A bike ride is always a fun option for us when we land in a new city, and Colleen and I found a well-reviewed company offering tours around Hamburg during our summer visit. The sunny skies and warm temperatures made it an ideal time to be outside, and we intended to take advantage of the conditions to see as much as we could during a weekend visit.
We had already spent our first morning taking a run and then walking around Hamburg, visiting the Planten un Blumen botanical park, HafenCity and its sprawling waterfront area and the various Central City neighborhoods.
After those busy hours, a quick lunch of pizza and a beer and a short afternoon nap, we were refreshed and ready for our bike ride. We arrived at Hamburg City Cycles in the Bohemian St. Pauli neighborhood to join our guide, Nico, and eight other riders. We got our bikes, helmets and set off to explore Hamburg.
Nico, who has been in Hamburg for 26 years, says he finds it funny that when he talks with visitors from all over the world about Germany. Tourists seem to know very little about Hamburg, the country's second-largest city with almost 1.8 million people.
Nico asks a few of us what we know about Hamburg. We prove his point with scant facts to bounce back to his query, and he is somewhat bemused at our general ignorance. But he's also quite self-assured in claiming that Hamburg is at least the equal of much better-known destinations in his country, like Berlin, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt.
He's not kidding. We had been in Hamburg for not even a full day and were already under the spell of its charms.
Here are some of the things we learned and places we visited during our full 48 hours in Hamburg.
You already know it's the second-largest city in Germany (by population) behind Berlin's 3.5 million residents. But did you know that Hamburg is filled with canals and waterways that slice through the city, and thus, it has more than 2,300 bridges? That's more than Amsterdam and Venice can count combined.
The Port of Hamburg is vital for commerce in the region and throughout Europe. It is the third-largest container port in Europe, and the facility also features three cruise terminals.
The Beatles spent almost three years (1960-1962) performing regular gigs in bars and clubs in Hamburg while honing their act before bursting onto the worldwide scene. The group played night after night for tiny sums of money while sleeping on couches and in storage rooms (next to toilets) in some of the dingiest dive bars in the city's famous Reeperbahn red-light district in St. Pauli. From humble beginnings, eh?
A large portion of Hamburg is set aside for green space (almost 15 percent of the acreage), and this pretty park is a highlight. We ran through the 116-acre beautifully lush and landscaped park that features a large rose garden, Japanese garden, botanical garden and tropical greenhouse.
It's a special place to go for a walk, run, bike ride and for families to bring kids, especially on a sunny day like we enjoyed.
The Elbe River runs through Hamburg, and HafenCity is a development project that revitalized the port area and brought new life to the waterfront when it began in 2000. The urban district is still being developed from a "Masterplan" and includes a mix of residential spaces, shopping, restaurants and entertainment. The anchor of the project is the marina and Elb-philharmonie Hamburg.
The development quarter elegantly blends modern facilities within the existing historic space to create an attractive combination that is unoffensive.
Elbphilharmonie is an architecturally stunning music hall that sits at the waterfront at the edge of HafenCity. You can't miss the distinctive building that has an eight-story-high red brick base that is topped by a several stories of curvy glass construction that is meant to resemble a sail.
You can book tours that bring you through the building, buy tickets to a concert or get a ticket to just go up Europe's longest escalator on the way to the viewing deck. (It was free when we went, but you do need to get a ticket because it's a popular attraction.)
The views over HafenCity and Hamburg are worth dealing with the crowds to venture to the top for a few photos.
As we finished up our bike tour, we still had a couple hours of daylight left and wanted to get one last stop in for a meal and craft beers while we enjoyed the sunset. Nico suggested that we might like to check out the St. Pauli Piers because there is a beach club among the plenty of restaurants and bars with a wide selection of beers located right along this popular landing spot on the Elbe River.
"Perfect!" Colleen and I said in unison.
We were drawn to Hamburg City Beach Club, which features a sandy beach space (imported sand dumped along the river banks) and a cool vibe with music and outdoor seating on stools and benches. It's working pretty hard for that Bohemian beach vibe, and that was fine with us.
We ordered up a couple of massive juicy burgers, sides of fries and cold beers to settle in and watch the ships sail by in the river while the sun was setting.
It was an ideal way to end our whirlwind time in a favorite new city: Hamburg.
Have you been to Hamburg? What did you enjoy? Share your tips in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,