If you’re looking for amazing cities to visit in Europe, a trip to Hamburg, Germany should make your list. A true port town located in northern Germany, Hamburg may be one of the more underrated German cities. With more than 2,400 bridges and tons of canals, Hamburg is affectionately referred to as the Venice of the north.
The city is full of amazing architecture, street art, museums, and delectable eats. Wondering what to see in Hamburg? Whether you’re planning to take a volunteer trip or gap year in Europe, or just a little getaway, here are our recommendations for what to see and do in Hamburg, Germany!
Traveling to Hamburg, Germany: Key Background Info
Colonized by the Saxons in 500 AD, Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany with a population of more than 1.8 million. The Hamburg metropolitan area is home to more than 5 million. Hamburg was once part of West Germany.
Top 11 Things to Do in Hamburg, Germany
1. Take a Harbor Tour Through the Historic Speicherstadt District
Take a harbor tour through Speicherstadt, one of the largest warehouse districts in the world. Speicher means “storage” and stadt means “city,” so Speicherstadt literally translates to “storage city.” The nearly mile-long stretch of warehouses that comprise the Speicherstadt line the water and surround several loading canals.
The Speicherstadt district was created as a place to exchange goods. Speicherstadt is situated in the HafenCity area and it was completed in 1927 after 44 years of construction. In 2015, Speicherstadt was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the warehouses once stored cotton, tobacco, and rubber, they are now largely filled with offices, restaurants, apartments, and shops.
2. See the Chilehaus Office Building
Also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chilehaus Office Building is a ten-story stunning display of modernist brick architecture. Completed in 1924, the large building was commissioned by Henry Sloman and made to resemble an ocean liner, reminiscent of the ships that helped him import saltpeter from Chile and amass a considerable fortune.
Fritz Höger is the architect behind the design, and sculptor Richard Kuöhl is responsible for many of the staircases’ sculptural elements, as well as the beautiful facade. You can admire the stunning building from a courtyard in the center, and at night, exterior flood lights illuminate the exterior and showcase its breathtaking structure and design.
3. Visit the Biggest Railway Station in Germany
Hamburg Hauptbahnhof serves an average of over 550,000 passengers each day, making it the busiest railway station in Germany. The station opened in 1906, replacing 4 separate stations. The only busier station in all of Europe is the Gare du Nord in Paris. While you’re checking out the railway station, you might want to spend some time at the Wandelhalle shopping center, located on the north side of the station.
4. Marvel at the Largest Model Railway in the World
After you’ve seen the largest real-life railway station in Germany, you should also see the largest model railway in the entire world. It’s called Miniatur Wunderland and it’s located in the Speicherstadt district. Many visitors say it’s one of the most unique things to do in Hamburg. Construction started in 2000, and it’s expected to continue with more features and sections being added through 2020 and beyond.
As of 2019, the railway covers more than 16,000 square feet and features sections for Harz/Central Germany, Knuffingen, Austria, the United States, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Knuffingen Airport, Italy and Venice, with Monaco under construction. It’s also rumored that there are still plans to construct sections for England/Scotland, France, Ireland/Wales, Benelux, and Sydney.
You’ll be dazzled by the intricacy and extreme attention to detail. The cars, trains, and planes even run on an intelligent computer simulation where they react with each other. Car accidents happen, and people even get pulled over by the police. Planes take off and land during the simulated 50-minute day.
At the end of each day, night falls and everything is illuminated in dazzling light. If you look hard enough, you may even spot the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, E.T., superheroes, and even scenes from Back to the Future. Admission for adults is around $17, which is pretty affordable to see one of the most stunning miniature displays in the world.
5. Catch a Concert at Elbphilharmonie
Completed in 2016, the Elbphilharmonie (Elphi for short) is a breathtaking concert hall in the HafenCity area of Hamburg. Its unique design makes it one of the most advanced acoustic concert venues in the world. Textured walls and innovative architectural features make the sound quality impeccable from virtually any seat. Visitors can also enjoy a beautiful view of the water from the balcony or terrace.
6. Live it Up on the Reeperbahn
When it’s time to party, head to Reeperbahn. Located in the St. Pauli district, it’s one of the major areas for nightlife, along with Sternschanze. Germans call it the most sinful mile, as Reeperbahn’s main street is full of racy nightclubs and bars. There’s also a great theater called the Operettenhaus. It’s shown broadway plays including Cats and Mamma Mia! The Beatles played at many different clubs around the Reeperbahn, and John Lennon was always very fond of Hamburg.
7. Get Some Good Eats
No trip to Hamburg is complete without experiencing the food. There are several high-end restaurants, and also a number of smaller hole-in-the wall places. Whether you grab a pickled herring fish sandwich (fischbrötchen) at an outdoor market near the port, or savor caviar at the upscale Vlet Speicherstadt, you’ll surely find some delectable eats in Hamburg. Some of the authentic German foods you’ll want to try include finkenwerder scholle, labskaus, grünkohl, aalsuppe, rote grütze, franzbrötchen, and freshly roasted coffee.
8. Do Some Sightseeing by Bus or Bike
There are several ways to explore the sights around the city. Hamburg’s free bike rental network, StadtRAD, is a great option that enables you to see the city in a unique way, while also getting some great exercise. Or, there’s always the hop-on/hop-off bus system that gives an entire sightseeing tour in only a few hours.
9. Get Adventurous and Rent a Kayak or Paddle Board
You can always take a harbor cruise, but if you want to get even more adventurous, rent a kayak or paddle board and float around Hamburg.
10. Visit a Park
Kick back and enjoy the beauty of nature at one of Hamburg’s amazing parks. Experience a water-light concert at Planten un Blomen, or see Germany’s largest planetarium (the Hamburg Planetarium) in Stadtpark. You’ll see plenty of green in the parks, along with exquisite architecture.
11. See an Amazing Museum
If you like modern art, architecture, and design, or other interesting displays, check out a handful of Hamburg’s dozens of museums. Panoptikum is the largest wax museum in Germany, and Prototyp showcases 70 years of sports cars in interactive exhibits. Or, visit Chocoversum to learn about chocolate production and even try some samples. If you’re into exquisite Medieval art, be sure to see Hamburger Kunsthalle, one of the largest museums in the country.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hamburg
What is Hamburg Best Known for?
Hamburg is best known for its amazing harbor, impressive architecture, amazing museums, and its many canals and bridges.
What Food is Hamburg Famous for?
Contrary to popular belief, Hamburg is not as famous for its hamburgers as it is for its many fish dishes. Pickled herring is one of the more popular fish to eat, and smoked eel and carp are also local favorites.
What is a Person From Hamburg called?
A person from Hamburg is indeed called a Hamburger. While it sounds funny in English, it makes sense in German.
Volunteer Travel in Europe
Hamburg is an amazing European city, but why stop there? Europe is full of amazing sites you can explore while you’re abroad volunteering. Let’s take a look at some of the best volunteer abroad programs in Europe.
1) International Volunteer HQ
With International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), you can volunteer abroad in a European country like Portugal, Spain, Greece, Italy, Romania, or Belgium. Founded in 2007, IVHQ prides itself on offering affordable programs in a number of focus areas from teaching and child care to conservation and medical care. They’ve placed over 100,000 volunteers in countries across the world.
2) Love Volunteers
Since 2010, Love Volunteers has been providing affordable volunteer experiences for travelers all over the world. With more than 20,000 volunteers placed, they’re one of the world’s fastest-growing volunteer abroad organizations. Love Volunteers has programs in many European countries, including Ukraine, Albania, Moldova, and Bosnia. Whether you’re interested in healthcare, building communities, conservation, or childcare, Love Volunteers has a program for you.
3) Projects Abroad
With more than 25 years of excellence in providing volunteer programs, Projects Abroad helps people realize their potential and build meaningful connections while changing individuals and communities. They place more than 10,000 travelers abroad each year on amazing experiences all over the world, including in the country of Romania. Their projects in Romania range from journalism internships to archaeology volunteering, teaching, and animal care.
If you love helping the local people and the environment, or supporting wildlife, GoEco has many great volunteer opportunities in Europe. You can get involved with turtle conservation in Greece, or even assist local artists in Ireland. GoEco has been around since 2006 and they’ve placed well over 15,000 volunteers around the world.
Angloville specializes in English language immersion programs in Europe. College-aged volunteers can mentor either youth or older children. They even have programs where adults can mentor other adults. Volunteers work with students in a one-on-one setting, and also in small groups. Angloville was started in 2011, and offers language-teaching experiences in seven European countries – this renowned program has received recognition from the likes of Forbes, Travel Magazine, Lonely Planet, AARP Magazine, the Glasgow Guardian, and even Fashion Magazine.
6) Global Leadership Adventures
Global Leadership Adventures (GLA) has been in operation since 2004, and it is geared toward teens and high schoolers. As such, their programs are generally shorter in duration, and they place a special emphasis on safety. Students learn skills through community service and unique experiences as they immerse themselves in a foreign country. GLA’s 14- to 21-day Spanish Service Adventure is a great option for those wanting to experience an amazing country in Europe.
Traveling to Europe: Making Your Dream Volunteer Abroad Trip Happen
Whether it’s Hamburg or Bucharest, a number of exciting experiences await you in a European city. Take a look at one of the great European Volunteer abroad options from the programs we’ve mentioned above, and start planning to get out, volunteer, and experience the beauty of Europe!