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Experience the world's biggest harbour festival

22nd April 2013 Print

When it comes to parties, nowhere parties harder than the Port of Hamburg during the world's biggest harbour festival. This year, northern Germany's "Gateway to the World" celebrates its 824th anniversary from May 9th to 12th and 1.5 million visitors will join the fun on the 2.5 mile-long Elbmeile embankment that stretches along River Elbe, from HafenCity to the Övelgönne Harbour Museum.

It was back on May 7, 1189 that Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted Hamburg an exemption from customs duties. And the locals have celebrated the anniversary of that day ever since! Every year, crowds flock to the historic quays in Germany's second largest city to enjoy a wide range of nautical events:

Thursday 9th May: A grand parade of more than 300 ships, from steamboats to sailing boats.

Friday 10th May: The official ceremony to name the MS Europa 2, the 5-star luxury cruise liner whose maiden voyage starts right here in one of the world's busiest cruise ports.

Saturday 11th May: The "Dance of the Tugboats" (like a maritime ballet); in the evening, a fireworks extravaganza!

Sunday 12th May: The ships' grand departure parade.

Hamburg's position as northern Europe's top cruise location becomes all the more clear during this year's celebrations; the harbour will welcome a grand total of 13 Tall Ships, transforming the city's waters into an impressive stage for the cruise industry. This year's parade line-up includes the 3-masted Gorch Fock, the magnificent Alexander von Humboldt II sail training ship, and the Star Flyer, the world's largest full-rigged sailing ship! And on Sunday, who should glide into port but Cunard's flagship RMS Queen Mary 2: the world's largest ocean liner!

Most of the partygoers are landlubbers, strolling along quays once lined with fishing boats, but now dotted with stalls selling everything from traditional German fish sandwiches to exotic Asian creations. And, free live music keeps toes tapping.

Over in St Pauli, much has changed since the Beatles played there. In what was Hamburg's Soho, the Reeperbahn has been revitalised with cafés, bars, and live music. Even the Fish Hall in the Hamburg Fish Market has been revamped as a venue, with two stages, featuring live bands. Looking to relax? Head for Övelgönne, a popular destination, where locals jog, stroll, picnic, and linger over coffee at the Strandperle café.


Great connections are available from the United Kingdom to the Hamburg Airport. easyJet and bmi offer daily flights to Hamburg from airports in and around London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Bristol.


Hamburg Tourismus ( offers 2 nights in the 4star ARCOTEL Rubin, incl. breakfast (additional nights bookable), a 3-hour guided steamer trip on the Schaarhörn, sailor's stew, cake, and soft drinks, transfer to and from the ship, and one Hamburg CARD from 399€ pp.

Cresta Holidays ( offers 2 nights in a B&B from £317pp (based on 2 sharing), including return flights from London Gatwick.

Hamburg Tourism Website:

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