To be entirely honest, neither of us were immensely impressed when we first arrived in Hamburg. We had just left Copenhagen, a picturesque city with old buildings and quaint cobblestone streets. Hamburg is the second largest port in Europe – it’s full of brick buildings and bustling asphalt streets. Neither of us knew what to really expect from Hamburg, but we were still taken aback at the stark differences between the two cities.

We began, as we do all travel days, hopping on a train in one city and trying to maneuver through a train station in a new city. We took the most direct route from Copenhagen to Hamburg and therefore, were going have to cross the Baltic Sea. We boarded the train and after a few minutes, we looked at each other and realized that we had no idea how we were actually getting across the sea. We searched through our reservation, didn’t see anything, and the WiFi was a bit lacking so we couldn’t do any research on the train. At that point, we figured we may as well just sit back and see what happened. We heard the words “ferry” uttered quite a few times and figured we were disembarking one train, getting onto a ferry, and then boarding another train.

Nope.

The train, much to our amazement/amusement, was loaded onto a ferry and taken across the sea. We were required to disembark the train during this period and went to find seats by a window up in the ferry. 45 minutes later, we were back on the train, and a short while after we pulled into Hamburg.

It was within our budget to book a private room at an AirBnB rather than a hostel, so we sprung for the AirBnB. We were the first guests of said AirBnB and were honestly a tad nervous that it either a) wasn’t going to exist or b) was going to be extremely different from the pictures. We were pleasantly surprised. The apartment building wasn’t much from the outside, but the actual apartment was beautiful. High ceilings, beautiful moldings, large rooms, &c. &c. 

The view from our AirBnB.

Once we were settled, we took a walk around the city by the harbor and St. Pauli. The harbor was windy and cold and St. Pauli was…florescent. We assumed we weren’t as awestruck with Hamburg simply because it was a travel day and we were hungry. We searched for a restaurant that was supposed to have a few vegan breakfast options, but I misread the breakfast hours and they had stopped serving breakfast an hour before we arrived (to be fair, it was around 15:00 at this point). We still enjoyed sandwiches and stumbled through the German we had quickly learned on the train.

Like we have after virtually every meal, we stopped in a cafe and had an espresso each. This is a routine that we somehow slipped into and neither of us are planning to relinquish. Once the rain let up, we did some errands (grocery and drug store – “apotheke” in Germany) we were back to the AirBnB to cook dinner where we tried vegan schnitzel and planned the rest of our time in Hamburg.

The first full day we attempted to try some museums (the dungeon, &c). The prices were high so we walked around the city instead. We dipped in and out of cafes and restaurants, eating and sipping espresso. Hamburg is sprinkled with many old, tall steeples and having them interspersed with more modern office buildings made for an interesting skyline. 

Binnenalster (Inner Alster Lake)

That night we met up with a couple we had previously met in Iceland at Oma’s Apotheke for dinner. Afterwards, we went to a brewery and then a cocktail lounge. It was nice having “locals” show us around for the night, it felt like we were able to have a different experience in Hamburg than we could have if we had just wandered around ourselves.

We slept in late the next day and had a bit of a slow start. Once we got going, we wandered around the city more, a greater appreciation brewing. Funny what a night out with friends and alcohol can do to change your mind…

Overall, I would go back to Hamburg when it were warmer. The downside of beginning our trip in the northern parts of Europe is that we don’t always get great weather. We knew that going in and were prepared for it, however, that doesn’t mean that I yearn to see a city in sunlight. Are there more people in the streets? Is the wind less biting? I don’t want to give a final say about my opinion of Hamburg until I see it in another season. For now, though, Copenhagen still wins my heart.

Kevin’s Viewpoint

As Abbey explained, Hamburg was at first a bit disappointing.  It wasn’t as pretty or walkable as Copenhagen and the language barrier was more difficult.  However, after having a few days to let everything sink in, I enjoyed our time there.  Our first full day in Hamburg started out as a bust, as we spent most of it just roaming around in a not so inspiring area.  However, I think this was largely due to our lack of planning.

I rather enjoyed our second night in the city as the couple we met up with took us to a hidden bar with no markings or signs on the outside.  It was in a quiet area and the windows were covered with curtains.  You had to knock in order to be let in.  The secrecy made it feel more intimate and I had the two best cocktails of my life there.

Even though we didn’t really do much on our second day either, it was more enjoyable because we spent it in a more picturesque neighborhood (next to a lake).  Two full days felt like it was enough to see the city in the winter, although I would like to see more of it in the warmer months.

Even though Hamburg was not as beautiful as Copenhagen it did have some clear advantages I can appreciate.  Most notably it was cheaper and the public transit options were better.  I would recommend to visit Hamburg (even in the winter), but do a lot of research on how you want to spend your time and the neighborhoods you want to see.