When you think of cruising, an image of a picturesque far-flung destination laced with exotic flair may spring to mind. But you don’t need to travel a vast distance to explore some truly amazing places. The British Isles, with its amazing islands, rich histories and stories to tell, is full to the brim with exciting hidden gems. It’s time to find something incredible a lot closer to home than you think...
The capital of Northern Ireland, buzzing Belfast is one example of Great British beauty. It’s home to the well-known and much-loved Irish hospitality and has a lot more history than meets the eye. It’s the rawness of this city that makes it so popular and its complete transformation over recent years has enabled it to appear on the radars of many discerning travellers. As you walk through the centre of Belfast, you can see the history of its turbulent past and riots that once happened here but don’t let that distract you from the community full of fresh life.
We had a chat with Jacqueline, part of the Connolly Cove Irish travel blog team. She said, “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 thinks the top things to do in Belfast are, she told us: “There is so much on offer in Belfast but one thing everyone should check out is the historic St. George's 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. George’s 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.”
Ireland’s capital, Dublin is a hub of history, culture and literary landmarks. The city has produced many great writers throughout history, including Oscar Wilde (author of The Importance of Being Earnest), Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) and James Joyce (author of Ulysses). Head to Grafton Street to see the famous Sweny’s Pharmacy which features in Joyce’s novel. Readings of the text take place every lunch time and you can even pick up a bar of their famous lemon soap as a souvenir.
It is impossible to plan a trip to Dublin without visiting the Guinness Storehouse. Located in the heart of the St. James’ Gate Brewery, this famous attraction is a must-see. Your journey begins at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass. From there, you’ll find out all about Arthur Guinness himself, the history of the brand’s iconic advertising campaigns and even learn how to pull your own pint properly. Finish the experience with a complimentary pint of Guinness in the building’s rooftop Gravity Bar, where you’ll also enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Olivia, staff member at ROL Cruise, recommends a visit to the Book of Kells. “Widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure, The Book of Kells is a beautifully illustrated Christian manuscript produced some time between the late 6th and early 9th centuries.
“The masterpiece can be found in The Long Room at Dublin’s Trinity College Library, another iconic landmark. While you’re there, be sure to look around you and admire the beauty of The Long Room itself - this 65 metre long chamber houses more than 200,000 of the library’s oldest books and is lined with marble busts of great philosophers and writers.”
Looking for somewhere slightly warmer? Guernsey is for you! 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 chatted to Katie, a photographer who also blogs at Katie Collins, she said, “situated between England and France, Guernsey is a truly special place boasting incredible seafood restaurants, stunning beaches, breathtaking cliff walks and a fascinating history. 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 are all situated in the main town, St. Peter Port.”
Katie also recommended Castle Cornet, “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 and you may need earplugs!)
“For those that 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 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.”
Leith is Edinburgh’s cultural hub with its striking architecture and monarchic feeling. Neil Roberston, Scotsman and travel blogger at Travels with a Kilt was eager to tell us about the city of Edinburgh, “it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Of course, there’s the architecture, the geography and the ever-increasing 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.”
When visiting Edinburgh, Neil recommends a trip to Arthur’s Seat, “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!”
Like Neil, Kay, ex-Scottish tour guide and full-time Scottish travel blogger at The Chaotic Scot, is 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 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 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 a view of Princes Street with the iconic clock on the Balmoral Hotel.”
Lili, the travel blogger behind Traveling Oven, 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 cafés and restaurants.
“One experience I highly recommend is traditional afternoon tea. It’s so worth paying more and enjoying a fancy treat. When my friend and I started planning our trip, we agreed it was definitely worth splurging on and we don’t regret it! We treated ourselves to High Tea at the Scotsman Hotel and its Grand Café. I’d recommend booking at least a day in advance otherwise you might miss out.
“If you have enough time while you are in Edinburgh, Dean Village is worth a visit. It’s a very charming and pretty part of the city away from the centre, with a tranquil stream, beautiful gardens, 19th-century buildings and a museum.”
One of the UK’s largest cities, Liverpool is often 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 is a fantastic place for that too! Not only is it home to The Beatles, it’s the capital of pop music - the city has birthed more musical artists with number one hits than anywhere else in the world.
We spoke to travel blogger Wander with Laura, who grew up just outside of the city. She said, “with a rich history and thriving cultural scene, Liverpool is an incredible city that everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime! 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 cafés and restaurants that mean you’ll absolutely never get bored.”
Laura’s top suggestion for things to do in Liverpool is the Tower Experience at the Anglican Cathedral. “If you’ve only got a short amount of time to spend in Liverpool, I’d recommend checking out the best view of 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 asked Gratsiela, blogger at Blushrougette, what makes Liverpool such an incredible city. She said, “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.
“If you’re visiting Liverpool for the first time, then my recommendation for things to do in Liverpool would be 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 it in somewhere!) and the Titanic Memorial, dedicated to the engineers who built the ship.”
London (Tower Bridge)
Open to only a select number of cruise ships, Tower Bridge (HMS Belfast) is one of the most exclusive cruise ports in the world. Upon arrival, you’ll dock alongside HMS Belfast, the most significant surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship that now permanently lives on the River Thames. As one of the world’s most visited cities, there are so many things to do in London, it is a capital city rich in culture, art, diversity and knowledge.
We recommend a visit to one of London’s many museums, what better way to immerse yourself in the city’s culture and history? The British Museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture while the Natural History Museum houses more than 70 million different species and exhibits. Our favourite though, is the Science Museum. It is one of London’s largest tourist attractions and offers a scientific discovery for every age.
The iconic London Eye is another exceptionally popular tourist attraction. A giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank, the London Eye offers incredible views of the city including many of London’s landmarks. Callum, staff member at ROL Cruise, says, “look out for Big Ben, Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace from a private or shared pod.”
Located in the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway is a town that opens cruisers up to Scotland’s rugged wilderness. Brightly coloured cottages are scattered across the port side while the town itself is busier than many would expect - it’s a real hub of activity at the edge of the world.
Kathi, Glasgow-based travel blogger at Watch Me See, loves Stornoway. She said, “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 cafés 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 are 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 continued, “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.
“I highly recommend heading to An Lanntair, an art centre with exhibitions, a cinema, theatre, shops and café 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 chatted to Peter and Lauren from Our So Called Life. They said, “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 happens at a much slower pace, people are friendly and the local language is still predominantly Gaelic which is fantastic to hear.
“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, standing 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.”