Not many things are guaranteed in life. But I know one thing that is. And that’s that during lunchtime in the office on payday, you’ll find me browsing Kayak Explore for cheap flights that I can take advantage of to shoot off on a European weekend break.
And that’s precisely how I came to be boarding a coach to Stansted at 6am on a Friday morning. £20 return flights to Hamburg? I’ll take that yes please. Even if I do end up still half asleep in the airport with no makeup on, nibbling away at my favourite sandwich from the Boots meal deal selection. As soon as I saw the flights that arrived 10am Friday and flew back at 6pm Saturday, I’d booked both of us in for a fleeting visit – my first experience of Germany.
(Except, I ended up not flying back straightaway and heading off for another short city break in Berlin instead. WHOOPS.)
Once we’d arrived at Hamburg airport and queued amongst the stag do-ers to pick up tickets (Christmas cracker fancy dress is still appropriate in March if you’re getting married soon, I’ve learnt), it was a short train ride into the centre of the city. I was originally going to write just one post on how to spend a weekend in Hamburg. But I took so many photos and have a fair bit to say. So, lucky readers, this is just the first instalment…here’s how the first day went down.
But first, coffee. As they say quite a lot. I’m not normally a major coffee drinker (pass the Pepsi Max Cherry, please), but after our early flight I was in need of a caffiene kick to keep me going through a long day of exploring. So, being the sweet tooth that I am, I went for a chocolate and caramel sauce laden delight at Coffee Fellows, a German chain. My bloodstream was probably about 80% sugar afterwards, but oh boy. This was goooood.
Fully caffienated, we headed to check into the homestay accommodation we’d booked at Hamburg Room. Only, when we arrived at the address given…there was no one in sight. No sign on the door which seemed to lead up to flats, no buzzer, no name card. Turning on my mobile data (£4 a day. No thanks, EE), I opened up my booking reference and realised we actually needed to check in at the nearby Sleephotels property instead. And when we arrived there, we discovered it was actually there we were staying, and not at the Hamburg Room location.
It was all a bit confusing, for sure, but the Sleephotel was actually in an even more convenient locations. Heading up in the lift, we found our room at the top of the building, complete with sloping ceilings. The room was pretty small, but clean and nicely decorated, with touches like a vintage alarm clock. Oh, and the bed was pretty darn comfy. Even if European hotels seem to always put two single duvets on your double bed…
Keen to explore, after a quick shower we were off to start our whistlestop weekend in Hamburg. Finding our way to the hotel had worked up our appetites, so without any real direction, we went in search of a place to eat. Which didn’t take long, as we came across a small, lively square. With musicians happily playing jaunty tunes and people sitting outside enjoying the sunshine (YES, SUNSHINE), it was the perfect spot to grab some lunch and soak up the Hamburg atmosphere.
Arepa Cafe caught our eye, with a board advertising their arepas – basically, a flat maize bun filled with whatever you fancy. I went for chicken, bacon and avocado, and Conor chose a BBQ chicken style bun. The service was pretty slow, but the arepas themselves were delicious. Packed with fillings and plenty of oozy cheese, I definitely enjoyed mine – the bread was definitely a little unusual, but I loved the crunch of the fried exterior.
Once we’d filled our bellies, we hopped on the S-Bahn (Germany’s train system) to Sternschanze, which I’d discovered in my research to be one of Hamburg’s more alternative areas. For anyone who enjoys street art, the place is an actual dream. Pictures, graffiti and stickers adorn pretty much every ground floor wall and door, and we discovered tons of interesting independent shops along Schanzenstraße, one of the area’s main streets.
When you’ve been walking for a while, sometimes the best idea ever is to sit down in a bar to stop, think…and drink. Especially when the prices are as cheap as they are in Hamburg. €2 beer? I’ll take that.
Zoe Bar is, essentially, similar in ways to the ruin pubs of Budapest – embracing disrepair and turning it into a unique bar experience. Known as the ‘sofa bar’, the place has a real ‘dive bar’ vibe, with old, worn and threadbare sofas and mismatched tables making up the seating areas in what’s essentially a long room. Locals perched on these sofas, with the sun shining in through the open full-length front windows, Zoe Bar has plenty of character. And did I mention, cheap beer?
As late afternoon settled, we headed towards the Reeperbahn area to check out Hamburg’s ‘red light district’. I actually didn’t find myself particularly impressed with the area in daylight – although my Saturday night visit was a heck of a lot more interesting. Watch this space. We grabbed ourselves some (very average) currywurst and a couple of beers, before heading back to our hotel for an hour or so’s sit down, trying not to fall asleep…
At 8pm, we found ourselves outside the INCREDIBLE Rathaus building. I know I’ve said this about a few buildings recently (Hi beautiful sights of Budapest) but oh boy. This one’s a stunner. I was so busy gawping at it that it took us a while to spot the black umbrella that marked the spot of our evening’s entertainment – a Haunted Hamburg tour.
I absolutely love anything a little spooky, and being pretty exhausted, a night of drinking just didn’t sound appealing. It’s hard sometimes to find interesting evening activities in cities that don’t involve sitting in a pub. But the Haunted Hamburg tour was actually brilliant.
Our tour guide Jenny, who’s actually from the States and moved to Hamburg to marry her college sweetheart (aw!), took us around some of the creepier parts of the city, exploring its seedy past. Particular highlights included three serial killer stories (I’m just a sucker for good old bloody murder…), and an insight into how the Vikings asserted their dominance over the Christians. Trust me. You don’t want to know what the ‘Blood Eagle’ method of torture is…
We ended up in one of the city’s most haunted spots, St. Nikolai’s. This burnt out church has been the site of frequently reported sightings of multiple ghosts. And standing there in the dark, with lights from the road casting eerie shadows, I might just have squeezed my eyes shut a little…
As with quite a few of my favourite tours, Haunted Hamburg is on a pay-what-you-feel basis. After paying what we felt (what did we feel? Very impressed), we finished the night with a beer in a ‘haunted pub’. Which happened to be an Irish bar. Standard us.
Stay tuned for part two of ‘two days in Hamburg’, coming very soon (aka, when I finally finish editing the photos…!)
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