The Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival was first staged in September 2000 as ‘The Maritime Fayre' on the newly refurbished South Quay in Great Yarmouth.
The historic South Quay is an important area in the town, with the river port to one side and the other side lined with beautiful heritage buildings, starting with the neo-gothic Town Hall and travelling south past former wealthy merchants houses, many with stunning architectural features and a number of important museums, one celebrating the life of Admiral Lord Nelson and others bringing to life the unique Great Yarmouth Row Houses. South Quay was previously derelict land, unfitting to the wealth of history and heritage of the area. European funding was received in the last 1990's and used to transform the quay into a wide, pedestrian friendly area lined with trees with a small car park and provided an ideal location to use as a Maritime Festival site.
The aim of the Maritime Fayre has always been to celebrate and raise awareness of the Borough's proud maritime heritage and to encourage new day trippers and staying visitors to discover Great Yarmouth. Between 10,000-15,000 people visited over the two days of the first event in 2000. In January 2001 the Maritime Fayre was re-named the Maritime Festival. The South Denes Regeneration Partnership and the Great Yarmouth Tourist Authority (GYTA) agreed to underwrite the cost of the festival. That year, despite driving rain and howling wind, the Maritime Festival nonetheless attracted over 20,000 visitors. In November 2001 the GYTA finally received confirmation that its bid for support funding for four years had been successful and from 2002 - 2005 European funding and generous support from local sponsors helped the Maritime Festival grow into one of the Borough's most successful events. By 2006 the weekend event was attracting over 25,000 visitors and continued to hold the support from a growing group of local businesses keen to sponsor the event and be involved with the successful festival.
In 2009 the Maritime Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with a stunning display of 3 tall ships, the Grand Turk a replica 18th century frigate, the Artemis an elegant 59m three-masted barque and the JST Lord Nelson, one of only two tall ships designed for disabled people in port for the occasion. Over a glorious weekend 30,000 visitors came to visit the ships, view demonstrations of maritime crafts such as net mending, knot tying and ship building, buy maritime related arts and crafts, eat local herring and kippers, drink local beer and hear shanty music on three separate stages.
The Russian replica frigate, the Shtandart came into port in 2010 for visitors to go aboard. The Coronia made a welcome return to it's home port from Scarborough and hundreds of people enjoyed river trips up and down the Yare on this lovely pleasure cruiser.
In 2011, visitors to the Maritime Festival were treated to an amazing aerial display from the masts of the JST Lord Nelson as two acrobat trapeze artists from No Fit State circus wowed the crowds with breathtaking displays of aerobatic proporations. Hundreds of visitors went aboard the Dutch three masted schooner Oosterschelde during the festival and many more enjoyed trips out to see about this elegant tall ship.