Hamburg is weird, wild, and wonderful
Over the years I’ve had a chance to explore a many number of regions of Germany including big cities and smaller towns but there’s nothing quite like the experience I had in Hamburg. What I experienced was something so profoundly exciting and energizing, I was completely blown away. Hamburg is a city of contrasts – young and the classic, rivers for making money and others for spending money, red light districts juxtaposed against hipster neighbourhoods, and plenty of opportunities to party but also ways to chill out and relax. The possibilities are endless in this maritime city and so I’ve put together a travel guide for what you can fit into one day in Hamburg or if you had more time, how you can maximize your vacation.
Here's what we're covering:
- Ahoi Hamburg!
- Everything in less than 8 minutes
- Elbphilharmonie and Speicherstadt – Iconic Architecture and UNESCO Heritage
- Stand Up Paddleboarding – Chill on the Waterways
- St. Pauli and Reeperbahn – Wild and Fun
- Explore Schanze and Karolinenviertel – Young and Trendy
- Water Lights Show at Planten Un Blomen
- BONUS: Vogelball
- Where to Stay
- More activities that you might be interested in
What makes Hamburg so unique really lies in its history that goes back all the way to the Middle Ages where Hamburg was one of the cornerstones of the Hanseatic League. Through this medieval alliance, the city became the centre of international trade which is still true today.
This history of Hamburg being “gateway to the world” and an international city that infuses itself the fabric of its spirit. Being run as its own independent city-state is what makes this one of European Union’s wealthiest cities and also the most vibrant because of how liberal and open this maritime city had to be. That’s why you won’t find any castles or aristocracy here.
Today, Hamburg leads by example with its progressive views, cultural diversity, dynamic architecture, and lively arts scene. It says a lot when you talk to Germans and they much prefer to hang out in Hamburg than Berlin.
“Welcome to one of the coolest cities on earth” – Lonely Planet
Everything in less than 8 minutes
Elbphilharmonie and Speicherstadt – Iconic Architecture and UNESCO Heritage
Start your day off by heading straight into the heart of what once was the primary port along the Elbe River for Hamburg. HafenCity is truly a model for waterfront revitalization that preserves the iconic past and blends in extraordinary modern architecture.
A symphony of wonders
The first thing you’ll see when you step off the metro is the impressive and imposing landmark that sparkles in sunlight and wears a pointy crown. This is the Elbphilharmonie which was built to be symbiotic with the red brick port warehouse named Kaispeicher and houses 3 world-class concert halls, a large music education school, a restaurant, a hotel, and the Plaza. It’s a concert-goers dream venue with the most advanced acoustics and architectural marvels at every corner.
As visitors, the Plaza is a public viewing platform that presents wonderful panoramic views of the city. Since the Elbphilharmonie is constructed surrounded by water on three sides, you’re treated with unobstructed sight lines all the way around. To top that off, tickets are free so all you have to do is show up on the day of and grab a ticket at the office and head on up.
What You Need To Know
Address: Platz der Deutschen Einheit, 20457 Hamburg
Hours: 9AM to midnight
- Underground line U3: Baumwall (Elbphilharmonie) (approx. 450m)
- Underground line U4: Überseequartier (approx. 950m )
- Bus 111: Am Kaiserkai (Elbphilharmonie) (approx. 150m)
- Bus 6: Auf dem Sande (approx. 550m)
- Ferry 72 (from Landungsbrücken pier): Elbphilharmonie (approx. 80m)
- Free for all when picking up tickets at the office (follow signs to “Tickets Konzert”)
- Tickets can be booked online at a cost 2 EUR per person
- Guided tours start at $22.66 USD per person
A tradition of warehouses
Walk deeper into this urban quarter and discover the red-brick facades, canals, winding bridges, and concentrated buildings. This is the historic Speicherstadt warehouse district and a great place to roam through. You’ll find that it’s extremely photogenic especially at sunset and the juxtaposition of new and old absolutely fascinating.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 5, 2015, Speicherstadt, the Kontorhaus district and Chilehaus proudly display the largest warehouse complex in the world. It’s not something you’d expect to see but when you understand Hamburg’s maritime history, you start to open your eyes to the magnitude of the merchants and goods that came through here.
What You Need To Know
Best spot for photography: The famous spot for photos is by the Poggenmühlen-Brücke bridge especially at dark when the building lights come on
Getting here: Very walkable and best when combined with Elbephilharmonic
- Underground line U1:Meßberg
Instead of booking a harbour boat tour, take advantage of the Hamburg Card and ferry 72 with HVV that can take you from near Landungsbrüken metro stop to Elbphilharmonie or vice versa. With metro access, it’s a free cruise along the Elbe River.
Stand Up Paddleboarding – Chill on the Waterways
In an urban city, you don’t often think about the outdoors when it comes to planning a one day trip to Hamburg but when the waterways, canals, and lakes are this good, you can understand why stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is as popular as it is.
Located on the Isebekkanal north of the city is SUPper Club (clever right?), a paddle-sport rental company and restaurant/bar. They offer rentals for canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, row boats, and SUP at a reasonable rate. They shop offers lessons as well on certain days.
This is a refreshing way to explore the inland waterways of the city and something that most tourists don’t get to see. Following the canals, they eventually lead out to the Alster Lake which is a hive of activity in the summer. Pass by rowing clubs, sail boats, ferries, and yacht clubs as locals flock to cool breezes of the water and warmth of the sun.
You only need to plan 1-2 hours here. When done, grab lunch here or move on to your next spot.
What You Need To Know
Address: Isekai 13 , 20249 Hamburg
Hours: 10AM to 11PM (M-Th, Su) and midnight (Sa)
Getting here: Taking a cab is your best bet but metro is definitely possible as well.
- Underground line U3: Eppendorfer Baum (approx. 650m)
- Underground line U1/U3: Kellinghusenstraße (approx. 400m)
- Rental prices vary depending on the sport
- SUP ranges from 14-19 EUR per hour
- Lifejackets included
- Minimum 1 hour required after which pro-rated charges of 15 minutes are applied
Good to know:
- Lifejackets included
- Cubbies and lockers available for free
- Lockers require 2 EUR coin for deposit
- Can rent a waterproof box for 1 EUR
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St. Pauli and Reeperbahn – Wild and Fun
If there’s anything that gave me an indication that the people of Hamburg know how to have a good time, it would be in the St. Pauli (or Sankt Pauli) district and on the legendary Reeperbahn. It’s one of the liveliest streets I’ve been on and dotted with bars, restaurants, clubs, sex shops, theatres, art galleries, and even a carnival to boot. It’s a barrage of the senses that almost feels surreal.
The evolution of this area is fascinating because of how Hamburg has always been a port city. Sailors from all over the world would dock here and look for entertainment after so many months on the open seas. That’s how the red-light quarter exploded here. Remnants of it are still there in St. Pauli but I’d say very cleaned up and more kitschy than anything. Today, the area thumps with energy during the day but most especially at night.
On the main street is a restaurant called Ahoi and they specialize in rum and traditional dishes from Hamburg. Depending on where you end up in the evening, this could be a good place to grab dinner and drink.
Reeperbahn 2.5-Hour Guided Tour
Go on an adults-only tour of the St. Pauli and see everything that makes Reeperbahn famous – from 5-star hotels to drag queen bars. Explore the private ‘St. Pauli Erotic Catacombs’ and hear riveting stories about the neighbourhood.
Explore Schanze and Karolinenviertel – Young and Trendy
The incredible thing about the St. Pauli neighbourhood is that once you turn off of Reeperbahn, you enter a completely different world that’s like the SoHo of Hamburg. Loud bars and traded in for neighbourhood cafes, sex shops turn into boutiques and thrift shops, and wide streets convert into small cobblestone alleys for bikes and pedestrians.
Continue walking north and that’s when you enter into Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel, both enclaves for the youth, creatives, multiculturalism. While strolling through here pay attention to the architecture of the houses that line the streets and bits of art that are either big and bold for you to see such as the huge murals of graffiti, or more subtle pieces that are high up in a corner or subtly placed to blend in.
This is the kind of neighbourhood where if you had time, you’d want to sit down to relax at a local cafe with a croissant in one hand and latte in another or perhaps grab an ice cream and sit at the park while people watching.
Cross over a little to the east and you’re in another neighbourhood called Karolinenviertel. Again, more examples of Hamburg’s vibrant culture as you’ll stumble upon flea markets, skateboarders, more graffiti, fashion boutiques, start-ups, and the Hamburg Fair.
If you’re feeling hungry when you get here, check out Berta Emil Richard Schneider (I know, a mouthful), which serves a Hamburg twist to American soul food. I thought the chicken and waffles were so-so compared but other items on the menu also looked really good.
Water Lights Show at Planten Un Blomen
Rest your weary feet and end off your night at Planten un Blomen, one of Hamburg’s many green spaces. During the day, come here for a beautiful and fragrant display of flowers, zen walkways, and find patches of shade to duck from the sun. At night, crowds of visitors and locals huddle around the grass and watch water come to life with a magical water show that reminded me very much of Las Vegas’ Bellagio. Synchronized to brilliant scores of classical music, watch the water sway and ignite from hues of blue, yellow, red, green, and orange.
Like many of Germany’s city parks, it is completely free!
What You Need To Know
Address: St.Petersburger Str. 28, (Am Parksee), 20355 Hamburg
- May 1 – Aug 31 – 10pm water & lightshow
- Sept 1 – Oct 3 – 9pm water & lightshow
- Watershow without music: 2pm, 4pm, 6pm
- Watershow with music: on Sundays and public holidays at 2pm
- Underground line U2: Messehallen (approx. 650m)
- Underground line U1: Stephansplatz (approx. 900m )
- S11, S21, S31 Dammtor station
- Bus 35 Hamburg Messe (Mitte and East entrance)
- Bus 112 Stephansplatz
- Free of charge
Good to know: BYOB is totally allowed so feel free to bring your favourite bottle of wine and glasses to enjoy the show with
Once a year in the neighbouring industrial port area of Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg hosts one of the craziest electronic dance music (EDM) parties and it’s called Vogeball. Vogel means “bird” in German and so this is literally a “Bird Ball”. Festival go-ers go all out by donning new feathers, and bird gear from head to toe in an all-night affair of dancing.
I kept thinking to myself that this is what it must be like to be in Neverland because everything was so surreal and impeccably done. On top of this being a massive outdoor masquerade of birds, large and seemingly random art pieces are scattered all over the grounds, home-made wooden structures of art invite people to climb and interact, discarded objects are repurposed, and lights shine brightly against the woodland surrounding the space.
Vogelball was the explanation point in a trip to Hamburg punctuated by the coolness of Hamburg folk, the freedom they have to express what it means to live, and a model for how the parallels of old and new can co-exist.
What You Need To Know
Address: “Schluisgrove / Schlengendeich“, Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg
Hours: 4PM to sunrise in early August
- The free shuttle will take you from the Wilhelmsburg S-Bahn station at 12:45 pm at the bus stop “Am Inselpark” to the festival area. Here you arrive at the bus stop “Ziegelerstraße“
- Until 10:30PM you can also start the return journey to the Wilhelmsburg S-Bahn station from “Ziegelerstraße“
- From 10:30PM and onwards the shuttle departs from an area closer to the festival and returns you to the Wilhelmsburg S-Bahn station
Price: 30 EUR
Good to know:
- There’s no baggage check so make sure you stay light and keep everything on you
- There’s a complicated drink token system. It’s basically a way of making sure you don’t litter with the drink cups. You pay a deposit for the cups (5 EUR) and in exchange you get a token. At the end of the night, return your cup and token to get your money back
Where to Stay
Whether you’re here in one day or more, I highly recommend booking you stay at this property.
Contrary to the name, Motel One Hamburg am Michel is a proper hotel and conveniently located to St. Pauli and the metro to get around in the city. It’s slogan is “cheap budget design hotel” and it really does check off all the boxes having experienced it first-hand. The main lobby features a friendly bar, the free buffet breakfast, lovely staff, and has a hip vibe to it. The rooms themselves are clean, comfortable, and have just the right amount of space.
Shoutouts go to all of my fellow bloggers that I travelled with that made it such an amazing experience!
- Janet of Journalist on the Run
- Becky of sightDOING
- Nika of Nika Erculj
- Jen of Jen on a Jet Plane
- Sofie of Wonderful Wanderings
- Monique of Wanderlust My Way
- Archana of Travel See Write
- Carmen from My Daily Fashion Dosis
- Larissa from From Hats to Heels
- Bjorn from The Social Traveler
- Kash from Budget Traveller
Get the Hamburg Map
I’ve plotted all the places on a Google Map to make your trip planning easier. HOT TIP: If you make a copy of the map on your Google account, you can view it on your Google Maps app on your phone. Once you submit the form, the link will appear so make sure you grab the link right here.
More activities that you might be interested in
This trip was sponsored by Hamburg Ahoi