While the Elbe River has long been the focal point of Hamburg’s trade and port, one of its tributaries, the Alster, also plays an important role in the social life of the city. Originating as a small bog in the Timhagen Brook near Henstedt-Ulzburg, the Alster flows around 25 kilometers north to Hamburg. It’s here that the Inner and Outer Alster have been created, two artificial lakes that are connected to the river and surrounded by many of Hamburg’s most scenic recreational areas and historic avenues.

Picturesque walking trails line the shores of these “Great Lakes” and they provide a setting for sailing and paddle boating during the summer months and ice-skating during the winter. The Jungfernstieg lies along the southern edge of the Inner Alster and was where unmarried daughters were once paraded by their families for potential suitors. This waterfront promenade is still popular with families today and lined with alfresco restaurants where you can soak up the views. A short walk east takes you to the Ballindamm and Hamburg’s largest shopping center at Europa Passage.

On the western bank of the Outer Alster is the charismatic village of Pöseldorf, packed with art galleries, antique shops, eclectic cafes and boutique hotels. It’s an atmospheric spot to wander, with its narrow streets lined with elegant white villas, quaint courtyards and former coach houses. Pöseldorf has made a name for its cutting-edge fashion boutiques, with designers such as Jil Sander and Wolfgang Joop establishing their international careers here.