The recent opening of Hamburg’s state-of-the-art concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie, has transformed Germany’s second biggest city from an under-the-radar destination into one of Europe’s current hotspots. And the Elbphilharmonie is only the tip of Hamburg’s vibrant music scene. There is Germany’s oldest Opera House, a concert hall dedicated to Brahms, plus dozens of live music clubs in the St Pauli neighbourhood, still going strong since the 1960s when The Beatles began to make their name here. Add in a great choice in hotels and eating-out options that span Michelin-starred gourmet cuisine to hearty German fare and creative vegetarian restaurants, and it is just surprising that Hamburg has not been discovered earlier. For more tourism information, visit www.hamburg.de.
A comfortable bed
Nothing tops a stay in the palatial Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten (www.hvj.de; double rooms from €290 [Dh1,113], including taxes), majestically situated on the bank of the Inner Alster lake, lavishly refurbished and boasting a gourmet two-star Michelin restaurant. For more discrete luxury, a loyal clientele patronise the exclusive family-run Hotel Louis C Jacob (www.hotel-jacob.de; double rooms from €256 [Dh1,000], including taxes), just out of the centre on the water’s edge of the Elbe. Hamburg has a brilliant selection of reasonably priced designer hotels, including the minimalist Side (www.side-hamburg.com; double rooms from €150 [Dh586], including taxes), whose futuristic lighting was created by theatre virtuoso Robert Wilson, while the soaring tower of the Empire Riverside Hotel (www.empire-riverside.de; double rooms from €120 [Dh469], including taxes) is ideally located for exploring Hamburg Harbour in the day and vibrant St Pauli at night.
Find your feet
This is a surprisingly spread-out city, and the perfect way to get your bearings is to jump on the hop-on/hop-off bus tours that leave regularly from the central Hauptbahnhof train station. Then there is an excellent bus and subway system to get around before exploring on foot. Historic Hamburg was mostly destroyed by the Second World War bombing, but the maze of warehouses and canals of the Speicherstadt warehouse district that serviced the port in the 19th century survived, and is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The Kunsthalle (www.hamburger-kunsthalle.de) is one of Europe’s most important art museums, whose collection spans Old Masters from Rubens and Rembrandt to Picasso and Klee. Also take a Harbour cruise from St Pauli Piers for a fascinating snapshot of one of the world’s busiest ports.
Meet the locals
All Hamburg comes out to shop at the Sunday morning market stretching along the Elbe from the historic St Pauli Fish Auction Hall. Crowds gather from 5.30am, with rock ‘n’ roll bands playing to partygoers and shoppers in the redbrick Hall until midday. At the first sign of good weather, locals visit the waterside, either the makeshift summer beaches along the Elbe or more genteel promenades beside the Inner and Outer Aussen, two lakes right in the city centre. Cakes and coffee are a German institution, and the hip Café Elbgold (www.elbgold.com), on Lagerstrasse 34, is always packed for its perfect flat whites and chocolate brownies.
Book a table
Germany’s youngest three- star Michelin chef Kevin Fehling, holds court at The Table (www.thetable-hamburg.de) where 20 diners can enjoy a €195 (Dh760) tasting menu with dishes such as scallop, caviar and bonemarrow on parsnip purée with horseradish pearls. The only problem is a four-month waiting list to get a reservation. Another celebrity chef, Tim Mälzer, known as Germany’s Jamie Oliver, runs Bullerei (www.bullerei.com) an industrial-style brasserie in the old meatpacking district serving hearty plates of comfort food, such as beef cheek stew (mains from €18 [Dh70]). Fish lovers must try the €3 (Dh10) fischbrötchen, rolls stuffed with shrimp or herring at one of the stalls by harbour-tour boats, or reserve a table at the venerable Fischereihafen (www.fischereihafenrestaurant.de), the best fish restaurant in town serving the freshest turbot steak you will ever eat. For casual Middle East diners, check out the €6.90 (Dh26) lunch menu at Saliba (www.saliba.de), whose Syrian owner has been serving meze in Hamburg for 30 years, or the vegetarian dishes of Azeitona, a friendly, Palestinian-run canteen.
Just by Hamburg’s Neo-Renaissance Town Hall, Neuer Wall is an exclusive walkway of global luxury brands from Hermès and Prada to Louis Vuitton, and local star Jil Sander, while on adjoining Jungfernstieg street is the famous Alsterhaus, a Harrods-like department store. Check out local designers such as Herr von Eden and Maison Suneve along Marktstrasse in the hip Karoviertel neighbourhood, and don’t miss Manufactum (www.manufactum.de), which stocks everything from designer furniture to natural beauty products, books and organic foods.
Miniatur Wunderland (www.miniatur-wunderland.com) is the world’s largest model railway, which sounds kitsch, but visitors of all ages are enchanted by incredible working replicas of everything from Las Vegas and the Swiss Alps to Rome’s Colosseum. Booking is essential.
What to avoid
The Reeperbahn is Europe’s most infamous red-light district, and it is seriously sleazy.
Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies direct from Dubai to Hamburg from Dh3,040 return, including taxes.