There's water everywhere you look in Hamburg. The port, the trademark canals and the Alster lakes all help to give the city its unique atmosphere. The port of Hamburg is the second largest sea port in Europe and one of the nine biggest container ports in the world: some 13,000 sea-going vessels from all over the world pass through here every year.
The best way to get a taste of the maritime atmosphere is by walking along the riverbank promenades at Baumwall and along the Landungsbrücken. The Landungsbrücken jetties were built at the beginning of the last century to act as a 'train station on water' for the passenger boats. Today, they form the starting point for most visitors' port adventures, with Elbe ferry crossings, port tours and excursions in launches
embarking from the pontoons here. The colourful flags of yachts and motorboats can be seen in the city sports boat marina. This is also now the permanent home of the Feuerschiff restaurant, a converted lightship painted bright red. Along the promenades there are a number of museum ships, including the Cap San Diego (the world's last remaining seaworthy cargo ship museum) and the three-masted barque Rickmer Rickmers, that give visitors the chance to learn more about the city's maritime history.
No trip to Hamburg is complete without a sightseeing tour of the port in a barkasse launch. The round trip gives an insight into the many different features of the port, from gargantuan container ships to elegant yachts. You can even travel from museum to museum by boat with a Maritime Circle Line ticket. One stop on the route is a place that has witnessed great emotion and human drama: BallinStadt Emigration Museum. An interactive exhibition in three restored emigrants' halls presents information about the emigrants, their reasons for leaving and their fate, as well as the historical background. There are even facilities for ancestry research.
In the summer beach clubs spring up at the end of the Landungsbrücken jetties, giving the maritime ambience a Caribbean air. People come here to enjoy the latest music and exotic cocktails on a sandy beach looking out to the passing ships. Why not head to one of Hamburg's beach oases, sink into a deckchair and leave your worries behind?
An absolute must for anyone visiting Hamburg is the city's legendary fish market. Every Sunday morning is a frenzy of trading and if it's not nailed down, it's up for grabs – from fresh fish to palms and even live ducks. Bananas fly through the air, the eel man 'Dieter' shouts at the top of his market-trader lungs – it has to be seen to be believed (and it's well worth getting up early for)! While you're there, grab brunch at the historical fish auction hall to a soundtrack of jazz, skiffle or country & western.