Despite being quite obviously inland, Hamburg has a hefty maritime bent to it, with huge hunks of floating iron drifting in and out daily, and rivers interspersing the city-center streets. It's hardly waterworld - in fact Hamburg's notably dated in many places, and all the more attractive for it - but you'll certainly notice the influence of the old sea dog.
In amongst it all there’s an entire ‘cultural mile’ to explore, stretching through incredible old buildings, including the exceptional Town Hall, the Kunsthalle (Hamburg’s contemporary art museum), the Museum of Hamburg History and the amazing St. Michaelis Church, with it’s 24-meter-circumference clock faces and striking baroque architecture.
Hamburg’s long been a trading town above all else, with the port remaining a key trading spot for Germany, and home to one of Europe’s largest, oldest (and probably smelliest) fish markets. You can explore the expansive harbor on one of the boat tours, which will give you a quick glance at the inner workings of all those huge metal cargo containers and a close up of the mammoth hulls of the ships that float in and out daily.
One million people a year make it to the open-air zoo at Hagenbecks Tierpark; the 21-meter Planetarium in Stadtpark is arguably more impressive, showing one of the most modern and impressive replicas of the night sky you can find without heading for the wilderness with a telescope on a very clear day and taking a look for yourself. Sports fans will find international ice hockey (as well as the local club team) are a regular fixture in Hamburg, while the impressive local soccer team play in a mammoth modern stadium at a surprisingly affordable price, too.
For those with a more seedy outlook, Hamburg’s also become internationally known for the Reeperbahn, also known as the sinful mile, which is a notorious sex shop district frequently almost entirely by prostitutes (and inaccessible to other women), that’s home to sex shops and brothels, and famously one of the Beatles’ gig hang outs before they became famous. Be warned, locals can be hostile to those arriving ‘just for a look’.
Hamburg’s got plenty to distract from its shady side, though, and should be appreciated for its impressive buildings (intense at Christmas) and colossal port above all else.