Berlin vs Hamburg: Which German City to Visit?


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Since both cities are very different in terms of their aesthetics and activities, Berlin vs Hamburg should be an easy contest if you know what kind of place you like to spend your time in.

Berlin is famous for its amazing architecture, wonderful museums and wild nightlife scene, while Hamburg is a calmer city, still with a young population, however, its historic port lends it an industrial feel which also lead to a brutalist architectural style seeping into the city after the Second World War.

In general, choose Berlin if you’d like to visit a bustling, cosmopolitan city with plenty of things to do, interesting history and notorious nightlife. On the other hand, Hamburg is a great choice for those looking for a calm city break, those interested in maritime history and for if you’d like a smaller city.

Both Berlin and Hamburg are well worth visiting, but whether you want an alternative stop or a classic city break, one is sure to stand out to you more than the other.

Berlin

As the capital city, you can expect Berlin to live up to all of your expectations as a large and vibrant city with plenty of museums and galleries, bars and restaurants, nightclubs and other activities. It can be an expensive city to visit, but if you’re interested in history and having a culturally significant city break in Berlin or Hamburg, Berlin will likely come out on top.

The Famous Brandenburg Gate
The Famous Brandenburg Gate

Accessibility

Berlin Brandenburg Airport is a huge international airport accessible from most cities in Europe as well as directly from Washington DC, or with a stopover in Frankfurt from other US or Canadian cities.

There is also Berlin Schonefeld airport which is smaller and serves many budget airlines and connects the capital of Germany with many cities across Europe and further afield.

It’s located just south of the city, 30 minutes away from Berlin centre by car, or a 40-minute train journey on the Deutsche Bahn. You can view train schedules here.

You can rent a car from the airport or the city centre, however, Berlin has an excellent underground system as well as buses taking you all over the city, so the greenest and easiest option is to use public transport.

One ticket will grant you access to the underground, buses and trams and can be used as many times as necessary within 2 hours in one direction, and there are 24-hour tickets available for the centre of Berlin as well as including places further outside the city, such as Berlin Brandenburg Airport. You can also buy a Berlin Welcome Card which includes transport and discounts to various attractions.

It’s a big city and not easy to get everywhere on foot, but the transport system is easy to navigate, so you’ll have no problems getting around.

If you're wondering is Berlin expensive, then take the U-bahn rather than taxis!
The U Bahn in Berlin

Affordability

Berlin certainly has more activities than Hamburg, with museums and galleries scattered all over the city, including the famous Museum Island which houses the incredible Pergamon Museum, Neues Museum, and Altes Museum.

Most of the museums and galleries cost between €5 and €15, so the price can add up if you plan to visit many museums during your stay – which is highly recommended – but there are tickets available for €19 including all three museums on Museum Island.

There are also some free activities in Berlin, such as visiting the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall remains and the East Side Gallery, visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and simply walking around the city and taking in the fantastic architecture.

When weighing up Berlin vs Hamburg in terms of transport costs, surprisingly both cities have largely the same single ticket prices for the inner city area as well as 24-hour tickets, however, it costs half the price to access all transport zones in Berlin than to use transport across the whole of Hamburg.

When it comes to accommodation costs, the two cities are relatively on par with one another though Berlin is a bigger city, so there are more options available for travellers across different budgets.

Eating out in Berlin is a great adventure, with some fantastic food spots from German sausages and schnitzel to German-Turkish kebabs as well as options for haute-cuisine, so there’s something for all tastes and budgets to be found.

Visiting the East Side Gallery is a must no matter how many days in Berlin you have!
The East Side Gallery

Things to do in Berlin

When you have a history as long and eventful as Berlin has, there are plenty of activities to take part in and things to see in Germany’s capital and largest city that make it unique and thus the perfect place for a weekend getaway.

For fans of 20th-century history, Berlin is bursting with information and historic locations, from the remains of the wall that divided East and West Berlin following the end of the Second World War and the replica checkpoint, to the Jewish History Museum and the Holocaust Memorial. You can take a walking tour to learn more.

Despite near-constant rebuilding over the centuries, especially after the Nazification of the city followed by intense Allied bombing and the division of the city between Eastern and Western powers, Berlin is a remarkably beautiful and cosmopolitan city, with some remnants of its 18th-century neoclassical architecture still lingering in the city.

On Museum Island, you can find five of the most important museums in Berlin, making up one of the most significant historical and educational areas in Europe as a whole. The Pergamon Museum and Neues Museum are perhaps the most famous, with artefacts from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and a large collection of Islamic art also on display.

Art fanatics can also delight on a trip to Berlin, with the Neue Nationalgalerie displaying incredible 20th-century works from the likes of Bacon, Klee, Höch, Dalí and Munch, to name just a few.

More than 500 works of art were lost or destroyed under the Nazi regime after being labelled “degenerate art” due to Hitler’s fondness for classical Greek and Roman art that fit his ideals, thus many significant works of art have been lost from the museum completely or found their way to other museums’ collections in Europe.

However, some works were reinstated in the new national gallery after reopening in the 1960s, and the collection does not disappoint.

One of the most attractive things about Berlin, especially for younger people, is the eclectic nightlife you can find in the capital. While it does have a reputation for wild nightclubs there are calmer districts across Berlin, with Auguststrasse and Torstrasse being popular areas at night, as well as multicultural bars and restaurants around the Reuterkiez district.

You can also find many large and lively beer gardens and breweries across Berlin for a great night, such as BRLO Brwhouse, where you can sample the local tipple as well as the classic German weissbier.

Checkpoint Charlie sign
Checkpoint Charlie sign

Where to Stay in Berlin

Shulz Hotel Berlin Wall – This mid-range hotel is a great option for those looking for a cool and convenient place to stay in Berlin. Located in Freidrichstein, they are close to some of the top attractions and have a range of great rooms to choose from. Click here to check availability

Hotel Q! Berlin – If you’re after a luxury hotel in the German capital, then this cool place int eh Charlottenburg neighbourhood is an excellent choice. They have a range of plush rooms to choose from along with a fantastic location and plenty of luxe amenities. Click here to check availability

Downtown Apartments Mitte – These apartments are an excellent option for those looking for a convenient self-catering option while visiting Berlin. Located in Mitte, they have a number of fully-furnished flats to choose from. Click here to check availability

Sunflower Hostel – Budget and solo travellers will love this cool hostel in Berlin. They offer both dorms and private rooms, have an excellent location for exploring the city and there’s also breakfast available and great common areas. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Berlin hotels!

Berlin Skyline
Berlin Skyline

Hamburg

Hamburg is Germany’s largest port city, and the third largest in Europe, thanks to the Elbe River and Alster River flowing through the city, and its strategic location in the North of Germany and feeding out into the North Sea, so the overall feel of Hamburg is very industrial.

This does, however, make for some excellent photographs when the sun falls on the heavily geometric and brutalist buildings and reflects off the canals, so Hamburg does have a unique charm. If you’re interested in maritime history, then Hamburg is a great city to visit.

Accessibility

Hamburg Airport is located just north of the city and serves many other major airports in Europe including London, Paris, Dublin and Zurich, as well as more across the globe. You can even drive or take a bus from Copenhagen and enjoy a short ferry ride across the Baltic Sea.

From Hamburg Airport to the central train station, you can arrive in just 25 minutes on the S-Bahn, or around 30 minutes driving, depending on the traffic. You can view train schedules here.

Within Hamburg, it won’t be necessary to rent a car as there is an extensive public transport system including an underground train, an overground train, buses and ferries – you can get a Hamburg card for access to all of this transport as well as discounted entry to museums and shows at the Hamburg tourist office; buy the 9 am ticket for an even better price.

What’s more, the public transport system is much easier to navigate than the roads, which are often busy and a little complicated with narrow streets and many canals interrupting your journey, so the S-Bahn and U-Bahn are the easiest ways to get around.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof
Hamburg Hauptbahnhof

Affordability

To compare Hamburg vs Berlin in terms of cost, there’s not a lot of difference between the two cities, with single transport tickets costing roughly the same amount, however, in Hamburg, there is a daily ticket available after 9 am which is a few euros cheaper than the normal daily ticket so commuters can still travel easily and tourists can avoid rush hour.

There aren’t a huge number of activities to get involved with in Hamburg, so you can easily keep your costs down by simply walking around the city, either alone or with a reasonably priced walking tour.

However, you should definitely visit Hamburg’s Art Museum, which you can see for half price on Thursday evenings between 5 pm and 9 pm – it is also free to visit on the first Thursday of every month from 6 pm to 9 pm.

You can also rent rowing boats to take out on Hamburg’s huge city lake for a peaceful afternoon, for a reasonable price. And if you’re interested in architecture, have a wander through the industrial and historic Speicherstadt neighbourhood.

For foodies deciding whether to visit Hamburg or Berlin, there are more options in Berlin as it’s a bigger city, however, you can still find some excellent food in Hamburg, and the prices are very affordable. You can find great fish down by the Elbe on the Elbestrasse, as well as German classics like currywurst anywhere in the city centre.

Drinking on the Reeperbahn can also be very affordable, however, some establishments have been in the area a long time and have hiked up their prices to match the touristic demand, so if you’re in Hamburg on a budget, check the prices before you order so you’re not in for a shock.

St. Michael's Church in Hamburg
St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg

Things to do in Hamburg

Wandering around Hamburg is a unique experience in itself, with many canals dividing the city, as well as the huge Aussen-Alster Lake in the centre and the River Elbe flowing through.

But as you’re strolling through Hamburg’s streets looking for the perfect shot of the sun perfectly aligned through the buildings, or searching for street art, you can join an alternative walking tour in the city!

These tours are conducted by locals who know all the best spots in the city, from the best craft breweries and graffiti to the lively and historic neighbourhoods that might otherwise be overlooked. The best part? The walking tours are done on a pay-what-you-can basis so everyone has the chance to see the best of Hamburg and it’s up to you how much you give to your guide.

If you prefer to go it alone and find the exciting parts of the city yourself, you can take a circular walk around Hamburg, from the Aussen-Alster Lake – which you can take a boat ride on – to the huge and ornately decorated town hall and through the Große Wallanlagen to the Fischmarkt.

The Große Wallanlagen is a huge city park with various themed and well-designed gardens that look wonderful all year round and is well worth a stop en route to the famous fish market.

Only open early on Sunday mornings, the fish market is a vibrant location with local fisherman selling their produce, although even if you miss the market, you can walk along the riverside from the market to St Pauli, where there are numerous small shops where you can stop for some fish and chips and to watch the sun go down behind the cranes of the working port. 

Hamburg is also home to a fantastic art museum, the Hamburger Kunsthalle. The Hamburg Art Museum has works dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as great works by the likes of Rembrandt and Goya, and more contemporary pieces from the 21st century, making it one of the most comprehensive art displays in Europe and well worth a visit in Hamburg.

While in most nightlife contests, Berlin wins hands down, Hamburg’s Reeperbahn is a strong contender for the perfect party place.

Thanks to Hamburg being a port, sailors would historically descend on the Reeperbahn looking for entertainment, leading to many bars and nightclubs popping up, as well as the city’s red light district.

Nowadays, while not the most attractive street during the day time, you can guarantee to find a party at night in one of the many pubs and clubs, each with its own style and music.

St. Pauli district in Hamburg
St. Pauli district

Where to Stay in Hamburg

Hotel St. Anne – Mid-range visitors to Germany’s second city will love this cool, 3-star hotel int he centre of Hamburg. Well located close to all of the city’s top attractions, they have a number of great rooms to choose from and a breakfast buffet on offer each morning. Click here to check availability

THE MADISON Hotel – This 4-star hotel is a great choice for those looking for luxury while visiting Hamburg. Offering a number of gorgeous, modern rooms to choose from, they also have plenty of wonderful amenities for guests to take advantage of. Click here to check availability

Eric Vökel Boutique Apartments – Those after their own flat while in Hamburg will love this aparthotel. They have a number of great, fully-furnished apartments to choose from along with an excellent location for exploring the city. Click here to check availability

Backpackers St Pauli – This hostel in the cool St Pauli neighbourhood is an excellent choice for those travelling solo or visiting Hamburg on a budget. They have both dorms and private rooms available, great common areas and clean facilities. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Hamburg hotels!

City of Hamburg
City of Hamburg

Berlin vs Hamburg: Which is Better to Visit

Comparing Hamburg and Berlin can be tricky as they’re very different cities, however, this should make deciding on Hamburg or Berlin to visit, a simple decision.

If you like to learn about history and Germany’s prominent role in it, Berlin is a must-see city as there are remnants of Germany’s history and museums around almost every corner, so you can experience a glimpse of historical events first-hand while also being educated on the details from a German perspective.

Whereas if you’re a fan of more modern, industrial and brutalist architecture, Hamburg is full of large grey geometric buildings that make for excellent city photography.

Hamburg is also possibly the best choice for people who want a more relaxing break, spending less money and enjoying a simple boat ride, a trip to the fish market and a delicious riverside meal, while Berlin is perhaps more hectic, with each district bursting with a unique energy.

For party people, however, Hamburg vs Berlin is a tricky decision. Hamburg’s nightlife is concentrated to the Reeperbahn and surrounding streets, while each Berlin district has a different vibe, so if you’re just after good music and reasonably priced drinks, Hamburg will give you a great night out, but if you want to experience something more unique and more wild, Berlin is definitely the place to go.

Hamburg is great for a city break with calm days and fun nights, but if you want a high-energy and full itinerary from morning to night, your best bet might be Berlin.

Are you planning to visit Hamburg or Berlin? Have any questions about these cities? Let us know in the comments!

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).

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