Ferry rides across the Elbe, or the poor man’s harbor boat tour

One of Hamburg’s most popular tourist attractions is the array of boat tours exploring the city’s various waterways. Between the Alster, a large lake in the middle of the city, the Elbe, one of Germany’s three major rivers, and the various canals criss-crossing the city center, there is certainly plenty of water to explore.

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Looking across the river Elbe towards downtown Hamburg, as seen from the “Theater am Hafen” (Theater in the Harbor).

Instead of booking a formal boat tour, which can set you behind €15-21, there is another option to get in a boat out on the water, and it’s basically free: ride a ferry.

Because of it’s size, there aren’t many bridges going across the Elbe. Therefore, it’s sometimes more practical to cross the river by boat. On the city side, you can get on at Landungsbrücken or at the Elbphilharmonie, then take the ferry through the river.Your public transportation ticket is valid on the ferries, so if you’ve already paid €6,10 for a day pass to ride the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and buses, the ferry is free. Otherwise, you can buy a ticket that’s good for one trip for €2,20 at the machines on the docks.

The first time I took a ferry was actually on my way to work. The catering service where I worked was serving a business luncheon located at one of the two theaters on an island in the middle of the harbor. The sun was still rising, and I was unexpectedly treated to beautiful views of the sunrise over the harbor.

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The sunrise paints the Elbe pink and gold on an early morning in February.
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The Theater im Hafen, or Theater in the Harbor. Two theaters sit side-by-side on an artificial island in the middle of the river and are accessible only by ferry. Each theater has one show which plays year round – “Das Wunder von Bern” on the left and “The Lion King” on the right. Both are major tourist attractions.
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A panoramic view of Hamburg as seen from across the harbor.
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Waiting for the ferry on a floating dock, with the Elbphilharmonie in the background.

For a short trip, I would recommend taking the 72 or 73, which will both take you from Landungsbrücken to the Elbphilharmonie and down past the Theater im Hafen. If you’re taking the 73 and want to keep your trip short, get off at the Theater im Hafen and take the next boat back to Landungsbrücken. If you don’t mind a longer trip, you can take the 73 full-circle.

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Only in Hamburg does the public transportation include life vests.

For a longer trip, take the 62 from Landungsbrücken to Finkenwerder. Going full-circle should take about an hour.

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