There are few better ways to get to know the city than by taking a trip on its waters. Alster Touristik, Rainer Abicht, Kapitän Prüsse, and Maritime Circle Line offer a wide variety of tour options, or you can simply take the HADAG ferry for great harbor views.
An HVV public transport day pass is valid for trips on the No. 62 HADAG ferry between Landungsbrücken Pier 1 and Finkenwerder, a suburb on the south side of the Elbe river. There’s no commentary on the ferry, but on a fine day the top deck’s a great spot to watch ships sailing in and out of the harbor, and for superb views of the city from the river.
Alster Touristik. This company operates a variety of picturesque boat trips around the Alster lakes and through the canals, leaving from a small dock at the Jungfernstieg. The one-hour round-trip Alster cruise leaves every half hour, daily 10–6 April–early October and at 10 and 5, plus every half hour 11–4 until the end of October. The Winter Warmer Trip, November through March, offers hot chocolate and Glühwein (for an additional charge) several times a day. You can also get a two-hour twilight tour through the canals from Jungfernstieg to the bucolic Harvestehude neighborhood May through August, and also into the waters around the historic warehouse district in September. The tour starts at 8 pm. A two-hour Speicherstadt canal tour runs April–October daily at 10:45, 1:45, and 4:45. Audio guides in English are available for all tours. 040/357–4240; www.alstertouristik.de. €15 for Alster cruise; €21 for twilight and Speicherstadt canal tours .
HADAG. Harbor ferries offer an inexpensive way to get out on the water. Either take one of the scheduled ferries, or opt for the harbor tour or one of the hop-on, hop-off cruises. 040/311–7070; www.hadag.de. From €1.50.
Kapitän Prüsse. Every day of the year, Kapitän Prüsse offers cruises around the Elbe harbor that last 60–90 minutes. These include a night cruise that leaves between 6 and 9 pm (depending on the time of year) from Pier 3. 040/313–130; www.kapitaen-pruesse.de. From €18.
Maritime Circle Line. The Maritime Circle Line tours major attractions on the Elbe. Passengers embark at St Pauli Landungsbrücken Pier 10 and can hop on and hop off at a number of stops including BallinStadt, Hamburg Harbor Museum, HafenCity, and the historic ship MV Cap San Diego. The tours run every two hours daily from 11 to 3, April through October, and every two hours from 11 to 3 on weekends, November to March. Tickets, which can be bought at the pier or online, include discounts at all the venues. Landungsbrücke 10, St. Pauli, Hamburg, Hamburg, 20359. 040/2849–3963; www.maritime-circle-line.de. €16.
Rainer Abicht. One-hour tours of the harbor with commentary in English are offered aboard one of Rainer Abicht's small fleet of boats, which include its famous Louisiana Star riverboat. The tours leave every day at midday from April until October from Landungsbrücken Pier 4. 040/317–8220; www.abicht.de. €18.
Hamburger Stadtrundfahrt. Sightseeing bus tours of the city, all with guides, who rapidly narrate in both English and German, leave from Kirchenallee by the main train station. A 90-minute bus tour sets off at varying times daily and one of the bus tours can be combined with a one-hour boat trip on the harbor. Departure times for tours vary according to season. There's also a hop-on, hop-off service that runs daily, every 20 or 30 minutes, from 9:30 to 5, April through October; hourly Monday to Thursday 10–4, every half hour Friday to Sunday, 9:30–4, November through March. 040/792–8979; www.die-roten-doppeldecker.de. €17.50; €30 for combined bus and boat trip; €30 day pass for hop-on, hop-off service.
A great way to learn more about the city while also getting some exercise is on a walking tour. There are plenty of tours to choose from, although many only run from April through November. In addition to guided walks of the Altstadt and Neustadt, the harbor district, HafenCity, and St. Pauli, there are also themed excursions, such as Beatles tours and a red-light walking tour of the Reeperbahn. To find a guided walk in English, contact Hamburg Tourismus, the tourist office (www.hamburg-travel.com).