Are you looking to discover a green city with plenty of waterfront cafés, but which also has a big-city vibe with multiple cultural, architectural, and gastronomy offerings? Your best bet is to head to Hamburg, in northern Germany. Below we outline the best things to do in Hamburg over a weekend or an extended stay. Lacking skyscrapers, Hamburg is laid out to ensure its residents can work and play, relax and experience the city’s unique culture in a myriad of quarters. It’s the largest city in Europe which is not a capital and it is best known for having more canals and bridges than Amsterdam and Venice put together. Spend a weekend in Hamburg and discover it for yourself!
Here are our top 10 picks of things to do in Hamburg that both locals and travellers love:
1. Marvel at the Speicherstadt district
Few cities can boast their warehouse district as a recommendation for travellers to visit. Hamburg’s Speicherstadt is probably the most impressive area to see in Hamburg. It’s made up of an intricate maze of red-brick buildings, located on a network of canals flowing into the northern branch of the Elbe river. The world’s largest warehouse complex was turned into a trendy area, some buildings were renovated to host museums, others, modern apartments or cafés. Where high-value goods such as tea, spices or coffee were stored in the past, now you can step into the Miniatur Wunderland, the miniature railway museum, one of the most popular attractions in this part of Hamburg.
2. Walk through the Deichstraße area
One of the most impressive streets in Hamburg’s old town, Deichstraße, or ‘dike street’, deserves a stroll through. It survived the Great Fire of Hamburg in 1842, which started on this street in a cigar factory. Its 200 and 300 year-old houses have been carefully restored and look like something out of a fairy tale. It’s the only part of the harbour district that preserves its medieval-era buildings which can still be admired. It makes for a great place to grab lunch or have an afternoon coffee. Don’t miss some of the places’ names, which refer to the fire they survived.
3. Discover the Neuwerk island
If you’re spending a few days in Hamburg, take a morning to go and see the Neuwerk island, a natural area away from the city buzz, part of the Wadden Sea national park. Located about 100km from Hamburg, and inhabited by only 40 people, out into the North Sea, Neuwerk is one of the locals’ favourite holiday destinations. It was used as a natural signpost of the city of Hamburg, where a lighthouse and the city’s flag has flown for the past 700 years, protecting the shipping trade upstream into the city.
4. Visit the Hamburg port
Officially opened in 2003, Hamburg’s Hafencity – the port city – is another modernized area with glass office buildings, new apartment complexes and leisure for the newly installed residents. It’s the heart of Hamburg, as the port is a major part of the city’s history, trade and identity. The architecture is avant-garde, the open spaces abound, and cultural offers, such as the International Maritime Museum or the Automuseum Prototyp, close at hand. If you fancy a cruise on the many branches of the Elbe river, this is also the place where to hop on a boat.
5. Admire the Elbe Philharmonic Hall
As much a cultural complex as an architectural masterpiece, the Elbphilharmonie, or Elphi as nicknamed by the locals, towers over Hamburg’s Hafencity, at its 100+ meters. The modern complex inaugurated in 2017 is architecturally made up of two parts, an old warehouse brick base, topped by a sleek glass upper part, with a wavy roof-top line. It resembles a wave or even an iceberg, depending on your level of imagination. Elphi hosts three concert halls, educational venues, a hotel and also a few restaurants, for a large choice of things to do. It’s definitely one of the main attractions worth visiting in Hamburg.
6. Relax in the Planten und Blomen Park
Take a break from the sleek glass-and-brick of Hamburg’s modern architecture and turn your gaze towards the natural side of the city. You can easily spend half a day in the Planten und Blomen park, located right in the city centre. The “green ring” of the city has a bit for every nature lover who looks for outdoor things to do in Hamburg, from a greenhouse complex with a tropical house to a rose park with over 300 varieties of the flower. The Japanese garden is the largest in Europe and hosts a traditional Japanese tea house for an authentic experience. And if you visit Hamburg in winter, the park also hosts an ice skating rink, one of the largest open-air rinks in the world.
7. Visit the Hamburg City Hall
The Hamburg City Hall is as remarkable as the photos show, a proof of the city’s long standing prosperity and maritime trade. What’s different about it is that not only does the mayor of Hamburg inhabit it, the building is also the seat of the city’s parliament and senate. If you opt for taking a tour of the Neo-Renaissance masterpiece, brace yourself as there are close to 650 rooms, albeit not all of them open to the public. The courtyard between the city hall and the adjacent Stock Exchange resembles an Italian piazza, for a bit of a mixed culture flair right in the heart of Hamburg.
8. Taste the typical Labskaus dish
A local delicacy from northern Germany, labskaus was initially a poor man’s dish first prepared on the ships that would sail for long periods of time. Labskaus can be translated as ‘good bowl’ or hotpot, and it’s made up of ingredients that would last long on ships. The dish is currently having a revival in Hamburg, so you’ll easily find it at most restaurants. Get your taste buds ready when ordering it, as the good-bowl recipe consists of salted beef, pickled beetroot mashed up, potatoes and – a more modern addition – pickled herring, called rollmops. If you enjoyed the dish, you can also find it on your travels in other northern European countries, like Sweden or Lithuania.
9. Visit the Maritime Museum
Back to the Speicherstadt area, you can find the International Maritime Museum of Hamburg, located in the oldest warehouse building of the quarter. The museum is a nine-floor treasure trove of objects related to maritime history, collected by Peter Tamm ever since his childhood. From nautical instruments, maps and telescopes to the world’s largest bone ship collection of 38,000 miniature ships, you can satisfy your curiosity and find out all there is to discover about the maritime world. The collector used to recommend that you start at the top floor and work your way to the bottom where you can find a 300-metre-long ship simulator.
10. Relax around the Alster lakes
The Hamburg residents are lucky enough to have access to two artificial lakes besides the intricate maze of canals in the HafenCity area. The Alster lakes are the smaller Binnenalster and the larger Außenalster, the inner and outer lakes, located north of the city center. Get your nature fix among ancient trees and gorgeous mansions in the parks surrounding the two lakes, where the city’s residents flock during the summer months. If you’re a water sports enthusiast, rent a boat, canoe or kayak and enjoy an afternoon on the lake – one of the more relaxing suggestions of things to do in Hamburg. The two bridges that separate the lakes are the perfect spot for instagram-worthy pictures of the inner lake with the Hamburg skyline as backdrop.
Now that you have the best tips for what to do in Hamburg, you are ready to explore the most interesting spots of Germany’s second largest city.
How do you get to Hamburg?
You can fly to Hamburg from Berlin and Munich, or rent a car from Frankfurt and all the other major cities in Germany. And if you come from any other part of Europe, you can easily fly to Hamburg with Eurowings, as the Hamburg airport serves as a hub for this airline in Germany.