Want a mix of Scandi chic and Germanic culture on your next European mini break? Germany’s gateway to the North Sea via the Elbe River; welcome to the watery city of Hamburg. Hundreds of canals zigzag across the famous portside second city that’s a shinier and calmer alternative to Berlin with plenty to do day and night, and is home to an incredible abundance of delicious seafood.

Hamburg: What to Do

For a Night at the Theatre: Elbphilharmonie

The Lowdown: There’s nothing else for it but heading to the newly opened, multi-billion euro philharmonic hall with the latest opera hot ticket. Glide up through the building’s innards on a stark white escalator to a show that could be anything from theatre, opera, choral, orchestral – even a talk or an audience participatory performance – from globally celebrated and eclectic talent such as the Orchestra Baobab from Senegal or a residency from John Malkovich. There’s plenty of classical shows from Germany’s finest philharmonics playing the insanely beautiful auditorium too, showcasing those curved paper and plaster of paris walls to the best of their sonic ability. Afterwards, take in the view from one of the many high rise open air balconies before walking along the marina and taking in the north breeze in your evening gown/tux.

Where: Platz der Deutschen Einheit 1, 20457 Hamburg, Germany

Photo Credit: Bondi Sunset

For an Entertainment District: Reeperbahn

The Lowdown: There’s high end classy Hamburg, everyone suited and polished, and then there’s Reeperbahn. Dubbed bluntly the “Kiez” (hood) by locals, is a red light area and an entertainment district bazaar. A lot of what makes German culture so fascinating is the sharp contrast between the glitz and the literal glamour – so much of the city is conservative, but one saunter down its most famous street of strip clubs and everything else shows you Hamburg is truly an old-fashioned, sailor’s town at heart. It’s worth a glimpse at the flashing neon signs that light the huge strasse, and nearby there are some excellent dive and cocktail bars in St Pauli. Take in the views of the bright lights from Clouds, before grabbing a lower key tipple at Glanz and Gloria. Head for the dance floor at Rüftata 110, or see what shows the Brüllwürfel Crew have on in the area. The most exciting clubs include Goldener Pudel, übel und gefährlich (intimidating amazing bunker that’s not hugely unlike Berlin’s legendary Berghain). This neighbourhood is also famous for its football club, and you’ll see legions of fans wearing St Pauli attire – the monochromatic skull and crossbones motif is impossible to miss.

Where: St. Pauli, Reeperbahn, Hamburg

Photo Credit: Martin Abegglen

Hamburg: Where to Eat

For Seafood Sandwiches and More: Hamburg Fish Market 

The Lowdown: Finish up a late night of dancing around St Pauli or start your Sunday super fresh with a sunrise jaunt to the fish market where naturally, you’ll find the freshest fare there is amongst a cacophony of noisy fishmongers. Nearby at Fischbrötchenbude Brücke 10, try the Bismarck (pickled herring) or Matjes (brined), or go all out with the decadent crayfish with capers and lemon juice in a warm fresh bread. Wash it down with a cute bottle of classic Hamburg beer Astra.

Where: St. Pauli Fischmarkt 2, 20359 Hamburg

Photo Credit: Bruce Harlick

Hamburg: Where to Stay

For Quarters Fit For a Captain: 25 Hours Hafen City

The Lowdown: 25 Hours Hafen City is the best harbour-side stay for a mixture of delectably comfortable, stylish and vibey. As soon as you enter there’s a fun and lively atmosphere in the well lit and cosy lobby that leads onto the restaurant of hotel dreams: think affordable meat and fish dishes and epic buffet breakfasts. The rooms are eclectically designed, with calming views of the water, and there’s even a sauna on the rooftop with a complimentary beer fridge.

Over in the city centre lies the second hotel from 25 Hours Number One, with all neon pink and blue lights and skylights contrasting with the grey industrial paint and overall open plan structure of the place. Also offers free Astra on arrival, huge rainforest showers and a great European breakfast. This place is more sedate and corporate.

Where: Überseeallee 5, 20457 Hamburg

For an Eco Hotel: Raphael Walderhaus

The Lowdown: Hotel Raphael Walderhaus is a beautiful hotel and a total one off. You feel inner city and inner woodland all at once in this sustainable wooden palace in the south. The amazing structure feels like a grand ship and also like a Twin Peaks lodge, and its eco status is notorious around wider Germany. In your rooms you’ll find all sorts of energy-reserving facilities, enormous beds, windows, rugs and TVs. The in-house restaurant serves up indulgent breakfasts – think smoked salmon and fruit, or the famously sweet franzbroetchen cake. Try the homemade jams and freshly baked pastries, and the epic coffee they have on tap.

Where: Am Inselpark 19, 21109 Hamburg, Germany