Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Northern Germany
Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, is definitely not your everyday miniature railroad. It’s the largest miniature railroad in the world, and it’s an entire world at a perfect, small scale — one that took 500,000 working hours to create. From software-controlled fire trucks putting out fires in tiny neighborhoods to a 20-foot (6 meter) tall Swiss mountain with alpine skiers and brick tunnels with perfectly timed trains, the features of the different points of interest inside the ‘wonderland’ are not only in perfect working order, they’re filled with details that you could explore for days. Like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ book come to life, the 8 miles (13km) of tracks that wind through Miniatur Wunderland take the visitor on a tour of a tiny world that is utterly fascinating. The airport just might be the world’s most perfect flight simulator, with every possible detail in miniature. There’s a mini Grand Canyon and a mini Las Vegas. ‘Days’ in the different cities last just under an hour, and when night falls each of the city lights come on and different characters come out to play. Spoiler alert: there’s a red-light district, lovers getting frisky in a flowery meadow, and even murder scenes!
Opened in 2017, the Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic) is a striking work of modern architecture on the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg. Made with 1,096 individual glass panes, it houses two concert halls, as well as a hotel and residential apartments. The halls’ acoustics are considered among the best in the world.
The unabashed highlight of Hamburg’s Old Town (Altstadt), the opulent Hamburg City Hall (Hamburger Rathaus) is recognizable by its soaring tower, coffered ceiling, and vast scale. The neo-Renaissance landmark on the edge of scenic Alster Lake dates back to 1897, and is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
Established in 1879, Hamburg’s family-owned answer to Madame Tussauds is the oldest waxworks museum in Germany; divided into several sections, it features an entertaining romp through the world of celebrity as well as a look back over the last century or so of history. Many international stars grace the collection, from Angelina Jolie to Madonna, The Beatles to Karl Lagerfeld, while figures from the world of international politics include President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Historic displays review the dictators of the 20th century, from Hitler to Che Guevara, and there’s room full of a rather gruesome waxen medical exhibits tucked away at the rear of the museum that may startle those of a nervous disposition. Special guided tours for children aged between seven and 12 can be arranged in advance.
HafenCity, which translates to Port City, is an area in central Hamburg that used to be part of the free port. With the decrease in the importance of the free port, the area dominated by port activities has reduced in size. The city of Hamburg is now developing this area for mixed residential and commercial use. Many of the warehouses are being replaced by apartment buildings, office buildings, hotels and shops, and it is estimated that there will be approximately 6,000 new homes and 45,000 new jobs when it is all completed. At 388 acres, HafenCity is the largest inner city development project in Europe.
Aside from the commercial and residential buildings already finished and in use, the International Maritime Museum of Hamburg has moved into HafenCity. Another big project currently underway is the construction of the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, the home of Hamburg's philharmonic orchestra. HafenCity also encompasses the historical area of Speicherstadt, the largest warehouse complex in the world. Within Speicherstadt, you will find several museums and attractions, such as the Hamburg Dungeon, Miniatur Wunderland, and the Speicherstadt Museum. There are also plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants already open in HafenCity, as well as parks and recreational areas.
Explore an alternative side of Hamburg with a visit to the Reeperbahn, a street in the red light district at the heart of the St. Pauli neighborhood. This pedestrian street is lined with bars, clubs, and sex shops, but more upmarket restaurants and theaters with family-friendly shows have also opened here in recent years.
Hamburg really capitalizes on its waterside location with the Speicherstadt, or Warehouse District. Not only will you marvel at the impressive red-brick architecture and canal network within the world’s largest warehouse complex, but several buildings have been converted into museums and attractions that bring the area’s rich history to life.
Approximately 12,000 ships per year deliver and pick up goods at the sprawling Port of Hamburg. The port takes up about an eighth of the city and is easiest to see on a river cruise. Learn about Hamburg’s maritime history during a visit to the MS Cap San Diego, a museum ship that travelers can step aboard and explore.
The Hamburg Dungeon takes visitors on a 90-minute journey through 600 years of Hamburg's dark history. The dungeon has different areas with various themes based on real events in Hamburg's history, as well as two rides and 11 different shows performed in both German and English by live, professional actors. A visit to the Dungeon is a fun yet scary way to experience the things that were left out of the history books.
Gripping storytelling, special effects and rides bring the history to life in a way that will make you laugh and scream. Start your tour with the Elevator of Horror before exploring the Library of Dark History where shadowy figures tell the stories in the books. Experience the Hamburg fire of 1842, try to find your way out of the Labyrinth of the Lost, and see if you can survive the torture chamber. Encounter pirates and ghosts along the way, plus much more terror. The Hamburg Dungeon occasionally has special events for certain holidays, like Halloween and Christmas.
Discover European art since the 14th century during a visit to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg’s major art museum. See highlights from the permanent collection including paintings by Manet, Picasso, and Klee. The museum also features a range of special exhibitions from sculpture to abstract art to installations.
More Things to Do in Northern Germany
Hamburg’s Old Elbe Tunnel (Alter Elbtunnel, or officially St. Pauli Elbtunnel) runs under the Elbe River, connecting the St. Pauli jetties on the river’s north side to the Steinwerder in the Port of Hamburg. Comprising two separate tunnels for pedestrians and vehicles, it takes on-foot visitors on a very unique sort of stroll—underwater.
The baroque Protestant St. Michael's Church (Michaeliskirche) is a Hamburg landmark. Its famous clock tower soaring above the city roofs has been a beacon for sailors since the 1680s.
The copper dome and gold clock of St. Michaelis’ 132-meter (433-foot) tower rises above a network of tiny alleys known as the Krameramtswohnungen, lined with half-timbered almshouses from the 17th century.
Take a guided tour of the tower for views over the port of Hamburg from the observation platform, and visit the crypt for a historic tour.
The St. Nikolai Memorial in Hamburg was mostly destroyed during air raids in World War II. Approximately 35,000 people were killed during the air raids. The ruins of the church now serve as a memorial to the victims of the war. The church's tower was used to help allied pilots navigate, and it still stands today, almost undamaged.
The memorial at St. Nikolai Memorial includes a permanent exhibition in the crypt of the ruins that depicts the causes and consequences of the aerial war in Europe. Black and white photos show images of the war and the destruction that came with it. The memorial also serves as a cultural meeting place. Concerts, films, and lectures link events, social issues, and conflicts of the present. Events deal with the German culture of remembrance and lectures on current international politics. Germany's largest glockenspiel was installed here in 1993, and it is sounded at concerts to remember the victims of the war.
Standing at 147.3 meters (483 feet) it is the highest church tower in the city and the fifth highest church in the world. Visitors can take the glass elevator to the observation deck at 76 meters (249 feet) for a panoramic view of Hamburg.
Visitors and locals alike head to the Hamburg Fish Market (Altonaer Fischmarkt), held every Sunday morning near the Elbe riverbank in Hamburg, for much more than just seafood. Enjoy breakfast accompanied by live music, and then go shopping for fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, and—naturally, because it’s Hamburg, beer.
The city of Hamburg played a big part in Beatles history. The famous band made it big in Hamburg and spent their early days playing at a variety of clubs in Hamburg's St. Pauli neighborhood. In 2001 a radio program manager proposed the idea of having a square to honor the band's importance in Hamburg's history. Beatles Platz was finally finished in 2008.
The square has five metal silhouette statues to represent each musician who was at one point a member of the band: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, Ringo Starr, and Pete Best. The drummer statue represents both Ringo Starr and Pete Best, who was the drummer before Ringo. Visitors often stand in the life-sized silhouettes and pretend they are part of the band. The square is actually circular with a 95-foot diameter and was paved black to look like a vinyl record. There are also steel bands with the names of around 70 Beatles songs engraved on them.
The Alster Lakes—the Inner Alster (Binnenalster) and Outer Alster (Aussenalster)—are the scenic heart of Hamburg. Created when the Alster river was dammed in the 12th century, the lakes are linked to the Elbe River via a maze of canals and lined with green parks and waterfront promenades.
Jungfernstieg is Hamburg's most popular shopping street, located along the Inner Alster Lake. Its name originates from an old tradition of families who would take their unmarried daughters or maidens (Jungfern) to walk around on this promenade. Jungfernstieg was also the first street in Germany to be paved with asphalt.
The stores on Jungfernstieg are mostly upscale shops where you can find high-end clothing, shoes, and jewelry. You can also find accessories, bath products, perfumes, cosmetics, and purses. There is also a spa where you can get a massage and other wellness services. Along with department stores and boutiques, there is also a wide selection of restaurants and cafes where you can stop for a meal while you're shopping.
The most traditional building in the area is the Alster Pavilion, dating back to 1799. Today there is a restaurant there called Cafe Alex where you can have a meal or a coffee while enjoying views of the Inner Alster Lake and the big fountain in the middle of the lake. Nearby is the Alster Pier where you can join a boat tour of the lake.
One of the first zoos to house animals in moated, open enclosures rather than cages, the Hamburg Zoo's exhibits are spread over dozens of acres, where animals from all around the world live. Visitors will find elephants and giraffes from Africa, Asian elephants, tigers and lions, as well as tropical sharks and crocodiles.
The zoo’s lovely gardens are also exotic, recreating the ambiance of countries such as Japan and Nepal. Take a ride around the gardens by horse and carriage to explore the private zoo, run by the Hagenbeck family since 1907.
St. Peter's Church is one of the five main churches in Hamburg that survived World War II. It is also the oldest remaining church in the city. Although the church has been expanded and rebuilt a few times, a church has been standing in this place since at least 1195. It is located at the highest point in Hamburg's old town. Today you can see the church's tower which stands at 433 feet tall and was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1842. Visitors can climb 544 stairs to the top of the tower for one of the best views of Hamburg from above.
Inside the church you will find many works of art. A mural from 1460 depicts the first bishop Ansgar of Bremen with the words “Apostle of the North.” Two oil paintings from the 17th century by Gottfried Libalt were returned to the cathedral in 2001 after being restored. A painting entitled Christmas 1813 in St. Peter's shows Hamburg citizens locked in the church when they refused to provide food to Napoleon's troops.
What are the origins of Hamburg, what happened to the Hanseatic League and how did the HafenCity district evolve? All these questions and more are answered in the Hamburg Museum. The museum opened in 1922 as the Museum of Hamburg History and has since been able to amass the largest permanent city exhibition in Germany.
The historical tour of the Museum for Hamburg History leads from the Middle Ages to the present day, covering how the small fort Hammaburg turned into one of the biggest and most important ports in Europe. Numerous exhibits on shipping, port and emigration, bourgeois home decor, fashion and culture help make the rich history more comprehensive. But apart from the major exhibits covering the past 1,200 years, there are also annual exhibitions, museum festivals, events and Hamburg’s largest model railway to see and attend. The railway is especially interesting for train enthusiasts, as there are regular showings of how train traffic between the Hamburg Main Station and Hamburg Harburg operates. Additionally, a big courtyard under a massive glass dome makes the building one of the finest and most coveted event venues in Hamburg.
Deichstrasse is the oldest street in Hamburg, Germany dating back to the 14th century. It is located near Speicherstadt, which is the old warehouse district near the harbor. The Great Fire of 1842 destroyed many of the original 14th century buildings on this street, so most of what you see today are restored 17th-19th century buildings. The tall, narrow, half-timbered houses here represent typical architecture from this region a few hundred years ago.
The harbor and the warehouse district played a big part in shaping Hamburg as a city, and a visit here will give you a glimpse at the city's history. Along this road, you will find many restaurants and pubs. The Johannes Brahms Museum is located at number 39, which is the composer's former home. The Telemann Museum, a great place for music lovers, is also located in this area. Around the corner at Peterstrasse 35-39 is a replica of the Beylingstift complex, a baroque building built in 1751.
The Outer Alster Lake (Aussenalster) is the larger of Hamburg’s two lakes, stretching to almost 400 acres (162 hectares) in size, although never more than 8 feet (2.5 meters) deep. Equally popular with tourists and locals, it provides a welcome place of calm and tranquility against the urban backdrop of the busy city.
Hamburg is famous for its Beatles history. It's the city where the band got their start by playing at various clubs near Reperbahn in the St. Pauli neighborhood, Hamburg's red light district. This is where they eventually gained worldwide fame. Of the many clubs they appeared at, Kaiserkeller, located at Grosse Freiheit 36, is one you can still visit today. The Beatles started playing here in late 1960 after the Indra Club closed. It was a good location for the band since it was closer to the heart of the neighborhood.
Today the club, which is known by its address Grosse Freiheit 36, continues to host live shows and other events. Visitors come to explore the history of one of the world's most popular bands at one of the first clubs where the Beatles performed. It's also a fun place to enjoy more current music and experience Hamburg's nightlife. Nearby you can also see the Beatles Square as well as other clubs, both original and reincarnated, where the Beatles once played.
The impressive St. Pauli Piers (St. Pauli Landungsbrücken) is one of Hamburg's most popular attractions. Built in 1907, the 2,257-foot (688-meter) landungsbrücke (“pier”) is composed of several floating pontoons, which are accessible from land by 10 movable bridges. Once mooring points for large passenger steamships, today the pontoons are mostly used by sightseeing boats. The structure also features two towers of differing heights, plus several copper domes.
The Landungsbrücken is located in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, between the lower harbor and the fish market, on the banks of the Elbe river. It forms a central transportation hub, with streetcar (S-Bahn), underground train (U-Bahn), and ferry stations all stopping here. It’s also a major tourist magnet, with numerous restaurants and departure points for harbor cruises. (A boat tour is considered the best way to see Hamburg.) With the water on one side, and colorful souvenir shops and quaint fish restaurants serving North Sea shrimp on the other side, it’s easy to forget that you are walking on a floating platform.
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