1 - Blankense
Hamburg has many attractions in the city centre (see our previous four-hour guide here) but this tour ventures further afield and takes advantage of the excellent U-Bahn, S-Bahn and even bike rental to make the most of the Elbe river.
Both the S1 and S11 lines will take you to Blankenese (“white promontory”) – a 15-minute ride from Landungsbrucken, the departure point for ferries across the Elbe – but it’s better to rent a bike from Hamburg City Cycles and then head back to town from Blankenese in a leisurely fashion, with the prevailing westerly winds at your back.
A suburb on the north side of the Elbe, Blankenese was for many centuries little more than a fishing village, and the steep, narrow streets of cottages are reminiscent of Cornwall, with their multicoloured fronts.
Mixed in are country houses, many still privately owned, and half a dozen parks – Baurs, Bismarckstein, Gossler’s, Hesse, Hirsch (Deer) and Sven Simon. There are also some hotels, most notably the Strand (Strandweg 13; strandhotel-blankenese.de), a good place for a coffee while you watch the container ships arrive at Hamburg port.
Cycle a little further and you’ll start to see the markers charting the disastrous floods Hamburg has suffered in the past, including those in 1962, 1976 and 2013, the last made bearable by new, improved defences.
2 - Beaches
Cycling back into Hamburg along the Elbestrande, you’ll notice occasional beaches and then the astonishing Alter Schwede – a giant 200-tonne rock pulled out of the river during dredging work in 1999. It’s now a popular meeting point for youngsters.
The beaches are a great place to relax, although watch out for sudden waves caused by passing ships. To make the most of the view, take a stop at the Strandperle beach club (there are other beach clubs, although many are actually on pontoons with the sand simply spread underfoot).
3 - Altona
You’ll next ride through Altona, now just a suburb but for centuries an independent city with a troublesome rivalry with Hamburg, symbolised by the Stuhlmannbrunnen statue of two centaurs fighting over a fish.
After locking up your bike, climb the many steps to reach the Platz – the view of the port is worth it. Walk inland a couple of hundred metres to find the statue; you will also pass a rectangular sculpture by Sol LeWitt: Black Form – Dedicated to the Missing Jews (1987).
The Platz is also home to the Altonaer Museum (altonaermuseum.de), which has a section on shipbuilding, and Gerhard Brandes’ sculpture of three fishermen. If you have the energy, you can climb up the side of a nearby office building, Dockland, to an observation deck that resembles the prow of a ship.
4 - St Pauli
Once a place to avoid, St Pauli is moving upmarket, yet still has enough edginess and graffiti to keep most visitors away.
One of its best-known attractions is the fish market that takes place every Sunday morning, where revellers end up after a night on the nearby Reeperbahn (fischauktionshalle.com/en/fish-market).
For the rest of the week, it’s the high-end interiors shops of Stilwerk (Grosse Elbstrasse 68; stilwerk.de/hamburg) that are likely to get your attention – that and cobbled streets, which can be a challenge if cycling.
Another reminder of the Elbe’s floods are the protective doors across many of the shop and warehouse windows. The Fish Auction Hall, which stands close to the waterfront and is now used as an event space during the week, simply opens its doors and lets the water run through, then hoses itself down afterwards.
5 - Landungsbrucken
These “landing bridges” (in fact a series of pontoons) are the embarkation point for countless tourist and commuter ferries, as well as a great – and inexpensive – place to get a cheap fish lunch or a Currywurst.
It’s also the location of the Alter Elbtunnel, built in 1911 to connect St Pauli with Steinwerder on the other side of the Elbe.
You can take your bike through the tunnel but unless you plan to cycle on the other side, it’s better to leave it chained up, take the lift (or stairs) down and walk through the atmospheric tunnel, imagining the thousands of dock workers who have used it to get to and from work over the past century, and examining the terracotta tiles depicting Elbe myths and legends.
Hamburg City Cycles, located on the edge of New Town and near the Reeperbahn, rents bikes and can offer several tours of the city or out to Blankenese. Bernhard-Nocht-Strasse 89-91; hhcitycycles.de