Known as the Gateway to Germany, Hamburg is one of the most important commercial centers in Europe.
It’s a unique and interesting place to visit if you get the chance!
Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany and the eighth-largest in all of Europe. It’s a popular place for both tourists and locals alike.
The city lies at the heart of the River Elbe estuary. This makes it a critical link between the North Sea and a network of inland waterways across Germany.
The Port of of Hamburg is one of the busiest ports in Europe. It covers more than 100 square kilometers along the coastline.
As a free port goods are able to flow freely without any duties. This makes it an attractive shipping destinations for countries around the world.
The city has become an important commercial center and major transportation hub.
Over the years Hamburg has developed into a popular tourist destination. More people are visiting every year to take advantage of the best attractions that the city has to offer.
The Best Things to Do in Hamburg
In this post I want to share with you some of the best things to do in Hamburg while you’re visiting.
This should give you a better idea of what to expect if you’re planning to visit this incredible German city.
The Port of Hamburg (Hamburger Hafen)
The Port of Hamburg is a beautiful area worth checking out. All year long the views are amazing. The harbour seems to be alive and is constantly busy with commercial shipping!
It’s possible to go on a guided boat tour to get a better look at the harbour. On this tour you can admire many of the different commercial shipping boats. You’ll also get a lesson on the beautiful architecture along the waterfront.
When you’re out on the water you’ll be rewarded with the best views of the famous Elbphilharmonie opera house.
Along the water is a quiet pedestrian trail. This trail runs along the harbour and into the warehouse district. From the trail you’ll get amazing shots of the harbor, the large shipping boats, and the commercial activity off in the distance.
During the warmer summer months the waterfront trail is packed with locals and tourists. There are pleasure boats cruising around and a number of small cafes where you can stop to enjoy a drink on the water.
There are a few different restaurants boats moored along the docks. These are a great place to stop for a meal with an amazing view. The outdoor seating on these boats means you can enjoy the cool summer breeze coming off the harbor while you eat.
Depending on how far you explore keep an eye out for the Kohlbrandbrucke.This is a bridge that stretches nearly 4 kilometers across the harbor. What an incredible sight!
The Hamburg Rathaus is located in the center of the city. It’s a great location to get your bearings and start exploring from.
It’s features a central location with easy access to multiple modes of public transportation. From here it’s a short walk to most of the other tourist attractions.
The building features a Neo-Renaissance architectural style and was completed in 1897. There are almost 650 rooms that are open for the public.
For a better look at the inside of the building you can go on a guided tour. You can even watch the local government while they’re in session!
The building is one of the most impressive in the city. Take the time to admire the exterior and all of the different architectural details.
Most walking tours in Hamburg depart from out front of the Rathaus.
Unfortunately, the building was heavily damaged during World War II. Thankfully, the locals decided to renovate it to its former glory!
Out front is a large square where festivals, markets, and events are held throughout the year. Steps away is the main business district and shopping area, the Monckebergstrasse. Here you’ll find a number of different malls, small shops, and nice restaurants.
Across the street is St. Peter’s Church. It was built in the 14th century and features a 133 meter tall tower. Head to the top of the tower for an incredible view of the Rathaus and surrounding cityscape!
Inner Alster and Outer Alster Lakes
Hamburg is home to a number of artificial lakes. Ttwo most popular and important ones are the Inner and Outer Alster.
These lakes were built to connect to the two rivers that run through the city. Along the water you’ll find beautiful city squares, historic passages, and popular pedestrian areas.
Steps away from the Hamburg Rathaus is where Inner Alster Lake begins. Here the lake is lined with cafes and restaurants. Grab a seat and enjoy a nice drink or meal while taking in the beautiful view!
Throughout the area are a series of small passages that lead between different shopping areas. Eventually you’ll end up at one of the largest shopping centers in the city – the Ballindamm.
During the summer there are a lot of people out sailing on the water. In the winter, if it’s cold enough, people will be skating on the water as well.
The Outer Alster Lake is lined with picturesque gardens and beautiful parks. All year round people stop to relax and soak up the sun away from the hectic city center.
The Miniatur Wunderland is the largest model railway in the world. It’s one of the most impressive attractions in the city, especially if you’re interested in miniature design.
At the exhibit are more than 12000 meters of miniature railway track. There are nearly 900 trains running at any given time.
There’s even an airport where you can watch miniature planes taking off!
The railway and surrounding miniature designs cover more than 1100 square meters. There are plans underway to double its size.
This is definitely one of the most interesting attractions in Hamburg. It’s great for both adults and children!
During the summer the Miniatur Wunderland is very busy during the afternoon. I recommend reserving your ticket online for a better visiting experience.
Speicherstadt (Warehouse District)
Known as the Speicherstadt, the warehouse district in Hamburg was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2015. It’s the largest warehouse district in the world and it’s one of the coolest places to explore in the city!
It’s not just the warehouses that this neighbourhood unique. It’s the fact that these buildings stand on foundations made from timber pile and oak logs.
That’s right – the foundations were built right into the bottom of the riverbed!
The majority of these buildings were built between 1883 and 1927 in a Gothic Revival architectural style. While the area is under redevelopment at the moment it’s still worth checking out. I recommend visiting on foot and walking around to admire the large scale of everything.
There isn’t much to do in the area when it comes to cafes and restaurants. However, there are a few museums that you can check out.
The district boasts a unique blend of contemporary design and historic architectural structures. Many of the warehouses are still being used to this day by both local and international companies.
It’s easy to walk around on your own and you’re better off this way for photographs. Guided tours are a good idea if you’re hoping to learn more about the history of the area. The tour will also teach you about each of the specific buildings as well.
St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church is the most well-known church in Hamburg. It’s one of the most popular landmarks in the city as well.
The church was built during 1750 and 1762 in a Baroque architectural style. It features a 132 meter tall tower that offers an amazing view of the port and surrounding neighbourhood.
Underneath the church is a large crypt where nearly 2,500 people have been buried!
Nearby is another interesting church – St. James.
Having been built in the 14th century this church is much older than St. Michaels. On the inside you can see some medieval altars and an old organ.
The Kunsthalle Hamburg is one of the best art galleries in Germany. At the gallery you’ll full of a range of different exhibits covering more than six hundred years of history and artwork.
One of the main draws of the gallery is the collection of artwork from local artists dating to the 14th, 16th, and 17th centuries.
There is also an impressive collection of French and German paintings from the 19th century.
You can find a number of different contemporary and modern art exhibits. There really is something for everyone at this gallery!
I recommend taking a look at the collections in the Deichtorhallen. It’s here that you can admire one of the largest galleries of photography and contemporary art in Europe.
Don’t worry if you’re traveling with children. There are programs available for your kids while you explore the gallery.
On your own you can choose to arrange a guided tour. These tours are great for art lovers and anyone looking to learn more about the various exhibits.
At the Ohlsdorf Cemetery are more than 280,000 burial sites and 12 different chapels. The grounds cover nearly 1,000 acres of space making it the largest rural cemetery in the world.
I love visiting cemeteries whenever I’m traveling somewhere new. They’re unique in their own way and provide a glimpse into local culture.
Every year more than two million people visit Ohdlsdorf. There are more than 17 kilometers of walkways and avenues that you can explore.
It’s a peaceful place to visit and a well-known cultural attraction.
Nearby to the cemetery is the the Bismarck Monument. This is one of the many monuments in Germany that commemorate Bismarck. There’s a small park and a viewing area at the monument so check it out after you’re finished with the cemetery.
International Maritime Museum
The International Maritime Museum showcases the interesting maritime history of Hamburg. Housed inside a 20th century heritage building are a number of different maritime and nautical exhibits.
Visitors are able to get a better look at old artifacts, artwork, and replicas covering more than 3,000 years of Maritime history. There are tool displays, informative boards, and different exhibits for you to check out.
Nearby to the museum are some other maritime-related tourist sites. These include the Rickmer Rickmers and the MS Cap San Diego.
The Rickmer Rickmers is a tall ship from 1896 that’s currently used as a museum. The MS Cap San Diego is a cargo ship from the 1960s. It’s also being used as a museum.
There’s also the old Soviet submarine, the B-515 that you can visit in Hamburg. It’s currently a museum and you can venture inside the submarine to get a closer look at its interior. There are exhibits and plenty of helpful information on Soviet submarine history.
There’s no shortage of historical exhibits and museums waiting to be discovered.
Situated at the high bank of the Elbe River is where you can find a nice collection of different Neoclassical houses, many of which are historical monuments that have an important position in German heritage and culture.
The area where you can find all these homes and buildings is known as the Altona district and it’s also home to the Altona museum.
At this Museum there are a bunch of different exhibits that will allow you to learn more about the landscape, economy, geology, and historical settlement patterns of the surrounding region and the museum is full of old artifacts, models, and well-preserved figureheads from ships.
There are also quite a few other museums in the surrounding area so if you’re looking to spend some time learning more about local history and culture then you’re in the right place.
In the neighborhood you can find quite a few other points of interest such as the Altonaer Balkon, where you’re able to admire some incredible views of the port and the river nearby.
This is quite a picturesque area so don’t forget to bring your camera and take your time exploring all of the different side streets and passages that you come across for a more unique look at this city.
Wallringpark is a large, sprawling recreational area full of parks, gardens, and quiet walkways. This is a great place to spend time relaxing away from the busy city center.
During the summer these parks are full of locals taking advantage of the nice weather. I recommend bringing along snacks and a few drinks so that you can enjoy a picnic here as well!
At night there are often water light concerts. If you’re lucky you might even be able to catch a live music performance.
Close to the park is the Heinrich Hertz Telecommunications Tower. You can go to the top of this 272 meter high tower and grab a bite to eat at the revolving restaurant. The view from the top is amazing so don’t miss out on this experience!
Thanks to the extensive public transportation in Hamburg it’s easy to reach this area by bus or tram. If the weather is nice you could walk to the park instead.
The Hamburg Museum
The Hamburg Museum was established in 1908 today is a National Monument of Germany.
The museum features a wide collection of historical artifacts and unique exhibits related to the history of Hamburg.
One of the highlights of the museum is the beautiful interior courtyard. This is a peaceful place to recollect for a moment and think of everything you’ve learned at the museum so far!
It’s possible to book a guided tour beforehand. I’d recommend a tour if you’d like a more personal experience and the chance to learn more about each exhibit.
Hamburg Opera House (Elbphilharmonie)
Opening nearly six years late and almost a billion euros over budget is the incredible and inspiring Hamburg Opera House, or Elbphilharmonie
This is the city’s answer to the beautiful Sydney Opera House in Australia. The building itself is very impressive – covered in an obscene amount of glass and taking on a unique shape.
It’s said that the opera house is going to become the symbol for the city. At the moment it’s the tallest building in Hamburg and the shining beacon of regeneration for the old docks.
The modern structure is built on top of a previously existing historic warehouse. This elegantly showcases the blend of contemporary and historic design that’s currently happening all across Germany.
Concerts are already underway! Be sure book well in advance if there’s something you’re interested in seeing.
On one of the upper levels is a viewing platform that’s open to the public. Head up to admire a view of the surrounding port area.
Don’t forget to head inside to check out the interior. You’ll definitely want a better look at one of Europe’s most famous opera houses!
Established in 1907, the Hamburg Zoo was one of the first facilities in the world that was designed to increase the free range of movement that the animals were able to have.
Rather than using metal cages and bars, the open enclosures are actually surrounded by ditches and constantly monitored to make sure that the animals stay within their boundary while still being able to live a happy life.
Today, the zoo houses an impressive collection of different exotic animals and it’s a great place to spend the day if you’re traveling with your kids or you don’t feel like spending the day looking at architecture or wandering around museums.
Nearby there’s also the Planetarium Hamburg and this is another interesting attraction for those of you traveling with children.
Where to Stay in Hamburg for Sightseeing
Despite being such a large city, there are plenty of options for accommodation in Hamburg. Most offer a central location and easy access to all of the different attractions and popular tourist sites.
During my trip I stayed at the Hotel Henri. Take a look at my Hotel Henri Review for a better look at this lovely hotel!
I found the location to be great for exploring the city center. Public transportation was easily accessible and the main train station was 5 minutes away on foot.
I had a great time at the Hotel Henri and I would definitely recommend it. It’s a good place to stay if you’re looking for somewhere mid-range in price with a great location.
Day Trips from Hamburg
Despite the size of the city, you might be interested in going on a day trip to check out more of the surrounding region and for a little break away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city center.
A short distance away from Hamburg, located right on the River Elbe, is where you’ll find the Schulau ferry terminal.
This terminal is popular because it’s where the Willkomm-Höft ship greeting station is located and since 1952 this station has been greeting or saying goodbye to the passing ships from different nations.
The interesting way that they do this is by playing parts of their national anthem and also by hoisting the national flag of the country of the ship that’s passing by.
Over the years, quite a few ships have been honored by the station and on average there are about fifty ships that pass by every single day so it’s very likely that you’ll be able to enjoy the festivities regardless of when you visit.
There are also some nice restaurants and cafes in the area so it’s a good place to visit to get out of the city center and just spend some time relaxing away from all the people.
A little bit more than 20 kilometers away from Hamburg is the famous old castle, Schloss Ahrensburg.
This structure was built at the end of the 16th century and it’s a museum these days where you can walk through some original interiors and check out original furnishings that were used by the nobility living in the castle over the years.
The castle is actually located in the small town of Ahrensburg and this is also a nice place to walk around and spend some time exploring before heading back to the city.
Interesting Facts About Hamburg
- The city has more bridges in it then Amsterdam, London, and Venice combined with more than 2,300 bridges crossing hundreds of kilometers of waterways
- The port is the 15th largest sea port in the world and the second biggest in Europe, right after Rotterdam
- More than four million people live in the area with most of Northern Germany visiting the city to do their shopping and business
- Nearly 15% of the city area is covered with parks and gardens and it’s one of the most greenest cities in all of Europe
- The Old Town Hall is the largest town hall in all of Germany and many people argue that it’s also the most beautiful government building in the country
- The Hamburg Zoo is actually one of the only zoos in the world that doesn’t use cages
- At the Miniatur Wunderland you can actually go and admire the largest model railway in the entire world, and it’s only getting bigger