Latest update: 19 May 2023
Did you know that Hamburg in Germany is quite a music-oriented city? I didn’t until I visited the Reeperbahn Festival, and my whole weekend was dedicated to music. Check out my tips to bring some music to your city trip to Hamburg!
Elbphilharmonie: musical tour de force
Even if you know nothing about architecture (like me), you can’t help but be impressed by this building. The Elbphilharmonie shines brightly in the sun and is enchantingly lit in the evening. No less than 1096 glass plates (at € 20,000 each) are all uniquely shaped, one concave, the other a convex. A pattern of black dots is added to some of the glass to ensure you are not dazzled from the outside and that the sun does not shine too brightly inside. But you can only see that on the inside.
It is a huge building that only opened in 2017 on the Elbe River. The Elbphilarmonie is built on an old warehouse, actually. Inside you will find three concert halls, a hotel, and apartments. The biggest challenge is getting the whole building in the picture. If you do a harbor tour, you have the best view of the building. You can also enter the Plaza for free and have a beautiful view of the river, the harbor, HafenCity, and Speicherstad. You could buy a ticket for €2 to access the Plaza with priority. Or book a tour so that you can also enter parts of the building.
Because, if you come for the music, the inside of the Elbphiharmonie is, of course, a lot more interesting than the outside. No expense has been spared to give every concertgoer the best sound experience. In the large, round concert hall, you are always at most 30 meters away from the conductor, even though there are more than 2000 seats. Every panel in the concert hall is unique and thoroughly tested. As a result, you hear every note, every breath, and every mistake crystal clear. So you have to have excellent skills to be allowed to perform here. Be sure to try to get a concert ticket for your city trip to Hamburg. There are many performances: orchestras, cabaret, organ concerts, arias, lunchtime concerts… Check the calendar of the Elbphilharmonie.
Music Clubs: live music in Hamburg
Hamburg has many clubs on and around the Reeperbahn – not necessarily dark techno basements or discotheques. It’s mainly for live music. But, of course, the type of music depends on the night you visit. A well-known club, for example, is Molotow, with different floors and stages where mainly new bands play. Apparently, they have an ear for talent: The Editors, The Killers, Mumford and Sons all played here before they became famous.
The Mojo Club is hidden underground. During the day, the doors disappear into the ground, and you can walk over them without noticing a big club below you. In the evening, the doors open as if you can enter the Batcave. Docks doesn’t look that imposing from the outside, but once inside, I discover that 1000 people can easily fit there. And legendary are clubs like Große Freiheit 36 and Grünspan. Or what do you think of Indra or Kaiserkellar, where the Beatles once started their career?
Beatles tour: why Hamburg and the Beatles are inseparable
The Beatles’ career began in Hamburg. As young boys, still adolescents, they left for Hamburg to play rock ‘n roll for the Marines looking for fun in the port city. The drummer was recruited a day before departure: a friend who happened to have received a drum kit from his mother. The boys were real amateurs and were exploited a lot. They slept in a back room of a movie theater without daylight and played from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. At that time, they mainly played covers because their own songs were only moderately received. With the many and long performances, Hamburg is the city where the Beatles have played the most.
That’s crazy, right? When I think of the Beatles, I think of the post-breakthrough phenomenon. During the Beatles tour in Hamburg, I learn how it all started for them. Very cool! Steffi Hempel’s Beatles tour has been a success in Hamburg for over 15 years. Of course, because the subject is the Beatles, but also because Steffi is a super friendly person. She’s clearly a real Beatles fan. She regularly conjures up her ukulele and plays and sings a song by the Beatles. “Sing along, everyone” she keeps repeating. Most of the group uncomfortably sticks to some humming and clapping.
During the Beatles Tour by Steffi Hempel, you visit some key places in the history of the Beatles and learn how these young boys had to work hard for their breakthrough. Book via Steffi’s site if you also want to do the tour.
Check out record stores in Hamburg
The record lover cannot believe their luck in Hamburg. It is a more than gratifying record hunt in the Karolinenviertel. At Hanseplatte, you will mainly find music from German soil. Smallville Records and Zardoz have just about every music genre and era, and at Groove City, they often have special limited editions. You will find Freiheit und Roosen near the bar area, a record store annex antique store.
Reeperbahn Festival: discovering new music
If you have the chance, go to the Reeperbahn Festival. Every September, Hamburg is all about music. In four days, you can catch more than 600 performances. Okay, that’s physically impossible. The range of music is overwhelming, so choices have to be made. The Reeperbahn Festival gives a stage to new and emerging artists from Germany and beyond. The concerts last an hour on average, so you have plenty of opportunity to visit several performances. Find out everything about the Reeperbahn Festival.
The only disadvantage of a visit to the Reeperbahn Festival is that your day is so full of music that you have little time for other things during your Hamburg city trip. But hey, isn’t that a good reason to revisit Hamburg?
Fish market: rock on Sunday morning
Oooh, how fun is this! In the summer, Hamburg’s fish market starts as early as 5 a.m. with beer, fish, and music, and an hour later in the winter. Outside is a market like all markets, with vegetables, cheese, and cloth. Inside, the roof comes off. The music is loud, and the beer is flowing freely. Just before the stage, a few party people are dancing, the rest gathering at the long tables. I’ve never seen anything like this early in the morning.
I would skip the brunch at the Fischmarkt, by the way. I thought it was quite a rip-off (a lot of money, mediocre food, dull setting). Just enjoy the festivities. Rise early or come straight from the pub. I leave that to you.
Want more Germany inspiration?
Useful links for your Germany trip
- Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Campspace. Would you rather stay in a hostel? Check Hostelworld.
- Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. You could also try WithLocals. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at Freetour.com and GuruWalk, and try Baja Bikes for bike tours.
- Attractions and museum. Interested in a 5% discount on museums and other attractions? Use this discount code at Tiqets: KIMOPREIS22
- Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers. A good comparison site is Discover Cars.
- Flights. Compare all your options! Transavia often has good deals, but definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
- Money. Your bank cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel.
- Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? The Dutch among us can try: ANWB vakanties or Sawadee, or maybe Tui, D-Reizen, Sunweb, and Vakantie Discounter?
- SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
- Train and Bus Travel with NS International or FlixBus to Germany. And reserve bus seats with Busbud, 12Go or Omio.
- Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
- Travel guides. I love the practical guidebooks from Lonely Planet. You can buy them at Bol.com and Amazon.
- Yoga retreat. Or, try a yoga retreat in Germany.
Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission.
During a press trip, I got my inspiration for this music-filled city trip to Hamburg.
First published: November 2019. The article has been updated since.