Hamburg is as watery as Venice and Amsterdam. Set around two lakes, the Binnenalster and Aussenalster (Inner and Outer Alster Lakes), in the city centre, it’s also traversed by three rivers – the Elbe, the Alster and the Bille – and a grid of narrow canals called Fleete.
The half-moon-shaped city centre arches north of the Elbe and is bisected diagonally by the Alsterfleet, the canal that once separated the now almost-seamless Altstadt (old town) and Neustadt (new town).
Within the sprawling city are distinct neighbourhoods, which include:
- Altstadt The biggest churches, museums and department stores.
- Neustadt Leafier and less office-filled than the Altstadt, although still very much part of the centre.
- St Georg East of the Hauptbahnhof; gentrified in parts and also accented with Balkan, Middle Eastern and African flavours, it's the hub of Hamburg’s gay scene.
- Speicherstadt & HafenCity The former is an atmospheric restored warehouse district with interesting attractions, the latter is a new city being built from scratch.
- St Pauli & Reeperbahn Includes the notorious Reeperbahn strip of sin and frolic, plus leafier quarters and port area views. In the north, it includes Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel, home to old hippies, young goths and Hamburg's most creative and alternative scene.
- Altona & Elbmeile The former is gentrified and merges with the waterfront of the latter. The family-filled neighbourhood of Ottensen abuts on the west.