Affectionately known as the “Gateway to the World,” Hamburg is a proper navel city that has grown to become one of Germany’s most influential cultural cities.
And while it’s one of the most populated areas in Northern Germany (after Berlin), Hamburg isn’t the only place you should visit during your trip. With coastal towns, royal palaces, traditional villages, and sparkling lakes, Northern Germany is brimming with fascinating sites and attractions that are worthy of a day trip.
What is the Best Day Trip from Hamburg?
City dwellers interested in architecture and history have a lot of good options for day trips, including Berlin, Lübeck, and Bremen. However, Germany is also famous for its countryside villages (Lüneburg and Wismar are a few beloved favorites).
But if nature is more what you’re after, then a day at the Baltic Coast or in the fruit orchards of the Altes Land can also be invigorating.
Where you decide to go on your day trip from Hamburg largely depends on your interests and transportation options.
While Germany has a very efficient public transportation system, not all of these sights can be easily reached by train or bus. In this article, I’ll cover a few fascinating sites and how you can reach them while staying in Hamburg.
Home to Germany’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lübeck is famous for its impressive architecture and rich culture.
During the 13th and 15th centuries, this city was the center of the Hanseatic League, an organization built around merchants. As such, there are plenty of medieval churches and brickwork buildings lining the streets of the old town.
Some of Lübeck’s most spectacular structures include the Holsten Gate, the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, and the Puerta del Castillo.
But what really sets this town apart from the rest are its churches and cathedrals.
The Lübeck Cathedral, Marienkirche, and St. Peter’s Church were all built in a brick Gothic style, with towering steeples that can be seen dominating the skyline.
You can get to Lübeck from Hamburg by car in just an hour. However, the direct, high-speed train is much more efficient and can take you to the city center in 45 minutes.
The port city of Bremen is the second largest in Northern Germany (after Hamburg, of course) and can be reached in just an hour by train.
It was also a member of the Hanseatic League, meaning you’ll find beautiful architectural gems that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
From the opulent Town Hall of Bremen in Marktplatz (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to the half-timbered houses in the Schnoor neighborhood, walking through the streets of Bremen feels like you’re in the middle of a museum.
As with any Northern German city, the weather here can be a little temperamental. If you happen to visit during a cold or rainy day, you can always seek refuge in one of the many museums.
The Bremen Overseas Museum (natural history museum, the Kunsthalle (art museum), or the Universum (Science Museum) are excellent day trip attractions – whether it’s rainy or not.
Situated on a lush island in the middle of Schwerin Lake, Schwerin Castle looks as if it’s been ripped directly from the pages of a fairytale.
Although it’s undergone many changes over the past few centuries, it’s not considered one of the finest examples of 19th-century romanticism.
With over 635 rooms inside, it’s no surprise that this extravagant building was used as the residence for the dukes of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. However, it’s now a museum and the home of the state parliament.
The interior of the castle is stunning (especially the throne room) but does require a ticket to enter.
However, you can still walk the grounds and through the royal Baroque gardens, which are almost as impressive as the castle itself.
This 61-acre property features greenhouses, an orangery, a floating meadow, and a columned hippodrome.
To get to the castle, you’ll want to drive or take the train to the town of Schwerin. From the city center, it’s only a 10-minute walk to the island across the castle bridge.
In just 1.5 hours, you can be out of the bustle of the city and relaxing on the coast of the Baltic Sea.
Travemünde is a picturesque resort town dotted with numerous white sand beaches (although it’s far too cold the majority of the year for sunbathing). But even if you don’t come in summer, Travemünde still has a charming seafront with cafes, restaurants, and hotels.
You can even visit the oldest lighthouse in Germany on the Baltic Sea, which dates back to 1539.
Travemünde is also a busy ferry port with international connections to Sweden, Finland, Russia, Latvia, and Estonia.
If you’re not prepared to embark on such a long boat journey, you can always visit the Passat, a historic sailing ship that has since been converted into a museum.
Compared to other towns in Northern Germany, Lüneburg is quite far off the tourist radar. But that doesn’t mean this charming town doesn’t deserve a few hours of your time.
Not to mention, it’s easy to reach from Hamburg, as there are dozens of trains that make the direct 30-minute journey.
As you walk through the compact old town, you’ll find half-timbered houses and brick Gothic-style churches which are typical of this area.
However, parts of the old town are actually sinking. That’s because Lüneburg was a salt mining town for over 1,000 years, and much of the old city was built atop the salt mines themselves.
Although the last salt mine closed in 1980, it still plays a significant role in Luneburg’s culture.
You can visit the salt mine (which has since been converted into the German Salt Museum), or you can pick up a bag from souvenir shops or the town hall building.
If you need a break from the city, just hop in the car and make your way an hour outside of Hamburg to Altes Land, which translates to Old Country in German. Here, you’ll find acres of fruit orchards and flower meadows, as well as traditional German villages with ornately decorated brick houses.
The best way to get around is by bike, as the well-laid-out paths make it easy and possible to hop from village to village (or farm to farm).
While the Altes Land is beautiful any time of the year, it’s exceptionally breathtaking in spring when the cherry and apple blossoms are in full bloom.
The end of summer is another good time to visit, as it’s the start of the harvest season.
During this time, farmers set up small stands on the road to sell produce, while others let you head into the orchards to pick them yourselves.
Although it’s often overlooked for the larger and more opulent Schwerin Castle, Ludwigslust Castle is still magnificent in its own right.
In fact, it was built as a quiet retreat for the dukes living at Schwerin, where they could hunt and relax away from the big city. The castle is a neoclassical masterpiece through and through, with sandstone columns, crystal chandeliers, and elegant decorations and furnishings.
It also features a large collection of antique art from sculptors and painters like Houdon, Matthieu, Suhrlandt, and Findorff.
Make sure to save some time for the castle gardens, which covers over 300 acres of land.
And if you happen to be here in the summer, you can also purchase tickets to the castle’s summer concert series, which takes place in the dazzling Golden Hall.
Ludwigslust Castle is an easy day trip for those staying in Hamburg.
Trains take just over an hour and go directly from the city center to the town of Ludwigslust.
Situated in the heart of the Schaalsee Biosphere Reserve is the lake of Schaalsee.
This is one of the best day trips from Hamburg for outdoor enthusiasts, as there are acres of forests, meadows, and beaches to explore.
Although you will find a couple of cyclers and walkers here (there are numerous trails around the lake), Schaalsee is never overly crowded or touristy, allowing you to soak in the tranquil atmosphere of the surrounding nature.
Keep in mind that this is a nature reserve, so boating, stand-up paddling, and diving are prohibited.
However, there are designated areas for swimming, like Eechin, Dargow, and Lassahn.
And if you’re visiting Germany in the winter, you’ll get to see migrating cranes and geese who stop here to rest before continuing their journey south.
Getting to Schaalsee is difficult using public transportation as there aren’t any connections using trains or buses. But if you have a car, you can get to the lake in as little as an hour from Hamburg.
As another city with strong Hanseatic roots, Wismar is a historical destination with medieval brick Gothic buildings. However, it’s also located right on the Baltic Sea, which also gives the city a distinct maritime vibe.
There are also a few beaches close by, which in summer, become a buzz with eager swimmers and sunbathers.
But it’s the old town that’s worthy of most of your time. Like many other Hanseatic League cities, Wismar has a handful of beautiful churches.
And while most of the churches were reconstructed after the war (like St. George’s Church), the 260-foot-tall Marienkirche was the only one to survive the attack.
Wismar is also where you’ll find the Gewölbe, a red, tilted half-timbered house that is the unofficial symbol of the city.
The easiest and fastest way to reach Wismar is by car (1.25 hours). Getting there by public transportation is possible, but it will take longer due to the multiple transfers.
Thanks to the high-speed train, making the 180-mile journey to Berlin can be done in just under 2 hours! Germany’s vibrant and colorful capital has so much to see that it can be tough to cram in everything in just a day.
But if you’re short on time, there are a few must-see places that you won’t want to miss.
Brandenburg Gate is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, as are the Reichstag Building, the Berlin Cathedral, and the Berlin Wall Memorial.
Surrounded by the River Spree, Museum Island (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is another fascinating destination where you can visit the five world-famous museums – the Old Museum, the New Museum, the Old National Gallery, the Bode Museum, and the Pergamon Museum.
Make sure to save some time to visit the quirky neighborhoods around the city as well.
Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Graefekiez are just a few areas where you’ll find cafes, boutiques, and that eccentric Berlin atmosphere.
As the gateway to the UNESCO-listed Wadden Sea National Park, Cuxhaven is the perfect mix of village life and nature.
Being on the North Sea means that Cuxhaven has far fewer beaches than the seaside resorts on the Baltic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a sandy spot to sunbathe or rent a beach basket.
From the shore, you’ll also see the easternmost point of the national park, which is home to the most extensive tidal flat system in the world.
Cuxhaven itself is full of storybook brick houses, half-timbered homes, and old manors. You can also head to the town harbor and admire the views from the Alte Liebe (old love) observation platform.
From here, you’ll be able to see passing ships and, if you’re lucky, harbor seals.
There’s an hour train that leaves for Cuxhaven from Hamburg (1-hour ride). It’s also possible to drive, but the car ride will be almost twice as long.
There’s no denying that Hamburg is a bucket-list destination for most travelers in Europe. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Northern Germany has to offer.
So while you’re here, take some time to venture outside the city, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!