Check out eight fun things to do in Hamburg, Germany. We include activities for both culture vultures and foodies since we fit into both categories.
Though the northern German city lives under Berlin’s shadow, Hamburg shines brightly with its harbors, sophisticated arts scene and sometimes seedy, port based nightlife. It’s also a city with a modern history that dates back centuries
It’s no secret that Hamburg is where John, Paul, George, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best honed their musical chops while partaking in more than a few questionable evening activities on the Reeperbahn. (Ringo was in Hamburg too, though he was playing with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes during the Beatles initial stint.)
Yes – Hamburg’s red light district in St. Pauli has been a seedy fixture in the city’s culture for decades as a sailors’ outpost for vice as well as for more legitimate forms of entertainment.
On a busy night, you can walk down the Reeperbahn, St. Pauli’s main thoroughfare, and ogle at the neon lights as you pass by a series of adult-oriented bars with names like The Titty Twister. Make a turn onto the Grosse Freiheit and drift among the mobs of sin seekers as you stroll along an energy-filled throng reminiscent of Bourbon St. in New Orleans.
Though we generally don’t hang out on places like the Grosse Freiheit, we couldn’t resist taking a vibrant walk through history, along the street which features famous clubs like the Kaiserkeller, during our first trip to Hamburg. As we strolled through the nocturnal horde, we imagined ourselves back in 1960 when, according to Beatles biographer Bob Spitz, “prostitution was hawked in roughly the same manner as schnitzel…” with raw rock n’ roll blaring out of bars like the Star Club.
Typically, though, we prefer exploring Hamburg during the day. Even with limited sunlight in the winter, it’s possible to appreciate the city’s spectacular architecture before the sun goes down. Those who visit during the other seasons have more daylight hours, and thus, more flexibility; however, winter is the time when Hamburg comes alive with a variety of Christmas markets.
Discover the best Hamburg Christmas markets.
Architecture buffs and music fans will want to visit the uniquely constructed Elbphilharmonie concert hall on the city’s waterfront. Built in 2017, this Hafen City building, featuring a warehouse topped by a modern sail-like structure, has already become a fixture of the city’s harborscape.
However, the sprawling Expressionist Chilehaus may be our favorite Hamburg structure. Designed by Fritz Höger in the early 20th century, this 10-story horizontal brick monolith got its name due to the original owner’s connection to the Chilean Saltpeter trade.
Also known as Sodium Nitrate, Saltpeter is a pink curing salt that’s a key component in producing cured meats, hence the building’s significance.
Our Picks for the Best Things To in Hamburg
If you have just a few days and you’re wondering what to do in Hamburg, we recommend starting with the following fun activities:
1. Get Your Groove on During a Beatles Tour
While most music fans are aware that The Beatles hail from Liverpool, true Beatles fans know that the group transitioned from amateurs to professionals while working in Hamburg.
Numerous books have been written about the time between 1960 and 1962 when the Beatles played multiple shows each night on and around Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. There’s even a movie, Backbeat, that brings this timeframe to life.
Whether you’re a die-hard Beatles fan (like Daryl) who knows the stories behind the stories or a more casual fan (like Mindi) who just loves the songs, taking a Beatles Tour is a great way to relive the Beatles experience in Hamburg decades after the fab four actually lived in Hamburg.
Stefanie Hempel’s Beatles Tour took us on a journey back in time to the 1960s. We saw key sites like the Kaiserkeller and the Star-Club where the Beatles paid their dues and transitioned from a party band to arguably the world’s most famous band. Plus, thanks to Hempel’s informative story telling and singing, the tour was a lot of fun too.
Click here to book a three-hour Beatles Tour in either German or English.
2. Go Big at Miniatur Wunderland
Open since 2000, Miniatur Wonderland spans 15,400 meters and features more than 1,000 trains. But that’s not all. Its vivid displays currently include 260,000 figures, 130,000 trees, 9,250 cars, 4,110 buildings, 1,380 traffic signals and 42 planes.
The museum/theme park attracts both locals and travelers who want to tour the world as giants. These travels include a bustling airport and Hamburg’s main train station as well as global destinations like Las Vegas, Venice and Rio.
For a site that features miniature replicas, Miniatur Wunderland packs quite a punch. Miniatur Wonderland has the world’s largest model railway and ranks as one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions.
During our visit, children of all ages viewed a myriad of intricate, miniature recreations in awe. We were no exception as we wandered through the maze of exhibits, often pausing to create memories both in our heads and on our cameras.
3. Eat Your Way Around the City
Eating in Hamburg is fun thanks to traditional dishes like Labskaus (mashed meat), Fischbrötchen (fish sandwiches and Franzbrötchen (cinnamon pastries) as well some of the best Currywurst we’ve ever eaten. But German food isn’t the only cuisine available in Germany’s second biggest city.
Many of Hamburg’s best restaurants serve food more typically eaten in countries like Austria, Lebanon, Thailand and Vietnam. Others cater to vegetarians and vegans. And, for those who like to eat after they drink, some Hamburg eateries stay open well after the sun sets.
Discover our picks for the best restaurants in Hamburg.
4. Bond over Brunch
No longer relegated to weekends, eating brunch in Hamburg is a fun thing to do any and every day of the week. However, the best way to do brunch in Hamburg is with a friend or two.
Some of Hamburg brunch spots specialize in pancakes and yogurt while others pair avocado toast with freshly roasted specialty coffee. The only way to find your favorite is to eat at several spots. Trust us – it won’t be a hardship.
Discover our favorite spots to eat brunch in Hamburg.
5. Get Your Art on at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (MKG)
The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (MKG) sounds like it’s a serious place; however, Hamburg’s Arts and Crafts museum is a virtual treasure trove for all who enter its doors. The treasures start just past those doors with Stuart Haygarth’s provocative chandelier created with thousands of plastic items found on British beaches.
Open since 1877 and located in a former palace, MKG spans the centuries. More than just art, the museum’s permanent collection features vintage pianos, ancient porcelain pieces, vintage furniture and so much more.
During our visit, highlights included the the Spiegel publishing house’s canteen which now has a home at the museum as well as a special exhibit showcasing 20 Steps, Drift Studio‘s mesmerizing kinetic installation which debuted at the 2015 Venice Art Biennale. However, for those who have time to dig deep, the entire museum provides a veritable feast for both the eyes and the soul.
Click here to pre-order tickets to avoid a possible queue.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (MKG) is located at Steintorpl., 20099 Hamburg, Germany.
6. Drink All the Coffee
You don’t have to look hard to find specialty coffee in Hamburg. However, looking is half of the fun. The other half happens once you find the joe.
The city has an abundance of third wave coffee shops, many offering free Wi-Fi and tasty treats in addition to pour overs and flat whites. In fact, Hamburg’s coffee culture compares favorably to European coffee-centric cities like Amsterdam, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin and Lisbon.
Discover the best coffee shops in Hamburg.
7. Take a Day Trip to Lüneburg
Located just 30 miles (i.e. 48 kilometers) from Hamburg, Lüneburg is a charming town with a millennia of history centered around salt production and its powerful position in Germany’s medieval Hanseatic League. The town’s salt literally propelled Lüneburg to prominence and wealth due to the region’s need for salt to pickle herring and other commodities over the centuries.
Today, Lüneburg is known more for its charming waterfront and storybook architecture than for mining Sodium Chloride. Cute and conveniently located, this town is an ideal day trip destination and rounds out the Hamburg experience.
You don’t have to worry about being bored in Lüneburg. Beyond shopping and touring the German Salt Museum, you can check out the 750-year old town hall that oozes with both art and history. And, yes, you can also sprinkle a bit of Lüneburg’s famous ‘white gold’ on your lunch for good measure.
As a bonus, Lüneburg is just 18 miles (i.e. 30 kilometers) from Heide Himmel. This bucolic attraction has an elevated treetop path that leads to an observation tower with epic views of the park’s natural beauty. Don’t worry – the observation tower has an elevator.
8. Get Merry at Hamburg’s Christmas Markets
German Christmas markets are legendary around the world for their fun food options, tasty Glühwein and overall festive environments. Hamburg’s Christmas markets check all of these boxes and then takes the holiday concept to the next level by offering an adult-alternative at the utterly unique Santa Pauli Christmas market on the Reeperbahn.
You’ll want to visit as many Christmas markets as possible if you visit Hamburg during the holiday season. Whether you go to two or a dozen, the challenge won’t be having fun or eating well. Instead, it will be choosing a favorite.
Discover our favorite Hamburg Christmas markets.
Getting To and Around Hamburg
European travelers will find it easy to get to Hamburg. The city’s airport offers flights via both premium and discount airline carriers.
Hamburg is easy to navigate by metro (U-bahn), regional train (S-Bahn) and bus. The city’s public transportation system, as in most of Germany, is both extensive and user-friendly.
Purchase a Hamburg Card for 1 to 5 days to get unlimited transportation and museum discounts.
Plan Your Hamburg Stay
If you’re looking at mid-range Hamburg hotels, we recommend the Heikotel am Stadtpark. Located a few blocks from a U-Bahn station, this pleasant Hamburg hotel is situated halfway between the Rathaus and the Hamburg airport.
Staying in an apartment is a great option for longer stays and for people who want access to a kitchen.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.