A total of 3.7 billion tonnes of goods was handled through EU ports, nearing the levels seen before the global financial crisis. On the passenger side, many ports saw a drop in numbers in 2012 compared to the previous year, though the top locations still recorded sizeable numbers of customers going through their docks.
10 - Calais (France – passenger): Despite seeing a drop of 7.1 percent in passenger numbers in 2012, the northern port still accommodated 9,345,000 passengers. It will continue to serve as the most important sea connector to the UK, providing a vital alternative to the Eurotunnel and various flying options.
9 – Algeciras (Spain – commercial): The fastest growing port out of the top commercials, highlighting the progress being seen economically in Spain as a whole. The 74.6 million tonnes of goods represented an increase of 8.5 percent on 2011. Spain’s total goods handling through its ports came in at 422 million tonnes, up five percent.
8 - Helsinki (Finland – passenger): The only port to see a growth out of the top five passenger ports. A three percent increase is passenger numbers resulted in 10,637,000 people using the terminal of the Finnish capital city. There are connections to Stockholm, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Travemünde and Rostock. At the height of the summer season, there are 17 departures to Tallinn daily.
7 – Marseille (France – commercial): Despite a drop of 3.1 percent on 2011 levels, Marseille is still the fourth busiest goods handler in the EU and by far the largest in France. Its total of 81.8 million tonnes is more than 20 million tonnes more than Le Havre (59.2 million).
6 - Perama (Greece – passenger): This suburb of Piraeus, one of the brightest up and coming goods handling ports in the world, saw 11,430,000 passengers come in and out of its doors in 2012. The route to Salamis Island is particularly popular and is a vital tourist connection from the mainland.
5 – Hamburg (Germany – commercial): Hamburg’s 113.5 million tonnes of commercial business shows a very slight drop of 0.7 percent on 2011 levels, but remains easily Germany’s most significant goods handling port. Bremerhaven is Germany’s second busiest at just over half of Hamburg’s activity, dealing with 58.2 million tonnes.
4 - Paloukia Salamanis (Greece – passenger): With very similar numbers to Perama, this second link in the Greek port scene is equally important and is the main port of Salamis. The island is a big pull for tourists and steeped in historical wonder, known famously as the place where the Ancient Greek fleet defeated the might of Persia in 480 BC.
3 – Antwerp (Belgium – commercial): A port of enormous significance for centuries, with its golden age of the 16th century on the back of heavy flooding making it a global heavyweight of its time. Though its tonnage of goods handled in 2012 shows a drop of 2.4 percent on 2011, the total of 164.5 million tonnes is Europe’s second largest.
2 - Dover (UK – passenger): The busiest passenger port in Europe despite a 6.5 percent drop in numbers in 2012. This is the main ferrying gateway into mainland Europe from the UK and its connection with Calais is the most popular route. The Commentaries of Julius Caesar mention the "Haven between the Hills" and evidence that the Romans used the port exists to-day in the form of the "Pharos", or lighthouse, on the cliffs on the east side of the valley.
1 – Rotterdam (Netherlands – commercial): Europe’s commercial giant, handling more than double that of Antwerp. At 395.6 million tonnes, 2012 saw business flat-line when compared to 2011, although the Netherlands as a whole saw a two percent increase in commercial activity.
Rotterdam accounts for almost three quarters of the national whole. Amsterdam, Europe’s sixth busiest port, handles 71.2 million tonnes, up 6.1 percent but only a fraction of what its Dutch counterpart manages.
The site is superbly located for easy sea access and welcomes a huge array of companies in its industrial complex. The port stretches out over 40 kilometres and is about 12,500 hectares in size.
Rotterdam owes its existence to the place where the small peat river the Rotte flowed into the Nieuwe Maas. The local people and the counts of Holland liked to keep their feet dry and wanted to reclaim the peat bogs that were threatening this. They therefore decided to raise the banks of the Nieuwe Maas slightly and dam the Rotte in the 13th century.