16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Hamburg
Hamburg, the largest city in Germany after Berlin, and the eighth largest in Europe, lies at the head of the long funnel-shaped estuary of the River Elbe. Its location also makes it an important link between the sea and Germany's network of inland waterways, as well as numerous islands such as Neuwerk and Scharhörn at the mouth of the Elbe estuary. The city is best known for its famous harbor area, the Port of Hamburg, which covers 100 square kilometers between the Norder and the Süderelbe rivers. Often referred to as the Gateway to Germany, this large tidal harbor is a free port, allowing the shipment of goods without duties. In addition to being a major transportation hub, Hamburg has become one of Europe's most important cultural and commercial centers, as well as a major tourist destination boasting numerous first-class attractions.
See also: Where to Stay in Hamburg
1 Editor's Pick Miniatur Wunderland
Although billed as the world's largest model railway, Hamburg's Miniatur Wunderland is really much more than simply a toy train layout. This stunning new attraction is the world's largest model railway, boasting more than 12,000 meters of track and 890 trains. Built on a truly massive scale, it covers 1,150 square meters with more planned (it will be double this size when completed). Highlights include areas dedicated to the USA, Scandinavia, and Germany, as well as an airport with planes that actually take off, all of it illuminated by more than 300,000 lights and containing some 200,000 tiny (and unique) human figures. Avoid a long wait by reserving your ticket online.
Address: Kehrwieder 2-4/Block D, 20457 Hamburg
2 The Port of Hamburg: The Gateway to Germany
The Port of Hamburg - the Hamburger Hafen - is home to a number of the city's most important attractions. Encompassing 100 square kilometers, this large tidal harbor, known as the Gateway to Germany, is fun to explore by boat, with numerous tours departing from Landungsbrücken. A highlight of the area is the lovely pedestrian trail that takes in the old 19th-century Warehouse District with its continuous lines of tall brick buildings once used to store tobacco, coffee, dried fruit, and spices. Another landmark is the Köhlbrandbrücke, a 3.9-kilometer bridge that spans the harbor.
3 Kunsthalle Hamburg
In three separate but connected buildings on the Glockengiesserwall, Kunsthalle Hamburg is one of Germany's top art galleries. Highlights include numerous altarpieces, works by local artists of the 14th century, and Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. Also of note are its fine collections of 19th-century German and French paintings, plus substantial modern and contemporary art collections. Tours and fun programs for children are available. Another notable art collection is housed at the Deichtorhallen, one of the largest galleries of contemporary art and photography in Europe.
Address: Glockengiesserwall 1, D-20095 Hamburg
4 Hamburg Rathaus (City Hall)
In the center of Hamburg's Old Town is the Rathaus or City Hall. This large, sumptuous Neo-Renaissance building adjacent to the Stock Exchange (Börse) was completed in 1897 and consists of 647 rooms, many opened to the public for the city's annual Long Night of Museums event. Guided tours are available, as are opportunities to observe the local government in action. From here, the wide Mönckebergstrasse, Hamburg's principal shopping and business district, leads past 14th-century St. Peter's Church with its 133-meter-high tower all the way to the Central Station and the Schauspielhaus theater.
Address: Rathausmarkt 1, 20095 Hamburg
5 St. Michael's Church
The most famous of Hamburg's many churches, St. Michael's was built in the Baroque style between 1750-62 and is one of the city's most important landmarks. From its 132-meter-high tower, familiarly known as "Michel," and accessible by stairs and an elevator, viewing platforms offer excellent panoramas of the city and port, a particular treat during their regular extended evening openings. Also of interest is the crypt where some 2,425 people have been buried. In a courtyard to the east of the church are the Krameramtswohnungen, dwellings originally built to house the widows of members of the local Shopkeepers' Guild, as well as a museum. Another nearby church of note is St. James's, a splendid 14th-century building housing medieval altars and an Arp Schnitger organ.
Address: Englische Planke 1, 20459 Hamburg
6 Ohlsdorf Cemetery
Not only is Ohlsdorf Cemetery (Friedhof Ohlsdorf) the world's largest rural cemetery, it's one of the most important. Covering 966 acres and boasting 12 chapels, it's where more than 1.5 million burials have taken place in some 280,000 burial sites. The cemetery is also where you'll find the Hamburg Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, where more than 400 allied prisoners-of-war are buried, along with many who died in battles on German soil. Other notable memorials include those dedicated to victims of Nazi persecution, the Hamburg Firestorm of WWII, and members of the city's anti-Nazi resistance. Don't be put off by the fact that the site is a cemetery; more than two million people each year visit its memorials, monuments, and museum while strolling through the pleasant gardens along its 17 kilometers of streets. Another important Hamburg memorial is the Bismarck Monument, the best known of Germany's many towers commemorating the country's most revered politician.
Address: Fuhlsbüttler Straße 756, 22337 Hamburg
7 Great Lakes: Inner and Outer Alster
The focal points of Hamburg's inner city area are the Inner Alster (Binnenalster) and Outer Alster (Aussenalster), two artificial lakes connected to the rivers Alster and the Elbe. It's here you'll find Hamburg's most picturesque city squares and historic avenues, as well as its famous pedestrian areas, the passagens. The best routes take in the elegant Jungfernstieg with its cafés and landing stages used by tour boats, and the Ballindamm, with the city's largest shopping center. The lakes are also popular for sailing (or skating in winter) and are lined by many beautiful parks and gardens. Also popular is the Pöseldorf area with its galleries, boutiques, and cafés, along with the canals or "fleetes" linking the lakes with the Elbe. If you're visiting in September, be sure to attend the annual Alstervergnügen, a street fair held around the lakes with great entertainment, including numerous concerts.
8 Museum of Arts and Crafts
Hamburg's Museum of Art and Crafts (Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg) ranks alongside the Bavarian National Museum in Munich as one of the country's most comprehensive display of German, European, and Asian applied art. Founded in 1874 and modeled after London's Victoria and Albert Museum, it's particularly well known for its displays of china, furniture, and silver from northern Germany, applied art from East Asia, and a collection of works by Oskar Kokoschka. Also of interest is a large collection of keyboard instruments, as well as a fine collection of porcelain.
Address: Steintorplatz 1, D-20099 Hamburg
9 International Maritime Museum
A great place to discover more about Hamburg's rich maritime history is the International Maritime Museum. Housed in a massive red-bricked heritage building, the museum has many fascinating exhibits dealing with more than 3,000 years of humankind's connection to water, including many old artifacts, models, and artwork. Another marine-themed attraction is the Rickmer Rickmers, a three-masted tall ship built in 1896 that now serves as a museum. The MS Cap San Diego, a 1960s cargo ship, is another maritime museum worth visiting, with admission allowing visitors access to everywhere from the bridge to the engine rooms (overnight stays are also available). Also of interest is the former Soviet submarine, B-515, now open as a museum.
Address: Peter Tamm Sen. Stiftung, Kaispeicher B, Koreastrasse 1, 20457 Hamburg
10 Planten un Blomen and Wallringpark
At the St. Pauli landing stages in Hamburg is the Wallringpark, a large recreational area, which includes some of the city's most popular open spaces, such as the Old Botanic Garden and the Kleine and Grosse Wallanlagen, the gardens laid out on the line of the old fortifications. The best of these excellent parks is Planten un Blomen, a 116-acre park established in 1821 with the planting of a Platanus tree that can still be seen here. It's a wonderful place to relax and enjoy a picnic, or if visiting at night, take in the famous water-light concerts or a musical performance. From Wallringpark, you're just minutes away from the 272-meter-high Heinrich Hertz Telecommunications Tower, popularly known as "Tele-Michel," which boasts great views from its revolving restaurant.
Address: St. Petersburger Straße 28, 20095, Hamburg
11 The Hamburg Museum
The Hamburg Museum (Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte) was established in 1908 and is now a protected national monument. Highlights include the enclosed inner courtyard; its extensive collection of artifacts, including dioramas of the Port of Hamburg at various stages in its history; numerous ship models; and interesting displays relating to city events such as the great fire of 1842. English language guided tours are available.
Address: Holstenwall 24, 20355 Hamburg
12 Museum of Ethnology
The Hamburg Museum of Ethnology (Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg) was founded in 1879 and is one of the largest such museums in Europe, boasting more than 700,000 artifacts and documents. Highlights include a Jewish mappot, the binder used to cover a Torah, dating from 1711; an African exhibition with traditional cultural and religious items; and fun hands-on exhibits such as foosball, xylophones, and cameras.
Address: Rothenbaumchausee 64, 20148 Hamburg
Above the high bank of the Elbe is Hamburg's vibrant Altona district with its Neoclassical houses, many of them protected as historical monuments. It's here, you'll find Museumstrasse, which runs north from the end of the Palmaille, and the Altona Museum with exhibits relating to the geology, landscape, settlement, and economy of Schleswig-Holstein and the Lower Elbe region. Other highlights include displays of marine artifacts, including old models and preserved ship figureheads. Afterwards, be sure to explore the area around Altona, including the Altonaer Balkon, with its fine views of the river and the port, as well as the fishing harbor and fish market.
Address: Museumstrasse 23, 22765 Hamburg
14 Museumshafen Oevelgönne (Museum Harbor)
Hamburg's popular Oevelgönne district contains the New Elbe Tunnel - a 3.5-kilometer-long tunnel running under the River Elbe - and the Museum Harbor. Established in 1977, this historic area is home to 20 old vessels still in working order, including flat-bottomed vessels and barges dating back to the 19th-century, as well as vintage tugboats. One of the larger vessels is the SS Stettin, a former icebreaker built in 1933 that's used for pleasure trips. Also of interest are the numerous pilots' houses on the Elbuferweg, and the Oevelgönner Seekiste, a small museum with a variety of displays and maritime artifacts.
Address: Baron-Voght-Strasse 50, D-22609 Hamburg
15 Jenisch Haus
Not far from the New Elbe Tunnel, in the Klein Flottbek district of Hamburg, lies the beautiful Jenischpark, one of the city's largest and most rural open spaces. It's here, you'll find the superb Neoclassical 19th-century Jenisch-Haus with its rooms reflecting the taste of the prosperous middle classes in styles ranging from Louis XVI to Art Nouveau, all preserved in the on-site museum, a branch of the Altona Museum. The park is also home to the Ernst-Barlach-Haus with its collections of sculptures, drawings, and printed graphic art.
Address: 50 Baron-Voght-Straße, Hamburg 22609
16 Tierpark Hagenbeck
In Hamburg's northwestern suburb of Stellingen, Tierpark Hagenbeck, the city's zoo, was established in 1907 to house a collection of exotic animals owned by a local fishmonger, Carl Hagenbeck (the zoo is still run by his descendants). This excellent facility was the first in the world to use open enclosures surrounded by ditches as opposed to cages, increasing the free-range area of the animals. It was also the first zoo to group animals by species, ideas that the zoo owners imported to other zoo parks, including that found in Rome. Another fun family attraction is Planetarium Hamburg, located in a an old water tower.
Address: Lokstedter Grenzstraße 2, 22527 Hamburg
Where to Stay in Hamburg for Sightseeing
For easy access to Hamburg's top attractions, the best place to stay is in the central Hamburg-Mitte district. An easy walk to Miniatur Wunderland, the world's largest model railway, as well as the city's always-bustling port, this district is also home to great shopping, dining, and art galleries. The following highly-rated hotels are perfect for exploring:
- Luxury Hotels: Overlooking Outer Alster Lake, the Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten offers huge suites, spa services, and high tea in the plush Grand Hall, with its fireplace and fine art. Just minutes from Hamburg's main railway station, the Park Hyatt Hamburg boasts spacious rooms with balconies and heated bathroom floors, as well as an indoor pool and spa. For a more contemporary feel, try The Madison Hamburg, with its spacious rooms (some including kitchenettes), large indoor pool, and on-site dining.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Small and close to Hamburg's harbor, Hotel St. Annen offers spacious rooms, the best of which overlook the inner courtyard. If it's funky and fun you're after, try Prizeotel Hamburg-City featuring large rooms with rainforest showers and heated tiles. Also worth considering is Hotel Wedina. Overlooking Outer Alster Lake, it's a popular place to relax with a book thanks to its well-stocked library and pleasant courtyard garden.
- Budget Hotels: At the higher end of the budget scale, the art deco styled Superbude Hotel Hostel St.Georg offers funky, colorful (and quiet) rooms large enough to sleep families. Other good affordable options close to attractions and entertainment in Hamburg-Mitte are Motel One Hamburg Alster, with its modern décor and furniture, and Ibis Hamburg St. Pauli Messe, as popular for its harbor location as it is for its comfortable, modern rooms.
Day Trips from Hamburg
Just a few kilometers downstream of Hamburg on the River Elbe is the Schulau ferry terminal, home to the famous Willkomm-Höft ship-greeting station. It's here that in 1952 the station began greeting (or bidding farewell to) ships of other nations by playing a few bars of their national anthem while hoisting their flag. Since then, many hundreds of thousands of ships have been honored in this way, and more than 150 national anthems played. An average of 50 ships pass per day, so odds are you'll witness this fun spectacle.
About 23 kilometers northeast of Hamburg is the town of Ahrensburg, famous for its old castle, Schloss Ahrensburg. Now a museum, the castle was built in 1595, and many of its original interiors and furnishings remain intact, providing a fascinating insight into the life of country nobility.
Address: Lübeckerstrasse 1, D-22926 Ahrensburg
Vierlande and Marschlande
The Vierlande and Marschlande regions, ten kilometers southeast of Hamburg, are fertile areas of low-lying land between the River Elbe and the geest heathland. Here, you'll find a variety of interesting landscapes, as well as many quaint small towns and villages. One of the most popular is Billwerder on the northwestern edge of the Marschlande, near the Boberg dunes and the Achtermoor bird sanctuary. Highlights of a visit include the old church of St. Nicholas and the the 13th-century Schloss Bergedorf, which now houses the Museum of Bergedorf and the Vierlande.
About a 25-minute drive east from Billwerder, is the town of Friedrichsruh, home to the Bismarck Mausoleum and Schloss Friedrichsruh, once the residence of Otto von Bismarck.