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Hamburg Is The Perfect Cycling City


With thousands of metres of waterside cycle routes, Hamburg is an ideal cycling city. We took a two-wheeled tour of Germany's premier sport.

For hundreds of years, much of today’s Hamburg was Danish territory - and even though the city’s Nordic neighbours were pushed out over 150 years ago, it’s easy enough to see why they felt so at home here. Like Copenhagen, Hamburg is flat as a pancake. But while the Danes have focused on the flatness and become famously keen cyclists, Hamburg has only recently come round to the idea that the odd rain shower shouldn’t put people off their bikes. An easy-access rent-a-bike scheme makes choosing a cycle tour of Hamburg a no-brainer.


The Hamburg waterfront is the perfect place for a ride

Hamburg sprung up around the Alster river, which was dammed in the early Middle Ages, creating two lakes. Since the small “Inner Alster” at the centre of town is the classic postcard snapshot, it’s easy to neglect the much larger “Outer Alster” - but locals know that this is where central Hamburg is at its most beautiful. Starting at the legendary Hotel Atlantic, home to spies and rock stars alike, head north past the cafés and sailboat moorings to your left. It’s a bit loud at first as the cycle lane cleaves to the road, but at the Schwanenwik meadow, you’ll get your first pay-off with a great view across the water. After that, the streets get quieter, the houses get bigger, and the views back into town just keep getting better. Just stick close to the water and cross at Krugkoppelbrücke to start heading back into town, stopping off for a drink at the charming Red Dog Bar if you’re thirsty.


Crisscrossing the water makes for perfect cycling - especially when the Hamburg weather plays ball

Besides the Alster, Hamburg’s other - and economically far more important - body of water is the River Elbe, a mighty European waterway and home to the city’s port. Head to Landüngsbrücken for a first view of the impressive docks and then use the Alter Elbtunnel to cross. This century-old shaft may look like a set for a vintage steam-punk Manga cartoon, but it’s 100% genuine nonetheless, and is still used by dockers on their way to work. On the other side, don’t forget to look back across the water for the view that most tourists miss, and then follow Hermann-Blohm-Straße and the railway sidings along Veddeler Damm for a unique look into the workings of a modern port. Turn left back towards town at Moldauhafen, crossing the river over the iconic Elbe bridges, and then head for HafenCity for a look at the city’s biggest brownfield regeneration project (and the world’s most over-budget concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie, in all its eye-wateringly expensive glory).


Canals and rivers criss-cross Hamburg all the way to dockside and there are cycle routes everywhere

Another route starting from Landungsbrücken is to follow the river downstream. You’ll pass the renovated redbrick warehouses where cod, coffee and carpets were once traded. Next, it’s the unmistakeable rhomboid form of the Dockland cruise terminal: yes, you can climb up the stairs on the rear of it - and doing so will reward you with a sweeping panorama of the harbour. Keep heading out of town for the village-y charm of Övelgönne and its old fisherman’s cottages and, if you’ve got a whole afternoon, ride out as far as the Teufelsbrück ferry and then turn inland for the beautiful Jenischpark and the Botanic Gardens.


You might, on the other hand, take the ferry over to Finkenwerder and cycle past the gigantic Airbus site and then follow the dyke along the River Este for charming hamlets and apple orchards as far as the eye can see. Finish in Buxtehude for a glimpse of old-style Hanseatic gentility, a well-earned beer, and a train station with regular services back into Hamburg.


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