Whether you are passing through Hamburg before your cruise or road tripping through Germany, a Hamburg weekend will pleasantly surprise you! Historically a port city, Hamburg is currently the 3rd busiest port in Europe, so it has great connections to the rest of Europe both by ship and by train. More importantly, there’s plenty to do on a Hamburg weekend for lovers of culture, nightlife, and the casual explorer.
For my first trip to Hamburg, I was hosted as part of a press trip. It was super fun because it focused on sustainable Hamburg and we go to see 100% local spots that in one way or another contribute to clean living. What this means for you is that I’ve got some advice to dish out on the best organic food, viewing platforms, and eco-friendly hotels.
Of course, I also had to see Hamburg’s signature attractions as well. Thankfully, it has much to offer here: from a boat tour of the harbor, to the UNESCO listed warehouses of Speicherstadt, concerts in the Elbphilharmonie and shopping in Altstadt, there’s enough to spend a marvelous couple of days here. So, let’s get started!
Here are the contents of today's post:
- 1 What you need to know before your Hamburg Weekend
- 2 Hamburg Weekend Itinerary: Things to Do on Day One
- 2.1 Eat a locally sourced meal in Hobenköök
- 2.2 Speicherstadt Unesco heritage region
- 2.3 Take a boat tour of the harbor in English
- 2.4 Eat fresh fish in the harbor
- 2.5 Enjoy the harbor views from Elbphilharmonie
- 2.6 Have coffee from Die Rösterei Coffeum with a view on St. James’ Church
- 2.7 Marvel at the old Rathaus in the Altstadt
- 2.8 Do some Hamburg weekend shopping around the Jungfernstieg
- 3 Hamburg Weekend Itinerary: Things to Do on Day Two
- 4 Where to Stay: Hamburg Accommodation
What you need to know before your Hamburg Weekend
Like many German cities, Hamburg loves cash. In many places, you will not be able to pay by card so make sure to take some money out before you head into the city. You will definitely need it, especially for festivals, public restrooms, and outdoor cafes.
Getting around Hamburg
The easiest way to navigate the city is by getting a Hamburg Card. This card includes free transportation within Hamburg and offers significant discounts on museums, attractions, cafes, and even musicals. As a neat bonus, aside from the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines, you can also use the public transport harbor ferries. One such ferry usually goes from the harbor to the Elbphilharmonie and it’s a fun way to explore the city. If you are planning to travel throughout the region, you can add a Hamburg Region option which will cover you.
Saving money on museums & attractions
As I mentioned, the Hamburg Card offers a hefty discount that goes from 15% up to 50% on selected attractions. The easiest way to browse those is through the app or on the website here. All you have to do is to present your card before you order or buy a ticket. A 2-day ticket will cost you 19.90 EUR per person. This will last you through your Hamburg weekend.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a combination card that already has free entrance included, you might want to go with the Hamburg City Pass. While this pass also offers free transport, it has several upgrades like free bus & boat tours that include the Hop on Hop off Bus, a boat trip on the Alster lake and even a Harbor boat cruise.
As for the attractions and museums, some of the highlights included are the Hamburg Dungeon, a guided tour of the Reeperbahn, the Hamburger Art Gallery, Historic Speicherstadt Museum (located in the most beautiful area of Hamburg), International Maritime Museum and others. The list of discounts is much less extensive, however. A 2-day pass with public transport included will cost you 69,90 EUR per person.
Keep in mind that depending on your weekend plans you might prefer the Hamburg Card to the City Pass, or vice versa. But hopefully, you will get a better idea of what to do in Hamburg after this Hamburg weekend guide 🙂
Hamburg Weekend Itinerary: Things to Do on Day One
Eat a locally sourced meal in Hobenköök
My Hamburg weekend started with dinner at the Hobenköök restaurant. This is perfect if you are arriving on Friday evening through the main train station and are hungry for good quality food. Probably everyone who has ever landed in a foreign city center knows how hard it is to find a spot that isn’t touristic but is actually popular with locals.
Hobenköök fits that bill. The restaurant is situated within walking distance from the Hamburg Hbf train station, but the spot feels completely different from the classic Altstadt old city center. Hobenköök is located in the creative quarters of Oberhafen, occupying the space of an old train station. The restaurant’s concept is perfectly in line with the atmosphere: fresh seasonal ingredients from local farmers in the region.
Part of the space works as a market hall where you can buy all kinds of local produce, from chocolate, tea, and pickles, to fish, vegetables, and pasta. If you’re hunting around for a souvenir for your foodie friends, this just might do. You pay a price for sustainability, of course, but in general, the prices are not too overwhelming (just don’t look at the gin).
This is very much a local spot, which means there are no English menus. The staff does speak English though and can help you make a choice. I had a starter and a main, so perhaps my choice will inspire you. My starter was an asparagus salad (Bunter Spargelsalat) with pickled lemon saplings, rhubarb and goat cream cheese. The combination of flavors was really unusual and struck me as something worth hunting around for. The slightly sour taste was balanced with crumbs of rye bread and was the perfect precursor to the main.
For my main, I got char fish (Saibling) with dill and lemon butter. I wanted to try fish because it is Hamburg’s specialty. The other fish dishes on the menu were cold, but I would definitely recommend trying the Matjes, which is marinated herring. I was surprised by the generous size of my portion and enjoyed the fresh fish. The dish felt very natural, not over-saturated with lots of different tastes which allowed for the quality of the ingredient to really come through.
P.S.: If you need help with the menu, here’s a lifehack: go to the website, to the food section and use Google translate to check the dishes. The menu changes constantly due to the seasonality, so keep that in mind.
BONUS: While you’re in the neighborhood, check out the quirky furniture store Hanseatische Materialverwaltung. it has everything from fabrics and antiquities, to lamps, furniture and decor elements that will make you want to fill your suitcases.
Speicherstadt Unesco heritage region
Speicherstadt really blew me away, guys. I desperately wish I had more time to explore the neighborhood, which is notorious for its view of the warehouses. It’s now a postcard Hamburg view, protected by UNESCO, and a part of the larger HafenCity quarter.
Once you cross any of the bridges from Altstadt, you end up in an industrial world where every red brick building is a reminder of a world long gone. Walking here is like walking on a movie set, somehow vaguely reminiscent of Victorian London. I could just imagine harbor workers delivering shipments to the nearby warehouses, the road busy with traffic, pedestrians and noise. Then you blink and suddenly it’s all quiet, a silent row of canal-side houses, without a single ship passing during the day because of the low tide.
The buildings in this part of town are rented to offices, no longer residential, since there’s a history of floods throughout the years. The most recognizable part of the neighborhood is the view from the Poggenmühlen-Brücke. I visited the spot during the low tide at first, and had to come back for the signature Hamburg evening illumination.
Once the sun goes down, the view on the little cafe on the opposite side looks positively enchanting, thanks to the evening illumination. If you’re lucky, you might get a beautiful sunset to go along. I got an overcast sky but was still pretty happy. There was a whole brigade of photographers of varying degree of professionalism, judging by the giant tripods.
I was traveling light and had to settle for balancing a long exposure on the railing. Definitely not ideal as that adds quite a bit of motion blur. However, that just goes out to prove that you can get a fantastic shot of Hamburg with little equipment. Pro tip: take care to show up a little before sunset so that you can choose a nice angle and set up.
Another way to experience the magic of the Speicherstadt is to take an evening canal boat tour, which I would have done, if I only had the time! I absolutely recommend it, as a boat tour will take you through this area and you will be able to appreciate the architecture from a whole different angle. Do not mistake this for a harbor tour, which is a great activity as well. A typical harbor tour will take you around the shipping areas outside the city.
Once you’re done admiring the views, take a look around. This area of Hamburg has a surprising amount of bridges, many of them two-tiered, with spiraling staircases that offer fantastic views. There was also a really fun piece of artwork called “Public Face” in Speicherstadt. It’s literally a big smiley on top of a bridge railing which changes expression depending on the expressions of passers-by, picked up by district cameras. The mouth flips from sad to happy depending on the level of cheer. How cool is that?!
There’s more to this neighborhood than meets the eye. Here are some things I didn’t get to do during my Hamburg weekend that sound super interesting:
Learn about the spice trade in the Spice Museum
The Spice Museum is a nice stop on your explorations of Speicherstadt. The warehouses are exactly where those spices were delivered, so if you feel like discovering the history of the trade, this is the place to go. Tickets cost 5 EUR.
Explore Germany in miniature at the Miniatur Wunderland
Miniatur Wunderland is one of Hamburg’s main attractions that I just didn’t have the time for. This miniature museum got the Guinness World Record the largest model railway. There’s so much to explore here thanks to the attention to detail and nine sections from Italy to Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia, and even the U.S. It’s splendid fun for adults and kids alike.
I recommend getting a skip the line ticket before heading there as the queues can reach half an hour, and that’s 30 minutes you could spend on exploring the neighborhood. Alternatively, you can book through the Miniatur Wunderland website which will be slightly cheaper.
When you book a ticket, you have to choose a time slot which is how the museum regulates the number of visitors. Whichever way you prefer to book your tickets, remember to reserve your spot so that you can save your precious vacation time for better things. Oh, and if you want to take your miniature experience a step further, the expo also offers backstage tours that sound super fascinating.
Challenge your senses in the Dialogue House
You probably heard about the dining in the dark experience which has popped up all around the world. Well, the Dialogue House takes this experience a step further. Aside from a Dinner in the Dark, you can also explore the three exhibitions of the museum. The first one is a route through the Dark, the second – an experimental exhibition surrounded by Silence, and the third one is dedicated to the limitations and changes that come with Aging.
A dining experience will set you back 69 EUR and the exhibitions are priced at 17,50 EUR per person for the 60-minute tour, but keep in mind that it’s better to book in advance because the English language tours get sold out far in advance.
Take a boat tour of the harbor in English
The one Hamburg activity you absolutely can’t skip is a boat tour of the Hamburg harbor. The boat will bring you around the Hamburg shipping line, giving you a unique perspective of the whole process. Hamburg is one of the busiest ports in Europe which makes it very interesting to watch the transportation process happen right before your eyes.
I booked this English-language boat tour, which lasted one hour and had a nice tour guide who told us all about the Hamburg coastline, notorious buildings, the way the port was operating, and how they use technology to improve speed. Apparently, the average ship doesn’t stay in port for more than 36 hours. It’s super expensive, after all!
You can always get a tour on the spot, but even from looking online I noticed most tours were in German and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t left out. The tour departed from the busy Hamburg harbor, so I recommend you get there 15 minutes earlier to find the boat without any hassle. I just went to bridge 4, as specified on the description, and asked the provider company RAINER ABICHT which ship was the right one.
The port can be a little overwhelming and I didn’t trust myself to find the correct ship on my own. I was aboard the Concordia, which has an open deck on top, and seats on the lower level. It was very convenient to stay inside since there was a slight drizzle. By the second half of the tour, the sun had come out so I watched as we passed the cruise ships and watched the lift cranes do heavy duty.
You could listen to the tour at any place on the boat thanks to the speakers. There’s a cafe aboard which accepts cash only, so keep this in mind. For 15 EUR, I found the tour to be good value and a very nice way to explore what Hamburg is really all about!
Eat fresh fish in the harbor
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Hamburg’s signature food is fish. And the best place to taste it is in the stalls of the Hamburg harbor. If you are looking for a quick snack, don’t miss the chance to grab a sandwich or try ‘matjes’ which means delicious soused herring.
Enjoy the harbor views from Elbphilharmonie
Elbphilharmonie is one of Hamburg’s key landmarks thanks to its unique modern design and fantastic location. The top floor offers incredible views of the harbor, and the viewing deck goes all around the building, offering you a glimpse of the city as well.
There are two ways to explore Elbphilharmonie and enjoy great views. The first one is to book a tour, which will not only include the entry tickets but also learn something about the history and style of the building. Here are some nice tours you might consider:
- Elbphilharmonie Guided Tour: From a scandal to a wonder
- HafenCity 3-Hour Food Tour and Elbphilharmonie Visit
- Hamburg: Guided Tour Elbphilharmonie excluding Concert Halls
Knowing I was short on time, I wasn’t sure whether spending time on the tour worked for me. What I did instead, was show up to Elbphilharmonie directly and without an entrance ticket. The long queue to the ticket office quickly convinced me that this was the wrong decision.
Luckily, the 2 EUR entry ticket can be purchased online. I quickly hopped on their official website and ordered it. A minute later I had an electronic voucher up on my screen and calmly walked into the building, riding the escalator all the way up. So whether you choose to go with a tour guide, or buy a ticket yourself, my advice is to just do it in advance.
Have coffee from Die Rösterei Coffeum with a view on St. James’ Church
Aching for good coffee?Die Rösterei Coffeum is a small cozy coffee roasters which is popular with locals and tourists alike. The cafe is filled with the hustle and bustle of customers rushing to get a dose of caffeine. The interiors are not spacious by any means, but the outdoor area makes up for it. I would recommend it for a decent cup of coffee with cake.
Marvel at the old Rathaus in the Altstadt
Hamburg has a beautiful city center that gives off this amazing feeling of space and history. The best place to start your walk is at the Townhall and then just walk around, exploring the nearby landmarks. Some interesting buildings to look out for are the Chilehaus which is close to the CHOCOVERSUM Chocolate Museum, and the medieval houses from the 17th-18th centuries on Deichstrasse. The best vantage point for that is the Hohe Brucke which is a bridge.
Here are some walking tours of the old city center you might enjoy on your Hamburg weekend:
- Historic Hamburg Tour from Townhall to Michaelschurch
- Hamburg: 2-Hour Tour of the Historic Old Town
- Hamburg: 2.5-Hour Discovery Tour
Do some Hamburg weekend shopping around the Jungfernstieg
Do you know how the Jungfernstieg promenade got its name? Once upon a time, the rich of the city took their unmarried daughters onto the promenade every Sunday in the hopes to offload them to prospective bachelors.
Well, fast forward to today, and it’s still a street very much for the wealthy. I don’t know whether you’d be successful in snagging yourself a partner, but if that fails, at least you’ll be able to indulge in some serious retail therapy. All of the upscale luxury brands are all located around the Jungfernstieg area. Alsterhaus, in particular, is a luxury mall opened over 100 years ago which still offers a great shopping experience if you have some money to spend. As long as it’s not Sunday, that is.
As a more budget-conscious alternative, I would recommend checking out the Europa Passage: a modern shopping mall with lots of stores to explore, and a fantastic food court. The food court is huge and there’s lots of variety. One of the reasons to pop in for a visit is the middle of the building which has glass panels offering a view of the street below. It’s like floating above the street. The perfect spot for relaxing and people watching. Oh, and don’t forget to pop into the Thalia bookshop before you leave. Once you’re laden with shopping bags, sit down and enjoy the views over the small Alster lake and the fountain.
Hamburg Weekend Itinerary: Things to Do on Day Two
Head out to the early morning Hamburg Fish Market
If there is one signature activity you should know about, it’s the Hamburg fish market. Held exclusively on Sundays, the market can either be an early start to a new day or a grand finish to a night of partying. Doesn’t really matter whether you are an early bird or prefer to spend the early morning hours delighting in the Reeperbahn’s rich nightlife scene. What matters is: you’ve got to be there early.
This fish market closes at 9:30 AM, but before it does, take the time to walk through the historic building, visit the fish auction and have early breakfast as the live band plays jazz, rock and more. This is the perfect time to try a fish sandwich, marvel at the auction hall’s domed roof and take in the hustle and bustle of the event. The market is not far from the Reeperbahn, perched on the side of the Elbe river.
Here comes my admission of guilt: I couldn’t wake up early enough for this, you guys. Next time, when I am staying closer to the center and have no hotel breakfast to contend with, I vow to show up in the fish market, surly and sleepy, but excited to discover one of Hamburg’s trademark spots as I hunt for a cup of strong coffee.
The market is open from:
Summer (April — October) Sundays 5:00 a.m. — 9:30 a.m.
Winter (November — March): Sundays 7:00 a.m. — 9:30 a.m.
Discover the contrasts of St. Pauli
Let’s assume that for whatever reason, you have not partied early into the morning and actually have enough strength to explore. Well, then, it’s time to uncover all that St. Pauli can offer. This neighborhood is a wonderful mix of historical sights and alternative entertainment. You know, aka Hamburg’s Red Light District.
For now, let’s get started at the St. Pauli Piers which is where all the haven boat tours depart from. If you’ve already enjoyed a tour, take a chance to walk the Promenade along the Elbe river, with a view on St. Pauli Hafenstrasse. This is where you will get your first glimpse of Hamburg street art.
This mix only amplifies as you veer left towards the Reeperbahn, littered with night clubs, pubs, provocative slogans. If you’re looking for the unusual, I hear that Mojo club has a spectacular entrance that kind of resembles a Batcave: you go in is through trapdoors that are concealed right beneath your feet on the Reeperbahn until it’s finally go-time. You will find the club beneath the Dancing Towers high rise.
Try a hamburger in Hamburg
It is a truth universally acknowledged that hamburgers come from Hamburg. Right? Or so the rumors say… The facts are, Hamburg is a fishing town, after all, so its specialty lies in tasty fresh fish. Regardless, I thought it would be an absolute travesty if I left Hamburg without eating a Hamburger. And that’s what I set out to do.
My quest for the best hamburgers in Hamburg brought me over to The Bird Hamburg in the heart of St. Pauli. It had a very decent hamburger but I was even more impressed by the fries, and that’s considering I’m not a fries sort of person on any given day.
Other places that are recommended for hamburger lovers are Otto’s Burger and the Brooklyn Burger Bar. I, as a dedicated hedonist, believe that you’re allowed to indulge! So if you want to get a hamburger in Hamburg, go get one. Now you know where!
Enjoy citywide views from the vju Energy Bunker
One of the Hamburg weekend highlights for me was the view from the vju energy bunker. The bunker structure has stayed intact after World War II and instead of demolishing, has been re-purposed to provide clean energy for the city.
When you look at it from the outside, this large block of concrete looks quite plain and industrial, if not for the beautiful street art on the side. Once you take the elevator to the top, you will be surprised by the amazing 360-degree views that open up from here. The best part is that you can visit for free.
The view stretches all the way to the heart of Hamburg: you can see the Elbphilharmonie, the harbor, St. Michael’s Church and the Köhlbrand Bridge.
If you’re after one-of-a-kind memorable experiences, there’s even a bubble pod bed on the open terrace from Sleeperoo. If you wanted to, you could arrange a beautiful date under the stars. It’s sustainable, actually!
When you wake up the next day, you don’t even need to hunt around for food. There is a lovely cafe at the very top where you can brunch. While I didn’t stay in the pod, the brunch well-varied and I’d recommend it as an alternative to hotel breakfast.
Have a tea break at Zuckermonarchie
Zuckermonarchie is a piece of a sweet tooth’s dream tucked away just around the corner from the seedy in-your-face Reeperbahn. The way the little cafe is built immediately creates an English atmosphere in a building with low beams, wooden floors and cozy little tables perfect for a high tea.
If you are looking for a cup of coffee and confectionery, this tea room is a great choice. I was initially interested in the afternoon tea which you have to book 7 days in advance, which was too late for me. There’s still plenty to try if you don’t have the time for an afternoon tea affair, from cake pops to cupcakes and more.
The arrangement was a bit unusual as you have to order by the counter as you come in and only then find your seat. I found the procedure quite awkward ineffective, but once you get past that, you should be good to go.
Where to Stay: Hamburg Accommodation
During my Hamburg weekend stay I was hosted in the fantastic RAPHAEL HOTEL WÄLDERHAUS which is an eco-friendly hotel 15 minutes away from Hamburg Hbf by public transport. It is located in a quiet residential neighborhood filled with modern architecture filled with sustainable technology, but even one glance at the hotel is enough to notice nature is taken seriously here. Even the hotel name translates as Forest House.
The wooden facade is meant to host plant life and offer shelter to small animals, while the beautiful interiors bring up sustainability in unusual ways. Part of the building hosts the Science Center Wald that explores the impact of the forest on our surroundings.
As for the room, it was very comfortable and spacious, with beautiful wooden panels everywhere and plant-themed decor. The breakfast was a very filling continental breakfast with the standard options but also with milk alternatives, fruit, and fresh pastries.
I would definitely recommend this as an option for those departing from the central train station. It literally takes 15 minutes from door to door, which means you can make your early train without much hassle.
The commute to the center is fairly short but if you are going to explore the further corners of the city and then head back in the evening, expect your travel to take around an hour.
If you come by car, keep in mind that there’s a parking lot next to the hotel which costs 12 EUR for 24 hours. Rooms at the hotel start at 129 EUR.
Looking for a central hotel in Hamburg? Here are the best deals in the Altstadt area:
So there you have it guys! I hope you feel ready for your Hamburg weekend 🙂 I am already aching to go back to hit the spots I missed last time such as the famous Elbe Tunnel and the Planten un Blomen botanical gardens. But, of course, a weekend is way too short to see everything so don’t feel pressured! Let me know in the comments what Hamburg attractions you’re looking forward to the most!