Exploring Hamburg with the Hamburg CARD

The picturesque Speicherstadt - Hamburg's warehouse district. The buildings are now used either as office space, or storage for Persian rugs.

The picturesque Speicherstadt - Hamburg's warehouse district. The buildings are now used either as office space, or storage for Persian rugs.

When we checked in at Hamburg’s Egon Hotel on Thursday afternoon, little did I know that quenching my Dad’s thirst would transform into such an obscure task.

I, first, had to dissuade him from purchasing a €2 bottle of water from the hotel vending machine, doing so by suggesting a trip to the conveniently located Penny Supermarket, situated right underneath the hotel.

It was there we picked up two bottles of what we thought was still water, which later transpired to be sparkling, for a measly €0.22, as well as being drawn to two till displays, adding a bar of Milka and a Coca-Cola Zero onto the cost of our bill.

An innocent shop if ever there was one and it was suitably followed by a swift checkout, after which I collected the receipt and one of the bottles of water.

Seeing that my Dad had the coke in one hand and the other water bottle in the other, I asked him if he’d also taken the Milka. He hadn’t and when I looked down, to my horror, it had completely vanished.

In the 10 seconds that had elapsed since it had been scanned through the till, confirmed by it appearing on the receipt, we had managed to lose it.

The woman behind the till only spoke German, so asking her would have been a fruitless enterprise and the only other option in my dumbfounded state was to look around and behind the till as the next customer was served, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found.

Simply put it was a mystery, and an unsolved one at that.

A replacement Milka was in order, at an additional cost of €1.09.

A replacement Milka was in order, at an additional cost of €1.09.

So to say that the misplacement of a chocolate bar was the worst experience on our Hamburg adventure just goes to show how good the place really is, and what a great time we had there.

From the Speicherstadt to the Stadtrundfahrt, we sampled Germany’s second city and its multitude of delights, embracing a German mid-winter chill as we did so.

Tourism board Hamburg Tourismus were on hand to make our trip extra special, kindly equipping me with a Hamburg CARD – a cost-effective and convenient way to fully explore what the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg has to offer.

What exactly is the Hamburg CARD?

With the slogan “Discover more – Pay less,” it’s pretty clear what the Hamburg CARD is designed to do. Me and my Dad were able to maximise our exploration of the city thanks to the utilisation of this particular card.

I’ve used similar city cards before with some providing amazing value for money, á la the Oslo Pass, while others have been much of a muchness – hello, Copenhagen Card.

I’m delighted to say that the Hamburg CARD was more Norway than Denmark, and we were already at an advantage by having acquired the card ahead of the trip. This meant that we didn’t have to pay extra to go to and from the airport, which made for a seamless and worry-free transfer.

In addition to the S-Bahn and U-Bahn rail services, the Hamburg CARD also covers the use of buses and certain harbour ferries.

The Hamburg CARD covers unlimited use of the public transport within the Hamburg region for the entire period of validity.

The Hamburg CARD covers unlimited use of the public transport within the Hamburg region for the entire period of validity.

As well as creating savings and removing the hassle of constant ticket purchasing for public transport, there are also discounts available across several attractions, museums, restaurants and cafés and money can also be saved at various theatres throughout the city.

Prices for the Hamburg CARD start at €9.90 for a one day single ticket, and a full price list with additional information can be found here.

With each single short distance public transport ticket costing €2.20 and a variety of other savings on offer, the Hamburg CARD does work out as a cost effective method of seeing and doing in Hamburg.

For Hamburg features and some cool snaps, check out Hamburg Ahoi,  Where The Heart Is is a great sight for young urban travellers and a useful tool to accompany any visit to Hamburg is the Hamburg Tourism App.

What does Hamburg have to offer?

Harbour Cruises are popular with tourists, and dozens leave the St Pauli Piers every day.

Harbour Cruises are popular with tourists, and dozens leave the St Pauli Piers every day.

It would probably be an easier job for me to list the things that you CAN’T do in Hamburg.

Unsurprisingly, Hamburg has a lot going on to serve its city population of almost 1.75 million people, a big enough number to make it the eighth biggest city in the European Union.

An even more surprising statistic is that it is the third-biggest market for musicals in the WORLD, runner-up only to New York City and London.

Headlining their range of shows is Der König Der Löwen, although you may recognise it as The Lion King, as well as “runaway success” Das Wunder Von Bern (The Miracle of Bern), a film about West Germany’s unheralded victory at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

Theatre is a big deal in Hamburg, and some boats are adorned with musical advertisements.

Theatre is a big deal in Hamburg, and some boats are adorned with musical advertisements.

Like any major destination, Hamburg has a solid selection of museums. Their number one rated attraction on TripAdvisor is Miniatur Wunderland, which houses the world’s largest model railway. The intricate set-up includes services to and from Germany as well as the likes of Austria and Switzerland, and even as far as America.

Tourists can also spend an afternoon learning about true chocolate production at the Chocoversum by Bremen-based chocolate manufacturers Hachez. Here visitors will get taken on a guided tour and shown the ins and outs of the confection’s production, with a range of tasters including cocoa beans, cocoa powder and, of course, the finished product. There’s also the opportunity for a ‘create your own’ experience, with visitors able to leave with their own, personally decorated, bar of chocolate.

My decorated chocolate bar pre-cooling.

My decorated chocolate bar pre-cooling.

Tours at the Chocoversum are available in German and English. The guides really know their chocolate and will make sure that everyone gets plenty of tasters.

Tours at the Chocoversum are available in German and English. The guides really know their chocolate and will make sure that everyone gets plenty of tasters.

Also, don’t miss out on the International Maritime Museum, Hamburg Museum, the Museum of Ethnology and Kunsthalle Hamburg to get a well-rounded cultural experience.

One thing Hamburg is famous for it its world-renowned port. Although it isn’t on the mainland, there are two ways to get a closer look. The first is to head down to the St Pauli Piers and catch a boat trip on the River Elbe, where you can get up, close and personal with some of the large cargo ships that visit the port daily, whilst also taking advantage of some stunning views of the city from the middle of the water.

A cargo ship being loaded up at Hamburg port.

A cargo ship being loaded up at Hamburg port.

A gateway to the Speicherstadt from the River Elbe, overlooked on the right by the Elbphilharmonie - a concert hall.

A gateway to the Speicherstadt from the River Elbe, overlooked on the right by the Elbphilharmonie - a concert hall.

But if you’d rather touchdown on the Hamburg port soil, then head through the Alter Elbtunnel, which connects the port with the city. Opening in 1911, the 426 metre long tunnel was constructed to help dock workers reach the shipyards. A combined 1,000,000-plus cars, bicycles and pedestrians pass through the tunnel each year, which only shuts for seven hours every 365 days.

The Elbtunnel runs directly underneath the River Elbe.

The Elbtunnel runs directly underneath the River Elbe.

Although it may sound cliché, one of Hamburg’s greatest attractions is a city walk. Soak in the rich architectural history of the city, whether it’s the stunning Speicherstadt, the warehouse district or a look at the beautiful Christmas decorations that they roll out annually, make sure to take a camera to get some breathtakingly beautiful snaps.

Speaking of Christmas, Hamburg is well known for its festive markets. From November until 23 December, the historical Christmas market in the shadow of the Rathaus (Town Hall) stands firm as one of its most appealing activities, while several other market setups exist up until the end of the year.

I couldn't resist a good old Christmas market - even over 96 hours since the day of celebration drew to a close.

I couldn't resist a good old Christmas market - even over 96 hours since the day of celebration drew to a close.

Hamburg has to be one of the world's best decorated cities at Christmas time. Here's one piece of evidence at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Central Station).

Hamburg has to be one of the world's best decorated cities at Christmas time. Here's one piece of evidence at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Central Station).

The Rathausmarkt Christmas market stands in the shadow of the remarkable Rathaus (Town Hall).

The Rathausmarkt Christmas market stands in the shadow of the remarkable Rathaus (Town Hall).

If you are strapped for time in Hamburg having only booked a short weekend break, then pick up the Stadtrundfahrt – a hop on, hop off bus which offers a concise and informative look at Germany’s northern jewel. Most services offer German tour guides, although complimentary headsets are available for those wishing to listen in another language.

Food, drink and nightlife

As lore has it, Hamburg is the birthplace of the Hamburger. Although not invented in its now traditional format, it is believed that inspiration was drawn from the Hamburg steak – created using minced beef from Hamburg cows and combined with garlic, onions, salt and pepper to create a breadless patty.

Needless to say there are plenty of places that offer up this option, but one we tried (and enjoyed) was Block House. The steak and burger place had a distinctly American feel to it, with our burgers being more pub grub than gourmet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and I definitely left there satisfied.

Block House is located on the upper floor of the Gansemarkt Passage.

Block House is located on the upper floor of the Gansemarkt Passage.

Our cheeseburgers at Block House Hamburg.

Our cheeseburgers at Block House Hamburg.

They also seem to be pretty handy when it comes to Italian food in northern Germany. We actually ate at two Italian joints, and enjoyed some fine pizza and pasta. My personal favourite was Via Toselli. Their pizzas were outstanding, and even better than some I’ve had in Italy.

A diavola pizza from mama trattoria City.

A diavola pizza from mama trattoria City.

For nightlife, try the Reeperbahn – a section of the city made famous by four young lads going by the name of The Beatles. In addition to a plaza dedicated to the band, you’ll find and eclectic composition of bars, clubs and, at one end, a red light district. There’s something there for everyone, and whether it’s alcohol, companionship or a good night out you’re seeking, this is place to be.

Beatles-Platz pays homage to the 'Fab Four.'

Beatles-Platz pays homage to the 'Fab Four.'

One of the roads off the Reeperbahn.

One of the roads off the Reeperbahn.