Avid Cruiser Voyages: The British Isles

The brilliant aspect of a cruise based in Europe is that seemingly no two places are created equal. From the sunny shores of the Mediterranean to the wind-swept ports of the west to the stunning fjords of the north, there truly is a place – and a port – for every cruiser. Few cruises, though, offer the depth and diversity that can be found on a British Isles cruise.

The beautiful port city of Southampton still retains much of its historic charm. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Encompassing England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland, the British Isles represents an attractive cruising destination thanks to its proximity to major airports like Heathrow and Gatwick and numerous embarkation port choices, not to mention a stunning array of ports of call.

With most cruises beginning and ending in the United Kingdom, chances are you’ll be bound for one of England’s historic ports of call. Southampton, Dover, Portsmouth and Liverpool are all frequently used as starting points for itineraries that can last for a few days or several weeks. Smaller ships, usually operating for ultra-luxury lines, also offer another embarkation choice: central London, just off the iconic Tower Bridge along the Thames.

Belfast City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

It’s easy to pick an itinerary that includes ports of call in England, Ireland, and Scotland.

In Ireland, some of the most frequently visited ports include Dublin, Cobh (pronounced cove), Waterford, and Belfast in Northern Ireland. Just across the channel in Scotland, Greenock remains a popular gateway for passengers who may choose to visit nearby Glasgow, while Edinburgh sees its share of cruise passengers via nearby Queensferry. Scotland’s Orkney Islands, located just off the coast of northern Scotland, are also highly popular with cruise ship passengers from around the world.

French ports like La Rochelle can sometimes be included as part of British Isles sailings.

Just off the coast of England, St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey is one of the most popular ports of call for ships sailing the British Isles, as well as acting as a great intermediary port for voyages that dip into northern France for a visit to the historic “liner ports” of Cherbourg and Le Havre.

But aside from these comprehensive “overview” voyages, there’s a world of highly focused itineraries out there. In fact, for such a relatively small collection of islands, the British Isles offer nearly as many potential cruise ports as there are in places like the Baltic or the Mediterranean.

In-depth voyages can visit more of England’s diverse ports of call, like Portsmouth – famous as the birthplace of Charles Dickens – or the small but impressive Isles of Scilly.

Waterford, Ireland is a popular port of call for many cruises calling on Ireland.

In Ireland, stops can be made in virtually any port depending on the size of your ship. Popular exploration options include Galway City and Portrush, gateway to Northern Ireland’s fabled Giant’s Causeway and nearby Dunluce Castle.

In Scotland, there’s almost no end to the possibilities for exploration thanks to the numerous islands and whisky-producing regions that surround it.

While plenty of North American-based lines offer sailings to the British Isles, don’t discount sailings offered by lines that are native to the UK; they’re likely to offer different itineraries of varying lengths than their American counterparts.

Whether we’re revelling in Southampton’s Titanic heritage or exploring Ireland’s breathtaking Ring of Kerry, the British Isles remain one of our favorite cruise destinations.

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