This post is in collaboration with Visit Hamburg. Any activities marked with an asterisk were provided free of charge.
Hamburg is having a moment. After years of living in the shadow of its big brother Berlin, Germany’s second city is becoming THE a weekend break of choice. It has the classic elements of a great trip to Europe: a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and a couple of gloriously ridiculous tourist traps (l can promise you that spending a couple of hours in the insanity that is Miniatur Wunderland* is absolutely money well spent), but dig just slightly under the obvious Trip Advisor suggestions and you’ll find a city radiating cool.
‘Cool’ is relative, of course. I’m not lumbering myself into that prestigious category by any means, but for me it sums up the places I want to photograph; it’s those parts of a place that emanates personality, or at least something beyond a Starbucks and high street with three H&Ms. It sounds vapid, but show me a good coffee shop and I’ll show you excellent interiors, staff who can recommend all the good local haunts, and maybe even a dog or two to say hello to.
Nord Coast Coffee was my sanctuary from a torrential downpour on my first full day in Hamburg. It sits in an area that has a recent industrial history but is now converting warehouses into lofts for those who favour exposed brickwork over plasterboard (and can afford the privilege). A stone’s throw from Miniatur Wunderland and the stunning Elbphilharmonie* (which is well worth venturing inside for views across the harbour), I nestled into a cosy corner with a view of the water and had scrambled eggs on sourdough with spring onion cream cheese, along with my precious morning coffee.
Find it at: Nord Roast Coffee, Deichstraße 9, 20459 Hamburg
It was that same day, during what felt like the same bout of neverending rain, that I sought out more
Find them both at: Wexstraße 28, 20355 Hamburg
In fact it was another hunt for coffee that led me to another excellent plant shop, but let’s focus on the beverages first. On my third day in Hamburg, I visited the area of Sternschanze and pretty much fell in love immediately. It had a neighbourhood vibe that felt friendly along with shops and cafes that showed it to be contemporary too.
I’d come to the area to have brunch at Kropkå and thanks to travelling solo, I managed to nab a table straight away. Having been really disappointed by my dinner the night before, this enormous brunch couldn’t have come at a better time, fully reinstating my faith in Hamburg’s food scene. My plate heaved with oven-fresh breads, salted butter, a variety of cheeses and cold cuts, cream cheese, two homemade jams, and a small bowl of fresh fruit with nuts and honey which I wolfed down whilst the two women next to me shared a croissant (more fool them).
I walked from Sternschanze to the most famous district of Hamburg, St Pauli; via the previously alluded to plant shop, the gorgeous Kleiner Kaktus store (it’s name translating to Small Cactus which is both adorable and to-the-point) and yet another coffee shop, Hermetic Coffee Roasters (this time for a hot chocolate though!) and although a bustling and thriving area, it certainly wasn’t laden with tourists as I ambled, somewhat lost, through random streets.
Find them at:
Kleiner Kaktus, Lindenallee 48, 20259 Hamburg
Hermetic Coffee Roasters,Sternstraße 68, 20357 Hamburg
This definitely wasn’t the case as I got closer to St. Pauli. The self-designated home of debauchery, it’s the red light district of the Reeperbahn that draws the crowds, but I was there for street art and craft beer, and I certainly struck gold. Although larger murals can be seen elsewhere in the city, it was the area around the infamous Rote Flora theatre that captured my heart. The walls here are covered in smaller pieces, found art and sculpture, and a wealth of paste-ups and stencils. Together, they combine to adorn streets in colour, life, poetry and protest. Every time I looked a little harder, I found a new perspective or opinion.
Around the corner from the most densely packed street art is the Ratsherrn Brewery*, on the brilliantly and unsubtly named street of Lagerstaße. I pride myself on my knowledge of beer, seeking out new brews and craft producers whenever the opportunity presents itself, but Ratsherrn was a totally new name to me. It turns out that that is unsurprising when my friendly tour guide told me that they don’t actually trade outside of Germany at present. I’d been excited to try the beer in Germany, especially in Cologne, but the classic Pils that I’d tried so far
Find it at: Ratsherrn Brewery, Lagerstraße 30A, 20357 Hamburg
St Pauli is the most notorious neighbourhood of Hamburg, but in my opinion, I stayed in the real deal: St Georg. The area stretches out from the main central train station where I’d arrived initially from Cologne, and I stayed in the Superbude Hostel* in a private room. The accommodation was excellent with super friendly staff, loads of safe storage space, thick windows to block out road noise, and a very comfortable bed.
Find it at: Superbude Hostel, Spaldingstraße 152, 20097 Hamburg
Staying there I had no idea of the history of the district until I arranged a walking tour through Air BnB Experiences. My tour guide Florian has lived in the area for many years and as an openly gay man he told me the varied, amazing and sometimes sketchy history of St Georg as the main LGBTQ+ area of Hamburg, the areas frequented by ‘ladies of the night’, the rich mix of religions, races and ethnicities, and a few streets that I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to walk down alone! For a safe way of seeing an alternative side to Hamburg, I can’t recommend him enough.
Sometimes, all the research in the world can’t lead you to the sorts of places you really want to find. The places that feel like home but are distinctly different; the ones that inspire you and make you want to return on your next visit, the experiences that you tell your friends about and remember fondly. In Hamburg, you really can just start with a coffee shop and see where the day takes you.