If you think Europe’s best ports of call are all dotted around the Mediterranean, then you’re in for a surprise – a nice surprise, but something of a revelation too, as Hamburg is simply brilliant fun and a significant city that holds its head up in the most exalted company. It’s not just one of the best Baltic ports, Hamburg has to rate as one of Europe’s finest port cities!

For an overview buy a ticket for one of Hamburg’s many ferries. Head for the Landungsbruecken for a harbour tour on either the No. 62 or 63 and, in 60 minutes, you’ll have a great understanding of the lie of the land. If the weather is fine you can enjoy a cool Astra beer and watch the world go by. If you’re enjoying the ride, cruise on to St. Pauli for a trip to Wallringpark and a stroll in the Old Botanic Garden. Then, if all the exercise and fresh air works up an appetite, take a short walk to the Heinrich Hertz Telecommunications Tower (or ‘Tele-Michel’) a sort of Post Office Tower on steroids that, like its London sibling, has a revolving restaurant offering sustenance and superb views of the city.

Back in the city centre, people tend to gravitate to the Inner Alster (Binnenalster) and Outer Alster (Aussenalster) where two artificial lakes connect to the rivers Alster and, of course, the mighty Elbe. Stroll amongst picturesque city squares and make sure to visit Jungfernstieg with its many elegant cafés. If retail therapy is your thing, the Ballindamm houses the city's largest shopping centre.

But, don’t shop ‘til you drop, at least not before you see St Michaelis the indomitable church that has survived lightning strikes, fires and WWII. You can view the finest Baroque church in Northern Germany on an MSC excursion and admire perhaps the finest views across Hamburg: let your eyes take in the Speicherstadt, the traffic on the Elbe, the Alster lakes, the five spires and the Rathaus.


From Baltic Trade To The USA
Hamburg was built on maritime trade and commands the mouth of the Elbe, a veritable river highway to the heart of Germany. The Hanseatic League dominated trade in the middle-ages and an excursion to nearby Lubeck - historians generally trace the origins of the Hanseatic League to the rebuilding of the this picturesque town in 1159 – will give you a flavour of the wealth created by the league’s vice-like grip on trade.
Hamburg has been at the centre of world events and trade for centuries and, to this day, it is the largest port and remains the ‘gateway to Germany’. However, in the 19th century, the gate operated in both directions to the extent that most of the emigrants travelling to the New World, travelled via Hamburg. With English spoken so widely it’s easy to forget the influence of German settlers in the USA.


Hamburgers, Herrings And Eels
German emigrants to the USA from Hamburg mostly went to New York and, naturally, many took their customs and traditions with them. In order to attract the new arrivals, as well as the German sailors that had brought them, many restaurants added a German twist to their offerings, so that ‘Hamburger Steaks’ and such-like became a common site. It seems more than likely that these culinary compromises point the way to the origin of, the now ubiquitous, hamburger.
If you want some rather more authentic and locally inspired fast food in Hamburg, try the Fischbrotchen. This sandwich uses Bismark herrings – the name commemorates the unification of Germany under the first chancellor, Otto Von Bismark – and is served with onions, pickles and horseradish. Local tip: Fischbrotchen is best eaten in the open air with a view of the harbour!
If you have more time and you’d like to sample a real Hamburg delicacy, then head for the ‘Alt Hamburger Aalspeicher’ restaurant situated beside the canal in Deichstraße. Here, in the heart of the city, a basket of fresh North Sea eels is culinary tourism at its best!


Sailors, Bierkellars And The Beatles
Back in the 50s and 60s club owners in Hamburg certainly knew their market. They quickly realised that sailors on a short, shore-leave pass enjoyed nothing more than beer and a rousing rock and roll band. The problem was; American rock and roll bands were expensive and in short supply. Bands from Liverpool, on the other hand, were relatively cheap and plentiful. Hence the very first incarnation of The Beatles could be found in Hamburg’s less salubrious clubs either backing one of the denizens of the Reeperbahn or belting out raucous rock and roll. It wasn’t Sergeant Pepper that taught the band to play, it was Hamburg - and you can see where it all began.


Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland – It’s A Small World!
Whether you’re travelling with kids or not, Miniatur Wunderland is a simply brilliant attraction. This painstakingly created micro-world features over 1,000 trains, nearly 10,000 cars and even 40 airborne planes en route to a superbly detailed airport. Slightly batty, perhaps, but the execution is absolutely superb.
Now, where can you climb aboard a Soviet Submarine that, up until the turn of the century, was on active service? At St Pauli Fischmarkt you can do just that. Cold War sub’ B-515 was launched in 1976 and saw service until 2002 patrolling the same northerly waters that flow into Hamburg’s harbour. To help her avoid detection during these tense times her hull is covered in 6 cm of rubber cladding in an effort to give NATO’s sonar operators the silent treatment!
Scaling things up again you can continue the nautical theme with a visit to the Rickmer Rickmers, a three-masted tall ship from the last golden era of sail, or if you like your merchant ships from the 20th century, then MS Cap San Diego, a 1960s cargo ship, allows visitors access to the entire ship, from the bridge to the engine rooms –you can even stay overnight if your schedule allows. For some (pre) historic perspective, the International Maritime Museum boasts a ‘boat’ hollowed from a tree trunk recovered from the Elbe that dates back thousands of years.
Back on dry land the PROTOTYP Automobile Museum in Hamburg's Hafen City boasts the first ever Porsche, the Type 64 that was built in 1939. This weirdly futuristic and incredibly aerodynamic vehicle is a must-see homage for all dedicated piston heads!


Before You Plan Your Cruise To Hamburg, Spare A Thought For ‘Zitronenjette’
If you’re visiting St Michaelis then you’ll be close to the statue of the Zitronenjette the tragic lemon seller whose statue bears the inscription: "Sour as lemons was your life…. Your fate points to all the people for whom fortune has no time." The lady was assaulted and driven mad by the experience though, curiously perhaps, toughing her outstretched finger is said to bring good luck. Many evidently believe this, as the finger has been worn to a brilliant shine.

If you’d like to decide for yourself whether Hamburg is the best of the Baltic ports of call, then you’re in luck as MSC Cruises has many sailings visiting Hamburg, particularly during the summer months. Indeed, Hamburg is where our latest flagship MSC Grandiosa was christened, so it’s no surprise that anyone looking to visit the wonderful city of Hamburg can do so in style on an MSC cruise.