HAMBURG, Germany -- It has more bridges than Venice, a red light district that rivals Amsterdam's (some say it's bigger) and is, reputedly, the only city with a lake in the middle of it.
Hamburg -- Germany's second-largest city and the country's wealthiest, now has another claim to fame. It's called HafenCity (which translates as Harbour City) -- the largest urban redevelopment project in Europe.
The project is transforming 158-hectares of the former docklands area into an urban hotspot featuring high-end design, new restaurants and shops, cultural attractions, a stylish new hotel (25hours Hotel HafenCity which was awarded a Travel+Leisure Design Award 2012), and kilometres of waterfront promenades.
By the time it's completed in 2025, an additional 50,000 people will live and work in this new city within a city, located between the Elbe River and the historic red brick warehouse district. And to make it all easily accessible a new subway line is in the works to connect HafenCity with the centre of Hamburg.
For visitors, a guided tour of HafenCity is now on the list of "must-do" activities, along with viewing art in the Kunsthalle; marvelling at the world's largest continuous warehouse complex (Speicherstadt); checking out sites with connections to the Beatles (the Fab Four got their start in Hamburg); and seeing the Reeperbahn red-light district.
Many eye-catching structures have already been completed in HafenCity including two environmentally friendly buildings -- the Unilever headquarters, and the Marco Polo Tower (luxury residential building) with its rooftop solar panels. But the showpiece is the new Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall), scheduled to open in 2017, and poised to become Hamburg's new landmark building.
Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron are behind the design, which boasts a glass facade on top of a brick foundation -- a former cocoa warehouse -- that appears to float on top of the water like an illuminated ship. Tours of the building are offered with reservations (check elbphilharmonie.de).
Other things to see and do:
-- Visit the International Maritime Museum, which recently moved into a new space in Kaispeicher B, a historic red brick warehouse in HafenCity. The museum boasts the largest private maritime collection in the world.
-- Enjoy live music, dance and other activities on the waterfront every Sunday through the end of August during the HafenCity summer program.
-- Browse the unusual souvenirs, art and jewelry made by 45 local designers at the design market Der.Die.Sein Markt -- every Saturday in the Unilever House inner courtyard, with live music and sweeping views of the Elbe River.
-- Explore HafenCity on pedestrian and bike pathways along the waterfront and watch ocean liners and cruise ships sailing on the Elbe River.
-- Check out literary events, theatre and other performances, and public art such as "Steinerne Orientteppich" (an Oriental carpet made of stone) at the Wilhelminenbridge.
ON OUR RADAR
Three exciting things worth noting:
1 REEPERBAHN FESTIVAL
The red light district will be transformed into a massive live music venue during the Reeperbahn Festival next month, when 200 bands perform in bars, theatres and churches in this storied neighbourhood. The 8th-annual festival (Sept. 26-28) will feature bands and DJs from around the world as well as street art, poetry and literature events, movies and parties. Check reeperbahnfestival.com.
2 FOLLOW THE FAB FOUR
The Beatles got their start in Hamburg playing in seedy red-light district stages, and there are still many sites to be found with a connection to the band. This year -- the 50th anniversary of the release of the band's debut album Please Please Me -- is a good time to explore them, either on your own or on a guided tour. Options include the Beatles Bus (beatlesbus.de), which takes visitors to significant Beatles locations in St. Pauli every Friday, or on a musical tour with guide Stefanie Hempel (hempels-musictour.com/en) who sings and plays Beatles songs on her ukulele along the way.
3 HOTEL BOOM
By the end of next year, visitors will have more than 11 new hotels from which to choose. A few have already opened including the Henri Hotel Hamburg
Downtown (in a historic building), the Bedpark Stellingen, the environmentally conscious Scandic Hamburg Emporio, and the budget friendly
Superbude St. Pauli. Opening soon are Citadines Michel Hamburg and Indigo St. Pauli.
NEED TO KNOW
-- For travel information, visit Hamburg Tourism at hamburg-tourism.de/en.
-- For more on HafenCity, check hafencity.com.