Well, let me do the hard work and plan the best day for you! You can just relax, follow this list, and see exactly what Hamburg has to offer. (Which is a lot!)
I’ve spent a total of 4.5 months in Hamburg so far (1.5 in the spring and 3 in the fall) so I’ve gotten around to exploring the city quite a bit. And, I had some help – I made friends with some locals and expats who showed me some insider spots, as well!
Here’s how I’d recommend spending one day in Hamburg:
BONUS: START YOUR DAY AT THE FISCHMARKT!Will you be there on a Sunday morning? OR on Saturday and want to stay up allll night? Great! You can start or end your day at Fischmarkt – an open air market that starts at 5AM!
It usually lasts until about 9/10AM if you don’t want to get up THAT early, but you miss all the fun shouting! In the early morning, lots of vendors will be yelling about the items they’re selling and prices at the tops of their lungs to eager buyers who then bid on them. It’s quite exciting, from what I’ve heard (unfortunately I am team #SleepIn and arrived around 8AM).
Don’t forget to grab a fishbrötchen (one of Hamburg’s specialities) if you eat fish. There are lots of fun fruit and veggie baskets for purchase, too, as well as other non-food items.
BREAKFASTIf the weather is nice, have picnic at a park! Hamburg is full of parks, and bakeries open early with delicious fresh bread. Buy some frischkäse, marmelade (aka jam), and whatever else you fancy as a topping. Grab some freshly baked bread at any bakery – they’re literally all delicious so you can’t really go wrong. There are so many lovely parks to choose from in Hamburg, but my favorites were along the Elbe in Othmarschen, Stadtpark, Hammer Park, and Planten un Blomen. See locations and more parks here.
If the weather is not so nice (which can be typical for Hamburg), you can grab breakfast at Café May. I really enjoy their buffet style breakfast, and you have to try a Franzbrötchen (a traditional Hamburg breakfast pastry that looks like a squished croissant, but tastes a little like a cinnamon roll). I’m not the biggest fan, but that’s mainly just because I don’t really like cinnamon rolls to begin with haha. But other people rave about them!But, back to Café May – it’s a little less than €10 for all you can eat breakfast at a buffet, and I found it quite tasty! Plus then you get to experience the traditional German breakfast of bread, bread, and more bread topped with a variety of delicious things! They also have excellent pastries and have other things available, like eggs and yogurt with müesli, for those of you gluten free people.
There are multiple locations, so I’m sure you’ll find one near you no matter where you’re staying. They also have plenty outside, too, if it’s a nice day and you want to go anyway!
Other great breakfast spots include Pauline, Café Johanna, and Balz und Balz (lol about the name on that last one, but I’ve heard it’s quite delicious LOL).
SEE SOME TRAINS AT MINIATUR WUNDERLANDWalk off your breakfast by heading to Miniatur Wunderland! This place can get CROWDED so you probably want to get it out of the way first. You may also want to go to their website and reserve a spot – otherwise, you may end up waiting in line for a while, especially if you’re there on a weekend. We didn’t have to wait, but we went really late on a weeknight (some nights they’re open until midnight!!!).
Let me start this off by saying I was not at all excited to go to Miniatur Wonderland. I was convinced (dragged) by my German friend. I’m really not a train person – I do love miniature things, but I just kind of thought it would be a bunch of miniature railroads or something…Like can’t I just look at photos online?
Well, this place far, FAR exceeded my (admittedly very low) expectations. I would highly recommend it!It’s not just miniature train sets, but recreations of entire cities! They have mini Switzerland, mini Venice, California, Vegas, Norway…I could go on! The attention to detail is INCREDIBLE.
It also gets dark for a few minutes every 20 minutes or so and all the lights in the cities come on! They even do it gradually, so it really feels like you’re going from day to sunset to night to sunrise. It’s really really cool.Plus they have a fun little scavenger hunt you can do to find these little pink letters hidden among the different sets. Once you find them all, you can input the word into their website and enter to win a prize 😉
But even if you don’t, it just makes the whole thing really fun! I ended up spending about 2 hours there, but could have easily spent 3.
SEE A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITEMeander to Speicherstadt, the largest warehouse complex, which sounds super boring and gross but I can assure you it’s beautiful! Sadly, many people had to be evicted from their homes in order to tear down their houses and begin building the area in 1883. Speicherstadt is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, so although it had a pretty unfortunate beginning, is now lauded as an area full of history and architectural beauty.
The buildings are all constructed in a neo-gothic style of brick architecture along the Elbe river. Be sure to also stop by the Wasserschloss (water castle) for a beautiful view!
GET THOSE VIEWS INSince you’re in the area, I’d recommend going to either the Elbphilharmonie OR St. Michael’s Church for some beautiful views (I’m kind of a #viewslut myself.) It can be SUPER windy up at the top of St. Michael’s, so hold onto your hat! The Elbphilharmonie is free, so if you’re on a budget, go there, but for some reason you still have to get a ticket at the window (????) so just be aware of that! St. Michael’s Church isn’t free (although it’s only €5 per person), but is higher up and has better views in my opinion. If you have time for both, I’d definitely recommend them! The interior of the Elbphilharmonie is really beautiful, and the views are still really nice. If you only have time for one, though, my pick would be St. Michael’s.
LUNCHCheck out Luigi’s or StrandPauli and have lunch! Luigi’s has GIANT pizzas with a fun atmosphere. They have some really fun combos to choose from and the walls are painted with all things Hamburg. Be prepared to use a fork and knife – I was quite surprised to learn that this was a common German thing haha, as we typically eat it with our hands in the US!
StrandPauli is a really cool city “beach” bar with actual sand! And lounge chairs! They serve food and drinks, and you have a pretty view of the harbor, too.
WANDER THE LANDUNGSBRÜCKEN HARBOR AREATake a wander along the Landungsbrücken pier for some amazing views! You can see the Elbphilharmonie and other pretty buildings along the water. Lots of cruise ships come and leave from this area, and there’s a ferry boat you can also ride if you have time! It’s nice to walk from here to the Docklands Office Building (where Fischmarkt is). This is also one of my favorite places to come for sunset!
ELBE TUNNELStop by the Elbe Tunnel to marvel at this engineering feat! You can even walk, bike, or drive through it if you’d like. Take the elevator down to the bottom, and at least stare at it for a second! It’s open 24 hours for pedestrians and bicyclists, just FYI 😉
It basically connects Hamburg with other docks and shipyards on the other side of the river, which made things very convenient for local workers living on the north side of the Elbe River. And it was a HUGE DEAL because it’s built under the river, which was very difficult to do at the time it was built in 1911.
TAKE A WALK OR A PADDLEDepending on your preference, I’d recommend walking along Elbchausse (really nice near the waterside with pretty houses) OR along the Alster. If you’re up for it, you can even rent a canoe and paddle through the Alster’s tributaries (which are absolutely gorgeous!)
If you end up paddling around and are there in the spring/early summer, you’ll see LOTS of ducklings and goslings about. I was even lucky enough to see some Coot chicks (my first time and I just about died from excitement). Tons of cool nests, too!It’s still just as pretty in the winter, although you may want to bring an umbrella just in case the skies decide to open up 😉
There’s also a cafe you can actually paddle up to, and order right from your boat! This is in the northern section of the Alster’s tributaries, called Café Canale, but I also thought that area was the prettiest, as well. So, if you have time to go all the way up there – I absolutely recommend it!
There are SO MANY good places to eat in Hamburg that you really can’t go wrong! Burgerlich is cool, and yes, they have veggie options!
Or, if you want some traditional German food, I’ve eaten at and liked Hatari (multiple locations). You can also check out Hofbräu House, which I’ve heard is cool although quite touristy. It’s set up to look like traditional German beer tents like you’d find at Oktoberfest! I unfortunately haven’t tried a ton of strictly German restaurants, as I’m a vegetarian and they often have mostly meat meat and more meat!
Then, if you’d like to go out and grab drinks, here are my recommendations:
SKYLINE BAR 20UPWant to get an amazing view of the city? Head to Skyline Bar 20UP for drinks! It’s pretty fancy but the drinks are actually pretty reasonably priced (like €10 for a cocktail) for how ~expensive~ it feels. Just be sure to dress for the occasion, of course!
I got the Piña Colada and it did not disappoint 😉
Afterwards make your way over to Reeperbahn! You have to see it at least once – it’s basically the Vegas of Europe IMO (I found it similar to Amsterdam’s red light district, but without the legal shrooms and “coffee shops”.). It’s located in St Pauli, known for being the party district. People also sometimes call it “Kiez” which is a German word for a neighborhood. But solo female travelers, don’t fear – even though it’s a huge party spot, I also find it to be really safe.
You’ll also find Europe’s biggest sex shop, called the Boutique Bizarre, on Reeperbahn. It’s pretty unique, that’s for sure.
For going out, I love Sommersalon. I find they have good music and fun vibes. I always end up there when I go to Reeperbahn. Thomas Reed Irish Pub is also pretty cool, just because it’s HUGE. There are so many different rooms to check out!
Make sure to get an Astra beer, if you haven’t already! It’s brewed in Hamburg and so quite famous there. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I do really enjoy an Astra. Plus alcohol in Germany is stupid cheap. I also really like the half lemon half beer ones, known as “Radlers” and sold under the name Astra Kiezmische. It tastes a little like Sprite and beer mixed together! Mixing lemon/soda with beer is quite popular here, and you can even get something called a “wine schorle” or wine and carbonated water or lemonade!
Although Hamburg allows open containers (SO weird for me to wrap my head around coming from the US), know that there are no open glass containers allowed in Reeperbahn! You can have plastic ones, but no glass. And that’s JUST in the Reeperbahn – everywhere else, glass is fine!
SOFA BARI really like Zoë Sofabar (or Zoë 2 right next door) – it’s a cool place with a hodge podge of vintage sofas and a relaxed, chill vibe. Located in Sternschanze, it’s a bit more chill than Reeperbahn. I’d suggest starting your night here (Schanze, as the locals call it, seems to shut down around 12/1AM) and ending in Reeperbahn, where things are open much later, if you’re wanting to party; if you want a more chill night, go to Reeperbahn first just to see it, then head to Sofabar after. I just really love the vibe at Sofabar – there are a bunch of old vintage sofas so you can get comfy while sippin’ your drinks! There are two of them right next to each other, and they can get a little crowded, but it’s totally fine to ask someone if you can sit across from them or share their sofa if there’s room!
If Sofabar isn’t your thing, not to worry – there are PLENTY of bars to choose from nearby! Other popular ones are Katze (although I have yet to figure out why – apparently they have really great drinks? However, I tried one and it tasted like any old drink to me…but it’s always sooo CROWDED), Goldfischglas is another popular one.
Also, be aware that many bars will charge about €1 extra for your glass (as people will often just take them home, which is totally fine!) So, if you don’t want to keep the glass, be sure to go up to the bar and return it after you’re finished with your drink!
***BONUS!! CHRISTMAS MARKETSIf you’re here in December, please please please do me a favor and go to one of the Christmas markets!!!! Hamburg has so many, and they are all lovely. I had a chance to visit 5 while I was there:
- City Hall Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt) – One of my favorites as it is beautifully decorated, and is the most traditional, but it gets CROWDED and is probably the most expensive.
- Jungfernstieg Christmas Market (AKA “White Magic” or Weisser Zauber) – This one was pretty, as it was on the water, but the booths were white tents, not really cute booths like the City Hall or Ottensen Christmas Markets. It’s also the coldest as it’s right on the water.
- Fleet Christmas Marekt (Fleet Weihnachtsmarkt) – This was my least favorite. The booths were just tents and it was the smallest of the markets I attended.
- St. Pauli Christmas Market (Santa Pauli – lol get it, “Santa Pauli”) – This one is good if you want to party or just be entertained by some, well, interesting booths (it’s in the Reeperbahn area and is nicknamed ‘The Horniest Christmas Market”). There’s also a free strip club. So, there’s that. We pretty much just walked through it just to see it.
- Ottensen Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt Altona Ottensen) – I loved this one! It’s Scandinavian themed so it has cute red wooden booths everywhere. It was also surprisingly big (it’s not wide but it’s pretty long) and felt very festive.
Takeaway? My favorites were the City Hall and Ottensen Christmas Markets; the St. Pauli one is cool to at least see; then go to the others if you have time.
For more info on Christmas Markets in Hamburg, including hours, opening dates, and location, go here.
HOW TO GET AROUNDThe train system is SO EASY to navigate in Hamburg. There are two main systems – the S-Bahn and U-Bahn. It’s €6.50 for a 9AM ticket (which is valid from 9AM-6AM the next day), but if you need to go before then, it’s €7.80 for an all day ticket (valid from the day of issue until 6AM the following day). You can see other prices here. You can use these tickets on S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains, and all local buses.
You can download the HVV app to find trains or just use Google Maps. However, I’ve found that Google Maps is sometimes incorrect as it doesn’t update with closures or late trains. I’d definitely recommend getting the app (although I admit I’ve been using Google Maps most of the time until recently haha, but I was never in a hurry to get anywhere so I didn’t mind waiting…)You can also rent a bike from StadtRad, the city bike system, if you want. It’s really easy and really cheap! You do need data as you need to use your phone number (and be able to receive a text) to rent a bike, but if you have an international plan or know someone with one, they can always rent one for you! You’re allowed to rent two bikes on one account at one time.
You do have to do a €5 deposit when you first sign up, but the first 30 minutes of each ride is free and there are stations all over the city! So, it’s quite worth it even if you only use it for a day, IMO.
WHERE TO STAYI know the whole point is just having one day in Hamburg, but like, what if you love it so much and want to see more and spend the night? OR what if you just have an early flight out the next morning? Well, here’s what I’d recommend doing!
AirBnb’s are few and far between, and can be quite expensive in Hamburg! I’ve been lucky enough to mostly stay with friends or have found house sits there. Personally, my favorite areas to stay would be:
- Sternschanze – Cool alternative scene, lots of bars, restaurants, and cute shops; very hipster
- Altona/Ottensen – Nice area, a little quieter, but still has good connection to the rest of the city
- Jungfernstieg – This is near the harbor and where all the shopping is; I’d stay here instead of near Hauptbahnhof as it’s a little nicer (but will also be pricier)
I house sat for someone in Sternschanze for 3 months and loved it. While it’s known for being a bit of a party area, I would often take the train there and then walk home alone late at night and never felt unsafe.
So, while I haven’t actually stayed at any of these places myself, based on their location and reviews here’s what I’d recommend:
- BUDGET: Backpacker’s St. Pauli is a hostel with great reviews and is located between Sternschanze and Reeperbahn, and easily walkable to either location. I’ve also biked/walked past the hostel many times myself (it was on the route to the gym I joined haha), and can attest that it’s a safe area. And, while it’s in the middle of two party places, its actual location is quiet!
- UNIQUE: Want to see what staying on a ship is like? Try out Das Feuerschiff! While I haven’t personally stayed here myself, it sure looks cool! The food was rated really well, as were the views of the Elbphilharmonie and harbor in the dining area.
- TRENDY: East Hotel has really cool interiors and a beautiful looking courtyard! It’s located near Reeperbahn, so ideal if you’d like to experience some night life.
- MID-RANGE: Hamburg is not known for being cheap, but Hamburg Room will give you pretty good value for your money. It’s kind of close to Hauptbahnhof so not my FAVORITE place, but if saving money is what you’re after, this is a good option!
Want to see why I love Hamburg so much? Check out my other Hamburg-themed post, Why You Need to Visit Hamburg (Like, Now)!