At the head of the Elbe River, you’ll find Hamburg, the second-largest city in Germany. Thanks to its location, it was once a major port, connecting a large network of islands and waterways.
The city is a necessary stop when you travel to Germany, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the variety of things to do in Hamburg. From the city of warehouses to the street where the Beatles first performed, you don’t want to miss out on some of the top sites.
Don’t know where to start? Plan your trip with the help of this guide to the best places to visit in Hamburg…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Hamburg: Top attractions & places to visit
- Climb the tower at St. Michael’s Church
- Tour the warehouses of Speicherstadt
- Visit the largest model railway at Miniatur Wunderland
- Tour a Russian sub at the Port of Hamburg
- Visit the city’s town hall
- Explore urban redevelopment in HafenCity
- Find entertainment on the Reeperbahn
- Shop along the edges of Inner and Outer Alster
- Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Hamburg
What to do in Hamburg: Top attractions & places to visit
Climb the tower at St. Michael’s Church
If you don’t know what to do in Hamburg, start with the cultural sites, such as St. Michael’s Church. This baroque church was built in the 17th century and is open to the public. It’s free to enter, but you need to pay a fee to climb to the top of the clock tower or tour the catacombs.
The price of admission is worth the tower climb, simply for the panoramic view that you get at the top. You can see all of the city centre from the viewing area. The interior also contains priceless artwork and other typical extravagances that you expect from a historic church.
The surrounding area is also worth exploring. Across the street from the church are little cafes and shops, including an antique book store.
Tour the warehouses of Speicherstadt
One of the most important Hamburg points of interest is the Speicherstadt, which is German for the city of warehouses. It’s a fitting name for a district covered in large brick warehouses built near the port.
The warehouses are connected via small footbridges and walkways. Some are just above the water, while others are several metres up.
Some of the warehouses are still in use. In fact, about one-third of the world’s carpet comes from these buildings.
If you have the chance, take a boat tour of the district in the evening. As the area grows dark, it takes on a completely different vibe. The old buildings are haunting and spectacular in the dimming twilight.
Visit the largest model railway at Miniatur Wunderland
Miniatur Wunderland tops the list of unique Hamburg attractions. It’s the world’s largest model railway, containing over 15,400 metres of railroad track and spanning 1,490 square metres.
While it’s not a culturally important site, it’s a fun place for the entire family and those who are still kids at heart. The tracks include various sections dedicated to different countries, including the USA and Germany.
A couple hundred thousand tiny humans are positioned throughout the displays, along with thousands of lights and moving parts. The displays were created in 2000 and continue to grow, with plans for expansion that may not be completed until 2028.
The exhibit draws visitors from around the world and is typically crowded, just like any other major attraction in Hamburg. If you save time when you arrive, ensue you get your tickets online first.
Tour a Russian sub at the Port of Hamburg
Even if you only spend 24 hours in Hamburg, you’re likely to spend time at the Port of Hamburg. It was once one of the largest ports in the world and an important transportation hub during the industrial revolution.
Like most port areas, you’ll come across waterfront promenades with rows of bars and restaurants. There are also various tourist activities, such as the chance to tour the inside of a real Russian submarine.
Built in 1976, the 90-metre sub is an interesting look behind one of the tools developed during the Cold War.
Visit the city’s town hall
If you want to know where to go in Hamburg to learn more about the city, the town hall is a great choice.
The façade of the building stands out among the duller, modern structures in the immediate area, but the real treat is inside. The guided tour gives you a short, yet informative history lesson on the city of Hamburg.
Visiting the town hall also provides you with the chance to eat and shop. There is a large public square across from the building, so you’ll have access to a variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops.
Explore urban redevelopment in HafenCity
A thorough Germany itinerary should take you to HafenCity. The area is in the middle of one of the biggest redevelopment projects in the world, which is expected to take at least another decade to complete.
HafenCity is a quarter within a district that covers most of the port area and portions of the Speicherstadt. It’s also where you’ll find the Elbphilharmonie, the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg.
Also called the Elphi, the Elbphilharmonie is a new concert hall. Considered one of the most acoustically advanced halls in the world, the Elphi also provides sweeping views of the city from the upper floors.
Find entertainment on the Reeperbahn
As part of your Hamburg sightseeing tour, make sure that you stop by the Reeperbahn. This famous red-light district has started to clean up its act in recent years. It’s an area full of neon lights, but it has fewer strip clubs and erotic theatres than in years past.
The area offers an interesting mixture of restaurants, clubs, and bars. Some are great choices for the whole family, while others cater to adults only. It’s also where you’ll find Beatles Square, a newly built monument to the Fab Four and their early days in the city in the Hamburg.
Shop along the edges of Inner and Outer Alster
The inner city of Hamburg includes a lot of canals flanked by Victorian-style buildings, large public squares, and historic sites. Many of these canals lead to Inner and Outer Alster, two large artificial lakes that connect the Elbe and Alster rivers.
There is no shortage of things to see in Hamburg, but a trip to the shopping district around the two artificial lakes is something that you can’t miss.
Along the canals and lakes, you’ll find rows of cafes, boutique shops, galleries, and markets. The neighbourhoods in this area offer some of the most upscale shopping in a city known for its elegant stores. It’s also home to the largest shopping centre in the city – the Ballindamm.
Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Hamburg
As one of Germany’s biggest cities, choosing where to stay in Hamburg can sometimes be a challenge. For travellers, the best areas to stay include the Altstadt, Altona and St. Pauli. Here are a few recommendations to start your accommodations search…
- Chez Ronny: If you’re tired of staying in boring budget hotels, this wacky guesthouse will be a breath of fresh air. Rooms are affixed with colourful lights & odd decor, blending in with the buzzing nightlife-centric vibe at the nearby Reeperbahn.
- NH Collection Hamburg City: A superb mid-range choice featuring bright modern rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows. Extras like a sauna, steam bath and terrace with panoramic city views add to the value. Both the Karolinenviertel and Schanzenviertel entertainment & shopping areas are less that five minutes away by foot.
- Sofitel Hamburg Alter Wall: One of the top luxury picks in Hamburg, this elegant 5-star hotel overlooks the warehouse district canals for a unique perspective on the city. It’s the perfect choice for sightseeing to the max in Altstadt.