12 Nice Things to Do in Hamburg for the Perfect City Break
While there are a lot of things to do in Hamburg, sometimes there are those cities you just don’t really click with. I honestly think it was more a me-problem, than a Hamburg problem. After a week in New York City, I just didn’t feel like visiting another city. And besides, I was alone.
But I was also a bit surprised because I always hear from everyone that they think it’s such a nice city, so that I didn’t feel that click myself, was a bit disappointing.
Hamburg is not a city that is bursting with beautiful sights (I mean if a tunnel is one of your top sights…). You definitely need to look a little deeper, and preferably go with a fun group of friends. Then I think you’ll have a great time. Especially if you had the kind of lovely weather I had!
I definitely want to go back to give the city a fair chance, but here are the fun things I did get up to while there.
12 Things to Do in Hamburg
1. Visit Rathaus
The first place I visit in a city is usually the Old Town because that’s where you can find all the historical buildings and you get an idea the city’s culture. In Hamburg’s Old Town, go to Rathaus, the seat of the parliament of the German state of Hamburg.
The 112-meter-high building is much less old than it might look: it dates from 1897. By the way, it is assumed that there were already five other town halls on this site before it was built. The previous town hall was destroyed by a fire in 1842.
Fun fact: an extra room was accidentally discovered in the tower in 1971 when a document fell behind a cupboard. How mysterious is that?
By the way, definitely walk around the building to see the courtyard. It’s much nicer than the front, because there is a beautiful fountain.
2: Enjoy the Inner Alstar
One of my favorite places in Hamburg was the Inner Alster, the big lake in the center of the city. In the middle you will find a large fountain. When I was there, the weather was great, and we walked around, looking for Hugh Jackman (don’t even ask…).
This lake was not created naturally, but was built by residents of the city to serve as a reservoir for a mill. If you drive over the road in the center of the lake in the evening, you really have a special view of the skyline.
You can also take a cruise around the lake, like this one.
3: Go to St. Michael’s Church
The St. Michael’s Church is the most important church in Hamburg. This Protestant church was built between 1647 and 1669 but has a lot of bad luck in its existence. In 1750, lightning struck and the church burned down completely. The church was rebuilt again, but in 1906 fate struck again when the church burned down during work on the tower (where did we hear that before?).
It was then rebuilt according to original plans, and managed to miraculously survive the bombing during the Second World War.
The most striking thing about the church is that the 132 meter high spire is completely covered with copper. You can also climb it for a view of the city, but of course I went during the one time of day it was closed for service. Nicely planned, Milou :-).
If you go during a busier time, you can also buy tickets ahead to skip the line.
4: Hang out in Speicherstadt
The coolest and most famous district of Hamburg is Speicherstadt. This is the part that is characterized by all cool warehouses.
The warehouses were built between 1883 and 1927 and are located on a series of islands, which you can see while you walk across the bridges between the islands. This district used to be part of the port of Hamburg, now it is one of the hippest places to live. In the past you could both enter the warehouses via the water and via the street side.
Unfortunately, bombing hit the warehouses hard during the war. About 50% of the neighborhood was bombed flat. This was partly rebuilt. In the meantime, the area has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The coolest photo is taken at the most north-eastern tip of the island, on the Poggenmühlen-Brücke bridge.
You can learn more about the neighborhood as well as see some other sights on this tour.
5: Take in the Sights at Hafenstadt View Point
When you talk about Hamburg, you’ve also got to talk about the port. The Hamburg Harbor is the largest in Germany and the third largest in all of Europe. I personally don’t find it very interesting to visit a modern harbor: it is quite ugly with its many cranes and huge containers. But it is part of what makes Hamburg, Hamburg, and it is an important part of the economy.
It’s worth taking a walk to the Hafenstadt viewpoint. From there you have a 360 degree view of both the city center and the gigantic harbor.
6: Visit Elbphilharmonie
Hamburg does not have many special buildings to visit, but one of the most special buildings for architecture lovers is the Elbphilharmonie. This is a concert hall on the banks of the Elbe that opened in 2017.
The bottom of the building consists of an older warehouse, on which a modern glass superstructure was built. The arches at the top remind me of waves on the water. You can climb the building (free) for a 360-degree view of the city.
Learn more about the building’s history with this guided tour.
7: Check out the Chilehause
Near the warehouses of the Speicherstadt you will find the Chilehaus. If you happen to be in the area, you can walk past it and see it on the right-hand side. The building was built between 1922 and 1924 under the direction of architect Fritz Höger.
It was originally an office building for a rich trader. There are now several companies and stores. Since 2015 it’s been on the World Heritage List.
8: Visit Hamburg’s Museums
You don’t have to write off a drizzly day, go to one of the many museums in the city. I myself had the Hamburg Kunsthalle on my list, because I wanted to see Rembrandt and Monet, but unfortunately I didn’t get to it.
But of course you can also visit the International Maritimes Museum, the Museum for Art and Gewerbe, or the Museum for Hamburgische Geschichte (the city museum). The Deichtorhallen is a must visit if you like photography and contemporary art. And there are many more museums to check out during a Hamburg city trip!
9: See the Alte Elbetunnel
Like I said: I don’t know many cities where a tunnel is one of the most important sights, haha. But on the other hand: why would it be different from the many cities that have a bridge as a place of interest?
As you know by now, the River Elbe plays an important role in the city, and to get across it the Alte Elbetunnel was constructed in 1911. By the way, I can’t imagine that it was already called the “Alte” (old) tunnel back then, but that it only happened when the new tunnel was opened in 1975 as part of the A7.
Nowadays, the Alte Elbetunnel is primarily a pedestrian and cyclist tunnel because of the narrow diameter (although you are allowed to drive through it during the week). It is also rather inconvenient and time-consuming that you have to go down with a lift and on the other side. That makes it quieter for pedestrians to walk through. Because the 450 meter long tunnel connects the city with the shipyards south of the city, it was mainly used by dockworkers.
10: See the Reeperbahn
Of course you only go out in one place in Hamburg, on the infamous Reeperbahn. Think: the Red Light District in Amsterdam, and you have a good vibe. Stupid, rough, and a bit wrong, but nice. I can recommend Sommersalon im Klubhaus as a nice bar to go out to. It is a mixed bag of strange objects (such as an old bumper car, an old bed, and a Photo Booth), but I actually like that.
11: Enjoy Schanzenviertel and Kareolinenviertel
My favorite neighborhoods in Hamburg are Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel, where you will find (of course) all hipsters. A neighborhood full of nice restaurants, trendy coffee shops, and special street art. It’s super nice to just take a walk through the neighborhood and see all the sights.
As in several cities (and for example London’s Shoreditch ), these neighborhoods were also workers’ neighborhoods before they were taken over by the hipsters. I find a very relaxed, hip vibe, and I felt most at home there from all places.
12: Enjoy City Park Planten un Bomen
This was my favorite place in all of Hamburg: the gigantic City Park Planten un Bomen, which was opened in 1930. The park covers 47 hectares, and is a great place to escape the bustle of the city and sit comfortably on the water and to to come to rest.
Here you will find the Botanical Garden, a Japanese garden, and a water show every evening in May until the end of September.
Where to Stay in Hamburg
If you’re still looking for a great hotel in Hamburg, look no further than Ruby Lotti . This is one of the of Ruby Hotels, a “Lean Luxury” concept (mainly in Germany and Austria). I stayed there at the invitation of the hotel. I had never heard of the hotel chain, so I was curious what it meant. Ruby promises five-star rooms in prime locations for a budget price.
And I can indeed confirm that my room was incredibly luxurious. You will not find any extras such as mini bars or hairnets (boo!), but you will find a lovely bed and beautiful design. Plus you can walk to the heart of the city in a few minutes. I particularly liked the large amount of white walls and high ceiling with visible beams. It gave me the idea that I slept in one of the many warehouses that Hamburg is known for. Especially since my room was right next to the canal, and I could overlook it from my bed!
In the morning I ate a great breakfast from the buffet in the hip lobby. I thought 15 euros was a bit too expensive for what it is (sandwiches and yogurt), but I almost always think so for hotel breakfast buffets. I could not fault the quality. And I could sit in the sun again, with a view over the water.
By the way, I didn’t find the staff at the hotel very friendly, but I have to admit that I often found that in Hamburg, that people were not that friendly (while I at least tried with my low-level German …).
One of the coolest things about Ruby Lotti, by the way, was how electronically almost everything goes with the check in and check out process. At the end you just drop your ticket in the bin and walk out the door. Cool! All in all I would definitely recommend the hotel: the rooms are hip and comfortable, the location good and the value for money good.
That was my guide for all the things to do in Hamburg. I hope that you will benefit from my tips if you are planning a Hamburg city trip!
What are your recommendations for Hamburg?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.