Back in 2015 in Thailand, I met a fellow blogger at a travel conference in Bangkok. Her name was Sarah (blog is Journey To Design) and she was from Hamburg, Germany. Sarah and I got along really well kept in touch after parting ways in Thailand. We met again in Prague in 2017 and then, a couple of years later, I found myself in Germany (on another European Christmas Market adventure) and decided it was time to visit Sarah in her home of Hamburg.
Given that Sarah was a Hamburg local, I didn’t do any research. I let her decide what I should see and do during my time there. We got up to some interesting adventures including visiting a sex-themed Christmas market and trying my first even European (aka naked) sauna. However, Sarah was also working at the time of my visit so she gave me the following itinerary to explore the touristic parts of the city on my own. I followed her itinerary as recommended and had a great time, so I figured I would share it with you. If you only have a short time in this German city, here’s a Hamburg itinerary for how to explore Hamburg in a day- as recommended by a local.
Hamburg Itinerary: 1 Day in Hamburg
Put on some comfortable shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking today! Of course, Hamburg does offer public transit including metro, bus, and ferry (which you will ride!). So if you aren’t too keen on a lot of walking, check the MoovIt app for public transit options.
Morning: Scenic Views, Interesting Architecture, and a Boat Ride
Start your day early because there is exploring to be done! Ideally, you’ll have a bakery somewhere nearby and you can stop and pick up a Franzbrötchen which is essentially a local type of cinnamon roll. It’s delicious and will give you the energy you need for your busy one day in Hamburg.
Head over to Elbphilharmonie (try saying that ten times fast). This building is Hamburg’s concert hall and a very unique looking structure that the locals are very proud of. You can go inside and up some pretty cool escalators to the viewing area where you can walk around for panoramic views over Hamburg’s Harbor.
Elbphilharmonie opens at 10 am and is free if you just walk up. I suggest going for opening time so you can just walk up and avoid crowds. You can also pre-book a skip-the-line ticket online for 2 euro if you are worried. You probably won’t spend too long here, but definitely go for the views!
Take a Ferry Ride
From Elbphilharmonie you can walk to Landungsbrücken (St. Pauli-Pier). In Hamburg, ferries are a common form of public transit. For tourists, it’s a fun and relaxing way to see the port area of Hamburg and the small villages along the shore. You’ll want to take Ferry number 62 which does a loop of the pier. When I visited, you could find it at bridge 3.
You can get off at any stop you want to explore. I got off at Ovelgonne as recommended by Sarah for a little exploring. There is a cute beach there and Sarah told me if you walk for about 20 minutes you can find a café called Elbperle with food, coffee, and even gluhwein in the winter.
Lunch: Try a Famous Fish Sandwich
After the boat ride around the harbour, it will be time for lunch. Lunch is a traditional Hamburg favourite: fisch brotchen, aka a fish sandwich. According to Sarah, the best ones are at the little shack/restaurant at pier 10. I’m pretty sure every other local agrees because this was definitely the busiest. But it was worth the wait.
There are several options. I just asked what the best/most traditional one was. The man who served me was very kind and warned me that it doesn’t look pretty but it tastes good. He was right. If you feel up for it, you can also grab a beer with lunch. They sell some local German options.
Afternoon: Check out Hamburg’s Red Light District
Once you have finished lunch, walk away from the water and head to Reeperbahn. This is Hamburg’s red-light district. It is an incredibly fascinating place quite similar to the red light district in Amsterdam. Its, obviously, much more lively at night but as a solo woman, I liked going in the day to be able to truly explore and take photos without worrying that I was getting any working girls (or guys) in my photos. That being said, I did come back at night with Sarah later for a completely different experience.
Prostitution is legal in Germany so yes, like in Amsterdam, you will find women (and men) selling sex. There are also plenty of sex shops and even sex hotels. The most notable part of Reeperbahn is a small street with a huge sign in front of it that declares no women and no men under the age of 18. This is Herbertstraße; the only place where you will find sex workers in windows like Amsterdam. However, as the sign says, only men over the age of 18 are allowed in and for those wondering, yes, the entryway is monitored. The women who work on this street are the city’s most expensive sex workers.
The street was originally blocked off in 1933 by Nazis who were unable to stop prostitution so decided they would ‘hide’ it. The ban on women and men under 18 as we today were actually put in place by police. The working women had a tendency to turn violent against any female passerby’s plus it was believed that those under 18 needed to be shielded by the influences. Today, the gender barrier is a big problem but it still remains. While I would have loved to walk down the street to see, I didn’t even dare to try. Rumours of urine and dirty “penis water” being thrown at me was enough to convince me that it was close enough to what I saw while exploring the red light district of Amsterdam.
Late Afternoon/Evening: Explore the Old Town
After exploring Reeperbahn area (and probably taking a lot of photos of funny signs) hop on the metro and head towards Altstadt. This is the Old Town area of Hamburg. There is a metro station at City Hall (Rathaus) which is good to get off at. Take your time and explore this part of the city. The architecture here is very different than what you will have seen in the morning- more traditional old European. There are lots of shops in this area- boutiques and big global brands as well as museums, cafes, and bakeries. Take a break and grab a coffee if you need or just sit on a bench and people watch. It’s a really pretty part of the city and shouldn’t be missed!
Dinner: A German Favourite
Despite the breakfast pastry and fish sandwich, you will probably be pretty hungry for dinner. I tried a couple of spots in Hamburg but if I had to recommend one it would be Zum Spaetzle which makes, as you might have guessed spaetzle.
For those who don’t know what spaetzle is, it’s an egg noodle dish with various sauces/gravies/toppings depending on what you want. The dish isn’t native to Hamburg, but this restaurant specializes in it and it was the best spaetzle I have had in Germany (I recommend the cheese with onions on top).
It’s a small restaurant so I suggest making reservations and make sure you go in hungry because it is a very filling meal!
Night: A Night out? Or a Night in?
If you are not dead on your feet yet, you can always head back to Reeperbahn and experience that neighbourhood at night. It comes alive and is quite different than during the day. If that’s not your thing, you can also cozy up in a café somewhere or grab a glass of wine/beer somewhere in the Altstadt area. Or, if you are wiped from this 1 day Hamburg itinerary, you can always just head back to your hotel. After all, you’ve done quite a lot on your mission to see Hamburg in a day!
Where to Stay in Hamburg
Hamburg has plenty of different neighbourhoods to stay in. The old town is obviously nice. St. Pauli’s area, which is closer to Reeperbahn, is popular with the younger crowd who want to go out and party. Personally, I stayed near the train station because it meant less worrying about getting around with all my luggage in tow. The train station also serves as a central metro station which made it really easy to get around.
Looking for recommendations? Try:
Final Tips for Hamburg in a Day
Hamburg is a really cool city and I’m so glad I had Sarah as my guide. I never would have thought to take a ferry ride to explore the port area and, of course, having local food recommendations is always best. If you only have one day in Hamburg I absolutely recommend following this Hamburg itinerary. You’ll get to see different parts of the city (and get your steps in!). I visited Hamburg in December and it was pretty chilly, so be mindful of the temperatures and dress warmly if you aren’t visiting in summer!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Germany
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.