Discover Hamburg on foot and by bike

If you suggest to your friends that they spend a few days in Hamburg, I’m willing to bet that many of them will refuse: “to visit an industrial port in northern Germany. But what an idea!”

Well, I think the opposite! Hamburg is an exciting city with a global outlook. This is a must if you plan to travel by train from southern Europe to Scandinavia. It would be a shame not to stop there. Hamburg also deserves a trip on its own.

Why do I love Hamburg?

I have a particular affection for port cities. Perhaps this is due to one of my childhood years when I lived in Le Havre? From the balcony of the family apartment, we could see the liner France sailing out to the Atlantic… What a dream…

Hamburg is a gateway to the world. It is Europe’s third-largest port after Rotterdam and Antwerp. It’s also an important rail crossroads, because to travel to Scandinavia by train, you have to pass through Hamburg. Last but not least, Hamburg is Toulouse’s twin city, where the two main Airbus plants are located. When I was working for Air France, I came here to take delivery of an Airbus 319. The city is very cosmopolitan, with many foreign communities.

The author at Airbus in Hamburg

In Hamburg, you can feel that Scandinavia is not far away. It’s already possible to appreciate the light so particular to northern latitudes. As in Stockholm, water is everywhere, with the Elbe, canals, and lakes. It’s an opulent city with a very high quality of life.

Hamburg, along with other German cities, was destroyed by the Second World War. However, unlike cities such as Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, its reconstruction was an urban and architectural success.

I’ve been to Hamburg twice, in June 2014 and 2023, and was lucky enough to have very sunny, warm weather. I also passed through more quickly in January 2024 to test the new nightjet to Innsbruck.

I was advised by a French friend, Eddy, who has lived in Hamburg for eleven years and has become a true Hamburger.

Then, based on my discoveries, I concocted two walking tours and one cycling tour of the city.

To appreciate them fully, take your time without trying to see everything. If you like Hamburg, you’ll come back, as I did.

General map of Hamburg

All coral-colored text indicates an internal or external link, which I invite you to click on.

Questions to Eddy, a French friend who lives in Hamburg

Eddy is a French friend who has lived in Hamburg since 2013 and works there as a station manager for an airline. He is as comfortable in Germany as he is in France. He was the one who made me want to discover Hamburg, so I interviewed him to find out how best to enjoy his adopted city.

What do you like about Hamburg? And why do you recommend visiting this city?

I love Hamburg for its very different neighborhoods, and its inhabitants, whose mentality is certainly much calmer and more reserved than that of Berliners, but who are very welcoming and open-minded.

You have to visit this city because it’s like no other. And it’s Germany’s second-largest city, with a vibrant cultural life!

What are your favorite neighborhoods in Hamburg?

Like most tourists, I was seduced by Sankt Georg, Altona, and Schanze, which are neighborhoods you really must visit. I now live a little further back, in Barmbek, once a working-class neighborhood. And I love this little-known neighborhood, which I invite you to discover.

If you fancy a break from nature, head for the Stadtpark to the north of the city. If it’s too far or you don’t have enough time, the best place to go is the Planten un Blomen park, where I’ve taken you (that’s Plattdeutsch, the local language).

What annual events are not to be missed in Hamburg?

Hamburg owes everything to its port. And it celebrates it every year at the beginning of May with the famous Hafengeburtstag. First and foremost, it’s a rendezvous for boat fans who gather to admire the boats on the Elbe. But they’re also great festivities that attract a lot of tourists.

An atypical weekend to experience is to take part in the Schlagermove festival. Hamburg falls back into the 70s for a weekend and celebrates bad taste. Wigs and sequins are a must! But good spirits are guaranteed!

What advice would you give to someone visiting Hamburg for the first time?

Two days is really the minimum for a visit to Hamburg. Then, don’t miss the chance to explore the region. So I suggest you spend a day on the North Sea at Sankt Peter Ording or on the Baltic Sea at Timmendorfer Strand.

Could you recommend a few restaurants where you would take a friend visiting Hamburg for the first time?

If you fancy a slightly chic but excellent restaurant, go to Brasserie Tortue.

In a very picturesque street, I recommend the Kammeramtstuben restaurant.

Otherwise, the Laufauf is a neighborhood restaurant serving typical Hamburg dishes such as Labskaus and gratins of all kinds.

Inexpensive and very practical, just opposite Central Station you’ll find the Nagel.

Eddy and the author in Hamburg

Thanks Eddy! And now, let’s go for a first exploration of the city on foot or by bike in the rest of this article.

Downtown and the docks on foot

This first walk takes us to the city center and the dock district.

The numbers on the map below will help you find your way as you read the text.

Walking tour of central Hamburg

We start at Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof (1) and its impressive glass roof.

Hamburg station

Downtown: Altstadt

Altstadt means old town, but in reality, Hamburg’s city center is as recent as many German cities that were damaged by the war. The difference is that Hamburg’s center is rather homogeneous and architecturally attractive.

Leaving the station, we take the long pedestrian Mönckebergstraße (2). It is lined with numerous stores and restaurants. It’s more interesting for its liveliness than its architecture, except for the Hulbe haus, a beautiful Dutch-style house.

Hulbe haus

At its end, we reach the town hall, or Rathaus (3) in German, in its neo-Renaissance style. I think the facade is beautiful. Its imposing appearance is perhaps a reminder that Hamburg was one of the Hanseatic cities between the 12th and 17th centuries. The Hanseatic League brought together cities from London to Novgorod (the former St. Petersburg) around the North Sea and the Baltic, establishing a virtual monopoly of trade for the benefit of the wealthy merchants of these cities. From the 17th century onwards, the League’s influence declined and centered on Hamburg and Lübeck. Hamburg has retained its tradition as an opulent merchant city. You can feel it as you stroll through the city.

Another special feature of Hamburg is that it is a city-state, one of the 19 Länders of the German Federation.

Hamburg Rathaus

Rathaus Hamburg

We then turn off towards the church of Saint-Nicolas (4), of which only the bell tower remains. Instead of a nave, we walk through a garden. The church was destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War. It was decided to turn it into a memorial (Mahnmal Sankt Nicolai) to remember the atrocities of this war, in the hope that it would be the last.

St Nicolas Church

We continue towards the docks district, following the canals that give the city a slightly Dutch air.

Hamburg canals

Hamburg Canal

The docks: Speicherstadt and Hafencity

Speicherstadt (5) means warehouse district. At the end of the 19th century, the independent city of Hamburg joined the German Empire. To preserve its economy, a free zone was established near the port, with the construction of gigantic warehouses. Their red-brick architectural style is remarkably unified, and it’s a pleasure to stroll among them. Today, the district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Next, we head for the Elbphilharmonie (6), Hamburg’s iconic philharmonic concert hall. Its bold architecture overlooks the Elbe in spectacular style. It was built over a former warehouse.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

A very long escalator takes us up to a plaza offering magnificent views of the port and the city.

Views from Elbphilharmonie

The Elbphilharmonie has been the subject of controversy. Along with Berlin’s new airport and Stuttgart’s railway station, it’s one of the major projects that Germany has struggled to complete without huge budget overruns and delays. The concert hall was inaugurated in 2017, six years behind schedule and four times the original budget!

If you want to enjoy a concert, plan to buy your tickets well before your trip on the Elbphilharmonie website. That’s great! How about this: “It’s the best way to judge for yourself the quality of the acoustics of the main hall, which has been much talked about!

After having a glass of beer at the Elbphilharmonie, we continue our stroll through the Hafencity district (7).

It’s a brand-new district that will house housing, offices, shops, and restaurants. In 2023, it was still under construction, but I found the neighborhood exciting to visit and the first housing developments show a promising face of it. It blends in well with the Elbe River and the harbor on the opposite bank.

Note the old cranes that have been preserved as a reminder of the new district’s port origins.


Our next stop is Hamburg’s Maritime Museum (8), housed in the Kaispeicher B, a former coffee and tea warehouse. The renovation has been a success, and the museum is very comprehensive. You can easily spend several hours learning about maritime history and admiring the many ship models.

Maritime museum Hamburg

After visiting the museum, we return to the Central Station, stopping in front of the Chilehaus building (9). It’s an example of expressionist architecture in dark brick. Its shape is reminiscent of a ship’s prow. We linger to observe the architectural details of this magnificent building. Right next door, at Meßbergstraße 1, you’ll find a plaque commemorating the victims of the concentration camps. This was the headquarters of the Tesch & Stabenow company , which produced the deadly gas used in the genocide.


Our walk ends at the station (1). But if it’s late in the day, it’ s worth returning to the Elbphilharmonie to watch the sunset. I thought it was magnificent!

Elbe sunset

Port Hamburg sunset

Hamburg Museum of Fine Arts (10)

The Museum of Fine Arts (Kuntshalle) is renowned for its richness. Unless you got up very early or skipped the Maritime Museum, it’s likely that after our walk you won’t have enough time to visit it. But during your stay, make sure you take the time to visit it, as it’s one of the most interesting in Germany.

Many blogs and guidebooks mention the miniature museum (11) or miniatur wunderland in the Speicherstadt district as very interesting. I haven’t visited it, so I can’t give you my opinion.

Along the Elbe and the harbor on foot and by boat

The Elbe is a major feature of Hamburg. The river rises in the Czech mountains. Thanks to a complementary network of canals, it is navigable as far as Berlin and even Prague. Although Hamburg is located 100 km from the North Sea, the Elbe has allowed it to become a major seaport (source map: Wikipedia).

This tour along the Elbe River is best done on foot (yellow dashed line from point 1 to point 7), then by ferry (blue dotted line from point 7 to point 10). The numbers on the map below will help you find your way as you read the text.

Stroll along the Elbe in Hamburg

For better legibility, I’ve enlarged the area represented by the yellow rectangle in the map above.

Close-up of the Elbe in downtown Hamburg

On the banks of the Elbe

We start our tour at the Elbphilharmonie (1). We’ve visited it before, but it’s not unpleasant to see it again at other times during our stay in Hamburg. All the more so as, with Hamburg’s ever-changing weather, the sky and light conditions are likely to be very different.

This time we turn north and follow the Elbe. The walk along the river is pleasant and, in fine weather, very popular with onlookers. It’s a pleasure to stroll along and watch the incessant traffic of boats of all kinds. Numerous street food restaurants can be found along the Elbe.

Elbe riverfront

The banks of the Elbe are a life-size maritime museum, with several ships to visit.

The elegant Cap San Diego (2) is a cargo ship from the 1960s. Today, it also houses a small hotel.

A little further on is the Rickmer Rickmers (3). This elegant cargo sailing ship was built in 1896.

Cape San Diego & Rickmer Rickmers

But most astonishing of all is the visit to a former Soviet submarine used for espionage missions: U-boat 434 (5), built-in 1976. It is an important testimony to the Cold War.

U-boat 434

Before you get to the U-boat, don’t miss the Alter Elbtunnel (4), a 24 m-deep tunnel under the Elbe. Since 1911, the 436 m-long line has linked the city to the shipyards on the other bank of the Elbe. It is accessible via wide elevators, long used by cars. Today, only pedestrians and cyclists can use it. Construction was difficult due to the pressure of the river, which caused numerous decompression accidents among the workers. Inside the two tunnels, admire the terra cotta ceramics.

Alter Elbtunnel

Just past the Soviet submarine, the Sankt Pauli fish market is held every Sunday morning in the former fishing auction hall: Fischauktionshalle (6). It’s one of Hamburg’s major tourist attractions, and to get the most out of it, it’s best to get there at the crack of dawn. As the name suggests, you’ll find much more than just seafood. It is also renowned for its musical entertainment by orchestras.

St Pauli & Fischauktionshalle

We end our walk at the spectacular Dockland office building (7), which is shaped like a diamond or a parallelogram… or more poetically, the prow of a ship! A wide staircase leads to the top. From here, we have a beautiful view of Hamburg harbor.

Dockland office building

View from Dockland office building

Port visit

From the Dockland office building pier, we board ferry line 62. Boats generally run every 15 minutes for the same price as a bus journey.

Ferry 62 Hamburg

In midsummer, if the weather is warm and sunny, it’s worth getting off at the Neumühlen/Ovelgönne stop (8) to go to the Hamburg beach!


Otherwise, we stay on the boat until it reaches its terminus at Finkenwerder (9) on the other side of the river. Unless you have a lot of time, I wouldn’t recommend getting off the boat to visit this less attractive area.

In the distance, we can see brand-new aircraft taking off from Airbus assembly plants.

On the return journey, we stay on the ferry until it reaches its downtown terminus. It’s an opportunity to observe the immense port of Hamburg and its ballet of ships of all sizes. The sheer size of the container loading and unloading gantries is breathtaking.

Port Hamburg

Our walk ends at Landungsbrücken (10). If you feel like discovering more, ferry line 73 takes you to another part of the port. In any case, avoid guided tours of the port. They’re overpriced (45 EUR) and don’t show much more than what you can see from the municipal ferries.

Discover Hamburg’s alternative and upscale districts by bike

Our third ride is interesting because it will reveal to us two contrasting sides of the city. The first is its “grand bourgeois” trading side, and the second is its alternative, progressive face, which brings it closer to Berlin.

The numbers on the map below will help you find your way as you read the text.

Cycling around Hamburg's lakes

As it’s quite long, we’ll be doing most of it by bike. I advise you to take out a modest subscription to the city’s “Stadtrad” self-service bicycle system.

We depart from Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (1).

Lake Binnenalster

Lake Binnenalster (2) is our first stop. It is man-made and was created using the river Alster. Its presence lends elegance to Hamburg’s city center. The quayside is lined with prestigious buildings, including the Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten.

On the first weekend in September, the Alstervergnügen is held around this lake, a major folk festival.

The Alster flows into the Elbe a little further on. The arcades along the Klein Alster have a very Venetian air and are a pleasure to stroll through.


We take our bikes to the Planten un Blomen park (3). It takes the form of a corridor running alongside the city’s old fortifications, which were destroyed in the 19th century. I’m taking you there because I found it a very pleasant place, and with its slightly uneven terrain, it gives the impression of being much bigger than it is.

Park Planten un Blomen

Sankt Pauli and Karolinenviertel

We continue to Sankt Pauli (4). This area was reputed to be the prostitutes’ district, with its “red light district”, like in Amsterdam, at Reeperbahn and Herbertstraße, but I didn’t feel like visiting.

I preferred to continue toward Karolinenviertel (5), renowned for its bohemian, alternative feel. Cafés and baba cool boutiques thrive here.


Another surprising fact, which not everyone knows, is that the Beatles got their start in Hamburg in clubs in Sankt Pauli. At the time, they were still little known and lived meagerly.

If you have time, you can continue west to discover the Altona district. Personally, I haven’t discovered it yet, but I will on my next visit to Hamburg.

Before arriving at Karolinenviertel, we pass a striking building: Feldstraße Bunker (Flakturm IV). It’s a former bunker in which up to 25,000 inhabitants could take shelter from Allied bombing raids. It would have been too costly to demolish it, so it was converted into a venue for advertising agencies, creative studios, and other media-related projects. The bunker is currently being renovated, and several tree-lined storeys are being added to the roof.

Feldstraße Bunker

Hamburg is a major destination for congresses and trade fairs held in the gigantic buildings of Messe Hallen (5). It’s a good idea to find out the dates of these fairs before you go to Hamburg, as hotel prices quickly rise to prohibitive levels at these times.

Just around the corner, we pass the imposing 276-meter-high Heinrich Hertz Tower, which can be seen from afar from just about anywhere in the city. There used to be a restaurant and observation platform, but these are now closed.

Heinrich Hertz Tower

Außenalster lake

Still on our bikes, we are now going to tour the Außenalster artificial lake (7). It’s lined with some of the city’s most exclusive villas and apartment buildings. That’s when you realize that Hamburg is a wealthy city!

Villas Außenalster

When the weather’s fine, Hamburgers flock to the lake in all kinds of boats: sailboats, paddles, rowing boats, canoes, pedalos… If you want to do what the locals do, you can rent a rowboat or small sailboat from Bobbyreich.

Außenalster in summer

A long tree-lined promenade winds around it. You’ll come across a large number of runners.

Take your time and enjoy the quality of life around the lake. In many places, I recommend stopping for lunch or just a beer.

Relaxing around Lake Außenalster in summer

It’s also possible to put the bikes down and continue with a charming boat trip on the lake.

Lake Außenalster boating in summer

Sankt Georg

We end our walk in Sankt Georg (8). This district is the counterpart of Sankt Pauli, with its bohemian, alternative character. The main thoroughfare is Lange Reihe, home to Hamburg’s gay scene, with its many bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect opportunity to sample Hamburg cuisine.

For evening entertainment, Sankt Georg is the place to be!

Sankt Georg

Hamburg: a little-known city

Voilà! I hope this article has whetted your appetite to discover this very nice but not yet very well-known city. A very good idea is to integrate its visit into a train trip to Scandinavia, as I did in 2023:

Paris Stockholm by train

Like many northern European cities, I recommend visiting Hamburg in summer as well as in winter. With the snow, the atmosphere is very different.

Hamburg in winter



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