The ultimate guide to cruise holidays in Europe this year

·8-min read
SS Bon Voyage, Uniworld - Uniworld
SS Bon Voyage, Uniworld - Uniworld

From today, British travellers are free to strike out on sailings into the blue yonder after the government finally dropped its ban on international voyages – an advisory that had been in place since March last year.

While, in theory, Britons can now sail where they want to as determined by the Government’s travel traffic light system, the reality is a little different as some countries have imposed their own restrictions on British arrivals.

Last week’s Government announcement was the longed-for breakthrough the industry has craved, but this is no overnight quick fix. It’s going to take time for normal service to resume.

With domestic “seacations” underway around Britain and a smattering of Mediterranean voyages restarting, the fair wind blowing through the sector has left cruise companies daring to hope that a recovery is in sight.

For those keen to snap up a European cruise over the next few months, the choice continues to grow. Here’s your guide to what’s still on offer this year, whether you’re sticking to the rivers or hoping finally to sail once more on foreign seas.

Grecian glories

Nothing eclipses the suite life for guests wanting a taste of luxury on upscale line Silversea Cruises’ swanky debutante Silver Moon. Its summer series of Greek sailings promises a “new start with a new ship” where flowing complimentary Champagne guarantees celebratory toasts. This whets the appetite for fine-dining at French, Italian and Japanese venues during cruises to volcanic Santorini and whitewashed hideaways Nafplion and Amorgos.

10-night round-trip from Athens, departing August 27. From £5,200pp (silversea.com)

View from the Veranda Suite, Silver Moon - Matteo Imbriani
View from the Veranda Suite, Silver Moon - Matteo Imbriani

Bruges break

For those unwilling to venture too far, a Channel hop to Zeebrugge with Celebrity Cruises opens the lid on the chocolate-box appeal of nearby Bruges. The storybook city is a whimsical mix of cobbled streets, romantic canals and dreamy spires best explored on canal boats and horse-drawn carriages. Spend the sea day revelling in the newly upgraded surroundings on Celebrity Silhouette with its clutch of speciality restaurants and stylish Kelly Hoppen-designed private deck area reserved for suite guests.

Three-night round-trip from Southampton, departing October 29. From £529pp (celebritycruises.com)

Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Cruises - Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Cruises - Celebrity Cruises

Flavours of the Douro

Twisting and turning through the Douro Valley, Portugal’s River of Gold shines ever more brightly with cruising’s return. Glide past sleepy villages, medieval towns and rustic quintas that produce the region’s famous port wines from vines clinging to the Douro River’s steep-sided slopes. Riviera Travel adds flavour with excursions to the Spanish university city of Salamanca and atmospheric Porto whose wealth was founded on the back of New World riches and its namesake amber nectar.

One-week round-trip from Porto, departing September 17. From £2,439pp (rivieratravel.co.uk)

The river Douro and vineyards - Light-Lab/Getty
The river Douro and vineyards - Light-Lab/Getty

Tall tales in the Adriatic

Breathe in the salty tang of sea breezes beneath the lofty masts and flapping sails of the world’s largest tall ship, Golden Horizon, along Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline, where jewel-like isles dot its famously clear jade waters. With teak decks and smart nautical décor, this voyage captures the romance of sailing, as passengers ride the waves to Rovinj, Pula and Zadar – towns that wear their Venetian heritage like a terracotta cloak over a skyline punctuated by bell towers and cathedrals.

One-week Venice to Split, departing October 7. From £1,859pp (mundycruising.co.uk)

Big is beautiful in the Med

Make a splash by cruising the Mediterranean on MSC Cruises’ newest behemoth MSC Seashore, holding nearly 6,000 passengers. Billed as one of the world’s most environmentally-sound and energy efficient ships and the first equipped with a “Safe Air” sanitation system using UVC technology. This gleaming new piece of kit is styled on New York City with a three-metre-high Statue of Liberty and Times Square shopping and entertainment area. While cruising between Sicily, Malta and Barcelona, take in the sea air along the promenade and look down, if you dare, from the glass-floored Bridge of Sighs at the top of the ship.

Seven nights round-trip from Valletta, Malta, departing September 22, cruise-only. From £779pp (msccruises.co.uk)

MSC Seashore rendering of the Infinity Pool - MSC Rights
MSC Seashore rendering of the Infinity Pool - MSC Rights

Greece is the word

The Hellenic Republic is proving hot in more ways than one as several cruise lines have restarted sailings in the Greek isles this summer. Catch the party vibe with Tui Cruises to the nightspots of Mykonos before following in the sprinting steps of Ancient Greeks at Olympia. This site of the first Olympic Games near Katakolon has the original track where the first Olympians raced to glory. Rhodes is another isle brimming with history, where medieval stone streets with temples in homage to Greek gods and turreted towers make ideal Insta backdrops.

One-week Iconic Islands round-trip from Corfu, departing September 3. From £986pp (tui.co.uk/cruise)

In the footsteps of Napoleon

Corsica may be a French territory, but that seems immaterial on an island renowned for its own strong sense of identity. Corsican culture runs deep and is unearthed on this CroisiEurope voyage aboard the opulent 130-passenger La Belle Des Océans (formerly Silversea Cruises’ Silver Discoverer). It calls at Ajaccio, Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio, where Corsican history, local music, traditional cuisine and lectures on the Bonaparte family come to the fore.

Seven-night round-trip from Nice, departing September 12. From £2,633pp, excluding flights (croisieurope.co.uk)

Harbour view in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica - Photoprofi30/Getty
Harbour view in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica - Photoprofi30/Getty

Uncorking Moselle

October is ripe for cruising along Germany’s Moselle River where warm days and a tide of autumnal colours complement the harvest underpinning this region’s famous wines. Such natural appeal is more than matched by the riverside attributes of Cochem, Trier and Koblenz with Roman ruins, medieval castles and half-timbered houses jumbled along narrow cobbled streets explored on walking tours or cycling trips that strike out to nearby vineyards.

Five-night round-trip from Cologne, departing October 26. From £1,310pp (newmarketholidays.co.uk)

Capital attractions

Cruise into the cobalt embrace of the Aegean Sea aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Jewel of the Seas to tick off a collection of precious Greek gems led by Mykonos, Santorini and the Cretan city of Chania whose historic harbour reflects its Venetian heritage. This itinerary includes a full day in Athens, where you can climb up to the Acropolis and admire far-reaching views across a city renowned as the birthplace of democracy.

Seven-night round-trip from Limassol, Cyprus, departing August 28. From £769pp (royalcaribbean.com)

Jewel of the Seas pool area
Jewel of the Seas pool area

A vintage Bordeaux experience

Uniworld’s river ships resemble floating mini palaces, with staterooms and suites that come with butler service. There’s even an infinity pool, claimed to be the first on a European river ship aboard the SS Bon Voyage. This makes it a perfect pairing with the rivers of Bordeaux, where beautiful backdrops of fairytale chateaux, vineyards and celebrated wine estates vie to take your breath away.

Seven nights round-trip from Bordeaux, departing September 12. From £1,749pp (uniworld.com)

Champagne Salon, SS Bon Voyage - Uniworld
Champagne Salon, SS Bon Voyage - Uniworld

Catching the Canaries

Autumn’s arrival doesn’t mean bidding farewell to summer. Chase balmy temperatures southwards to the Canary Islands with Princess Cruises and revel in the sun-scorched dunes of Gran Canaria; craggy volcanic craters of Tenerife’s Las Canadas National Park and lunar landscapes of Lanzarote. Whale watching and sea kayaking are refreshing offshore diversions while, leaving the Canaries for a moment, Portuguese island Madeira adds a bucolic blast with lush, rugged terrain perfect for hiking. Alternatively, enjoy the ride as you slide down steep cobbled streets in a wicker toboggan.

11-night round-trip from Southampton, departing October 12. From 1,199pp (princess.com)

Luxury life in the Adriatic

La dolce vita promises to be all the sweeter on Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer, where artworks by Picasso and Chagall adorn walls and free-flowing champagne is on tap. Ceilings drip with crystal chandeliers and Versace china graces tables in a classy collection of speciality dining spots. All-suite accommodation and butler service ratchets up the luxury count as you cruise along Italy’s coast to Croatia, calling at Dubrovnik, Sorrento and Sicily, where shore excursions are included too.

One-week from Venice to Civitavecchia, departing October 16. From £4,859pp (rssc.com)

Seven Seas Explorer - Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Seven Seas Explorer - Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Cool cruising to Iceland

Viking Cruises’ “Welcome Back” selection of ocean and river voyages pushes its horizons beyond continental Europe to Iceland and Bermuda, accompanied by a ‘no-single supplement’ offer for solo passengers. Starting this month is a series of circumnavigations to the Land of Fire and Ice, showcasing Iceland’s raw natural beauty and untouched interior dominated by thundering waterfalls, geysers and giant groaning glaciers.

One week round-trip from Reykjavik, departing August 28. From £2,590pp (vikingcruises.co.uk)

Rendering of the Deck 2 Aft area, Finse Terrace, on-board the Viking Expedition ship - Rottet Studio/Viking
Rendering of the Deck 2 Aft area, Finse Terrace, on-board the Viking Expedition ship - Rottet Studio/Viking

Going solo on the Rhine

The intimate ambience and friendly camaraderie of river cruising makes it one of the most appealing holidays for solo travellers. This Arena River Cruises sailing on its new river ship Arena through the heart of Europe along the Rhine and Danube promises no single supplements for those travelling alone. Uncover the historic cities of Nuremberg and Miltenberg, gaze at the castle-covered peaks of the spectacular Rhine Gorge and admire the Gothic glory of Cologne crowned by the twin spires of its magnificent cathedral.

Nine-day coach/rail package, including seven-night sailing from Passau to Cologne, departing September 21. From £1,495pp (arenarivercruises.co.uk)

Continental charms

Rotterdam’s phoenix-like emergence from the rubble of World War II bombing raids to become the so-called Manhattan on the Meuse with its modernistic skyline and amazing eye-popping architecture deserves full billing on this voyage. Saga Cruises ups the stakes with new ship Spirit of Adventure whose contemporary flair, bold colours and inviting art deco deck pool promises a stylish setting for this three-city sailing that also features Amsterdam and Zeebrugge.

Five-night round trip from Dover, departing October 5. From £1,156pp (travel.saga.co.uk)

Prices include flights unless otherwise stated.

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