Steeped in history but with all the buzz of a contemporary European city, picturesque Bremen in northwest Germany is packed full of unique things to see and do.
Straddling the Weser River, which flows out to the North Sea, Bremen is known for the grand buildings that line the market square and extend out onto its main boulevards and residential streets. But while this is a city that exudes Old World European charm, Bremen is also very much a place with its finger on the pulse, as evidenced by its busy nightlife and cultural scenes. Among this harmonious mix are endless great things to add to your itinerary – and here are 12 of the best.
Admire a stunning cathedral
Dominating Bremen’s central market square is St Peter’s Cathedral, or Breme Cathedral as it is also known, which resonates with 1,200 years of history. Boasting a mishmash of architectural styles, with Romanesque, Gothic and bits of later Gothic Revival sprinkled in following restorations in the 19th-century, the cathedral is a truly breath-taking vision. A pair of 89-metre towers break Bremen’s skyline, and if you venture inside you can climb the south tower for exceptional vistas across the city. Other highlights include a chapel featuring fragments of the cathedral’s choir stalls, which were carved with episodes from the bible in 1360, and an 11th-century crypt.
Sandstraße 10-12 / Mon-Sat 10am-5pm Sun 11.30am-5pm
Marvel at a Renaissance-style city hall
Another architectural feast for the eyes is Bremen City Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage landmark and widely considered one of the most beautiful civil buildings anywhere in Europe. Featuring eye-catching stonework and magnificent carved statues affixed to its façade, you could spend hours happily gawping at the building from the outside. But visitors shouldn’t pass up the chance to take a peek inside, where the official Bremen tourist office run guided tours. Look out for the lavishly adorned Upper Hall and Germany’s oldest cask of wine in the cellar.
232 Main Street / Mon-Tues & Thurs 8am-5.30pm Weds 8am-12pm Fri 8am-5pm Closed Sat-Sun
Visit a fascinating museum
Dedicated to art and cultural history, the Focke Museum 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.
Schwachhauser Heerstraße 240 / Weds-Sun 10am-6pm Tues 10am-9pm Closed Mon
For a somewhat quirkier museum option, the Ludwig Roselius Museum is just the ticket. Nestled at the end of Böttcherstraße, the museum features the private collection of the eponymous German coffee merchant Ludwig Roselius, including a treasure trove of curios and art spanning the early middle ages to the 17th– century. Among them are various liturgical ornaments, Renaissance paintings, sculptures, and religious statuary, with the most notable artworks including Lucas Cranach’s Portrait of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, his wife.
6-10, Böttcherstraße / Tues-Sun 11am-6pm Closed Mon
Explore Bremen’s oldest district
A maze of small houses and narrow alleyways, the Schnoor district is not just pretty to look at, but is also the city’s oldest neighbourhood, once serving as its medieval centre. Visitors keen to explore the well-preserved remnants of its distinguished past can do so by joining a Schnoor guided tour. Accompanied by an expert guide, you’ll see buildings dating back as early as the 15th century, half-timbered houses with tea rooms, and examples of Baroque and Renaissance architecture. During the one-hour tour, your guide will reveal stories about former residents and other quirky facts.
Check out a historic music-playing clock
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 coffee baron Ludwig Roselius bought a number of buildings 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.
Explore a disused submarine factory
Few countries do memorials quite like Germany and the remarkable U-Boot Bunker Valentin, 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
Rekumer Siel / Tues-Fri 10am-4pm Sun 10am-4pm Closed Sat & Mon
Discover the dark side of Bremen
Like most cities, Bremen has its own murky underbelly and visitors are invited to explore it by joining the Dark Side of Bremen tour. Over the course of 2 to 2.5 hours, you’ll learn all about the city’s criminal past, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, and the identity of its most notorious crooks, cads and criminals. You’ll also visit the sites of sentencings and executions and hear blood-curdling tales of all manner of misdeeds, deadly murders and elaborate heists. Not for the faint-hearted!
Let your hair down in a hip neighbourhood
The beating heart of Bremen’s nightlife scene is Das Viertel. Dating back to the 1800s, when it was adorned with regal villas and townhouses in the Historicist, Neoclassic and Jugendstil styles, today the district hums with night-time activity, with fun-seekers flocking to patronise its eclectic bars, bistros, cafes and live music venues. Come day time, the neighbourhood returns to its more genteel state, with vintage shops and boutiques replacing the pulsating music.
Learn all about the art of beer brewing
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 Beck’s Brewery, the headquarters of beer-making behemoth Beck’s, where visitors can join tours and gain an insight into the art of brewing. As well as looking around 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.
Am Deich 18-19
Walk in the footsteps of Bremen’s emigrants
With over 7 million people leaving the historic port city of Bremerhaven between 1830 and 1974, it was once one of the busiest emigration ports in Europe. Located directly at the seafront of the North Sea, before the emigrants got to Bremerhaven, they would often spend several days in nearby Bremen. The Bremen Historical Emigration tour gives visitors the chance to walk in the footsteps of these emigrants. During the 2-hour tour, you’ll get to see some of the city’s main landmarks and attractions while listening to stories related to emigrants and immigrants from your expert guide.
Climb aboard a real life U-boat
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.
Hans-Scharoun-Platz 1 / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm