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Hamburg is large and spread out, but geography won’t put a damper on your sightseeing. Most of what you’ll want to see is in or near the central city, and even if a cold wind off the Baltic Sea deters you from walking it’s easy to get around town on the U-bahn or bus.

Unless you have a big appetite for clicking off sights, you may be pleased to know that Hamburg has far fewer landmarks and stellar museums than Berlin or Munich do. You can probably see what you want in a full day. Even if your appreciation of art is on the low side, you’ll want to step into the Kunsthalle, at least to see the weird creations of the German expressionists. The façade of the over-the-the-top neo-Renaissance-style Rathaus is a must-see, and so is Hauptkirche St-Michaelis, where you should make the ascent to the dome for a view over the far-flung metropolis at your feet. The city itself is the main attraction. You can’t leave town without catching a glimpse of the Alster, the lake in the city center, and you’ll want to see the port—best viewed from the deck of a tour boat. Two neighborhoods to check out are HafenCity, an emerging waterside quarter where some of the world’s leading architects are in a contest to see who can create the most stunning glass tower, and, of course, St. Pauli. Whether you come to this red-light district dedicated to debauchery to partake or observe, you’ll never think of Germany as uptight and strictly businesslike again.

Before you tour the city, you can get a sweeping view of Hamburg from the tower of the finest baroque church in northern Germany, Hauptkirche St. Michaelis, Michaeliskirchplatz, Krayenkamp 4C (tel. 040/376780; www.st-michaelis.de; U-Bahn: Rödingsmarkt or St. Pauli). Take the elevator or climb the 449 steps to enjoy the sweeping view from the top of the hammered-copper tower. The crypt is one of the largest in Europe and contains the tombs of such famous citizens as composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and the church's builder, Ernst Georg Sonnin. Hours are daily May to October 9am to 7:30pm, and November to April 10am to 5:30pm. 

The Altstadt actually has little old architecture left, but there are a few sights among the canals that run through this section from the Alster to the Elbe. The largest of the old buildings is the Rathaus, Rathausplatz (tel. 040/428310; U-Bahn: Rathausmarkt), which is modern in comparison to many of Germany's town halls. This Renaissance-style structure was built in the late 19th century on a foundation of 3,780 pinewood piles. It has a sumptuous 647-room interior and can be visited on guided tours costing 3€. Tours in English are given hourly Monday to Friday 10am to 3pm, and Saturday and Sunday 10am to 1pm (there are no tours during official functions). The Rathaus's 49m (161-ft.) clock tower overlooks Rathausmarkt and the Alster Fleet, the city's largest canal.

A few blocks away is the 12th-century St. Petri Kirche, Speersort 10 (tel. 040/3257400; www.sankt-petri.de; U-Bahn: Rathausmarkt). The lion-head knocker on the main door is the oldest piece of art in Hamburg, dating from 1342. The church is open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sunday 9am to 9pm.

The nearby 14th-century Gothic St. Jacobi Kirche, Jakobikirchhof 22, with an entrance on Steinstrasse (tel. 040/3037370; www.jacobus.de; U-Bahn: Mönckebergstrasse), was damaged in World War II but has been restored. It contains several medieval altars, pictures, and sculptures, as well as one of the largest baroque organs in the world (Arp-Schnitger, ca. 1693). The church is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Guided tours in English can be arranged.

A Bit of Beatlemania

John Lennon once said, “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.” As Beatles fans know, the group got its start here in the early 1960s, when they played gigs at a string of sleazy St Pauli clubs. When the group returned to Liverpool in 1960 they were billed as “The Beatles: Direct from Hamburg.” They soon returned to Germany and introduced such hits as “Love Me Do” in St. Pauli clubs. Though a museum to the Fab Four has been shuttered, the city has not lost interest in the sensation it nurtured. A corner on the Reeperbahn has been designated “Beatles-Platz,” where effigies of the five are enshrined in glass (the fifth wheel is bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who left the group to study art and died of a cerebral aneurism soon afterward). The boys stand in the middle of a circle of paving stones blackened to look like a vinyl record.

Nearby Attractions

Every ship that passes the landscaped peninsula at Willkomm-Höft (Welcome Point) is welcomed in its own language, as well as in German, from sunrise to sunset (8am-8pm in summer). The ships' national anthems are played as a salute. The station was founded in the late spring of 1952, at the point where a sailor first catches sight of the soaring cranes and slipways of the Port of Hamburg. As a vessel comes in, you'll see the Hamburg flag on a 40m (131-ft.) mast lowered in salute. The ship replies by dipping its flag. More than 50 arriving ships, and as many departing ones, pass Willkomm-Höft each day.

The point can be reached by car from Hamburg via the Elbchaussee or Ostdorfer Landstrasse to Wedel in half an hour. You can also go to Wedel by S-Bahn; a bus will take you from the station to the point, or you can enjoy the 15-minute walk. In the summer, you can take a HADAG riverboat, leaving from St. Pauli Landungsbrücken, an hour's ferry ride.

In Wedel, you can have lunch at Schulauer Fährhaus, Parnastrasse 29 (tel. 04103/92000; www.schulauer-faehrhaus.de; S-Bahn: Wedel), attractively situated on the wide lower Elbe. The sons of Otto Friedrich Behnke, who founded Willkomm-Höft, run the restaurant. It has large enclosed and open verandas, as well as a spacious tea garden. Guests are welcomed for breakfast, lunch, tea, or dinner. Fish dishes are a specialty, and the restaurant's bakery turns out a tempting array of goodies. Children, especially, will delight in watching the ships go by as they eat. Main courses run 10€ to 17€. It's open daily 9:30am to 10pm. No credit cards are accepted.

In the cellars of the Schulauer Fährhaus is the Buddelschiff-Museum (tel. 04103/920016; www.buddel.de), where more than 200 little vessels are carefully preserved in bottles. The museum is open March to October, daily 10am to 6pm; November to February, hours are Saturday and Sunday only 10am to 6pm. Admission is 3€ for adults and free for children.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.