It is no wonder that Hamburg ranks in the top-ten lists of the world’s most livable cities. Hamburg has done a fantastic job when it comes to town planning. They have literally designed a city that fosters a sense of community by planning pedestrianized areas, clearly differentiating which area is for work rather than leisure rather than living and loads of other clever things!
Germany’s second-biggest city has so much on offer! Whilst it absolutely deserves several days of your holiday time, if that isn’t an option here is my guide on how to have a fantastic time on one day in Hamburg.
One Day in Hamburg – The 4 Best Things to Do
1. Things to do in Hamburg – Visit Hafencity
Hafencity is Hamburg’s most modern neighborhood – and the largest urban development project in Europe. The visionary town planners of Hamburg wanted to redefine living through their use and division of space. This area of Hamburg was known for its warehouses which provided the needed storage for those coming in and out of the Port of Hamburg.
This level of storage is no longer needed due to containers which of course have their own storage! However, because the water levels in this part of Hamburg can rise very high, they cannot be zoned for residential use – only for office. And the lovely red brick of these warehouses plus their consistent appearance has resulted in the area being listed by UNESCO.
Hafencity was then built around these warehouses on 157 hectares which were part of the harbour district. This district was no longer needed after as a second container port was needed in the 1990s to cope with increased demand from China. This has enlarged the inner city of Hamburg by 40% and essentially created a whole new district with shops, offices, apartments, and cultural spots.
The planners of the area purposely separated the cars from the water so there are promenades for walking and many outside seating areas for restaurants. Wandering this neighborhood it feels alive! People are everywhere – cycling, eating, walking, talking, laughing. It has a wonderful spirit.
Travel Expert Top Tip: Wasserschloss is the most popular spot for photos in the area – it is a little church with a bridge on each side – and is commonly used for weddings by locals.
⇒ A great way to explore Hafencity and this area is to get a travel guide via a Walking Tour – there are no plaques etc in this area yet so a guide can really help to bring the story of Hafencity to life.
2. What to do in Hamburg – Check out the View from Elbphilarmonie
The Elbphilarmonie only opened in January of 2017 and it is already one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions – and the new symbol of Hamburg. The building is a jaw-dropping feat of architecture. The bottom of the building features the classic red brick of the Port of Hamburg. However, it then “explodes” into an ultra-modern curved glass.
Again, I highly recommend taking a tour of Elbphilharmonie to hear its amazing story. The building cost 10 times its original budget and was six years late in its completion. However, the architects have done amazing things like ensuring that the very noisy port cannot be heard in the performance room. They have also managed to make sure that surrounding homes can’t hear the music from Elbphilharmonie.
The building is actually like a giant mosquito pile with 29 different lifts, “waves” of glass and specially made lights. It also includes 44 luxury apartments as well as a hotel – and it looks far smaller than what it actually is.
The Elbphilharmonie Plaza is 37 metres above the ground and has some stunning views on its viewing platform. Take the 82-metre long escalator that is convexly curved so it is initially almost invisible – and you won’t see the Plaza area until you arrive. The viewing plaza is open to the public and is like a giant verandah that goes all the way around Elbphilharmonie and has some fantastic views.
Visiting Elbphilharmonie should be high on your list of Hamburg Germany things to do.
Travel Expert Tips for visiting Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall:
⇒ The Elbphilharmonie Plaza is free for everyone to visit and its hours are from 9 am to midnight every day. However, due to its popularity, it is necessary to get a timed ticket for entry. These are available at the ticket counters, the automated machines or in the visitor centre across from the Elbphilharmonie. This provides access to the viewing platform which is accessed through the escalator. To get a ticket for a specific date and time costs 2 euros and I do recommend doing this.
⇒ If you would also like to see the concert area with the 2 halls and the foyers, can do this on a guided tour which takes over one hour. These tickets can be bought up to 12 weeks in advance and are sold are pre-sale counters for 15 euros.
⇒ It is difficult but not impossible to get tickets for individual concerts. These can be priced between 10 and 200 euros. Your best bet is to check the Elbphilharmonie website. Grey market tickets are also sold on eBay.
⇒ Save time and effort by booking an organised Tour of Elbphilharmonie.
3. Hamburg in 1 day – Explore Your Inner Child at Miniatur Wunderland
Miniatur Wonderland is the second most popular paid attraction in all of Germany – after the famous Sleeping Beauty Castle Neuschwanstein. This is the largest model railway exhibition in the world. I appreciate that this doesn’t sound terribly exciting – I thought the same thing. But trust me – you do not want to miss Miniatur Wonderland!
The model railway was started by twin brothers Gerrit and Frederik Braun in 2004. Even the local tourism board thought that they were both mad! But they now run one of Germany’s most loved tourist attractions which receive over 18 million visitors every year.
There are more than 15kms of train tracks, 389,000 lights and 263,000 figures in the model railway. Day and night simulations run every 15 minutes.
There is a miniature Hamburg, the Swiss Alps, Rome, Venice, the Tuscan Countryside, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, northern Sweden and more! The most extraordinary thing about this Hamburg museum is the level of detail. Check out the apartment buildings in Hamburg. Every little room will have a different person or person doing different everyday activities.
Miniatur Wunderland uses magnets and so that the cars find their own paths. The blue lights of the emergency vehicles only light up on the way to the destination not on the way back, when the cars run out of battery they drive themselves to the charging station.
And once a night Mount Vesuvius explodes.
But my absolute favourite was the model airport at Miniatur Wunderland. Wow! There are planes flying in and out, moving landing slots, the parking lot, a board with arrivals and departures and really just everything! It is constantly active and fascinating to watch.
Visitors to this Hamburg tourist attraction can see behind the scenes with partially built models (Monaco is next up) and there are special behind the scenes tours. I also really enjoyed the Miniatur Wunderland cafe which is set up like a European train with drawings of windows and scenery! This is great fun for kids and adults.
Miniatur Wunderland is at the top of my Hamburg top 10 tourist attractions list!
Travel Expert Top Tip: As the second most popular tourist attraction in Germany, the Miniatur Wonderland gets VERY busy with waits up to 90 minutes. Book your Miniatur Wonderland ticket ahead of time here and you can skip the line with priority entry.
4. Things to do in Hamburg Germany – Get Up Early and head to the Hamburg Fish Market
If you only have one day in Hamburg try to make it a Sunday. Because the Hamburg Fish Market is on a Sunday morning and it is an absolute must-visit! The Fish Market Hamburg has been running since 1703. It is rightly famous for its amazing fish rolls! Every type of filling of a fish variety is available at this Hamburg market!
The Hamburg Fish Market is located in the St Pauli area near the Reeperbahn so clubbers and those who have had a big night on the Reeperbahn head here when it opens for some carbohydrates – or to keep going! There is a huge hall with music and DJs and beer on top!
The Fish Market in Hamburg is much more than just fish. There are fresh vegetables and fruit, flowers are flown in from Holland, bric a brac, bargains of every variety being auctioned and loads more!
The market starts at 5 am and attracts over 70,000 people every weekend. Of course, you must try a fish roll. I also recommend trying a Quarkballe – this was a cross between a doughnut and a brioche with a choice of vanilla or chocolate filling and rather delicious! There is also some great coffee being served by the market’s Rastafarian Jessy at the One Love One coffee stand – and often some dancing!
Watch out though because this market closes early – sometimes by 7 am in the winter! Make sure you check closing times for the weekend you attend.
Reeperbahn and the Beatles – if you have 24 hours in Hamburg
So I really wasn’t a fan of the famous Reeperbahn. This is the red-light district of Hamburg. It is famous for its liberal attitudes as well as being where the Beatles started. It is pretty grotty. During the day there is little to see. And come the evening there is too much to see! Personally, if you can only visit Hamburg for one day I would leave this off your list.
If you’re a huge Beatles fan there is Beatlesplatz on the Reeperbahn. However, it is just a rather simple sculpture. Instead, why not take a Beatles tour which will allow you to see more of Hamburg?
Something Special for 1 day in Hamburg – Blue Port and Cruise Days
In 2009 internationally renowned lighting artist Michael Batz created Blue Port Hamburg. This involved blue lights on bridges, buildings, boats and anywhere else along the Hamburg port to create a work of art that runs for ten days.
Since 2009 Blue Port Hamburg has been mounted seven times including in September of 2019 which is when I was lucky enough to witness this beautiful project. I think the best way to experience Hamburg Blue Port is by taking an evening harbour cruise. These cruises go past many of the lit-up buildings, bridges, and boats through the port and waterfront. It is quite stunning.
Every two years in the odd years Hamburg runs Cruise Days (the next Cruise Days will be September 2021). This is like Victoria’s Secret catwalk for cruise ships!!! The event runs over a weekend and in 2019 coincided with Blue Port Hamburg.
More than 200 cruise ships pass through the Hamburg harbour every year and the numbers continue to grow. For Cruise Days, almost a dozen cruise ships dock at the Hamburg port and open their doors for viewings. There are stage acts, events, special gastronomy, etc over the weekend.
However, the highlight is the harbour parade on Saturday night. It features some of the most amazing cruise ships in the world as well as a spectacular fireworks parade. The waterfront and surrounding area are absolutely packed for this event so make sure you plan where you are going to watch the Cruise Days parade considerably ahead of time. We watched the big event from Blockbrau which was a great spot – and some great food!
Alternative Things to do in Hamburg in a Day – The Stumbling Stones
The Stumbling Stones of Hamburg serve as a reminder of World War 2. After World War 2, many German residents claimed that they were not aware of what was happening to the Jewish members of their communities. These stumbling stones are placed in areas such as the workplace of a person who “disappeared” as a reminder that this person once existed – and is no longer here.
Stumbling Stones are in several other European cities and can be requested by relatives. Read more about them in this Stumbling Stones Hamburg Guide.
How to Get To Hamburg
Hamburg Airport is the 5th largest airport in Germany and has flights to and from more than 130 destinations.
Hamburg Airport is only 11kms from the city centre. The easiest way to get into the centre of the city is via public transport. The S Bahn station is at the airport. It then connects to the U Bahn. The whole journey is extremely easy. Yes, you could get a taxi but there is really no need unless you have loads of luggage.
It is very easy to get around Hamburg on foot and the U Bahn. There is no need to hire a car unless you want to head outside the city. And you won’t need to do that with my Hamburg one day itinerary.
Getting Around Hamburg
It is so easy to get around Hamburg! The first thing you need is a fantastic Hamburg Card. For just over 10 euros for a single card (there are big reductions per person buying a card for several people) the Hamburg Card will have you heading around Hamburg and spending very little for up to 5 days.
The card provides free travel on both the S Bahn and the U Bahn so if you have bought one ahead you will be able to travel to and from the airport free of charge. It provides discounts of up to 50% on over 150 of the best Hamburg things to do and up to 20% off in many restaurants. The Hamburg Card is a must for any trip to Hamburg!
Travel Expert Top Tip: The S and U Bahn systems in Hamburg are so easy to use! In addition to travelling for free with the card, the U Bahn stations normally only involve going up or down one flight of stairs and there are no barriers going either in or out. This means it is super fast to get on and to get off the train. Quite the shock for someone like me who is used to the London tube!!!
Hamburg also has city bikes and electric city scooters for hire. Hamburg city bikes are free for the first 30 minutes. The city centre is quite small so it is quite easy to get from one point in town to another in less than 30 minutes – perfect for a Hamburg one day trip. However, there is a 5 euro registration fee to start using bicycles.
So I wasn’t delighted when I saw that I was booked to stay at the Premier Inn Hamburg City. So I was delighted to arrive at the Premiere Inn Hamburg and find out that it was much more like a boutique hotel than my original stereotype! In particular, the ground floor area is fantastic.
There are masses of couches and comfortable seats so you can eat/drink/work/read/relax all day long. And the breakfast was fantastic – don’t miss the soft pretzels! And the location is fantastic. Perfect if your 24 hours in Hamburg involves staying overnight or you want to extend into a Hamburg weekend.
For the traditional boutique hotel experience in the heart of Hamburg’s retail centre check out Henri Hotel Hamburg
Enjoy a boutique stay in Hamburg’s hipster neighbourhood of Schanzenviertel at Hotel Boston
Hamburg is home to 11 Michelin starred restaurants. As you would expect with its location it is home to some fantastic seafood as well as great German cuisine. So when it comes to what to do in Hamburg Germany for one day put eating high on your list! Here are just a few which I am able to personally recommend:
⇒ Enjoy fantastic fish and seafood as well as 30,000 beautiful hand-painted tiles at Germany’s oldest oyster bar Mutterland Collns
⇒ Enjoy modern Mediterranean food by the waterfront at Tobias Strauch’s Falco
⇒ For classic German head to Blockbrau – what a beer hall and what schnitzel! They also have some fantastic views over Hamburg harbour
⇒ Enjoy delicious seafood on a 130-year-old harbour boat at Dublesbrucker Kajut
Who Paid for What in this Post about Hamburg in One Day
The lovely and friendly Hamburg Tourism office was kind enough to sponsor my visit to Hamburg. This means that they paid for my return airfare, my hotel, tours and the Hamburg Card and all of my meals. Thanks Jessica!
However, as always my opinions are my own.
This post contains several affiliate links. This means that if you click through on the link and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. I just wanted to make sure you knew this.
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