Your first ports of call may be to some of the countries neighbouring the British Isles, providing a wonderful opportunity to sample the diversity and contrasts that surround it. The Channel Islands, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Denmark to the south and east; to the north and west, Ireland, Scotland and the Scottish Isles; all ready to be explored and just a short trip away.
As you sail, note the circumstances that have shaped their individual cultures shift. The Anglo-French aura of the Channel Islands gives way to the Scandinavian and Viking influences of Orkney and the Celtic heritage of the Scottish Isles and Ireland. The Outer Hebrides offer up Stornoway; Lewis was ever a landing point for seafarers through the ages. Kirkwall, the largest town in the Orkneys, has an imposing cathedral and many small museums. Belfast, Cork and Dublin present more familiar cityscapes with urban bustle, a vibrant feel and plenty to see and do - as do Scotland’s Glasgow and Edinburgh. Just as the towns and harbours offer contrasts so, too, do the dramatic landscapes.
Across the English Channel lies the west coast of the European mainland. Le Havre, the second largest port in France, was decimated in the Second World War but has since been rebuilt and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further north, in Belgium, is Antwerp. Currently more visited by precious stones than tourists, it’s little wonder Antwerp is dubbed the "Diamond Capital of the World"; the town itself is a jewel for the discerning visitor. Museums and galleries feature the work of the city’s most famous ‘son’, Rubens, while the narrow backstreets are buzzing with small bars and bistros. Zeebrugge, a small seaside resort on the Belgian coast, has a pleasant seafront promenade backed by lovely cafes, bars and restaurants.
If your cruise visits the Netherlands then your port of call will surely be the vibrant city of Amsterdam, famed for its splendid canals and the tulip fields beyond. Further east lies Hamburg, known as ‘The Gateway to the World’; Germany’s second largest city, its size and affluence a testament to the success of its bustling docks.
So, remember - it is not necessary to cross continents or travel to far-off lands to experience a wealth of fresh experiences; in the British Isles and Northern Europe, captivating culture is closer than you think.