WINTER ACTIVITIES IN HAMBURG, GERMANY
Hamburg is a charming port city in Northern Germany. It’s connected to the North Sea via the scenic Elbe River and has hundreds of canals crossing through the city. While traveling to Germany in the heart of winter may not sound enticing, there are plenty of reasons why you should visit Hamburg during this time.
There are more than enough activities to do in Hamburg during winter, as the city has loads of modern museums, cafes, and a range of indoor activities. Winter is also when Hamburg comes to life with festive cheer, and Christmas markets spring up around the city.
These are just a few reasons why you should add Hamburg to your Germany itinerary. So, stick around to discover the best things to do in Hamburg in winter.
WEATHER & CLIMATE IN HAMBURG IN WINTER
Because of Hamburg’s proximity to the North Sea, the city experiences a sub-oceanic climate. It’s a pretty windy city that experiences some rain even during summer.
Winters in Hamburg are cold, with temperatures dropping as low as 30°F. This is when Hamburg’s lakes freeze over and turn into ice skating rinks for everyone to enjoy.
While the lakes freeze over, Hamburg doesn’t see heavy snowfall, and when it does snow, it’s usually only for a few days starting at the beginning of December. January is the coldest month in Hamburg, with average highs reaching 39°F and lows of 30°F. However, there might always be warmer days – even in the winter months – reaching 60°F or so.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HAMBURG IN THE WINTER MONTHS
Since weather can change quickly, make sure to check the weather forecast a day or two before your trip and pack accordingly. The most important tip I can give you is to dress in layers.
Here are a few things you most likely will need for your Hamburg winter vacation.
- Coat: A warm, waterproof jacket should be one of the first items you think to pack. Avoid choosing a bulky jacket that takes up a lot of space. This can make you feel uncomfortable when you have layers underneath. Instead, opt for a lightweight trench raincoat that will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable.
- Hat: A knitted beanie is a perfect solution for keeping the warmth in while you venture out. A hat will keep you toasty warm wherever you are.
- Gloves: A pair of gloves can do wonders for your mobility, dexterity, and comfort. When selecting your options, it’s worth investing in a pair that can dry quickly and are touch-screen compatible.
- Scarf Or Turtleneck: A warm scarf and/or turtleneck sweater are key items for keeping your neck covered. A turtleneck sweater is perfect as a garment to wear underneath your jacket, while the scarf can be removed easily.
- Leggings: Leggings are an essential item to pack as you can dress them up or down. You can even wear them underneath your denim as an extra layer of warmth.
- Socks: When it comes to packing socks for your Switzerland trip – the thicker, the better. The chances are that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in the snow, and you’ll want your feet to be warm and cozy.
- Comfortable Walking Shoes: If you can only pack one pair of shoes, make sure they are a trusty pair of warm and comfy shoes. You’ll want your shoes to be as versatile as possible.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN HAMBURG IN WINTER
There’s lots to do in Hamburg during winter. From outdoor activities to warmer indoor activities, here’s what you can look forward to:
Explore Miniatur Wunderland
Do you like trains, or consider yourself a “big kid”? Then a visit to Hamburg’s iconic Miniatur Wunderland might spark your interest. Miniatur Wunderland is the world’s largest miniature railway, town, and airport model situated in Hamburg’s historic Speicherstadt district.
This large-scale model features a range of sections, including Hamburg, nearby towns, mountain ranges, and even other countries like Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. There are thousands of miniature rail systems, airports, and even ports, and it features over 10 miles of track.
Along with this, there are over 1300 model trains and 50 000 human figurines. This is a great way to see most of Europe in one location, especially if you only have a little time to visit other places.
Visit Hamburg’s Christmas Markets
As temperatures drop and the snow starts falling, Hamburg becomes aglow and warm with festive cheer. German cities are particularly famous for their exceptional Christmas markets in winter, and Hamburg is no different.
There are various Christmas markets throughout the city, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in Hamburg during winter. Each market has a buzzing atmosphere, so much so that you might forget about the cold, at least temporarily.
You’ll find various festive-themed items, and you can pick up a range of custom gifts for yourself or your loved ones. Hamburg’s Historic Christmas Market is a particular favorite amongst locals.
You’ll find it in front of the Town Hall, and three times a day Santa passes by the market and reads out a few Christmas stories. If you are looking for even more beautiful and stunning Christmas Markets, check out the ones in the beautiful city of Bremen.
Glide Away at Hamburg’s Ice Skating Rinks
One activity that many locals look forward to during winter is ice skating. No matter your age, this is a fun activity that everyone can do. The best part about ice skating in Hamburg is that there are a plethora of indoor and outdoor ice rinks to choose from.
Some of the best indoor ice rinks include the EisArena and Eissporthalle Volksbank Arena. But while indoor ice skating is cool, you can do this any time of the year. If you really want to enjoy yourself, head out to one of the seasonal outdoor rinks.
Most Christmas markets and squares turn into blissful winter wonderlands with fairy lights dangling above the rinks and cheerful music playing in the background.
Bispingen Snow Park
Hamburg is far from any Alpine peak where you can ski or snowboard down an imposing mountain range. But the city more than makes up for it with the Bispingen Snow Park, where you can ski to your heart’s content all year round.
The Bispingen Snow Park is a short 30-minute drive from Hamburg and a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. This massive snow dome has an obstacle for every skier, regardless of your experience.
Modern lifts take you up to the different slopes where you can begin your epic adventure.
Musicals at Landungsbrücken Piers
Sitting at the edge of Hamburg’s Port along the Elbe River is the iconic Landungsbrücken Piers (also called St. Pauli Piers). The two towering green-roofed towers mark the 224-yard shipping terminals.
Once the landing piers for steamships, St Pauli Piers sit between Hamburg’s infamous Reeperbahn and the Fischmarkt, it now acts as a connector for Hamburg’s train lines and ferries.
One thing that makes the Landungsbrücken Piers very special is that it also has waterfront theaters. Iconic musicals like the Lion King, Marry Poppins, and Mamma Mia have regular showings here, so if you’re a fan of theater, make sure to catch a show here.
Note: Most musicals are only in German, so double-check before booking your ticket.
New Year’s Eve in Hamburg
New Year’s Eve is a big deal almost all over the world. That’s the case in Hamburg as well, and locals take New Year’s Eve very seriously with their own unique traditions.
The Germans call New Year’s Eve Silvester, and there are a series of meticulously planned events. It usually starts with the north German tradition – Rummelpottlaufen. This is where children dress up in various costumes and make their way around different neighborhoods singing nursery rhymes in exchange for candy.
If you’re only visiting Hamburg and don’t have any friends or family to hang out with on New Year’s eve, then fear not. Multiple venues around Hamburg have New Year’s parties, so you can avoid heading into the New Year alone.
Visit the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall
Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall is very hard to miss. This stunning architectural masterpiece sits in the HafenCity area of Hamburg, along the Grasbrook Peninsula of the Elbe River.
Towering 121 feet (37 meters) over HafenCity, this cultural complex has a warehouse brick base, contrasted by a stunning ultra-modern glass top resembling a series of waves. If you look at it from a different angle Elbphilharmonie even looks like an iceberg emerging from the sea.
It has three stunning concert halls, usually booked out months in advance. Even though you might not be able to catch a show, there’s a public viewing platform inside where you can take in undisturbed panoramic views of the harbor below. Alternatively, you can also take a guided tour of Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall and get to know all the beautiful details about this building.
Tour of Speicherstadt
One place you must visit in Hamburg, even during winter, is the Speicherstadt District. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits near the Elbe River and is one of the largest warehousing complexes in the world.
It dates back to the 19th century and has an intricate maze of Gothic Revival-style warehouse buildings surrounded by narrow canals. Today Speicherstadt is a trendy area, and many of the buildings here are now museums, restaurants, cafes, coffee roasteries, and shops.
While you can venture through Speicherstadt on your own, the best way to see this incredible area is through a guided tour where a professional guide will point out all of the area’s highlights. Alternatively, hop aboard a canal cruise and sail leisurely as you admire Speicherstadt’s architecture from different angles.
Hamburg’s Port is one of the most scenic places in the city. Hamburg is the second largest Port in Europe, so that is a good reason to hop on a boat and cruise the harbor. You’ll learn about Hamburg’s rich maritime and city history by taking a harbor cruise.
Hamburg is famous for its meandering canals, so along with a cruise of the harbor, you’ll also sail along the various waterways of the Elbe River. It’s an excellent opportunity to see some of the city’s iconic landmarks from a distinctive angle, and your guide will point out some hidden gems along the way.
Alster Walk and Alster Cruise
If there’s a place you can’t avoid when visiting Hamburg, it’s the gorgeous Alster Lakes. Hamburg’s residents are lucky to have access to two stunning artificial lakes. Outer Alster Lake is the larger of the two, and Binnenlaster is the smaller one.
Both stem from the Alster River and sit within the city limits. These large bodies of water are famous for water-based activities. One of these is a lake cruise.
A cruise will take you around Alster, one of Hamburg’s most affluent areas. Tours usually depart from Jungfernstieg, a hip and trendy area with cute cafes, shops, and restaurants. The trip will take you through the inner and outer lake canals before returning to the start.
From there, you can take a scenic walk down Alster’s picturesque promenade and watch as people on kayaks, and paddle boats glide past or grab something to eat at one of the lakeside restaurants.
Walking Around the City & Christmas Shopping
Going on a walking tour might not be one of the first things on your list of things to do in Hamburg during winter. Especially when temperatures drop below freezing. But, a walking tour is essential to see all of Hamburg’s gems.
Hamburg is a modern city with historic areas, and a walking tour is a fantastic way to learn about how the city developed into what it is today.
If you’re a shopaholic, you’ll enjoy Hamburg, especially around Christmas. Beyond the numerous Christmas markets, Hamburg has various boutiques and department stores that offer massive discounts on clothing and gifts, so come with an empty suitcase.
If you’re into spooky things, visiting the Hamburg Dungeon might spark your interest. The Hamburg Dungeon is a themed attraction that sits inside the city’s catacombs in the Speicherstadt area, providing a little darkness amidst festive cheer.
The dungeon has 11 interactive shows that trace back over 600 years of Hamburg’s dark history. It combines escape room games with theatrical actors and special effects with creepy and humorous storytelling.
There are also two underground rides that take you through the various sections. This attraction is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but if this is up your alley, you’re in for a good time.
Hop-on Hop-Off Tour
Like most famous cities, Hamburg also has the iconic red bus hop-on hop-off tour. This is a great activity even in winter because it takes you to most of Hamburg’s top areas. It’s also a great way to see Hamburg if you have limited time.
This guided tour comes in 11 languages and takes you past iconic attractions like HafenCity, Reeperbahn, the Alster Lakes, and Speicherstadt. If you can brave the cold and sit on top, you’ll have exceptional views of Hamburg’s buildings and get to appreciate their unique architecture.
You’ll learn everything about Hamburg, but also get to explore the city at your own pace. In the evening, you can admire the city’s stunning lights from the comfort of your seat.
Reeperbahn (Red Light District)
Reeperbahn is Hamburg’s very own Sin City. Sitting along the Elbe River in the St Pauli District, some say this is where Hamburg’s heart beats. Reeperbahn’s history dates back to Hamburg’s earliest days when sailors would come to the area for some alternative entertainment.
In recent years Hamburg’s red light district became more famous when artists like the Beatles, The Jets, The Hurricanes, and Rory Storm started performing here.
Today, the area has numerous art galleries, theaters, adult shops, nightclubs, and the iconic Ponoptikum Wax Museum. It’s extremely popular for its nightlife scene. You can venture here yourself or go on a guided tour of the Reeperbahn.
While Hamburg’s city center is rather fancy and formal, Schanzenviertel has a more casual vibe to it. Schanzenviertel is southwest of Schanzenpark. It’s a vibrant district with colorful buildings. Many walls and buildings in the area have quirky street art and graffiti, so if you’re an art lover, this is a great place to check out. Locals call it Hamburg’s culture center, as it brings together local artists and musicians.
There are tons of quirky cafes, vintage shops, and lively pubs and restaurants in Schanzenviertel. It’s a small and relatively quiet area, but still lively. Schanzenviertel is a bit further out and not as famous as Hamburg’s city center; this is still a lovely upbeat area to hang out.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WINTER IN HAMBURG
Hamburg has a lot to offer to its visitors – regardless of the season. If you happen to visit Hamburg in the winter, you will find plenty of winter attractions waiting for you.
Enjoy and stay safe!