Cosmopolitan, posh, naughty…Hamburg is many things, but one thing it’s not: cheap. To help you stretch your euros further, we’ve ferreted out some delicious bargains that have the bonus of letting you experience the city like a local. Skip the tourist traps and tourist tat and let us help you to fall in love with Germany’s vibrant northernmost metropolis.
There are not many cities left with enough open space to give birth to an entire new neighbourhood in the heart of town. In Hamburg, you can witness this phenomenon taking shape on a wander around HafenCity, a long-derelict port area turned showcase of postmodern architecture with the biggest eye-catcher being the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Drop by the Kesselhaus InfoCenter for an overview of this massive project or join a free guided tour of the area. Also check out the snazzy container light show installation inside the HafenCity Universität subway station.
It’s 5am on a Sunday and Hamburg’s best free show is about to kick into gear. The city’s legendary fish market has done brisk business since 1703. Then as now, it’s an auditory onslaught dominated by boisterous market criers praising their wares and eliciting chuckles with bawdy banana jokes. Of course there‘s fish – smoked, fresh, pickled, whole, in pieces – but bargain hunters also lug off bags overflowing with fruit, vegetables, cheese and other bounty. Meanwhile, bleary-eyed Reeperbahn revellers attempt to restore balance to the brain by tackling bulging fish sandwiches. Failing that, there’s always that last beer in the adjacent auction hall where cover bands belt out one-hit wonders from the '70s. When the clock strikes 9.30am, the magic is all over.
The distinctive green copper dome gracing Hamburg’s skyline belongs to ‘Der Michel’, as locals affectionately call this 18th-century landmark church. More than 2,500 people fit within its glorious interior – a symphony of snow-white stucco with tasteful gold accents – making it one of the largest Protestant baroque houses of worship in northern Germany. The best time to visit is at noon when an organist demonstrates the church’s superb acoustics during free recitals. On clear days, it’s well worth dropping a few euros for the trip up the church tower for an Instagrammable city panorama.
Go for a stroll around this charismatic quarter teeming with eclectic indie boutiques, galleries, cafes and global eateries. Bar culture thrives on Schulterblatt where the ‘Rote Flora’, an ex-theatre turned squatters’ haunt, remains a relic from the district’s radical counter cultural past. If you’re here on a Saturday, indulge in a round of urban archaeology by sifting for treasure at the Flohschanze flea market.
Concentration Camp Neuengamme
There’s just no escaping the legacy of WWII in Germany, and Hamburg is no exception. The largest Nazi concentration camp in northern Germany, Neuengamme (kz-gedenkstaette-neuengamme.de) opened in 1938 only 15km southeast of the city. More than 100,000 people passed through its sinister gates, initially mostly political opponents but later also Jews, Sinti and Roma, and gays. Set up as a work camp, prisoners were forced to dig canals, make bricks and produce arms. The sprawling grounds are now a memorial site where haunting exhibits shed light on the atrocious camp conditions that saw more than half of its inmates succumb to exhaustion, malnutrition, disease and physical abuse.
Planten un Blomen
The perfunctory name – Low German for plants and flowers – does not do justice to the fairytale landscape and floral bonanza welcoming visitors to this urban park (plantenunblomen.hamburg.de). Take in the intoxicating rose garden, meditate in the Japanese garden and marvel at otherworldly plants in the tropical greenhouse, then stay for the stunning Wasserspiele, a mesmerizing display of fountains ‘dancing’ to soundtracks from jazz and tango to Beethoven. The free shows start daily at 10pm between April and August and at 9pm in September. Saturday shows conclude with a fireworks display.
Ok, we’re cheating a little, for this one isn’t totally free but it’s too good not to mention. Rather than dropping €18 for a harbour cruise, simply hop on public ferry 62 for the price of a standard transport ticket (€3). Boats travel from Landungsbrücken (pier 3) to Finkenwerder past the fish market, modern architecture, the container terminal and the beach. You’re free to break your journey, for instance at the ‘Dockland’ station named for a stunning parallelogram-shaped office building whose roof can be climbed for views of the container port. Or continue to the next stop, Neumühlen/Oevelgönne, where you get to gawk at old ships in the museum harbour and relax riverside at Hamburg’s ultimate beach bar, the Strandperle.
Now that you’ve explored the Elbe River by boat, it’s time to go underground and cross beneath it. Right at the Landungsbrücken, the Old Elbe Tunnel was considered a masterpiece of engineering at its opening in 1911. Although today’s vehicle traffic is routed via modern tunnels and bridges, this historic gem remains in use. A creaky old lift drops you 28m down below the ground at the 426m-long retro-futuristic tube sheathed in pearly white tiles and festooned with water-themed Art Deco ornaments. It’s well worth walking through it, if only to admire the harbour and city panorama unfolding from the viewpoint at the other end.
In 2009, around 200 artists and political activists banded together to save from the wrecking ball what was left of the historic Gänge Quarter. Today, this warren of narrow lanes hemmed by pretty but derelict 19th-century houses, is a lively corner run by a nonprofit creative collective that puts on a steady roster of free exhibits, parties, concerts, neighbourhood tours, dance classes and other events.
Guided City Tours
Dig beneath the layers of this maritime city on a free tour with Sandeman’s New Europe (newhamburgtours.com). Guides will bring the city’s history to life with tales of buccaneers, bombs and bawdiness on a walk that takes in the main sights, including the humongous town hall, the old warehouse district and the bold new HafenCity quarter. Tours meet daily at 11am at the town hall. While there is no charge, guides work for tips, so give what you can.
Amazing experiences don't have to cost the earth. Visit our Best Things in Life are Free hub for more budget-friendly travel tips.