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.
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Table of Contents
How to Get Around During Your One Day in Hamburg
The best way to see Hamburg and discover its many hidden gems is on foot. It is a pedestrian-friendly city and you will enjoy your one day in Hamburg more when exploring the city by walking. This resonates particularly strongly when sightseeing in central Hamburg. Many of the major attractions in these areas are within comfortable walking distance of each other.
In order to save some time and get to some of the further lying attractions, you should make use of Hamburg’s excellent and easy to use public transport. This includes the U-Bahns, S-Bahns, and buses as well as a range of boats and ships. You can switch between a bus, an S-Bahn or U-Bahn and ferries, without having to purchase a new ticket. A day ticket costs only about 8 EUR. Ticket vending machines are found in all U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, as well as at centrally located bus stops. You can find more information about fares and tickets and how to plan your trip using public transport here.
If you are visiting Hamburg in the warmer months, getting around on a bicycle is also a good alternative and a fun way to see the city. Hamburg is a very bicycle-friendly city, and many streets have dedicated bike lanes. The terrain of Hamburg is rather flat, allowing for easy and relaxed transport. The easiest way to rent a bicycle in Hamburg is by signing up for the city’s bike-sharing systems like StadtRAD and Donkey Republic which have service points all over the city. StadtRAD is free for the first 30 minutes, after that, your trip will cost 10 cents per minute or 15 EUR per day. Donkey Republic is slightly cheaper at 12 EUR per day.
Taxis are unnecessary as they are rather expensive, and you’ll unnecessarily run up a high bill. However, taxis are often a good option late at night. You can hail a taxi on the street, order one online or by telephone, or pick up one at one of the numerous taxi ranks located strategically across the city. Hansa Taxi is one of the companies you can check out if you want to travel by taxi.
Your One Day in Hamburg Itinerary
For this ‘one day in Hamburg’ itinerary, I have included some of the major attractions sights in the city. It, of course, isn’t possible to explore all of Hamburg’s major sights in just one day. For your convenience, this post includes a free map which highlights the main points of interest in Hamburg for one day. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
Obviously, everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see in Hamburg over the course of one day:
- 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
- Dinner in the Reeperbahn
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
The Hamburg Town Hall is definitely one of the must-see attractions in Hamburg. Nothing was held back when constructing this majestic edifice 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 5 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. Tours are mostly offered in German but there are at least 3 tours in English at 11:15, 13:15 and 15:15. Tours last for approximately 45 minutes.
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.
The Hanseatic League was an alliance of trading guilds that established a trade monopoly along the coast of Northern Europe in the Middle Ages. By joining the Hanseatic League, Hamburg’s fortunes flourished and it became the leading German trading and warehousing city between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
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 or “Elphi” 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. You can take this fantastic guided tour of the interior of the Elbphilharmonie to get some intriguing facts about the building.
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.
Entrance to the church is free but if you want to go to the observation deck it costs 5 EUR. Opening hours of St. Michael’s Church are 09:00-20:00 (May-September), 09:00-19:00 (April & October), and 10:00-18:00 (November-March).
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)
One of the best things to do during your one day in Hamburg is paying a visit to the Old Elbtunnel aka the St. Pauli Elbtunnel. It 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.
Hamburg is Germany’s most important media city. It is home to more than 13,000 companies in the industry. Popular German language publications like DIE ZEIT and DER SPIEGEL have their headquarters in Hamburg. Many successful films have used Hamburg as a backdrop such as ‘Hanna’ and ‘The Odessa File’.
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 spending 24 hours 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. Two of the most famous paintings at the Kunsthalle are Caspar David Friedrich’s dramatic “The Polar Sea” and Philipp Otto Runge’s beautiful “Morning”. Don’t forget to check out the outstanding altarpiece painted for the St. Peter’s Church in 1379 by Master Bertram, Hamburg’s first painter known by name.
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. Reeperbahn is famously known as “The World’s Most Sinful Mile” and “Kiez”. The name “Reeperbahn” actually stems from the old Low German word Reep meaning “heavy rope”. In the 18th century, thick hemp ropes were produced here for sailing ships in the Hamburg docks.
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. You don’t have to worry about whether the Reeperbahn is safe as the area is naturally heavily policed. On the corner of Reeperbahn and Davidstraße is the Davidwache, the most famous police station in Germany.
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. Make sure to take a stroll down the neon-heavy Grosse Freiheit, which recalls the area’s swinging Sixties vibe, popularized during The Beatles’ stint. The street’s name – Great Freedom – refers to a liberal area of free trade and religion in the seventeenth century, rather than loose morals.
Reeperbahn and the district that it is located in (St. Pauli) have so much more to offer than eroticism though and there are a number of other attractions here. For example, Reeperbahn has now become Germany’s answer to Broadway and is home to a slew of theaters and playhouses such as the St. Pauli Theater and the Schmidt Theater. To get a better insight into this intriguing neighborhood, you can opt for this excellent St. Pauli & Reeperbahn guided walking tour.
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. 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.
History 101: Beatles in Hamburg
St. Pauli is also known as the area where the Beatles famously refined their act in the early 1960s playing in clubs just off the street, playing 12-hour-long gigs in front of drunken revelers, sailors, prostitutes, and hooligans. This association with the city purportedly led John Lennon to say “I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.” The Beatles first arrived in Hamburg in August 1960 having been signed by Bruno Koschmider, a nightclub owner and entrepreneur with a dodgy history. Their first gig was at Koschmider’s Indra Club and they initially stayed in a couple of windowless rooms in the back of the Bambi Kino cinema. Over the next two and a half years, the Fab Four visited Hamburg five times and played almost 300 concerts in the city. You can still visit some places where they performed, including the Kaiserkeller (Grosse Freiheit 36), Indra (Grosse Freiheit 64) and Top Ten Club (Reeperbahn 136). Five life-size steel silhouettes made to resemble a vinyl record at Beatles Platz pays homage to the original five Beatles.
14. Dinner in the Reeperbahn
Cap off your one day of sightseeing in Hamburg by treating yourself to 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. Try the Labskaus ( a traditional seaman’s stew that is made of finely chopped salted beef, potatoes, red beetroots and other kinds of vegetables, such as celery and leek, as well as salted herring) if you go to the former.
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!
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