Bremen, Germany is a fairytale town we’d actually never heard of before we began planning our trip to Europe. It’s a bit off-the-beaten path, and you won’t find it on most where to visit in Germany lists. We decided to visit the medeival town based almost entirely on beautiful and charming photos and rumors of legendary, classic German Christmas Markets (confession: we actually plan quite a lot of our travels based on photos and food…). Well, we couldn’t be happier that we chose to visit Bremen in winter! We absolutely fell in love with Bremen. From the people we met (Bremen was unusually full of kind and generous people, we found) to the stunning beauty and historical depth of its architectural masterpieces, Bremen is a must-visit stop on any trip to Germany in winter, particularly during the holidays! Winter in Bremen is a magical holiday wonderland, filled with good cheer, delicious food and historic beauty. With just a couple of days to explore, we found 10 incredible things to do in Bremen!
Bremen is a short hour and a half bus or train ride away from much larger Hamburg, Germany, making it a perfect day trip – but don’t limit yourself to a day trip in Bremen. It’s definitely worth it to stay for longer. With the help of a local friend, we learned about some wonderful hidden gems in Bremen. And after much consideration and several Christmas markets, we whittled our experience down into 10 magical things to do in Bremen in winter! We know you’ll fall in love with Bremen just like we did.
Psst! Scroll down to the bottom of the post for a free map of the best things to do in Bremen in winter! You can download the map and use it offline with an application like Maps.Me or Google Maps.
Visit Bremen Old Town
As an American, the term “Old Town” has doesn’t mean much to me other than maybe a quaint little suburb that hasn’t yet been overrun by chain stores and fast food restaurants. Old isn’t a concept we Americans understand very well: by European standards, our tiny little baby country is barely even old enough to drink. But an Old Town in a historically and culturally rich country like Germany is a jaw-dropping experience – and in winter, it’s even more magical. Standing in Bremen’s 1,200 year-old Old Town, on ancient cobblestones among gilded buildings which have stood for hundreds of years, is a humbling experience. Visiting Old Town Bremen tops our list of things to do in Bremen. Here are 2 famous sights not to be missed:
- Rathaus: Bremen’s gorgeous town hall is a UNESCO World Heritage site and sits surrounded by other absolutely beautiful architectural masterpieces. The main market plaza is a 365-degree visual treat. If you’ve ever wanted to feel transported back to another century, this the place to do it.
- Cathedral of St. Peter: You’ll see the iconic twin spires of Bremen’s Cathedral of St. Peter in the distance long before it towers over you in the center of Old Town. Some parts of the building are almost a MILLENNIUM old – the church itself dates back to year 805. Wow.
Rub the legs of the Bremen Town Musicians statue
Bremen’s big claim to fame is the Brother’s Grimm fairytale, the Bremen Town Musicians (Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten). Read the fairytale before you visit Bremen so that you aren’t confused by the statues of animals stacked on top of one another that you’ll see throughout town! The most famous Bremen Town Musicians statue is prominently in the Old Town market plaza. You’ll notice that the legs and mouth of the donkey are a bright, gleaming gold while the rest of the statue has aged and weathered over time. That’s because it’s good luck to rub the hooves of the donkey: it means you’ll visit Bremen again sometime! (As for the donkey’s mouth, we aren’t sure what the story is with that, and we’re almost afraid to ask….) Rubbing this famous statue is a quintessential thing to do in Bremen.
Explore the Christmas Market in Old Town Bremen
Germany is often said to have the best Christmas Markets, and Bremen is no exception to this magical holiday tradition. Bremen in winter is home to a Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt ) that’s held right in the historical Old Town market plaza. Winding through hundreds of brightly lit shops cheerfully selling steamy gluhwein and delicious, sizzling bratwurst while the beauty of ancient architecture towers above your head is an experience not to be missed, and its what we always wanted out of a European Christmas Market! Bremen in winter is the perfect Christmas Market destination. These are our favorite German Christmas Market treats:
- Warm up with a Feuerzangenbowle, German “Fire Punch” made by soaking a sugarloaf in rum, setting it on fire, and catching its drippings in mulled wine. It tastes like burnt sugar and spices and heaven.
- Reibekuchen is, basically, a latke – a fried potato pancake served with applesauce and sour cream. It’s delicious and, if you’re even a little bit Jewish (like me) it tastes like the holidays!
Explore Bremen’s Medieval Christmas Market
Why have one magical, adorable, quintessentially German Christmas market when you can have two? Ever the overachiever, Bremen in winter offers two incredible Christmas Markets: the classic version in Old Town, and a Medieval version along the waterfront (called Schlachte-Zauber)! Yes, that’s right: a Medieval themed Christmas Market, complete with pirate ships, shop employees dressed in period costumes, and kitschy booths with theme-appropriate wares like spells and potions ingredients. Oh, and some truly incredible food and drink, of course.
- We had about 18 cups of sweet Eiserpunsch with gingerbread cookies, and delicious mulled Elvesfire wine (look for the stand with varieties of fruit mulled wine, and order either Elvesfire or Dragonsfire – they’re the best) .
Look for the Key to Bremen
The Bremen coat of arms prominently features an ornate key: this is the key to the city of Bremen, and you’ll find its image proudly sprinkled throughout the city. Maybe it’s just because we like the challenge of finding symbols embedded in buildings (finding Hidden Mickeys at Disney World is like an Olympic Sport for us) but we found ourselves excitedly pointing out hidden Keys everywhere we went in Bremen! (Obviously this turned into a competition, obviously I won.)
- The obvious place to look for the Key to Bremen is on flags or building crests. Less obvious: the manhole covers! Glance down at your feet as you explore Bremen to find the key embedded in the ground.
Try Hachez chocolate
Germany’s premium chocolate maker is located in Bremen and has been making delicious German chocolate since 1890. You can find Hachez bars sold all over Bremen, or visit the Hachez chocolate shop for even more delicious chocolatey goodness!
- While you’re there, pick up maybe a Kluten: a traditional sweet from Bremen. They are cubes of peppermint, partly covered in chocolate.
Explore the Böttcherstraße
We stumbled on what first appeared to be a tiny alley on accident: a hidden gem away from the main Old Town market plaza. Tantalized by wafting Glockenspiel music, we followed our ears to this historic square and were greeted with fascinating architecture and brickwork, rhythmic porcelain bells, a wall of stained glass panels, museums, and of course, a Christmas tree!
- Tucked into the alley is the are several museums: the Museen Böttcherstraße. Visit one (or all!) to warm up from the winter chill and learn about Bremen’s history and some of its most famous residents.
Take a stroll down the Schnoor
The oldest part of an old city: the Schnoor is a well preserved section of the old Medieval quarter of Bremen and in our opinion, it is the most scenic part of Bremen (other than the Old Town plaza, of course). The narrow winding street with its tall, thin houses and shops will transport you back to the 1400’s.
- As you walk down the Schnoor and immerse yourself in Germany’s history, keep your eyes open for Stolpersteine: brass cobblestones embedded in the pavement to commemorate the former home of someone persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. These small memorials are placed throughout Europe as a chilling reminder of Germany’s tragic past, and they serve to remind us of humanity’s mistakes and the suffering that we must all work together to prevent.
Eat at the Ratskeller
A 600-year old relic, the Ratskeller is an integral piece of Bremen’s history. Famous dignitaries and notables visiting the Bremen Town Hall would dine here to discuss which important political strategies would best diss Austria, or wax poetic about Russia, or gossip about German composers, or twiddle their tiny mustaches and scheme about how to take over the world (these are nerdy history jokes, and if you’re a fellow nerd, please head over to the Wikipedia Page for the Ratskeller and see if you can guess who I’m referencing. Leave me a comment if you do!) Dining in the Ratskeller among their enormous ancient wine barrels will make you feel like a part of history too.
- Germany in the winter means delicious holiday comfort food. Our favorite was the gruenkohl and sausage plate!
Have a German beer
If you don’t have a beer in Germany, were you ever really in Germany at all? Even in the winter, Bremen offers several spots to enjoy a good German beer.
- The Haufbrau Haus is a casual German beer garden, complete with long family-style tables and sassy servers. We ordered a delicious and slightly sour wheat beer (weissbier) and a heavenly apple strudel generously covered with schlag (which means whipped cream, and also can we start a petition to re-name whipped cream everywhere to this far superior word??) Website.
- Beck’s Beer is brewed in Bremen! You can visit the Beck’s factory to see how this classic is made. More information here.
- Stop at Schüttinger on the Böttcherstraße to try their classic German beer, pretzels, and other German food staples. Website.
Where to Stay in Bremen or Hamburg, Germany
There are two options for where to stay when visiting Bremen. You can stay in Bremen itself, or you can stay in Hamburg and take the 1-hour bus to and from Bremen. We did both!
- If you’re looking for a budget-friendly hostel in Bremen, we recommend Townside Hostel, which is where we stayed during our visit. It’s cozy and affordable, with restaurants, shops and coffee nearby and in walking distance of Old Town and all the best things to do in Bremen we listed in this post!
- If you prefer to stay in a budget-friendly hostel in Hamburg, we absolutely LOVED Pyjama Park Schanzenviertel. It is honestly the most comfortable and well-furnished dorm we’ve ever stayed in. The dorms are POSH, like an apartment that just happens to have several pod-style dorm beds. It feels more like a hotel than a hostel – there’s no lounge or common area, and breakfast is served in the fancy pizza place next door. Nearby to the hostel are plenty of hip places to shop and eat, an excellent third wave coffee shop, and access to public transit. We can’t recommend Pyjama Park enough.
Looking for more tips and recommendations for things to do in Bremen? This excellent local’s guide to Bremen will give you tons of information and ideas!
Free Map: Things to Do in Bremen, Germany
Below is a map of Bremen listing all of our favorite things to do in Bremen, as listed above!
Travel Tip: Download this map to your smartphone for offline browsing (click here for instructions).
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