Last weekend I fulfilled a little dream from my Bucket list when Mr Smith and I (and a sneaky 5 month old) enjoyed Christmas Markets galore in Hamburg. I don’t think I will ever forget the jovial feeling and magical scenes I witnessed, walking beneath the reams of twinkling lights that lined the streets of this fabulous city.
As Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg is a fab place for kids and adults alike and easy to access with a baby too. It is home to many record breaking attractions, and aside from Christmas Markets, there is simply loads of exciting things to see and do. It took us less time than a train to London to get there and for only £49 each return with Ryanair, it was certainly a bargainous adventure too!
The first 24 hours
We Flew from Manchester at 6.30am and landed in Hamburg around 9am (they are an hour ahead). We then caught a train to our hotel that took about 30 mins with a couple of changes here and there, but it was all very straight forward. We used the trains loads over the weekend, as we had a travel pass for the cities public transport and this was a great choice as it meant we could hop on and off at leisure and get around quickly. It is a very efficient way to see places and their public transport is very regular, clean and reliable, I love using public transport abroad, its something our whole family enjoy when we travel, as its not only a money saver, but an opportunity to mix with locals.
Once the bags were ditched at our hotel, I was eager to see the festive scenes, and so we walked this time down into the city where we were greeted by spectacular trees draped in lights, delicious smells from the markets and beautiful architecture lining the rivers and streets. I stood and smiled – it was such a charming sight to see and far more enchanting than I ever imagined. Germany certainly know how to do Christmas, and we were over the moon to be in the midst of it all!
Our afternoon was spent at the Miniatur Wunderland – a model railway attraction located in the historic Speicherstadt district and is the worlds largest of its kind. I wasn’t sure what to expect here as model railways aren’t particularly my thing, but we quickly found that they don’t have to be for you to enjoy a visit here. We were faced with the landscapes of Switzerland, NYC and Hamburg (to name a few) all delicately hand crafted and working with lights, mechanisms and interactive displays. I was immediately blown away by the incredible talents and pure skills of the model makers (who you can also catch a glimpse of at work), and stood in awe for a good couple of hours as we made our way around it.
It was such an enjoyable place, and kind of made you feel like a giddy child…everything told little stories of both the city we were in and the wider world, lighting up as the room darkened for night, and the whole place down to every detail was just a spectacular thing to see. A very impressive place that left us amazed for the rest of the weekend!
I know for a fact my kids would have loved it there, and this (amongst other things we experienced) is why we talked about it being worth a visit back with them one day soon.
We then caught a train up to St Pauli which we quickly discovered was not our scene, and other than a cute little thrift shop where I found some lovely quilted trousers for Alice (2 euros) we made a quick exit back to the town hall for dinner in the main market square. Here we were greeted once again by delightful smells and beautiful twinkling lights. We were in our element as we sampled some tasty German Bratwurst and crepes for dinner, before being absolutely done in and deciding it was time to head back to the hotel for a well earned rest and a chance to defrost from the bitterly cold German climate!
After almost 9 miles of exploring the day before we were pretty tired, but still hungry for more and so decided to site see in a different, more easy going way on the Saturday. We opted for a morning on both boat and bus!
We began with a quick train to the port where we caught a luxury boat and enjoyed a fascinating cruise around the docks. It was a cloudy and cold winter day, and we found that supping hot chocolate whilst cruising down the river in a warm cosy boat was certainly a great (and romantic) way to see the city, docks and major workings of Hamburg. The tour was in German but it didn’t matter, rather it added to the cultural experience, and Nathan as a logistics and supply chain graduate had plenty to tell me too!!
From here we hopped on a tour bus where we had headphones for English translation and saw the major sites and districts further in land including Hafencity (the main port and historic district). I find that bus tours are a really great way to learn about major things in that particular city, and cover a lot of ground quickly, and this was no different. It was warm and friendly, easy to hop on and off, and we learnt about how cruises were invented in Hamburg and how the Miniatur Wunderland is located in the largest continuous warehouse in Europe, (amongst other things) along the way, and this really gave us an appreciation of the city’s history and industry.
The afternoon was a tasty one with chocolate galore at Chocoversum and a late lunch at The better burger company. chocoversum is a hands on, interactive chocolate museum experience where you get the opportunity to follow the life of the cocoa bean to a bar of chocolate. If you love chocolate this is a must in Hamburg city. We had ample opportunities to sample chocolate in its various stages as well as getting to grasps with making our very own bar to take home. We were there a couple of hours and found it both a really fun and interesting place to visit, and quite possibly one of the highlights of the trip (after all it did involve chocolate).
The better burger company was also a highlight both in taste and experience. Serving up both meat and veggie options, I would describe it as the “Subway” of burgers. There are loads of various eateries throughout Hamburg, but there is something about seeing the word “Hamburger” everywhere that kind of conjurers up burger ideas in your mind and belly, and having heard of “The better burger company” we decided to give it a go. They were so incredibly tasty and fresh, and tailored to your own creation (you could have as many patties as you wanted really)…our was just the one and mine was a cheese burger with chilli relish, salad and jalapenos..YUM!
From there we wrapped up the day with a brief visit to the Maritime Museum. Located in a gorgeous 1800’s building and Hamburgs oldest preserved warehouse, it houses the biggest collection of maritime stuff in the world; with model ships, art, uniforms and even a model of the Queen Mary II made out of Lego! From ship building to navigation, to life on the ships and sea, it was a very interesting place, especially being aware that my grandfather was in the merchant navy back in the day.
After a quick visit to a local supermarket for some German biscuits and chocolate, we made our way back to the hotel before another early morning flight back to Manchester the next day.
They say time flies when you are having fun, and this was certainly true of Hamburg! 2 days flew by and were jam packed with fascinating adventures. Hamburg held for us a great mix of everything we love when we travel – tasty food, impressive architecture, history, great shopping and quirky places to discover. We had fun on the public transport, meeting people, and the privileged of seeing a Christmas parade up the main street.
It was so lovely to be away together as a couple right before Christmas, and to have an amazing adventure without it costing lots. I just kept thinking how christmassy and festive it all was, how beautiful the city looked, but also if you want a reasonably priced city break with or without kids at any time of year, that has a tonne of things to see and do, then Come to Hamburg…I am so glad we did. It is a brilliant (and very clean) city!
*This post is in Collaboration with Hamburgs tourism project “Come to Hamburg”. Some of the places mentioned were given complimentary as part of this review.