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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.
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.
Crowds tend to overwhelm Bruges nowadays – its reputation as a perfectly preserved medieval city has made it the most popular tourist destination in Belgium – but you’d be mad to come to Flanders.
With an MSC Northern Europe cruise and miss it: Bruges’ museums hold some of the country’s finest collections of Flemish art, and its intimate, winding streets, woven around a skein of narrow canals and lined with gorgeous ancient buildings, live up to even the most inflated tourist hype.
When you step ashore from your MSC cruise, the obvious start to an exploration of the city is the two principal squares: the Markt, overlooked by the mighty belfry, and the Burg, flanked by the city’s most impressive architectural ensemble. Almost within shouting distance are the three main museums, among which the Groeninge offers a wonderful sample of early Flemish art.
Another short hop brings you to St-Janshospitaal and the important paintings of the fifteenth-century artist Hans Memling, as well as Bruges’ most impressive churches, the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk and St-Salvatorskathedraal. Further afield, the gentle canals and maze-like cobbled streets of eastern Bruges – stretching out from Jan van Eyckplein – are extraordinarily pretty.
The most characteristic architectural feature is the crow-step gable, popular from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century and revived by the restorers of the 1880s, but there are also expansive Georgian-style mansions and humble, homely cottages.
Time and again the eye is surprised by the sober and subtle variety of the cityscape, featuring everything from intimate arched doorways and bendy tiled roofs to wonky chimneys and a bevy of discreet shrines and miniature statues.
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.
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