Edited by Jessica Wright
After four years in this bustling trade center that my friends and I refer to as “Pearl of the North” I still find so much special about the place; a shining watery gem full of the contrast between the strikingly modern and classic old-world. A place imbued with the spirit of revolution and communal resistance which flows with the magical pull of the ocean, lakes, and canals. Taking a bike ride or a stroll through this maritime city I always get the feeling of being right by the water, and even after the hundredth bike ride there are still new bridges and streets to take, tiny jazz clubs to discover green spaces, and arty suburbs to explore.
24 hours in Hamburg seems a trifle in a city with so much to offer, but this compact 1 day itinerary for Hamburg is a time-efficient guide to seeing the best of my city. When travelling Hamburg in a day I recommend going by my favourite mode of transport – bicycle – though you can do just as well on foot. For more long distance jaunts make use of the efficient public transport, specifically the trains which will take you anywhere you need to go. When it comes to what to do in Hamburg in one day the possibilities are endless, but here I’ve compiled a guide to one day in Hamburg that – even if you fine you have more time on your hands – will ensure an unforgettable Hamburg experience.
Begin with breakfast at the lake
Whenever I have friends visit the city I like to show all of them my favorite places, so naturally, the first stop for your one day in Hamburg has to be Alster Lake, something of a hidden gem in the heart of the city. Get yourself a coffee from one of the many cafeś and an unconventional breakfast of ice cream from Luicella's (a true insider find, with many weird and wonderful flavors to choose from) before you embark on a leisurely stroll around the lake which, sitting at 160-hectares, might take some time. The man-made lake is a paradise for lovers of watersports and if you’re feeling a bit adventurous you might decide to rent a boat, kayak, or stand up paddle-board and hit the water to experience the fountain in the center of the lake, the grassy banks, and elaborate gardens and surrounding architecture from a truly unique and singularly serene perspective. Onshore you might enjoy your breakfast – be it the suggested ice cream or something more substantial – on a picnic blanket or bench or alternatively, on a cold winter morning, from the cozy interiors of one of the many restaurants with a spectacular view of the lake.
Enjoy an historical morning
Once you’ve spent some time communing with nature, you might like to experience the structured splendor of Hamburg, particularly in the form of the Rathaus, or the town hall and state parliament. A very impressive building, it is also quite peculiar and is simply one of the things you have to see on a visit to Hamburg. Constructed between 1886 and 1897 the Rathaus forms the seat of local government in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg and performs all of the original functions to this day including the hosting of one of Germany’s 16 state parliaments. Located in the Altstadt quarter at the Rathausmarkt square, it falls in close proximity to the central station and it's free to the public. The beautiful architecture, elaborate decor, and a museum with a rich history make for an interesting visit, and the water fountain in the inner courtyard offers a tranquil and picturesque rest spot.
Indulge in a Midday coffee break
From the town hall head to the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) for a pleasant walk down the wealthy street of Mönckebergstrasse. Locally referred to as Mö, this 800m stretch is one of the main shopping areas in Hamburg, with major retailers such as H&M, Kaufhof, Karstadt, Karstadt and Zara converted from former kontor-houses. Once you’ve had your fill of shopping you can make your leisurely way to the lively area of Speicherstadt, a popular destination for Hamburg travel. This top pick among things to do in Hamburg is one of the most characteristic places in Hamburg; designed as a trade town with clever waterways for ships to pass through the area has retained the same red-brick architecture for 200 years, preserving the original feel of the place. Walking along the canals you can almost imagine the bustling trade centre as it used to be with smells and sounds that still capture the essence of centuries gone by. Delve further into the history with a visit to one of several museums, or grab a pick-me-up coffee at the ambient Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei, a warehouse turned fragrant coffee roastery with beautifully flavourful beans and a decadent selection of cakes sure to push lunch back by a good hour or two!
Explore the Elbphilharmonie
Next up has to be a one of the most popular Hamburg attractions, and certainly a place which has become iconic of the city skyline. While the amount of money spent on the construction of the Elbphilharmonie – €700 million over the original budget – is somewhat offensive to my own resource efficient sensibilities, it still finds a firm spot on my list of places to visit in Hamburg in one day purely due to the extravagant splendour of the building. With artfully selected – if somewhat elaborate and over-the-top – finishings, unique rippling-glass facade and the sheer awe-inspiring size, the building itself is worth a visit if only to ogle. If however you happen to have a little extra time on your hands, or so deep a love of music as to jettison the rest of the activities I’ve outlined, you might catch a concert in one of the several halls with excellent acoustics. For some picture-perfect snaps head up to the balcony for 360º view of the city and harbour. Before heading on to lunch you could consider spending a bit of time in the HafenCity district, considered the largest urban redevelopment project in Europe with beautiful examples of modern architecture in the form of hotels, shops, offices, residential and park areas.
After all your exploring lunch will certainly be in order. Landungsbrücken, otherwise known as the St Pauli Piers, is the departure point for many of the leisure boats and is home to numerous restaurants, some of which offer a great selection of traditional Hamburg fare and great views of river. Landungsbrücken is centrally located and a perfect point to depart for the next portion of your journey, located between the lower harbour and the Fischmarkt (Fish Market) on the banks of the Elbe river. The Fischmarkt is the location to uncover many of Hamburg’s most delicious delicacies, but has to be frequented at just the right time! For more detailed information on the market and all the insider tips on what to eat in Hamburg take a look at this great Hamburg food guide. After a satisfying Fischbrötchen or plate of Labskaus, walk to the western end of Landungsbrücken for another of Hamburg’s famous attractions – the Alter Elbtunnel (or, in English, the Old Elbe Tunnel), an ambiently lit art-deco tunnel that not only makes for beautiful photography but will also be the perfect end to a long lunch!
Spend a trendy evening on the town
For the evening head to a personal favourite; Sternschanze. Alive with cozy restaurants and a vibey music and bar scene, this hip neighbourhood is where locals go out to enjoy themselves in a lively and diverse setting that is gentle on the pocket. Visit the powerful symbol of civil activism that is the former-theater Rote Flora which now, covered in street art, acts as a colourful community space housing a quirky concert venue and cafe and represents the leftist, revolutionary spirit of this alternative area. Browse a jumble of thrift stalls at the Flohschanze flea market – in the old slaughterhouse – or attend summer screenings at the open-air Schanzenkino cinema. Enjoy some nibbles at Südhang and Bullerei, two highly rated restaurants in Sternschanze, and afterwards stay to indulge in a cocktail at one of the bars. For dinner go to the Altona – once a Danish fishing town turned charming mix of new hipster cafeś and ancient stores in Art Nouveau and red brick buildings. Stop at Pier 71 Bar e Cucina for the best Italian you are likely to come by!
Dance the night away in St. Pauli
When considering what to do in Hamburg in one day this is a must on your list! Wrap up the perfect 24 hours in Hamburg with a night on the Reeperbahn. The famous red-light and party district of St. Pauli, nicknamed Sündigste Meile (the most sinful mile) is a nightlife scene with a mix of underground clubbing, classy cocktail bars and discotheques. The more risque venues include strip clubs, sex shops, brothels and the nearby erotic art museum. Whatever your flavour, be it vanilla or something a little on the spicier side, the surrounding streets and squares of St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn promise an unforgettably debaucherous night for all. From the sailors of the 1600s to the Beatles, all manner of individuals have been known to throw their names away in these famous streets, oldest among the city’s party districts but if the level of revelry is somewhat intimidating, you can put your mind at ease in the knowledge that this also happens to be an incredibly safe and inclusive nightlife scene! Check out in this guide to the nightlife in Hamburg for more excellent ideas on how to spend the remainder of your time in the city!
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