16 Top Tourist Attractions in Hamburg & Easy Day Trips
Hamburg, the largest city in Germany after Berlin, lies at the head of the long funnel-shaped estuary of the River Elbe. Its location makes it an important link between the sea and Germany's network of inland waterways and numerous islands. The city is best known for its famous harbor area, the Port of Hamburg. 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.
The only part of old Hamburg to survive centuries of fires and wars, the narrow, curving Deichstrasse gives a sense of the city's past. Built long before the 19th-century warehouses and 21st-century harborside complexes, the street is a view into the city's Hansa past. The Hanseatic League was a medieval association of independent port cities and merchants along the Baltic and north Atlantic from the 11th to the 18th centuries, and even into the 19th century. Its distinct architecture is found throughout Baltic Germany. Deichstrasse takes you straight onto a bridge over one of the city's many canals. Massive brick warehouses, built a couple of centuries after the Hansa's power faded, form a canyon along the canal's sides.
A second footbridge leads into the hottest new neighborhood, Hafencity, where old and new mix in a striking blend of 19th-century, neo-Hansa brick with contemporary steel-and-glass apartments, their balconies jutting out over attractive cafés, eye-to-eye with vintage sailing vessels. Many of the most interesting things to do in Hamburg are in this port area.
See also: Where to Stay in Hamburg
1 The Port of Hamburg: Gateway to Germany
The Port of Hamburg, the Hamburger Hafen, encompassing 100 square kilometers of tidal harbor, is known as the Gateway to Germany. It's also where you'll find many of the city's important attractions - and on summer evenings and weekends plenty of local residents relaxing. A lovely pedestrian trail 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.
The newest and most spectacular addition to the waterfront is the Elbphilharmonie, locally known as Elphi. At the point of the Grasbrook peninsula, this new building has become the landmark of Hamburg Harbor. Its base is a six-story brick, former cocoa, tea, and tobacco warehouse above which rise an additional twenty stories of curved, shining glass. The largest of its three concert halls seats 2,150 and is tuned with 10,000 plates specially designed to tune sound waves. The building is also home to a major hotel, residential apartments, restaurants, and other features, including parking. A publicly accessible plaza at level eight provides splendid views of the harbor and the city. The adjacent Traditionsschiffhafen/Sandtorhafen harbor lines the peninsula and is a great place to see vintage tall ships at their docks. A good way to explore the Port of Hamburg is by boat, with numerous tours departing from Landungsbrücken.
Address: Platz der Deutschen Einheit 1, 20457 Hamburg
2 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 is the world's largest model railway, with more than 15,400 meters of track and 1,040 trains. Built on a truly massive scale, it covers 1,490 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 385,000 lights and containing some 260,000 tiny (and unique) human figures. As this is one of the most visited attractions in Germany, you can avoid a long wait by reserving your ticket online.
Address: Kehrwieder 2-4/Block D, 20457 Hamburg
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) and Mönckebergstraße
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. A painted ceiling in the Kaisersaal depicts the importance of German merchant shipping. Guided tours are available, as are opportunities to observe the local government in action.
From the Rathaus, the wide Mönckebergstraße, Hamburg's principal shopping and business district, leads past 14th-century St. Peter's Church, a cathedral and fine example of brick Hansa architecture with a 133-meter bell tower. A column in the south part of the church bears a painting called Christmas 1813, commemorating citizens who were locked in the church that year for refusal to provide food to Napoleon's troops. Continue on Mönckebergstraße 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 and 1762 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. Look for the stunning bronze statue of Archangel Michael killing the devil over the entrance. Some 2,425 people have been buried in its crypt. 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 Rickmer Rickmers and Cap San Diego
Berthed along the river at Landungsbrücken, Rickmer Rickmers is a three-masted tall ship with a long and colorful history. Built in 1896, the ship returned to Hamburg in 1983, and after four years of restoration is now a museum focused on the role of the merchant marine in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The MS Cap San Diego, a 1960s cargo ship, is another merchant marine ship museum with visitor access to the entire ship, from the bridge to the engine rooms (overnight stays are also available).
A different view of the Cold War is available in the former Soviet submarine, B-515, now open as a museum and docked at St. Pauli Fischmarkt 10.
Address: Landungsbrücken, Ponton 1a
7 International Maritime Museum
A great place to discover more about Hamburg's rich maritime history and all things sea-related, is the International Maritime Museum. Housed in a massive red-brick heritage building, the museum's fascinating exhibits cover more than 3,000 years of human connection to water.
The oldest artifact displayed is a dugout boat, hollowed out of a tree trunk thousands of years ago, that was recovered from the Elbe. Models show how shipping has progressed, from Phoenician galleys to Viking long ships to the caravels of the Golden Age of Discovery. An entire deck is devoted to the latest in marine research, with films taken by diving robots and recordings of undersea sounds. Another gallery is filled with maritime art.
Address: Peter Tamm Sen. Stiftung, Kaispeicher B, Koreastraße 1, 20457 Hamburg
8 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.
9 Museum of Arts and Crafts
Hamburg's Museum of Arts and Crafts (Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg), near the train station, ranks alongside the Bavarian National Museum in Munich as one of the country's most comprehensive displays 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 display of porcelain.
Address: Steintorplatz 1, D-20099 Hamburg
10 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
11 Planten un Blomen and Wallringpark
At the St. Pauli landing stages in Hamburg is the Wallringpark, a large recreational area that 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
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 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. Here, near the Neumühlen ferry station on the Elbe main shipping channel, the Museumshafen, Museum Harbor, is home to about 20 historic vessels from the period 1880 to 1960, carefully restored by a private organization. These include traditional German and Dutch flat bottom ships as well as barges, fishing ships, and steam tugs. Some are open for visiting from time to time. 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. 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 inspired the owners of other zoo parks to adopt. Another family attraction is Planetarium Hamburg, located in 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
Lübec: A Hansa Port
From the 13th century forward, the city of Lübec became the major city of the Hansa league, a trade and merchant organization that dominated much of European trade until the early 19th century. Located at the juncture of the River Trave and the Baltic Sea, Lübec remains one of the most important seaports in Germany and in the Baltic region. Among its primary jewels are its remaining Hansa Gothic brick buildings along the medieval city's streets. The twin towers of the 13th-century Marienkirche still serve as a landmark for ships in the Baltic. The very different St. Catherine's Church dates from the 14th century, although both are in the Hansa Gothic style. At St. Catherine's look for the stunning sculpture of St. George and the dragon and Resurrection of Lazarus by Tintoretto.
Other architectural treasures are the two remaining city gates, the Holsten Tor, a massive two-towered structure, and the Burgtor, equally massive but with a single tower. Close to the Holsten Tor on a winding narrow back street, you will find the Theater Figuren Museum Lübec, a private museum with a fascinating collection of theater puppets from around the world. The real joy of Lübec, however, is found in wandering the streets of its old town among original medieval buildings, and poking about in the shops and boutiques, especially the famous Niederegger Marzipan Salon at Breite Straße 89. Lübec is a 45-minute train ride from Hamburg. If you are driving, Autobahn 1 leads straight to Lübec.
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: Lübecker Straße 1, D-22926 Ahrensburg