Experiencing the vast, modern city of Hamburg is often done by cruise visitors on an organized excursion, but I prefer the simpleton's route - take a taxi into town and just wander. After all, you've only got one day - so just take it slow and enjoy as a leisurely pace - not stuck on a bus.
If you're like me, here's a quick snap of what to expect without a shore excursion in Hamburg's cruise port.
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Where You'll Dock
Learn more about the port location here. The MSC Euribia docked at the Cruise Center Steinwerder.
This link will take you directly to the Hamburg Cruise Terminal information page.
The Best Way To Get From Hamburg Cruise Port To Town
There are no water taxis direct from the Steinwerder dock, but I have read that other docking points will be able to take advantage of the water taxi options.
More traditionally, take shuttles into town provided by the ship (estimated 15 euros per person, available once you disembark the ship) or taxi for an estimated 20 euros for the carload. Once in town, you can take a taxi or the subway. Uber is also an option around town.
Depending on the weather, you can manage most activities on foot (provided that you are a good walker!).
Visit the U-Bootmuseum
I'm a big fan of old ships, military vessels, etc, so it's a no brainer that I'd go check out one of the German U-boats at the U-Bootmuseum. This submarine tour is worth the extra taxi fare to the edge of the harbor area if you've got the gusto.
Stroll, Eat and Shop
Optionally, check out the popular Altonaer Fischmarkt open only on Sundays until 930am. This is a perfect thing to do before the U-Bootmuseum, which opens at 9 or 11 on Sundays.
Next, stroll the St. Pauli Landungsbrücken pier area before heading into town for lunch at Restaurant Franziskaner. Quintessentially Bavarian, you'll get what you came to Germany for in this one meal (even though it's not traditionally cuisine from Hamburg). This restaurant is about a ten minute walk from the main square.
Finish with an afternoon of shopping at the Rathausmarkt main square. If you're there at Christmas time, enjoy the festive Christmas market stalls both along the main square and along the lakefront promenade.
At the Hamburg Christmas Market you will find all manner of German treats from mulled wine to bratwurst on a hot open flame grill, and little hidden alcoves for relaxing in comfort.
Of course no trip to Germany is complete without some souvenirs, most typically in the winter months being the handcrafted wooden Christmas ornaments. You won't find anything more special to put in your souvenir pile, because they'll be adored by your family for decades to come. Typical souvenirs to bring home also include the smoking men, which are handcrafted and filled with incense for your mantle. The prices are very reasonable in Germany, and worth seeking out.
For an idea of what I'm talking about, check out the Kathe Wohlfahrt store online. This is one of the most famous German Christmas stores! Hint: if you are indeed taking the MSC Euribia or a similar itinerary cruise, you'll get to visit a Kathe Wohlfahrt store in Bruges!
The main square also offers plenty of options for shopping and eating as well as views of an old canal lock system, flooding compartments to regulate water flow and heights along the promenade between the main square and the opposite side of shops.
Although the day in port that I am proposing seems extremely plain, I promise that is the best way to simply enjoy the Hamburg cruise port. Get yourself into the middle of town and just explore. For me, shopping and eating are the best parts of life, so what better way to experience the city than to do just that!?
Suggested Private Tours
That said, I understand full well that many folks don't feel comfortable just wandering, so how about considering a small group walking tour? This particular one that I found on Viator is just a $3 reservation fee, and then you pay the guide at the end whatever you feel he (or she) deserves. That's pretty rare, and an awesome gesture of the operator.
You'll visit WWII bombing sites, historical buildings and bridges, shopping and dining streets and more.
Alternatively, this guided Hamburg city bike tour is super popular for the more active sort, and you get to cover more ground. A great introduction to Hamburg for first-time visitors, this likely to sell out tour is a sure fire way to see the sites during a port day.
Lastly, for those who like a bit of adventure and family fun, what about this treasure hunt tour? Designed for kids 12+ and their families, you'll meet at a designated point and pick up a backpack. The backpack is loaded with goodies including puzzles, riddles and clues to get you to the next point on the scavenger hunt. As you follow the clues, you inherently get to visit numerous focal points of Hamburg city. What a fun way to do this! It's very popular and starts at $22 a person. Sounds good to me, sign me up!
Related: Looking for flight deals to Hamburg? Fly non-stop to Hamburg on Lufthansa!
Whatever you decide, a day in Hamburg cruise port is well spent without the need of a shore excursion. Follow your nose, your rumbling belly, and the flow of other pedestrians to explore the lovely city streets of this enchanting city.