Hamburg invites leisurely exploration by pleasure cruise. It has a major port on the Elbe River, as well as numerous islands and a number of lakes within the city limits. I tried three cruises during the course of our stay, and each proved memorable.
You can buy same-day tickets at a kiosk on the Jungfernstieg, which makes good sense if you have flexibility in your schedule, considering Hamburg’s unpredictable weather. Some ships cruising the Binnenalster and Aussenalster, interconnected lakes bordering Hamburg’s old quarter, are roofless. We prebooked tickets with Alsterdampfer, which maintains three charming 19th-century Alster lake cruisers with red velvet benches. After taking seats on the open-air aft deck, we settled in to watch the grand edifices lining the Binnenalster give way to the leafier shores of the Aussenalster, home to several sailing clubs, the American Consulate and the new Fontenay hotel. It’s a relaxing 45 minutes and a fine introduction to Hamburg, though the commentary is only in German.
Kapitän Prüsse operates this 90-minute night cruise “almost daily,” and again, the commentary was only in German. Nevertheless, the cruise was both beautiful and fascinating. We started in the warehouse-lined canals of Speicherstadt, strikingly illuminated at night, before heading to the container ship port. There was something otherworldly about the immense cranes and vast container ships, gleaming in the darkness. The ship was not at all fancy, but the cruise was unforgettable.
Barkassen-Meyer runs a number of harbor cruises, including this two-hour XXL tour Wednesday through Sunday. Non-German-speaking guests can download an app before boarding, which provides commentary in English. The harbor lost its otherworldly quality in the daylight, but it remained impressive and imposing nevertheless. The sheer size of the container ships boggles the mind. This cruise explores the harbor more fully, in addition to visiting the canals of Speicherstadt (tides permitting). It also affords splendid views of the Elbphilharmonie and the historic Landungsbrücke piers.