Before a decision was made to establish a harbour (now the second largest in Denmark) at Esbjerg in 1868, the area consisted of only a few farms. Esbjerg developed quickly with the population rising to 13,000 by 1901 and 70,000 by 1970. In addition to its fishing and shipping activities, it also became an important centre for agricultural exports. Over the years, many of the city's visitors have arrived by ferry from Harwich, Essex, England, but this service closed in September 2014 having run since 1875. The harbour facilities are being expanded to answer the needs of the wind-turbine industry and container shipping traffic. Esbjerg is served by Esbjerg Airport with flights to Aberdeen, Scotland and Stavanger, Norway.
The town has several notable museums and entertainment venues, including Esbjerg Art Museum, Esbjerg Museum and the privately owned Fisheries and Maritime Museum. The Esbjerg Performing Arts Centre was completed in 1997 to designs by Jan and Jørn Utzon. When approached by sea, the Man Meets the Sea is one of the prominent monuments, consisting of four 9-metre-tall (27 feet) white-coloured men, overlooking Sædding Beach. The sculpture was designed by Svend Wiig Hansen and installed in 1995. It hosts branches of the University of Southern Denmark and Aalborg University, Esbjerg is increasingly recognized for its university facilities and sporting activities. It is home to the Danish football club Esbjerg fB, who play their home matches at Blue Water Arena, and also has an ice hockey division called Esbjerg Elite Ishockey, which plays at the Granly Hockey Arena.