SO I'm sat in a funky beach bar, beneath a palm tree, cocktail in hand gazing at the shimmering blue water.

It sounds like a scene from the Caribbean, except I'm in Hamburg - not the first place you associate with beach life.

Ok so the beach is somewhat contrived, just at the edge of the bustling riverside.

But it's one of many surprises in store in this vibrant city which is not all about beer, the Beatles and seedy strip joints.

For starters not many people know Hamburg is Germany's second city and its network of streams, rivers and canals are crossed by some 2,500 bridges - more than London, Venice and Amsterdam combined.

We flew to Hamburg from Bristol Airport with BMI

The hour long flight went very smoothly.

The seats were comfy for a budget airline, with plenty of leg room and the staff friendly and efficient.

We checked into the Adina Apartment Hotel in the historic Speicherstadt district - the world's largest warehouse district, with its beautiful canals, red brick facades and winding bridges.

I stayed in a top notch apartment room in the four star hotel, complete with kitchen and office space.

The staff were friendly and efficient, there was a great variety of hot and cold food breakfast and the fitness suite and pool were spotless and well-run.

As we ventured into the city, the vibe was very laid back but fun. As my taxi driver said: "We're different here." Saturday morning we toured the warehouse district and HafenCity - the largest urban development project in Europe - based around the port.

The plans are impressive and already we could witness and enchanting mix of culture and leisure.

The highlight of our tour was the city's majestic concert hall - the Elbphilharmonie.

The breathtaking sail-shaped building towers over the river Elbe.

The glassy construction is an architectural gem and since opening last year has already played host to some of the world's foremost musicians, and being Hamburg, tickets are available at cheap prices.

Its certainly worth a tour but is best viewed on one of the delightful harbour tours.

The wharfside is crammed with snack bars and restaurants serving up great value beer and food.

I spent a pleasurable hour munching on a tasty smoked mackeral sandwich and a refreshing local brew - Astra - while I watched the world go by.

There was only one place to go on the Saturday night - the legendary Reeperbahn.

After some fine "Kalle" veal at Freudenhaus restaurant in St Pauli district - the bare breasted woman depicted in the painting on the wall a reminder of our location, we hit the street famous for its bars, live music, strip joints and sex clubs.

For Beatles aficionados it's a must. The Indra Club still stands and a plaque at the Star Club denotes the many great bands including the Fab Four who graced its stage.

The street was crammed with revellers, all well-behaved I might add.

There were plenty of sex joints but my colleague and I found a rock bar playing 60s RnB, which had quite a bohemian crowd - great fun.

The streets were still packed as we caught the metro back to our hotel at 3am.

We weren't robust or hedonistic to stay up all night and visit the famous fishmarket on Sunday morning, much-loved by the locals.

But after a short sleep it was a delight to see all manner of fish, meat and veg on offer and the hardy locals tucking into fish sandwiches, accompanied by a beer or two.

It was time for a sit down, so I hopped on to a red bus for a city tour, which gave a fascinating insight into the home of Angela Merkel and Felix Mendelssohn.

There was a lot more greenery than you would imagine, with lakes and lush scenery to enjoy.

Meanwhile, some colleagues ventured to the miniature model "Wonderland" and raved about the experience.

This wasn't your bog standard model village but a stunning array of intricate moving figures and scenes including an airport where the planes actually take off and land.

They also marvelled at the replica volcanoes, such as Rome and Venice.

As we sat at that beach bar, soaking up the rays before our flight home, I was moved by how these hard-bitten hacks were so taken with the "Wonderland" experience.

It will certainly be one to visit on my return to Hamburg, where I hope to discover more about this vibrant, fun and "different" city.


Get there: FlyBMI - bmi offers flights from Bristol to Hamburg from £97 one way, incl 23kg of hold luggage, allocated seating, complimentary in-flight drinks and snacks and speedy 30 minute check-ins. Visit flybmi or call 0330 333 7998

Get around: The Hamburg Card offers unlimited travel by bus, train and harbour ferry, plus discounts at over 150 tourist attractions. From EUR 10.50 per day. See

Stay: Adina Apartment Hotels, Hamburg Speicherstadt

A stay at the Adina Hamburg Speicherstadt starts from EUR135 per night, based on two sharing a studio king or twin on a room only basis.

For more information or to book, visit or call +49403346080

Information: Visit