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Water under your keel
Avoiding the waters in Hamburg would be a difficult task – not even including the occasional rain. In Hamburg, life is centred around the Harbour, the river Elbe, the Alster lake or the many canals. This city is home to the most bridges in Europe (around 2,400) and has more than Venice (400) and Amsterdam (1,200) combined. So, you should make it a goal to not only cross those bridges but pass under as many as you can, be it with a small rowing boat or on a bigger cruise boat – you will not regret it.
When you want to explore the city on your own, the Alster and all its canals is a great place worth discovering. Why not rent a canoe or row boat and pack some food and drinks and have a picnic on a quiet side arm of the bigger canals? Peek into the back gardens of the most beautiful estates along the canals. Make slaloms around the groups of ducks and swans. It’s all a classic Hamburg pastime.
If you are feeling sporty (and trendy), an alternative is renting stand-up paddling equipment – suit yourself!
Boat rental places can be found up north, in Eppendorf and Winterhude. Look for Supper Club which rents out every sort of boat (including the swan pedal boats) and equipment. They’ve also got an ideal location for viewing sunsets. Relax at the small café, sitting outside along the canal after a hard day of rowing & viewing.
There is just no way to get bored with a boat trip in Hamburg. Even people who have lived here their whole lives do it at least once a year – just to see what has changed or to check if everything is still as beautiful as they remember (which it certainly is). The municipal boat operator Alstertouristik is low-key and probably the easiest, most inexpensive way to explore the waters. They start from the Jungfernstieg and offer a variety of year-around trips with their traditional ships, that fit perfectly under every bridge. Some boats are just used as an alternative to the bus, connecting certain places in the inner-city to the northern neighbourhoods. Alstertouristik also offer cruise trips, round trips, canal trips and even twilight tours. When you come here in the winter time, make sure that you get back to the Jungfernstieg in the dark to enjoy all the charming city lights (maybe even a Christmas tree on the lake) and get up-close views of the majestic Alsterhaus.
Most locals do the Harbour cruises once a year or so; it is that exciting. There is always something new to marvel at. You can find plenty of Harbour tour boats on the Landungsbrücken, but most of them are very crowded. They’ve got recorded guides and you are not allowed to get off the boat.
The Maritime Circle Line is a little different; it is located at Brücke/bridge 10, at the less crowded (and nicer) end of the Landungsbrücken. They have a number of quality boats which allow hop-on and hop-off at every point of interest. The 90-minute tour is interpreted in English and as it turns out, is at times quite entertaining.
One special idea would be to charter a whole boat for yourself for a private tour. Make sure to check out the unique Harbour-Lights Hamburg trip as well – a cruise on a barge through the illuminated Hamburger Hafen and (depending on the tide) through the warehouses of the Speicherstadt! Book tickets and tours online in advance, they are very popular.