6 Best Ports to Import Products into the UK

December 6, 2023
13 min read

Key Points

  • As one of the key players in maritime trade, the United Kingdom boasts a good number of shipping ports across its many coasts.
  • Some of these points are particularly renowned for their imports, such as the ports of Felixstowe, Southampton, Liverpool, Belfast, and Grimsby.
  • Your choice of port should depend on various factors, such as where your imported goods are coming from or the type of goods. For instance, Liverpool is highly recommended for US imports, while Grimsby is known for handling heavy cargo.


Ports, they say, are where the world's arteries converge, beating together in a constant rhythm of trade. In the United Kingdom, with its rich maritime history stretching back to time immemorial, this has never been truer. 

These ports, laced along the UK's vast coastline, serve as the lifeblood of the importing and exporting industries, the vibrant hubs where goods from around the world are received and dispatched.

It’s no secret that the maritime shipping industry presents a series of significant challenges. That is why more and more businesses are deciding to partner with order fulfilment companies like Bezos. Thanks to our top-notch fulfilment solutions, getting your products from point A to B is a breeze.

To prove our know-how on maritime shipping, we’ll list the top ports for importation in the United Kingdom and answer some of the most common questions about each of them.

The Top Ports for Product Importation in the UK – A Comprehensive List

In the subsequent sections, we will guide you through an informative exploration of the most essential ports for importing goods in the UK. From their humble beginnings to their current roles as international trade powerhouses, we'll uncover the stories behind these critical gateways. 

Let's set sail!

  1. Felixstowe: Embarking From Humble Origins to Contemporary Grandeur
Felixstowe is the largest and busiest port in the UK, with millions of containers arriving and departing every year.

Nestled on the southeast coast of England, the Port of Felixstowe began life in 1875. Emerging from the humble beginnings of a fishing locality, Felixstowe has grown exponentially to become the largest and busiest container port in the UK. Today, it plays an integral role in the country’s import and export structure, processing an astounding volume of over 4 million TEU containers annually.

Geographically, Felixstowe presents a key strategic advantage. Positioned on the eastern seaboard of the UK, it offers excellent shipping links to key markets in the Far East, Europe, and the Americas. This strategic location, coupled with its size and capacity, makes it a critical gateway for UK trade with the rest of the world.

Major shipping lines, including industry giants Maersk, COSCO, and Evergreen, frequent the port, a testament to its importance on the global stage. A recently completed expansion project has added further deep-water berths, solidifying Felixstowe's position as a leading global hub for container shipping.

  • Location: Southeast coast of England
  • First opened: 1875
  • Annual container volume: Over 4 million TEUs
  • Key shipping companies: Maersk, COSCO, Evergreen
  • Primary uses: Container handling, bulk cargo
  • Main USP for importing goods: Situated on the southeast coast and recognised as the UK's largest container port, the Port of Felixstowe offers unmatched accessibility for goods arriving from various parts of the world.

  1. Port of Southampton: Merging Historical Legacy With Modern Vitality
Southampton port is known for its vehicle imports.

The Port of Southampton boasts a rich history that dates back to the Roman era. Southampton's current incarnation as a major trade hub took shape in the 19th century. Today, it holds the distinction of being the UK's second-largest container port, handling an impressive volume of millions of imported containers every year.

The port's location is a significant asset. It sits on the southern edge of the UK, providing seamless shipping routes to continental Europe, the Americas, and beyond. This advantageous position, combined with its extensive capacity and facilities, establishes Southampton as an important nexus for UK global trade.

Furthermore, the Port of Southampton specialises in a broad spectrum of activities. Primarily, it is a hub for container shipping, dealing with a vast array of goods that support numerous industries. Moreover, it also serves as a prominent cruise terminal and a key centre for vehicle transportation. Major shipping companies like MSC, OOCL, and Hapag-Lloyd utilise Southampton's facilities, underscoring its global significance.

  • Location: South coast of England
  • First opened: 1st century AD, modern development in the 19th century
  • Annual container volume: Over 2 million TEUs
  • Key shipping companies: MSC, OOCL, Hapag-Lloyd
  • Primary uses: Container shipping, cruise terminal, vehicle transportation
  • Main USP for importing goods: Its capacity to handle a large volume of containers make it an ideal choice for importing a wide array of goods. Moreover, its dedicated facilities for vehicle transportation also cater to automobile imports.

  1. Port of Belfast: The Northern Star of Maritime Trade
Looking to import goods into Ireland? Then Belfast might be your best choice.

Prominently positioned on the northeastern coast of Ireland, the Port of Belfast traces its roots back to the early 17th century. Currently, it stands as the busiest port in Northern Ireland and the second busiest on the island, managing approximately 24 million tonnes of goods annually. 

Importantly, its location on the eastern side of the island provides an excellent gateway to the rest of the UK, Europe, and beyond, reinforcing Belfast's status as a major conduit for international trade. Its extensive facilities and capacity make it an indispensable resource for a myriad of industries.

Additionally, it operates as a busy ferry terminal, accommodating both passenger and freight services. The port's main shipping partners include Stena Line, P&O Ferries, and Seatruck Ferries, illustrating its strategic role in the wider network of European maritime trade. 

Ongoing infrastructure enhancements ensure it can cater to a wide variety of vessels and cargo types, such as reefer or DG containers, allowing it to remain competitive in the rapidly evolving maritime industry.

  • Location: Northeast coast of Ireland
  • First opened: Early 17th century
  • Annual goods volume: Approximately 24 million tonnes
  • Key shipping companies: Stena Line, P&O Ferries, Seatruck Ferries
  • Primary uses: Bulk cargo, general cargo, passenger and freight ferries
  • Main USP for importing goods: Its wide range of services, including the ability to handle bulk and general cargo, makes it a versatile choice for imports. Belfast's location also provides excellent connections to both the UK and mainland Europe.

  1. Port of Liverpool: Unravelling the Threads of Global Commerce From the Irish Sea
Thanks to its impressive port, Liverpool is known for its significant role in maritime trade.

Perched on the northwest coast of England, the Port of Liverpool has been an active player in the theatre of global trade since its establishment in 1207 during King John's reign. Today, Liverpool stands proudly as one of the UK's major ports, shouldering an annual container volume of around 700,000 TEUs. 

The port consists of a complex of docks and terminals that handle various types of cargo, including containers, bulk goods, and general cargo. Some of the notable docks include the Royal Seaforth Dock, Liverpool2, and the Langton Dock. Additionally, renowned shipping companies such as ACL, BG Freight Line, and Maersk utilise Liverpool's port facilities, a ringing endorsement of its global standing.

One of the significant developments in recent years is the Liverpool2 container terminal, which was opened in 2016. This deep-water terminal can accommodate larger container ships and has increased the port's capacity to handle containerised cargo.

It also facilitates passenger traffic, showcasing its ability to balance logistical efficiency with customer-focused services. Hence, this port also serves as a point of entry for tourists exploring Liverpool and the surrounding regions. 

  • Location: Northwest England
  • First opened: 1207
  • Annual container volume: Approximately 700,000 TEUs
  • Key shipping companies: ACL, BG Freight Line, Maersk
  • Primary uses: Container shipping, bulk cargo, passenger traffic
  • Main USP for importing goods: Its strategic location on the Irish Sea and its versatility make it an excellent choice for diverse import requirements. Its connections with North America and Europe further strengthen its import capabilities.

  1. Port of Grimsby and Immingham: Charting the Course of International Commerce From the Humber Estuary
The Port of Grimsby connects North-east England with the rest of Europe.

The combined ports of Grimsby and Immingham hold the distinction of being the UK's largest port by tonnage. Grimsby's maritime roots trace back to mediaeval times, while Immingham, a more recent establishment in 1912, was conceived to accommodate larger vessels that Grimsby could not handle. Today, these interconnected ports present a unified front in the world of maritime commerce, handling over 60 million tonnes of cargo every year. 

Grimsby and Immingham are advantageously positioned on the Humber estuary, which naturally lends itself to seamless access to international shipping lanes. With an infrastructure primed to manage a staggering amount of cargo, these ports are pivotal to maintaining the UK's trading prowess on the international stage.

Their operations span an impressive range of services. From bulk cargo to Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) services, Grimsby and Immingham capably cater to a variety of shipping requirements. They also play a significant role in the import of vehicles, further diversifying their contribution to UK commerce. Leading shipping companies, such as DFDS, P&O Ferries, and Stena Line, regularly avail of their services, underlining their significance.

  • Location: Northeast England, Humber estuary
  • First opened: Grimsby in Medieval Times, Immingham in 1912
  • Annual cargo volume: Over 60 million tonnes
  • Key shipping companies: DFDS, P&O Ferries, Stena Line
  • Primary uses: Bulk cargo, Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) services, car import
  • Main USP for importing goods: As the UK's busiest port by tonnage, Grimsby and Immingham have the capacity to handle a large volume of imports. 

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What is the main port for freight in the UK?

The Port of Felixstowe, situated in Suffolk, East Anglia, tops the list of the UK's container ports in terms of activity. It juggles an astounding load of more than 4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo annually.

What are the most important ports in the UK?

Apart from Felixstowe, some of the most important UK ports are London, Liverpool, Belfast, Southampton, and Grimsby.

What is the biggest port in mainland Europe?

The Port of Rotterdam, in the province of South Holland in the Netherlands, is the largest seaport in Europe and the world's largest seaport outside of East Asia.

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