Weekend in Hamburg Itinerary – Top Things to do in Hamburg
Hamburg, Germany’s Harbor City, is still a relatively undiscovered treasure among foreign tourists, but well worth a visit. I had been to Hamburg a few times as a child/teenager, but not recently and so I was really excited when I was invited on a press trip to Hamburg for a few days to explore the top things to do in Hamburg.
What makes Hamburg so special? This city is full of surprises and lots of cool stuff is happening here. Did you know that Hamburg is considered the coffee capital of the world? Or the craft beer capital of Germany? Or that The Beatles spend more time performing in Hamburg than anywhere else in the world?
The Hamburg itinerary I followed was incredible and showed me not only the top tourist attractions in Hamburg but also some stuff only the locals know about. I can’t wait to share some of my favorites sights and things to do in Hamburg with you.
Insider Tip: If you plan a jam-packed Hamburg Itinerary and want to see and experience all the top things to do in Hamburg, I highly recommend getting the Hamburg Card. It not only includes free public transportation but also up to 50% discounts on all Hamburg Museums, many tours, Alster cruises, experiences, and even restaurants. You can buy your Hamburg Card here in advance and either print it or use it on your smartphone.
And here is a great guide for the best Restaurants in Hamburg.
Let’s start with the top Hamburg tourist attraction: The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.
Built on top of a historical warehouse in the heart of Hamburg’s HafenCity, the concert hall has not only become a stunning addition to Hamburg’s cityscape but is becoming one of the most recognizable and iconic buildings in Germany.
The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg – lovingly called Elfie – opened its doors for the first concert in January 2017 and has impressed music aficionados with its acoustic excellence.
The large concert hall is not only visually striking but also optimized the architecture to create the perfect sound experience from every seat in the audience. No seat is more than 30 meters (98 ft) from the conductor and the vineyard-style seating allows undisturbed views of the orchestra.
I was lucky to enjoy a concert at the Elbphilharmonie, which was definitely a highlight of my Hamburg itinerary. The piece, written by the conductor himself, was perfect to showcase the sound capabilities of this renowned concert hall.
You can find a list of upcoming concerts at the Elfie here.
If you like to attend a concert at the Elbphilharmonie during your Hamburg trip, I recommend you book tickets ahead of time, in case of popular artists or performances even months in advance. Make sure that you get tickets for the Grand Hall (Großer Saal in German).
In case you decide spontaneously, you can always try to get a ticket on the day of the performance at the ticket booth inside the concert hall.
Platz der Deutschen Einheit
Westin at the Elbphilharmonie
My already perfect evening at the Elfie became even more memorable because I spend the night there. Yes, you can sleep inside one of the most famous concert halls in the world. Inside the Elfie building, surrounding the concert hall is the Westin Hamburg.
This 5 Star Hotel is one of the best Hotels in Hamburg and leaves nothing to be desired in terms of luxury and comfort. If you book a premium room, you will be spoiled with stunning views over the city or the Elb river.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District
Germans are practical when it comes to naming places, so the name Speicherstadt is nothing but a literal translation of “storage city”. I have to say, the German name sounds a bit more idyllic and fitting for the beautiful buildings that make up the largest warehouse district in the world.
UNESCO recognized the Speicherstadt in Hamburg as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, but it has been a magnet for tourists long before.
What makes a warehouse district so special, you might wonder? Three things:
- The History: Learning about the importance of Hamburg as one of the major trading cities in the world is fascinating. It is still known as one of the largest trade centers for coffee and rugs in the world. Lots of warehouses are still used for their original purpose. While the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District were extensively damaged during World War II, it was rebuilt in an authentic way.
- The Architecture: The red brick warehouses, built between 1883 – 1927, are absolutely stunning. Rows and rows of Neo-Gothic style buildings, alternating with cobblestoned streets and canals make the Speicherstadt extremely picturesque.
- Modern Use: While it is forbidden to live in the Speicherstadt due to flood management restrictions, many of the old warehouses are now office space or specialty shops, restaurants, bars and more. I really liked that these historic buildings were not turned into a museum, but rather are part of the city, where tourists and locals enjoy themselves, go to work and hang out.
The Kontorhaus District is part of the UNESCO Heritage Site, but not directly located in the Speicherstadt. It is famous for 8 Kontorhouses: The Chilehaus, Messberghof, Sprinkenhof, Mohlenhof, Montanhof, former Post Office Building at Niedernstrasse 10, Kontorhaus Burchardstrasse 19-21 and the Miramar-Haus.
These huge office buildings were built between 1920 – 1950 and are prime examples of modern city planning in dense urban areas. Pure office buildings were a new concept, as it was more common to have mixed-use buildings in urban settings.
Due to the rapid expansion of the Hamburg Harbor and the Speicherstadt, the demand for office space also increased and the Kontorhaus District was the solution to provide office space for trading companies as well as port authorities.
The most iconic and famous Kontorhaus in Hamburg is the Chilehaus designed by architect F. Höger and a prime example of expressionist architecture. The wavey facade of the building leads to a sharp corner, looking like a ship’s prow.
Inside, you will find stunning tile work, art deco details, and beautiful staircases, as well as one of the only still working paternoster elevators in the city. Also, don’t forget to check out the nice courtyard in the center.
Elbphilharmonie, Speicherstadt, Kontorhaus, HafenCity Walking Tour
Because the history of the Speicherstadt and the Kontorhaus District is so interesting, I highly recommend a walking tour of the area. This one includes a visit to the Plaza of the Elbphilharmonie, a tour of the Speicherstadt, Kontorhaus District and HafenCity and you can book it here.
Hotels in Hamburg HafenCity:
My stay at the Westin was a real treat. The service is impeccable and nothing could beat the view from my room. Sleeping inside one of the most iconic buildings in Hamburg is an unforgettable experience and simply walking through the lobby to access one of the most famous concert halls in the world can’t be topped. If you want to treat yourself, I highly recommend the Westin Hamburg.
I stayed here for 2 more nights during my weekend in Hamburg and really enjoyed it. The decor feels like Indiana Jones meets National Geographic with a hint of Hipster. The rooms are very large and the location is very convenient. Their breakfast is also noteworthy – they had an extensive buffet selection and offered made to order dishes as well, including omelets, shakshuka, and of course eggs in all shapes and forms.
Top Attractions in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt
- Miniatur Wunderland (see info below)
- Coffee museum
- Dialogue in the Dark
- HafenCity Visitor Center (with an impressive model of Hamburg City)
Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg myself, but my father and my nephew went there last year and they both absolutely loved it.
What can you expect from Hamburg’s top tourist attraction and who should visit? The Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg is the world’s largest model railway. If you think that is a bit nerdy and not for you, I think you should at least watch this short video to see how cool it actually is:
Pretty cool, isn’t it? Over 1 Million visitors a year will probably agree with you. You can book your tickets in advance here: Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg
St Pauli & the Reeperbahn – Hamburg’s Red Light District
Let’s continue with a little Hamburg tourist attraction that is a little less suitable for kids: St Pauli and the Reeperbahn are in Hamburg’s Red Light District. So what is there to see, other than seedy strip clubs and brothels?
A lot, actually. St Pauli is actually a pretty large neighborhood and the Red Light District around the Reeperbahn is only a tiny fraction. I did a Beatles Walking Tour (see more below) in St Pauli and it was one of my favorite neighborhoods in Hamburg with a lot of charm, cool bars, and restaurants (once you get away from the Reeperbahn).
This street is filled with clubs and bars featuring the hottest DJs as well as live music, some of them for 80+ years. If those walls could talk. Some of the bars and clubs hosted stars like The Beatles, Bill Haley, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Lee Lewis and many more. In the 60s, Hamburg was THE place to be for young and up and coming musicians.
Beatles Walking Tour
This was another highlight of my Hamburg itinerary, the Hamburg Beatles Tour. If you are a Beatles fan – and who isn’t, really – you might already know that they performed in Hamburg.
The tour led me all across St Pauli and showed me some of the iconic places like the Kaiserkeller or Club INDRA, where The Beatles performed for the very first time on August 17, 1960. Steffi Hempel, the tour guide, knows EVERYTHING about the Beatles and her passion for this band and their music is contagious.
Here are some of the fun facts that Steffi shared with me on the tour:
- The Beatles were the second choice band that the agent selected to go play in Hamburg
- They had NEVER performed together and only had a handful of practices together before coming to Hamburg
- They performed more hours on stage in Hamburg than in any other place in the world
- They slept for months in unheated broom closets in a movie theater in the heart of St Pauli (which showed children’s movies during the day and adult movies at night)
If you are a Beatles fan, this tour is a MUST, but even if you are only remotely interested in the band and their history, you will find the tour interesting. This is also a more child/teenager appropriate tour to see and experience St Pauli and the Reeperbahn.
The most sinful street in the Kiez, the Herbertstraße, is the epicenter of the Red Light District near the Reeperbahn. The entrance is boarded up and only men over 18 are allowed in. Yes, you read this right. Women are not allowed. And ladies, DO NOT TRY TO GO IN! In all seriousness, this is not a game, especially not for the Madames working there.
What will you find in the Herbertsstraße? As I am a woman, I can’t tell you from personal experience, but from research and stories, this is what you will see: Ladies in Boots, as the locals call the working women in Hamburg, sit scantily clad behind windows and use their feminine charms to siren men to their room of pleasure.
*Disclaimer: Prostitution is legal in Germany and most of the women are working as independent contractors or even employees, pay taxes, and receive social benefits just like any other worker in any other industry.
This is an 18+ tour that will take you in the heart of the Kiez and the Red Light District. You will learn about the history of the most sinful mile in Germany, the sex, the crime, and all the other debauchee details.
It also includes visits to some of the most legendary bars and clubs of the Kiez and definitely promises a fun time for the grown-ups. You can book your spot on the 2 hours St Pauli Sex and Crime tour here!
Hamburg Fish Market
Sunday morning is Fish Market in Hamburg. It starts early – at 5 AM – but the only ones you will find there at that time are over-eager tourists and Reeperbahn zombies trying to sober up from last night’s debauchery.
However, at 10 AM sharp, the market sellers have to pack up their stuff and leave, so I recommend getting there at 8 – 8:30 AM to check out the Fish Market.
This gives you enough time to listen to the barkers praising their fish offers and eat a traditional Matjesbrötchen (a bread roll with pickled herring) or a Backfischbrötchen (bread roll with traditional “fish cake patty” and remoulade or any of the other delicious treats you might enjoy.
They do have limited options for people who don’t like to eat fish, but other than fresh produce and fruit, I have not seen anything that might be suitable for vegetarians, so consider that when you have dietary restrictions.
After that, head to the Fish Market Hall right next to the Market and enjoy some live music, coffee, beer, more fish and definitely a good time.
Hamburg Harbor Tour by Boat
If it is Sunday, and you already are at the Fish Market, I recommend that you do your Hamburg Harbor Tour right after. It is a nice 15-20 minutes walk along the river to get to the Landungsbrücke (Pier), where the Harbor Tour takes off.
The Hamburg harbor is the 3rd largest port in Europe, and part of the city’s incredible charm. Seeing those huge container ships close up and learning about the history, day-to-day operation and lots of interesting fun facts make the Harbor Cruise a must for your Hamburg itinerary. Book your 1-hour harbor cruise here.
After your harbor cruise, I recommend another Hamburg attraction, which is just around the corner from the cruise pier: The Elbtunnel in Hamburg.
The Elbtunnel opened its doors in 1911 and was a real sensation for the time and is still amazing to see in today’s time. The 1400 feet (426 m) long tunnel lays 80 feet (24 m) beneath the surface of the river Elbe.
On each end, there are 4 large elevators that hold cars and motorcycles. Yes, you heard that right, this tiny tunnel was made for cars and is still used as a regular way to commute to and from the city for locals. In 2008, 700,000 pedestrians, 63,000 bicyclists and 300,000 cars used the Old Elbtunnel (Source Wikipedia).
When you get out on the Steinwerder side, turn right and follow the signs to the viewpoint and you will have a nice view of Hamburg’s skyline and the Elbphilharmonie.
Opening Hours Old Elbtunnel:
Pedestrians/Bicyclists: 24/7, except New Year’s Eve (closed from 9 PM to 4 AM).
Cars and motorized vehicles:
Monday – Friday:
8 AM to 1 PM: One-Way traffic from St. Pauli to Steinwerder
1 PM to 6 PM One-Way traffic from Steinwerder to St. Pauli
Saturday, Sunday, and Bank Holidays: Closed for Cars.
Insider Tip: Due to exhaust fumes, I highly recommend pedestrians and bicyclists to only use the Elbtunnel when it is closed for motorized vehicles. I walked through the Old Elbtunnel on Sunday after the Fish Market and it was a fun stroll, but if I had to walk next to cars with their motors running, I probably would have turned back.
Dialogue in the Dark Hamburg
When I first heard about Dialogue in the Dark, I thought it was an interesting concept. I didn’t know that this would be such an incredible experience.
So, what is Dialogue in the Dark?
Dialogue in the Dark is a social concept exhibition that has locations around the world. When you visit, you are experiencing a glimpse of the daily life of a blind person. You will be guided by a visually impaired guide through an exhibit that simulates situations of daily life, such as walking through a park, exploring a living room, crossing a street and even sitting in a boat – in complete darkness.
Why should you visit Dialogue in the Dark?
This is difficult to answer, but let me tell you my personal experience of Dialogue in the Dark and what I got out of it.
- It pushed me outside of my comfort zone as I had to relearn the most basic daily tasks, such as crossing a street or identifying vegetables by touch and smell.
- It made me realize how different my life would have been if I had been born with a visual impairment or if my eyesight had been taken away through disease or an accident.
- A sense of accomplishment, when I was able to identify an object with the senses that I usually pay much less attention to.
- I got to talk to several guides and learned about their personal story, some of them blind since birth, others who lost their eyesight later in life. It was interesting to see and learn more about the difficulties they encounter and actually experience a few of them myself.
- I learned more about how I can become more proactive in helping visually impaired people the right way. I am working on updating the photos on EuropeUpClose to include a better description of the photo and make my website more accessible for visually impaired visitors.
- It also made me feel thoughtful and even a bit somber, as I was able to walk out of the exhibit and see again, while my guides could not. It is their daily life.
- It made me aware of the ingenuity that visually impaired people have to master their lives. I am in awe of their problem-solving skills, their creativity, and their memory skills.
Explore the Craft Beer Scene in Hamburg
Everyone knows that Germany is the country of beer. German beer is good, some of it even great. But Craft Beer has been a bit slower to take off in Germany than in most other countries. I think this is due to three reasons:
- Part of it is because of the strict German Purity Law, which does not allow any ingredients other than water, barley, and hops. You can’t get too creative with just those three ingredients.
- Another reason might be that because German beer has always been decent, there has been less of an urgent need to come up with more tasty beer recipes.
- And lastly, because Germans are not very adventurous when it comes to their favorite beverage. I know people who have bought the same brand of beer for decades and they simply don’t see a reason to try something else. They buy what they know and what they like. Thankfully, this is slowly changing.
So Craft Beer Breweries and Beers are not as readily available in Germany as in many other parts of the world. If you are a craft beer lover, and you have been missing your Craft Beers while traveling, you should definitely check out these Breweries/Tap Rooms/Brew Pubs when you are in Hamburg:
This brewery/brewpub is located right along the Elbe. This colorful brewery and brewpub was by far my favorite Craft Beer stop in Hamburg.
Their beers are really good and balanced. Many IPAs I have tried in Europe are on the sweet side, but the Supadupa IPA and the World White IPA were nice and dry with a fruity hop aroma. Their Lieblings Lager and the Original (Helles) are a great choice if you don’t like too much hops.
I talked to their Head Brewer and he knows what he is doing. He has brewed all over the world and you can taste his passion in his beers.
They also have amazing pizza there. I had the Margarita and even it was the perfect pairing for the beer flight I had. The dough is fluffy, but not doughy and the toppings are fresh and flavorful.
Überquell also likes to do fun events with other breweries in the area, collaboration brews, live music, and other fun stuff.
The Ratsherrn Brewery is located in the Schanzenviertel of Hamburg and offers a brewery experience similar to what you would get in the US. They offer a brewery tour with tasting, have a craft beer store and next door is a brewpub.
They offer English speaking tours every Friday at 1 PM and I highly recommend booking in advance. If you can’t make it on Friday, you can also join any German tour and they will provide you with an audio guide in English. The tour was good, but more targeted towards people who have never been on a brewery tour before. What I liked a lot about the tour was that I learned a lot about the history of beer in Germany and especially Hamburg.
They have a very large selection of beers and I liked their variety of different beer styles. However, they all were a bit too sweet and malty for my personal taste.
Next door to the Ratsherrn Brewery is the Brewpub Altes Mädchen (Old Girl). They have 30 taps on draft and countless bottled beer options, so you will most definitely find something to your liking.
Prices are mid-range and you should definitely try their bread. They take the German bread obsession to the next level with their own Bread Sommelier. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to eat there, but they served their bread during the beer tasting at Ratsherrn brewery and it was knock-your-socks-off DELICIOUS.
If I lived in Hamburg, this would probably be my hangout spot. It is a tiny little bar in a residential neighborhood with about 20 beers on tap. Most of them are from the region and you can get a taster before you commit (which is NOT common in Germany).
The interior design is part dive, part mid-century modern living room with a cozy atmosphere and friendly service. There is not a lot going on, no TVs or loud music or other distractions. It is the kind of place, where you go to talk to your friends, drink some beers, even read a book, write in your diary and just hang out.
Most of us drink it every morning yet we know so little about it: Coffee. Did you now that the largest Coffee Wholeseller is located in Hamburg. Every 7th cup of coffee you consume is sold by a family-owned company based in Hamburg. This makes Hamburg de facto the Coffee Capital of the world.
I visited the Kaffeemuseum Burg in the Speicherstadt. During my visit, I toured their coffee museum and also had a coffee tasting. If you like coffee, I highly recommend this experience. I not only learned interesting facts about coffee and its history but also great tips on how to find good quality coffee, how to prepare it properly and why cold coffee often tastes horrible.
Opening Hours/Tickets Coffee Museum Burg:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10 AM – 6 PM (please see this site for exceptions)
Tuesday – Friday: 10 AM – 12 PM – 14 PM – 16 PM
Saturday & Sunday: Every full hour
Ticket Price: 10 EUR for adults, 8 EUR for teenagers (12-18 years), and free for children under 12
Relax at the Alster
After all this exploring, let’s finish with something more relaxing. I told you that Hamburg is a city surrounded by water. Aside from the Elbe river, there is also the Alster. While the Alster is only about 30 miles long (50 km), it is one of the favorite outdoor recreation areas in Hamburg.
You can learn sailing or do a sunset sailing cruise, rent a SUP or paddle boat, or do an Alster Cruise, that takes you around the Alster and lets you peek into the backyards of Hamburg’s rich and famous. You will see beautiful villas and gardens, parks and bridges along the way.
If you like walking, running, or cycling, you can do that along the Alster banks in Alster Park. It is also a great spot to let the kids run around and enjoy themselves if you travel as a family.
So you see, there are so many things to do in Hamburg that you definitely have enough options to fill a few days in this beautiful city. In fact, a weekend in Hamburg might not be enough time to do all the things and see all the sights in Hamburg that interest you.
Hamburg is one of my favorite cities in Germany because it is so full of history and charm, but also has such an international feel to it. I love the architecture in the Speicherstadt and the history of centuries of trade that influenced the city to have such an open-minded character.
Things to Do in Hamburg – Pin for Later: