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Germany’s second-largest city and biggest port, Hamburg’s maritime spirit infuses everything – from its rowdy fish market to its neo-Gothic architecture and network of canals. It’s also given rise to an immigrant community, which makes for some exciting cross-cultural dining.

See
Hamburg’s baroque Rathaus is one of Europe’s most opulent town halls, renowned for the spectacular coffered ceiling of its Great Hall (00 49 40 42 831 2010; Rathausmarkt; tours hourly 10.15am-3.15pm Mon-Thu, 10.15am-1.15pm Fri, 10.15am- 5.15pm Sat, to 4.15pm Sun; £2.50).

The Kunsthalle contains an art collection ranging from medieval portraiture to 20th-century classics and the best in contemporary German art (00 49 40 42 813 1200; hamburgerkunsthalle. de; Glockengiesserwall; 10am-6pm Tue-Wed and Fri-Sun, 10am-9pm Thu; £7.50).

The redbrick timber warehouses on the Speicherstadt, on the Elbe archipelago, are the world’s largest continuous warehouse complex. Wander the streets or see the view from the High Flyer Balloon (00 49 40 3008 6968; highflyerhamburg. de; Deichtorstrasse 1-2; 10am-10pm; £13).

The Beatles cut their teeth at the now-defunct Star-Club, and you can take a slightly surreal journey through their career at the Beatlemania Hamburg museum. There are interactive exhibits, memorabilia, plus concerts and fashion shows (00 49 40 8538 8888; beatlemania-hamburg.de; Nobistor 10; 10am-10pm; £9).

Once a fishing village and haven for pirates, Blankenese is now an attractive suburb with some of the country’s finest houses. The best views of the River Elbe are from the 75m-high hill, Süllberg (hamburg-tourism.de).

Eat and drink
For great value, head to Fisch & So, a little café on the Fischmarkt riverside. Savour calamari with bratkartoffeln (sautéed potatoes) or delicious fish sandwiches (00 49 40 389 3109; fischmarkt-hamburg.de; Grosse Elbstrasse 117; lunch Mon-Sat; mains from £2.50).

Café Paris is an elegant and relaxed brasserie serving classic French cuisine, such as croque monsieur and snails. Breakfast for two here is a feast (00 49 40 3252 7777; cafeparis.net; Rathausstrasse 4; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; mains from £5).

At Cox Bistro, you can sample an inventive menu with dishes such as swordfish with passion fruit and chilli vinaigrette followed by semolina almond strudel with rhubarb (00 49 4024 9422; restaurant-cox.de; Lange Reihe 68; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat-Sun; from £8).

Hidden in a quiet residential street, German-Austrian restaurant Vienna is known for its authentic schnitzels, venison and fish. It doesn’t take reservations – your best bet is to turn up early or late (00 49 40 439 9182; vienna-hamburg.de; Fettstrasse 2; dinner Tue-Sun; mains from £9).

Reservations are essential at Le Canard Nouveau. Signature dishes of Turkish-born, Michelinstarred chef Ali Güngörmüs include turbot with polenta soufflé and duck with apple-ginger purée (00 49 40 8812 9531; lecanardhamburg. de; Elbchaussee 139; lunch and dinner Tue-Fri, dinner Sat; mains from £28).

Sleep
With a games room, a cinema and open-plan dining area, Superbude is Hamburg’s hippest budget hotel. Rooms are painted in candy shades of either pink, orange or red (00 49 40 380 8780; superbude.de; Spaldingstrasse 152; from £52).

Accommodation at the historic lakeside Hotel Alsterblick blends original herringbone floors with contemporary furnishings and mod cons. To reach the hotel, catch bus number 6 to Mundsburger Brücke (00 49 40 2294 8989; alsterblick-hamburg.hotel-rn.com; Schwanenwik 30; from £74).

Galerie-Hotel Petersen is a delightful b&b in an 18th century townhouse. The décor is an extension of its artist-owner’s offbeat personality. With furnishings including a mix of contemporary, antique and art deco styles. Choose from its five rooms, including a top-floor studio with a romantic rooftop terrace (00 49 40 249 826; ghsp. eu; Lange Reihe 50; from £86).

There might be a novel instead of a chocolate on your pillow at the literary Hotel Wedina – Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Vladimir Nabokov and JK Rowling have stayed and left signed copies of their work. You’ll find traditional décor in the red house and contemporary rooms in its green, blue and yellow houses (00 49 40 280 8900; hotelwedina.de; Gurlittstrasse 23; from £103).

Realised by Italian architect and designer Matteo Thun, SIDE Hotel is built around a prism-shaped central atrium. Suites have bright, freestanding bathtubs and the eighth-floor chill-out lounge opens to a panoramic sun deck. On weekends, enjoy brunch until 2pm (00 49 40 309 990; side-hamburg.de; Drehbahn 49; from £176).

Getting around
HVV operates buses, ferries, and U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains. A day pass covers travel for an adult and up to three children (£5.50; hvv.de) and there are ticket machines available in train stations. Buy bus tickets from the driver when you board.

When to go
Hamburg’s biggest annual event is the three-day Hafengeburtstag in May, celebrated with concerts, funfairs and gallons of beer (hafengeburtstag.de). The city enjoys warm weather throughout the summer, while September and October are good for sailing.

How to go
British Airways, Lufthansa and easyJet fly direct to Hamburg from Heathrow (from £159) and Manchester (from £159; lufthansa.com). Commuter train S1 S-Bahn connects Hamburg airport with the city centre (£2.50; s-bahn-hamburg.de).

The article ‘Mini guide to Hamburg, Germany’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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