Hamburg’s rich maritime history, eclectic architecture, canals, world-class museums, vibrant nightlife, and shopping options make it an irresistible tourist destination. Jacky and I visited Hamburg in 2018 in the midst of a heatwave and despite the intense heat were pleasantly surprised as to how much we liked it. While one day in Hamburg may not be enough to explore everything the city has to offer, you will still have plenty of time to see and experience some of the top things to do in Hamburg. For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Hamburg.
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How to Get around Hamburg
Most of the attractions we’ve marked in for one day in Hamburg are within walking distance. However, if you would like to save some time or don’t feel like walking, Hamburg has a great public transport system. A day ticket costs 8 EUR. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket machines around the metro stations or from the bus driver if you decide to take the bus (cash only!). You can plan your journey here.
You One Day Itinerary for Hamburg
With a little bit of stamina, you can see quite a lot in Hamburg in one day. Below are our recommendations on how to spend one day in this German city. We recommend that you start your day early, especially in the winter when the days are short.
We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. Although you can walk most of this itinerary, you will most probably need to make use of public transport as well. Included in this one-day itinerary for Hamburg are:
- Cake for Breakfast
- Town Hall
- Jungfernstieg & Binnenalster
- Chile House & Kontorhaus District
- St. Michael’s Church
- St. Pauli Landing Bridges
- Hamburg Delicacies
- Kunsthalle Hamburg
- Reeperbahn & Beatles Square
- Traditional North German Dinner
1. Cake for Breakfast
You’ll be in need in of a good dose of coffee and some grub for your day of sightseeing in Hamburg. Public Coffee Roasters is a cozy cafe that makes fresh brews and offers tasty croissants and cheesecakes.
2. Hamburg Town Hall
Nothing was held back when constructing the majestic Hamburg Town Hall (Rathaus) between 1886-1897. It is home to Hamburg’s senate and parliament. The town hall is distinguished by its beautiful copper roof, which along with its ornate facade that is adorned with sculptures of German emperors, gives it a very unique appearance. The building has a staggering 647 rooms and is built atop 4,000 oak piles sunk in the ground.
If you are curious to learn about Hamburg’s history as well as the town hall through the decades, you can take the guided tour at a cost of 4 EUR. The tour will take you through some lofty staterooms embellished with tapestries and shimmering chandeliers that serve as a testament to Hamburg’s affluence and might.
Hamburg’s cityscape is primarily dominated by buildings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries with only a few older buildings still standing today. This is due to the enormous destruction caused by the Great Fire of 1842 and the flurry of bombs that rained on the city during World War II. A smaller factor is that Hamburg natives have always preferred tearing down old buildings and replacing them with new ones.
3. Jungfernstieg & Binnenalster
Jungfernstieg is a waterfront promenade that is nestled between Binnenalster and the Town Hall. It was the first street to be paved in Germany in 1838. In the old days, rich families used to bring their unmarried daughters (Jungfern in German) for a stroll in search of a prospective groom. Thus, it acquired the name ‘Jungfernstieg’. Given that Hamburg is home to the highest concentration of millionaires in Germany, it’s easy this place has so many designer boutiques. Fortunately for people like us, there are more affordable options here, in the Alsterhaus department store or the Europa Passage shopping mall.
The Binnenalster (Inner Alster) is the smaller part of the Alster Lakes and is one of the best places to view Hamburg’s cityscape. The lakes are actually part of the river Alster and are separated from each other by the Kennedy Bridge. The Binnenalster is situated a short stroll from Hamburg’s main shopping area and the central station. It also has a water fountain that spouts water around 40 meters in the air. Small sailboats and rowboats, hired from yards on the shores of the Alster, are very much a part of the summer scene. It is a perfect place to unwind during sightseeing. Take a relaxed stroll along the water or sit down on one of the several benches to take in the magnificent scenery.
4. Kontorhaus District & Chile House
The Kontorhaus district lies around Burchardplatz, between Mönckebergstraße and Speicherstadt. The district developed in the early 20th century with office buildings being built in the brick expressionist manner. It an essential part of Hamburg’s DNA and along with the Speicherstadt, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015.
Some of the prominent buildings here are Sprinkenhof, Miramarhaus, Mohlenhof, and Montanhof.
The most notable building in the Kontorhaus district is the Chile House (Chilehaus), largely due to its unique shape, which is said to resemble a ship’s bow. Constructed between 1922 and 1924, Chile House became a symbol of Brick Expressionism architecture and Hamburg’s economic revival post World War I. Nearly 5 million bricks were used to build the Chile House!
It derives its name from a German merchant, Henry Barens Sloman, who became extremely wealthy in the saltpeter trade with Chile, and who also commissioned the building.
The Speicherstadt is the world’s largest contiguous warehouse complex. It consists of 17 buildings, each seven to eight stories high, standing on timber-pile foundations and oak logs. The district was constructed between 1883 and 1927 with the goal of building a free zone to transfer goods without paying customs. It has more than 300,000 square meters of storage area.
The warehouses were in use until recently and stored goods such as coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, tobacco, and oriental carpets. A lot of these buildings are now functioning offices or residential spaces. Together with the nearby Kontorhaus district, the Speicherstadt was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list in 2015.
I really liked the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque red-brick outer facade of the buildings here which features richly ornamented brickwork. Take some time to walk around the Speicherstadt as this place feels like a miniature city itself. The Speicherstadt is interspersed with bridges and picturesque canals known as fleets, which sets the scene for some instagrammable pictures.
5. Deichstrasse & Nikolaifleet
Deichstrasse is the last remaining street in Hamburg’s Old Town. This former 14th-century merchant street is a throwback to ‘Old Hamburg’ and provides a peek into the city’s Hanseatic past. The buildings here date from the 17th-19th centuries and were chiefly occupied by merchants who lived and worked here. These multi-story, half-timbered houses have a Baroque facade, many have now been fabulously restored and are home to several restaurants.
Bordering Deichstrasse is one of Hamburg’s most famous canals, Nikolaifleet. Hamburg has a total of 22 canals weaving and twisting their way through the inner city. We saw several other canals in Hamburg like Brooksfleet and Mönkedammfleet, but in our opinion, Nikolaifleet is definitely the prettiest one. It used to be the main river mouth where the waters of the Alster flowed into the Elbe River. The gentle curve of Nikolaifleet and the backside of the buildings on Deichstrasse provides yet another postcard-perfect view.
The word fleet comes from the medieval German word “fleten”, which was used to describe the flow of water. However, unlike the canals, the fleets were originally dependent on the tide, and their water level fluctuated with the tide. Many of the fleets were gone in the 19th century and in the existent ones, locks regulate the level of water today.
The Elbphilharmonie is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Hamburg and certainly the most intriguing one. It is a concert hall encased in glass and set upon a former cocoa brick warehouse and is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the city’s bustling harbor. The building is visible from far nearly anywhere around the harbor. With its curved windows and white-tiled crested roof, the Elbphilharmonie dynamically contrasts with its sturdy, utilitarian brick foundation, evoking a ship in full sail. It’s interesting to visit and see from the inside but if you’re short on time you have to at least see in from the outside.
8. Church of St. Michael
There are several prominent churches in Hamburg. The most famous one is the Church of St. Michael (Hauptkirche St. Michaelis) and is the one you shouldn’t miss. Fondly referred to by Hamburg locals as ‘Der Michel’, this 132-meter behemoth is probably the city’s most famous architectural landmark. The church was originally constructed in 1647 and has undergone several renovations.
The sumptuous interior features some amazing organs and the marble pulpit. We thought this was pretty impressive for a Protestant church since they are normally so barren. If you’re up for an athletic challenge you can climb the 450 odd steps to the viewing platform or take the elevator as we did. From here you can enjoy a sweeping panorama of Hamburg. If you’re not fond of heights you can descend to the vast 17th-century crypt that lies beneath the church and contains the remains of 2400 people, including some of Hamburg’s most influential residents. The church is free to enter and access to the observation deck costs 5 EUR.
9. St. Pauli Landing Bridges
No day of sightseeing in Hamburg would be complete without paying a visit to the iconic St. Pauli Landing Bridges (Landungsbrücken), undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Hamburg. The Landing Bridges comprise of ten floating pontoons, measuring 700 meters in total. The long passenger hall, which forms part of the complex, was built in 1907–09. The Landing Bridges initially served as a place for steamships to dock before heading overseas. Today, the complex consists of the Art Nouveau reception halls, with archways to the pontoon, two corner towers, and cupolas. New pontoons were added after the complex suffered heavy damage during World War II.
Most of the Hamburg harbor cruises depart from here. The buskers, souvenir stands and boat companies touting their tours create a colorful hustle and bustle. Numerous restaurants, bars, and food kiosks are also found along the St. Pauli Landing Bridges.
10. Old Elbtunnel (Alter Elbtunnel)
The Old Elbtunnel aka the St. Pauli Elbtunnel is a famous pedestrian and vehicle tunnel in Hamburg. It was constructed in 1911 as a means to lessen commuting problems for thousands of harbor workers. The tunnel reaches a depth of 24 meters and at 426.5 meters it is the longest river tunnel in the world.
It is still used by thousands of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists as the quickest route under the Elbe. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk from one side to the other. I really loved how the interior walls of the tunnel are filled with carvings of nautical motifs and vintage signage. Entry is free for pedestrians round the clock.
11. Grab some Hamburg Delicacies
Your one day in Hamburg itinerary wouldn’t be complete without sampling some local delicacies. While Hamburg has some great cuisine the standouts are Fischbrötchen & Franzbrötchen, two foods that are guaranteed to stimulate your taste buds.
Fischbrötchen is a simple bun sandwich that is prepared with fish (traditionally with pickled or soused herring) and topped with onions, pickles, and remoulade. Other kinds of seafood like mackerel, shrimp, crab, and salmon can also be used. Being a seafood lover, I gobbled several fischbrötchen during our stay in Hamburg and would totally recommend the traditional herring one because it is simply divine! Some of the best places to have the fischbrötchen are Brücke 10, Fischbrötchen König by the St. Pali Piers, near the harbor. Fiscbrötchen goes down perfectly with some great German beer!
Franzbrötchen is a heavenly pastry, baked with butter and cinnamon that is ubiquitous in Hamburg’s bakeries. Sugar and cinnamon are traditionally only used, but sometimes ingredients such as marzipan, chocolate or raisins are added. Just thinking of that crunchy coating makes me hungry.
12. Kunsthalle Hamburg
When in Hamburg a visit to the Kunsthalle, one of the best art museums in Germany, is a must. This amazing museum was one of the highlights of our Hamburg trip. It is home to paintings, sculptures, and artworks spanning 700 years of art history. The various collections are arranged in chronological order across three buildings, all of which are connected. Works by venerated artists such as Goya, Manet, Monet, Munch, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh are on exhibition here. The outstanding collection of German Romantic paintings includes pieces by Caspar David Friedrich. Jacky’s a big fan of 19th century French impressionism so she was chuffed with the collection here.
A quick tour of the museum can be done in 2 hours, but art connoisseurs can easily spend a few days admiring the entire collection. The new wing which houses the Gallery of Contemporary Art is amazing with its collection of canvases by Kandinsky, Picasso, Warhol, and Francis Bacon.
The entrance is 14 EUR but it is totally worth the price of admission. The gallery is open Tue-Sun from 10:00-18:00.
13. Reeperbahn & Beatles Square
Finish your one day in Hamburg tour by heading to the Reeperbahn, Europe’s most famous entertainment and gambling hub, which lies in the St. Pauli district. The Reeperbahn and some of its side streets are home to Europe’s biggest red-light district. Hamburg’s first theater opened on the Reeperbahn in 1842, and from there, there was no looking back into any manner of debauchery. Since the 1940s, many entertainment venues opened their doors, including many strip clubs and sex shops.
Herbertstraße is the most notorious street around the Reeperbahn where sex workers sitting in windows display their ‘charms’ to attract potential customers. This street is sealed off by a barrier and is usually off-limits to females. No wonder the Reeperbahn is colloquially known as ‘The Most Sinful Mile’. The area is naturally heavily policed, and on the corner of Reeperbahn and Davidstraße is the Davidwache, the most famous police station in Germany.
Reeperbahn is not as sleazy as it used to be and has garnered a more reputable image of late. The sex industry is around but the area has undergone gentrification over the years, and those dive bars and flophouses sit beside trendy eateries and design hotels. The area has much more to offer than eroticism and a slew of theaters and playhouses can also be found here such as the St. Pauli Theater and the Imperial Theater. We even saw several families strolling with their kids here.
At the end of Reeperbahn, you can find the Beatles Platz, life-size steel silhouettes of the Fab Four made to resemble a vinyl record. It was here in the clubs just off the Reeperbahn that the Beatles polished their act, playing 12-hour-long gigs in front of drunken revelers. Although the statues are rather plain looking during the day, they present a good photo op when they’re lit up at night.
14. Dinner on Reeperbahn
After all that sightseeing you deserve a great dinner. Luckily, the Reeperbahn has fantastic restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisine. You can check out Freudenhaus St. Pauli for some traditional North German fare or Man Wah for authentic Chinese cuisine.
Extending Your Stay
If you have any more time to spare than 24 hours in Hamburg, we strongly recommend that you stay for a little longer. It will give you a chance to check out more of the city’s beautiful harbor, excellent museums, and bohemian quarters.
Where to Stay in Hamburg
The great thing about Hamburg is how easily it can be navigated by public transport, especially by metro. It’s a good idea to stay anywhere on the metro line (i.e. 5-minute walk from the nearest metro station). We stayed in the up and coming district of St. Georg which is a fun mix of immigrant culture and a growing LGBTQ scene.
Hostel: Generator Hostel, a great choice right next to the Central railway station.
Budget: Motel One Hamburg-Alster, unpretentious choice in the St. Georg district.
Mid-range: Hotel Europäischer Hof Hamburg, excellent choice within 2 minutes of the Central railway station.
Splurge: SIDE Design Hotel, a sumptuous top-choice pick near Jungfernstieg and the Alster Lakes.
Now, what do you think? How would you spend one day in Hamburg? Is Hamburg on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!