Hometown: the trio of uber-cool German cities driving tourists beyond Berlin
Winter breaks series: Germany’s economy is booming and with it their tourism. We asked citizens of Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt why their cities are such great places to visit
Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg have a lot to offer the adventurous globetrotter looking for something a little different
Berlin has been called the coolest capital city in the world, with a thriving cultural, food and music scene. While it certainly has an edge, there are many other fashionable German cities that are fantastic winter break destinations.
For globe trotters who are seeking out something a little bit fresh, and on trend, we have chosen three German cities that just shouldn’t be overlooked – Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg. We spoke to residents of each to hear just why their cities are hot property right now and would make the perfect place to visit this autumn and winter.
Bavaria’s capital, Munich offers numerous museums and centuries old buildings, as well as being famous for the beer festival, Oktoberfest.
Ralph Weber hails from Munich and explains why his city is worth a visit.
“All four seasons in Munich are very strong - it’s lovely to see how the power of nature changes the environment from autumn to winter. The snow makes it very romantic and a little quieter and you also have the benefit of skiing – the slopes are only an hour away on public transport. There are also a lot of Christmas markets, a minimum of around 20, starting on December 1st, which I also highly recommend.
“This historical city with lots of beautiful old buildings is very charming, as it sits on the River Isar and this allows tourists to take part in sporting activities on the water or to simply sit in a beer garden, taking in the view. The landscape around Munich, with the Bavarian Alps and lakes, makes it a stunning place to visit in winter. At the moment there are 1.35 million people living here, so it’s got everything you would expect from a metropolitan city, yet it’s small enough to get around easily.
Munich is also a big student city, and the Ludwig Maximilian University is the biggest in Germany, so it is a very cool, vibrant place.
The city centre is filled with pubs, restaurants, cafes and there is everything from student bars to Michelin star restaurants. Schwabing is a trendy borough in the northern part of Munich that is considered the most bohemian part of the city. For great Bavarian tapas try Bapas, in Schwabing, here you can sample Reiberdatschi (potato pancake), Spinatgröschtl (spinach potato dish), or Kasspatzn (cheese noodle dish).
Munich is a big part of the European music scene and is very exciting in terms of gigs and clubs with lineups that change all the time. Check what’s coming up on residentadvisor.net/events/de/munich.
Giesinger Garten is a great neighbourhood bar that serves up Bavarian classics and international dishes including the Renner, a Bavarian burger with blue cheese and bacon.
Shopping in Munich is extensive and a visit to the shopping districts in the Old Town also offers a fantastic tour of the architecture of the city with everything from huge shopping plazas to small intimate boutiques.
You’ll find designer boutiques on Maximilianstrasse and the Fun Hofe on Theatinerstrasse is considered to be one of the most elegent shopping malls in the city.
Foodies need to make sure they don‘t miss the Viltualienmarkt, the city‘s largest and most famous gourmet food market, near the Marienplatz in the city centre.
Being German, Munich also has a lot of museums, including the Deutsches museum, which is the biggest science and technology museum in the world.
More local landmarks
A visit to Munich is not complete without seeing the BMW Museum. Designed in the 1970s as a showpiece for the brand, it takes you on a journey among cars, aircraft, motorbikes and concept cars of the future. Afterwards, visit the BMW showroom next door to experience one of the most beautiful car showrooms there are.
The Polar Bar at the centrally located Hotel Bayerischer Hof is created especially for winter. With stylishly designed seating around fireplaces on the rooftop of the hotel, it aims to be Munich’s place to be in the cold season.
For sports fans, the Olympiapark in Munich is a great destination and opportunity to see where Germany won the 1974 World Cup. You can also ride a zip line over the stadium or ski the hill in winter.
Florian Schleinig, a native of Hamburg, says hardly any other German city has as many attractions and places of interest as his hometown.
“Everywhere in the city, life is linked with the port – whether in the stairs quarter of Blankenese with its traditional fishermen’s cottages, on the Elbe beach with a view of the passing container ships, or on the promenades of the Elbe banks and the HafenCity district.
Visitors to the HafenCity are struck by the waterside promenades that go on for miles and miles. At Sandtorhafen, a new Tall Ship Harbour has been created, and numerous restaurants, cafés and bars at the squares of the Magellan Terrassen and Marco Polo Terrassen allow you to relax and unwind.
Beautiful red-brick façades, arched bridges and picturesque views make up the scenery of the Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s historic warehouse district. Situated between the HafenCity and the city centre, the Speicherstadt is interspersed with waterways.
I love eating at Bianc restaurant, a culinary masterpiece, and a contemporary fine dining experience not to be missed. Lebeleicht is also a beautifully designed café that serves mostly vegan food and has a great selection of breakfast and lunch dishes. For a great breakfast try Cafe Paris, a French brasserie serving up incredible food since 1882, and one of the best places to eat in Hamburg.
At the waterfront between Baumwall and the St Pauli Landungsbrücken, you can see the colourfully flagged sailing and motor boats in the City-Sportboothafen, where the bright red restaurant ship Feuerschiff is also moored.
An impressive view of the hustle and bustle of the streets and the port can be enjoyed from the tower of St Michaelis Church – Hamburg’s traditional landmark that makes the cityscape so characteristic. Twice a day, at 10am and at 9pm, you can hear the sound of trumpets in all directions coming from the 132-metre tower.
It’s a short walk from here to the jetties of the St Pauli Landungsbrücken and from here you can take a harbour boat trip.
Hamburg is famous for farmers' markets and a great foodie destination is St Pauli Fischmarkt where traders loudly extol their fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes and bric-a-brac. For something extra special try the St Pauli Nachtmarkt which is a late-night version of the market that runs every Wednesday from 4pm to 11pm that specialises in regional food products.
Anyone looking to get away from the crowd will find the perfect place further downriver on the roof of the Dockland, a grand office building in the shape of a ship, towering 40 metres above the River Elbe. The publicly accessible roof also provides a magnificent view of the Elbe.
Stop off at the Stilwerk, a retail store for international interior design. Once there, you should try lobster or fish in one of the new or traditional restaurants, or stroll along by the “string of pearls on the Elbe banks” – a row of innovative buildings with contemporary architectural design.
More local landmarks
Shop the bizarre
Harry’s Harbour Bazaar was immortilsed in the Tom Waits song Lucky Day but, even without that link this is an extraordinary place that sells all manner of weird and wonderful things. From African masks to Asian curios, the bizarre bazaar in Hamburg’s harbour has it all.
Altes Maedchen is one of the best-known craft beer houses in Hamburg. With over 80 beers to choose from you won’t be stuck for choice, and make sure to stay for dinner in its restaurant too.
If ice skating is your thing Hamburg is a great city to choose. There are skating rinks in a number of central locations. One of the prettiest is the winter wonderland at Wandsbeker Marktplatz square. It runs from November 3rd to January 7th.
Frankfurt resident Lena Beck says her city has so much more to offer than a skyline of bank high rises, with exciting events going on all year round.
“People here are down-to-earth, doing their thing and so many of them enjoy sitting on the grass by the riverside in their business clothes. It’s also greatly connected to the rest of Germany, Europe and indeed the world, due to the airport that is super close by.
“Since there are so many farmers' markets in the city, it is a common and beloved thing to meet up with friends and colleagues after work to enjoy a drink at one of them. I personally recommend the one at Friedberger Platz on a Friday evening.
“The Station District is a hip and vibrant quarter around Main station; it’s very multicultural, and the beating heart of the city with lots of international bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as many offices and businesses.
One of my top tips for dining is at Oosten, a stylish restaurant with great views at the skyline, especially from the rooftop terrace.
I also love Lorsbacher Thal, a typical cosy apple wine restaurant in Sachsenhausen where you can try the famous Frankfurt apple wine (over 80 different kinds of apple wine) and other specialties like Green Sauce.
“There are numerous opportunities to go shopping in Frankfurt, but one of the hidden gems is Berger Strasse where you can find many trendy shops, pubs and restaurants and some of the best of Frankfurt’s cafés.
“Art Galleries in and around Frankfurt’s old town, especially on Fahrgasse, Braubachstraße and at Weckmarkt, have regularly held art shows and I really recommend a visit.
“Frankfurt Christmas Markets are also not to be missed and tourists should really try out the roasted almonds, drink hot apple wine or enjoy the handkäs’ fondue.
“One of my favourite things to do in winter is visit City Alm, which is also the City Beach in summer. It will offer visitors a great view of the Frankfurt skyline, especially at night. For a hot chocolate on cold winter days, check out Bitter & Zart Chocolaterie.
More local landmarks
In a city full of hip bars, Bonechina, above, is pushing the limits. With seating for a maximum of 12 it opens Tuesday through Thursday and you are expected to prepare the drinks yourself. A large porcelain elephant that dispenses tonic water is the focal point in the bar that is located in the cool Alt-Sachsenhausen neighbourhood.
Take a day trip
The spa town of Baden Baden and its famous thermal baths are close enough to Frankfurt for a day trip. ETS-Greenline tours can even take you on a drive through the Black Forest on the way back.
For anyone looking to warm up after the Christmas market you could try the Tropical Palm House in the PalmenGarten. Built in 1869, it is one of the largest constructions of its type in Europe and has tropical plants and lush foliage to see all year round.