There’s much more to British Isles cruising than you might think. We cover exactly why you should cruise to see more of beautiful England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the surrounding islands – from the Outer Hebrides to the Channel Islands.
You’ll also find advice below on which ports to leave from, which cruise lines and itineraries to choose and some of the best excursions in the British Isles. There’s even the chance to tie your next cruise in with some of the leading events these fine islands have to offer.
Who sails and when?
Generally speaking, British Isles cruises will be on small or mid-size ships, with some longer exploration cruises requiring larger ships. The British Isles’ biggest port of Southampton is home to Cunard and P&O Cruises and Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines operates from a number of UK ports including Southampton, London Tilbury and Dover. Other leading cruise lines that depart from ports around the British Isles include Princess Cruises, Saga Group and Cruise & Maritime Voyages.
The top cruises to the British Isles are usually scheduled for the milder months from March to October, with the most choice in spring and summer. You’ll need to pack for the weather and take layers even in summer and especially if you’re travelling to cooler northern climes, or planning outdoors excursions.
Why go on a British Isles cruise?
British Isles cruises range anywhere from a short overnight stint to a two-week plus journey taking in all the highlights. There are a number of short, taster or weekend cruises so you can put those remaining days of annual leave to good use. And, if you’re a cruise first-timer, a cruise around the British Isles is a great introduction to life on the open sea.
With sailings from ports including Portsmouth, Newcastle, Southampton, Dover, Tilbury and Greenock, you can go from front door to cabin in one short trip. By cruising from your home turf, your break won’t be punctuated by long stints in airport departure lounges. There’s no need for a passport so you’ll whizz through security promptly, making every moment of your break count.
Another bonus of leaving from the British Isles is the baggage allowance. Because you don’t need to fly to your departure port, you don’t need to worry about airline luggage limits – so you can pack that extra pair of shoes or jacket, just in case.
Think about your starting point
If you prefer minimum driving you could depart from your closest port, or even get a short hop cruise to take you from your local port to a larger one before travelling off around the UK. For example, Fred.Olsen’s Black Watchdoes a short hop from London Tilbury to Southampton.
You might consider travelling to one of the further ports of call in the British Isles for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it would widen your options on the range of cruises quite considerably. The two largest UK ports are Southampton with over 200 departures a year, and Dover at around 100 sailings, so they offer the most variety in British Isle Cruise Deals. However, if you want to take in more of Ireland or Wales, you might opt to start your journey from a west coast port like Liverpool or Cardiff.
Secondly, you could choose your departure port for its sightseeing potential. Ever wanted to see what Bristol or Newcastle have to offer? Set aside a day at the beginning or end of your cruise to extend your holiday and explore some more of the country. Some UK cruises start and finish at a different port, so you could even take in two new destinations at either end of your trip.
Top British Isles Itineraries
Coincide your cruise with some of the British Isles’ best-loved events
Ireland and Scotland with Optional Military Tattoo, August
Travelling on Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess for eight nights from Dover, this Ireland and Scotland cruise has the highlight of seeing Scotland’s biggest and best-selling spectacle, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. As well as travelling to St Helier, Dublin and Londonderry, when you stop at Rosyth you’ll head to Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade to be entertained. The hour and a half performance is jam-packed with military marches, Scottish dancing, bagpipes and drums, before a fireworks finale.
Isle of Man and the TT with Saga Group, May
For fans of superbikes, there are few better events than the Isle of Man TT. Saga Sapphire sails for seven nights from Dover to Dublin and Liverpool before stopping at Douglas on the Isle of Man in the midst of the racing. You can watch the TT races roadside, or join an excursion to watch from the famous Grandstand, The Noble Park Fanzone or at Parliament Square in Ramsay Town. Plus a VIP motorsport guest will be onboard for the journey on to Portland and back to Dover.
Tour as much of the beautiful British Isles as you can
British Isles with Cunard
Taking in a mix of cities and peaceful ports, Queen Victoria departs from Southampton for 13 nights of exploration. Stop-offs include Cobh – the gateway for Ireland’s Cork – the Scottish Orkney Isles and Isle of Skye, as well as one of Europe’s prettiest ports, St Peter Port in Guernsey, with its cobbled streets, marina and boutiques.
Time spent in port ranges from simply admiring the rugged natural scenery in Ireland’s most remote county of Donegal, to choosing from numerous excursions in busy ports like Dublin, Liverpool and Glasgow. Even if you’ve already been to those cities, excursions let you go further afield, like a panoramic Scottish Lochs tour from Glasgow. Or swap Liverpool’s Beatles-themed Magical Mystery Tour for visiting Beatrix Potter World and Lake Windermere.
Treasures of the British Isles with Cruise & Maritime Voyages
For a more relaxing trip, the child-free MS Marco Polo ship takes you to some of the British Isles’ most scenic and peaceful spots. It also covers a couple of cultural centres on this round-trip from Bristol over 10 nights. At the picture postcard Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, get snap happy with the Georgian harbourfront of multi-coloured houses and moorland and mountains behind. Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides is the place for wildlife spotting, and you can take an excursion to the Stone Age settlement at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands.
As well as stopping at Edinburgh and swerving from the British Isles’ theme briefly at Hornfleur in France, the cruise sails on to Jersey’s St Helier for Elizabeth Castle and duty-free shopping. The final port of St. Mary’s on the sub-tropical Isles of Scilly allows you to journey to Tresco’s renowned Abbey Gardens as well as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for ornithology lovers.
If our guide has whet your appetite, explore a further range of British Isles cruises here.
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