Hamburg (Photo:Mapics/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Hamburg

Hamburg, Germany's foremost port and one of its most handsome cities, may also be one of Europe's most underrated destinations. Many Americans -- and even Europeans -- have yet to discover its charms, including its beautiful situation on the banks of the River Elbe and around the Alster lake, the loveliness of its mostly traditional architecture, its premier museums, and its long history and association with the powerful Hanseatic League. The city is also more sophisticated and walkable than Germany's capital, Berlin, a huge plus for visitors.

Founded back in 800 by Charlemagne, the city initially took off as a trading center, given its proximity to the rest of Northern Europe and its location on the Elbe River, which links the North Sea to inland Europe. While Hamburg was largely destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, much of it was rebuilt in the traditional style, resulting in a powerful sense of continuity with the past. Few intrusive modern structures upset the skyline, so the churches and the lovely Rathaus (City Hall) dominate the cityscape. The notable exception is HafenCity, a separate district of brand-new housing, offices and cultural centers.

Today, Hamburg is a thriving north German city of just fewer than two million people with the surrounding districts doubling the population. The city thrives on its port, shipyards and international trade, and it's also a media and civil aerospace center. Not surprisingly, water is a key element in Hamburg life. The Elbe passes through the city, splitting into waterways that meander, canal-like, between handsome, brick, Victorian-era former warehouses that now serve as offices, residences and museums. Hamburg's lakes -- the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and much larger Aussenalster (Outer Alster) -- form centerpieces for the city center and its transition to the close-in residential suburbs. Parallel canals and narrow streets link the Alster and the Elbe's wide expanses. For the tourist, it's a delight to follow them.

The city has oodles of individual sights relating to its maritime heritage: excellent museums, historic ships, architectural landmarks and a church tower viewpoint. Visitors can take simple pleasure in walking the grand Elbe River promenade, the canal paths in the Speicherstadt (Warehouse District) and the lakeside footpaths. Day cruises are a popular pastime, with numerous boat operators departing from the Landungsbrucken pier to cruise the Elbe River and from Jungfernsteig for Alster trips.

Hamburg's visitors are mostly Germans and other Europeans, and most of the cruise calls are by ships carrying German-speaking passengers. However, some lines catering to North Americans are finding their way there. Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is the city's favorite caller, and one million people routinely turn out along the banks of the Elbe to see her arrive from the North Sea. Celebrity Cruises, Silversea, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Hurtigrutren and Ponant Cruises have followed.

About Hamburg


Pro

Hamburg is sophisticated and walkable, featuring a riverside promenade and scenic paths

Con

Some intersections give non-pedestrian traffic the right of way; be careful

Bottom Line

This charming, historical city has plenty of museums and lovely architecture


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Where You're Docked

Hamburg has two principal cruise ship terminals, both under construction, with further development planned. The upriver berth is at HafenCity, a rapidly developing residential, office building, cultural and entertainment district cleared of former industrial buildings and commercial docks. It is located to the south of the city center, behind the rebuilt Victorian brick warehouse buildings destroyed during World War II, which now house museums, restaurants and offices.

The all-new Hamburg Cruise Center's Altona terminal opened in 2011. It's located a half-mile downriver from the Landungsbrucken (a long, floating pontoon landing), where the historic ships are berthed and where cruise ships used to dock.

Good to Know

Hamburg is a big city with a diverse population, so it is wise, as in similar urban circumstances, to watch your possessions. This is especially true when in crowded locations, such as major shopping streets, indoor gallery passages, ATM queues, the bus, transportation stations, and the subway and elevated lines. Just ignore touts, and simply walk away.

Be aware when pedestrians have the right-of-way at designated crosswalks and when cars and buses have priority. Jaywalking is dangerous.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Germany, part of the European Union (EU), uses the euro. For the most up-to-date rates, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. There are bank-owned ATM's in the main shopping streets.

You will need euros for small purchases like snacks and drinks, postcards, inexpensive souvenirs, W.C. (public bathroom) visits and entry fees; credit cards may not be accepted.

Language

German is the city's most widely spoken language, and English is often understood well enough to have questions answered on the streets, in shops and in restaurants. A few useful words are danke (thank you); bitte (please); and morgan (good morning -- Germans generally drop the "guten" in front).

Shopping

For women, the best souvenirs are leather purses, bags and fashion clothing. Specialty items, such as handbags, are found near the railway station end of Monckebergstrasse (the main shopping street) at Nadelheim. Another shopping district surrounds Gansemarkt (go to the U-bahn station of the same name), where Tate offers fashionable clothing items and Bethge sells leather bags, briefcases and purses.

The best gift for men and boys is a Marklin set of model trains. The Marklin train store sells the world's best model railroad items -- passenger and freight cars, locomotives, stations, villages and accessories -- from its location adjacent to Nadelheim.

Hamburg, Germany's design capital, has the intriguing Stillwerk, a complex of shops and studios near Hamburg Cruise Center's Altona terminal. It features a wide array of sophisticated boutiques, from household names to emerging artists and designers.