Pretty Bremen sits in northwest Germany, around an hour away from Hamburg. The city straddles the Weser River, which flows out to the North Sea. Bremen is known for the grand buildings in the market square and beyond. They signal a place that’s well preserved and steeped in history, but Bremen also has all the vigour of a contemporary European centre.
Visitors often start off at the 15th-century town hall with its ornate Renaissance façade. It’s a UNESCO protected site and within you’ll find hanging model ships, a nod to the city’s maritime trading past. Move on to wander the tiny lanes of the old Schnoor quarter or enjoy the café terraces and river views along the Schlachte Embankment.
To see a quirkier side to the city, head to the Viertel quarter, with its street art, laidback cafés and late-night entertainment. You can also venture out by bike to the Blockland Dykes for countryside views and welcoming farm shops. Alternatively, delve deeper into this fascinating city with our handpicked list of unique things to do.
1. U-Boot Bunker Valentin
Few countries do memorials quite like Germany and this remarkable site, nestled on the Weser River in the Bremen suburb of Rekum, is one of the most noteworthy. Built to construct German U-boats during World War II, over 6,000 people lost their lives here due to a combination of allied air attacks and the terrible, unsafe working conditions that its labourers faced. Today the colossal structure, which was never actually completed, can be visited and explored by those seeking to commemorate or learn more about the horrors of National Socialism
LOCATION Rekumer Siel HOURS Tues-Fri 10am-4pm Sun 10am-4pm Closed Saturday & Monday
2. The Roland Statue
So-called ‘Roland’ statues can be found in a number of German towns and cities, but few are as striking as the one in Bremen, which was designated a World Heritage site in 2004 – though given that the stone edifice was erected way back in 1404, this was perhaps not before time! As for its back-story, the Roland statue depicting Charlemagne, a 9th century Holy Roman Emperor, and was designed to symbolise the freedom and independence of the city. Today is remains a much-loved feature of Bremen’s streetscape, one that is enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.
LOCATION Am Markt
3. Böttcher Street
This beautiful street is best visited on an empty stomach – that’s because it’s so narrow you might need to breath in to make it through! Officially the city’s thinnest street, it is located in the Schnoor neighbourhood in the medieval centre of the city, close to the city hall, and is habitually lined with people going about their day. Inevitably many tourists also gravitate here to see for themselves just how tiny it is, and there’s plenty of sites and amenities nearby to make your visit worthwhile, including art galleries, sushi restaurants and shops.
4. Town Musicians Statue
In front of Bremen’s city hall sits a quirky statue that catches the eye of everyone who passes. Erected in 1953, the bronze sculpture depicts a donkey, dog, cat and rooster, aka the ‘Bremen Town Musicians’, sitting on top of each other. It is based on a popular Brother’s Grimm fairy tale about the four animals departing their home town to make a better life for themselves in Bremen. Sadly, they didn’t make it to Bremen, but legend has it that if you touch the donkey’s hooves with both hands you’ll be endowed with good luck.
5. Beck’s brewery
According to legend, some 3,000 bottles of Beck’s beer are opened every minute – and we can raise a glass to that. Anyone visiting Bremen will soon discover its rich beer culture, with beer brewing having taken place in the city since the 11th century. Today it is home to the headquarters of beer-making behemoth Beck’s, where visitors can come and tour the Beck’s Brewery and gain an insight into the art of brewing. As well as looking round the museum, visitors can also see the ingredients store and brewhouse, the malt silos, and the fermentation and storage tanks. Two short films and a cinema presentation complete the tour, but don’t grab your jacket just yet – now it’s time for a sampling session.
LOCATION Am Deich 18-19 TOUR HOURS Thur-Sat 10am, 11.30am, 1pm, 3pm (german & english), 4.30pm, 6pm Mon-Wed 1pm, 3pm, 4.30pm Closed Sundays ADMISSION €12.90
The ceiling resembles a star-lit sky, the windows evoke the ocean waves and the cocktail menu includes more than 150 exotic tipples. In a city awash with highly distinctive entertainment venues, Beluga is one of the very finest. On Thursdays it turns night-clubbish with salsa night, on Fridays you’ll be greeted by the dulcet tones of house and soul, and on Saturdays it’s all about dance and lounge music. Happy hour is daily from 7pm to 9pm, when the price of cocktails plummets to just 4 euros. And if that doesn’t persuade you to visit, nothing will.
LOCATION Auf den Häfen 12-15 HOURS Mon-Thur 6pm-2am Fri-Sat 6pm-4am Sun 6pm-12am
7. Wilhelm Bauer
Just four German U-boats remain from their heyday in the Nazi navy, but the only one still floating is the Wilhelm Bauer. Construction on the ship finished just as World War II was drawing to a close, and it was put into service as a training ship almost immediately. In 1945, the vessel was scuttled and sunk to the floor of the Baltic sea, but 12 years later it was raised, overhauled, and converted into a test boat for the new German military. It was during this time that the U-boat was rechristened the Wilhelm Bauer. Today it is permanently docked in Bremerhaven, about an hour’s drive north of Bremen, where it serves as a museum ship for visitors to observe for themselves.
LOCATION Hans-Scharoun-Platz 1 HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
8. Heartbreak Hotel
Situated in Bremen’s bustling “Bermuda-Dreieck” district – known as such because of the ease with which you can get lost here – this smoky, funky and boisterous bar is at the heart of the city’s nightlife. The crowds get larger as the night wears on, with arrivals at 5am not an unusual sight, and there’s an excellent drinks menu along with a pinball machine which provides hours of fun. In short, this is the place to come for a unique nocturnal experience in Bremen, mingling with locals – businessman, punks and hipsters alike – and soaking up the atmosphere of one of the city’s most popular nightspots. Just don’t expect a bed at the end of the night – despite the name!
LOCATION Fehrfeld 30 HOURS Mon-Thur 8pm-4am Fri-Sat 8pm-7am Sun 8pm-2am
9. House of the Glockenspie
One of the most eye-catching – and ear-tingling – landmarks in Bremen is the House of the Glockenspie, whose history dates back to the early 20th century. It was then that Ludwig Roselius, a local coffee baron, bought up a number of buildings located on the same street as his coffee business. Together with a sculptor named Bernhard Hoetger, he began changing the facades of many of the buildings to evoke Nordic supremacy and great explorers and conquerors. Atop one of these buildings, rows of bells rang, corresponding with a revolving panel to the left of the glockenspiel, which depicted Christopher Columbus, American actor Leif Erickson and two famous German explorers. The building was mostly destroyed during WWII but today is completely revamped, attracting admiring glances from all who pass it.
10. 2 Raum Club
Since opening its doors in 2002, this popular bar & lounge has become one of Bremen’s most unique nightspots, attracting artisans of all kinds thanks to its regularly changing art exhibits. In keeping with its creative patrons, the décor is also suitably kaleidoscopic, awash with bright colours as well as eclectic furniture throughout. Thursdays are Student Nights which brings a younger crowd in keen to lap up the cheaper prices, while on the first Friday of each month the venue is transformed into a club with revellers dancing into the early hours.
LOCATION Rembertiring 7 HOURS Fri-Sat 11pm-7am Closed Sun-Thurs
11. Focke Museum
Bremen’s state museum of art and cultural history offers a unique insight into Bremen’s rich heritage. Comprising a main building, four historical houses and a display room, as well as a nearby Mühle Oberneuland windmill , the museum contains artefacts that span some 1,200 years. As well as a permanent collection, regular exhibitions on town history, arts and crafts, design, photography and art collections relating to urban and cultural history are staged here. The museum also hosts a diverse programme of events for all ages, from talks and readings to themed guided tours and educational events.
LOCATION Schwachhauser Heerstraße 240 HOURS Weds-Sun 10am-6pm Tues 10am-9pm Closed Monday ADMISSION Adults €6.00 children €3.50
12. Paternoster lift
Paternoster lifts are something of a relic of the past due to safety concerns, but there remain a handful of authentic examples of this old-fashioned style of elevator dotted around the world. Some can be found in Bremen, including one in the city’s cotton wool market, where visitors can come and experience being transported in its chain of doorless cabins, stepping on or off at any floor they wish. It may be a stretch to call them a tourist attraction, but the enduring charm and appeal of these antiquated modes of transport are in no doubt.