For architecture lovers, Hamburg should undoubtedly be on the top of your list of must-visit cities. This German metropolis, renowned for its dynamic cultural scene, picturesque waterfront and staircases, boasts an impressive collection of architectural treasures that are sure to captivate and inspire. Spanning a wide range of styles and periods, from venerable historic landmarks to daring contemporary creations, Hamburg’s architectural landscape reflects its rich and multifaceted history as well as its vibrant present.
As one of Europe’s most significant trading ports, Hamburg has a rich history that dates back over a millennium. This history is reflected in the city’s diverse and captivating architecture, which is a testament to its vibrant past. From the grandiose Gothic Revival of the 19th century to the sleek lines of modernist architecture, Hamburg’s buildings tell the story of its growth and evolution as a center of global trade and commerce.
My friend Philipp and I visited Hamburg on the occasion of the 5 Years of Elbphilharmonie. Staying in this gem of a building was a dream come true. Special thanks to Jessi from Hamburg.de and our friend Andres Lin with whom we organised the trip to this delightful area of Germany.
Whether your taste leans towards Gothic cathedrals, Art Nouveau masterpieces, or sleek modernist structures, Hamburg offers a plethora of options to suit every preference. So, prepare to immerse yourself in the breathtaking architectural wonders of this thriving city, and discover why Hamburg is truly a treasure trove for architecture enthusiasts.
I hope this list serves as a teaser for your future travels. Please find the map containing all locations at the end of this article.
1. Elbphilharmonie Hamburg
Of all Hamburg’s sites, no other represents the city’s spirit like the ‘Elbphi’. This historical location known as The Kaispeicher marked the resilient nature of the port city of Hamburg – the undisputed number one among German ports. The original 1877 building on this site burned down in 1892 and only the clock tower survived. During World War II the site became ruins. A new Kaispeicher A, designed by Werner Kallmorgen, opened in 1966 to bear the weight of thousands of heavy bags of cocoa beans until the end of the century when it ceased to operate. This heavy, massive brick building is like many other warehouses in the harbour, but its archaic façades are abstract and austere. The building’s regular grid of holes measuring 50×75 cm cannot be called windows; they are more structure than opening. With its solid nature and structural potential, Herzog & de Meuron used Kaispeicher A as the base of Hamburg’s new landmark, which included three concert venues, a hotel and 45 luxury apartments. The new philharmonic is not just a site for music; it’s a powerful symbol of its past and present. Read more here.
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Location: Platz d. Deutschen Einheit 4, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
2. Rathaus Hamburg
Amongst the oldest and quaintest streets of Hamburg, you’ll find the magnificent city hall. It was built in 897 when a collaborative group of architects under Martin Haller created a new building in the historicist style. Impressively, it still houses its original governmental functions with the office of the First Mayor of Hamburg and the meeting rooms for Hamburg’s parliament and senate (the city’s executive). On the outside, the architectural style is Neo-Renaissance, which is abandoned inside for several historical elements. Built in a period of wealth and prosperity, in which the Kingdom of Prussia and its confederates defeated France in the Franco-German War and the German Empire was formed, the look of the new Hamburg Rathaus was intended to express this wealth and also the independence of the State of Hamburg and Hamburg’s republican traditions. The courtyard is decorated with a Hygieia fountain. Hygieia as the goddess of health and hygiene in Greek mythology and its surrounding figures represents the power and pureness of the water. It was built in remembrance of the cholera epidemic in 1892, the former technical purpose was air cooling in the city hall. Read more here.
Architect: Martin Haller
Location: Rathausmarkt 1, 20095 Hamburg (Google)
Not far away from the Rathaus stand the vestiges of what once was the tallest building in the world from 1874 to 1876. The Church of St. Nicholas was a Gothic Revival cathedral that was formerly one of the five Lutheran Hauptkirchen (main churches) in the city of Hamburg. The original chapel, a wooden building, was completed in 1195. It was replaced by a brick church in the 14th century, which was eventually destroyed by fire in 1842. The church was completely rebuilt by 1874 and measured 147 m (482 ft), thus becoming the world’s tallest building. The bombing of Hamburg in World War II destroyed the bulk of the church and only the crypt and and tall-spired tower were left. These ruins continue to serve as a memorial and an important architectural landmark. A glass elevator takes visitors up the spire of the St. Nikolai Church – the fifth highest church steeple in the world. Read more here.
Architect: George Gilbert Scott
Location: Willy-Brandt-Straße 60, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
4. Niederhafen River Promenade
Located at Niederhafen on the Elbe River between St. Pauli Landungsbrücken and Baumwall in Hamburg, the upgraded 625 metre river promenade is integral to the modernisation and reinforcement of the city’s flood protection system. In the aftermath of storm surge floods in February 1962 – causing 315 fatalities and destroying the homes of 60,000 residents – Hamburg developed a barrier on the banks of the Elbe at Niederhafen to protect the city against floods up to a height of 7.20m above sea level. Modern hydrology and computer simulations have since analysed and forecast the city’s flooding characteristics with greater accuracy, calculating that an increase in the barrier height of 0.80m was required to protect Hamburg from future winter storm surges and extreme high tides. Inspections of Niederhafen’s existing flood barrier in 2006 determined that supporting elements of the existing structure were overburdened and its foundations needed significant reinforcement. With construction of all phases now complete, the redevelopment of Hamburg’s Niederhafen flood protection barrier re-connects its river promenade with the surrounding urban fabric of the city, serving as a popular riverside walkway while also creating links with adjacent neighbourhoods. Read more here.
Architect: Zaha Hadid Architects
Location: Elbpromenade, 20459 Hamburg (Google)
Hamburg is replete with gorgeous arcades, but few are as charming as Alsterarkaden, the main arcade of this Elbe river tributary. Alexis de Chateauneuf, the leading urban planner who reshaped Hamburg after the Great Fire of 1842, designed the complex. Inspired by his travels to Italy, Chateauneuf emphasised symmetry and curved arches along the Jungfernstieg waterfront, an area where the privileged could live, dine, shop and mingle surrounded by elegance. The Mellin Passage, connecting the Alsterarkaden with the Neuer Wall shopping street, is the oldest shopping arcade in Hamburg. Here, you’ll find antiques, art and rare literature, exclusive porcelain vases and dishware, and countless tea varieties. Inside the arcade, look up to discover a beautiful surprise. In 1989, a fire laid one of the shops in the Mellin Passage to ruin. During restoration, workers uncovered colourful Art Nouveau frescoes and stained-glass with intricate patterns that likely hadn’t been admired since the 19th century. Read more here.
Architect: Alexis de Chateauneuf
Location: Jungfernstieg 7, 20354 Hamburg (Google)
6. Börsentag Hamburg
The Hamburg Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in Germany. It was founded in 1558 in the Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg. Four different individual exchanges now exist under its umbrella: the Insurance Exchange, Grain Exchange, Coffee Exchange, along with the General Exchange. The Hamburg Stock Exchange building, which by the way is the oldest of its type in Germany, was designed by Wimmel and Forsmann and built between 1839 and 1841. Luckily, it survived the fire of 1842. However, the central trading floor was totally burnt out during raids in May 1941. In July and August it suffered further heavy damage, which also destroyed the part by Alter Wall. Restoration work began in 1949 and extended essentially to the recreation of the centre part with the most beautiful of the three trading floors, the architecture of which harks back to Forsmann and Wimmel. Read more here.
Architect: Wimmel and Forsmann
Location: Adolphspl. 1, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
7. An der Alster 1
Lording it by the languorous Außenalster (Outer Alster Lake), this office building stands loud and proud. The building site is situated at the intersection between the Hamburg’s lively downtown and its urban landscape rich in water and mature trees. It is at the transition from city to nature, and the gateway building to the bustling metropolitan core. The horizontal striped facade with its floating ‘eyes’ celebrates the view onto this unique context. A public park in front of the building continues the design strategy of the facade into the landscape. The ‘eyes’ in the facade and the platforms in the park form places to meet and contemplate. The office spaces serve both a generic spatial layout and specific moments related to the ‘eyes’. If you liked this one, don’t miss the FOM Hochschule Hochschulzentrum also by J. Mayer H. Architects. Read more here.
Architect: J. Mayer H. Architects
Location: An d. Alster 1, 20099 Hamburg (Google)
8. Hamburger Kunsthalle
The Hamburger Kunsthalle is the art museum of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. It is one of the largest art museums in the country. The museum consists of three connected buildings, dating from 1869 (main building), 1921 (Kuppelsaal) and 1997 (Galerie der Gegenwart), located in the Altstadt district between the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) and the two Alster lakes. The name Kunsthalle indicates the museum’s history as an ‘art hall’ when it was founded in 1850. Today, the museum houses one of the few art collections in Germany that cover seven centuries of European art, from the Middle Ages to the present day. The Kunsthalle’s permanent collections focus on North German painting of the 14th century, paintings by Dutch, Flemish and Italian artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, French and German drawings and paintings of the 19th century, and international modern and contemporary art. The Kunsthalle Karlsruhe was one of the first museum buildings in Germany and is one of the very few to have largely retained its original design. Read more here.
Architect: Schirrmacher & von der Hude
Location: Glockengießerwall 5, 20095 Hamburg (Google)
9. HafenCity Universität Station
No architect should miss the surprisingly stunning architecture of the U-Bahn. In fact, HafenCity is just one of the many interesting stops around the city, so make sure you check the rest on the map below. The station, designed by Munich-based architecture firm Raupach Architekten, makes reference to the changing colours typical to the HafenCity, caused by reflections throughout the day by the wharf buildings’ red brick and the ship hulls’ iron and steel. Groundbreaking on the branch of the U2 from Jungfernstieg to HafenCity (now known as the U4) took place on 2007, and was finally completed in 2012. HafenCity Universität served as the terminus station of line U4 from its opening until the U4 was extended one station further eastwards to Elbbrücken. Read more here.
Architect: Raupach Architekten
Location: 20457 Hamburg (Google)
The idea for the Chilehaus came when Henry B. Sloman left Hamburg for Chile as a poor man and returned to the city decades later with his newfound fortune. Upon his return, he decided that he wanted to give something back to his hometown, and so he commissioned architect Fritz Höger to design the Chilehaus, named for Sloman’s success in Chile. Completed in 1924, the Chilehaus quickly became a symbol of both Brick Expressionism architecture and Hamburg’s economic revival post World War I. In an attempt to completely fill Sloman’s irregularly-shaped plots of land located in the center of Hamburg’s business district, Höger designed the Chilehaus to mimic the shape of a passenger ship. The building has three tiered balconies on the upper floors meant to look like ship decks, and the eastern edge of the building is famous for its unique, pointed tip that resembles a ship’s prow. The southern façade also gently curves with the bordering street, giving the impression of the side of a ship. Although the Chilehaus is today regarded as an architectural masterpiece, Höger faced many obstacles in the design of the structure. The site’s difficult terrain made building on reinforced-concrete pilings that ran 16 meters deep into the ground necessary. And because of the building’s close proximity to the Elbe River, the building’s cellar also had to be specially sealed. Read more here.
Architect: Fritz Höger
Location: Fischertwiete 2A, 20095 Hamburg (Google)
11. Renaissance Hamburg Hotel
This brick wonder is another of Fritz Höger magnificent designs. Originally known as The Broschek house, this office building was completed in 1926 as headquarters for the Broschek publishing company. An example of the Expressionist architectural movement popular in 1920s Germany, the building has an unusual stepped shape, with the upper three floors set back from the lower half of the building. It was initially supposed to be topped with a steeple – one of many extravagant features suggested by Höger that were ultimately declined by the Broschek directors. However, there are many interesting features which make Broschek Haus stand out from the many other grand office buildings in central Hamburg. Don’t miss the gold triangles jutting out from the dark red brick work – when the sun catches the building’s exterior, they give the impression of sails glinting in the sunlight. There is also a small gold statue of the architect, hidden on a corner of this large office block. Read more here.
Architect: Fritz Höger
Location: Große Bleichen, 20354 Hamburg (Google)
12. Elbbrücken Station
Elbbrücken station (Elbe bridges station) is perhaps the most beautiful of the S-Bahn locations in Hamburg. The genius loci of this over-ground station is determined by its position directly at the river Elbe, the future dense urban development and, not least, by the historic Elbbrücken bridges with their conspicuous shallow steel arches. In resonance to the bridges, an impressive steel structure consisting of curved steel girders supports the new station, creating a structure which reinterprets the dynamic design principles of the historic bridges. The external roof construction underscores the visual presence of the structure; the crosswise layout of the frames results in a grid-type system that at the same time stabilises the steel arches. A glass façade suspended on the inside protects the building against the weather. The light-flooded station opens interesting vistas towards the surrounding urban fabric. Despite the opulent effect, the design is simple and follows clearly structured access principles. Read more here.
Architect: gmp Architekten
Location: 20457 Hamburg (Google)
13. Finanzbehörde Hamburg
In 1926 architect Fritz Schumacher saw the completion of one of his most beautiful buildings: The Hamburg Tax Authority. Schumacher combined features of the Hamburg office buildings with his striving for a Hamburg-style brick construction. The façade follows typical style guidelines of the time: structured pilasters that extend up to the fifth floor, rectangular lattice windows inserted in between and entrances – at Gänsemarkt and Valentinskamp – that are accentuated by three high round arches that extend over two floors. The real deal, however, is a little corner which is affectionately called ‘Banana Hall’. Not many people know that he commissioned this special place to his former student and architectural sculptor Richard Kuöhl, whose intricate columns were inspired by banana trees, common where Schumacher spent his childhood years (Colombia). Kuöhl also designed the colored terracotta figures that decorate the façades and the ceramic paneling in the entrance hall. Read more here.
Architect: Fritz Schumacher
Location: Gänsemarkt 36, 20354 Hamburg (Google)
The Sprinkenhof is a nine-storey office building built between 1927 and 1943 in Hamburg’s Kontorhaus District. The architects Fritz Höger and Hans and Oskar Gerson worked together on the planning and execution of the building. Originally, The Sprinkenhof was built in skeleton construction made from reinforced concrete and is another example of Brick Expressionism. At the time of its construction, it was Europe’s largest office building. The façade was decorated with rhombic clinker patterns to underline the block character. In addition, the façade was decorated with clinker and terracotta. The façade opposite the Chilehaus is covered with ornaments referencing Hamburg Hanseatic history such as seagulls, the coat of arms, cogwheels or sailing ships. The best part? Its staircase. Read more here.
Architect: Fritz Höger, Hans and Oskar Gerson
Location: Springeltwiete 2A, 20095 Hamburg (Google)
15. Hamburg Spiegel Building
The headquarters for one of Germany’s leading news media in Hamburg is designed to foster close interaction between the dynamic media organization and the vibrant city life. Spiegel’s headquarters in the inner harbour of Hamburg (completed in 2010) pays tribute to the city’s position by consolidating the various branches of the media group in an open, dynamic work environment. The two glass volumes create transparency between the city and media organization. Rising from a shared brick base, the building complex resonates with Hamburg’s historical heritage: the old warehouses along the wharf. The public plaza between the buildings is an open invitation for citizens and employees – and a unique opportunity for social interaction across city life and media work. Read more here.
Architect: Henning Larsen Architects
Location: Ericusspitze 1, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
Ever since the 12th century, Hamburg has been a trading city and the main port for central Europe. It really hit its prime in the 1800s and it was during this period that the Speicherstadt came into being. Added to the World Heritage Sites in 2015, the Speicherstadt is a collection of brick warehouses adjacent to the main port area of the time. According to the Committee, Speicherstadt — with its unique buildings and winding network of streets, canals and bridges — is an ‘extraordinary example of representing one or more eras of human history’. Stretching for 1.5 km, it’s the largest warehouse complex in the world. There are 17 warehouses in total, each about seven or eight storeys high, built about a hundred years ago. Although many of them were damaged during World War II, they were restored in the original style. Read more here.
Location: Poggenmühlen-Brücke, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
Year: late 19th century, beginning of the 20th century
Within walking distance from the Speicherstadt, part of the Überseequartier and the larger plan of the HafenCity waterfront redevelopment in Hamburg, you’ll find new developments like this mixed-use building. Within the Masterplan of the Überseequartier, these structures act as an urban attraction, offering retail areas on the ground floor and hosting offices and apartments alongside the main Überseeboulevard that connects the inner city with the river. The building forms a clear urban block built around an inner courtyard, which is open towards the main boulevard. This arrangement creates a semi-public space that offers a retreat for the building’s residents but is accessible for outsiders at the same time. Aesthetically, the new building refers to the red-brick harbour aesthetics of the historic Speicherstadt on the one hand and the traditional white plaster façades of the inner city on the other. Read more here.
Architect: Erick van Egeraat, Michiel Raaphorst
Location: Tokiostraße, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
18. Tower of Heinrich Hertz
The Heinrich Hertz Tower is a landmark radio telecommunication tower. Designed by architect Fritz Trautwein, in co-operation with civil engineers Jörg Schlaich, Rudolf Bergermann and Fritz Leonhardt, the tower was built between 1965–1968 for the former Deutsche Bundespost. With an overall height of 279.2 m (916 ft) it is Hamburg’s tallest structure, consisting of a 204 m (670 ft) steel-reinforced concrete lower section topped by a 45 m (148 ft) steel-lattice tower and a three-segmented cylinder of about 30 m (98 ft), which supports various antennas. There are eight concentric platforms stacked one above the other: starting at 128 m (420 ft) with the two-story observation (lower floor) and restaurant (upper floor) platform, served by two high-speed elevators. The tower is named after the Hamburg-born German physicist Heinrich Hertz, who demonstrated that the electromagnetic waves predicted by James Clerk Maxwell actually exist. Read more here.
Architect: Fritz Trautwein
Location: Lagerstraße 2, 20357 Hamburg (Google)
19. Unilever Haus
The new Unilever headquarter building for Germany, Austria and Switzerland is located right by the river Elbe, prominently positioned in Hamburg’s HafenCity. It marks the end of the route out of the town centre to Hamburg’s new attractions: the cruise ship terminal and the promenade on Strandkai. Here Unilever’s new building opens itself up to the city and its inhabitants. The central element and heart of the design is the generous atrium, flooded by daylight, which, on the ground floor, gives passers-by the opportunity to get to know the company better. The building follows the principles of holistic, sustainable architecture. While implementing technologies that help save resources, the energy concept adheres to the principle of avoiding technical solutions wherever possible. The office area is cooled by means of thermally activated reinforced concrete ceilings. A single-layer film facade placed in front of the building’s insulation glazing protects the daylight-optimized blinds from strong wind and other weather influences. Read more here.
Architect: Günter Behnisch
Location: Unilever Haus, Strandkai 1, 20457 Hamburg (Google)
20. Museum for Hamburg History
© Museum for Hamburg History
The Museum for Hamburg History is a history museum established in 1908 and opened at its current location in 1922. The main building at Holstenwall was designed by Fritz Schumacher and constructed between 1914 and 1922. The museum was built on the site of the former Bastion Henricus, a part of the baroque fortification which was erected between 1616 and 1625 by the Dutchman Jan van Valckenborgh in order to make the town impregnable. The museum’s courtyard was damaged during the Great fire of Hamburg in 1842 and fully restored in 1995. A glass dome over the inner courtyard was completed in 1989. From the early days of Hammaburg Castle in the 7th century to present-day Hamburg, the city’s history is brought to life at the Hamburg Museum. Read more here.
Architect: Fritz Schumacher
Location: Holstenwall 24, 20355 Hamburg (Google)
Wilhelmsburg’s former air raid bunker has been transformed into a symbol of the ‘Renewable Wilhelmsburg’ Climate Protection Concept. Having languished almost unused since the end of World War II, the monument has now been renovated during the IBA Hamburg and converted into a power plant using renewable forms of energy, with a large heat reservoir. This supplies the Reiherstieg district with climate-friendly heat, while feeding renewable power into the Hamburg distribution grid. The air raid bunker on Neuhöfer Strasse was built in 1943 to demonstrate the supposed valour of the home front. Thousands of people sought shelter from the allied bombing raids in two such bunkers, one in Wilhelmsburg and the other in St Pauli. With its flak towers, the bunker also formed part of the German war machine. In 1947 the interior of the building was completely destroyed by the British Army in a controlled demolition. Six of the eight floors collapsed, and the rest was too dangerous to access. Only the outer shell of the structure, its walls up to three metres and its ceilings up to four metres thick, remained almost intact. For over sixty years, further use of the building was restricted to a few adjacent areas. One of the bunker’s flak towers houses the Café and its remarkable panoramic terrace. This cantilevered platform, which runs around the whole building at a height of 30 metres, offers 360° views over almost all of Hamburg. Read more here.
Architect: Hegger Hegger Schleiff HHS Planer + Architekten AG, Kassel
Location: Neuhöfer Str. 17-7, 21107 Hamburg (Google)
22. The Fontenay
The The Fontenay hotel was implemented on the site of the former Hotel In-terContinental, a unique location on the banks of Hamburg‘s Außenalster lake. The design for the hotel originated in an urban planning and architectural design competition, which Störmer Murphy and Partners won in 2014 (interior design in collaboration with Matteo Thun & Partners). A sculptural, eight-story solitaire rises above three fluid circles forming the hotel’s ground plan. The hotel‘s urban and architectural concept is powerfully expressive, while its free-flowing contours harmoniously blend in with the park-like terrain alongside the lake. Large treetops are nestled softly into the curved façades. From the Alster Park as well as from the interior, new vistas and geometries appear with every new viewing angle – the building shape has no front or rear side. The façade is structured into elegant, horizontal strips consisting of glass and reflective, large-format ceramic panels, which are finished in shining white. Read more here.
Architect: Störmer Murphy and Partners
Location: Fontenay 10, 20354 Hamburg (Google)
23. Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and the Ministry of Environment and Energy
The relocation of the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing from the Stadthausbrücke in the city centre to the Neuenfelder Straße in Wilhelmsburg in July 2013 was the first time a large ministry had moved since 2001. The design by the Berlin-based architects Sauerbruch Hutton, which won the Europe-wide architectural competition in 2009, not only stands for climate-friendly construction, but also reflects openness and transparency. All the different parts of the building are linked from within by an “access route”, which is aimed at facilitating communication among staff. Each of the other seven buildings apart from the main tower have an open atrium, and these beautiful staircases. Read more here.
Architect: Sauerbruch Hutton Architects
Location: Neuenfelder Str. 19, 21109 Hamburg (Google)
Check these and other amazing locations on the map below or download my free Hamburg Architecture Guide (PDF):
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Me voy a Hamburgo en Junioooooo yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah
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Entonces esto te viene a tiempo :)) ¿Ya sabes qué quieres ver?
(ay estoy respondiendo directamente desde el email, no sabía que se podía y como facilita, porque se me olvidó mi contraseña de wordpress).
La Elbphi por supuestisiiiimo. Cuando fui a Hamburgo por primera vez hace 13 años no existía. Así que quiero verla mucho mucho mucho. Ya tenía tu mapa preparado, pero ahora con esta lista no me quiero perder el 6 y el 8 ! Ahora tengo que preparar un poco la ruta de los 3 días.
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Te va a flipar. Léete toda la historia bien, con todos los detalles porque es un proyecto absolutamente espectacular y sabiendo el contexto te va a gustar incluso más. Y no pudimos ir a ver el museo, así que ya me contarás qué te parece 🙂 Emocionada por tu viaje!
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Wonderful article and photos – not just ours, so great to see the mix as well.
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Thanks Philipp, we need to return to take even more photos! Favourite shooting location for you?
True, we have to go back. And difficult to say what my favourite location was: The ministry, the Stock exchange or the metro stations? Most fun we had on the bridge, no? Or what do you think?
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What specific bridge? We went to many 😀 My favourite photos were on the Ministry of Urban Development and my favourite shooting was on the Elbphi.