Arriving in May was the perfect way to start my Hamburg life – with public holidays every week and the city’s famous harbour festival. The port celebrated it’s 829th birthday with the annual Hafengeburtstag – a festival that takes place over the long weekend. Hundreds of boats of all sizes and ages fill the port, travelling from all over, and visitors flock to the city for a weekend of fun. Fireworks, shows on the water, boat rides, museums, bars, street parties and much more. Hamburg really pulled out all the stops for a weekend of entertainment and it was a great way to kick off the summer.

What is the Hafengeburtstag – harbour festival?

It is the world’s biggest port festival and celebrates the founding of the huge hanseatic port back in 1189. How better to celebrate than by welcoming over 300 ships from across the world? From luxury cruise ships, navy ships, museum vessels and historic tall ships to sailing boats, yachts, tug boats and waterway police boats. All of these and many more filled the Elbe. Coming from King’s Lynn, in the UK, I know all about the hanseatic heritage of my own town so it was lovely to see another major port celebrate it’s history.

For those growing up in Hamburg, locals spent every year growing up at the festival. So for my boyfriend and his friends it was rather less exciting, but for me, it was a pretty amazing sight. Riverbanks filled with pop-up bars, stalls, entertainment, live river shows and much more. Throughout the four day weekend, visitors could enjoy sailing regattas, dragon boat races, search and rescue exercises. Plus museum exhibitions, live music, cruises for kids and even pirate shows!

Saturday at the Port birthday celebration

We arrived early afternoon on the Saturday and caught one of the search and rescue exercises. They blew up a boat and mimicked what could happen at sea in a crisis, with smoke billowing from the boat and fake explosions. Then as some people dived off the boat, emergency services were sent in via boat and helicopter to save them. All this was going on with a captive audience alongside the waters edge. While the bar above was already filled with rowdy onlookers clutching a beer. I was told that most of the people at the festival actually are visitors to the area. Apparently many locals choose to leave the city during the festival to avoid the crowds. Normally I would do the same, but we had a lot of fun that day and I definitely recommend it.

Walking along Landungsbrücken, there were many bars, amusement rides and food stalls and even pirate ships and pirate games! Stalls selling German favourites smoked fish, potatoes and currywurst, plus all the sweet treats you can imagine including crepes and churros. You could barely take a step without passing a bar serving cocktails and beer, Aperol Spritz and even a vodka fountain. Later we walked back toward St Pauli where there were several bars and parties we wanted to check out. St Pauli is a fantastic area, so full of life, vibrant characters and colour. I’d probably compare it to Camden in London – and it’s a great place to party.

Sunday at Hafengeburtstag

We went back to the Hafengeburtstag on the Sunday night after a mini festival in Rothernburgsort. We couldn’t resist taking our friends back to the St Pauli street parties we had found the previous night. The music was amazing, everything from heavy bass to 80’s classics overlooking the harbour. The street was filled with stalls selling food and drink and the crowd was amazing. On the whole, the event was amazing and I had the best weekend celebrating the port harbour festival. If you’re visiting the second weekend of May, I recommend planning it into your trip and making the most of the carnival atmosphere.

Have you been to the Hafengeburgstag – what did you think? Do you like touristy events or do you prefer to avoid them?