What to do in Hamburg, Germany
The best way to explore Hamburg’s extensive waterways (Hamburg boasts more bridges than Amsterdam, Venice and London combined, but that includes any kind of bridge) is on a ferry or pleasure boat.
Boat trips are largely divided into those on the inner city Alster Lake (both, inner and outer lakes) and harbor trips on the Elbe river.
All trips are also available in English, but you will have to check for times.
A variety of boat tours lasting from 50 minutes to 3 hours depart regularly from the Jungfernstieg on the southern end of the Inner Alster lake. The exact offer varies depending on the season, so do check in advance or at the landing stage to see what’s available. The simplest and shortest tour is the Alsterrundfahrt or Alster tour that lasts 50 minutes and takes in the Inner and Outer Alster lakes.
Although not a regular public transport, some trips let you get on or off at other stops around the outer Alster lake.
Bear in mind that you may only stop at a very few designated spots and private properties reaching down right to the water’s edge are, of course, out of bounds.
Tour boats run along the sometimes very narrow canals, so a bit of caution is advisable and you might have to squeeze next to the bank.
For those who can do it, sailing boats are available for hire (taking 4 persons max., proof of skill will be necessary, be sure to remember the special right-of-way rules on the Alster)
You will usually need to leave a passport/id card as a deposit for any boat hire.
There are no powered boats for personal use.
At the Landungsbrücken (floating landings for embarkation) area you will find a number of companies offering tours around the harbor. They last from about one hour up to three hours if it includes a downriver stretch.
Note that tours around the ‘Speicherstadt’ (historic warehouse district, now a World Heritage site) depend on tides and captains may decide on short notice if they can navigate the shallow canals. Check for high tides to plan your trip.
Regular ferry services
Popular among locals and tourists alike are the local ferry services along the Elbe river, especially the lines running between the Elbphilharmonie and Finkenwerder (the Airbus factory site). They offer a lot of the views you will get from the tours (minus the commentary and the Speicherstadt) with the fare usually being included in flat rate public transport tickets (tourist tickets, day or multi-day passes, etc.). Be prepared to queue at busy times.
Theatre, Opera and Musicals
Hamburg is home to the Hamburg State Opera House (Staatsoper Hamburg, one of the leading opera houses in Germany. It holds great historical significance, as in 1678 the first public opera house in Germany was built in Hamburg at Gänsemarkt Square, which is where the opera house is still located today. The In 2011 the Staatsoper celebrated 333 years of opera at Gänsemarkt. Hamburg also has many theaters, and is known to host a number of different musicals, as well as other music events.
The Laeiszhalle is the main classical music hall in Hamburg, with two halls: the klein Saal and großer Saal. You can see the schedule on their website. For online ticket purchases, use Ticket Online.
The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg has many smaller concerts — something almost every day — and is much cheaper than the Laeiszhalle. The programs range from the curator of their early keyboard instrument collection playing them and giving a spiel on the music and the instruments (in German only!) to formal concerts of renditions of Schubert’s Die Winterreise. Pick up a schedule at the desk of the museum (down the street from Hamburg Hauptbanhof).
Deutsches Schauspielhaus — The biggest German speech theatre looks back on a famous tradition. Gustav Gründgens, Ivan Nagel, and Peter Zadek staged highlights in German theatre history here.
Ernst-Deutsch-Theater — The Ernst-Deutsch-Theater has been an established part of the Hamburg theatre scene since 1951. Today, it is the largest privately operated playhouse in Germany.
Thalia-Theater — New directors and the continuing cooperation with young important writers based on the confidence in a strong and vital company lead to international acknowledgment.
The English Theatre of Hamburg performs from September through June, giving eight performances per week.
Schmidt-Theater — Theatre, variety, cabaret, concerts, and satirical revues.
Schmidts Tivoli — Avant garde shows and high-class musicals. The world famous musical “Cabaret” and the successful musical compendium “Fifty Fifty” were staged here.
The Rover Rep Theatre, at the Irish Rover, Großneumarkt 8. English language pub theatre under the Irish Rover at the Großneumarkt. High class professional productions in a special atmosphere.
The Hamburg Players. Hamburgs oldest English language theatre group giving three shows a year at the Theater in der Marschnerstraße.
Note that all musicals are in German language, regardless of their origin. If you’re still interested, make sure to buy tickets early, many shows are sold-out. But, midweek there is a good chance that you will be able to buy last minute tickets at a highly discounted price.
Fischmarkt (Fish Market) — Every Sunday morning vendors praise wares of virtually every type at Hamburg’s oldest open-air market, dating back to 1703. The market takes place at the foot of the century-old Fish Auction Hall offering live-bands perform at jazz, country, or western music. Open every Sunday from 5AM-9:30AM, in winter from 7AM-9:30AM.
Parking space usually is dear, try to come on foot or best by public ferry no. 62 to Fischmarkt station.
It is popular with locals, early rising tourists and late party going people coming straight from the nearby Reeperbahn.
Do check carefully what lies at the bottom of those nice fruit baskets…
Hafengeburtstag (Harbour Anniversary) — Each May the harbor anniversary attracts millions of people. Dozens of stands and stages with music of all kinds, a parade of historic ships, cruise liners and all kinds of other craft, a ballet of harbor tugs (see those 400-plus-ton-brutes dance!) and other events are organized to celebrate the city’s original source of wealth. Starting at the 800th anniversary in 1989, the event has grown into the greatest harbor celebrations in the world. It generally takes place in early May and lasts over 3-4 days, depending on whether it coincides with public holidays.
Kirschblütenfest (Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival) — On May 19th, the Japanese community of Hamburg celebrates the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival on the Outer Alster lake. The enormous fireworks and a peaceful atmosphere make this an ideal outdoors event (make sure to book boats well in advance, if you care to enjoy the view from the water).
Hamburger Dom (Fair) — The ‘Dom’ is not a dome but the former site of a cathedral church and today one of the largest fairs in Germany. The streets of the fairground, on both sides lined with stalls and rides, are some 3.3 km long. It takes place in spring, summer, and early winter for the duration of one month each.
Christmas markets – every December up to Christmas Eve, around a dozen Christmas markets are dotted throughout the city and some of the outlying centres.