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A couple of things to keep in mind. One, Hamburg is not compact and can’t be easily covered on foot; you’ll probably have to depend on public transportation or taxis. Two, think water. Hamburg lies on the Elbe River, 109km (68 miles) from the North Sea, and water seems to be everywhere in this city that is centered around a lake, the Alster; faces a busy harbor; and is laced with canals. (These canals are commercial and industrial waterways, lined with docks and warehouses; don’t fall for the touristic mumbo jumbo that Hamburg is the Venice of the North, because busy, business-minded Hamburg in no way resembles that Italian city.)

The Alster, often sparkling with white sails, is divided by bridges into the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and the larger Aussenalster (Outer Alster). Busy avenues, including the elegant, shop-lined Ballindamm, flank the Binnenalster, as do such noteworthy landmarks as the Colonnaden, an arcade of shops and cafes, and the Hamburgische Staatsoper, the opera house.

The Altstadt (Old Town) is south of the Binnenalster, tucked between the lakeshore and the Elbe River waterfront. The Hauptbahnhof is on the eastern fringe of the Altstadt, and the Rathaus, the Renaissance-style city hall, and adjacent Rathausmarkt are on the western edge. Two major shopping streets run between the Hauptbanhof and the Rathausmarkt, the Spitalerstrasse (a pedestrian mall) and Mönckebergstrasse, paralleling it to the south.

A new district, HafenCity, is growing up south of the Altstadt in former docklands that extend 3km (2 miles) along the Elbe River. At the moment much of HafenCity looks like a forest of cranes rising above construction sites, but it’s predicted that by 2020 or so a concert hall, bars, slick office buildings, and hundreds of waterfront apartments will have transformed the docklands into the city’s new pride and joy.

St. Pauli, west of the Altstadt, is the Hamburg’s famous red light district, where shops and clubs line the lurid Reeperbahn, a street where sex is sold over-the-counter, not under.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.