Hamburg is a thoroughly modern, urban, and young city. Visitors are spoilt for choice with the variety and number of fun things to do in Hamburg, Germany. Full of history, culture, and an urban lifestyle, the riverfront city is everything I didn’t know it is. My former German tutor had constantly told me how nice of a city it was and how I should visit. She had lived there for years and the city holds a special place in her heart. And it’s easy to see why.
But where to begin your visit in such a vast city with so much variety? Here are six fun things you need to do the next time you visit Hamburg, Germany!
Go for a Cruise
While many Hamburg attractions are active, some are a little slower. Take, for example, the city’s association with the water. Hamburg is closely connected to the sea: geographically, historically, socially, and culturally. And while I generally always think the best way to see a city is on foot, a cruise in Hamburg shouldn’t be missed. Hamburg’s harbor is such an integral part of its identity.
There are cruises up and down the Elbe River and around the harbor for seemingly every interest. There are night time cruises, daytime cruises, brief tours, and longer tours. Some focus on history while others specialize in seeing popular sites. If you’re on a budget or a time crunch, there are also plenty of water taxis. Of all the things to do in Hamburg that I recommend, this one probably is the most flexible.
We took a two-hour cruise that went through the historic Speicherstadt, along the waterfront past the Elbphilharmonie, Landungsbrücken, Fischmarkt, got up close and personal with container ships and went through a lock. If you have the time, a longer tour like this one really shows you a lot of Hamburg, whether you’re a tourist or a resident.
Regardless of which water route you take, it’s a totally different perspective. Afterward, visit one of the city’s beach bars along the river to unwind. There are so many places in Hamburg to see, so why not get an overview of them all with a river cruise?
Take a Stroll through the Speicherstadt
It’s easy to get lost in Hamburg along the canals amidst all the bridges, walkways and passages. But the bright red brick buildings of the city’s historic Speicherstadt are hard to miss. The nearly one-mile-long UNESCO recognized site is the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex.
Built over a century ago on oak piles, the network of fifteen warehouse blocks and additional ancillary structures are Wilhelmine brick buildings in a Gothic style. It was due, in part, to these warehouses and Hamburg’s importance as a port and shipping city that it was able to grow and become what it is today.
Whether you explore on foot or via the canals in a boat, it’s absolutely worth a visit. You can get a real feel for what the area was like when it was a bustling, functioning warehouse district or simply admire the architecture and history.
If you’re looking for things to do in Hamburg where you’ll expand your horizons, there are a couple of important museums. The Speicherstadt Museum is a small but informative hands-on museum that provides some additional insight for visitors. In the HafenCity is the International Maritime Museum which exhibits the largest private collection of maritime objects.
Visit the Elbphilharmonie
Nearly a decade after laying the foundation, Hamburg’s new concert hall finally opened in January 2017 right along the harbor in HafenCity. The Elbphilharmonie is currently the tallest building in Hamburg as well as one of the largest concert halls in the world. This is one of the newest things to do in Hamburg.
Naturally, the design pays special attention to the acoustics. The Elphi, as it is lovingly called, is the work of architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. The company utilized an old brick warehouse building as the base of the concert hall and built an elaborate glass structure on top of it. The curves of the top, slicing through the sky, are meant to mimic the sails of a ship or a wave in the water. Meanwhile, the glass panels that cover the entire top bow in and out, and serve as balconies and windows.
In addition to a world-class concert hall, the building also houses a luxury hotel. But you can visit the Elbphilharmonie without breaking the bank — or spending any money at all, in fact. Where the original brick warehouse and the glass addition unite is a viewing plaza that is open to the public. From the open-air observation area you can get a 360-degree view of the city: the Speicherstadt, the cargo in the modern container city, and all up and down the Elbe River.
Because the Elphi is still relatively new, you can expect crowds. If you have your heart set on visiting the viewing plaza, you may want to reserve a ticket for a minor fee. Once inside, you’ll ride up a seemingly never-ending escalator and have a chance to visit the building’s gift shop. But it’s that view that will catch your breath. A visit to the Elphi is so unique to the city. That’s why I think it’s one of the best things to do in Hamburg.
Architecture-Rich Places to Visit in Hamburg
As if the Elphi and the Speicherstadt aren’t enough, Hamburg will set the hearts of architecture and history enthusiasts aflutter. From old, sometimes historic buildings to modern works of art, there is a wide-ranging variety of architecture on display. Of special note is the Hamburg Town Hall, a 110-year-old Renaissance building with an elaborate and impressive facade.
Engineering fans can surely appreciate all of the bridges in Hamburg. The city is said to have more bridges than Venice, London and Amsterdam combined. There’s also St. Michael’s Church, the city’s largest church which was rebuilt several times during its life. The most recent renovations were following World War II.
Cultured Things to Do in Hamburg
Hamburg is young, urban, and hip but it’s also full of museums for all tastes. The city’s major art museum, the Kunsthalle Hamburg, one of the largest museums in Germany. Located just around the corner from the Hotel Barceló, the museum’s collection covers a wide spectrum of roughly seven hundred years of European art history. There is also a large modern and contemporary art collection within the museum that includes names like Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Edvard Munch.
Perhaps one of Hamburg’s most beloved museums, however, is Miniatur Wunderland (that is, Miniature Wonderland). The museum houses the largest collection of model railways in the world. The three-floor museum has over 1300 square meters of models and 930 trains that run through miniaturized versions of popular world landmarks. Past Mount Rushmore, through Scandinavia, past Neuschwanstein and so on. It’s sure to delight kids and those that are kids at heart.
This miniature experience is probably the best way to see many places to visit in Hamburg and all of Germany. Even if it isn’t quite as lifelike as you may want.
Visit the Fischmarkt
Every Sunday morning bright and early in a beautiful historic building along the Elbe, the Altonaer Fischmarkt opens. This definitely one of the places to visit in Hamburg on a sleepy weekend morning. Tourists flock to watch fishmongers, salesmen, and fish buyers as they keep a longstanding tradition alive. At the Fischmarkt you aren’t limited to only fish. You can also find produce and meats. It’s a lively atmosphere that you’re sure to remember.
The Fischmarkt tradition began all the way back in 1703. It shows no signs of slowing down. The building itself is from around 1895 and renovated in the early 1980s. Today is recognized as a cultural heritage monument.
It attracts many who, after an evening of enjoying the city’s varied nightlife, aren’t quite ready to go home yet. After your visit, stay for the lively brunch that features live jazz music in the historic fish auction hall.
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.