Bremen, Germany, is at once a modern university town and a port city with more than 1200 years of history. Its Old Town reflects its medieval and Renaissance past, but many of the old merchant houses are now home to restaurants, and neighborhoods that once housed tradesmen have the same charming exteriors while boutiques and art galleries occupy their main floors. When the weather is nice, residents spill down the banks of the river at outdoor cafes and markets. Bremen is close enough to Hamburg that it’s easy to visit but far enough away to make it just off the main tourist route for many international visitors, which is one of the many things that makes it a great place to spend a couple of days. Here some of our favorite things to do in Bremen on a short visit.
Marvel at the Town Hall
Built in 1405, Bremen’s beautiful Gothic Town Hall (Rathaus) has witnessed six centuries of history in the Hanseatic City. On the outside, its detailed, red-brick façade makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. On the inside, you see the vestiges of a powerful merchant city that hosted mayors, emperors, and other influential dignitaries beginning in the Middle Ages.
Somehow, this brilliant building—now a UNESCO World Heritage Site—survived the fighting that destroyed much of Bremen during World War II. That means that its structure as well as many of its works of art and decorations have been preserved for visitors today. From Wilhelm II’s marble cabinet to the ornate Golden Chamber, there is still very much to see inside Bremen’s Town Hall.
Wish upon the Bremen Town Musicians
One can’t-miss stop in Bremen is the Bremen Town Musicians statue just outside of the Town Hall. This quirky statue, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name, is essentially the symbol of the city of Bremen. The bronze statue features a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster—the band of musicians who set out together to make a living in Bremen. Touching the donkey’s front hooves is said to make wishes come true. You’ll find other statues and representations of the famous animals all over town (and even as far away as Bremen’s sister city, Riga, Latvia).
Gawk at the Marketplatz and statue of Roland
Bremen’s Marktplatz (Market Square) is the heart of the city’s Old Town. With its historic merchant houses now mostly transformed into shops and cafes, it is one of the most picturesque places we’ve ever seen to meet friends or have a cup of coffee. Or you may just lose yourself in staring at the beautiful buildings. During certain times of the year—namely late October, November, and December— Marktplatz is lit up with the lively Freimarkt, an ancient fair with a 1000-year history, and Bremen’s Christmas market.
On the side of the Marktplatz nearest the Town Hall is one of Bremen’s most important landmarks, the Bremen Roland statue, which shares the UNESCO designation with the Town Hall. The 33-foot-tall limestone statue built in 1404 depicts an important figure from the time of Charlemagne as a symbol of civic liberty and freedom from the dominance of the church.
Stroll and sip in the wine cellar
Bremen is home to one of the most prestigious wine collections in Germany. Housed in the 600-year-old wine cellar at the Bremen Ratskeller are hundreds of bottles from across Germany’s 13 wine-producing regions. A tour here will show you many of the current bottles, the special vintages kept in the cellar’s “treasure chest,” and the massive wooden barrels that used to be the primary storage vessels. If you’re lucky, you can even taste a wine specially selected by the cellar master. The tasting is worth it for the setting alone—you’ll be sipping alongside barrels filled with some of the best and oldest wines in Germany, including a priceless vintage that was last tried by Queen Elizabeth. A visit here is definitely one of the best things to do in Bremen.
Head to the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral
Constructed in the 11th century, the medieval St. Peter’s Cathedral is an important city landmark. Partially destroyed during World War II air raids, the cathedral’s 320-foot tall twin towers dominate Bremen’s skyline. You can visit one of them for great views of the city. Major highlights of the cathedral include its striking choir, the organ, and the intriguing mummified bodies in the Lead Cellar.
Wander in Schnoor
Schnoor—a maze of narrow, winding streets a few minutes from Marktplatz—is Bremen’s charming medieval neighborhood. The oldest part of Bremen, Schnoor was once the fishermen’s quarter. Today, its 15th-to-18th century buildings are full of cafés, boutiques, and galleries. It’s the perfect place to have lunch or do a bit of souvenir shopping. Our favorite lunch spot was Teestübchen im Schnoor.
Enjoy the Schlachte Embankment
Once one of Bremen’s harbors, the Schlachte Embankment is now popular for its restaurants, beer gardens, and river boats. Stroll down to the promenade along the River Weser to enjoy some of the most fun places in Bremen, especially during the spring and summer. If you’re lucky, you might even catch one of the eclectic weekend markets here.
Try the traditional food
Thanks to its location near the North Sea, fish of all kinds is popular in Bremen. Since it’s Germany, beer (especially Becks) and sausage (especially a local variety called pinkelwurst) often make an appearance as do potatoes, kale, and cabbage. Of course there are lots of international options as well, but trying the local food is a great way to get a sense for the place. We opted to try labskaus, a dish of pureed corned beef, potatoes, onions, and beets, topped with gherkin and fried eggs with herring on the side. Travel is nothing if not a culinary adventure!
Pop into the city’s Windmill
If you’re walking from the train station to the city center, one of the first things to catch your eye will probably be Muhle am Wall. Located in the lovely Wallanlagen Park, the 19th-century windmill houses a restaurant and is open to tourists. The surrounding park is a great place to go for a walk or relax outside.
Breathe deeply in the flower market
It wouldn’t be a proper visit for us if we didn’t find a market. From tulip bulbs and mums to roses and orchids, just about every flower on your list can be found at the daily flower market in Bremen. Outside the Church of Our Lady, this spot is a fun place to browse the colorful offerings and watch locals go about their daily business.
Browse the Böttcherstrasse
Originally occupied by coopers, Bremen’s narrow Böttcherstrasse was transformed into a street of art in the 1920s. The project, commissioned by Bremen native and inventor of decaf coffee Ludwig Roselius, led to the creation of museums as well as sculptures and works of art lining the street. You can’t miss the huge gold sculpture at the street’s entrance, which will lead you passed unusual expressionist architecture, unique galleries, and the famous Glockenspiel House.
We visited Bremen thanks to the German National Tourist Board. All opinions of the charming and historic are our own.