Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city, home to a vast port and known for its once-notorious red light district, Reeperbahn. But this is a forward-thinking destination with much more to offer. More millionaires live here than anywhere else in Germany, two thirds of the city is made up of green space and waterways, while contemporary culture is alive and well and celebrated all over.
Your guide to an exhilarating stag weekend in Germany’s buzzing second city
For such a big city and one of the world’s largest ports, Hamburg always feels surprisingly easy going. Huge green spaces, the vast network of canals and the enormous River Elbe itself give an impression of size, but it’s a fast city to get to know and its different areas start to feel familiar very quickly.
Hamburg at a glance:
- Germany’s second largest city, built on the banks of the enormous River Elbe – complete with its own beach
- Famous for its alternative music and punk scene, but also boasts more than 40 theatres, 60 museums, 100 music venues
- Infamous for the Reeperbahn area, once one of Europe’s most notorious red light districts, and now a bustling hotspot of nightlife and alternative culture
- It’s a vibrant metropolis that combines urban grit with parks and water – two thirds of Hamburg is made up of green space and waterways
- Home to two major football clubs, Hamburger SV, one of Germany’s oldest, and FC St Pauli, perhaps the world’s most hipster team
St Pauli – Hamburg by night
Reeperbahn (or Kiez as it’s known locally) is and always will be the heart of St Pauli. This area’s where you’ll find most of the city’s pubs, clubs and bars and local boozing is at its best round Friedrichstrasse and Gerhardstrasse. Hamburg’s real red-light district is cordoned off on Herbertstrasse, but apart from that it’s pretty much anything goes in this part of the city and even just walking around at night amongst all the neon and crowds is an experience.
Jungfernsteig – where the city shows off
This smart district takes its name from the tradition of wealthy Hamburg merchants parading their unmarried daughters on Sunday afternoon walks by the lakes. Today it’s where you’ll find some of the city’s best shopping, chic cafés and restaurants. Inner Alster lake is a great place to hire bikes and explore a bit.
Altona – bohemian Hamburg’s playground
Gently gentrified in true Hamburg style, Altona is a little bit hipster, kind of bohemian, sort of arty and pretty much just itself. Home to the city’s creative types and their cutely dressed offspring, Altona’s where you want to be for cool clothes shops, new design, smart bars and interesting cafés and restaurants.
Best bars in Hamburg:
Astra-Strube, Max Brauer Allee
A Hamburg institution for decades and still going as strong as ever. Good for regular DJ nights, live music, cheap beer, drinks offers and party atmosphere.
Golden Pudel, St. Pauli Fischmarkt 27
Is it a bar, is it a fishing cabin, is it someone’s house? From the outside it’s hard to tell but once inside Golden Pudel all is clear – it’s a local punk legend and loved to its anarchic little heart by locals. The dancefloor’s small but the drinks choice is vast and there’s a different Golden Pudel slogan for every day.
The Shamrock, Feldstraße 40
Hamburg’s oldest Irish pub has seen quite a few others fall by the wayside but sports on the telly, excellent drink prices, good beer selection and the friendly vibe seem to have guaranteed long life and happiness for this much loved classic.
Paulaner’s Miraculum, Kirchenallee 47
Sounds like an ancient apothecary, but it’s really one of Hamburg’s great traditional German bars with the draught beer and hearty home-cooking for next to no money as standard. Friendly and unpretentious.
20 UP, Bernhard-Nocht-Straße 97
On the top floor of the Empire Riverside Hotel (hence the name) this bar has an astonishing view of the River Elbe and Hamburg, very reasonably priced drinks and a range of offers every night after 6pm.
Bar Hamburg, Rautenbergstraße 6
Over 90 different cocktails, a huge range of malts, beer and wines and an interesting and original menu, this is Hamburg’s smartest bar. Probably why it gets to own the city’s name.
Bernstein Bar, Bernstorffstraße 103
Inviting and intimate bar with a good mix of locals and visitors, regular DJs and a wide range of Germany’s finest brewing traditions to choose from.
Biergarten der Factory, Hasselbrookstraße 172
One of the prettiest and most popular beer gardens in Hamburg, Biergarten der Factory is in the former Hasselbrooker Station building, surrounded by trees and great on summer evenings. The food is as good as the beer and the kitchen stays open until midnight.
Le Fonque, Juliusstraße 33
More than 20 years of funking it up in the Schanze District have made this bar a bit on an expert in the art of a great night out. The secret is fantastic resident DJs, funk and soul staples, big, big drinks at good prices and lots of giant, squashy sofas for lounging about.
Tower Bar, Seewartenstraße 9
Certainly not the cheapest bar in Hamburg but the great view over the city’s port is worth extra, plus it’s a nice, relaxed place to just hang out and recharge for a bit.
Best clubs in Hamburg:
Dollhouse, Große Freiheit 11
Hamburg’s most famous erotic club carries the strapline ‘erotic show for him and her’ and doesn’t do discrimination. Super glossy and glamorous and attracts huge crowds for its legendary male and female strippers and dancers.
Neidklub, Reeperbahn 19
Underground vibe, international DJs, mix of sounds, fantastic interior, Neidklub pulls a young, smart Hamburg crowd for big ticket music events all year round. First floor terrace has amazing aerial views of the dance floor and that’s what it’s all about at Neidklub – dance, dance, dance.
Uebel & Gefährlich, Feldstraße 66
On the fourth floor of an immense and daunting looking overground bunker, Uebel & Gefärlech are credited with turning this weird venue into one of the most exciting clubs in Europe. Huge international events and DJs are the thing here and it pulls vast crowds.
Baalsaal, Reeperbahn 19
The dancefloor at Baalsaal isn’t as big as some but the monster sound system is huge and DJs love it. House and techno dominate here and nothing much happens until after 1am, but when it kicks off Baalsaal is epic.
Moondoo, Reeperbahn 136
Obscure music, chart hits, local legend DJs and one of the coolest places to club in the city. Crowded to capacity always and with a wild party vibe to boot.
Food: eat like a local:
Funnily enough, the most iconic food in Hamburg is a bar snack – pretzels. Not the kind you get in bags back home, these are fresh baked and topped with salt, poppy, sesame or pumpkin seeds and they’re served with everything – but especially beer.
Rive (Van-der-Smissen-Straße 1) is one of the best located and best Oyster Bars in the city and does a nice line in lots of other delicious, fresh seafood too. Right on the Elbe at the fishing port in Altona, wonderful views while you eat.
Head over to Café Paris (Rathausstraße 4) for gorgeous fin de siècle Parisian interior does full glamour overload, with a menu filled with French classics beautifully executed with fantastic fresh ingredients – steak and chips as you’ve never tasted it before. Does an amazing breakfast and brunch, but it’s very popular.
Think gourmet finger food and you get the basic idea behind Dips ‘n’ Stix (Spielbudenplatz 24-25). You get to snack from dozens of international styles and tastes because there is nothing they can’t put on a stick here – even puddings. And if you want something more substantial you could stay for dinner (includes soup, so maybe not on a stick). Menu changes every day and it’s always great value.
If you’re planning on spending a night in the infamous Reeperbahn district, then Herzblut (Reeperbahn 50) is where you should start. Herzblut (Heart’s Blood) has a fantastic menu of traditional and more interesting options. And if you don’t feel like moving on, it’s also a cocktail bar and nightclub too.
Fresh, local ingredients and huge portions are the signature at Hatari (Schantzenstraße 2). The style is traditional German and the focus is on meat, meat and quite a lot more meat. Lunch comes in slightly smaller sizes but you’ll still need a hearty appetite to do it justice.
When to visit:
Hamburg’s summer weather is warm and sunny so a good time to visit if you want to see some of the countryside and take advantage of the city’s beer garden traditions. Christmas is wonderful, of course, as this is Germany and the land of fairytale markets, giant trees, skating rinks, mulled wine and all the other seasonal fun you can think of.
Best view of the city:
Climb the 544 stairs to the top of St Petri Kirche Church tower, it’s the tallest point in the city and the view is amazing.
The city has excellent public transport and it all works off one ticket, so you have access to buses, trains and even ferries. Taxis are reasonably priced but most areas are easy to walk round.
Hamburg is a safe city but take the usual precautions against pickpockets in busy tourist areas. In clubs and bars don’t leave your drink unattended or accept a drink from strangers if you haven’t seen the bar staff make it. And it’s best to avoid the subway station public toilets at night.
Yes = ja
No = nein
Please = bitte
Thank you = danke
Cheers! = prost!