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Strung out over a series of hills facing the glistening waters of the broad estuary of the Tejo, Lisbon is one of Europe’s most handsome cities. Although its modern suburbs are ungainly, the historic centre is relatively compact and easy to explore in just a day when your MSC cruise takes you to the Lisbon.
The oldest part of the city, the warren of streets that make up the Alfama, sits below the spectacularly sited Moorish Castelo de São Jorge, its ruined walls facing another hill, the Bairro Alto or upper town, famed for its bars, restaurants and vibrant nightlife. The valley between these hills makes up the Baixa., or lower town.
The tall, imposing buildings that make up the Baixa (Lower Town) house some of Lisbon’s most interesting shops and cafés. A shore excursion on your MSC Mediterranean cruise can be the opportunity to reach via a narrow walkway the impressive Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém), an iconic symbol of Lisbon. It typifies M anueline style that was prominent during the reign of King Manuel, its windows and stairways embellished with arches and decorative symbols representing Portugal’s explorations into the New World.
Built as a fortress to defend the mouth of the River Tejo, it took years to complete, though when it opened in 1520 it would have been near the centre of the river – the earthquake of 1755 shifted the river’s course. Today, visitors are free to explore the tower’s various levels, which include a terrace facing the river from where artillery would hav ed been fired.
You can then climb a very steep spiral staircase up four lev el – framed view of the river – to a top terrace where you get a blowy panorama of Belém.
Few cities enjoy such a magnificent natural setting as Vigo. Arrayed along the sloping southern shoreline of its namesake estuary, it enjoys superb views not only of the bay itself, surrounded by green forest ridges, but also out towards the ocean. It’s undeniably magnificent when seen from your MSC cruise ship as it enters the harbour during its tour of the Northern Europe.
These days, cruise passengers mingle with tourists arriving at the Estación Marítima de Ría off the Cangas ferry, and set off to explore the steep, cobbled streets that climb up into Vigo’s old city, known as O Berbés and crammed with shops, bars and restaurants. Along the seafront early in the morning, kiosks revive fishermen with strong coffee, while there and in the lively daily market hall nearby, the Mercado da Pedra, their catch is sold. Immediately below, on the aptly named Rúa da Pescadería, women set out plates of fresh oysters on permanent granite tables to tempt passers-by.
A stiff but enjoyable excursion up from the old town, mostly along stone staircases, brings you to the top of the Castro hill. So named for the circular ancient ruins still visible on one side, and also the site of a seventeenth-century castle, the hill enjoys comprehensive views.
The Museo Quiñones de León is the focal point of the large Parque de Castrelos, the extensive formal gardens and woodlands which begin 2km southwest of Castro hill. A nice excursion from Vigo is Pontevedra: a lovely old city, set slightly back from the sea at the point where the Río Lérez begins to widen out into the bay. A maze of pedestrianized flagstoned alleyways, interspersed with colonnaded squares, granite crosses and squat stone houses with floral balconies, the old quarter is always lively, making it perfect for a night out enjoying the local food and drink.
As you sail on your MSC cruise to France, you’ll come to Le Havre, the country’s second-largest port, which takes up half the Seine estuary. However, the town itself, home to almost 200,000 people, is a place of pilgrimage for fans of contemporary architecture.
Le Havre – “The Harbour” – is the principal trading post of northern France and a port of call of our MSC Northern Europe cruises. Following its near-destruction during World War II, Le Havre was rebuilt by a single architect, Auguste Perret, between 1946 and 1964.
The sheer sense of space can be exhilarating: the showpiece monuments have a winning self-confidence, and the few surviving relics of the old city have been sensitively integrated into the whole. While the endless mundane residential blocks can be dispiriting, even those visitors who fail to agree with Perret’s famous dictum that “concrete is beautiful” may enjoy a stroll around his city. A shore excursion on your MSC Northern Europe cruise can also be the opportunity to discover Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy, one of France’s most ancient cities.
Standing on the site of Rotomagus, built by the Romans at the lowest point where they could bridge the Seine, it was laid out by Rollo, the first duke of Normandy, in 911. Captured by the English in 1419, it became the stage in 1431 for the trial and execution of Joan of Arc, before returning to French control in 1449.
Rouen today can be very seductive, its lively and bustling centre well equipped with impressive churches and museums. North of the Seine at any rate, it’s a real pleasure to explore. As well as some great sights – Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, all the delightful twisting streets of timbered houses – there’s history aplenty too, most notably the links with Joan of Arc.
Despite its pummelling by the Luftwaffe and some disastrous postwar urban sprawl, the thousand-year-old city of Southampton has retained some of its medieval charm in parts and reinvented itself as a twenty-first century shopping centre in others, with the giant glass-and-steel West Quay as its focus.
Core of the modern town is the Civic Centre, a short walk east of the train station and home to the excellent Southampton City Art Gallery that’s particularly strong on contemporary British artists. The Western Esplanade runs alongside the best remaining bits of the old city walls.
Rebuilt after a French attack in 1338, they incorporate God’s House Tower, at the southern end of the old town in Winkle Street, which currently houses the Museum of Archaeology. Best preserved of the city’s seven gates is Bargate, at the opposite end of the old town, at the head of the High Street; it’s an elaborate structure, cluttered with lions, classical figures and defensive apertures. A shore excursion on your MSC Northern Europe cruise from Southampton can be the opportunity to discover the capital of England, London.
For the visitor, London is a thrilling place. Monuments from the capital’s glorious past are everywhere, from medieval banqueting halls and the great churches of Christopher Wren to the eclectic Victorian architecture of the triumphalist British Empire. You can relax in the city’s quiet Georgian squares, explore the narrow alleyways of the City of London, wander along the riverside walks, and uncover the quirks of what is still identifiably a collection of villages.
The capital’s great historical landmarks – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and so on – draw in millions of tourists every year.
In Kristiansand the MSC cruise of Northern Europe touches the southernmost part of Norway, the region of Sørlandet, where thousands of islands and rocks dot the coast along the Skagerrak straits.
As you step ashore from the ship you find yourself in a lively town offering plenty of opportunities and attractions, such as the Kilden Performing Arts Centre, a striking building for its bold architecture, that hosts exhibitions and concerts all year round. The zoo and the Kristiansand amusement park (12 km from the town) are also an experience for the whole family.
There are museums like the Vest-Agder that gives the visitor insight into the local culture and history with impressive models of the town with its most representative buildings. The nature museum with its botanical gardens instead hosts the largest collection of cactus plants in Norway.
The Sørlandet museum of art hosts a permanent collection of Norwegian art while the imposing canons museum hosts the second largest cannon in the world and a rich collection of military exhibits. If instead you wish to immerse yourself in Kristiansand’s everyday life, visit the fish market, here you can find restaurants where you can enjoy the freshest fish, while there’s a bustling of boats coming and going. Try an experience into the past with a ride on the steam engine train.
You can get to the village of Vennes and then get a ticket for the Setesdal railway, which has since the 19th century connected Kristiansand and the other coastal towns to the once remote region of Setesdal. You should not miss an excursion to the delightful town of Lillesand, known as the jewel of the Sørlandet, with picturesque fishermen’s houses that have been turned into holiday homes in an environment of rare charm with the colourful port and ever-present Norwegian nature.
Split by lakes and surrounded by sea, an energetic and hip waterside vibe permeates Copenhagen, one of Northern Europe’s most user-friendly (and trendy) capitals.
Copenhagen city centre is waiting to be enjoyed on an MSC Northern Europe cruise excursion. It’s a welcoming, compact city with a centre largely given over to pedestrians (and cyclists) and an emphasis by day on café culture and top-notch museums.The historic core of the city is Slotsholmen, originally the site of the twelfth-centurycastle and now home to the huge Christiansborg complex.
Just across the Slotsholmen Kanal to the north is the medieval maze of Indre By (“inner city”), while to the south the island of Christianshavn is adorned with cutting-edge architecture in addition to the alternative enclave of Christiania.
North-east of Indre By are the royal quarters of KongensHave and Frederiksstaden, while to the west the expansive Rådhuspladsen leads via Tivoli Gardens to Central Station and the hotspots of Vesterbro and Nørrebro. Just off hectic Vesterbrogade outside the station is Copenhagen’s most famous attraction, Tivoli, an entertaining mixture of landscaped gardens, outdoor concerts and fairground rides.
A shore excursion on your MSC Northern Europe cruise can be the opportunity to discover Helsingør’s Kronborg Castle too. The present castle dates from the sixteenth century when it jutted into the sound as a formidable warning to passing ships not to consider dodging the toll, and it remains a grand affair, enhanced immeasurably by its setting; the interior, particularly the royal chapel, is spectacularly ornate.
Beneath the castle are the casemates, gloomy cavernous rooms that served as soldiers’ quarters during times of war.
Arriving on your MSC Cruise of Northern Europe, you will have the chance to visit Kiel, an expanding urban centre on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
Kiel became the Imperial military port of Germany in 1871 and, when its canal was opened to connect the Baltic and the North Seas in 1895, the town began to control the largest artificial waterway in the world.
Kiel is the ideal location for a relaxing vacation in Germany with an MSC cruise: it is simple and quiet, even during the Kieler Woche international regatta, an event not to be missed by sailing enthusiasts. The few city museums can be visited in one morning, however, if you want to get acquainted with Kiel you cannot ignore its waterways, to which the town is indissolubly bound: they can be visited by taking the Kiellinie footpath or taking a cruise along the Kieler Förde and along the canal.
A spacious promenade along the pier will give you the chance to admire a variety of vessels of all sorts, amongst which the dinghies of the sailing school and, from the wet dock in front, the best view one can get of Kiel. 6 km south-west of the centre, in Molfsee, where we find the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Freilichtmuseum.
This open air museum shows about seventy traditional buildings taken from the Lande and assembled in miniature villages: the colonial houses still maintain the original furniture – outstanding beds sleeping the entire family in order to keep warm in the freezing winters.
While on vacation in Kiel with your MSC Cruise, an excursion will take you to Lubecca, one of the few towns on the northern coasts of Europe that has kept its Medieval glory. For more than two centuries it has been one of the wealthiest and most powerful European cities. The wealth deriving from trade is best expressed through its architecture: from the oldest Rathaus in Germany to the churches with the tallest bell towers and the merchants’ mansions.