My first trip to Hamburg was 8 years ago on a mileage run. Thanks to cheap fares and double EQM credit (and a certain amount of alcohol while on the ground) I had a great day of fun, returning home just 26 hours after arriving. Even then it was clear the role water plays in the life of the city, with the Elbe river and associated canals everywhere. Hamburg is home to a massive working port with container ships coming and going and it has been that way for centuries. There is also a collection of smaller canals that previously were used to move cargo; today they are mostly a backdrop for great photo opportunities.
In the intervening years I’ve bothered to actually explore the city a bit more thanks to repeated work visits but I continue to be drawn back to the river as the core of my Hamburg experience. Earlier this month I scheduled an extra day in town at the end of a trade show to relax and enjoy the city. For me that meant buying a day pass for the local transit network and riding the ferries back and forth for a while. I was hoping for warm and sunny; I got cool and cloudy. But I also had a couple beers, some snacks and a few hours with absolutely nothing else to do. It was spectacular.
The longest ride is Route 62, from the main waterfront area at Landungsbrücken to Finkenwerder, famous among other things for being where the Airbus factory is located. I’ve taken that route a few times for work but never just for fun. It was great to sit on the upper deck and relax with my beer, even if the cool mist of the water blowing up came through once or twice. I didn’t bother getting off the boat at Finkenwerder this time. I was headed back to the main docks for another ride.
Mostly due to coincidence I ended up on Route 72 next. The boat was there as I got off the prior ride and it was leaving shortly. It it a quick run over to the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall and offers a great way to see the architectural masterpiece from the water. It also might be faster than walking over with all the construction on the waterfront. There’s a quick lateral crossing of the river before a return to the main docks.
Again thanks to fortuitous timing I was able to quickly switch to another ride, this time on Route 73. Routes 61 and 73 are the best way to see the working part of the harbor up close. Both head back into the more intimate areas of the operations and, thanks to lower bridges, Route 73 also runs on a smaller, lower ship. That means no sitting on the roof deck getting a suntan but it is also leaves you closer to the other ships and dry docks. It is a relatively quick ride and worth that trade-off as part of a day touring.
I did not get on to Route 61 this time around; it is on my list for my next visit.
As my afternoon of riding the ferries wrapped up I received a phone call that required me to settle somewhere and do a bit of work. Fortunately I had my laptop and a wifi hotspot with me. But I also needed a seat, preferably inside, for 20-30 minutes. A decent bathroom would also be useful thanks to the couple beers I’d recently rented. It turns out that the 62 ferry was about to sail again and, among other features, the ferries have tables, chairs and toilets on board. I snagged a window seat inside, did my business and then enjoyed the rest of the ride.
Logistics for the Hamburg Harbor Ferry Rides
Schedules, maps and other salient details are available on the HADAG Hamburg website. The schedules can be sparse, especially outside of rush hours and on weekends (the ferries are really for workers more than tourists) but a little bit of planning can make for a great few hours on the water. Start at Landungsbrücken (easy access on the S/U-Bahn)
Sure, you can buy a ticket for one of the tourist cruises through town. It is a very different experience in many ways. For my money, however, riding with the locals (and more than a few other tourists) through the working port area was a big win in many ways. And a bargain, too; a 9am day ticket (i.e. only valid after 9a until 6a the following morning; valid all day on weekends) runs €6.20 and includes up to 3 kids. If you’re a group of adults a 5-rider pass is €11.80. And it includes S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus rides in town. That’s hard to beat.
More from Hamburg:
- Hamburg and its love of water
- A night out in Hamburg: Schanzenviertel, Reeperbahn and Fischmarkt
- Highlights of a day trip to Hamburg, Germany
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