Hamburg: Messing about on the waterfront


Fancy an unusual city break on the water? Then why not leave Venice and Amsterdam to the tourist throngs and head to the German city of Hamburg. It’s the second biggest port in Europe, with more canals than Venice, and a lively waterfront.

And if you like a themed holiday, you can even stay in a converted water tower, as Kirstie Pelling and her family discovers…

Eating ice cream, on an open-topped ferry, in a medieval city, in the afternoon sunshine makes my children happy. And when my children are happy, I am happy.

That’s the way it goes in our family.

Hamburg’s proximity to water immediately lends itself to holidaymakers. Our good value family ticket for the underground covers many of the ferries and we hop on and off them to our heart’s content from the Landungsbrücken (floating piers).

If you’re looking for something more upmarket than a public ferry, then you can float down the river on a paddle steamer or a clipper. You can make an even more grand entrance on a cruise ship; this July the QM2 and the Queen Elizabeth both docked in the city at the same time – a first for Hamburg.

You can head over the river by the Lion King ferry to the long-running Disney musical, dine in a floating restaurant, or worship in a floating church.

You can hang out at the famous Sunday morning fish market, or explore the canals that pump life around the heart of the city.

And if you like the buzz of maritime life but prefer to stay on dry land, the historic Warehouse District is a day out in itself, and a chance to see what made Hamburg the city it is today.

Hamburg Warehouse District

A miniature giant

It’s here, alongside the River Elbe, amongst the terracotta towered warehouses and the terraced cafes that we begin our 24-hour break. We have come to see the world’s biggest miniature railway and one of Germany’s biggest tourist attractions.

With imaginative mini versions of cities from across Europe, Canada and America, Miniatur Wunderland takes you around the world in 13 kilometers of track. Many of the tracks wind round and round out of sight, but a special tour can take you behind the scenes to find out how the trains are charged up, what derails them and who does the dusting! If you’ve ever had a train set or wanted one; then this is the place to come.

miniature wonderland

But it’s not just for trainspotters.

The whole set goes from day to night every fifteen minutes and our whole family is captivated by the 30,000 LED lights as they flicker and fade. And the model makers clearly have a sense of humor; part of the fun is to spot the quirky scenarios, like alien landings in the desert, a shotgun wedding in Vegas, and Scandinavian polar bears that ski and drink coke.

A city center icon

St. Michaeliskirche

After a morning with the smallest buildings in Hamburg, it’s time to see one of the largest. The baroque Church of St. Michael (St Michaeliskirche) may look imposing from outside, and it certainly casts its shadow across the skyline, but the white and gold interior make it an oasis of light, space and calm.

With the sun streaming in, and the music floating around the dome, you almost expect the golden cherubs holding up the pulpit and altar to spread their wings and fly.

A traditional funfair

The Hamburg Cathedral

We spend the evening sailing into the clouds ourselves, surrounded by bright lights and euro-pop at the Hamburger Dom. The biggest funfair in Northern Germany, it lights up the city three times a year.

Braver people than us fly around the Olympic Rings rollercoaster and make themselves sick on the terrifying-looking Transformer ride, but we stick to the more family-friendly water chutes.

Unlike our local funfairs, where you feel obliged to gorge on candy floss and popcorn; there are stalls selling delicious traditional German food (including just about every variety of sausage I have ever seen!). We tuck in enjoying the happy atmosphere and adrenaline-filled crowds.

A watery hotel in Hamburg

Movenpick Hotel Hamburg

To complete our aqua-themed stay, we check into a hotel with a difference. The Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg is a converted water tower built in 1863 and an iconic city center landmark. Set in the Schanzenpark, in the north of the city, not far from the party district of St Pauli, it is a beautifully restored piece of Hamburg’s past.

Reception is the former cistern, and then the lift takes us up through the tower itself, where we quickly find our adjoining rooms in the octagonal corridor of one of the 16 floors.

In this hotel, art and history sit comfortably together; spot-lit pictures of the building’s pre-restoration are complemented by furniture reflecting the shapes of the old water tanks, and the exposed stone in the hallways and Cave bar remind you of the hotel’s industrial history.

Every room in the hotel has a rubber duck for the bath. There are four in our room; one each for the kids and one for the adults to share. For a family on a watery city break; surely there couldn’t be a more fitting welcome pack.


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