A local’s guide to Hamburg: concerts, cocktails and dockyard cuisine

Concert pianist Alexander Krichel reveals his pick of the best bars, vintage stores, ferry rides and sailor-sized dishes of Germany’s second largest city


If you’re into trying traditional food and are feeling very brave, you’ll want to try labskaus. Originally created to set sailors up with all the nutrition they needed, the dish does not look particularly appealing. Once you’ve got over its appearance (or simply closed your eyes), this mixture of corned beef, onions, potatoes, beetroot and eggs is actually very enjoyable. My go-to place for labskaus served with fried eggs and rollmop herrings is Oberhafen-Kantine in the new HafenCity district.

Built in 1925 to cater for harbour and shipyard workers – Hamburg has one of the largest ports in the world – the canteen has been battered by storms and floods over the years. In 2000, not long after being closed down, the building was declared a historical monument. It has since been refurbished and reopened – but retains its wonky charm.


It goes without saying that the Elbphilharmonie, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year, is one of the greatest modern success stories of our city. Despite all the controversies surrounding the building’s heavily delayed completion and spiralling costs (it went well over budget), we couldn’t be more proud of it, and whenever I play there I relish performing in what is now one of the finest concert halls in the world.

Typical Hamburg boat

If you can’t get tickets for a performance – they sell out quickly – visit the public viewing platform, or “Plaza”, which offers spectacular views of the harbour and city.


The Schanze is one of the liveliest areas in Hamburg: cool, central, colourful and crazy. Start your afternoon in one of its nice cafes, take in the vibe of the area and explore its small fashion boutiques, little shops and record stores – for men’s fashion, try Herr von Eden, and for records check out Zardoz and Groove City. There’s also an amazing amount of street art to take in.

In the evenings, soak up the atmosphere at the cozy sofa bars of Zoe II and III and hip restaurants like Bullerei, founded by local celebrity chef Tim Mälzer and located inside a former abattoir.

Green space

A beach on the Elbe River.
A beach on the Elbe River. Photograph: calado/Alamy

Hamburgers – I’ll admit I had issues with that term for the city’s inhabitants when I lived in London – love the water. On Sundays or bank holidays we’ll enjoy a stroll along the River Elbe. The centre of the city gets very touristy and packed, so I would recommend taking the ferry from Landungsbrücken to Teufelsbrück and starting your walk from there towards the picturesque western suburb of Blankenese. If you purchase a day pass for public transport (around €6) the ferry journey is included.

For those who like jogging, the outer Alster lake, in the heart of Hamburg, has a five-mile pathway around it – the perfect length for a run, and it’s beautiful too.


I like to take visiting friends to the Skyline Bar 20up, a rooftop bar near the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s clubbing and red-light district. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink while taking in panoramic views from 90 metres up.

If you’re not a fan of heights, try Le Lion, probably my favourite bar in town. Located centrally, near the town hall, it doesn’t look like much a bar from the outside, which reminds me of the hidden-away bars I enjoyed during my London years. You should definitely try the Gin Basil Smash, which was invented here.

Oh and if anyone ever says “Hummel, Hummel!” to you while you’re in Hamburg, just reply “Mors, Mors!”. Don’t ask why – you’ll definitely make yourself popular.


The intimate Henri Hotel has a great central location with 65 stylish rooms and a rooftop spa (doubles from €118).

Alexander Krichel returned to his hometown of Hamburg a few years ago, and lives close to the city’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall


Interview by Paul Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A local’s guide to Lecce, Italy: baroque beauty and rural cuisine
Puglian winemaker Massimiliano Apollonio shares tips on the best cafes, museums, parks and bike rides in his beautiful southern city

Interview by John Brunton

30, May, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Perugia, Italy: five great things to do
The ancient walls, papal fortress and creative quarter of Umbria’s 2,500-year-old capital make a happy haunt for flâneur Gianluigi Bettin

Interview by Liz Boulter

16, Oct, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
A local’s guide to Bologna: from belt-busting pasta to craft cocktails
Lonely Planet writer Kevin Raub offers a tour of the Italian city, taking in parks, museums dedicated to local heroes and artisinal bakeries

Kevin Raub

16, Jan, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
A local’s guide to Ghent, Belgium: artisanal beer, bargain vintage and docklands clubbing
This Flemish city sparkles with creative cuisine, markets, cutting-edge clubs – and beer, says brewery founder Dimitri Messiaen

Interview by John Brunton

03, Oct, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Bilbao, Spain: home of the Guggenheim – and so much more
Gaizka Zuazo, director of the city’s school of design, knows where to find the best steaks, late-night bars and post-industrial cool

Interview by Stephen Burgen

22, Aug, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Valencia: home of paella, one of Europe’s best food markets and a unique green space
Architect and graphic artist Juan Suay on the city’s rainbow-coloured market, bistros, bars and its unique and unifying riverbed green belt

Interview by Ellen Himelfarb

10, Apr, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local's guide to Hamburg: 10 top tips
With buzzy cafes, plenty of green space, music venues, fashion and football, there’s more to the Beatles’ favourite German city than the Reeperbahn

Stefanie Hempel, interview by John Brunton

02, Mar, 2020 @6:30 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Leipzig: dumplings, diversity and delightful G&Ts
With glorious boat trips on its canals and sumptuous food, from traditional Saxon to Vietnamese, this is a destination ripe for a city break, says restaurateur Nancy Naumann-Hirt

Interview by Paul Sullivan

01, Aug, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Rotterdam: secrets of the Netherlands’ second city
From the best kimchi to buzzing galleries and gardens, restaurateur Manuela Gonçalves Tavares shares his insider tips

Interview by Stephen Emms

12, Sep, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A local’s guide to Naples: pizza, palazzos and dancing under the stars
Restoration architect Mariano Mazzella knows where to find the best pizzerias, palazzos, bars and views of Vesuvius in Italy’s most vibrant city

Interview by Liz Boulter

18, Jul, 2022 @6:00 AM