Hamburg, Germany, welcomed more than 500,000 visitors to its Cruise Days festival last weekend, including 250,000 spectators at the Grand Hamburg Cruise Days Parade along the Elbe River on Saturday night.
Held every two years, Hamburg Cruise Days is the largest public cruise festival in the world. This year’s event saw 12 cruise ships call in Hamburg’s three passenger ports over the weekend, including the Costa Mediterranea, the MSC Preziosa, and the MS Europa and Europa 2. The Europa and the Preziosa were among the five parade ships that sailed downriver Saturday accompanied by lasers, music, and fireworks, along with 20 escort boats.
To celebrate the event, much of the city was draped in blue light as part of an installation by artist Michael Batz. Blue Port Hamburg has been a part of Cruise Days since the festival launched in 2008, with more buildings included every year.
Despite being 150 kilometres from the sea, Hamburg is mainly a port for ocean cruise ships, since the Elbe has been dredged to accommodate a draft of nearly 13 metres. The parade ships on Friday night were destined for Mallorca, Southampton, and Estonia. Norway is another popular destination, and Cunard offers Transatlantic sailings from Hamburg aboard the Queen Mary 2.
As the place where the Beatles kicked off their musical career, Hamburg may be best known for music tourism along the vibrant Reeperbahn. But the city has recently made major investments in its waterfront area, so there is plenty to do just a short distance from the cruise ports.
HafenCity, the largest urban development project in Europe, is a new city district built on 157 hectares in the former harbour area at a cost of about 13 billion euros (about C$19 billion). Highlights include the Elbphilharmonie, a concert hall and public plaza in a metal-and-glass structure atop an old warehouse, and Discovery Dock Hamburg, a new attraction that uses virtual reality to give visitors a hands-on experience of Hamburg’s port.
Other waterfront highlights include Landungsbrücken – where the historic former passenger terminal now houses shops, restaurants, and a brewery – and Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway system.
Passengers who find themselves in Hamburg on Sunday morning should visit the St. Pauli Fischmarkt (Fish Market), open only from 5:00 to 9:30 a.m. Here, morning shoppers for fish and produce rub elbows with Saturday night partiers who have wandered down from the Reeperbahn, enjoying live bands and beer in the historic fish auction hall before they finally head home to bed. For Cruise Days, the Fischmarkt area was the site of a 38-metre-high Ferris Wheel, and the waterfront was lined with tents where visitors could eat, drink, shop, and learn about cruising.
Hamburg is well served in the North American market, with ships from Holland America, Princess, Oceania, NCL, Silversea, Azamara, Royal Caribbean, and Cunard all visiting last year. The destination saw a record 220 port calls and 915,000 cruise passengers in 2018, with 20% of passengers staying at least one night in the city before or after their cruise.