Bremen, Germany is a German 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 medieval 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 from Hamburg – but don’t limit yourself to just a day trip to 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.
Looking for more tips on visiting Europe in the winter? Check out our other wintry European guides:
- Two Super Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- Major European City Winter Guides: Copenhagen, Prague, Vienna
- Smaller European Town Winter Guides: Český Krumlov, Bruges, Hallstatt
- The Perfect 7-Day Norway Itinerary for an Epic Winter Trip
Psst: We’ve got a FREE printable Europe in Winter guide that you can download for your trip! Inside, you’ll find packing lists, travel tips, and two full itineraries for Europe in winter (including Bremen). Enter your email below and we’ll send it to your inbox.
Short History of Bremen
For most of its history, Bremen has been an independent, autonomous city. It was an autonomous republic until it joined the German Confederation in 1815 but still remains its own separate state (fun fact: Bremen is Germany’s smallest state!). Bremen’s proverbial ‘statue of liberty’, the Roland Statue, has stood in the Old Town Square since 1404 as a symbol of the city’s freedom.
Bremen as a Hanseatic city
Bremen was a part of the Hanseatic League, a powerful trading block of almost 200 cities that existed in the 12th – 17th centuries. The Hanseatic cities controlled trade and exerted tremendous economic and political power during the Middle Ages, even waging wars at times against states. At its height, the Hanseatic League had its own ‘managing director’, celebrated its own holiday, and had trading posts reaching from Russia to Italy.
Given Bremen’s ideal location along the Weser River trading route and its connection with the North Sea, Bremen was a dominant force in the Hanseatic League and was enriched by this extensive international trading network. Even Bremen’s local delicacies and dishes (try Bremer Klaben, a rich fruit cake-like dessert!) differ from the surrounding towns since the city’s culinary development was shaped by greater access to luxurious, foreign ingredients that were otherwise unavailable in northern Germany.
Even after the Hanseatic League largely disintegrated, Bremen – along with Hamburg and Lübeck – remained members until its final disintegration in the mid 19th century. To this day, Bremen still refers to itself as a Hanseatic Free City.
Bremen’s run-ins with pirates
As an important port city dating back over 1,200 years, Bremen has its share of run-ins with pirates. Back in the 1400s, Bremen itself became a hub of piracy as the city began offering contracts to pirates to attack its trading rivals (mainly Dutch cities to the west). Even a prominent city counselor’s son took up piracy!
You can step back into these seafaring times by wandering the docks and quaysides of the Schlachte Embankment and can have a pirate-themed dinner on the old sailing ship, the Admiral Nelson (try out one of their many sweet and savoury pancake-style dishes!).
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! (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.
- Want to learn more about the famous Bremen musicians? You’ll learn all about the story and the history of the fairytale & Bremen on this walking tour of Bremen.
Explore the Christmas Market in Old Town Bremen
Germany is often said to have the best Christmas Markets (in fact, there’s a whole list of the best German Christmas Markets on Europe Up Close), and Bremen is no exception to this magical holiday tradition. Bremen in winter is home to a Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt ) that’sheld right in the historic 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! 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!
- Feeling overwhelmed by the Christmas Market? Take a guided tour like this one.
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 gingerbreadcookies, 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.
- Watch (and sample!) traditional German lollies at Bonbon Manufaktur!
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.
Schoor is Plattdeutsch (the local dialect) for ‘string’ and refers to how the idyllic half-timbered houses in this part of the city are lined up like pearls on a string. Back in the 1200s, river fishermen, craftsmen, and traders mainly lived in this section of the city but eventually, a Franciscan monastery was built – you can still visit the monastery’s church, St. Johann.
By the early 20th century, the Schnoor became a poorer socioeconomic area since cars could not pass through its narrow streets. However, by the late 20th century, the district’s well-preserved medieval buildings and charming cobblestone streets became one of Bremen’s most beloved districts. In fact, in 2018, the New York Post named the Schnoor as one of the coolest streets in the world! Nobody asked us, but we definitely agree.
There are no cars allowed in the Schnoor, letting you wander freely through its narrow, winding streets to explore all the boutique shops and enjoy a host of culinary delights. Try Schnoorkuller, a sweet made from nougat, meringue, nougat, nuts and chocolate, at one of the bakeries or browse local art at Gallery Schnoor37.
- 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.
- Look out for the bronze statue of one of the city’s most eccentric characters, Heini Holtenbeen, in the Schnoor quarter. Back in the late 1800s, Heini Holtenbeen used to take cigars from stock exchange merchants (since smoking was not permitted in the trading buildings) and then make and sell his own cigars from the stubs he had collected. You can find him with one of his cigars in one of the Schnoor’s peaceful squares.
- Take a tour of the Schnoor! It rhymes, AND it’s a fantastic way to learn about this beautiful, historic neighborhood. Here is an excellent walking tour of the Schnoor.
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 on a Beck’s brewery tour!
- Stop at Schüttinger on the Böttcherstraße to try their classic German beer, pretzels, and other German food staples. Website.
Where to Stay in Bremen, Germany
There are a few options for where to stay when visiting Bremen.
- Stay on the Schnoor: The scenic Schnoor street is the most beautiful and adorable street in Bremen. And you can stay right on it! Transport yourself back to 14th century Germany (I assume, I wasn’t there personally) at some of the fanciest and most upscale hotels in Bremen! There’s the Schnoor Traum, which looks like what I want my Instagram to look like. Or there’s the Schmuckstück, which has gorgeous views of Bremen and is REALLY fun to pronounce. Or how about the Romantisches Haus im Schnoor for a romantic cozy hotel room for 2 – complete with jacuzzi!
- Stay on a Boat: Yes. Like, an actual boat. It’s like, a boat hotel. How cool is that? You’ll be right in all the action in a gorgeous boat, swimming in luxury (not literally swimming, you’re in a boat, not a swimming pool) for a surprisingly reasonable price! Check prices for the Hotelschiff Nedeva Bremen.
- Stay in Old Town: Sleep steps away from the Bremen Town Musicians statue and the Marketplatz Christmas Market at the Boutique Hotel Classico Bremen. With insanely beautiful views of the Rathaus and the town square, this is one of the best-located boutique hotels in Bremen! Another super reasonably priced option that’s located in the heart of Bremen’s historic Old Town is H+ Hotel Bremen.
Budget-Friendly Places to Stay in Bremen
- There’s some great budget-friendly VRBOs in Bremen, for those of you who prefer to stay in your own apartment we love this attic apartment in a traditional Altbremer house near the city center. There is an AMAZING balcony overlooking the gardens in the city. We recommend booking directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
- 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!
- You can also stay in budget-friendly hostel in Hamburg and take the 1-hour bus to and from Bremen. 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.
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).
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! And if you’re headed elsewhere in Germany, here’s a guide to what to do in Berlin in 3 days.
Heading to Europe this winter? Check out our other wintry European guides:
- Two Super Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Copenhagen in Winter
- 14 Adorably Romantic Things to do in Bruges, Belgium in Winter
What magical fairytale experience would you most enjoy in Bremen? Tell us in the comments!
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