Hamburg’s maritime past is helping to shape its future, as new waterside developments and design-forward hotels see it steal the limelight from Berlin and Munich.

Hamburg’s maritime spirit has dominated its past but is also helping to shape its future, as new waterside developments and mould-breaking design hotels see it steal the limelight from Berlin and Munich.

For years, the northwestern district of Karolinenviertel has been home to a countercultural scene, and today it’s a creative centre for young fashion designers and clothing shoppers alike. Labels to look out for include Nymphenfieber (Marktstrasse 10), and Garment, which sells cute short-sleeved shirts from £119 (Marktstrasse 25).

In downtown Hamburg, you’ll find Gärtner, which as well as providing interiors for offices and homes, acts as a showcase for German design companies, including Cor and Thonet, and international furniture brands such as Vitra and USM. Expect to find classics such as the 1930s Kaiser Idell lamp (£370) sitting alongside the new Vitra Corniches – small, boat-shaped shelves (Grosse Bleichen 23; closed Sun).

This converted malthouse by the Elbe riverfront is home to the first of the four branches of Stilwerk: a self-billed hotspot for international design. Hamburg’s branch, spread over 10 floors, has a collection of more than 30 interior design stores (including Stylery, which sells bright outdoor puppy-shaped stools for £40), cafés and restaurants, and regular design and cultural exhibitions (Grosse Elbstrasse 68).

Eating and drinking
Bullerei is the restaurant of German TV-cook Tim Mälzer. Located in the stables of an old slaughterhouse in the district of Schanzenviertel, it’s an industrial space with exposed concrete and brick that embraces the building’s history with a display window of hanging beef. Expect meaty dishes such as burgers and steak (Lagerstrasse 34b; steaks from £22).

25Hours is a hotel and restaurant in the middle of the new HafenCity harbour district, Europe’s largest inner-city urban development. Live music and DJs on weekends accompany dishes such as smoked eel with scrambled eggs, and Frisian beef tagliata. The restaurant, like the rooms, takes a design nod to the city’s seafaring tradition – you can sit on a pile of carpets in the bar or read mariners’ tales told in the log book (Überseeallee 5; mains from £9).

A lovely bar and restaurant in the rather chic district of Eppendorf, the Marsbar is located in a red-brick old tram depot. Sit at the bar facing the open kitchen, along the red leather bench that lines the gallery dining room, or outside on the terraces, and choose from the daily changing menu. The signature dish here is the Caesar salad with chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce (Strassenbahnring 2; closed Sun; mains from £7.50).

Arts and architecture
Located in the former Phoenix Tyre Factory, the Falckenberg Collection is a private anthology of 2,000 pieces of modern German and American art, mainly from the last 30 years and from the counterculture movement. Visits are by guided tour only, which must be booked in advance on the website (Wilstorfer Strasse 71; tours £13).

The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe hosts a vast collection of sculpture, furniture, fashion, jewellery, posters, musical instruments and household objects in this fun museum runs the gamut from Italian to Islamic, and Japanese to Viennese, including an Art Nouveau salon from the 1900 Paris World Fair. There’s also a design department for kids (Steintorplatz; closed Mon; £8.50).

The brown-brick Chilehaus is shaped like an ocean liner, with remarkable curved walls meeting in the form of a ship’s bow and staggered balconies that look like decks. Designed by architect Fritz Höger, the 1924 building is a leading example of German Expressionist architecture. The ground floor courtyard is given to shops and restaurants, allowing visitors a closer nose around (Fischertwiete 2).

BA, easyJet, and Lufthansa fly from Birmingham, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Manchester to Hamburg (from £85; easyjet. com). The S1 S-Bahn (suburban train) connects the airport with the city centre in 24 minutes (£2.50). Hamburg’s transport network is divided into zones: the Nahbereich (central area) covers the part of the city between St Pauli and the Hauptbahnhof, while the Grossbereich (Greater Hamburg area) encompasses outlying communities too. S-Bahn and U-Bahn (underground) tickets must be bought from machines at stations; bus tickets are available from the driver (

Where to stay
Arcotel Rubin in St Georg is done out in gleaming marble and the smallish rooms are dominated by giant red-leather ‘sunset’ bedheads. There’s also a Viennese coffee house and a gym (Steindamm 63; from £95).

The Empire Riverside Hotel rose from an old brewery site in the rejuvenated Hafenkrone (harbour crown) precinct in 2008. There are cracking views from the hotel’s swish 20up Skybar (Bernhard- Nocht-Strasse 97; from £145).

Walls, lamps and furniture at East emulate organic forms – flowers, trees, droplets – giving a warm, enveloping feel. It also has a wellness centre, Japanese garden and sunken restaurant (Simon-von- Utrecht-Strasse 31; from £155).

The article 'Mini guide to design in Hamburg' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.