Would I most likely recommend Berlin or Munich if anyone would ask me a cool city trip in Germany? Yes, I probably would! I wouldn’t immediately think the harbor city in the north of Germany. But that changed when we recently got to visit and explore Hamburg for a weekend. Did Hamburg surprise and deliver? Oh yes! Would I now recommend this city a Germany travel destination to other travelers? Absolutely! Not as famous as Berlin or Munich, but that’s what makes it even more surprising.
Keep reading as we want to make you as enthusiastic as we are, to make Hamburg your next city trip in Germany!
This blog was written by travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley. She was invited to visit and explore Hamburg on behalf of Traveltomtom, and wrote this blog about her adventures.
Traveltomtom recently visited Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany after Berlin, as well as the 7th largest city and largest non-capital city in the European Union.
Hamburg is a true harbor city, and Europe’s third largest port, after Rotterdam and Antwerp. It’s also a massive cruise destination. Back in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit the world, Hamburg cruise terminals handled 210 cruise ships and 815.000 passengers, making the city one of the most popular cruise destinations in Europe. Pretty impressive numbers! In fact, Hamburg has one of the fastest-growing tourism industries in Germany.
It’s a major international and domestic tourist destination, with plenty of interesting spots and must do’s. With Speicherstadt and Kontorhausviertel it has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Hamburg’s many rivers and canals are crossed by approximately 2500 bridges, making it the city with the highest numbers of bridges in Europe.
Fun fact: Did you know that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam combined?
Hamburg is also known for several theatres and a wide variety of musical shows, they even have a musical boulevard. The Reeperbahn, in St. Pauli district is among the best-known European entertainment districts.
A city card is one of the most valuable things you can buy when exploring and discovering a new city, and so Hamburg has its own Hamburg Card. With the Hamburg Card you enjoy free public transport and up to 50% discount on museums, musicals and tourist attractions. It offers unlimited travel on buses, trains and harbor ferries, which is absolutely perfect to get around and explore the city. And over 150 tourist attractions are affiliated with the Hamburg Card, and offer discounts and great deals. There’s even a number of restaurants and cafes that offer you a discount on the total bill when you show them your Hamburg Card. Your ideal companion to discover the city.
Must do's for a weekend in Hamburg
There is so much to do in Hamburg, you can fill days with visiting all its highlights and tourist attractions. But to make your trip to Hamburg a little easier, we have listed our favorites places to visit and things to do in Hamburg. The top must do attractions for when you are visiting for a weekend.
1. Visit Speicherstadt
We start with Speicherstadt, the world’s largest warehouse complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an absolute must see on every trip to Hamburg. This complex was built between 1883 and the late 1920s. Speicherstadt’s beautiful neo-gothic brick architecture makes for an exciting contrast to the modern steel and glass constructions from the neighbouring HafenCity.
Nowadays Speicherstadt hosts an array of leisure activities like Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg Dungeon, the German Customs Museum and the International Maritimes Museum.
One of the most popular photo spots in Speicherstadt and even all of Hamburg is the Wasserschloss (Water Castle), best viewed from the Poggenmuhlen Bridge.
Make sure to have a stroll through Speicherstadt with its unique buildings and winding network of cobble stone streets, canals and bridges.
2. Visit Old Town – Deichstrasse
Some more history and heritage can be found in the old Hamburg, specifically the Deichstrasse. I was completely surprised when I visited the Deichstrasse. It’s located in the heart of the city, yet the vibes changes instantly when you walk into this street. No fancy office buildings but some of Hamburg’s oldest townhouses. The timber – framed townhouses are characteristic to the area and some of the last remainders of a long time ago.
Back in the 17th century the biggest part of the Hamburg city center looked exactly like Deichstrasse. That was changed fundamentally by the Great Fire that raged between 5 and 8 May 1842.
Nowadays Deichstrasse is a very popular part of Hamburg, and truly photogenic. In fact, it somehow reminded me of Amsterdam, well I would say, judge for yourself!
3. Landungsbrucken – Landing Bridges
Europe’s largest water transport hub, a must see place in Hamburg, historical waterfront buildings and spectacular views, of course we’re talking about St. Pauli’s Landungsbrucken. Two prominent green roofed towers mark the 205 meter long terminal between the lower port area, Reeperbahn and Fischmarkt.
It once was the landing pier for steam ships, and now functions as a connector for various lines of Hamburg’s local train and ferry systems. Many harbor boat tours depart from here as well. A variety of restaurants, bars and gift shops go hand in hand with the striking view of massive container and cruise ships and part of the Hamburg harbor. Over the years it became one of Hamburg’s most popular promenades.
4. Miniatur Wunderland
Miniatur Wunderland is a fun activity to do when visiting Hamburg, covering a few floors in one of Speicherstadt’s buildings. It’s a must see for all railway enthusiasts, families and every other visitor to Hamburg. More than 1100 trains with over 10.000 wagons, 137.000 trees, 289.000 figures, 10.250 cars, 47 airplanes in the air, 16.138 meters of track, 4340 buildings and bridges, are just some of the impressive numbers of Miniatur Wunderland. In this superlative model construction landscape, you will see realistic train operations completely controlled by computer. It even becomes day and night in the railroad world every 15 minutes.
Here you can make a trip around the world, in which parts of our world are recreated down to the smallest detail, truly impressive!
5. International Maritimes Museum
Hamburg’s oldest standing historic warehouse is now home to the International Maritimes Museum, an extensive maritime exhibit in Speicherstadt.
It all started with the story of a little boy, who grew up to become an avid collector of all things nautical. Throughout his life, Peter Tamm collected everything having to do with maritime history. As a young child, Peter's mother always brought him a gift when he was sick and had to stay in bed — a miniature ship. And so his collector's passion was sparked.
Today, over 1 million pictures,100,000 books, and 38,000 miniature ships, as well as countless oil paintings, nautical instruments, uniforms, maps, telescopes, and other nautically themed collectables make up the treasure trove stored within the International Maritime Museum. You’re basically walking through a personal collection, absolutely impressive. An absolute must visit when in Hamburg, and don’t forget to claim your discount with the Hamburg Card!
6. Harbor Tour
One of the most popular things to do in Hamburg are the harbor tours. There are many operators offering these tours, all of them departing from the Landing Bridges. Obviously we had to do one ourselves as well, getting a tour of the famous and impressive Hamburg Harbor. You also get really close to the newest highlight of the city, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, perfect for the best photo!
7. St. Pauli & Reeperbahn
It’s known around the world for its football club, the Reeperbahn and the harbor, but St. Pauli is more than that! These attractions have shaped the area into what it is today, unique, loud, flashy, flamboyant, hip and above all, colorful! You can’t miss the Reeperbahn’s flashing neon lights. St. Pauli has different vibes and shouldn’t be missed when visiting Hamburg.
Fun fact: Did you know that the Beatles actually started their career in Hamburg? I surely didn’t, but they really did. Hamburg in the 60s, where many bars and music venues along St. Pauli's Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit streets could be a springboard to stardom for German and international musicians alike. Before the 'British Invasion' began in 1964, the Beatles too spent two years playing gigs in Hamburg in small venues like Indra and the Star-Club. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Hafencity, a new and upcoming neighborhood in Hamburg. It has some true hotspots already. Absolutely a recommended place to stay when visiting Hamburg. We stayed in Hafencity and just loved its location and vibes. It’s just outside of the city center, at walking distance to the Landing Bridges and Speicherstadt, and the International Maritimes Museum is literally just around the corner.
9. Neuer Wall
This one is for the shopaholics among us, Neuer Wall is one of Europe’s most luxurious shopping streets. From haute couture and precious jewellery to custom made shoes and designer furniture, all international top brands and luxury items.
10. Elbe Philharmonic Hall
It’s Hamburg’s newest landmark, and they’re proud of it too. The impressive Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall towers above the Elbe and HafenCity.
You can visit the Elbe Philharmonic Plaza, offering a panoramic view of the port and the city from a height of 37 meters above ground level.
Where to stay for a weekend in Hamburg
Looking for a fun and inspiring place to stay, with a harbor location? We have got you covered! Check out the 25 Hours Hotel Hamburg Hafencity as the name says, located in the harbor area. It’s a modern hotel with relaxed vibes and offering Atari game consoles and pinball games, how cool is that! They have a restaurant, shop and bar. The minibar in the room is included, and you can even get a refill, just ask at reception. The hotel is maritime themed which totally fits in with its location.
Traveltomtom’s secret travel tip for Hamburg
When visiting Hamburg you really can’t miss it, the well-known fish sandwiches. It’s commonly eaten in Northern Germany and is a classic in Hamburg. There are many places you can buy and eat them, but one of the best in town is Brucke 10. Make sure you pay them a visit and enjoy a classic fish sandwich.
My number one recommendation when you’re about to explore a new city: start walking! Just go out and start walking and exploring. It’s by far the best way to discover new places, and honestly, on foot you just really see the most. Metro is quick, and easy, but it’s underground, so you can’t enjoy the city views.
How to get to Hamburg
Travelling to Hamburg by car is actually a very good idea, a great destination for your European road trip, and parking in Hamburg is rather inexpensive. There are areas close to the city center where parking is free of charge, if you don’t mind a short walk. Hamburg has many official carparks throughout and around the city. These carparks are safe and often offer designated parking for families with young children and women.
Hamburg has its own international airport, and connects you to 120 destinations worldwide. Therefor Hamburg is a perfect destination to travel to by plane. We traveled to Hamburg by plane, and connected by train from the airport to the city, which is super easy. There are several trains running every hour between the city and Hamburg airport.
The railway network in Germany is one of the densest in the world, with approximately 50.000 trains using it every day. Popular routes run between the major stations in Germany, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin. Every day between 300.000 and 450.000 passengers board and disembark at these stations. Germany is therefore pre-eminently a country that is easy to travel by train, and so Hamburg is a destination that is perfect to visit by train. However, train tickets in Germany are expensive.
By International Coach services
Travelling by International Coach services becomes more and more popular, as it is a very affordable way of travelling. Hamburg directly connects you to 188 cities through multiple international coach services and has two bus stops in the city.
Enjoy your trip to Hamburg!