Germany’s second-largest city, the port of Hamburg is perhaps the most beautiful city in the country. With more canals than Venice, Amsterdam and London put together, and more bridges than any other city in the world, vibrant Hamburg is perfect for a city break. So what were the best things to do in Hamburg for a first-time visitor – travelling with a teenager?
We visited Hamburg for four days, spending two fantastic days exploring some of the best Hamburg tourist attractions, discovering a real hidden gem, and then taking a couple of day trips – one to the beautiful medieval city of Lubeck, the other to the German Tank Museum in Munster.
Best Things to do in Hamburg
While the city is well-known for its lively nightlife, there are plenty of things to do in Hamburg with kids too. One of the largest, greenest cities in Europe, Hamburg has an eclectic mix of museums, trendy restaurants, and fabulous historical architecture.
We found incredible photo spots, ate the best burgers ever, and walked our legs off exploring! The only area we didn’t visit was the Reeperbahn – Hamburg’s notorious red-light district and party street located in St. Pauli.
1. Elbe River Cruise
Our Hamburg itinerary started with a 90-minute Hamburg Port Cruise which gave a brilliant introduction to the vastness of this port city and panoramic views of the city skyline.
The only minor downside was that you could only buy drinks on board with cash, and we’d not stopped to use an ATM after arriving earlier that morning. Schoolgirl error!
Visiting the Speicherstadt, the world’s largest warehouse district in Hamburg’s HafenCity quarter was top of my list of things to see and do in Hamburg, as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These warehouses and canals make the perfect spot for a stroll.
Photographing the Neo-Gothic red brick Speicherstadt warehouses from a bridge at sunrise or sunset is one of the most popular things to do and see in Hamburg. Alternatively, you can take a lovely canal cruise and snap away at those lovely buildings as you cruise past.
3. The International Maritime Museum
The oldest warehouse in the Speicherstadt houses the vast collection of the International Maritime Museum – one of the best Hamburg places to visit. From the giant propeller in front of the museum, there are seven floors filled with centuries of nautical history to explore and enjoy.
I loved the displays of military uniforms and the models of the world’s most well-known battleships. Teen boy was fascinated by all of the weapons!
4. Old Elbe Tunnel or St. Pauli Elbtunnel
The old Elbe Tunnel opened in 1911, providing Hamburg’s tens of thousands of shipyard workers with a reliable way to get to and from work. The 3,325-metre long pedestrian and vehicle tunnel is an incredible 24 metres (80 feet) deep and is fascinating to walk through.
The towering original staircase that those shipyard workers used winds down to the tunnel and back up! Thankfully for tired legs and vertigo sufferers, there is a lift too. We loved the observation platform on the south of the river with its panoramic views of the city.
Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie in Speicherstadt is the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg, with glass walls designed to look like waves of water – reflecting the city’s maritime heritage.
The Elbphilharmie claims to be one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world and is very popular. If you don’t manage to secure concert tickets, this Elbphilharmonie tour takes you around the outside of the building to learn about its façade and other external features. Then, you’ll travel up the Tube — the longest escalator in the world to visit the Plaza inside.
6. St Michael’s Church
One of our favourite things to do in Hamburg was visiting St Michael’s Church, Hamburg’s largest church. First, we paid 5 errors and took the lift up 132 metres to the top of the soaring bell tower to enjoy the panoramic city and river views from the observation deck. You could walk up the 432 steps if you prefer.
Next, we peeped into the 2,500-seat church itself which has no less than five organs and the most glorious decorations. Finally, we visited the incredible undercroft, where some 2,400 distinguished people from the city are buried! I’d love to have spent much longer here, but teen boy was more than ready for ice cream.
7. U-Boot Museum
A visit to the U-Boot Museum is one of the most unique things to do in Hamburg. It’s not often you’ll get the chance to explore inside a real Russian submarine from the Cold War, so this is a highly recommended trip. Claustrophobic and thought-provoking, but totally unmissable!
Related Post: 7 Unmissable Things to See at The U-Boot Museum Hamburg
Where to eat in Hamburg
One of the best things to do in Hamburg is to experiment and try the food in this great city. As a port with a massive fish market, fish and seafood naturally feature in lots of dishes, but there’s plenty more to choose from too, and Hamburg is a great choice if you are looking for vegetarian or vegan food.
The teen boy fancies himself as a judge of a good burger and was not disappointed at Otto’s burgers.
He had a gargantuan double beef burger loaded with red cheddar, pickled onions, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and smokey mayo, with a bucket load of fries. Not once scrap was left – even the “foliage” which usually gets picked out and left on the side.
I had the ridiculously delicious “Magic Mushroom Burger” – a Portobello Mushroom, oozing with baked camembert, dressed with baby spinach and caramelised onions, and drizzled with lashings of honey peanut mayo.
Otto’s gets our award for the best burgers we’ve ever tasted. All of the burgers and the sauces are handmade in-house and quite delicious. The service was perfect and we had a lovely outdoor table where we could people-watch to our hearts’ content.
Cafe Am Michel
Englische Planke 6, 20459 Hamburg
Perfectly located opposite St Michael’s Church, this cosy little cafe provided a good rest for weary feet. It was a rather warm day, so we eschewed the tempting offer of coffee and cakes. Instead, we tried the locally made Cucumis – a lovely soft drink made with extracts of cucumber and basil in sparkling spring water.
St. Pauli Landungsbrucken
After our harbour cruise, we stopped for fischbrotchen at this highly recommended fish cafe. I had the traditional raw herring with onions in a crispy bread roll which reminded me of the “haring met uien” that I would order as a language student in the Netherlands (to practice my Dutch pronunciation). Teen boy thought raw fish was a revolting idea and wolfed down crispy fried cod instead.
The cafe is a delight with scrubbed wooden tables and benches, but the best place to eat is outside. Drink in the riverside view of the massive Blohm and Vosser shipyard on the opposite bank of the River Elbe to the sound of gulls overhead and the gentle splash of waves on the pontoon.
Top Tip: Pop to an ATM before you visit – this is a cash-only restaurant.
I never thought I’d suggest a train station as a great place to eat, but Hamburg Hauptbahnhof is cavernous and it’s jam-packed with independent stores and eateries. There are so many places to pick up a snack before or after a train journey.
Teen boy had to try out the famous German currywurst – sliced German sausage doused in ketchup and sprinkled with curry powder. He loved it!
More signature dishes from Hamburg
- Labskaus – a corned beef stew with onion, tinted pink from beetroot, with a fried egg, gherkin and a side of pickled herring (in Liverpool, UK this dish is known as ‘scouse’). Looks ghastly on a plate, but tastes delicious!
- Aalsuppe – a sweet and sour soup with eel. Be brave – it tastes so much better than it sounds.
- Franzbrötchen – unique to Hamburg, this sweet cinnamon butter pastry is very similar to French croissants and equally tasty
- Rote Grütze – mixed berries and cherry pudding served with custard.
Where to stay in Hamburg
The historical borough of Altona – moments away from the city centre – is ideal for enjoying the buzz of the city, but escaping to somewhere more peaceful at night.
The beautifully designed Gastwerk Hotel is a real find – a stone’s throw from a bus into central Hamburg and only a short walk from the nearest S-Bahn station.
We found the beds super comfortable, the lovely bathroom well-stocked with toiletries and the concierge was a mine of useful information about what to do in Hamburg.
After a hearty breakfast (teens need lots of fuel), we spent a leisurely morning strolling around pretty Altona – one of the loveliest Hamburg places to visit. The atmospheric Jüdischer Friedhof Altona (Jewish Cemetary), beautiful Hauptkirche St Trinitatis and the imposing Altona Town Hall are gorgeous buildings.
There are so many things to do in Hamburg. It’s an exciting destination, suitable for a wide range of visitors. We had a great time discovering what to do in Hamburg and learning about the city’s history. I’m already planning a return trip to enjoy the famous Hamburg Christmas markets and to explore more Hamburg hidden gems.
If you love Germany too, you might enjoy these articles
- How to Visit the German Tank Museum
- 7 Amazing Things to Do at the U-Boot Museum Hamburg
- 72 Quotes About Germany to Inspire Your Trip
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