Sometimes you needn’t venture as far as you think to see some of the most intriguing, exciting destinations the world has to offer. A cruise to Europe could mean Middle Eastern bazaars in Turkey or Viking fables and chic Danish cities. It might bring storied Dutch waterways with castles on their riverbanks and medieval cities like Bruges, or quaint harbours in Spain and rolling vineyards in France. Europe has so much to offer that there’s really little need to cast off in search of faraway escapes; all the holiday feeling you need is right here and waiting on your doorstep.
The beauty of a cruise to Europe is its power of transportation. Almost as if teleported, your days can see you go from Moorish architecture to golden beaches or mountain ranges in the blink of an eye. In Northern Europe you’ll eat some of the best food anywhere on earth, Copenhagen in particular becoming a hotbed for culinary creatives renowned the world over. Cruises from Southampton put France on the map, whether that’s a day trip to Paris from Le Havre or the storied beaches of Normandy on a weekend away, or a whole week in the wine-lover’s paradise, sipping vintages in the harbour at Honfleur or cycling the rolling vineyards of Bordeaux. There’s history and culture in fairytale-like Budapest, and untamed wilderness in Reykjavik, Mother Nature’s playground.
It’s a place known by many as the gateway to Paris and Normandy, but a cruise to Le Havre – meaning ‘the harbour’ – is so much more than a through-road. Completely rebuilt after World War II, Le Havre has more than a hint of its Parisian counterpart about it. A major port on the banks of the River Seine, it has a French charm that makes it a much-loved favourite for mini cruises and short breaks, bringing the promise of good food, great wine and world-famous artworks to weekends away. It’s the home of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’, the masterpiece displayed in all its pastel glory at the MuMa Le Havre.
Reykjavik is a real natural beauty. Only recently taking the spotlight after a lifetime of blissful solitude, the Icelandic capital has come to be known as a place where cool contemporary city life meets vast wilderness. Wild ponies roam, waterfalls crash, wildflowers grow, the Blue Lagoon soaks away your cares in its mineral-rich waters, and if you’re really lucky, the northern lights paint the sky overhead. A cruise to Iceland is a breath of fresh air and a lesson in getting back-to-nature.
Cruises to Europe with the likes of Cunard often make their way to this maritime behemoth, one of Europe’s largest ports and one of Germany’s most impressive cities. Splaying out from its grand town hall masterpiece, Hamburg has many facets. The Speicherstadt warehouse district simmers with tradition that dates back over a century, while a long waterfront on the banks of the Elbe bring Hamburg into today, its deck bustling with cool cafes and floating bars. The city is nirvana for shoppers too, with a maze of high-end and high street retailers vying for the attention of your credit card. Hamburg is a favourite winter cruise destination too, with attractions like the ever-popular Miniatur Wunderland providing respite from the cold with its vast exhibit of a whole world in miniature.
Pretty as a picture Honfleur is a masterpiece as impressive as all those it has inspired over the years. Boudin was born here and you can’t help but think the city might have ingrained in him his love of beautiful things, just as it gorgeously hotch-potch architecture. Take a seat at the heart of the action, the Vieux Bassin, people-watching and boat-spotting with coffee in hand. The Musée Eugène Boudin pays homage to Honfleur’s artistic heritage, while the Plateau de Grâce promises aerial views across the estuary and its scenic surrounds.
Oh how we adore Bruges, the medieval city that smells like chocolate and looks like a fairytale. Bruges is one of the most popular cruise ports in Europe and for good reason too; while you can lose yourself for hours amidst those canals and cobbled streets, Bruges is a pocket-size port of call that is easily explored in a day. Ascend the Belfry of Bruges, looking down over the Markt Square below to scope out a lunch spot. The city has endless flavours to savour, from its signature Belgian chocolate – found in all shapes and sizes in over 50 chocolate shops – to its boozy signature beers. There are some real local delights on the menus too, from hearty stews to mussels and fries, all enjoyed in the surrounds of stunning architecture. Bruges is a winter cruise favourite and there is nothing quite like wrapping up warm and roaming this city.