There's no mistaking the importance of Hamburg's waterfront location - the city built great wealth on its port, and today it's the second-biggest metropolis in Germany. The water influences all, from the huge dockside warehouses to the seafood menus plus this nifty bit of trivia: Hamburg has more bridges than any other city.
Icelandair offers frequent cheap flights to Hamburg from North America for bridge photos, fish sandwiches, and Beatles pilgrimages.
Before you check out Hamburg's huge port, want to visit Reykjavík's cozy Old Harbor for some whale watching? When you book flights to Hamburg with Icelandair you have the opportunity to add a stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare.
The Rathaus and the red-light Reeperbahn, fish market and flea market, harbor tours and HafenCity - Hamburg will keep you busy. The elaborate Rathaus (town hall) is a good starting place: it was built in the 1890s, when Hamburg was flourishing as a trade port. Contrast this with the dazzling, ultra-modern Elbphilharmonie concert hall, a landmark seemingly topped by a giant glass wave. Visit for a stellar city view.
More architectural highlights are in the warehouse district of Speicherstadt. These enormous red-brick complexes have Unesco World Heritage recognition, and a boat tour offers a scenic way to appreciate them. Bucking the trend that bigger is better: Miniatur Wunderland is an incredibly popular model railway exhibition, and a truly magical attraction that's rich in detail.
There's no escaping the seafaring heritage of the city at Hamburg's noisy, atmospheric Fischmarkt in St Pauli, a city institution since 1703. It requires an early start (it begins at 5am). Get a fried-fish sandwich for a real taste of the city - there are vendors all over, especially around the port. Another uber-local taste: Franzbrötchen, a flat criossant laced with cinnamon.
Close to Speicherstadt, the cobbled Deichstrasse is good hunting ground at dinnertime; for a fresher feel, hit the uber-cool Sternschanze neighborhood (also known as Schanzenviertel or simply Schanze). In summer sunshine it's hard to beat a picnic in the flower-filled Planten un Blomen park. For picnic fare and leisurely grazing, check out the twice-weekly Isemarkt in Eppendorf - it's one of Europe's largest farmers markets, with some 200 stalls stretching an impressive half a mile.
One of the best shopping stops is the Flohschanze, a Saturday flea market held along Neuer Kamp street in the Karolineviertel, just south of Sternschanze. Take a stroll around this area for fun shops and cafes with a creative, hipster vibe.
For a different feel (and catering to a different budget) is the boutique-laden, arcaded Jungfernstieg promenade, joined to the city's mainstream shopping strip, Mönkebergstrasse, by the large Europa Passage mall. Be sure to cruise Neuer Wall to see Hamburg's prosperity first-hand - this strip is almost wall-to-wall luxury brands. For something more local, the street named Lange Reihe near the central station has a couple of stores selling cute, Hamburg-made items.