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Why Go to Hamburg

Hamburg's bubbly energy is displayed in everything from the emerging HafenCity to the cutting-edge fashion design and its humming nightlife to its reinvigorated dining. This northern Germany city is also a watery one, criss-crossed by canals, sidling the River Elbe and wrapping around a lake. You'll undoubtedly enjoy its beauty, but this cosmopolitan city also prizes its musicals, nightclubs, shopping and unparalleled Fish Market. For travelers interested in a German vacation, Hamburg might not be an obvious choice -- after all, the country also contains capital city Berlin and Oktoberfest-central Munich. But as many visitors have discovered, this thriving harbor city is almost sure to surprise and please you.

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Hamburg is ranked as:

Best of Hamburg

Hamburg Travel Tips

What You Need to Know

  • Pack a swimsuit In the summertime, the banks along the River Elbe are filled with swimsuit-clad locals sipping cocktails and consuming the sweet sunshine.
  • Go the distance If you want a unique German experience, daytrip out to cities like Lubeck (think castle, marzipan) or Helgoland (Germany’s sole island). And these are both very accessible by train, and in the case of Helgoland, train and ferry.
  • Sprechen Sie Englisch? Many locals speak English confidently, but knowing a few pleasantries can’t hurt: hello is guten tag, please is bitte, and thank you is danke schön.

How to Save Money in Hamburg

  • Take a weekend trip Spending just a few days in Hamburg is enough time to see many of the top things to do, so book your trip over a weekend when business travelers have returned home and some hotels offer lowered rates.
  • HamburgCard Buy one. Its unlimited travel on public transportation and admission to a handful of museums makes it invaluable -- and money-saving.
  • Look but don’t buy Window shop in the upscale malls on the Jungfernstieg waterfront, and you won’t leave Hamburg with a lot of buyer’s remorse.

Culture & Customs

Although German is the official language, many Hamburgers speak English as well. But brushing up on a few German phrases is a good idea. According to Fodor's, "German is a very close relative of English, so pronunciation isn't too terribly difficult. Just keep in mind that vowels are crisp and clear."

According to Condé Nast Traveler, "Germans run the gamut from wildly fashionable to definitively frumpy -- with an intellectual in-between group that pairs their sack dresses with edgy haircuts and bold jewelry." However, Condé Nast Traveler also says, "Anything shabby will be noticed; people will cluck at a scuffed shoe and gape unrestrainedly at a hanging hem or soiled shirt."

What to Eat

Although Hamburg is probably not among the top culinary destinations of the world, the city's proximity to the sea gives its chefs lots of fresh fish to cook with. And as Hamburg's a very green city, restaurants serve up a lot of seasonal dishes, such as asparagus soup in the spring and cauliflower dishes in the summer.

Still, Hamburg holds to its roots, too, and traditional restaurants offer grilled or pickled herring, bratwurst, hamburger steak and eel soup.

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Safety

Be weary of pickpockets, especially in and around the Reeperbahn area. Women traveling alone should also take particular care when touring this area after dark.

If you're planning to swim in the Elbe River, writers warn of strong undercurrents and large waves (from passing ships) that can pull you under. You can also take a dip in the Outer Alster Lake, but keep in mind its relatively shallow depth (six feet in some areas to 16 feet in others).

Getting Around Hamburg

The best way to get around in Hamburg is 1) by foot and 2) by the city’s extensive and super competent public transportation system. A suburban train (S-Bahn), a subway (U-Bahn) or a bus can take you everywhere your own two feet cannot. In fact, the system can even take you from Hamburg Airport (HAM) into the city center with relative ease and for only a few euro. Taxis are also available, and rental cars -- though an option -- are not recommended.

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Entry & Exit Requirements

United States citizens who are visiting will need a passport to enter and exit the country; it should be valid for up to three months following the visit. As party to the Schengen Agreement, U.S. citizens are able to visit Germany for up to 90 days without a visa. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website .

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