No other location embodies Hamburg’s easygoing yet bustling vibe like beach club Strand Pauli. Situated next to the St. Pauli Piers (Landungsbrücken), one of the city’s top tourist spots and a major transport hub, the beach club carries you away to a tropical island. Sipping a Caribbean-themed cocktail while lounging on wooden deck under a palm tree, you might even forget that you’re in the middle of the city. That is, until you glance across the water to watch the passing ships and remember that Hamburg is one of Europe’s biggest ports.
The locals’ favourite beach on the River Elbe is the Elbstrand. On a sunny day, you’ll find groups of friends grilling sausages and drinking beer alongside young families with children playing in the sand, and joggers making the most of the scenic running trail. The lively next-door beach bars Ahoi Strandkiosk and Strandperle cater to everything from breakfast to a nightcap. It’s no surprise that in 2017 the New York Times named the Elbstrand among the favorite European waterside locations.
For a little more peace and quiet, make your way downriver to the white sand beach at the Hans-Leip-Ufer. While many pass it by when doing the walk from the Elbstrand to Blankenese, it’s well worth stopping and taking some time to explore the area. A special attraction is the Alter Schwede – the Old Swede – a 217-tonne rock that was carried here from Southern Sweden during an ice age some 400,000 years ago.
Further downriver lies one of the city’s most charming neighborhoods, Blankenese. Once a fishermen’s village, today it’s one of Hamburg’s most affluent districts. Making your way downhill along the famous district of stairs, passing by historic captains’ houses and modern villas, you’ll reach a sandy beach with a laid-back atmosphere reminiscent of a Mediterranean holiday. For the best views, walk to the charming red-and-white lighthouse that’s built on the water.
If you want to feel like you’ve truly left the city behind, the beach at Falkensteiner Ufer is the place to go. The tranquil parks and hilly riverside lead down to a sandy shore and gorgeous views across the Elbe. It remains a relatively quiet place, with no large crowds and not a single beach club in sight. Some even say that the atmosphere here is reminiscent of the Frisian Islands.
A little further downriver lies Wittenbergen beach, defined by a scenic red-and-white lighthouse jutting out above the treetops. Like the Falkensteiner Ufer, this is a more rural beach compared to those closer to the city center. Across the water, you have perfect views of the Neßsand island; created in the 1940s by excavating sand from the river, today it is a nature reserve, although the general public are not allowed access.
Just outside of the city borders you’ll find the idyllic Schulauer beach. This location is perhaps best known for the Willkomm-Höft – a unique welcoming point for ships arriving at the port of Hamburg. The vessels are welcomed with a recording of their country’s national anthem and a greeting in their language, whereas visitors on the mainland can find out interesting facts about the passing ships thanks to the captains providing information over loudspeakers.
Enjoy your time on Hamburg’s gorgeous urban beaches but keep in mind that, while the water may look inviting, the River Elbe is not safe for swimming. The proximity to the sea means there are strong currents during the tides that are further reinforced by the shipping traffic. Enjoy the sun, the beach, and the atmosphere, but stay safe and keep clear of the water.