Hamburg: How to Find the Best Harbor Tour

Aktualisiert am: 09/02/2024

You shouldn’t miss out on a harbor tour in Hamburg! The port of Hamburg is the third largest seaport in Europe and has shaped the cityscape for many centuries. The harbor is truly impressive and a tour is the perfect opportunity to get to know Hamburg from the water. In this article, I’ll give you tips for the best harbor cruise!

The Port of Hamburg: The Gateway to the World

I’ve been to Hamburg countless times, but a harbor tour was still on my to-do list. In a city like Hamburg, whose history has been significantly shaped by the port, a harbor tour is naturally one of the most popular tourist attractions. Various shipping companies offer such tours, sometimes with different focuses. The trips usually start at the jetties.

Hamburg harbor tour with view of the Elbe Philharmonic Hall
Welcome to my travel blog!

Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!

A harbor cruise opens up completely different perspectives on the city, like here at the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg’s extraordinary new concert hall.

Harbour tour in Hamburg: My tip!

By chance, I stumble towards a small barge where the captain himself is still checking tickets. “Tickets are only available online” he calls to me briefly and “You’ve got five minutes, then I’m off”; I fiddle around wildly on my phone and before I can even think about whether a harbor tour is really such a good idea with the weather brewing overhead, I’m already on the boat.

Hotels in Hamburg
Looking for accommodation for your trip? That can quickly become expensive in Hamburg! Therefore, book well in advance!
The best hotel deals for Hamburg*

Harbour cranes during a harbour tour in Hamburg
Impressive even in rainy weather: the port of Hamburg with its huge facilities.

We cast off and at this very moment it is raining, storming and snowing at the same time. If you’re traveling in Hamburg, you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather. As a proven fair-weather lover, I don’t mind that much: From the boat, you have a good view through the large panoramic roof, even in the sleet. And in general, I am preoccupied with the view of the many containers, the huge harbor cranes and the sheer size of the harbor. The low height of the barge means you are almost at eye level with the waterline, which makes the view all the more impressive.

Port facilities during a harbor tour in Hamburg

Our captain is not only a ticket inspector, but also a tour guide, and amuses us with witty anecdotes in Hamburger Schnack. “Have you always wondered where this ominous gateway to the world is supposed to be here in Hamburg?” The boat turns and right in front of me the Elbe spreads out in its full width, there is no end in sight on the horizon and for a moment it really feels as if the world is opening up in front of me.

View of the Elbe in rainy weather and storm during harbor tour in Hamburg
On the wide river Elbe, you almost feel a bit like you’re on the high seas, and the rough weather made it extra dramatic.

By the way, I recommend you look out for a round trip that also goes to the Speicherstadt (depending on the water level). Gliding between the massive brick buildings by boat is simply an impressive experience.

The rainy weather sometimes flies away as quickly as it comes: In sunshine we sail through the Speicherstadt.

The tour is organized by Reederei Abicht, but this special one-and-a-half-hour harbor tour with a detour to Speicherstadt can only be booked online:

Book the 1 1/2 hour harbor tour including the Speicherstadt here*

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What are the harbor tours?

In general, the harbor tours can be divided into 4 categories:

1-hour harbor tour On these harbor tours you will see the basics that you should have seen in the port of Hamburg. However, an hour passes by really fast!

Grand Harbour Tour (approx. 1 1/2 to 2 hours) On the longer tours, there is more time for a grand tour: you have many more opportunities to survey the size of the Port of Hamburg and usually learn even more about the history and significance of the port.

Light cruises In the evening, the so-called light cruises* take place. After dark, you can experience the port of Hamburg and especially the Speicherstadt at night. Please note: The lighting may not be as spectacular as usual due to the city of Hamburg’s current energy-saving concept.

Theme and special cruises For special occasions or if you just want something special, there are also harbor cruises with special themes. For example, there are Saturday night cruises with DJs on board* or harbor cruises with Olivia Jones and her crew*(note: always sold out months in advance!!).

Tip: Make sure that the boat is a launch, because they are low enough to be able to enter the Speicherstadt when the water level is right.

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What sights can you see on a harbor tour in Hamburg?

A harbor tour is also a good way to see many of Hamburg’s sights at once. A harbor cruise is therefore particularly practical if you only have a short time! You can see the following sights from the water or combine them with a harbor cruise:

Speicherstadt: The 19th century red-brick warehouses are the largest historic warehouse complex in the world! The entire Speicherstadt is a listed building and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of the buildings are still used as warehouses by traders (e.g. carpets), but you will also find many interesting museums such as the Speicherstadt Museum, the Hamburg Spice Museum*, the Dialoghaus Hamburg*(where people with impaired vision are guided through a very special sensory experience – exciting!

Elbphilharmonie: The concert hall was built on an old quayside warehouse and quickly became one of Hamburg’s most impressive sights with its spectacular facades! From the water you can admire the Elbphilharmonie especially beautiful!

Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg from the water

St. Pauli Landungsbrücken: The Landungsbrücken are not only the departure point for most harbor tours, but also one of the most popular sights on the Elbe. The historic jetty is over 100 years old and a popular meeting place. You will also find the entrance to the Old Elbe Tunnel here: Also absolutely worth seeing!

The Old Elbe Tunnel in Hamburg

Container terminals in the port: Hamburg is one of the largest container ports in the world, and you can experience first-hand how containers are loaded and unloaded during your harbor tour – and marvel at the incredible size of the container ships!

Container in the port of Hamburg

Tips for planning a harbor tour in Hamburg

There’s so much to see in Hamburg anyway – organization is key! To help you plan your harbor tour, here are a few valuable tips for you:

  • Book in advance: Especially in the high season, in good weather and at weekends, the harbor tours can quickly become full. The small boats in particular, which also pass through the Speicherstadt, only have limited space. It is therefore best to book in advance so that your plans are not disrupted.
  • Make sure you wear the right clothesHamburg weather is already very changeable, and on the water it can be fresher. Many ships are air-conditioned, but it is recommended to have perhaps an extra sweater or the like. On my boat, for example, there was the possibility to go on deck and there was already a stiff breeze.
  • Route: If you want to see specific parts of the port or have a particular area of interest, you can take this into account when choosing your tour. For example, I really wanted to go through the Speicherstadt and therefore opted for this tour.
  • Correct timing: You can save a lot of time if you plan your harbor tour correctly. For example, if you also want to visit the fish market on Sundays, I would recommend going to the fish market first in the morning and then strolling towards Landungsbrücken. There you can visit the Old Elbe Tunnel, for example, and then take the harbor tour at lunchtime. Some tours also offer other exit points, e.g. at the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. You can then continue your sightseeing day right there.
  • Duration: There are harbor tours of various lengths, from one hour to several hours. Think in advance about how much time you have and which sights you would like to see in order to choose the right harbor tour.

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Launch with roof during a harbor cruise in Hamburg

How much does a harbor tour cost?

A harbor tour in Hamburg costs between 15 and 40€, depending on the duration and provider. Special boat tours, e.g. with evening program like this one* can cost more.

Compare prices of different harbor cruises here*

Hamburg city with skyline from the Elbe river

Budget tip: If you want to save money and don’t mind working out a route yourself, you can simply buy an HVV day ticket and use the regular HADAG ferry lines. There’s just no special information and you’ll have to work out where you want to go yourself.

Extra tip for those looking to save: The regular day ticket for the Hamburg AB fare zone (is pretty much all of Hamburg) costs €8.40. However, there is still a cheaper 9 am day pass that excludes rush hour from midnight to 9am Monday through Friday. If you buy them online (either on the website or in the HVV app) you get an extra discount and pay only 6,60€!

But if you also want to visit many sights, it is worth buying the Hamburg Card: Here you get for a duration of one to five days not only free travel around the clock with all public transport, but also many discounts in over 150 Hamburg attractions!

Buy your Hamburg Card here in advance*

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