Railway friends, family and ex-colleagues. You will absolutely LOVE Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg. It’s the largest railway model in THE WORLD.
- Check the weather when packing – it was freezing (literally 0 degrees) in November 2016!
- Get a Hamburg Travel Card
- Book your Miniatur Wunderland visit in advance
Friday – Flight to Hamburg
I love Fridays. Especially when you have a flight to catch to somewhere you’ve never been before. From London the flight time to Hamburg is around 1.5 hours and thanks to EasyJet we arrived not only on time, but 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
With the Hamburg travel card in hand (3 day group ticket for €43.90), we caught the train to our hotel. Similar to Berlin, this card allows unlimited travel by bus, train and harbour ferry and gives you discounts at a bunch of tourist attractions. The rail system is super simple to navigate, and we arrived at our hotel within 30 minutes. On the train we saw some local Hamburgers helping newbies to Hamburg with directions. Comforting to see and a good back up plan if our journey didn’t go as smoothly as planned.
The Ibis Hamburg Alsterring Hotel is a short walk from Wandsbeker Chaussee station. Less than 5 minutes in fact. You can read my review about the hotel here.
Saturday – Hawaiian massage, St Pauli, Reeperbahn, Harbour Tour, Miniatur Wunderland and dinner with local Hamburgers
Completely spoilt, our Saturday activities started with a Hawaiian massage from my friend (and Hamburg local) Lea. Have you heard of it before? No? Me either. Let me tell you about it. Imagine being completely naked (you can leave underwear on if you prefer) and laying on a bed that has been pre-oiled. Your massage therapist chants to build positive energy and power before the massage begins. Its spiritual. It’s somewhere between a relaxing and deep tissue massage and at one point it feels like you’re floating in water as your massage therapist scoops you up underneath your back to massage you. Hence the pre-oil. Everything feels like it flows. Hence no underwear if you’re fine with that.
Lea shared the story of Hawaiian massage (also known as lomi lomi) with me before getting started so I knew what to expect. The owner of Hana Ka Lima, Uwe Schorb, travels regularly to Hawaii to learn the massage style and culture. The story goes that Hawaiians always had someone in their town or village that provided massage and healing. It’s recommended for people going through a change in their lives and historically Hawaiians in reputable roles (e.g. Mayor) were massaged until they were ready to take on their role or task.
One and a half hours later I felt like a new person. And ready for a sleep! But it was time for a second breakfast so we set off towards St Pauli. Along the way Lea pointed out a building covered in graffiti called Rote Flora. This building is an old theatre that survived World War II. Up until now there have been lots of political protests here and squatters living inside the building. It’s currently being renovated and you can visit the inside of the building for alternative music nights.
A bit further up towards St Pauli we noticed a few shops with broken glass. Lea explained to us that some locals are not happy about the increase in major shopping brands opening stores in the area. A bakery caught our attention and Lea encouraged us to try a franzbrotchen. It’s a cinnamon pastry that became popular when Napoleon came to Hamburg and wanted to have something similar to the croissant in France. Franzbrotchen means ‘French bread’.
St Pauli is a trendy part of town. Kind of like Fitzroy in Melbourne or Shoreditch in London. There’s loads of graffiti and funky cafes and restaurants. I enjoyed a warm croissant with mozzarella, tomato and rocket. Not something I would normally eat. And it was tasty! The cafe called Caffè Latte (on Wohlwillstraße) did all sorts of croissant fillings but you might need help deciphering the menu unless you can read German. I simply pointed at the croissant I wanted in the glass cabinet. Cost €13 for croissant, quiche and two coffees.
The famous Reeperbahn. What is it? A street in the red light district of St Pauli lined with bars, sex shops and restaurants. The Herbertstraße (formerly Heinrichstraße) is one of its side streets and is forbidden for women and those under the age of 18. Our friend David (Lea’s partner) calls it ‘man street’. Get my drift? In the daylight it all seemed fairly tame but I’m sure the excitement starts at night! There was a Salon Harry and Davidstrasse (David street) street sign on the Reeperbahn so we HAD to take a panorama of David and Harry underneath their signs.
Next stop was the Harbour boat tour with Barkassen Meyer. Cost €18 each. It lasts for about an hour and cruises past an old submarine, the famous fish market, tug boat parking zone, Elbstrand (beach) and the large ships stacked high with shipping containers being moved around by crane-like mechanisms. Fun facts from our English portable smart-phone guide:
- River Elbe is 15km wide at the mouth
- Hamburg is the third largest musical city after New York and London
- You catch a ferry across the river to see the musical
- The Elbphilharmonie concert hall was scheduled to be finished in 2010, and opened in November 2016… during our visit!
- The boat route changes each time depending on the location of the large ships
Personally my favourite part of the experience was admiring the beautiful greyhounds allowed on the boat in their warm and cosy sweaters.
There was one more activity on the list before dinner with Lea and her family. Miniatur Wunderland. Less than 50 metres into our walk we came across a currywurst sign. I thought Harry and I might share one to avoid ruining our appetite but no, Harry ordered two servings of currywurst. It was different to the currywurst in Berlin. Less powder and more gravy-like sauce. It gave us the boost we needed to walk 20 minutes along the harbour to get to Miniatur Wunderland. By the way, the bars and restaurants along the harbour look like they’re worth checking out! They’re all lit up at night and if we had more time, we definitely would have stopped to experience at least one of them.
So, back to Miniatur Wunderland. I must admit, I was skeptical about this attraction at first. It claims to be the largest model railway in the world. And! It is well worth the €13 entry price. Our favourite was the model of Flughafen Airport in Hamburg. They even had planes landing and taking off! Day time and night time! Almost as impressive was the model of the new Elbphilarmonie building which opens every now and then to show the detail inside. There’s even a control centre. You’ll want at least 1 hour to explore Miniatur Wunderland, particularly if there is a lot of people around to navigate through.
We headed back to the hotel for a quick freshen up and red wine purchase before catching a train and then bus to Lea’s family home. Google maps and the address provided led us to ring the doorbell of a complete stranger’s home. Luckily no-one answered. Turns out having an ‘A’ on the end of the number can mean another 5 minutes’ walk!
There were 11 people at the dinner, including Harry and I and Lea and David. The others were family and friends of Lea and were warm, welcoming, inquisitive and creative! One of them has even illustrated and written a children’s Christmas book. It’s in German but thanks to Lea’s translation and the perfect illustrations, the message was clear and beautiful. I’d like an English version please!
On the menu was goulash, boiled potatoes, green salad with bacon bits and a traditional spatzle from Swabia. Swabia is a cultural and historic region of Southwestern Germany. Spatzle is a kind of soft egg noodle or pasta and Lea made it herself earlier that day. I can tell you honestly that it was all so delicious, every single one of us had a plate of seconds. Thank you Lea and your family and friends for a local experience in Hamburg! And for the table banter about Trump, Tasmanian devils and tigers and Christmas markets.
We got ready to head out on the town at around 1am. Well past my bed time! We caught the bus and went straight to David’s favourite bar, Blauer Peter. This bar is fun to either start or finish your night in. The cheesy tunes just keep on coming! The place was absolutely packed but so was every other place along Hamburger Berg. Expect smokers inside the bar and don’t wear flammable clothing or your favourite top! We tried another bar a short walk away and the DJ was on point. Enough to keep me dancing for a short while before admitting defeat at 3:30am and heading home before the fish market opened at 5am.
The fish market is legendary and I was told that we simply MUST stay up all night until the fish market opened at 5am to enjoy a fish burger and the live music. Oh well. Maybe a younger travel blogger can experience it and tell me what it’s like. It’s open until 9:30am.
KFC was on our late night menu before the train journey home.
Sunday – Planten un Blomen, a red squirrel and the harbour
Today we tried the waffles at the hotel. It’s so cool that you can make your own. It’s like making pancakes but less messy. They were good too and I’m not even a huge waffle fan. But enough about waffles!
We spent the morning wandering through the Planten un Blomen which is a massive city park. Despite the cold weather, autumn really is a beautiful month with the many different coloured leaves. I stopped to say hello to a lone duck in one of the park ponds and later we saw a red squirrel! Red! I’ve only ever seen grey squirrels in London so we were really lucky to see a red one. Mr or Mrs Red Squirrel had a beautiful bushy tail and dashed into the bushes before I could get photographic evidence.
During our walk through Sternschanze towards St Pauli yesterday we didn’t stop to take any photos so Harry and I made our way back towards that area. We took a few photos of Rote Flora and caught the train to Baumwall station near the harbour. On the way out of the station we caught the lift and I pressed the red button thinking it meant ‘ground’. Seems dumb now but at the time it seemed logical being the lower button and all! Well, it started to ring someone and we realised it was the emergency / help button. I apologised as soon as the lady answered. I wonder how often that happens with English speaking tourists… or just me?!
Around the harbour area we saw an old 1888 building that is now a museum and a canal between it and another building. Which brings me to my next thought. Hamburg is a mix of places we’ve experienced so far. Particularly Amsterdam due to the canals and red light district but also Gothenburg with its harbour. Fun fact: Hamburg has more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam put together.
As we were crossing the bridge we noticed coins on the top of a concrete post in the water numbered 17. Game! We fished around in our pockets for the smallest coins we had and after two throws each, I won with one of my coins landing and remaining on the post. We continued to cross the bridge and Harry helped a local carry her pram down the stairs. She asked us in English if it was worth seeing the other side. I don’t think we convinced her as she thanked us and kept going.
We had a burger for lunch at Jim Block. It was okay. Better quality than McDonald’s and the ketchup was their own recipe but I wouldn’t recommend it. Hamburg on the other hand was a pleasant surprise that we would recommend you add to your bucketlist. There is a lot more to offer than we expected with the harbour, park, canals, history, food and nightlife. Would you visit Hamburg?
Miniatur Wunderland, Barkassen Meyer Harbour Tour and the Hamburg Travel Card were complimentary.