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Wine and dine beside the AlsterHamburg is not just a port and industrial city famed for the sex trade. In reality it's a prime tourist destination and a very pleasant place to live.

The inner town revolves around water, where the River Alster tributary widens into lakes called the Outer and the Inner Alster, before joining the main River Elbe.

Hamburg is one of Europe's greatest commercial ports. It's also on cruise-ship itineraries, especially since completion last year of a new liner terminal. 

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Cheap-deal Ryanair offers Stansted to Hamburg, but it's really to Lübeck over 30 miles north. By car, try Harwich to Hamburg with Danish DFDS ferry. 

The Hamburg Card costs 8 euros for travel all day on public transport for self and up to three under-15 kids included; or a Multi Day Ticket,18 euros, covers three days. Holders get discount on tours and entrances. 

Hamburg Tourist Board Information and hotel reservations: Tel: 0049-40-300-51-300.  

German National Tourist Office, PO Box 2695, London W1A 3TN. Tel: 020 7317 0908. 

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Whether you arrive direct by train, or by air with a bus ride into town, you'll step out at the Hauptbahnhof - the main railway station. 

City sightseeing buses start right there, outside the station, with English commentaries. A circuit by open-topped double-decker is the best way to get your bearings. A tour takes 90 minutes but you can hop on and off along the route, catching another bus 30 minutes later.

Next to the central station is the city's art gallery, rich in masterpieces. From there, a two-lake view spreads out, with bridges separating the Inner from the Outer Alster. 

Driving around the Outer Alster reveals a wealthy Hamburg where the super-rich live in big white mansions and luxury apartments with jetties for owners' yachts. 

All around the 4-mile lakeside are gardens, parks and trees. This part of Hamburg is like a garden city. 

Relaxation beside the Alster in the Bellevue district On the east bank is an area called Bellevue, which feels like a tranquil Swiss or Italian lake resort. The locals stroll along the footpath, walk their dogs, jog or cycle. You can rent a boat and go sailing. 

Another unexpected feature of Hamburg is the network of canals. Hamburg has a passing resemblance to Venice, but with more canals and 2,400 bridges. Many boat cruises include the harbour canals of the Free Port. 

The square in front of City Hall could compare with St Mark's Square, with a constant flow of visitors and festive events. Some canalside arcades reflect a classical Venetian style. 

Within this central old-town area, the shops are the equal of any major capital city, especially as the Hamburg region is reckoned to be the most prosperous in Europe.
Boat trips into the heart of the Speicherstadt warehouse city A boulevard called Jungfernstieg is the main artery for shopping. Side passages lead to 19th-century covered arcades and huge department stores. 

Of top sightseeing interest on all the bus and canal tours is the 19th-century Speicherstadt - the warehouse city of the Free Port. It's a huge storage area for tea, coffee, tobacco, cocoa and spices. 

Tour guides describe Hamburg's historic rise as a trading centre. From around the 12th century, the city was a member of the Hanseatic League - a medieval trading group of Baltic cities - which gave it Free Port rights. 

When America was discovered, trade grew both trans-Atlantic and with the Far East. From the 17th century Hamburg was booming, and the city expanded. By the 20th century, Hamburg was the world's third largest seaport after New York and London.

Just like in many other major world ports, new harbour facilities have been built. But large parts of Speicherstadt are still used for commodity storage. 

Former warehouses have been rented by carpet dealers from the East - Turkey, Iran, India etc - so that Hamburg is now the world's biggest carpet-trading centre.

Other warehouses have been converted for tourist attractions such as the Miniature Wonderland. That's an impressive model railway display, possibly among the biggest and most detailed in the world. 

It features over 450 locomotives and 5,000 wagons, plus cars, lorries, police vehicles and ambulances. If you are into the world of miniature, don't miss it! 

In the basement of the same warehouse is the Hamburg Dungeon, offering 2000 years of bloodthirsty invaders, plague, torture and a city fire of 1842. Kids love both these attractions.

Other leisure facilities in the area include many trendy bars and restaurants.
Because of the city's name, you might want to sample a hamburger, but local restaurants offer much more varied dishes. Especially there's rich supply of fish restaurants. A popular choice is a bowl of fish soup or a plate of mussels, but there are numerous variations of seafood cuisine. 

Because of Hamburg's shipping history, there is great choice of world menus that reflect the city's many immigrant backgrounds. Every brand of oriental cooking is available - Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian - through to Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek and Balkan. 

For evening entertainment, weekend stag-parties focus on the Reeperbahn district, famed for its choice of 6,000 ladies at last count.

Historic high-rise buildings along the Nikolaifleet canal But it's not all strip clubs and sex shows. From 8 pm onwards, the area's bars, discos, up-market night-clubs, music theatres and a casino are in full swing. 

Hamburg boasts that it's Germany's leading city for all styles of music. Here's where the Beatles first played on the international scene. Current musicals include The Lion King and Mama Mia!

Hamburg hosts an annual Summer Festival until late September with major events throughout the season. It's worth checking from the internet what's on the programme before you travel.


Other German highlights to consider

BERLIN - the sparkling face-lift

GERMAN XMAS MARKETS visit Cologne and Aachen

RHINE - Enjoy a classic Rhine/Moselle cruise

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Hamburg (City Map S.)  - Hamburg is a big city, and you'll save time and money by starting with a decent map.

The Beatles in Hamburg  by Jurgen Vollmer - The history of the Beatles during their spell in the Reeperbahn.

Hamburg (Cool Restaurants Series) - When the day's business or tourist sightseeing is done, choose from this recommended list of bars, lounges and restaurants to finish the day in a good mood. 

The Rough Guide to Germany - If you're travelling further around than just Hamburg, this comprehensive volume will act like a permanent investment.

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