It may play second fiddle to Berlin, but Hamburg is also regularly cited as one of Europe’s most liveable urban centres and a cultural and historic gem by the Elbe. With great architecture, bags of entertainment and a vibrant multi-cultural mix, there’s more to Hamburg than you might expect.
And with more and more people choosing to settle there we ask the question: what’s it like to live in Hamburg and is it a destination you should consider?
Hamburg might be well known as a German powerhouse of industry, as well as for its historical influence on science, literature and the arts – but the city is also considered a very liveable place.
Evolving as a harbour city and a hub of commerce, Hamburg has served as Germany’s gateway to the world and has naturally been a crossroads for cultures and ideas down the ages. The city has faced numerous disasters over its long history, but each time it has picked itself up, rebuilt and come back even stronger.
If it’s entertainment and night life you’re interested in, Hamburg’s music scene is world famous and it was here that many iconic bands, like the Beatles, first got noticed. There are over 30 theatres in the city, six music halls and around 50 museums – so evidently the city has a lot of stories to tell.
Of course, it’s not all culture and clubbing. Hamburg is one of Germany’s more affluent cities, with many big employers based here, and it can be a little on the pricey side. This is reflected in some of the high-end restaurants to be found here, with Hamburg being home to one of Germany’s three-Michelin star restaurants.
Still, what’s perhaps most important is how nice the city is to live in – with Hamburg regularly being rated a better place to live than Berlin. There are many parks, canals, lakes and rivers, helping the city be one of Germany’s most beautiful and pleasant places to explore.
Despite being razed to the ground more times than most cities (firstly by the Vikings, most recently by the British in WWII, with various fires, floods and plagues in between), Hamburg has always endured.
Since the reunification of East and West in the 1990s, Germany has gone from strength to strength and its biggest cities have been thriving. Hamburg is no exception, and the city is now regarded as a global hub for business, law and economics.
There are 1.8 million people living in Hamburg, and the city is split into seven primary boroughs. If you’re from the UK, you may find that the city has a curiously ‘British’ feel to it.
Hamburg is both a State of Germany as well as a city, and each of its boroughs is like a third-level administration with the right to make local laws and regulations. As such, the boroughs all have their own localised parliament, and while the quarters do not have independent government, they do have defined borders.
The city centre is situated around the Alster Lake, and as a general rule the closer you get to this lake the higher the cost of property becomes. Some of Hamburg’s boroughs and districts are so close together that you can see a lot of the city just by following the Alster Lake or the Elbe River around the city centre.
Hamburg is a cultural crossroads, so it should be no surprise that over a third of residents have a background from elsewhere. As such, the city has a considerable expat community spread across a number of boroughs. These include …
Altona – Vibrant and Diverse
This is perhaps the borough that most Hamburgers will mention when you ask them where the biggest expat hub is in Hamburg. Filled with farmers markets, cafes and green parks, Altona also hosts an annual cultural festival called ‘Altonale’.
Despite the modern and cosmopolitan vibe you can feel in Altona, the architecture is refined and historic and there are many museums and theatres.
This means it can be a little on the pricey side, but for those with the money, Altona’s variety of activities, and wonderful food and drink makes it an understandably popular place to live. It contains the popular but pleasant quarter of Ottensen, where a fairy-tale Christmas market happens every year.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £1,400
Hamburg-Nord – Convenient City Living
As one of Hamburg’s most densely populated boroughs, Hamburg-Nord, is also one of its most popular.
With a bustling transport system of both underground and over-ground trains, several high quality hospitals, and Hamburg Airport, it’s a super-convenient place that contains several well-known residential districts.
The Barmbek quarter is mostly residential and has been described by some as something of a microcosm of Hamburg itself – reflecting all sides and forms of the city. There are peaceful and beautiful green parks, as well as more urban spaces and tight-knit village-like areas. In fact, there may be something for all tastes there.
On the other hand, there’s the more affluent quarter of Eppendorf, which is a leafy area of classic architecture for those with a bit more money to spend.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £2,000
Hamburg-Mitte – Close to the Action
This borough covers most of the city centre and is home to Hamburg’s economic centre and business district. Living so close to the action comes with a price tag – but it’s here you’ll find the beating urban heart of the city.
Hamburg-Mitte is home to St. Pauli, an entertainment heavy quarter packed with clubs, music, bars and restaurants. There are festivals such as the Reeperbahn Festival, a Chinatown area, and the area called Karolinenviertel which has a definitely alternative identity.
For anyone into night life, St. Pauli’s clubs need no introduction.
St. Georg is a much calmer quarter. Located close to the city centre, St. Georg is known as a multicultural and progressive place, featuring numerous urban eateries, theatres and museums.
There’s also the HafenCity district which is one of the most modernistic-looking areas of the city. Looking not unlike London’s Docklands, the area is heavy on the interplay between contemporary architecture and natural spaces, capitalising on open water and greenery. Here you’ll also find a variety of luxury duplex apartments, and family-friendly blocks.
Lastly, one can’t forget Wilhelmsburg, which is a re-invented post-industrial area covering several islands on the Elbe and is among the most populated districts in all of Hamburg.
Typical monthly cost to rent an apartment: £1,500
Okay, so Hamburg might not spring immediately to mind when you think of dream emigration locations, but the charm of the city and the happiness of the Hamburgers speak for themselves. If Hamburg sounds like a place where you could make yourself at home – go over and spend some time on a visit. Make sure you look further into which quarters are within your budget and handle your money carefully, and if you do decide to make the move remember that we’re always on hand to help you save money on your currency transfers!
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