High five: Europe’s top container ports

Number one can’t be toppled but there’s everything to play for in the middle, reveals MarineTraffic data from the past nine months

By Penny Thomas

November 2, 2022

Rotterdam port call figures augment its title as the busiest container port in Europe. Photo: Shutterstock

Rotterdam port call figures augment its title as the busiest container port in Europe. Photo: Shutterstock

When considering the busiest and biggest ports in Europe there are five that spring to mind - listed alphabetically they are Antwerp (Belgium), Hamburg (Germany), Piraeus (Greece), Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and Valencia (Spain). These ports are the established top players in the region and handle all types of tonnage and cargoes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the increase in containerised shipping over the past 50 years, these same five ports can also lay claim to handling more boxes than other ports in the region. 

According to Port Economics, last year’s TEU throughputs were Rotterdam (15.3 million); Antwerp (12 million); Hamburg (8.7 million) Valencia (5.6 million) and Piraeus (5.3 million).

These statistics tally with boxship arrivals data from the last three quarters in 2022, based on AIS data captured by MarineTraffic. Figures from this period include the number of containership arrivals of more than 9,999 TEU. In transit calls are excluded.

This data shows that the same five container ports lead the way, with the deep-water port of Rotterdam, again performing well ahead and receiving on average around 60 per cent more vessels than the second busiest across each of the three quarters. 

Known as the gateway to Europe, the Netherlands port was once the busiest in the world and is the only European shipping city to be included in the 2022 Xinhua-Baltic International Shipping Development Index Report. Its efficient operations and enviable hinterland links, that utilise road, inland shipping and rail, have substantiated its presence in the region. 

Valencia’s position in fifth place within the same period is also static. The Spanish port had a slow start in Q1, when 63 container vessels called at the port, after which there were 89 and 83 vessel calls in quarters two and three respectively. These last figures show that the port on average received around 20 per cent fewer vessels than the fourth port listed. 


Beyond that, however, data shows that Antwerp, Hamburg and Piraeus are all jostling for spots two, three and four on the list.

From January to March (Q1), Hamburg received 130 container vessels, a mere 10 more than Antwerp. Piraeus was third in line with 104 boxship calls. Looking at the April to June period (Q2), it was Antwerp’s turn to move to second place when it received 122 vessels, with Hamburg just a few calls behind with 119 vessels calling. Again Piraeus was the third busiest with 108 containership calls - a similar number to the previous month.

Related: Real-time online container tracking with MarineTraffic

This changed in July to September (Q3), however, when 125 boxships called at the Greek port  - 17 more than the previous month. Not a significant figure, but enough for it to take second place, with both Hamburg and Antwerp tied in second with 118 vessels apiece.

Piraeus picks up

These vessel calls feed into Piraeus’ overall performance, which has had a strong year to date. Lloyd’s List reported on 27 October that the port authority-operated piers realised higher profits for the first nine months of this year, compared to last and that this uptick was in part due to higher box handling figures. “Container throughput at the port authority’s facility grew by 7.8% to 502,042 teu,” said the maritime publication. 

“Domestic cargo handling increased by 29 per cent to 115,097 TEU while transshipment cargo, which accounts for most of the pier’s traffic, increased by 2.8 per cent to 386,945 TEU.”

These figures do not include figures from the port’s two bigger piers operated by China-based Cosco, which has a 67 per cent stake in the port authority. “Under Cosco’s control, the port authority is expanding the container terminal to serve 20,000 TEU vessels and aims to hike annual handling to 10 million TEU,” wrote Lloyd’s List in the same story.

Overall, reports suggest that Greece’s main port is enjoying a positive outlook this year. The Greek Reporter said in March that Piraeus reported it had achieved the “highest level of profitability in its history during 2021, with profits after taxes surpassing $40 million (€36.8 million). According to the Piraeus Port Authority (PPA), that profit represents a significant increase of 39.4% compared to 2020.”

At anchor

Europe’s top five ports in terms of containership port calls, also have the busiest anchorages. By far the most used, according to MarineTraffic data, is Rotterdam’s anchorage, at which about 50 per cent of the volume of Rotterdam’s port calls use. 

The first quarter was the most busy with 132 vessels using the site. Antwerp has the second busiest anchorage, but roughly receives only 50 per cent of the calls of Rotterdam. The remaining three anchorages - at Piraeus, Valencia and Harmburg - had only a few calls in each quarter, with Hamburg, whose anchorage is known as Aussenelbe, seeing no activity at all in quarters one and three.


Rotterdam continues to forge ahead and remains stiff competition for its European counterparts. Valencia, which along with Piraeus is situated on the Mediterranean continues to feature in fifth place, but it too has seen an uptick in box handling, with the port authority reporting an increase of 12.88 percent in full unloaded containers. It did, however, see a drop in transshipment traffic. 

There is everything to play for in the top five, however, as Hamburg and Antwerp, and once again Piraeus, continue to hustle for their pieces of the pie. 


Free Guide Understanding Port Congestion MarineTraffic Banner
Share this article

Penny Thomas

Account Manager at London based public relations agency, Navigate PR

Join the 100,000+ professionals already using us and transform how you plan & monitor your logistics operations