Hamburg has a rich and chequered history being one of the former members of the highly influential and powerful Hanseatic League, a powerful economic and defensive alliance in that left a great cultural and architectural heritage in Northern Europe. We recently spent a glorious weekend in Hamburg and want to list our recommendations for the best things to do in Hamburg. Whether you have 2 days in Hamburg or 3 days in Hamburg, let us help you make the most of it!
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Table of Contents
Why You Should Spend a Weekend in Hamburg
Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city with a population of over 1.8 million. It lies in the north of Germany and is a bustling and lively metropolis that has a distinctly Scandinavian feel to it. Hamburg is a city of contrasts with its diverse neighborhoods and has constantly been reinventing itself over recent decades.
It is renowned for its music, canals, architecture, harbor, theater and vibrant culture. Hamburg vies with Berlin for the top spot as the most hip city in Germany and is one of the most desirable places to live on the planet.
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Your Weekend in Hamburg: Itinerary
This itinerary covers all the essential sights but we also touch on some of Hamburg’s unique neighborhoods which give the city its unique character. We’ve included a free map which highlights the best places to visit in Hamburg in three days.
We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. Nonetheless, we thought we would make some recommendations as to what to see in 2 days in Hamburg and what to see in 3 days in Hamburg.
2 Days in Hamburg
Personally, we believe that the best way to spend 2 days in Hamburg is by checking out the following things to do in Hamburg:
- Canals & Deichstrasse
- Church of St. Michael
- Hamburg Town Hall
- Old Elbtunnel
- Kontor District & Chile House
- Harbor tour & Elbphilharmonie
- Alster Lakes & Jungfernstieg
- St. Pauli & Reeperbahn
- Kunsthalle Hamburg
- Planten un Blomen
3 Days in Hamburg
The following things we recommend you check out if you have 3 days in Hamburg. So these things can be done in addition to the 2-day itinerary:
- Miniatur Wunderland
- International Maritime Museum
- Fish Market
- Sternschanze District
Where to Stay in Hamburg
The great thing about Hamburg is how easily it can be navigated by public transport, especially by metro. It’s a good idea to stay anywhere on the metro line (i.e. 5 minute-walk from the nearest metro station). We stayed in the up and coming district of St. Georg which is a fun mix of immigrant culture and a growing LGBTQ scene.
Hostel: Generator Hostel, a great choice right next to the Central railway station.
Budget: Motel One Hamburg-Alster, unpretentious choice in the St. Georg district.
Mid-range: Hotel Europäischer Hof Hamburg, excellent choice within 2 minutes of the Central railway station.
Splurge: SIDE Design Hotel, sumptuous top-choice pick near Jungfernstieg and the Alster Lakes.
Where to Eat in Hamburg
Hamburg has plenty of great dining options offering all sorts of cuisines. We recommend the following establishments during your stay:
1. Gaststätte Fisch Imbiss – great seafood place in the Sternschanze area.
2. Old Commercial Room– fantastic joint offering local North German specialties likes labskaus near the Church of St. Michael.
3. Hofbräu Hamburg – a traditional Bavarian restaurant close to the Binnenalster.
4. Hanmi – yummy Korean restaurant in St. Pauli.
5. Ristorante Cantinetta – cosy Italian place in the Speicherstadt.
6. Elbgold Röstkaffee – one of the very best cafes we’ve been, located in the Sternschanze neighborhood.
7. Nord Coast Coffee Roastery – amazing coffee shop on Deichstrasse with great breakfast.
8. Milch Feinkost – another gem of a cafe near close to the St. Pauli Piers.
Hamburg Pass & Public Transport in Hamburg
Before we went to Hamburg, we weren’t sure whether the Hamburg Pass was worth it. We looked at it in detail and decided we would get it for one day. On that day, we crammed in every free attraction we possibly could, including a harbor tour, 2 museums, and the viewing tower at St. Michael’s church. It was a little bit hectic, yes, but also we got our money’s worth. It also includes public transport which is a plus. The price for a one day ticket is only 40 EUR which is fair considering everything included. You can read more about the Hamburg Turbopass on their official website.
In any case, you will probably have to get a day ticket for public transport. These are fairly cheap at only 8 EUR per person. You can purchase them at the ticket machines around the metro stations (cash only!). Their official website gives a good overview of the different ticket types.
Best Things to Do in Hamburg
Below we have compiled a list of the best things to do in Hamburg. Feel free to mix and match as you like to make the most out of your weekend in Hamburg! You will need to use public transport in order to maximize the things you can do in Hamburg in a short time.
Adjacent to the harbor, you will come across Hamburg’s historic warehouse district, the largest warehouse complex in the world. The Warehouse District, also known as Speicherstadt, is similar to London’s Canary Wharf. Both cities converted run-down dockland areas to become vibrant multi-purpose modern day buildings.
The warehouse complex was built between 1885 and 1927, after Hamburg joined the German customs zone, as the largest and most modern logistics center of its time with cobblestone streets, bridges, and waterways. In total there are 15 warehouses and a series of individual buildings, the vast majority of which are constructed in the eminent red brick Neo-Gothic architectural forms. The buildings here stand on oak log foundations and are covered with a distinctive red brick outer layer with entrances from land and water. The warehouses, which once stored cocoa, cotton, rubber, silk, tea, and spices now mainly house electronic goods and oriental carpets. Some buildings also house swanky offices, showrooms, and funky restaurants.
Light projections in the evening create a magical atmosphere on buildings, bridges, and canals. The Warehouse District is a major tourist attraction today and includes several museums among its many attractions. Along with the Kontorhaus district, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Let yourself be carried away into the past and be enchanted by the charm of the old architecture.
2. Check out Some Canals & Deichstrasse
A network of 22 canals twist and weave their way around the inner city and they offer stunning vistas of the surrounding architecture. Some of the most scenic ones are Nikolaifleet (the prettiest one), Herrengrabenfleet, Mönkedammfleet, Wandrahmsfleet, and Brooksfleet. These canals are linked by a seemingly endless network of bridges. Some of them such as Kibbelstegbrücke & Poggenmühlenbrücke are highly instagrammable places. Speaking of bridges Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam, London, and Venice combined, a staggering 2500 of them.
Deichstraße is the oldest residential area in the old town of Hamburg that consists of some sumptuously restored houses from the 17th-19th centuries. This elegant cobblestone street is home to several restaurants which have are now housed in these historic buildings.
HafenCity is the new waterside quarter encompassing the Speicherstadt that was formally established in 2008. It is the largest urban construction project in Europe of the 21st century. This new green and urban development center is being built partly on a site that a generation ago was deemed as an industrial wasteland and partly on land reclaimed from the Elbe river. It’s interesting to view the blend of older and new buildings mixed into the maritime setting and separated by waterways and canals.
Sprawling over 220 hectares, this city within a city is expected to double the population of downtown Hamburg with thousands of new waterfront condominiums, glistening high-rises, offices, art galleries, shops, restaurants, and cafes. The ambitious project is slated to be finished between 2025 and 2030, but visitors can already revel at some of Europe’s most visionary architecture here. I would love to come back here to witness it once it’s completed.
The Elbphilharmonie or ‘Elphi’ is a phenomenal building and an architectural wonder. This daring and new landmark in Hamburg is the centerpiece of HafenCity. It sits atop a former cocoa warehouse on water, the Kaispeicher A. The glistening glass facade which resembles a rippling water wave is the defining feature of the Elbphilharmonie and was added between 2007 and 2016.
The Elbphilharmonie, with its breathtaking design, combines a spectacular concert hall, a hotel, public plaza, restaurants and 45 luxury apartments and a huge viewing platform with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and harbor. It’s free to gain entry to the main foyer and to walk around the building for views of the city. Read more about the opening hours on their website.
5. Miniature Wonderland (Miniatur Wunderland)
The Miniature Wonderland is basically the largest model railroad in the world features nearly 15,000 square feet of little trains clacking their way through wonderfully faithful miniature replicas of several cities and countries. The miniatures representing the US include Las Vegas and Mount Rushmore. Other places included are Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia and of course, Germany. The Miniature Wonderland team plans to add more miniatures in the future.
You don’t need to be a railroad buff or an adolescent to appreciate the sheer wonder of this place. Every 30 minutes or so the lights are dimmed to simulate nighttime, and the whole place takes on a different dimension. The detailing of towns, cities, vehicles, trains, stations, airports, beaches, waterways, volcanoes and the rest of the exhibits is simply spellbinding. Each section is interactive and entertaining.
We quite enjoyed it, even though we are not very big on model trains. Since this is one of Hamburg’s most popular attractions, it’s best to book ahead, especially on weekends and holidays, when waiting times can be very long. We recommend that you book the latest evening slot as it is also the cheapest. Personally, we wouldn’t have liked to pay full price for this attraction but the late tickets were 50% off, which made it worth for us. Read everything about tickets and opening hours on their official website.
6. Church of St. Michael (Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis)
Of all the churches in Hamburg, the Church of St. Michael is the one you don’t want to miss. This 132-meter tall church, known to Hamburg locals simply as ‘Der Michel’, is arguably the city’s best known architectural landmark.
This is Northern Germany’s most famous Protestant Baroque church. The church burned twice to the ground in its history and was last rebuilt in the early 20th century with the aid of donations. To our surprise, the interior was very interesting as well. Protestant churches are often rather austere, this one showcases baroque splendor including some amazing organs and the marble pulpit. Beneath the church lies the vast 17th-century crypt which holds the remains of over 2400 people.
Go up to the observation deck at 106 meters for the best panoramic view of Hamburg. You can either walk the 400+ stairs up to the tower or take the elevator. Entrance to the church is free but if you want to go to the observation deck it costs 5 EUR.
7. Hamburg Town Hall (Rathaus)
Built in the late 19th century, Hamburg’s Town is a stunning edifice that dominates the center of the city. It is home to the city’s senate and parliament. With its richly decorated Neo-renaissance facade, this grand building stands in stark contrast to the rather inhibited Hanseatic style found throughout the city. The interior of the building has more of a historicist look. The town hall has a total of 647 rooms and stands on more than 4000 oak piles.
At a cost of 4 EUR, you can take the guided tour of the town hall which will take you through some of the staterooms. This will provide you with interesting snippets of information about the city’s history and political system. The ornately decorated staterooms with their chandeliers and majestic portraits are a showcase of the city’s wealth in the 19th century.
8. Kunsthalle Hamburg
The venerable Kunsthalle is one of Germany’s largest and best-known museums and is a must-see for anyone with an interest in art. The museum covers an astonishing 700 years of art and you can easily spend a couple of hours being awed by some masterpieces here.
The museum consists of four different sections: the Gallery of Old Masters, the Gallery of 19th century Art, the Gallery of Classical Modernism and the Gallery of Contemporary Art. The Old Masters section includes work by the likes of Lucas Cranach the Younger, Goya, Rembrandt and Rubens. The 19th-century art section is dominated by Caspar David Friedrich, Manet, Monet, Gauguin, and Rodin. The modern gallery and contemporary art exhibit feature illustrious names such as like Kirchner, Munch, Picasso, Francis Bacon, moving on to Warhol, Yves Klein, and Joseph Beuys.
The cost of admission is 14 EUR The gallery is closed on Mondays and is open from 10 am – 6 pm on other days. Learn more on their website.
9. Old Elbtunnel (Alter Elbtunnel)
The Old Elbtunnel aka the St. Pauli Elbtunnel is an iconic part of Hamburg’s industrial heritage and it’s free to visit for pedestrians 24/7. Built in 1911, at a depth of 24 meters under the Elbe river and spanning a length of 426.5 meters, this is the longest river tunnel in the world. This revolutionary structure was built as a means to alleviate commuting problems for thousands of harbor workers.
You can walk from one side to the other in less than 10 minutes and while doing so be sure to check out the interior walls with carvings of nautical motifs and vintage signage. The northern entrance at Landungsbrücken with its vivid green dome Art Nouveau building adds to the charm of this place.
10. International Maritime Museum
The International Maritime Museum is housed in a former warehouse, Kaspeicher B, which also happens to be the oldest warehouse in Hamburg. The museum is massive and spans 10 floors, with each floor a different topic of discussion. Most of the core collection – some 40,000 items are the work of one man, Peter Tamm, the former chairman of Europe’s largest digital publishing house Axel Springer SE, who was an insatiable collector of model ships and naval memorabilia.
The museum houses a cornucopia of books, maritime devices, uniforms, photographs, blueprints, atlases, films and various documents. It’s a treasure trove for those with an eye for all things nautical. We especially enjoyed the ninth floor miniatures, the model building workshop, and the information on boat and sail types.
The only downside to the museum is that a lot of the information is only written in German and only the bigger information boards have an English explanation under them. but you can hear all of the stories by purchasing an audio guide. One can easily spend 3-4 hours here and this museum should not be missed. The cost of admission is 13 EUR and the museum is open daily from 10 am – 6 pm. You can read more about the museum on their official website.
11. Kontorhaus District
The Kontorhaus district is the area around Burchardplatz, between Mönckebergstraße and Speicherstadt. It was developed in the early 20th century under the aegis of Fritz Schumacher, Hamburg’s city building director. The standout feature here is the office buildings built in the style of brick expressionism of the early 20th century which form an indelible piece of architecture in Hamburg’s skyline. Along with the Speicherstadt, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.
Most of the building frames are built from reinforced concrete with clinker facades and copper thatched roofs. Some of the notable buildings in the Kontorhaus district are Sprinkenhof, Miramarhaus, Meßberghof, Mohlenhof, and Montanhof.
12. Chile House (Chilehaus)
The Chile House building is the centerpiece of the Kontorhaus district. Built between 1922 and 1924, the ten-story Chile House quickly became symbolic with both Brick Expressionism architecture and Hamburg’s economic revival post WWI. The name comes from a merchant, Henry Barens Sloman who derived his wealth from trading in Chile and commissioned the building.
The building’s 4.8 million dark bricks absorb the sunlight, giving the building a magnificent glow at various times throughout the day. The building’s architect, Fritz Höger designed the Chile House to mimic the shape of a bow of a passenger ship.
If you have a sweet tooth like us you ought to head check out Chocoversum, an interactive museum that chronicles the history and production of chocolate. All visitors are taken on a 90 minute guided tour (available in German or English) which takes you by several exhibits and photos. You get to smell and taste lots of samples along the way. The highlight of the tour is that you get to create and decorate your very own take-home chocolate bar using an assortment of ingredients.
The Chocoversum museum has its very own chocolate shop you where you can purchase souvenirs. The museum is open daily from 10 am – 6 pm. The price of admission depends on the purchase date and availability of the guided tour. We would recommend booking a tour in advance if you don’t understand German as English tours are limited and to save money.
We didn’t enjoy the tour as much as we had anticipated but this was probably because we had done an awesome Zotter chocolate factory tour in Austria in 2012 and found that one to be much superior. It’s a good tour if you don’t know anything about the chocolate making process, but you may consider skipping it if you have visited a chocolate factory before. Check out their website for more information.
14. Alster Lakes & Jungfernstieg
Just a short walk north of the central station lie the lovely Alster Lakes that are an integral part of Hamburg’s life. Außenalster, the larger lake is separated from the smaller Binnenalster by the Kennedy Bridge. The upper parts of Außenalster weave through some of Hamburg’s most affluent areas and you can get a glimpse of fancy sailboats on the lake and the magnificent villas on the banks.
Both lakes are popular with joggers going on their exercise runs and locals meeting up for coffee at one of the several kiosks and bars on the tree-lined banks. There are plenty of benches to sit down and take in the scenery. Enjoy a romantic sunset by the water or go jogging early in the morning.
Jungfernstieg is a waterfront promenade on the Binnenalster. It is one of the oldest streets in Hamburg dating back to 1235. Its favorable location on the Binnenalster led it to being popular with the hierarchy. In the old days rich families used to bring their unmarried daughters (Jungfern in German) for a stroll in search of a prospective groom. Thus, it acquired the name Jungfernstieg. Along with haute couture and prêt-à-porter from the fashion elite, there are more affordable stores housed in Neoclassical buildings. To capture the best views of Jungfernstieg and Hamburg’s low-rise skyline go to the Lombardsbrücke bridge.
Hamburg is a great shopping destination with a wide array of stores to choose from. Check out the Alsterhaus department store or the Europa Passage shopping mall that are just around the corner if you’re interested in shopping.
15. Fish Auction Hall & Market (Fischmarkt)
Located on the shores of the Elbe river in the Reeperbahn quarter is the legendary Hamburg Fish Market. This buzzing market has been around since 1703 and takes place every Sunday morning attracting thousands of visitors. It is a lovely way to start your day!
Although it is a fish market, there is a horde of other items on sale here such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, souvenirs and other paraphernalia. The clientele is a curious mix of early birds and night owls hovering around the stalls to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. Inside the market hall, you can expect to see people swaying and swilling away beer with live jazz and rock music playing in the background.
The main attraction here is to see the various vendors engaged in a shouting contest to compete for your business. We found this spectacle highly entertaining as it just added to the vibe of the place.
Summer hours (15 March to 14 November) are 5 am – 9:30 am and winter hours (15 November to 14 March) are 7 am – 9:30 am.
16. Sample some Fischbrötchen & Franzbrötchen
With all the sightseeing you’ll be doing, you’ll have to stock up on some calories to keep you going. Fischbrötchen & Franzbrötchen are two iconic Hamburg foods that will satisfy your taste buds.
Fischbrötchen is a simple bun sandwich made with fish (traditionally with pickled herring or soused herring) and topped with onions, pickles, and remoulade. It is also made with other seafood such as mackerel, salmon, fish patties and shrimps. The fischbrötchen is synonymous with Hamburg like Currywurst is synonymous with Berlin. It is absolutely gobsmacking! Some of the best places to have it are Brücke 10, Fischbrötchen König and BistrOcean.
Franzbrötchen is a small, sweet pastry, baked with butter and cinnamon that is a staple in Hamburg’s bakeries. It is traditionally made only with sugar and cinnamon, but sometimes ingredients such as marzipan, chocolate or raisins. What makes it unique is that it is doused with a sugar-cinnamon mix before going into the oven for caramelizing. This gives the pastry a crunchy coating during the baking process.
17. Park Planten un Blomen
Need a break during your stay in Hamburg? Look no further than Park Planten un Blomen which is Hamburg’s prettiest and most serene green oasis. This wonderful park covers 47 hectares and filled with an impressive selection of lawns, ponds, exotic plants and flowers.
The park is divided into several sections. The botanical garden with its tropical greenhouses features exotic plant species from all corners of the globe. The Pharmacist’s Garden (Apotheker Garten) features a wide variety of medicinal herbs and plants. The Japanese garden here is the largest one of its kind in Europe. This garden is truly amazing and features captivating rock formations, small ponds, and an authentic teahouse.
The garden is one of the city’s most beloved places for those who looking to relax. Highly recommended!
18. Hamburg Boat Tour
Water is the common denominator in Hamburg and is the lifeline of the city. Despite being located some 100 km from the North Sea on the river Elbe, it is the second biggest port in Europe. Since water is such an intrinsic part of Hamburg’s DNA, you cannot visit here and not go on a boat tour. It is the optimum way to see the harbor and waterside districts. Taking a boat tour is also the best way to get close to the docks, massive containers, hulking cranes and the enormous freighters.
There is a rich assortment of sightseeing boats, harbor tours, and ferries. Most of the tours are in German with some English language tours. Some of the best harbor tours depart from the city’s main passenger landing stage, St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken. It’s definitely worth shopping around a bit as there are many tour operators and prices can vary.
19. St. Pauli
St. Pauli is a gritty neighborhood that in the past gained notoriety as a haven for love-hungry sailors due to its proximity to the docks and reeked of sleazy nightclubs, sex shows, and brothels. However, with the onset of gentrification, the area has undergone somewhat of a facelift. Today it is a diverse neighborhood with working-class areas and bourgeois residential streets luxury condos and music venues. St. Pauli is home to the hugely popular entertainment area and the biggest red light district in Europe. There are plenty of sex shops and strip bars around here.
St. Pauli is also known as the place where The Beatles refined their act. They resided in St. Pauli in the early sixties, performing in strip bars between acts. You can also visit many places where they performed, including the Kaiserkeller (Grosse Freiheit 36), Indra (Grosse Freiheit 64) and Top Ten Club (Reeperbahn 136). The Beatles Platz that pays homage to the Fab Four is made up of life-size steel silhouettes to resemble a vinyl record.
Reeperbahn is the main boulevard in St. Pauli and is colloquially known as ‘The Sinful Mile’. Take a stroll down here and witness the most popular entertainment and gambling street in Europe. Reeperbahn has gained a more respectable image of late and is Germany’s answer to Broadway with its many theaters and playhouses. While you can shop around the Reeperbahn during the day and enjoy a meal, this area really comes to life in the evening. You can go out in one of the many bars, cafés and nightclubs as soon as night falls.
The red light district is centered around the Reeperbahn and you’ll find the areas many sex shops and strip clubs here. Street prostitution is still common on Davidstraße so you might still encounter hookers here. This area is naturally heavily policed, and on the corner of Reeperbahn and Davidstraße, you can find the most famous police station in Germany, The Davidwache.
The most notorious street of Hamburg’s red light district is Herbertstraße. Similar to the De Wallen area in Amsterdam, scantily clad prostitutes sit in windows and turn on their ‘charms’ to entice customers. This street is sealed off by a barrier and females are prohibited from entering (although legally they are allowed since its a public street). If erotic theater is what you crave you should head over to Grosse Freiheit, a lively street which literally translates to ‘Great Freedom’.
It’s not all about the party scene though. To uncover the significance and secrets of this quirky neighborhood you can opt for a walking tour.
21. Chill out in Sternschanze
If St. Pauli is too iniquitous for you head a couple of steps north to the Sternschanze quarter. Sternschanze or simply ‘Der Schanze’ is Hamburg’s independent, counterculture hub. This was definitely our favorite neighborhood in Hamburg. The Schanze is Hamburg’s answer to Berlin’s Kreuzberg and New York’s Williamsburg, and along with St. Pauli and St. Georg is the hub of Hamburg’s nightlife. Sternschanze is very popular with locals and you won’t encounter many tourists here.
Sternschanze is a former working-class district that is well known for its leftist leanings. In the old days, it was a run down problematic area but has now become popular among students and creative types who have transformed the neighborhood into a colorful district. The neighborhood is being gentrified and it has become chic to live in the Schanze. It still retains much it working class feel though. The blend of modern and historical architecture makes the neighborhood exciting. There are a lot of dilapidated buildings full of anarchistic graffiti-scrawls and street art.
Be sure to check out the Karoviertel area with its zany fashion boutiques, flea markets, cafés, and restaurants. The Rote Flora cultural center on Schulterblatt has been squatted since 1989. It is a bastion for left-wing radicals and emancipatory politics. This is much to the chagrin of political right-wingers who want to shut it down.
Extending Your Stay
To our surprise, there was plenty to do in Hamburg and 3 days cut it pretty close. Sometimes we felt a bit rushed, particularly at the museums. So we would recommend 3 full days or 4 days even to truly enjoy your time in Hamburg. In that case, you may even want to check out the beautiful Blankenese neighborhood!
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22. Treppenviertel Blankenese
If time permits you should make the trip to Treppenviertel Blankenese neighborhood. What was once a modest fishing village is now one of the most affluent and scenic districts of Hamburg. Treppenviertel translates to ‘Stairs Quarter’ and there are about 5000 of them. Cascade down the stairs and along the winding alleys while marveling at the resplendent whitewashed villas. It’s a no-brainer that this ritzy suburb of Hamburg has more millionaires than any other German city. This area has a very Mediterranean feel about it.
Now, what do you think? What would you recommend to see during a long weekend in Hamburg? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!