If you’re into trying traditional food and are feeling very brave, you’ll want to try labskaus. Originally created to set sailors up with all the nutrition they needed, the dish does not look particularly appealing. Once you’ve got over its appearance (or simply closed your eyes), this mixture of corned beef, onions, potatoes, beetroot and eggs is actually very enjoyable. My go-to place for labskaus served with fried eggs and rollmop herrings is Oberhafen-Kantine in the new HafenCity district.
Built in 1925 to cater for harbour and shipyard workers – Hamburg has one of the largest ports in the world – the canteen has been battered by storms and floods over the years. In 2000, not long after being closed down, the building was declared a historical monument. It has since been refurbished and reopened – but retains its wonky charm.
It goes without saying that the Elbphilharmonie, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year, is one of the greatest modern success stories of our city. Despite all the controversies surrounding the building’s heavily delayed completion and spiralling costs (it went well over budget), we couldn’t be more proud of it, and whenever I play there I relish performing in what is now one of the finest concert halls in the world.
If you can’t get tickets for a performance – they sell out quickly – visit the public viewing platform, or “Plaza”, which offers spectacular views of the harbour and city.
The Schanze is one of the liveliest areas in Hamburg: cool, central, colourful and crazy. Start your afternoon in one of its nice cafes, take in the vibe of the area and explore its small fashion boutiques – try Edited for women’s fashion, Kauf dich
Glücklich for a mix of fashion and Scandinavian design, and Scarpovino for a quirky combo of shoes and wine. There’s also an amazing amount of street art to take in.
In the evenings, soak up the atmosphere at cosy bars such as 10 and Counting and Mutter, and hip restaurants like Bullerei, founded by local celebrity chef Tim Mälzer inside a former abattoir.
Hamburgers – I’ll admit I had issues with that term for the city’s inhabitants when I lived in London – love the water. On Sundays or bank holidays we’ll enjoy a stroll along the River Elbe. The centre of the city gets very touristy and packed, so I would recommend taking the ferry from Landungsbrücken to Teufelsbrück and starting your walk from there towards the picturesque western suburb of Blankenese. If you purchase a day pass for public transport (around €6) the ferry journey is included.
For those who like jogging, the outer Alster lake, in the heart of Hamburg, has a five-mile pathway around it – the perfect length for a run, and it’s beautiful too.
I like to take visiting friends to the Skyline Bar 20up, a rooftop bar near the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s clubbing and red-light district. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink while taking in panoramic views from 90 metres up.
If you’re not a fan of heights, try Le Lion, probably my favourite bar in town. Located centrally, near the town hall, it doesn’t look like much a bar from the outside, which reminds me of the hidden-away bars I enjoyed during my London years. You should definitely try the Gin Basil Smash, which was invented here.
Oh and if anyone ever says “Hummel, Hummel!” to you while you’re in Hamburg, just reply “Mors, Mors!”. Don’t ask why – you’ll definitely make yourself popular.
The intimate Henri Hotel has a great central location with 65 stylish rooms and a rooftop spa (doubles from €118).
Alexander Krichel returned to his hometown of Hamburg a few years ago, and lives close to the city’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall