Insider: the new-look Hamburg

Hamburg has rapidly evolved into one of Europe’s must-visit destinations. In the past, Hamburg was known primarily for its busy, industrial waterfront that sat at the epicentre of Europe’s freight industry. The nightlife of the bustling Reeperbahn was constantly awash with sailors and dockworkers making this area their home.

Yet, the scene has changed dramatically over the last few years. The northern German city has developed into a chic cultural destination, rooted in its trade history as ‘the gateway to the world.’

Discovering the city’s central masterpiece

Located just eight and a half kilometres from the airport, and easily accessible by car, Hamburg’s working harbour has always drawn in vast amounts of tourists.

Yet, Germany’s second-largest city now has another iconic landmark bringing in a new-wave of culture-seekers from around the world.

I visited Hamburg in early 2018, a year after the grand opening of one of the world’s most advanced concert halls – the Elbphilharmonie.

Costing an impressive 800 million euros, the already-adored Elphi is a striking piece of modern architecture. The city’s cultural equivalent of The Sydney Opera House, it perches magnificently upon a six-storey restored brick warehouse – Kaispeicher A. This sight is a beautiful juxtaposition of the old meeting the new in a city showcasing its architectural advancement.

The Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall. Image credit:

The prominent building stands at 108 metres tall, and resembles a ship’s sail through its wave-shaped glass cube structure. It juts out into the River Elbe, almost completely surrounded by water. Elphi dominates the old waterfront, changing the city’s image in the process.

Housed within this masterpiece is an ongoing programme of awe-inspiring classic music. Unsurprisingly, most shows are sold out months in advance. However, if you plan far enough ahead, tickets can be secured on their website or at the ticket office for cancellations 90 minutes before every performance.

The allure of the building alone has seen more than four million people pass through Elphi’s doors in its first year. It’s free to explore and experience the views from open terraces standing high above the Elbe. To go a few steps further, a one hour guided tour will take you climbing onto the uneven roof to get an even better view of the city.

Image credit: Claudia Hoehne

It’s also home to bustling bistros and elegant restaurants with panoramic views, so it’s easy to turn a quick visit into a half-day trip.

While in Hamburg, I stayed at The Westin, a fabulous five-star hotel also situated within the Elphilharmonie. Opening my bedroom door triggered a powered curtain to open, revealing a 20 foot wall of glass and allowing me to look out over the Hamburg rooftops. It really was the height of luxury!

Seeking out alternative hotspots via a network of waterways

Hamburg’s waterway structure makes it a wonderfully unique city to explore further. The Elbe joins the River Alster in the heart of the city, amid the winding network of intriguing lakes and canals.

Wandering through the city, you’ll cross bridges every few yards as there is an amazing 2,500 of them. This is more than in Venice, Amsterdam, and London combined! Locals proudly claim their city is home to the most bridges in the world.

Image credit:

With so many dotted across the city, it’s hard to choose a favourite. However, the Ellerntorsbrücke Bridge lingered in my mind long after I got home. Its three arches have gracefully traversed the Herrengrabenfleet canal since 1668. Although it’s now a tourist draw, the bridge was historically the main route between the old town and Altona – now a district of Hamburg.

On my journey sauntering across bridges, over waterways, and stumbling upon bohemian markets, I found myself back in HafenCity. This exciting quarter epitomises ‘new’ Hamburg, combining reclaimed industrial riverbanks with glossy towers housing fashionable bars and go-to restaurants. 10,000 people now occupy the sought-after riverside apartments of Europe’s largest urban development seen this century.

The Ellerntorsbrücke Bridge. Image credit:

Yet, the city manages to retain its history and magical charm. Nearby to the modern HafenCity, is the notable Speicherstadt district. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its cobbled walkways wind between towering 150 year old brick warehouses and a labyrinth of canals where water taxis await curious tourists.

Hamburg’s harbour, kilometres of waterway, and industrial heritage will always attract tourists from around the world. However, the city’s recent transformation allows it to entice a new generation of visitors in search of luxurious modernity. This fascinating destination is full of quirky attractions, restaurants, architecture, and possesses a rich history. Add to that a world-class music venue and a revolutionary urban development and you’ve got a city screaming out to be explored.

Related articles