The northern part of HafenCity is occupied by Speicherstadt, the old warehouse district. The city preserved the area's redbrick riverside warehouses as part of the urban landscape, and some of them now house museums and other attractions, including the International Maritime Museum and Miniatur Wunderland, featuring a sprawling model railway and miniature versions of the Alps, Scandinavia and the U.S.Downriver from HafenCity is the St. Pauli Landungsbrucken harborfront area, which locals call “the Balcony of Hamburg.” One of my favorite sightseeing experiences in Hamburg is to hop a harbor cruise and gape at the mighty port. The massive ships, container cranes and dry and wet docks are breathtaking, and the entire experience is buoyed by fascinating narration.
The most interesting place to cap off the day is the Reeperbahn. Home to many of Hamburg's Broadway-style musical theaters, this neighborhood is where the Beatles got their start (though the Beatlemania Museum closed recently).
The Reeperbahn also contains the tawdry red-light sailors' quarter. But thanks to a rising tide of affluence, the red-light district is shrinking, and these days, it's confined to one small block, defined by metal modesty walls erected during Hitler's rule. Back then, German society didn't admit to having such districts, but an exception was made for the hardworking and heroic sailors on shore leave.
After being surrounded by the seediness of the Reeperbahn, the nearby Shoulderblade district provides a wonderful breath of fresh cultural air. This trendy neighborhood hosts a squatter-building-turned-arts-venue and a strip of fun eateries booming with hip professionals. An edgy-yet-charming park has about the only reminder I saw of World War II in all of Hamburg — a bunker that has been painted and converted into a climbing wall.
Districts such as the Shoulderblade and HafenCity show off modern-day Hamburg at its finest. No longer content to be famous merely for its lusty sailors' quarter and as the Beatles' springboard to stardom, the new Hamburg expects to be seen as a cultural capital moving boldly into a promising future.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at email@example.com and follow his blog on Facebook.