Bremen isn’t a big city, and it might not be one of the first ones that come to mind when you’re considering a city break – but you know what they say about good things and small packages… I spent a few days here to find out what Bremen has to offer, and here’s what I learned about this enchanting little city in the north of Germany…
It’s a city, but Bremen manages to maintain a village vibe through and through. Now I love a busy city break as much as the next person, but trips to the Londons and Romes of Europe – incredible as they are – can be overwhelming, particularly if you don’t have much time to get around every magnificent sight and attraction they have. Bremen is a whole different story. A different fairytale, even…
Bremers call their home ‘a village with a tram line’, and I couldn’t put it better myself. It’s got the shops, sights and history of a city, but it remains wonderfully quaint and picturesque. It’s small, clean, safe, very beautiful – and most of all, it’s relaxed. You could easily go there after work on a Friday and get back for Monday morning having really explored the place, and without feeling like you need another holiday just to recover.
If you want to see a city, but you can’t hack the thought of sprawling metropolises, skyscrapers, endless metro journeys and a mad dash from must-see to must-see, then Bremen may just be the perfect, relaxing city break for you.
Bremen’s main square is full of restaurants and cafes, bustling with people, and surrounded on all sides by stunning architecture – it’s considered one of the most beautiful main squares in Germany, and its easy to see why. It’s the perfect place to start a day’s exploration of the city; it’s home to the Rathaus and Ratskeller, the State Parliament, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and the Schütting guildhall, the Roland statue, and of course the statue of the famous Town Musicians from the Brothers’ Grimm tale (don’t forget to rub it for luck)! From here it’s a short walk to Boettcherstrasse, the Schnoor, and Bremen’s best shopping streets – all of which should keep you very busy for a full day – at which point I recommend heading back to the square for a well-earned drink and to see its buildings illuminated.
Bremen’s size makes it perfect for cycling around. It’s very walkable too, and if you do want to use public transport, the system is reliable, fast and cheap – but cycling is king in Bremen. There are twice as many bikes on the streets as there are cars, and it has more cycle paths than most other German cities. If the weather allows it, I recommend getting around by bike. Cycle to get to some of the sights and attractions that are a little outside the centre, like Uberseestadt (about 15 very pleasant minutes cycle along the river by bike) and the Beck’s and Union breweries. I rented a bike from the ADFC Radstation, right beside the Hauptbanhof. Bike rental here costs €12 for 24 hours, and don’t forget to take your passport with you as they’ll want to make a copy of it when you rent your bike.
And in a city as charming as Bremen, that’s saying something. It’s like walking right into a Disney film; I was half expecting bluebirds and forest animals to come and gather around me for an uplifting song. I’d recommend getting there a little early when the shops haven’t all opened but the bakeries have – it’s nice to wander the cobbled alleyways when they’re still quite empty. But go back when everything’s open and it’s busy too, because the bustling atmosphere is equally lovely to experience. Browse the trinkets , souvenirs, decorations and crafts, visit some of the lovely little galleries, and stop for coffee and some cake in one of the Schnoor’s cafés.
And Böttcherstraße is one of the city’s loveliest places to soak it up. Böttcherstraße is a smallish (about 100m long) alley that used to be where the Böttchers (coopers) made their barrels up until the 19th Century. Today it’s more of an open-air gallery, with unusual architecture on all sides and walls adorned with artwork and sculptures. The street is home to several art museums as well as design shops, arts and crafts workshops, restaurants, bars, a hotel, and Bremen’s famous Glockenspiel House. The house’s carillon of thirty porcelain bells chime on the hour from noon until 6pm (April-December), and at noon, 3pm ad 6pm from January to March – try to catch the song of the Bell of Bremen while you explore this arty alleyway.
And not just because Beck’s is Bremen beer, though that’s definitely some brewing-cred right there. Now, beer connoisseurs might sniff at Beck’s, seeing as it’s such a massive global brand, but a visit to the Brewery for a tour and a beer tasting will give you the chance to taste lots of different types of beer that they make – stuff that you can’t get on a supermarket shelf at home. The tour is only €11.90, and that includes a generous tasting session at the end.
But there’s another brewery in town that any self-respecting beer drinker really needs to visit when they’re here. Union Brauerei in Osterfeuerberg opened in December 2015, and while it must have been a daunting prospect to open a brewery in the shadow of one of the world’s brewing behemoths, the guys at Union have nailed it. In addition to brewing gorgeous ales and lagers they have a bar and restaurant in the brewery that serves all their brews, as well as lovely beer-cocktails if you want something a little different – and the food here is really, really good (if you like pulled pork burgers, you’ll absolutely love the one they serve here). You can visit the brewhouse and restaurant for free, and there are guided tours available for €12, if you want to go behind the scenes.
Aside from the breweries, just finding nice places to enjoy your beer is a doddle. Marktplatz, Bremen’s beautiful main square, is an obvious place to enjoy a beer; there are plenty of lovely outdoor terraces to sit at and watch the comings and going in the heart of the city. For something a little less touristy, head for Schlachte, the riverside promenade that’s rammed with lovely outdoor beer gardens. On a sunny afternoon or evening it’s the perfect, bustling place for a few tipples, and it’s full of locals so you won’t feel (or spend) like you’re in a tourist trap.
I love my coffee, and I found two awesome places in Bremen to get a decent cup – both are a little outside the centre but easily reachable by bike, and well worth the trip. Lloyds Roastery and Cafe is a 20 minute cycle from the city centre, and it’s a great find for coffee lovers – not just because of the great coffee (and cake) they serve in the cafe, but because you can tour the roastery and the old HAG coffee factory and learn about the history of coffee production in the city.
The second place I found is a fairly new little cafe called YellowBird. It’s in Neustadt, a nice little neighbourhood that’s not even ten minutes away from Marktplatz by bike. The coffee here is excellent and if you really appreciate a good cup, it’s worth making the short journey out here.
Bremen has loads of lovely parks, and if you’re there when it’s warm there’s nothing nicer than finding your favourite one to sprawl out in. Bürgerpark is probably the most famous one in the city, but I fell in love with Wallanlagen Park in Am Wall. Wallanlagen is home to Mühle Am Wall, the gorgeous windmill that’s now a café and restaurant (and yet another lovely place to enjoy a beer), and it’s a really idyllic place to chill under the sun. It’s worth a visit, but feel free to explore the parks and find your own perfect patch of grass, wherever it may be!
Flights to Bremen
- Dee Murray