1. Hamburg, Germany
This port city has always had a reputation as an international, diverse place – something that dates at least as far back as 1189, when Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I granted it Free Imperial City status.
Today the city – which sits near two seas and has within it three rivers and many canals – wears its working-class port city heritage proudly while also offering tremendous culture and nightlife.
The Ballinstadt museum exists to commemorate those who left everything behind to make a life in the new world. By the time of the great migration to America, Hamburg’s role as a major port city meant that this was the place many people left from. Their museum tells their story with dignity and truth.
A somewhat different story is on offer at Miniatur Wunderland. The vast model train and city complex genuinely baffles – you’ll love the creations and be amazed by the dedication it took to create them. The USA section alone features such highlights as the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and of course, Area 51.
Like many places, Schanzenviertel isn’t what it used to be. But the former workers’ neighborhood, now deep in the throes of gentrification, still attracts a crowd for its bars, galleries and general bohemian lifestyle. See it now, before all the creatives are priced out.
Few local experiences will be better than an FC St Pauli match. By German standards, the club is nothing special. A mid-level club that yo-yos between Germany’s first and second divisions in that country’s promotion/relegation system, St Pauli is nobody’s idea of a European power.
And yet the club draws fans, thanks largely to its reputation as a cool, even hipster club. The club is also a noted backer of social causes. Go along to a match and there’s a good bet you won’t be the only non-local. That does not preclude, however, a post-match night out in the club’s docklands neighborhood.
2. Gothenburg, Sweden
Like Sweden’s capital and largest city, Stockholm, this west coast port city is built on an archipelago. For visitors, seeing it by boat is an absolute must. The city’s classic Paddan tour on low, open boats weaves through narrow waterways out into the port. One tip: when the tour guide says put your head down, do it – you’ll have just enough clearance for some of the lower bridges that way.
On land, this city that was Sweden’s port connection to the rest of western Europe also offers culture, family fun and some great nights out.
The city’s main boulevard, Avenyn, offers luxury shopping, clubs and all sorts of restaurant options. Haga is where you go for an old country feel of cobblestone streets and traditional wooden buildings, plus Skansen Kronan, a 17th century fortress. (Sweden and its Scandinavian neighbors might be some of the globe’s most peaceful countries now, but they spent centuries at war with themselves and others, and they have the fortified positions to show for it.)
Outdoor adventures can be had in the Gothenburg Botanical Garden, part of the Änggårdsbergen nature reserve. There’s a Japanese garden, an herb garden, a rock garden and a sprawling walk through one of Europe’s largest botanical gardens.
For people who want their fun to happen more in the built environment, visit a place that has thrilled generations of Swedes, Liseberg. The amusement park first opened in 1923 and still retains some of that older charm, even as it has added the sorts of rides and fun that the been-to-Orlando modern amusement park-goer wants.
To really get a feel for the local, go see one of Sweden’s top soccer teams, IFK Göteborg. Blend in by learning the famous, and somewhat odd, chant: “Alla heter Glenn i Göteborg! Alla heter Glenn, Alla heter Glenn, Alla heter Glenn i Göteborg!” Translated, it proclaims that everyone’s named Glenn in Gothenburg. The jokey chant dates back to the ’80s, when the team was among the best in Europe and had four Glenns in the lineup. (It’s not a common Swedish name.) A rival club started the chant to make fun of the Gothenburg team, but Gothenburg fans took it up and still sing it today. Launching into the song with them is probably a great way to get a post-match beer bought for you.