When people think of cruise holidays, they often picture far-flung destinations laced in exotic flair. However, you don’t need to go far to explore some truly amazing places. Take one of our cheap cruises from Southampton and use it to explore Great Britain. With amazing islands, rich histories and stories to tell, you may find something incredible a lot closer to home than you’d think.
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is one example of Great British beauty. Home to traditional Irish Hospitality, this beautiful city has a lot more history than meets the eye. The birthplace of the Titanic, you can discover the Titanic Museum and uncover the full story of the ship’s fateful trip.
As well as that, the raw history of this city means that in recent years it’s been completely transformed and is now on the radar for many travellers. As you walk through the city centre, you can see the history of the turbulent past and riots that once happened here but also see a community full of fresh life.
We spoke to Jacqueline, part of the team at Irish travel blog Connolly Cove. She told us why Belfast is such an exciting travel destination: “Over the last few years, Belfast has emerged into a very exciting and modern city to visit, where you’ll find world-class attractions such as the Titanic Museum, an incredible food scene and a rich history and culture to soak up.
“It is the home of the Titanic, a place famous for its street art and friendly locals. You’ll be captivated by the charm of Belfast from the moment you arrive. The city is perfect for all; from history buffs to art lovers and those looking to have plenty of fun, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Northern Ireland’s capital city.”
We asked Jacqueline what she believes everyone should do when in Belfast: “There is so much on offer in Belfast but one thing everyone should check out is the historic St. Georges Market to get an authentic taste of Belfast. It is the oldest attraction in the city that has become very popular with locals and visitors alike.
“A fantastic award-winning market located in a charming Victorian-style building, with over 200 market stalls, including local food produce, handmade crafts, local photography, pottery and more. St. Georges Market is one of those special places in Belfast that will capture your heart with its great atmosphere, food on offer and its incredible history.”
As the main port in Edinburgh, Leith is another wonderful destination. With striking architecture and a monarchic feeling, this city is a cultural hub for a reason.
We spoke to Scotsman Neil Robertson, a travel blogger at Travels with a Kilt, who was eager to tell us about Edinburgh: “Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Of course, there's the architecture, the geography and the ever-increasingly bustle but, more than anything, it's about the atmosphere. During August, the city is a virtual carnival of festivals and comedy shows, while in winter, it's as eerie as a place can be. Its spooky graveyards and Gothic grimness give it a very different appeal. In either extreme, though, Edinburgh just absorbs the mood and reveals itself to be a truly charismatic city. It's also a fabulous base for day trip exploration and the surrounding Lothians are full of scattered ruins, walking opportunities and even a whisky distillery allowing visitors to sample a taste of the best of Scotland within striking distance of the capital.”
We then asked Neil what he would recommend people do whilst in Edinburgh: “Visitors will flock to the famous castle and Edinburgh's many museums, but there's nothing quite like a hike to the summit of Arthur's Seat. A straightforward clamber that is easily reached from the city centre, there is no better way to appreciate the perspective of Edinburgh than from above. Panoramic views over to Fife, the east coast and the Pentland Hills to the south are beaten only by the surreal experience of having such a wonderful urban sprawl right before your eyes. Whether it’s to escape the pandemonium of Festival time or to watch the Hogmanay fireworks, you've just got to take advantage of such a glorious natural overseer and get your boots on!”
We also spoke to Kay, travel blogger at The Chaotic Scot who is an ex-Scottish tour guide and full-time Scottish travel blogger. Like Neil, she is also passionate about Edinburgh: “Edinburgh has the best of all worlds: beautiful old buildings, cultural attractions, modern infrastructure, green spaces, hills and coastline. The charming appearance of the Old Town will capture your eye and your heart. The centrepiece of Edinburgh’s historic buildings is Edinburgh Castle, which is perched dramatically on volcanic rock, overlooking Princes Street Gardens and the city centre. Edinburgh is unlike anywhere else.”
Kay agrees with Neil’s suggestion of seeing the city from above: “Edinburgh sits on seven hills, which are the product of ancient volcanoes and glaciation. This interesting landscape gives the city so many different levels; the skyline is something special! My number one recommendation is for visitors is to see the city from above – you just need to select your hill of choice. Arthur’s Seat is a popular ascent, boasting views across the city and as far as the Kingdom of Fife. Calton Hill is also an excellent choice, with the option of climbing Nelson’s Monument for some extra elevation; this offers an iconic view down Princes Street with the iconic clock on the Balmoral Hotel.”
Finally, we spoke to Lili, a travel blogger at Traveling Oven. Lili suggested: "If you haven't visited Edinburgh yet, you should put it on your 'to-do' list as soon as possible. It's an incredibly charming city with such amazing architecture, mood and vibe and if you are into photography, you won't be able to resist taking photos on every corner, as there are so many pretty details everywhere you look. Besides the obvious tourist attractions like Edinburgh Castle and The Royal Mile, make sure to take the time to explore the small alleyways (called ‘closes’) and courtyards where often there won’t be as many people. One of the prettiest streets in Edinburgh is definitely Victoria Street with its colourful buildings, gorgeous architecture and charming cafes and restaurants.
“One of the experiences that I highly recommend is having a proper High Tea afternoon somewhere beautiful. It’s so worth paying more and enjoying a fancy treat like that. Both my friend and I agreed straight away when we started planning our trip that this is something where we want to splurge a little and we definitely don’t regret it! We treated ourselves with a High Tea at the Scotsman Hotel and its Grand Cafe. My tip is that whatever fancy place you choose for your High Tea experience, definitely book it at least a day in advance because you won’t find a seat!
“If you have enough time while you are in Edinburgh, another place well worth visiting is Dean Village, a charming and very pretty part of the city away from the centre with a tranquil stream, beautiful gardens, 19th-century buildings and a museum."
Stornoway is a town in the Outer Hebrides that opens cruisers up to Scotland’s rugged wilderness. Brightly coloured cottages scattered across the port side and the town itself is more bustling than many people expect. A real hub of activity at the edge of the world.
We spoke to Kathi, a Glasgow-based travel blogger at Watch Me See. She was more than happy to discuss Stornoway: “Stornoway is the bustling hub on the Isle of Lewis and the perfect base for an adventure on the island. The town has everything you could ask for from a Scottish coastal town. There are colourful houses lining the busy harbour and lots of locally-owned and independent shops for quirky souvenirs. In the local pubs, you can listen to traditional music and meet some of the friendly locals - I highly recommend McNeill's! The cafes and restaurants in Stornoway dish up the best of local cuisine and Scottish classics from the mainland. There is even a castle, though it's used for luxury accommodation, its gardens are open to the public and well worth a visit. The town is very walkable and easy to navigate, and you will even find that the street signs are in Gaelic - the perfect introduction to Hebridean culture!”
Kathi explained what you can see if you decide to venture out of the town: “Stornoway is also the gateway to Lewis and from here all major sites are easily accessible. Whether you want to visit standing stones, lighthouses, historical sites or paradise beaches, they are all within reach of Stornoway. One of the highlights on Lewis is the Callanish Standing Stones, which are just a 25-minute drive from Stornoway. A bit further, but equally as fascinating, is Garenin Blackhouse Village and the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse which marks the northernmost point on the island.”
We asked Kathi what she would recommend people do in Stornoway: “I highly recommend heading to An Lanntair, an art centre with exhibitions, a cinema, theatre, shops and cafe bar. They have a wonderful programme of art exhibitions, community events, performances, live shows, workshops and more. They support the local arts scene, which makes it super easy for visitors to discover local talent and find new favourite artists, musicians and performers to follow.”
We also spoke to Peter and Lauren, travel bloggers at Our So Called Life to get their recommendations of what to do in Stornoway: “Lewis is a little island that offers a lot and taking a trip to the biggest town on the island, Stornoway, offers a glimpse into a different way of life compared to the mainland. Everything is much slower paced, people are friendly and the local language is still predominantly Gaelic which is fantastic to still hear being spoken today.
“When in Stornoway, you can jump on a bus and head out to some of the most incredible pieces of history in Scotland, if not the world, the Callanish stones. These standing stones have been around longer than Stonehenge and are an incredible sight to behold, stood at the top of a hill that looks over beautiful landscapes. It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing the stones up close and I highly recommend that any visitors to the island take a trip to see them.”
If you are looking for somewhere slightly warmer to visit, we’d suggest Guernsey. Off the west coast of France’s Brittany Peninsula, Guernsey has British culture but with French sunshine. As the second largest of the Channel Islands, it has incredible beaches, exciting adventures and even cream teas!
We spoke to Katie, a photographer who also blogs at Katie Collins. She told us about Guernsey: “Situated between England and France, Guernsey is a truly special place boasting incredible seafood restaurants, stunning beaches, breathtaking cliff walks and a fascinating history.”
We asked Katie what she would recommend people do in Guernsey: “Be sure not to miss sampling some fresh seafood washed down with a chilled glass of white wine at one of Guernsey’s fabulous restaurants. Pier 17, La Fregate and Octopus are a few of my personal favourites and all are situated in the main town, St Peter Port.”
She continued: “Castle Cornet is packed full of museums and history and it’s worth planning your visit around midday to watch the noonday gun ceremony (be aware, it’s loud! you may need earplugs!)
“For those who enjoy walking, head to Guernsey’s South coast for some stunning cliff walks. Inland is The Little Chapel - the smallest in Europe and made of broken pieces of pottery. Herm Island is one of my favourite ever places, just a 20-minute boat ride from St Peter Port. Enjoy a walk around the island, making some time to take in Shell or Belvoir beaches. Head to the Mermaid Tavern for a pint and save your pennies for treats in the gift shop.”
The city of Liverpool is one of the largest in the UK, but can often be overlooked. Situated on the coast by the mouth of the River Mersey, there is a lot more to this city than just football (although it’s a fantastic place for that too!). Not only is it the home of The Beatles, it is also the capital of pop, as more artists born here have had a number one than anywhere else in the world. If you find yourself here on a cruise, you’re bound to fall in love with scouse culture and the city as a whole.
We spoke to travel blogger Wander with Laura, who grew up just outside of the city. She told us about it: “With a rich history and thriving cultural scene, Liverpool is an incredible city that everybody should visit at least once in their life! With a small city centre, it's relatively easy to explore on foot and you can take advantage of great shopping at Liverpool ONE, along with a huge variety of independent cafes and restaurants that mean you'll absolutely never get bored.”
Laura’s top suggestion for things to do in Liverpool was: “If you've only got a short amount of time to spend in Liverpool, I'd recommend checking out the best view in the city at the Tower Experience at the Anglican Cathedral. You'll need to be in shape to climb some steps but for just a few pounds, you can get an utterly spectacular view of the entire city. Top tip - head up there late afternoon before sunset for the best lighting!”
We also spoke to Gratsiela, a blogger at Blushrougette, who told us what else makes Liverpool an incredible city: “In the last few years, there’s been continual regeneration across the city with a growing list of exciting things to experience. If this wasn’t enough, Liverpool achieved a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in six locations and is also home to Aintree Racecourse, as well as Liverpool FC and Everton FC.”
Gratsiela also gave a tip for first-time visitors: “If it’s your first time in the city, then my top things to do in Liverpool are a walk along the picturesque Liverpool Waterfront and Docks. Experience the stunning views of the River Mersey and The Three Graces - The Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings - which stand as iconic landmarks of Liverpool's mercantile architecture and skyline. Along the waterfront is also The Beatles statue (they had to sneak in somewhere!) and the Titanic Memorial, dedicated to the engineers who built the ship.”
Interested in travelling local on your next cruise? Explore our British Isles cruises to discover different kind of Great Britain.