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Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012

Courtesy of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg has always been a cosmopolitan city, with the famously louche St. Pauli district (where the Beatles played some early club dates) rubbing up against the monied quarters built by shipping and banking fortunes. Despite a slew of sleek postwar glass towers, however, Hamburg has never been known for design. That’s bound to change with the HafenCity development, a hypermodern showpiece that’s rising on the city’s old docklands. The 388-acre mega-project is being built in phases (it’s not due for completion until 2025), but it’s already giving Hamburg a welcome jolt of architectural glitz, with a handful of new hotels, boutiques, and restaurants drawing in the style set. Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, where performances will start in 2014, is the star of the show, resembling an enormous ship passing through fog—a trick of treated glass that seems to bend and twist in the silvery light. The building looms over HafenCity’s completed, visitor-ready Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai quarter, an enclave of trophy apartments built over canals. Entering feels a bit like going back in time; you cross over a canal and through a series of enormous 19th-century brick warehouses. But beyond this historic ring, everything is brand-new and topsy-turvy, with nary a straight line in sight. The Marco Polo Tower, a luxury residential building, exemplifies the off-kilter aesthetic: a narrow-waisted, broad-shouldered structure with terraces angled so that the whole building seems to be wriggling away. HafenCity is so new you can still smell the construction dust, but it’s already shifting the city’s center of gravity.

Stay

Book a corner unit with a view at the ultrahip, nautical-style 25hours Hotel HafenCity. 49-40/257-7770; doubles from $144.

Eat

Carls serves French-accented German fare (lobster bisque; dill-scented haddock). 49-40/300-322-400; dinner for two $105.

Shop

Witty Knitters sells Jutta Schweiger’s cashmere knits in an Alice in Wonderland setting. 49-40/211-117-911. —Ralph Martin

The Breakdown

Who It’s For: Architecture geeks; urban renewalists; culture mavens.

When to Go: May–Nov.

How to Do It: United flies nonstop from Newark to Hamburg daily.

Exotic Factor: Foreign

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