Hamburg: the Hanseatic pearl

Avant-garde for its music and architecture, Hamburg also reflects its history as the capital of the Hanseatic League (the Hansa), making it a nice surprise at the water's edge.

Hamburg is a bourgeois city and rebel at heart. The second-largest city in Germany, it discreetly displays its wealth inside its mansions in the districts of Eppendorf and Blankenese. Life here flows slowly around the Alster lakes and along the mighty Elbe. From the lake to the river, the waves invite contemplation and sports like water-skiing, stand-up paddleboard, and sailing – all right inside the city centre.

The water never sleeps, perhaps because of the tidal range (more than 3.6 m) on the Elbe, and the city has a close connection with the sea. They live together: this is among the largest commercial ports in the world. Integrated into the urban space, port life is a spectacle in and of itself. You only have to see the huge cargo ships cruising up and down the Elbe, each carrying hundreds of containers, as if assembled from giant Lego cubes. To observe them best, take a guided boat tour. One feels infinitely small next to them.

With HafenCity, Hamburg redraws its boundaries and makes the link between the port and the warehouses of Speicherstadt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. This space, once completed, is expected to expand the city centre by 40%. A walk around the Rathaus (city hall) gives a new impression of the city's wealth. The building has 647 rooms (more than Buckingham Palace) and sits on nearly 4,000 wooden piles-a stunning architectural feat in 1886, the date of its construction.

ts music scene reflects this best, almost overshadowing Berlin's. The recent Elbphilharmonie is further proof. But shhh, don't shout too loud! Hamburg is Germany's best-kept secret and holds many surprises, from its unusual converted bunkers to its legendary beaches. 'Moin moin' (pronounced ‘mo-in’, ‘mo-in’) Hamburg! In other words, 'Hi!'