While the busiest ports in the world are mostly found in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe remains a major global logistics hub. Based on twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs), according to Eurostat data, the ten busiest ports within Europe – Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, Bremen, Valencia, Piraeus, Algeciras, Gioia Tauro, Felixstowe and Barcelona – are profiled below.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Facing out towards the North Sea, Rotterdam in the Netherlands is a city with a population of more than 650,000 and sits on the delta of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt rivers, providing waterway access to much of western Europe. Little wonder, then, that the city goes by the nickname ‘the Gateway to Europe’. Covering 12,700 hectares, the Port of Rotterdam was the busiest in the world between 1962 and 2004, when it was overtaken first by Singapore and then by numerous other Asian ports. In 2018, its annual container volume was 13.5 million TEUs.
A near neighbour of Rotterdam, Antwerp in Belgium stands in close proximity to the North Sea and is located at the upper end of the tidal estuary of the Scheldt, some 80km inland. In 2018, its annual container volume was 10.8 million TEUs.
The Port of Hamburg is also situated close to the North Sea (about 100km away) on the River Elbe in northern Germany, some 230km from the border with Denmark. In 2018, its annual container volume was 8.7 million TUEs.
Located about 100km west of Hamburg, on the River Weser, are the twin ports of Bremen (which sits about 40km inland) and Bremenhaven (which is located on the German coast of the North Sea). In 2018, their combined annual container volume was 5.4 million TEUs.
The busiest port in the whole Mediterranean region, Valencia is located on Spain’s east coast in the Balearic Sea. In 2018, its annual container volume was 5.2 million TEUs.
The Port of Piraeus is the busiest port in the eastern Mediterranean region, and comfortably the largest in Greece. It is the predominant sea port of capital city Athens, sitting on the southern coast of the country’s mainland. In 2018, its annual container volume was 4.9 million TEUs.
Located in southern Spain, near the Strait of Gibraltar, the town of Algeciras has long been a hub for the fishing industry. Its port is now one of the busiest in Europe, and in 2018 its annual container volume was 4.8 million TEUs.
Gioia Tauro, Italy
The port of Gioia Tauro is located in southern Italy (on the toe of the country’s ‘boot’), north of the city of Reggio Calabria. In 2018, its annual container volume was 4 million TEUs.
When the UK government announced the location of England’s eight free ports in 2021, the joint bid by Felixstowe and Harwich was a certainty to be named. Felixstowe, situated on the east coast of England in the county of Suffolk facing the North Sea, is comfortably the country’s busiest port. In 2018, its annual container volume was 3.8 million TEUs.
While Barcelona may be better known as a hub for tourism and football, the second-largest city in Spain also boasts one of the busiest ports in the western Mediterranean. In 2018, its annual container volume was 3.4 million TEUs.