhof and the Reeperbahn.
- Petty crime is rare but does occur in major tourist areas. Keep a careful eye on your belongings anywhere where there are crowds and large numbers of tourists.
- In St Georg, Steindamm and Hansaplatz can be dicey, both day and night.
- In areas where crime can be an issue, there's usually a strong police presence.
There are a handful of programs that allow you to cut costs while in Hamburg, although as always with such schemes you need to visit lots of places in a short time to make them worthwhile. Options include:
Hamburg Card Offers discounts on entry to museums, theatre tickets and harbour tours, and free public transport (including harbour ferries). You'll need to plan well and read what's covered carefully to make it worthwhile. Purchase online or at any tourist office.
Hamburg City Pass Includes entry to most Hamburg museums and covers free public transport, a free harbour tour and free bus sightseeing. You'll need to keep moving to make it worthwhile, but it's generally a good deal. The pass can be bought online.
Kunstmeile Hamburg Five of Hamburg's art museums offer a joint admission ticket that can provide great savings. Buy it at the museums. The standard version lasts for 12 months, but the cheaper three-day version is great value; the latter must be used over consecutive days.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Germany's country code||49|
|International access code||00|
Germany is a fairly formal society but in Hamburg you can generally get away with a little more. Even so, the following tips will help you avoid faux pas.
- Greetings Shake hands and say Guten Morgen (before noon), Guten Tag (between noon and 6pm) or Guten Abend (after 6pm). Use the formal Sie (you) with strangers and only switch to the informal du and first names if invited to do so. With friends and children, use first names and du.
- Asking for Help Germans use the same word – Entschuldigung – to say 'excuse me' (to attract attention) and 'sorry' (to apologise).
- Eating & Drinking At the table, say Guten Appetit before digging in. Germans hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand. To signal that you have finished eating, lay your knife and fork parallel across your plate. If drinking wine, the proper toast is Zum Wohl; with beer it's Prost.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Hamburg is popular with Schwule (gay) and Lesbische (lesbian) travellers, with the rainbow flag flying especially proudly in St Georg, particularly along Lange Reihe and surrounding streets. It's fine to be openly gay in much of Hamburg, but public displays of affection may attract unwanted attention in areas with high immigrant populations; this includes the Steindamm and Hansaplatz areas of St Georg.
Hamburg's pride shindig, Hamburg Pride, runs over a week in late July and/or early August, with plenty of musical events, parades and a festive sense of celebration in St Georg.
Homosexuality has been legal since the late 1960s. Same-sex marriage is legal.
Blu (www.blu.fm) Free print and online magazine with searchable, up-to-the-minute location and event listings.
L-Mag (www.l-mag.de) Bimonthly magazine for lesbians. Available at newsagents.
Spartacus International Gay Guide Annual English-language travel guide for men. Available online, in bookstores and as an app.
German National Tourist Office (http://www.germany.travel/en/ms/lgbt/home/home) Dedicated LGBT pages.
BGLAD (www.bglad.com) International online resource and directory with hundreds of links.
Hinnerk (www.hinnerk.de) Good for gay venues around the city.
Spartacus World (www.spartacusworld.com) Hip hotel, style and event guide.
Patroc Gay Travel Guide (www.patroc.com/hamburg) Travel information for 25 European destinations, including Hamburg.
Travel Gay Europe (www.travelgayeurope.com/destination/gay-germany/gay-hamburg) Decent gay guide for the city.
- Comprehensive travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
- Check that the policy covers ambulance transport and an emergency flight home.
- Before you leave, find out if your insurance plan makes payments directly to providers or reimburses you for health expenditures.
- Paying for your airline ticket with a credit card sometimes provides limited travel accident insurance – ask your credit-card company what it is prepared to cover.
- If you have to make a claim, be sure to keep all necessary documents and bills.
- Consider coverage for luggage theft or loss. If you already have a homeowner's or renter's policy, check what it will cover and only get supplemental insurance to protect against the rest.
- If you have prepaid a large portion of your vacation, trip cancellation insurance is worthwhile.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you're already on the road.
- You can find free wi-fi around the city.
- Some cafes and bars have wi-fi hot spots that let laptop-toting customers hook up for free, although you usually need to ask for a password.
- Many hotels have an internet corner for their guests, often at no charge.
- Note that in some properties wi-fi access may be limited to some rooms and/or public areas, so if you need in-room access be sure to specify at the time of booking.
- Hamburg's Hauptbahnhof offers 30 minutes free wi-fi with registration via Deutsche Telekom.
- Locate wi-fi hot spots at www.hotspot-locations.com.
ATMs widely available. Credit/debit cards widely accepted, but bring emergency cash reserves.
Somewhat surprisingly, Germany remains largely a cash-based society and credit card use is not as common as you might think. International hotel chains, high-end restaurants, department stores and fancy boutiques usually accept credit cards, but enquire first, just to be on the safe side. Mastercard and Visa are more widely accepted than American Express and Diner's Club. ATMs are ubiquitous. Be wary of those not affiliated with major banks as they charge exorbitant transaction fees. ATMs do not recognise pins with more than four digits.
- The easiest and quickest way to obtain cash is by using your debit (bank) card at a Geldautomat (ATM) linked to international networks such as Cirrus, Plus, Star and Maestro.
- ATM cards often double as debit cards, and many shops, hotels, restaurants and other businesses accept them for payment.
- Most cards use the ‘chip and pin’ system; instead of signing, you enter your PIN. If your card isn’t chip-and-pin enabled, you may be able to sign the receipt, but ask first.
Cash is king in Hamburg. Always carry some with you and plan to pay cash almost everywhere. It's also a good idea to set aside a small amount of euros as an emergency stash.
The unit of currency in Germany is the euro (€). Euros come in seven notes (€5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500) and eight coins (€0.01, €0.02, €0.05, €0.10, €0.20, €0.50, €1 and €2).
- Commercial banks usually charge a stiff fee (€5 to €10) per foreign-currency transaction, no matter the amount, if they offer exchange services at all.
- Wechselstuben (currency exchange offices) at airports, train stations and in bigger towns usually charge lower fees.
- Traveller-geared Reisebank (www.reisebank.de) branches are ubiquitous in Germany and are usually found at train stations. They keep longer hours than banks and are usually open on weekends.
- Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, but it’s best not to assume you’ll be able to use one – ask first. Sometimes, a minimum purchase amount applies.
- Visa and MasterCard are more commonly accepted than American Express or Diner's Club.
- Avoid getting cash advances on your credit card via ATMs, as fees are steep and you’ll be charged interest immediately.
- Report lost or stolen cards to the central number 116 116 or the following:
American Express 069-9797 1000
MasterCard 0800-819 1040
Visa 0800-811 8440
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
- Hotels €1 per bag is standard. It's also nice to leave a little cash for the room cleaners, say €1 or €2 per day.
- Restaurants Restaurant bills always include Bedienung (service charge), but most people add 5% or 10% unless the service was truly abhorrent.
- Bars About 5%, rounded to nearest euro. For table service, tip as for restaurants.
- Taxis About 10%, rounded to the nearest euro.
- Toilet attendants Loose change.
The following are typical opening hours in Hamburg, although these may vary seasonally. Where hours vary across the year, we've provided those applicable in high season.
Banks 9am–4pm Monday to Friday, extended hours usually on Tuesday and Thursday, some open Saturday
Clubs 11pm to late
Post offices 9am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday
Major stores and supermarkets 9.30am–8pm Monday to Saturday
Post Office The post office near the Hauptbahnhof is the most convenient.
Posting letters up to 20g within Germany costs €0.62, and €0.80 to anywhere else in the world. For letters up to 50g, the rates are €0.85 and €1.50 respectively. For other rates, see www.deutschepost.de.
Mail within Germany takes one to two days for delivery; to other European countries or the USA it takes three to five days, and to Australia five to seven days.
Germany observes three secular and eight religious public holidays. Banks, shops, post offices and public services close on these days.
The following are gesetzliche Feiertage (public holidays):
Neujahrstag (New Year’s Day) 1 January
Ostern (Easter) March/April; Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday
Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) Forty days after Easter
Maifeiertag/Tag der Arbeit (Labour Day) 1 May
Pfingsten (Whit/Pentecost Sunday & Monday) Fifty days after Easter
Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity) 3 October
Weihnachtstag (Christmas Day) 25 December
Zweiter Weihnachtstag (Boxing Day) 26 December
Germany has been late coming to the anti-smoking party. Smoking has been prohibited in all public facilities including government buildings in Hamburg since January 2008. Some restaurants have designated smoking rooms (in theory these are only allowed if the room has sufficient ventilation), while small, one-room bars can choose to allow smoking, although this may change. Individuals can be fined anywhere from €20 to €200.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT), called Mehrwertsteuer, is 19% for regular goods and 7% for food and books. If your permanent residence is outside the European Union, you can have a large portion of the VAT refunded, provided you shop at a store displaying the ‘Tax-Free for Tourists’ sign and obtain a tax-free form for your purchase from the sales clerk.
German phone numbers consist of an area code, starting with 0, and the local number. Area codes are between three and six digits long; local numbers are between three and nine digits.
Hamburg's area code is 040. If dialling from a landline within Hamburg, you don’t need to dial the area code. You must dial it if using a mobile.
Calling Germany from abroad Dial your country’s international access code, then 49 (Germany’s country code), then the area code (dropping the initial 0) and the local number.
Calling internationally from Germany Dial 00 (the international access code), then the country code, the area code (without the zero if there is one) and the local number.
Mobile phones operate on GSM900/1800. If you have a European or Australian phone, save money by slipping in a German SIM card.
- German mobile numbers begin with a four-digit prefix, such as 0151, 0157, 0170, 0178.
- Mobile (cell) phones are called Handys and work on GSM 900/1800.
- If your home country uses a different standard, you’ll need a multiband GSM phone while in Germany.
- Data roaming charges were scrapped in the EU as of 2017, but callers from other countries should check costs with their provider.
- If you have an unlocked phone that works in Germany, you may be able to save by buying a prepaid, rechargeable local SIM card for €10, including calling time.
- The cheapest and least complicated of these are sold at discount supermarkets, such as Aldi, Netto and Lidl. Telecommunications stores (eg Telekom, O₂ and Vodaphone) also sell SIMs. Top-up cards are widely available in kiosks and supermarkets.
- If you want to purchase an inexpensive unlocked phone, try the electronics chains Media Markt and Saturn. Prices start at €20.
- Calls made to a mobile phone are more expensive than those to a landline, but incoming calls are free.
- The use of mobile phones while driving is verboten (forbidden), unless you're using a headset.
- German toilets are sit-down affairs. Men are expected to sit down when peeing.
- Free-standing 24-hour self-cleaning toilet pods have become quite common. The cost is €0.50 and you have 15 minutes. Most are wheelchair-accessible.
- Toilets in malls, clubs, beer gardens etc often have an attendant who expects a tip of between €0.20 and €0.50.
- Toilets at the airport are free, but in larger train stations they are often maintained by private companies like McClean, which charge as much as €1.50 for the privilege.
Tourist Information Hauptbahnhof Busy all the time and with plenty of brochures and booking information.
Hamburg's tourist information offices are friendly and helpful, with a range of brochures on offer. Ask for the monthly Hamburg Guide, which is not always on display. Useful offices include:
Tourist Information Airport On the arrival level, next to the baggage collection belts.
Tourist Information am Hafen No hotel bookings.
Travel with Children
Hamburg is a fairly child-friendly city, although options are limited when the weather closes in. Depending on the age of your child, harbour tours, festivals, football games and some of the museums are highlights, while the chance to get up high and look down on the city is something most kids enjoy.
Not all of Hamburg's museums are child-friendly, but many are. Some even seem designed to appeal to kids above all others.
Hamburg's very own chocolate museum is all about indulgence; design your own chocolate bar.
- Miniatur Wunderland
This near-perfect display of Hamburg in miniature is a favourite of kids and the young at heart.
- Internationales Maritimes Museum
Hamburg's maritime museum has many calling cards but the 26,000 model ships are the stuff of some kids' dreams.
- Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte
Model ships and working model trains take kids on a journey through Hamburg's history.
If all else fails, there's always the wax museum – more than 120 figures include some they'll recognise.
- Tierpark Hagenbeck
Hamburg's zoo is a little out of the centre but the kids will thank you for making the trek.
Tours & Entertainment
Not all tours work for kids but a handful do. Otherwise, there's football, a scary amusement park and row boats.
- Barclaycard Arena
Football-mad kids won't want to miss a Bundesliga match if there's one on.
- Hamburg Dungeon
If your child's over ten and not easily scared, try this amusement park.
- Beatles Tour
St Pauli's not for the innocent, but a Beatles Tour can be loads of fun for older kids.
- Harbour Tour
Take a boat tour and enjoy a whole new perspective on the city, hopping on and off.
- Segelschule Pieper
Rent a row boat or paddleboat if the weather's fine.
- HafenCity Riverbus
Hamburg's only amphibious bus tour…
Viewpoints & Architecture
Getting above it all for seemingly endless views appeals to many kids, as does architecture that seems to have sprung from a child's imagination.
- Mahnmal St-Nikolai
A prime contender for Hamburg's best views, reached via a glass elevator.
- St Michaelis Kirche
Getting the kids to church is easy when there are steeple views like this on offer.
- Altonaer Balkon
Some kids could stay here all day watching the ships come and go.
Eye-catching architectural showpiece that leave kids looking in wonder.
Is it a boat or a building? Let your kids decide then climb to the roof.
- Tanzende Türme
Reeperbahn isn't really for kid, but these dancing towers watch over the entrance.
Need to Know
- Transport Children under six travel free. The '9-Uhr-Tageskarte' (€6.40) is valid for nine hours for one adult and up to three children. A single-trip ticket for kids aged six to 14 is €1.20.
- Restaurants Most places are child-friendly, some have kids menus, and most have a limited number of high chairs.
- Supplies Nappies and baby food are widely available in supermarkets and pharmacies.
Travellers with Disabilities
- Hamburg is fairly progressive when it comes to barrier-free travel. Access ramps and/or lifts are available in many public buildings, including train stations, museums, concert halls and cinemas.
- Trains, trams, underground trains and buses are increasingly accessible. Some stations also have grooved platform borders to assist blind passengers in navigating. Seeing-eye dogs are allowed on all forms of public transport. For the hearing impaired, upcoming station names are often displayed electronically on public transport.
- Newer hotels have lifts and rooms with extra-wide doors and spacious bathrooms. Some car-rental agencies offer hand-controlled vehicles and vans with wheelchair lifts at no charge, but you must reserve them well in advance. In parking lots and garages, look for designated spots marked with a wheelchair symbol.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
It's also worth checking out the online information from Hamburg's city authorities (www.hamburg.com/visitors/hamburg-for/disabled-persons). It includes an accommodation list, deals with public transport and covers some of the city's barrier-free attractions.
There are very few volunteering opportunities in Hamburg. Websites like www.goabroad.com and www.transitionsabroad.com may throw up occasional social work opportunities working with the homeless or underprivileged kids, or teaching English to the long-term unemployed.
Conversation Corps (www.geovisions.org) Volunteer 15 hours a week to teach a German family English in exchange for room and board.
Volunteers for Peace (www.vfp.org) USA-based nonprofit offers some German opportunities, including social work.