In Hamburg you should not miss a harbor tour! 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 tour!
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 Landungsbrücken.
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 stumbled towards a small launch, in front of which the captain himself is still checking the tickets. Before I can waste a single thought on the question of whether a harbor tour is really such a good idea with the bad weather on that day, I’m already sitting on the boat.
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We cast off and just at that moment it rains, storms and snows at the same time. If you are traveling in Hamburg, you have to be prepared for any weather. I’m not very fond of rainy weather but from the boat, you have a good view through the large panoramic roof even in sleet. And in general, I’m busy with the view of the many containers, the huge port cranes and the sheer size of the harbor. The low height of the launch means you sit almost at eye level with the waterline, which makes the view all the more impressive.
Our captain is not only a ticket inspector, but also a tour guide, and amuses us with witty anecdotes. “Have you also always wondered where here in Hamburg this ominous gateway to the world is supposed to be?” The boat turns and right in front of me the Elbe spreads out in its full width, there is no end to be seen on the horizon and it really feels for a moment as if the world is opening up in front of me.
By the way, I recommend you to look 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 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:
What are the harbor tours?
Generally speaking, harbor tours can be divided into approximately four 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. Attention: Possibly the lighting is not quite as spectacular as usual due to the current energy saving concept of the city of Hamburg.
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 small enough to be able to enter the Speicherstadt at the appropriate water level.
What sights can you see on a harbor tour in Hamburg?
A harbor tour is also a great way to see many Hamburg sights at once. Especially if you have little time, a harbor tour is therefore particularly practical! 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 houses 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* (here people with impaired vision will guide you through a very special sensory experience – interestin!) or the Miniatur Wunderland.
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!
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 namely over 100 years and popular meeting place. You will also find the entrance to the Old Elbe Tunnel here: Also absolutely worth seeing!
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!
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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 high season, in good weather and on weekends it can get crowded on the harbor tours. Especially the small boats, which were also through the Speicherstadt, have limited space. Therefore, it is best to book in advance so that your planning is not thrown off.
- 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 special area of interest, you can take that into account when choosing your tour. For example, I really wanted to go through the Speicherstadt and therefore chose this tour.
- Proper timing: You can save a lot of time if you schedule your harbor tour properly. If you also want to visit the fish market on Sundays, for example, I would recommend going to the fish market first thing in the morning and then strolling towards the Landungsbrücken. There you can then, for example, visit the Old Elbe Tunnel and then take the harbor tour at noon. Some tours also offer other exit points, e.g. at the Elbphilharmonie. So you can then directly continue your sightseeing day there.
- Duration: There are harbor tours of different lengths, from one hour to several hours. Think in advance how much time you have and what sights you want to see to choose the right harbor tour.
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.
Budget tip: If you want to save money and don’t mind figuring out a route yourself, you can simply buy an HVV day ticket and use the regular HADAG ferry lines with it. There is just no specific info there then and you have to figure out for yourself where you want to go.
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!