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12 of the Best Things to Do in Hamburg Germany for the Weekend

Learn about cool things to do in Hamburg Germany. Find out what Hamburg is famous for. Discover ways to spend 3 days in Hamburg.
Are there cool things to do in Hamburg Germany? I’ve been fascinated by Hamburg ever since the contestants of The Amazing Race went there a few seasons back. 

A bit off the traditional tourist track compared to popular travel destinations in Germany like Berlin and Munich, Hamburg is a gritty port where old factory complexes have taken on new life making for an ideal city break destination. 

Read on to discover 12 awesome things to do in Hamburg plus ideas on where to stay, what to eat, and where to go on a day trip.

What is Hamburg famous for? Sunsets over Hamburg port.

What is Hamburg famous for?

While Hamburg does not have as many world-renowned attractions as places like London and Paris, I quickly learned that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice. As in many other European cities, some of the bridges were sprinkled with locks from couples professing their undying love.
What is Hamburg famous for? more bridges than Venice

Get Your Bearings in Hamburg

Walking toward our hotel from the S-Bahn station, I stopped to admire the wrought iron embellishments of the buildings in the neighborhood. Stone figures lined impressive doorways. Ivy crept slowly up the side of red brick buildings. I liked how the locals planted flower boxes in unexpected places; taking advantage of traffic signs and construction equipment. An old factory complex rose in the distance. It had been converted by a large publisher into an office complex with public walkways leading through illustrating the new life that has been breathed into Hamburg as a digital advertising and publishing hub.
Cool things to do in Hamburg: explore an old factory turned into a digital advertising and publishing hub

1. St. Michel’s Church in Hamburg

If you find yourself in Hamburg on a sunny day, ascend the tower at St. Michel’s church for sweeping views of the city. We decided to take the stairs to the top (a) to get some exercise and (b) to avoid a significant queue for the lift. As an added bonus for our effort, we got to see the church bells in action. We emerged into the sunlight and admired the various spires dotting the Hamburg skyline. Doing a circuit of the platform, we stopped to check out the machinery of the port. Some distinctive high rises emerged from the Reeperbahn. We stood on the spiral staircase leading up to an even narrower platform and admired the view framed by the stone columns of St. Michel. We descended the steps (much easier than on the way up!) and headed into the heart of Hamburg.
Hamburg points of interest: St. Michel's Church
Cool things to do in Hamburg Germany: Climb the spire of St. Michel's church for views of Hamburg
Cool things to do in Hamburg: Check out the view of the Reeperbahn from the tower of St. Michel's Church.

2. Explore Hamburg’s Hanseatic Past

Manhole covers showed off scenes from the free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg. The Hanseatic League was a loose collection of trading partners in the area. We'd already visited a number of other Hanseatic cities including Gdansk and Tallinn.
What is Hamburg Famous For? being part of the Hanseatic League

3. Hamburg Rathaus

You may be wondering about what to see in Hamburg. The Hamburg City Hall is one of the most impressive Hamburg points of interest, in my opinion. We were frankly awed by the sight of Hamburg’s Rathaus. The facade of the Rathaus was quite ornate and guided the eye upward. The Rathaus is sometimes open to visitors. If it’s open when you pass by, definitely take time to explore the interior of Hamburg’s Rathaus. Impressive arches connected thick columns. We went outside to the interior courtyard and admired the fountain centerpiece.
Hamburg points of interest: Hamburg Rathaus

4. Hamburg’s Sculptures

There were interesting statues wherever we turned in Hamburg. From surly looking angels to a man with two buckets of water (we'd see this motif again and again around town). I did a little research after our 3 days in Hamburg and discovered that this water carrier (Wassertragen) was nicknamed Hans Hummel and that he is widely known as a symbol of Hamburg. Apparently, children used to torment Hummel in the mid-19th century by mooning him as he was carrying his heavy load to which he would reply 'Mors, Mors!' or 'kiss my ass'. Somehow this just feels appropriate given Hamburg's somewhat baudy port city reputation.
Cool things to see in Hamburg: Hans Hummel statue

5. Hamburg Außenalster

Alster Lake, an artificial lake within the Hamburg city limits sports a fountain in the center. Take a walk around Außenalster for some fresh air admiring colorful flags flapping in the wind as you go.
What to do in Hamburg: Take a walk around Außenalster

6. Don’t Forget to Moisturize with Nivea in Hamburg

Nivea is headquartered in Hamburg and we made a quick detour to the Nivea flagship store. We were expecting some great bargains but in reality, the store was a tourist attraction with prices to match. We ended up getting our Nivea skin care products at the local supermarket for the same or lower price.
Things to do in Hamburg: visit Nivea headquarters and store

7. Hanseviertel

Our final stop of the afternoon was Hanseviertel, a local shopping arcade. We discovered a store called Paulsen which boasted all sorts of sweet treats include Lebkuchen. Natural light streamed into the arcade through glass arches. Soak up the sun inside Hanseviertel and warm-up if you visit during a cold time of year as we did.
What to do in Hamburg: shop in Hanseviertel

8. Hamburg Port at Sunset

Another cool things to do in Hamburg is take a stroll along the River Elbe at sunset. The sunset lighting up the heavy equipment along the port was unexpectedly enchanting. We spotted a man who looked a bit like a retired sea captain playing a wind-up musical instrument and busking along Hamburg Harbor. Stop at Fischpfanne for a quick beer then venture out and watch the lights of the port twinkle against the night sky.
What to do in Hamburg: Watch the sunset over Hamburg Port

9. Sample Hamburg’s Nightlife and Discover the Beatles Along Hamburg’s Reeperbahn

Hamburg has a dark and gritty side that surfaces in the Reeperbahn, the most famous street in St. Pauli, Hamburg's Red Light District. We took an early evening stroll to check out what the hype was about. Casinos and sex shops lined the main thoroughfare. We stopped for a kebab dinner before venturing down to Große Freiheit. A tribute to the Beatles anchors the intersection with the Reeperbahn. The Beatles regularly performed at clubs in Hamburg early in their career. Große Freiheit was hopping even though it was still before 9 pm. It reminded me a bit of Bourbon Street in New Orleans with neon signs beckoning passersby in for a drink, music, or a peep show. After a few blocks, we reached the opposite end of Große Freiheit. We paused outside Große Freiheit 36, a popular club that has featured a number of famous acts before heading for home. Reeperbahn was worth a peek but overall seemed rather tame compared to the district’s reputation. The nightlife here really wasn't our thing so we opted to go to bed early to ensure that we were well-rested for the Sunday morning fish market!
Cool things to do in Hamburg Germany: Check out the nightlife near Beatles-Platz on Große Freiheit

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other short city break destinations to visit in Germany? Have you considered:

10. Hamburg Fischmarkt

We set out early on Sunday morning for Hamburg's Fischmarkt (opening hours: Sunday 5.00am – 9.30 a.m), by far the coolest thing that we did on our three days in Hamburg. One of the first things we noticed were trucks with huge loads of groceries. People were queuing up with bags and the guys in the truck seemed to be handing out free stuff. Upon observing further, it looks like people paid for a bag and could decide how they wanted to fill it up. It was an interesting spectacle. Customers could also buy *huge* prepared baskets of fruit. If we were planning to stay for more than 3 days in Hamburg, we definitely would have bought one! We opted instead to buy a smaller pack of fruit...18 plums for 1 EUR!  Somehow, we managed to finish all the plums in less than 2 days...Good stuff!
Cool things to do in Hamburg: visit the Hamburg Fischmarkt on a Sunday
Many of the stalls at the market sell fish sandwiches which the locals eat for breakfast and are apparently great for a hangover after a night out in the Reeperbahn. There were a number of different kinds available. I saw a kid with a fried fish sandwich that looked good and asked him: Was ist Das? He replied: Backfisch. Perfect. I went up to the counter and ordered a backfisch sandwich which turned out to be super tasty. It usually pays off to emulate what the locals do.
What to eat in Hamburg: a backfisch sandwich from Hamburg Fischmarkt
At the next stall, there was an extremely large and beefy man calling out loudly with people pushing in to buy his fish. It looks like he would put together an assortment of various fish and shout out a price then see who was willing to pay up. It was very entertaining to watch!
Cool things to do in Hamburg: Watch the fishmongers at Hamburg Fischmarkt

The Hamburg Fischmarkt was getting very crowded at this point. We pushed our way further in. We soon came upon a coffee stall which was just what we needed after an early morning fish sandwich. The barista was grooving to some funky beats as he made each cappuccino. I loved his energy! At the far end of the market, we discovered a hall serving beer and brunch with live music.

11. Hamburg's Hafencity and Speicherstadt

We spent about a half day of our 3 days in Hamburg exploring Hafencity and Speicherstadt, the old warehouse district. We followed the walkway around to a harbor for small boats. Elevated platforms wound their way through the neighborhood. Uniform brick buildings lined the water channels. We passed some impressive tall ships parked across from the modern apartment and office buildings of Hafencity.
What to do in Hamburg in 3 days: Visit Hafencity

12. Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall

Nearby, we discovered a pavilion in Hamburg promoting the Elbe Philharmonic Hall. Metal horns protruded from the structure and played snippets of music from various concerts. We turned and could see the Elbe Philharmonic Hall with its distinctive wavy facade in the distance.

Where to Stay in Hamburg?

During our city break in Hamburg, we stayed at the Madison Hotel. The hotel was conveniently located close to the train and a healthy walk to Hamburg's city centre, the port, and Hamburg Fischmarkt. There are two other things that made Hotel Madison special...(a) the bucket of gummy candy sitting at reception. (b) rubber duckies in the rooms.

Where to Eat in Hamburg

As we walked around on foot we noticed that restaurants seemed a bit hard to come by in Hamburg's city centre. We ascended to the top floor of the Galeria Kaufhof where we found a selection of delicious options. We tried soup, coffee, and a slice of chocolate and pear kuchen. We also tried a type of pot roast with boiled potatoes and cabbage. It was a filling meal to fortify our afternoon of exploration.

Day Trip from Hamburg to Lübeck

Lübeck is less than an hour by train from Hamburg so we decided to take a day trip to check it out. It takes about 10 minutes to walk into Lübeck town from the train station. Lübeck is anchored by the Holstentor, an impressive gate built in 1464 marking the entrance to the western end of the old center of Lübeck. Additional spires peeked out as we got closer to the Holstentor. The Holstentor was beginning to sag a bit but that's to be expected for a structure that's over 500 years old! Stroll along the Trave River and then wander into old town Lübeck. Using the spire as a landmark, we made our way to Jacobikirche. It was impressively tall when standing in its shadow. We took a peek inside and discovered a magnificent pipe organ.
Day trips from Hamburg: Holstentor in Lübeck
Lübeck is home to Niederegger which is known for exquisite marzipan. We popped into their flagship store and cafe for some sweet treats on our day trip to Lübeck from Hamburg. We found all shapes and sizes including a turkey made from marzipan! We treated ourselves to a snack at the cafe upstairs. We started with a nice bowl of tomato soup but even that was decadent...The soup was covered in whipped cream! We capped off our snack with a coffee and slice of layer cake selected from the impressive display of cakes. It didn't last long. Delicious!
Day trips from Hamburg: Niederegger shop
Is Lübeck worth visiting on a 3 day trip to Hamburg? Most definitely. The architecture is historic and impressive and you can’t get fresher marzipan.
Day trips from Hamburg: eat marzipan in Lübeck

Cool Things To Do in Hamburg Map

Check out this helpful map to help get your bearings and discover all the cool things to do in Hamburg and in Lübeck. Click on the image to open up an interactive version in Google Maps to help you plan your German city break.

Things to do in Hamburg Map

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 12 of the Best Things to Do in Hamburg Germany for the Weekend
12 of the Best Things to Do in Hamburg Germany for the Weekend
Learn about cool things to do in Hamburg Germany. Find out what Hamburg is famous for. Discover ways to spend 3 days in Hamburg.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog