One of the factors behind the popularity of Harwich as a cruise port is the town’s proximity to London. The UK capital ranks high on the must-see lists of many cruisers – and that’s a small surprise.
An icon for many travellers, London’s list of attractions is a long one, ranging from the “classical” landmarks (The Tower, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, to mention just a few) to a host of more niched experiences. London will always be London.
If you disembark from a cruise ship in Harwich, however, there are a number of reasons why you should take the opportunity to experience this coastal town in northernmost Essex.
One of those reasons is the architectural heritage of the town, which was built according to a grid pattern. The old part of Harwich is a conservation area, with many of the buildings erected in the Middle Ages (though most of the buildings are now behind 18th century facades).
Harwich received its city charter in 1238. The town located at the mouth of the estuaries of the Stour and Orwell rivers can trace its origins farther back in time than that, however. It has been recorded that a chapel existed by the year 1177.
Already from the outset, Harwich was considered important from a military perspective – not least because the port was considered the only safe anchorage between the Thames (south of Harwich) and the Humber in Northern England. The town’s many fortifications are a reflection of the significance attributed to it.
And, speaking of history, cruise passengers sailing from Harwich will be in good company: The famous seafarers Drake, Hawkins and Frobisher all sailed from Harwich. And in the early 17th century, the Mayflower was a frequent visitor in the port.
As one of few cruise ports, Harwich boasts a railway station inside the port. That means it is possible to step on a train bound for London shortly after disembarkation. The distance to the UK’s capital is about 85 miles/137 kilometers.
Harwich’s town center is located some 3 miles/5 kilometers from the port. Tourist information, taxis, shops and restaurants can be found quayside.
- For an introduction to the historic buildings that you will find in central Harwich, join The Maritime Heritage Trail around the old town. The tour, operated by The Harwich Society, also describes the town’s historic connections with the sea.
- The Harwich Society also offers tours of the Redoubt Fort, a circular fort built in 1808 to protect the harbor from a Napoleonic invasion. 180 feet/60 meters in diameter, the fort is equipped with 11 guns.
- Built in 1911, the Electric Palace Cinema is the oldest unaltered purpose built cinema in Britain. It’s not only film and history that can be experienced here, though. The Electric Palace is also well established as a jazz concert venue.
- A frequent visitor in Harwich in the early 17th century, the Mayflower is the subject of a small exhibition in Harwich. You will find it in the old ticket office on the Pier. The Mayflower, of course, was the ship that once transported the Pilgrims from the shores of England to the New World on the other side of the Atlantic.
- Harwich boasts its own Maritime Museum, located in a lighthouse from 1818. Through pictures and models, the museum tracks the development of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy.
- Another museum with maritime connection is the Lifeboat Museum.
- The Radar Tower is a remnant from the World War II, Harwich’s radar tower being one of the earliest radar stations in Britain. Like many other attractions in Harwich, the Radar Tower is managed by The Harwich Society.
- If you feel like doing some shopping when in Harwich, a good alternative is to set your course toward the neighboring town of Dovercourt. The two towns are essentially the same: they have grown together. By taxi, it’s a question of a five-minute car ride. Dovercourt offers a small but varied shopping center.
- Dovercourt is also the natural choice for anyone with swimming on the agenda. The town’s beaches have been awarded with the Blue Flag (a voluntary eco-label in use in 44 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean). You will find an amusement arcade along the seafront.
Most of the shore excursions available on cruises calling in Harwich will focus either on London or on one of the other historic cities that are within reach from this destination in northernmost Essex. Examples include:
- Excursions to London, the capital of the United Kingdom. Many of these excursions will put focus on the most famous landmarks and attractions, such as Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and the Tower of London.
- The university city of Cambridge is also accessible on shore excursions from Harwich. Tours can include visits to St. John’s College, granted its charter in 1511.
- In Bury St Edmunds, the remains of the Saxon King Edmund are kept in a monastery. The Abbey ruins and the Abbey Gate can be visited here.
- The area around Harwich is sometimes referred to as “Constable Country,” reflecting the inspiration that one of Britain’s greatest painters, John Constable, drew from it.
- Colchester, the oldest town in Britain, is within easy reach on shore excursions from Harwich.
London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is 85 miles/137 kilometers from Harwich, which is a major ferry port for routes to the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
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