24 hours in HAMBURG

Hamburg is home to Europe’s third-largest harbor. This might give travellers – like for instance cruise ship passengers – the opportunity to explore the city on a layover. For them, I’ve put together a perfect itinerary for up to 24 hours in Hamburg.

Port of Hamburg
The iconic Landungsbrücken, Hamburg’s piers.

This very popular category on my blog is designated to transform a layover into a short extra vacation.

Hamburg has almost 2 million inhabitants and is, therefore, Germany’s second-largest city. The Hanseatic city of Hamburg is also a federal country of its own. I’ve written about the powerful Hanse League in a former post.

Even on a short visit, you’ll be enchanted by alluring views of the centrally located lake’n’river Alster and the river Elbe that flows all the way to the North Sea. Hence, I’m sure Hamburg’s maritime charm and traditional openness to the world will amaze you so that you’ll be back for a longer stay.

icon bag of money Local Currency

Local Currency:

Euro (EUR) / 1 EUR = 1.18 US$ (August 2021) / current rate

icon police car Emergency Contacts

Police 110
Fire Department 112

National Airline

Lufthansa

image airport board Airports

Hamburg Airport / IATA-Code: HAM

Tourist Info Online and Onsite

Hamburg Welcome Center (Airport) – open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.

Tourist Information at the Main Train station – open weekdays from 10 a. m. to 4 p. m.

mean of transportation Getting Downtown and Back

The easiest and fastest way to get from the airport to the main train station is the S-Bahn, a local train, that takes you there for 3,40 € in just 24 minutes.

If you have luggage, you can store it in the lockers at the main station.

Morning Activities

The train station is just minutes away from the Binnenalster, the smaller, inner part of the Alster lake. Therefore, strolling downtown and towards the world-famous harbor along the water is a pleasant start to your sunny day.

Alster Lake in the Center of Hamburg
The Alster lake: Love at first sight.

Exit the station building towards the Glockengießerwall* and walk right passing the building complex of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg’s art museum. As you get to the lake, turn left and stroll along the Ballindamm, enjoying fantastic views.

The Ballindamm is named after Albert Ballin, the man who professionalized emigration to the New World in the 19th century. Also, he invented leisure ship cruises. Read about this fascinating man in my post on From North German Ports to the Americas: Migration in the 19th and 20th Century.

Note

In this article, I’m obviously writing out some of the German names of brands and places. Consequently, you will notice that there are letters that might not exist in other languages: 
Firstly, there is the letter ß that exists only in the German alphabet and it’s by no means a B. It’s a ‘sharp’ S as in kiss. In writing, you can actually replace it with a double S.

Then, there are three more vowels, ä being the easiest one since it’s pronounced like an open e as in head.
Ö and ü are tougher, ö being pronounced more or less like the e in her. Finally, the letter ü is like the u in huge.

Once you have reached the end of Ballindamm, continue straight towards Hamburg’s beautiful town hall.

Hamburg town hall, seen from the adjacent Alsterarkaden, the Alster arcades, housing posh cafés, and specialty shops.
Hamburg town hall, seen from the adjacent Alsterarkaden, the Alster arcades, housing posh cafés, and specialty shops.

The imposing building was built between 1886 and 1897 in a neo-renaissance style. It’s not only impressive outside, but it’s also very beautiful inside so that I can highly recommend joining a guided tour.

As you continue your walk on the Alter Wall to the building’s northern side, you get a peek at some alluring waterways. These are the so-called Fleete.

These waterways were built in the past to get the goods from the harbor into the city. Nowadays, this purpose is obsolete, hence, most of these canals were filled. However, those that remained and give the city center a romantic twist, can be explored on a highly interesting cruise where you learn much about Hamburg’s glorious past as a merchant city.

You can join the two-hour cruise at the Jungfernstieg jetty at the Alster Lake.

Alster-Touristik
Anleger Jungfernstieg
20354 Hamburg
Phone : + 49 – 40 – 35 74 24 0
Email: info@alstertouristik.de

The waterways cruises are taking place daily from March 30 to October 28 at 10.45 a. m., 1.45 p. m., and 4.45 p. m.

Morning Activities

It’s raining? Good for you, since many of Hamburg’s museums and exhibition halls are scattered around the main station. In one day, you can only see the most important ones, but actually, you could spend days just walking from exhibition to exhibition.

There is an art pass for 25 €uros that grants free access to five art museums. This pass is valid for three days. Yes, I know that this guide is designed for only 24 hours and that you might not want to visit all participating venues. However, since already the visit to the three galleries I’m suggesting for the morning would set you back 38 €uros – I guess it’s not that hard to do the math.

You can obtain the 3-Tages-Pass at the cash of each of the participating galleries.

Hamburger Kunsthalle

The Kunsthalle, Hamburg’s art museum, is just across the street from the central train station. There is a collection of paintings and sculptures from medieval times to the contemporary.
Particularly noticeable are the paintings from German Romantic by Caspar David Friedrich, Philipp Otto Runge, Wilhelm Leibl, and Anselm Feuerbach.

Monkey by Jörg Immendorf at the Kunsthalle Hamburg
I just adore this whimsical interaction between the paintings by Valentin Ruths and Arthur Fitger from the late 19th century and the monkey statue from the 20th century by Jörg Immendorf pointing at them.

They also own some of the most important works by German impressionists Max Liebermann and Lovis Corinth.

Hamburger Kunsthalle 
Glockengießerwall 5
20095 Hamburg
Phone: + 49- 40 – 42 81 31-200
Email: info@hamburger-kunsthalle.de

Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (Thursday to 9 p. m.)

Deichtorhallen

To get to the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, you have to walk back past the central train station and continue basically along the rail tracks towards the river Elbe. It’s about a ten minutes walk. However, if it’s raining too hard, you can walk through the station building to the subway U1 and travel one stop to Steinstraße. There, you just cross the road to get to the exhibition halls.

The Deichtorhallen used to be a covered market and is one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces for contemporary art and photography.

Deichtorhallen Hamburg
Deichtorhallen Hamburg – cool venue for art aficionados.

The steel-glass structures from 1911 resp. 1913 have attracted art aficionados with their spectacular exhibitions of world-renown artists since 1989. Actually, they consist of two galleries: The Haus der Photographie, a large photo gallery, and the Halle für aktuelle Kunst showing contemporary art.

Since you have to pay for each venue separately, it makes the above-mentioned pass worth buying.

Deichtorhallen Hamburg
Deichtorstraße 1-2
20095 Hamburg
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 32103-0
Email: mail@deichtorhallen.de

Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a. m. to 6 p. m. (every month’s first Thursday to 9 p. m.)

Lunch

When in Hamburg, eating fish is a must. And the best place to do so is Daniel Wischer. Here, the food is always excellent: fresh, tasty, plenty. No wonder – Daniel Wischer has been frying fish since 1924!

Daniel Wischer Restaurant and Store in Hamburg
The new, posh location at Große Johannisstraße is next to the town hall. If you’re in a hurry or not too hungry, you can also just grab a fish sandwich or some fish’n’chips to go.

On a sunny day, I’d recommend the branch at Große Johannisstraße since it’s right next to the town hall.

On a rainy day, as you are coming from the Deichtorhallen, you’re better off at the quirky Steinstraße-branch since it’s far closer to the venue.

Daniel Wischer
Große Johannisstraße 3
20457 Hamburg T
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 36 09 19 88

Open Monday to Saturday 11 a. m. to 10 p. m.

Steinstraße 15a
20095 Hamburg
Phone: +49 – 40 – 32 52 57 95

Open Monday to Saturday 11 a. m. to 4 p. m.

Afternoon Activities

Now that you’ve eaten, let’s keep walking. Hamburg is home to Europe’s third-largest harbor – after Rotterdam and Antwerp – which makes a visit indispensable.

From your lunch at Daniel Wischer, you just walk past the town hall down the street Großer Burstah. As you turn left into the Rödingsmarkt at the next big junction and keep walking straight, you’ll get to the waterfront.

Overground train in Hamburg
Hamburg has an excellent system of public transport. When you take the U-Bahn #2 between St. Pauli and Rathausmarkt, it’s almost like a short sightseeing tour of the Harbor.

There is a new promenade alongside the river Elbe. From here, you have a great view of the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg’s concert hall, and of many impressive ships. There is the red Feuerschiff that houses a restaurant and a bar. You can even spend the night at one of their small guest rooms. Next to it are the Cap San Diego and the Rickmer Rickmers, ships that used to sail the Seven Seas, and are museums now.

Above and Below

While a stroll alongside the waters is fine and dandy, a cruise on the river Elbe is an indispensable activity.

The shore of Finkenwerder across the river Elbe in Hamburg
The shores of Finkenwerder – Ferry 62’s final stop.

The cheapest way to navigate along the river Elbe is by ferry #62. This is actually the way locals cross the river since it is part of the regular public transportation system.

For the price of a standard ticket, the ferry takes you along all the sights like the harbor, obviously, the Fischmarkt, the new and modern Docklands, the Museum Harbor with the old ships and boats, the yacht harbor at Teufelsbrück, the Airbus plant all the way to the former fishermen village Finkenwerder.

Today, it’s a rather boring middle-class residential neighborhood, so don’t bother to get off. Just stay on board since, after a couple of minutes,. the ferry goes back to Landungsbrücken and will take you right where you’ve started from.

Once you get back to Landungsbrücken, there is still one must-do: The Old Elbtunnel that was built in 1911. For the longest time, it was the only way to cross the river. Apart from the ferries, of course.

The quirky Hamburg Elbtunnel illustrating a Comprehensive Guide to Hamburg
Since there is such a cool place with lots of space, why not use it for various events, right?! Therefore sometimes there are even exhibitions taking place 24 meters below.

To get down to the tunnel which is 24 meters below street level, you can climb down some stairs or take an elevator.

Pedestrians and Cyclists are crossing the 426 meters long tunnel for free.

From Steinwerder on the southern bank, you enjoy one of the best views of Hamburg’s most iconic skyline.

Afternoon Activities

After lunch at Daniel Wischer on Steinstraße, hop on the U-Bahn, Hamburg’s subway, at the stop Mönckebergstraße and go to St. Pauli. Travelling between these two stops, you’ll get an amazing view of the Harbor so make sure to sit on the left.

At the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte, hence the Museum of the History of Hamburg, you’ll get the most complete overview of Hamburg’s exciting history. Trace the records all the way back to the 9th century when Hamburg’s predecessor, the Hammaburg, used to be a village with a population of about 200 fishermen, farmers, and craftsmen.

The entrance hall to a wealthy merchant's house at the Museum for Hamburg's History
The entrance hall to a wealthy merchant’s house – where he pursued his trade, but the family also used to live.

Find out how it grew to an important commercial center with an internationally operating harbor. Every aspect of life in Hamburg over the centuries is taken into focus.

A visit is recommendable for everybody, but especially kids will enjoy exciting trips back in time: There is a special self-guided tour with 50 different stops at the museum, one of them being a real piece of the steamship ‘Werner’, built in 1909 and scrapped in 1960.

Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte 
Holstenwall 24
20355 Hamburg
Phone: + 49 – 40 – 428 132 100
Email: info@hamburgmuseum.de 

Open Sunday to Monday 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (weekends to 6 p. m.)

Alter Elbtunnel

One of the coolest things to do at the harbor is clearly below the waters, hence, you’ll be sheltered from the rain. If it’s not raining too hard, you can just descent the Helgolänger Allee to the Landungsbrücken. If this is not an option, just take the subway to the homonymic stop.

Check the itinerary for the sunny day above to get further information on this quirky landmark.

Dinner

One of my favorite restaurants is right off the infamous Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s red-light district. Its name Freudenhaus translates to house of pleasure. Hence, don’t be surprised if people either frown or crack up laughing when you tell them you’re going to the Freudenhaus. Mind you, in German, Freudenhaus is synonymous with brothel.

However, at this Freudenhaus, the pleasures are exclusive of culinary nature. Classic home cooking, pimped up comfort food, Hamburg’s fish classic. No matter what, this house definitely is full of pleasures that you’ll enjoy in a very plushy, fun setting.
Not exactly cheap, but very recommendable!

To get there from the Elbtunnel, you either have to walk up the Davidstraße or you take the S-Bahn at the stop Landungsbrücken and alight one stop further at Reeperbahn.

Freudenhaus St. Pauli
Hein-Hoyer-Straße 7-9
20359 Hamburg
Phone: +49 – 40 – 31 46 42
Email: info@stpauli-freudenhaus.de 

Open daily from 5 p. m.

Nightcap

Since you’ve had dinner at Hamburg’s famous red-light district, it won’t be difficult finding a bar to enjoy a nightcap.

Beach Club in Hamburg
The city’s best hangout spot.

However, if the weather permits, you should make your way back to the waterfront and enjoy a sundowner at the beach club Strandpauli. But even if it’s raining, you’ll savor a cocktail inside at the club’s covered area.

illustration of a bed Accommodation

Since there is an excellent connection between the central train station and the airport by public S-Bahn, accommodation in the Hauptbahnhof’s vicinity is recommended.

Right across the street is the hotel Hotel Reichshof*. Since its renovation a couple of years ago it is part of the Hilton chain and accordingly comfortable.

Map – sunny day itinerary

Map – rainy day itinerary

If you have more time to spend in Hamburg, check out my comprehensive post – it’s coming from me, a long-time resident.

Before coming to Germany, you might want to check out my post All you need to know before going to GERMANY. This information will make your trip smoother and more enjoyable.

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53 Replies to “24 hours in HAMBURG”

  1. I am in Germany right now as I comment here but unfortunately Hamburg is not in my itinerary. The Alster lake looks nice, I’d definitely wanna make it to that. Just walking around the town would be nice. I hope when I make it, it won’t be a rainy day because I’m not really into museums and exhibitions halls much!

  2. I wish I could go back to Hamburg. I only briefly visited for a few hours after flying in to meet friends getting married at sea. Lovely city with a beautiful blend of modern and historic architecture

  3. Amazingly detailed guide to Hamburg, I love it! Since we live in Switzerland and now borders are open (for now) we may get to visit Germany more frequently. I wasn’t really planning to ever visit Hamburg but you’ve piqued my interest. I love seafood so would definitely eat the fish wile there 🙂

  4. Hamburg is such a great city. I feel it gets overshadowed by biggies such as Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt. But there’s so much character and life in Hamburg. Thanks for sharing all the best spots and itinerary.

    1. Well, as a matter of fact, it’s Germany’s second-largest city, hence it’s bigger than the ‘biggies’ Munich and Frankfurt 😀

  5. I loved our visit to Hamburg a few years ago. It’s a gorgeous city with so much to do and enjoy. This is a great resource for quick travelers.

  6. This is an action-packed itinerary! I like how you included rain day suggestions. We’ve been to Germany but not Hamburg. Tucking this away for the future.

  7. I love that you provided a rainy day itinerary! Its always so tough to find things to do when traveling in the rain – and it seems like Hamburg still has sufficient fun options! Thanks for sharing

  8. This is a great description of how to spend 24 hours in Hamburg? Thanks for the handy information, rarely blog post contains the emergency number and I think it is a must for any foreign traveler. I will bookmark it for future purposes.

  9. I like how you can enjoy so much in just 24 hours. Exciting stuff, how to be able to visit one day

  10. Hamburg would be a cool German town to visit, especially since it has the sea, a lake, and a river…surrounded by water that means! Seafood is a must, as you said.

  11. Seems like the perfect day to me. I love planning out my trips as much as possible so I can hit all the best spots and this itinerary does just that! Seems like an awesome city to visit.

  12. I recently found out that my DNA is almost half German where I had thought it was more Italian before. Now I want to go to Germany to discover that part of my roots. Hamburg seems like a good place to start.

  13. it doesn’t seem like many hours for Hamburg but you did cover and enjoy it a lot. Thanks for guide, it seems awesome and I will save it my trip planning

  14. I would absolutely love to visit Hamburg. I keep hearing about it and it looks like a great place to visit for a vacation.

  15. This is a pretty kick-butt itinerary! I’ve read in your post ‘Guide To Hamburg’ about Speicherstadt and Treppenviertel and I’d like to know if it’s possible to visit both places on the same day? Thank you!

  16. I love how you have made this list so compact. You get to see a lot of things and get the essence of the city but you can get a good tour done in 24 hours.

  17. I have been to Hamburg once only for a few hours, and remember it as a big city with red brick buildings and water canals. Hamburg is full of freedom – I was surprised that what is incompatible fits together in a non-conflictingly way there, e.g., nightclubs next to churches. Although the smaller cities of Germany are much nicer to me, I would spend with pleasure a sunny summer week in Hamburg.

  18. Other than in transit, we have not yet spent any time in Germany. But I know when we finally get there it will be a long trip. Always great when you can wander in a town from the train station. I would want to find a water tour and explore those charming waterways. Good to know that the Deichtorhallen would be a good stop in the rain or in the sun. Some classic home cooking to finish the day sounds perfect.

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