By Clark Mitchell
June 16, 2009

When you think of Germany, maybe it's the new Berlin—with its cosmopolitan flair and growing arts scene—that comes to mind? (If it's Lederhosen and dirndls, you need to book a ticket now and update your idea of the place.)

For whatever reason, U.S. travelers tend to skip my home-away-from-home, Hamburg. I lived here in the north of Germany off and on for several years in the '90s and make a visit to the Hanseatic city at least once a year. The town has a pedigree of chic (natives include Karl Lagerfeld and Jil Sander), more canals than Venice, and parks galore, but there are many more reasons to go, as I found out on a visit last month:

*The flashy new district being carved out of the harbor called "Hafen City": old warehouses are being transformed into apartments, shops, restaurants, and even a new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie—designed by Herzog & de Meuron—set to open May 2012. Try Carls an der Elbphilharmonie (69 Am Kaiserkai; 49-40/300-322-400; dinner for two $120) for oysters from the German island of Sylt and the best views of all the neighborhood's goings on.

*The newly-cleaned 112-year old Rathaus: Hamburg's city hall and home to the senate—Hamburg is a city-state, like Berlin. Canals criss-cross the Old City and are full of the Alster swans, which are released from their winter pens to great fanfare each spring.

*The newly restored landmark of Hamburg, St. Michael's Church, which sits high above the Elbe River. Sailors coming into the harbor can spot it miles away.

*Blankenese: the former sea captains quarter, overlooking the harbor, is filled with thatched houses and is traversed on foot only—no cars allowed. Be sure and wear your walking shoes; the steps are steep. Stop for lunch (fried flounder, potato salad, beer) at Restaurant Ahrberg (right; 33 Strandweg; 49-40/860-438; lunch for two $40).

        Clark Mitchell is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.