Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany and yet is often overlooked by international tourists. But Hamburg is well worth at least a two-day visit with its fascinating history as an independent city, vibrant nightlife, multicultural food scene, and lush greenery. There are so many things to do in Hamburg, something to satisfy every type of traveller.
Hamburg is an ideal location whether you prefer cultural travel (the city’s Speicherstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage site), enjoy live music (it is after all the city where The Beatles started their career), or are into alternative sub-cultures. In this Hamburg itinerary, you will find out everything you need to know about spending two days in Hamburg.
Hamburg is located in the north of Germany and, as a result, the local culture and architecture have a much stronger Scandinavian influence than most of Germany. The neighbourhood of Ottensen even belonged to Denmark until 1864. In fact, things that are globally seen as “German” traditions, such as Oktoberfest, pretzels, Lederhosen, and carnival are not a thing at all in Hamburg.
Keep that in mind when you visit Hamburg and be open-minded to a different experience. To really make the most of Hamburg and see the things that truly make the city so fascinating here is a two-day Hamburg itinerary from a former local.
How to Get to Hamburg
Hamburg has its own international airport with even a few budget airlines arriving directly in the city’s airport. The airport is connected to the city’s extensive public transport system, of which line S1 takes you to Hamburg’s central station in about half an hour. Depending on where you’re staying it may even take you less than that to reach your accommodation.
It’s also possible to reach Hamburg by train from most German cities as well as from Denmark. From destinations further south, including Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary you can also get direct connections to Hamburg, but the travel distance is significantly longer.
How to Get Around Hamburg
Hamburg has an elaborate public transport system including metros, trains, buses, and even ferries. It’s very pleasant to walk in Hamburg but getting from one neighbourhood to another might require you to hop on public transport. The ferries are a great way to save money and get a free sightseeing boat ride (if you already have a public transport ticket, that is).
Day 1 in Hamburg
Visit the Speicherstadt
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, this really should be where you start exploring Hamburg. The Speicherstadt is the world’s largest continuous warehouse complex and is made up of various red-brick buildings built in a neo-Gothic style. These buildings are located between canals which themselves are connected to the port. The purpose of the Speicherstadt was to store all incoming goods (the name itself actually translates to “storage city”).
The construction of the enormous complex lasted from 1883 to 1927. Although many of the buildings were destroyed during World War II their reconstruction was completed in 1967, and you can marvel at their beauty today. This part of the city is best explored either on foot but also by boat.
Walking is, of course, free, but the canal cruise Fleetfahrt which takes you through all the canals is really worth doing as it’s the closest you can get to the different buildings.
The Speicherstadt is also home to several different attractions and museums. The spice museum and the customs museum tell you more about the history of trade that made Hamburg a very well-off city. Another tourist favourite is the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway.
Explore the Modern HafenCity
Contrast your visit to the Speicherstadt with an exploration of its modern counterpart, the HafenCity. This upscale neighbourhood is home to expensive apartment and office buildings and very modern metro stops. This is also where you can see Hamburg’s newest landmark, the Elbphilharmonie.
From the Elbphilharmonie you have impressive views of the city, and you can even stay inside the building’s hotel! If you’re into classical music make sure to get tickets for one of the concerts that take place here.
Take a Boat Tour
Hamburg prides itself in having more bridges than Amsterdam, London, and Venice combined due to the many canals, rivers, and lakes in the city. The Elbe which connects to the North Sea is what allowed Hamburg to be a world-leading trade city.
There are several tourist boats here, but as discussed in the section on getting around Hamburg, the public ferry is all you need to see more of the port area. Line 62 gives you a particularly picturesque view of the city.
Have Lunch in the Portuguese Neighbourhood
Hamburg has long been a multicultural city because of its role as a trade city. People from all over the world came to the city for work, including from Portugal. Portuguese, as well as Spanish, immigrants moved to this part of Hamburg in the 1970s because they had found work at the port, and rent in this part of the city was affordable. Many of them later opened restaurants and cafés.
Sit down and have lunch at any of the dozens of eateries here, the neighbourhood is even home to one of the many vegan restaurants in Hamburg.
Check out the Five Main Churches
Hamburg is a Protestant city, and so the churches are less elaborate and have fewer decorations than Catholic ones, but the five main churches of Hamburg all have an interesting story to tell. From the Portuguese neighbourhood you can see them all in the following order, but feel free to skip the ones that don’t interest you.
St. Michael’s Church is Hamburg’s main landmark and the only baroque church in the city. Just a few steps from there you can also visit the Krameramtsstuben, the old 17th-century homes the widows of grocers would live in. St. Nicholas Church was heavily damaged during World War II but has not been rebuilt to serve as a memorial against war.
St. Catharine’s Church houses an organ that was played by famous composer Bach, and St. James’ Church got a more modern look after its post-war reconstruction. St. Peter’s Church is the oldest church in the city although it burned down almost completely during the great fire of 1842 and had to be rebuilt.
Head to the City Hall and Alster
Hamburg may not have the palaces you can see in some other regions of Germany, but the architecture of its City Hall is well worth taking a look at. There are guided tours if you want to know more about its history and role. Don’t miss the inner courtyard with its fountain! The square in front of the City Hall often hosts markets, including Hamburg’s biggest Christmas Market in December. But even without an event, the square is a beautiful spot to take photos of Hamburg’s City Hall.
From the City Hall, it’s only a few minutes to the Alster Lakes. The Alster can either be explored on a boat tour or you can take a long walk around it, getting close to some of the beautiful mansions that are built alongside it.
Have Dinner and Experience the Nightlife
Hamburg is famous for its nightlife. The city’s clubs are where the world-famous Beatles started their career. Indra Club, the first club they played at, is still around today.
You may have heard more about Hamburg’s red-light district, but if you want to go where the locals go, head to the small clubs around Sternbrücke, the Fabrik in Ottensen, the Schanze and Karoviertel neighbourhoods, or Uebel & Gefährlich, a club in an old bunker. These neighbourhoods are also great places to have dinner before going out.
Due to its location by the Elbe River, partying on boats is also extremely popular in Hamburg. Boats like Frau Hedi, Stubnitz, and the Feuerschiff are party hot spots.
Hamburg hosts plenty of festivals such as the Reeperbahn Festival, Elbjazz, MS Dockville, and Spektrum. Major artists also play live at the open-air stage in the Stadtpark every year.
By the port, you will find alternative venues like Hafenklang and Golden Pudel Club as well as several beach bars. After a night out, locals like to head to the fish market – not necessarily to buy fish and other products that are sold here, but because of the live music inside the auction hall. No matter where you go, don’t try to be there before midnight and expect not to leave before 6 am either.
Day 2 in Hamburg
Check out the Fish Market
Even if you don’t do this as part of your night out the previous day a visit to Hamburg’s fish market is an absolute must. It takes place Sunday mornings between 5 and 9:30 from April to October and between 7 and 9:30 from November to March.
Observe how the vendors attract customers by shouting about the fresh products they sell. If you understand German this is also a great place to notice the difference between standard German and the local pronunciation as well as Low German, a distinct language spoken in the north of Germany.
Set Foot on a Soviet Submarine
Have you ever wondered what a submarine looks like on the inside? You can find out a few steps from the auction hall of the fish market. Even if you’re not usually into boats or submarines this is quite an interesting experience.
Don’t be put off by the steep price of €9! This is a unique “museum” visit that you will probably remember for a long time.
Walk Along the Port
While you’re in the area walk, take a final stroll along the promenade of the port, and take in the atmosphere that is so representative of Hamburg. If you grab something to eat watch out for the seagulls who can be quite persistent when trying to steal food.
If the submarine visit made you curious about other boats there are some old museum boats in the port that can be visited as well, such as Rickmer Rickmers and Cap San Diego.
Walk Through the Old Elbe Tunnel
With such a huge river running through it, how does traffic work in Hamburg? In addition to bridges, tunnels are an important means of getting from one part of Hamburg to another.
The Old Elbe Tunnel connects the famous St. Pauli neighborhood with a small island located in the Elbe River. Bikes and pedestrians can pass through the tunnel for free which allows you to see how workers used to get to and from work.
Stroll Through Planten un Blomen
Hamburg is home to a variety of parks, but one of the most accessible ones for tourists is Planten un Blomen. The vast area is home to the Museum of Hamburg History, a mini-golf course, a playground, and several gardens, including a Japanese Garden.
There’s also an open-air stage for small free concerts in the summer. In the summer evenings, there are water and light shows so you may want to move this visit to the end of the day instead. Or you can simply go back in the evening.
If the weather is good there is no need to eat lunch indoors. Simply grab something to go and take it to Planten un Blomen. There are several chairs and benches for you to sit on if you don’t have a picnic blanket.
See the Treppenviertel in Blankenese
It’s time to get onto public transport and head to one of Hamburg’s most affluent neighbourhoods, Blankenese. This former fishing village is home to cute parks and Hamburg’s beach as well as the picturesque Treppenviertel (meaning “stairs quarter”). This part of Hamburg will have you feeling like you’re in a small French village with its beautiful villas built alongside narrow alleys.
Take your time when exploring this neighbourhood and be aware that it is likely you will get lost a few times. Google Maps is a bit overwhelmed with the closeness of the winding paths. But don’t worry you will eventually find your way out of this romantic labyrinth.
From here head to the beach and just look out to the river that has given so much wealth to this city.
Stroll Through the St. Georg Neighbourhood
Hamburg’s LGBTQI-friendly neighbourhood St. Georg is full of cute cafés, bars, and boutiques. It’s also home to Koppel 66 an artists’ and artisans’ collective. If you’re looking for more authentic souvenirs you may find something here.
The neighbourhood is perfect for a relaxed stroll and to observe how locals live in Germany’s second-largest city. Sit down at a café and indulge in a delicious treat while deciding where to go next.
Have Dinner in Your Favorite Part of the City
Now that you’ve spent two days in Hamburg you probably have a neighbourhood that you liked a bit more than the rest. Why don’t you head back there for your last moments in the city? Take a final walk through the streets of Hamburg, take some last photos, and find the perfect place for dinner. I’m sure you’ll be back one day!
Where to Stay in Hamburg
There are plenty of great neighborhoods to stay in Hamburg depending on your budget as well as your interests. Accommodation in the city can be quite expensive so the best idea is to book this as early in advance as you possibly can.
Apartments can be found in many of the residential neighbourhoods and give you a feel for how the locals live. Hotels are often concentrated in more touristy spots making them more expensive but also quite convenient for a two-day trip to Hamburg.
Hostels are another accommodation option you can find in Hamburg and are usually located close to sightseeing or nightlife spots. There really are accommodation choices for everyone in the city, but you have to be fast when booking.
About the Author: Nina Ahmedow is a travel content creator who was born and raised in Germany, has lived in Canada, and currently lives in Greece. She is the voice behind Lemons and Luggage, a travel blog dedicated to vegan and responsible travel. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
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