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Hamburg: A City Made for Heartbeats

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Now with three dynamic races to choose from, there are more reasons than ever to put this top destination on your must-visit list.

Hamburg, Germany was recently named by the New York Times as one of this year's 52 top travel destinations. But if the brand-new architectural marvel, the Elbphilharmonie and the opening of a new 5-star hotel aren't enough to get your heart beating faster, look no further than the IRONMAN portfolio, with its three events hosted by the welcoming German metropolis. 

The sold-out IRONMAN Hamburg and World Triathlon Hamburg events are joined by CYCLASSICS Hamburg in August (entries still available). The latter event combines Germany's only pro race (of the highest UCI World Tour category) and Europe's biggest amateur cycling event, with more than 20,000 participants flooding the streets in and around Hamburg. (For a more cycling-oriented travel guide, check out our article Hamburg: Europe's Cycling Gem.)

Whether you've secured your spot on one of those start lines already or have yet to jump in on the action, read on for how to make your stay memorable.

Why visit Hamburg?

While it’sa not often thought of as one of Europe’s "big" cities, Hamburg is actually the second largest city in Germany and eighth largest in the European Union. It’s also one of the most affluent cities in Europe, thanks in large part to having one of the busiest ports in the entire world. One of the biggest draws for athletes to visit during the summer months is the weather. Thanks to its proximity to the North and Baltic Seas, Hamburg has one of the mildest climates in Germany, with summer highs generally between 70-75 Fahrenheit (21-25 Celsius).

While longer bike rides within the city limits are somewhat difficult, Hamburg is an absolute runner's paradise. It’s really divided into two cities, which are further divided into seven boroughs. Much like New York or Chicago, it’s truly a city of distinct neighborhoods. There are two lakes within the city center: The Binnenalster (or Inner Alster) and Außenalster (or Outer Alster), which are both man-made lakes that were formed by damming off the Alster River. Whether you’re just in town to train, or you’re there to race, it’s around these two lakes that you’ll be spending most of your time. There is a running and cycling path along the western side of the both lakes that offers an incredible view of the Old City and Hamburg’s famous Town Hall, which is truly one of the most spectacular buildings in all of Europe and serves as a dramatic finish-line backdrop on race day.

See and do

Hamburg Rathaus: Located in the heart of the city center (and only a few feet from the race start and finish) the Hamburg Rathaus (or Town Hall) is worth a stop for a photo opp. Built in 1897, the neo-Renaissance Town Hall was designed to be a symbol of Hamburg’s wealth and independence. It still serves as the seat of Hamburg’s government today, but the lobby area is open to the public and often hosts concerts and opera throughout the year.

Fischmarkt: With its location on two seas and three rivers, it’s no wonder Hamburg boasts one of the world’s best fish markets. Located in the St. Pauli neighborhood, the Fischmarkt has and endless array of local seafood in addition to a huge farmers market with unique fruits and vegetables. The catch is that it’s only open on Sundays from 5 am until 9:30 am. Do it like a local and stay out all Saturday night to hit the Fischmarkt before going to bed on Sunday morning.

Hamburger Kunsthalle: Located on the banks of the Außenalster is Hamburg’s finest art museum, which showcases an impressive collection spanning from the Renaissance to present day. The cost is 12 Euro for adults and it’s free for children.

Mahnmal St-Nikolai: St. Nikolai Church got a two-year run as the world’s tallest building from 1874-1876 and is still the second tallest building in Hamburg. You can take a glass lift up 250 feet to the top of the spires to get an incomparable view of the city center. The basement of the church serves as a museum demonstrating some of the horrors of World War II, including when the church was almost completely destroyed in 1943. Admission is 5 Euro for adults and 3 for children.

Eat and drink

Strandperle: Thanks to plenty of posterity and the fact that it’s in Germany, Hamburg has a reputation as being a bit of a party city. There’s no better way to start-off a night of post-race or post-training drinking than the Strandperle on the banks of the Elbe River. Dip your toes in the sand and sip on fine German beers while mammoth freighters float on by. Get there by taking ferry 62 from Landungsbrücken or bus 112 from Altona station to Neumühlen/Oevelgönne.

Le Canard Nouveau: If fine dining is more your things, Michelin-starred chef Ali Güngörmüs’ Le Canard Nouveau is located just a few feet from Strandperle on the banks of the Elbe. Güngörmüs blends French tenchinques with his Turkish heritage and local German ingredients for a unique dining experience. Prices are surprisingly reasonable for a one-star Michelin restaurant, with most main courses running about 35 Euro.

Konditorei Holger Rönnfeld: Visiting a proper German bakery is a must while in Hamburg and there’s no better one in town than Konditorei Holger Rönnfeld, located in the St. Pauli neighborhood. The bakery can barely fit three people at a time, so expect to stand in line for a few minutes outside while you decide what kind of pastries, tarts or cake you’re in the mood for.

Getting there

Getting to Hamburg is incredibly easy from anywhere in Europe, with plenty of daily direct flights from just about every major airport on the continent. There are also direct flights from Newark on United and Dubai on Emirates. The airport is located just nine kilometers north of the city and the S1 S-Bahn train will have you to the city center in less than 20 minutes.

Where to stay

The Marriot Hamburg is the official race hotel of the WTS event, and is located just a few blocks from the race start and finish. Average room rates are around $170 (USD) per night. For a an even more upscale option, check out the nearby Radisson Blu, or to save a few bucks, try the Hotel Ibis Alster Centrum.

You can book an inexpensive stay at the many hostels in town. A special one is Superbude. There are two of them, but we recommend the St. Pauli one, as long as you don't mind company or travel with a large group of friends try to get Rockstar suite. It features a giant fridge, guitar, flat screen TV, HiFi surround system and a bed that rather is a wall-long stage.

If you want an authentic experience in Hamburg, rent an apartment. There are several websites you can choose from, so surf the internet for a nice flat in Schanzenviertel or St. Pauli if you are into the nightlife scene. HohenfeldeUhlenhorst, or Winterhude are great for the quieter athlete, or look for something in the outskirts (RothenburgsortWilhelmsburg) if your main concern is to be out of town with access to cycling paths.

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