All Roads Lead to the Alster: How to Navigate Hamburg’s Transportation System


Clean modern Hamburg subway station

One of the nicest perks of many European cities is having the possibility of getting around with public transportation, and Germany has arguably one of the most complete and effective public transportation systems. In Hamburg, too, jumping on trains, subways, etc. isn’t only the most sustainable way for you to get to your meetings and activities, but it also saves you a lot of time, stress, and frustration of being stuck in traffic or not finding a parking spot. Not to mention the good amount of money you’ll save! So, if you want to know how to navigate the system and become the fastest to move in Hamburg, keep reading and follow our tips ;)

(Reading time: 7 minutes 3 seconds)

First things first…

The most important thing you need to know is that, as a student of KLU, you are entitled to get a Semesterticket. This is a magic word! Transportation in Germany can be much more expensive than in other European countries, but with your semester ticket you can travel ANYWHERE in the Hamburg region, and it will cost you ZERO euros, since it’s a gift from KLU :)

Many ways to explore the city

Hamburg offers you many ways to move around the city and, depending on your starting point and your destination, some will connect you faster than others. If you stick to only one or two methods, we can assure you, there will be moments when you will be wasting your time.

“I did it myyyyy wayyy”

Being your own ride is often the easiest, fastest, and least stressful way to arrive at your destinations on time, although for this you should be willing to brave the rainy weather. Apart from the obvious walking to places, you can use other options:

  • Bicycles: you can either buy your own one (in this case buy a good lock, seriously!), or rent one with a monthly payment that is around 25€. The city also has public bikes (StadtRad) which you can pick up at one station and leave at another. The service is free for the first 30min and after that you pay a minute rate which is rather inexpensive. Oh! And you’ll notice the city is full of bike lanes!
  • Scooters: there are many companies (Tier, Bolt, Lime…) that offer electric scooters. Normally you pay 1€ to start the ride and on top of it a minute rate, which is higher than the bikes, but also on the low end. They can be driven on the bike lane. And please do not try to race the elderly on their support vehicles. We have seen it, and the “Oma” always wins.
  • Motorbikes: you can take it to the next level and rent a Vespa-like motorbike (includes two helmets) with some companies like Emmy or Felyx.
  • Car Sharing: and if you want to move by car but you don’t have your own, you can benefit from the many companies that offer car sharing (We Share, ShareNow, Miles…). Some charge you per minute, and some per driven kilometers. It is definitely more expensive than a bike, but also much more comfortable and a great option if you need to carry bags or are sharing the ride with friends.

Next stop: another place to explore

Aside from all these convenient options that you can access almost right in front of your doorstep, the city is widely connected through other systems which operate 365 days a year.

  • U-Bahn and S-Bahn: These are the trains that connect most parts of the city. The U-Bahn is what would traditionally be called the subway, and the S-Bahn belongs to the train system, but also goes underground in many stations in the city center. Both mostly operate diligently, although at times, of course, they need to be repaired or some issue might disturb their schedules. In these cases, the city usually offers alternative routes or buses to replace the disruption. Oh! And you want to party on the weekend? Hamburg knows it! So, both the U-Bahn and S-Bahn run 24 hours on the weekends :)
  • Regional trains: they make longer routes and connect farther areas in the Hamburg region to the city. Normally, regional trains do not ride underground, so there is a nicer landscape to see.
  • Buses: we won’t lie, knowing the bus routes and connections is a lot to remember, but if you know which bus to take you can save a lot of time and be more comfortable getting around (otherwise, cheat with the HVV app! It’ll tell you what to take!). Some areas in the city like Winterhude, Eppendorf, Ottensen, etc. are best to get to with buses rather than the subway. And yes, if you are a night owl, there are also night buses!
  • Ferry: do not forget that this city is on the water! For this reason, the public transport of Hamburg also includes some ferry lines to connect strategic points along the river Elbe. And as we told you in this article, it’s one beautiful ride to take even as a leisure activity!
  • Taxi and shared ride: finally, for sure, you can comfortably move around in the many taxis operated by private companies, although it is the most expensive option. To cut a bit on this cost and still get the upgraded service you can use share-ride providers like MOIA (the closest thing to an Uber that you can find here).

As a final note, Hamburg does not have trams (Strassenbahn) but many other cities in Germany have them, so be aware of the term and always check for those too when you travel.

When La Mamma comes to visit

As we mentioned above, as a student you will have your Semesterticket and probably not worry much about getting to know all the tickets and their prices. But when your family or friends come to visit you in your amazing destination, they will rely on you to know “everything” about what they need to do, because, well, you are “the local” (you’ll probably shrug your shoulders when you barely have been here for a couple of months and your dad already considers you a local…). Don’t worry! We got you! For visitors, one of the best options in Hamburg is to get the HamburgCARD, a special ticket that gives the person (or group!) access to all public transportation (U-Bahn, S-Bahn, bus, and ferry) and also great discounts (up to 50%!!) for museums, tourist attractions, restaurants, etc. It starts for as little as 10,90€, and will make your mama proud of you ;)

The tricks of the time and the distance

When it comes to tickets, there are also two factors that you should look out for: at what time are you traveling? And where to? In Hamburg, it is cheaper to travel after the morning rush hour has passed. For this reason, you’ll find that there are tickets named “9am Day ticket” both for a single person or groups. This gives you a price advantage if you are not planning to take a mode of transportation before 9:00 a.m. Similarly, the single tickets (Einzelfahrt) have different prices depending on how far you’ll go. You can find discounted fares for short trips (Kurzstrecke) and nearby areas (Nahbereich). It is kind of difficult to know how long these two areas are. Our best tip: punch your destination in the ticket vending machine or use the app, and it will tell you.

Schwarzfahren? Bad idea!

As you enter the subway in Hamburg (as in many German cities) you may get confused real quick by a “small detail”. Where are the turnstiles? Right, there are none. Germans trust their civilized citizens to pay their proper fair to ride, and therefore there’s no check-in point to enter the transport system. A simple line on the floor marks the starting point of the area where you are supposed to only enter with a valid ticket, normally before entering the platform. So, meeting your friends “on the platform” can cause you a problem if you didn’t take into account that you need to already have a ticket on you. Avoid this common mistake and meet outside the station. Many tourists also get confused by this system. Conductors come often onto the platforms, trains, and buses to check your ticket. And if you don’t have it (this is called Schwarzfahren), believe us, the 60€ fine will be nothing compared with the shame of being pulled out of the train to the platform by the conductors or security under the attentive (and probably judgmental) look of everyone in the wagon. So, do yourself a favor and always have your ticket on hand!

Now that you have the transportation system down, you can also become a master of finding accommodation in Hamburg.

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