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Why did Rick snub Hamburg in his book?

So we're in the early stages of planning a trip that includes Germany. We have lived in/traveled to southern and eastern Germany, so we thought we'd check out some northern and western cities. So without researching, we initially said we'd do Berlin, Hamburg and Köln. So I went ahead and ordered Rick's 2010 book. So I finally sat down to peruse it today, and I found that the word Hamburg appears NOwhere in the book except on the map of Germany. Literally, the word "Hamburg" isn't even in the index. I'm sort of surprised. Considering it's one of the biggest cities in Germany, I thought surely there is interesting things to do there... I mean, even Frankfurt which is known as being industrial is in the book (because apparently there really are things to do/see in Frankfurt. And I would have never known it if it wasn't for Rick!) So another thing I noted was that his map (the real map, not the one that he drew) has the city names in grey and black. Grey denoting a city that isn't worth your time, and black denoting a city that IS worth your time. Hamburg is in black. I mean, his book even includes a few Austrian cities. So why didn't he cover Hamburg in any way in this book. Can some of the Germany experts on here shed some light? I do have the Let's Go book for Western Europe, so I can use that, but I really value Rick's opinions, and wonder why he didn't touch on this city...

Posted by
389 posts

Rick does not intend for his books to be comprehensive, and he has famously ignored northern Germany (as well as vast swathes of other countries). I suppose his biggest market is first-time visitors, and he offers what he believes are the most worthwhile sights for a brief introductory visit. I'm sure his experience tells him that such visitors find Bavaria, the Rhine, and Berlin to be the most rewarding destinations. His personal opinions and biases are certainly evident, like with Heidelberg. There are a lot of tourists on the Hauptstrasse in the summer, but I think it's hard to deny that the Heidelberg Castle is one of the great sights of Germany. I would go with the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet. I found Let's Go to be pretty superficial.

Posted by
3580 posts

A good way to avoid the RS crowd is to study the books then go to a place not listed. My favorite non-RS town is Ventimiglia, Italy. It has food, beds, and everything.

Posted by
12988 posts

Amy, If you interested in going to Germany at all, I suggest skipping the RS books entirely. As suggested, read and study Rough Guide: Germany and Let's Go: Germany, which is more detailed than its Western Europe book. They will provide you the information needed to plan a good trip in seeing northern German cities, such as Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen, Kiel, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt aM, Schwerin, Köln, and the smaller cities. Hamburg is indeed the cultural center of north Germany. That in itself makes the city worth going to to. I assume this time you want to concentrate solely on the places up north instead of those in the north and in the east.

Posted by
541 posts

He ignores Hamburg and even says not so nice things about Bordeaux, France to the dismay of the locals and people in that location's tourist board and to the delight of those who have actually been there in the 21st century. It's an actual 'off the beaten path' location (please pardon the vulgar cliche). Venture there and you will feel like those first 'pioneers' in the CT in the early years. Go there and have fun and report back....especially if you want the rest of us there!

Posted by
932 posts

Well, I certainly am glad that I got the $3.00 used RS Germany instead of paying retail! Especially if it's going to be less than helpful on this trip... I actually have a really old Let's Go: Germany, and then I have the 2009 Let's Go Europe which gives snippets of these cities. They'll be a good start until we decide where we're definitely going, then I'll invest in a newer one for more up to date info. I just pulled them off the shelf and dusted them off and you're right. Tons of info on these cities. Thanks for the input. I feel sacrilegious talking about other guidebooks on here! ;) Oh, and speaking of Köln, RS only suggests a day trip here. BTW, anyone who's been to Hamburg or Köln and reads this, I'd love to hear something about your trip... It will be so fascinating exploring a German city that I've never been to, and one that seems like it will be so different than the ones I've already been to. I haven't done that in a long time!

Posted by
8174 posts

I laugh everytime someone says they heard that Frankfurt is "industrial". What industry? The main businesses here are banks, trade fairs, the university, international company offices and being a transportation hub. This is a financial city, not industrial. It is sad that northern Germany gets such short shrift, as well as the other towns that get dissed, like Heidelberg, Mainz and Wiesbaden. Rick seems to be going over some of his old territory and so it would be grand if he came and re-did his Germany book as it is really, really, lacking.

Posted by
28113 posts

Frankfurt - Industrial? Eh? Having been there many times I can't think of any major industry. Its not in the Ruhr, you know? Skyscrapers - yes. Old town near the river? Yes. Lots of offices and banks - yup. Surrounded by lots of quaint and lovely towns, villages, high hills, spas? Yup. Industrial - nope.

Posted by
18377 posts

Does Rick promote anyplace to which his tours don't go? A few years ago, I was near Baden-Baden, so, based on Rick book, I went there. I was underimpressed. Other than casinos, in which I have no interest, or Thermen, and I've been to three others in the Black Forest, there wasn't much there of interest. There was one glitzy pedestrian shopping street. Perhaps it is the hiking on the Merkur, but there are plenty of places to hike in the Black Forest. And Reutte. I had a stopover in Reutte between trains a few years ago, and I couldn't believe Rick promotes it. Perhaps it's where his buses stop outside of town (zum Schluxen), practically inaccessible to someone using public transportation. It's a short trip by a tour bus to Fuessen, but a major undertaking by public buses. And the town is a dump. Just up the Ausserfernbahn, Pfronten is a much nicer town and has better access by public transportation to Fuessen. Why he promotes Reutte instead of Pfronten is a mystery.

Posted by
12040 posts

I would only use Mr. Steves' Germany guide as a supplement once you have already determined your overall itinerary. I have no idea on his thought process on what to include and what to exclude, but I find many of the choices in the Germany book very puzzling. This issue has been extensively debated (quite fiercely at times), so instead of revisiting that fight, I'll give a shout out for Hamburg. Hamburg is not just my favorite city in north Germany, it's my favorite large city in the whole country (with all apologies to Jo in Frankfurt). It's a very elegant, but vibrant town that has a completely different feel than the south of Germany. Beautiful architecture (much more impressively rebuilt than Munich, in my opinion), great food, great music (classical and contemporary), great museums. If you want high-end shopping, the district around the Rathaus and Binnenalster is chocked full. If you want classy nightlife... plenty of options. If you want a wilder time , there's this street called the Reeperbahn you may have heard of. Anyhow, it's a fantastic city that I would recommend without qualification. And once again, only the man himself can tell you the reason why Hamburg didn't make the Blue Book... but the book is that much weaker without it.

Posted by
11973 posts

My wife has a cousin in Hamburg who was nice enough to show me around when I was there. It's a big, important city with major history going back to, at least, the middle ages. I loved the Rathaus, harbor tour and the Martin Luther history there. St. Pauli used to be a rough, red-light area but is now trendy and upscale. Another northern German city I love, that is way too small to ever get on Rick's map is Schlesswig, about 30km from the Danish border and not too far from Kiel. Although it's a provincial capital it's small, beautiful and relaxing. You're almost certain to be the only American there. Rick's books are "greatest hits" for people with only two weeks to see an area. He concentrates on a relatively small part of Germany. I understand his method. Travelers, however, need to look beyond the recommendations in his book to experience any "back doors".

Posted by
8174 posts

I would love to give a shout-out to Hamburg, as I think I would really like this city, just haven't been able to visit it yet. I am trusting the good judgement of Tom and the others who have been there. Hopefully will get to see Hamburg this year. I want to see Erfurt though too, and Dresden and Lübeck, and Quedlinburg, and the Spreewald and the Harz Mountains. Ah, too little time and not enough money.

Posted by
635 posts

Rick is pretty straight forward about his choice of sites. He writes that it's based on his "instincts" and years of experience with people touring Europe. Most of his books are based on trips up to three weeks over a specified area. The England book covers Cornwall and other spots in southern England but this area is totally absent from the Great Britain book. I consider it pretty much designed for first timers wanting to get an overview and see the "highlights." They are definitely Rick's opinion of what constitutes the "highlights." If someone has been to France 15 times, they have definitely outgrown Rick's books. Even a first time visitor would be wise to check out other travel guides. The problem I see with many of the competing guides is that they aren't as specific on what are the best sites. At least Rick gives you a point to agree or disagree with.

Posted by
1976 posts

I really liked Hamburg and want to go back. There are so many museums and churches (that's my thing). The Aussenalster and Binnenalster are very pretty and you can take a boat ride on one or both of them. HafenCity (Harbor City) is an up-and-coming neighborhood on the water, with cool contemporary architecture - apartment buildings and the symphony building, which was designed to look like waves. I didn't make it to the Reeperbahn but I hear that's something to see. I liked Cologne a lot also. I was there for just a day and a night but the cathedral and Ludwig Museum are must-sees, as well as the Altstadt (Old City).

Posted by
11450 posts

Rick snubs lots of places,, its why so many newbies to travel think Paris has only three or four areas worth staying in or visiting,, its a bit annoying, but I do understand why he does it. He does not profess to be an expert on everything, he only gives his opinions and encourages people to think for themselves too,, unfortunately some people miss out on that idea ...

Posted by
671 posts

That is why I always buy another guide to supplement/complement the RS guides. I have found Lonely Planet guides to be very good, but be careful to note their publication date (they are not published annually) because you don't want a guidebook that is 2 or 3 years old.

Posted by
258 posts

Travel destinations within a particular country are TOTALLY subjective...but that said, I think Ken above hit the nail on the head. Rick is sharing his intincts after nearly 30 years of traveling to European countries, writing about them, researcing them thoroughly, etc. In relation to Germany, I think Rick advocates the places that we Americans, particularly those 1st-time travelers amongst us, think of as quintessentialy "German." And for most, that's usually what you find in Southen Germany. And I can't say I necessarily disagree with him (as someone who has been to Germany a few times). For example, let's say a friend had a very limited time for Germany and could only visit ONE city; I would never suggest he visit, say, Frankfurt, over Munich (no disrespect to anyone who lives in Frankfurt or to those here who happen to love Frankfurt!). And I'd include Hamburg in that group, too (again, all of this is in my humble opinion!) If YOU wish to visit Hamburg, don't let anyone (including Rick!) stop you. As Rick always says, he does not include EVERYTHING in his books (such as, say, Frommer's, Fodor's, etc.); rather he's including what HE thinks is the BEST for his targets (typically, athough not exclusively, Americans, and yes, our Canadian bros./sisters, who are budget concious, have somewhat limited time for travel, are somewhat novice travelers, and want to maximize both their time and travel $$).

Posted by
4125 posts

I think what you want is a different book, Europe Through the Back Door, which is about skills to get the most out of anyplace you go in Europe. Rick's itinerary books were originally his notebooks for his tour guides, which people kept making off with so he decided to publish them. Of course they are not comprehensive. Get the other. And a bunch of other itinerary-planning books; they are like gold.

Posted by
932 posts

Well, I'm loving the feedback on this post! Hamburg is already on our itinerary... Tom, your post is what got me most excited about it! And thanks to the rest of you who put your favorite parts of Hamburg on here. As some on here seem to have insinuated, just because it's not in Rick's book doesn't mean that we won't go there. I'm simply disappointed because I LOVE the way Rick sets his chapters on each city. So I'll just be without Rick's input in that city. And some others seemed to insinuate that I can't travel without Rick's guidance (or "think for myself") which isn't really the case either. My husband and I are at home in Germany, and aren't intimidated or confused traveling to a new German city. I was just curious if anyone knew why he may have left it out of his Germany book. I have no problem utilizing other guidebooks to explore a city. I also found on our last European trip that Tripadvisor's ratings of Attractions was really informative as well.
Oh, and I didn't mean to describe Frankfurt incorrectly. I couldn't think of the right term for a city known more for business than sights... And I can't believe I've been to a few places in Germany that Jo has not! ;) I've actually been to Spreewald once and Dresden twice. Thanks again for all your input!

Posted by
1525 posts

Amy, You will have a great time on your trip! I understand completely your hope to have Rick Steves-style coverage for the area. It is a very appealing style that is impractical to apply to every location in every country. Besides the other reasons others have already mentioned, it would simply take too much space. The Italy book is already 1000 pages long, for example, and does not include Sicily at all. But the Germany book in particular, is less comprehensive than any other sizable country I can think of. This has been a longstanding source of consternation here, particularly for those who love (or live in) Germany. Probably best not to pick at that scab more than is necessary. As Rick himself has often said in one way or another; You should always consult other books, web sites and forums just like this to find information, particularly if this is not your first trip abroad. Happy Travels!

Posted by
12988 posts

True...one's travel destinations are "totally subjective." RS has his one and only focus in Germany south of Frankfurt, ie., south of the Main, ie., southern Germany, which the locals know that Americans basically go to while omitting the rest of the country. Yes, going to Spreewald is worth it and interesting. I took a day trip there from Berlin to Lübben in 1999. While I have not been as far north as the city of Schleswig, I was in Eutin/Holstein as a day trip from Kiel in the late 1970s....definitely, the chances are that you'll be the only American walking around admiring the sights. That's a nice small cultural town.

Posted by
1806 posts

Amy, I don't think Pat's comment about the need to think for yourself was directed at you. She was simply making an observation that some people who use the guides to visit Paris don't want to make the slightest deviation from The Gospel According to Rick, even though Rick wants people to get comfortable with the basics and then branch out and see some other places he can't cover. This includes a couple posters here who travel regularly but insist the only worthwhile sights, neighborhoods and hotels are those that have been annointed by "The Master" - hey, it's what they call him despite the fact it makes the rest of us think these particular Disciples would wear a dog collar and one of those leather hoods with a zipper over the mouth if they thought it would please The Master! Their insistence on following the Blue Bible to the letter causes some 1st time visitors to go into panic mode if they are unable to get a RS-approved hotel in a RS-approved neighborhood (hence, the many postings on here about Rue Cler or Cinque Terre). By all means, if there is someplace you really want to try that isn't in a RS guide, go for it! It's what "The Master" would really want...

Posted by
12040 posts

Maybe there's one more reason he didn't include Hamburg in his book... he (or his researcher) has never been there?

Posted by
8174 posts

I am with Tom on this one as that is what I think too. There is no way that Rick could have visited Hamburg, the 2nd largest city in Germany with-out even a mention. There is no way he could have visited Mainz or Wiesbaden and then totally written them off as being "too big" and not worth your while to visit. What the heck does that mean? Mainz has one of the most impressive, and oldest cathedrals in Germany as well as it being important historically. Certainly more important than Cologne. Add in the many Roman ruins and Mainz becomes a very attractive city for short time visitors. It has a bit of everything that a tourist to Germany could want. How could he have visited Wiesbaden, a city absolutely chock full of the most gorgeous architecture and not been impressed? Add in the baths and casino and it ought to get more of a nod than Baden-Baden. How many times have we been asked the question on this forum if Heidelberg is worth visiting because Rick says it isn't? Of course not every city and town can be mentioned in a guide book, but to omit half of a country seems odd. Especially when that half contains just as many "real German" towns as Bavaria. It would also be nice to drop the "not worth your time" proclamations in the guide books. Especially when they are based on some arbitrary list of worthiness, that none of us know about. It certainly cannot be because of their historic value or their tourist attractions.

Posted by
24 posts

I agree Hamburg, Bremen, and Heidelberg are good places to visit. Don't know why the are not covered.
I also wonder why Lux City is no longer covered in his book on the area. Also why is Lucca, Italy is not in his book but on his tours?

Posted by
11450 posts

Amy ,,did not mean you personally, it was a general statement.

Posted by
711 posts

Hi Amy,
Rick has often stated that he can't cover everything, and that there are tons of places worth visiting that are not in his books. Hamburg is likely one of them, in many people's opinions. Generally, southern Germany/Bavaria are more of the tourist targets, so they get the most press. Grab the Rough Guide, and head to Hamburg. I agree with you though, I really enjoy Rick's takes on cities, and I always miss them when I visit cities that he doesn't cover. I still have a good time, though!

Posted by
153 posts

Amy;
I don't rely on just one source of information. Via the internet I look up tourism for the city or cities you would like to visit. If you find the official site you can either down load maps and other interesting information or even request materials via the mail. I've compiled quite a library of information so far.

Posted by
516 posts

Some of the best sites in Europe are the small towns. Bamberg and Rothenburg for example. I think most of us started our EU travel in the big cities so that is why Rick focuses on those and first time travelers.

Posted by
31521 posts

It's great that someone has resurrected this Thread. The discussion continues..... To answer the original question, I don't believe that Rick has deliberately "snubbed Hamburg" (or other locations in Europe). This is likely more a decision based on pragmatism. ETBD very diligently uppdates the Guidebooks every year, an effort which requires a lot of time, effort and expense on the part of Rick and his Guides. Each location, Hotel, restaurant, etc. has to be re-visited and the information verified. At some point, "saturation" occurs and it becomes impossible to add anything new to the list. I don't know for sure, but suspect that the destinations chosen for Rick's Guidebooks were chosen primarily based on their popularity with American travellers. Why spend a lot of time and effort researching a place that few are interested in visiting (regardless of how interesting the place might be). As the network of Guides increases, it's certainly possible that new locations will be added. Guidebook research would be a good activity for them in the "off season". Cheers!

Posted by
2995 posts

My husband is a model railroad geek and we've been meaning to get up to Hamburg for a while specifically to see the Minatur Wunderland but that video makes it seem interesting even to me, and I have no interest in tiny trains. I'm glad you resurrected this thread - it gives a lot of good information on Hamburg and I'm excited to visit, hopefully in May. Also isn't Rick including Hamburg in his new edition of the Germany book?

Posted by
2829 posts

It is not a crime to go to a RS not-recommended place. It is not a sin to skip "must sees" of RS books if you don't feel like going there. The Helpline Travel Holy Church, whose main shrine is in now buried in mud in Vernazza, will not expel you or ban you if you don't follow religiously the "best itineraries" guideline on its Bible. Have fun in Hamburg.

Posted by
28113 posts

I guess that those religious references are supposed to be funny. I don't see them that way.

Posted by
2 posts

I agree that northern Germany has some of the most overlooked really nice sights and sites in the country. A few years ago my brother and I had the great fortune to meet a couple that live near Hannover who have since become our best friends. They have shown us places that we'd had no idea would be so fantastic to visit! (And, I'd lived in Wiesbaden for 5 years!) I'd definitely recommend Hamburg along with Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, the Harz mountains, Duhnen, Steinhuder, and many other small towns in the area. If interested, you can check out some of northern Germany on our website ( home.comcast.net/~bepineurope ). Currently the only northern places on the site are at main menu/archived stuff/2009 EuroTrip, but, we are posting photos from last year's trip each month at main menu/2011 EuroTrip. Starting next month we'll be adding literally hundreds of more photos from different places in northern Germany (and from places in the former East Germany). Northern Germany... Just say YES!

Posted by
12040 posts

A confession... and not in the religious sense, Nigel... the main reason I visited Hamburg was to check out Miniatur Wunderland. It alone justified the trip, but even if Miniatur Wunderland didn't exist, Hamburg would still be worth a visit. Now that I've watched the video, I want to go back. In the several months since this thread was originally posted, didn't I read that Hamburg is in the Blue Book now?

Posted by
18377 posts

True, Rick snubs northern Germany, but most travelers here, particularly those new to European travel, snub anything outside of big cities. Why? A great place to visit in northern Germany is in and around the Harz N.P. Inside the Harz you have a plethora of nice little villages, all accessible by bus. There is a narrow gauge steam train to the top of northern Germany's highest peak, the Brocken. On the flat lands just north of the mountains are the towns of Bad Harzburg, Wernigerode, and Quedlinburg, with plenty of Fachwerk buildings.

Posted by
31521 posts

Although Hamburg may not be covered in ETBD Guidebooks, there are lots of other ways to obtain information (especially now in the "internet age"). Travellers interested in visiting places such as Hamburg could also use Lonely Planet, Let's Go, Frommers, Cadogan Guides and of course the tourism sites sponsored by each city. Some of these may also have E-book versions or PDF chapters covering specific destinations. I just downloaded the Lonely Planet "Sicily" chapter and the cost was very reasonable.

Posted by
18377 posts

I understand that Rick pans Berchtesgaden for being "too touristy". It that true? Hard to believe. I've been to Berchtesgaden, twice. I never thought it was that touristy. I've also been on the middle Rhine, which Rick really features. I found the middle Rhine to be much more touristy than Berchtesgaden.

Posted by
932 posts

I, too, am excited that my thread was resurrected! Bob, thanks for the link to your website. It's really cutely put together! And no worries, Hamburg is on our itinerary, whether or not it ends up in a Rick Steves' book. I just like how he sets his books up. I realize that I can use other travel guides (and I do!) to plan our trip. Thanks everyone for the great advice!

Posted by
2995 posts

Lee - No, he recommends Berchtesgaden as a good trip for people visiting Salzburg. He does say the town itself "can be inundated with Germans during peak season, when you may find yourself in a traffic jam of tourists desperately trying to turn their money into fun." And the only sights he lists are the nazi sights, salt mine, and Koeningsee, so he really doesn't talk about the town itself at all, just the sites around it. Still, it's technically recommended. Eh, it seems fairer than the Heidelburg thing, anyway.

Posted by
12988 posts

I agree with Bob's assessment of cities in Northern Germany. Cuxhaven is worth a visit and the ferry link to England. The naval museum is in Wilhelmshaven. It is a contradiction to recommend Hamburg as a place to be visited and wanting at the same time to avoid seeing Americans tourists there. But you will not see Americans there in the same numbers as you would in Munich or Frankfurt. For seeing North Germany, be it Schleswig-Holstein, or Mecklenburg, Lower Saxony, use Rough Guide and Let's Go.

Posted by
212 posts

This reply is not in reference to Germany, but on the general question of how valuable the RS shows and guides are. I became aware of them about midway through our many trips to Europe, and have bored my husband with references to Rick during several of our trips since. On the upside, his show on Burgundy inspired us to begin a two -week road trip in France with Vezelay and Fontenay, but in the same day of that trip made us wonder what we were missing in Beaune after seeing the wonderful hospice and the van der Weyden. Played down by Rick were the amazing Roman sites in nearby Autun, and the important early Gothic cathedral there, which we found more about in the DK guide. But that night, we had a wonderful dinner at a vineyard hotel outside Beaune that we read about through Rick. We couldn't have seen as much of central and southern France without the guide and the shows. In particular, information on the Dordogne was very helpful, beyond what we found elsewhere. (and information from several people who are regular posters on the helpline, such as Ed and Adam, was invaluable in helping judge travel times and how to narrow some choices.). I can say that in several trips for which I have used RS information, the only bum steer for me and my husband was his rave review of the history museum in York, which we found ok but not worth our breakneck race to find it before closing time.
We have taken group tours only twice (once many years ago through the Peloponnesus and last year to Machu Picchu, but this summer we are doing a RS tour in Scotland. Will be helpful, we decided, in covering the Highlands.

Posted by
1005 posts

Ahem, please turn to page 781 in Rick Steves's Germany 2012. You will find a detailed chapter on Hamburg. Can't say why Rick didn't cover it before, but it's there now.

Posted by
932 posts

No kidding, T! I will check that out next time I go to a bookstore... I guess he saw my post! ;) Luckily, we're not going until 2013, so I can wait to buy a discounted copy!