Updated October 10, 2019
Whether you're embarking, disembarking or have a scheduled stop, make the most of the U.K. ports on your cruise itinerary with our list of five of the best day trips from Southampton, Rosyth (Edinburgh), Dover, Tilbury and Belfast.
The U.K. 's number one port features on many cruise itineraries, welcoming more than a million passengers each year. If you're starting or ending your cruise at Southampton, why not stretch your holiday out a bit longer and book a pre- or post-cruise stopover -- there are some great attractions to discover within day-tripping distance.
Stonehenge, the U.K.'s most famous prehistoric monument, lies just an hour from Southampton and is a must for anyone with an interest in ancient history or archaeology. The Unesco World Heritage Site is an iconic ring of standing stones which date from approximately 3,000 BC to 2,000 BC which are shrouded in myth and mystery. There is also an excellent visitor centre nearby. Worth noting: Last admission is two hours before the advertised closing time. Entry to Stonehenge is managed through timed tickets, and the only way to guarantee entry on the day and time of your choice is by booking ahead.
Winter opening times, Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Summer opening times, Daily, 9:30 a.m. to -8 p.m.
If you're interested in maritime history, Portsmouth is a must see city, and lies just 30 minutes from Southampton. It has the world's oldest continuously used dry dock and has been an important naval port for centuries. Many of its attractions are maritime-themed, including Portsmouth Historic Dockyard which is home to Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, Britain's first iron-hulled warship HMS Warrior, Henry VIII's favourite vessel Mary Rose and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Other Portsmouth attractions include Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.
Portsmouth D-Day Museum Visitor Information Centre; Clarence Esplanade, PO5 3NT; 023 9282 6722; Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
New Forest National Park
Just a few miles from Southampton is the New Forest, a favourite spot for walking, cycling, horse-riding, golf and watersports -- as well as the iconic ponies, which wander wild. Other attractions nearby include Paulton's Park-- great for Peppa Pig fans and with the new dinosaur-themed area Lost Kingdom.
New Forest Centre; Lyndhurst, Hampshire, SO43 7NY; 023 8028 3444; Winter opening times, Daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Summer opening times, Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
England's stunning Jurassic Coast covers 185 million years of history and 95 miles of dramatic coastline, which lies about an hour and a half from Southampton. The landscape of sweeping beaches and coves sheltered by towering cliffs, is another World Heritage Site where you can literally walk along the beaches and pick up fossils.
Weymouth Harbour Office; 13 Custom House Quay, DT4 8BG; Daily, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site and the only U.K. city which is designated one in its entirety, Bath is well worth the two hour trip, with gorgeous Georgian architecture and its famous Roman Baths. Jane Austen, one of Britain's best-loved authors, lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806, and her literary legacy can be traced at the Jane Austen Centre. There's also the more modern spa attraction, the Thermae Spa, which has stunning views over the city's rooftops from its outdoor pool.
Bath Visitor Information Centre; Abbey Chambers, Abbey Churchyard, BA1 1LY; 0844 847 5256; Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Choosing an itinerary that includes London is a great way to incorporate some capital city sightseeing into your cruise. The London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury is 22 nautical miles from Tower Bridge, positioning it perfectly for all the sights, landmarks and attractions of central London and the surrounding area.
There's so much to do in central London that it's hard to know where to start. One option is to take a riverboat from Embankment Pier, where you can catch many of the major landmarks such as the London Eye, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Shard and OXO Tower. The boats will also stop at two of the capital's top museums -- Tate Modern and Tate Britain. There is also the Natural History Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Buckingham Palace and St Paul's Cathedral are must-see landmarks too, or head to one of the city's many parks.
City of London Information Centre; St Paul's Churchyard, EC4M 8BX; 0207 332 1456; Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The picturesque city of Windsor sits on the Thames, 90 minutes along the river from Tilbury. Here you'll find the Queen's official residence, Windsor Castle (Buckingham Palace is her London pied-a-terre), which is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, plus its beautiful and vast Great Park. Thorpe Park and Legoland are both in Windsor.
Royal Windsor Information Centre; The Old Booking Hall, Windsor Royal Shopping, Thames Avenue, SL4 1PJ; 01753 743900; Daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The prestigious university city attracts visitors who want to see its historic academic buildings including the Cambridge colleges, King's College Chapel, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Fitzwilliam art and antiquities museum. A punting tour down the river Cam is a traditional way to see the sights from a different perspective, including the Bridge of Sighs and wooden Mathematical Bridge.
Cambridge Visitor Information Centre; Peas Hill, CB2 3AD; 01223 791500; Summer opening times, Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Winter opening times, Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, closed.
Isle of Sheppey
Sheppey, known as Kent's 'Treasure Island', is a great alternative to busy London-based attractions if you'd prefer a more peaceful day out. There are plenty of open spaces here, including the Elmley National Nature Reserve, Barton's Point Coastal Park and numerous beaches. You could also stop off at the popular Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway, a two-mile heritage line.
Elmley Nature Reserve; Kingshill Farm, Sheerness; 07786 333331; Open Wednesday to Monday, Times vary.
45 minutes from Tilbury
This castle, dating back to the 12th century, occupies a beautiful countryside site on a moat formed by the River Len and is a great day out for all ages. It's interesting collection of attractions include the world's largest dog collar museum (more than 130 are on display), a maze and underworld grotto, and the Gatehouse Exhibition, which takes you back through the castle's 900-year history.
Leeds Castle; Maidstone, ME17 1PL; Summer opening times, Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Winter opening times, Daily, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dover is the second busiest cruise port in the U.K. and used by more than 20 cruise lines including Disney, Fred. Olsen, Cunard, Celebrity, Princess, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Saga and more. London is just over an hour away by high-speed train, but there are also plenty of south east attractions closer to Dover for day-trippers to discover.
The high-speed train will take you to St Pancras Station in just over an hour, so it's tempting -- and easily possible -- to head to London for the day. Where to start? London is so vast it's best to stay in one area rather than try and see everything. Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus are all stops on the Piccadilly Line (which connects to St Pancras), and lie right at the heart of the city. Here you will find countless cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and attractions all within a short walking distance.
Famous for its cathedral, the medieval city of Canterbury is half an hour from Dover. The cathedral is the spiritual centre of the Anglican Church and for most of the Middle Ages was England's greatest pilgrimage site. There are also the ruins of the 6th century St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury Castle and the beautiful Grade II listed Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.
Canterbury Cathedral; Cathedral House, 11 The Precincts, CT1 2EH; 01227 762862; Summer opening times, Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Winter opening times, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., All Sundays, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
White Cliffs of Dover
Dover's White Cliffs are an instantly recognisable natural landmark, with the sheer chalk cliff faces dropping into the English Channel -- you'll see them as your ship approaches the port. They're just minutes from the port by car -- or you can walk along the signposted footpath. For the best view of the cliffs, walk the coastal path to the South Foreland Lighthouse. Samphire Hoe Country Park, which sits below a section of the cliffs, is also a great place for a scenic stroll.
White Cliffs of Dover; Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, CT16 1HJ; Car park opening times, Daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Dover's vast medieval castle is the largest in England and has played an important part in the country's history of defence. Visit the colourful rooms of the Great Tower, the eerie underground hospital and the secret wartime tunnels that are carved into the white cliffs.
Castle Hill, CT16 1HU; 0370 333 1181; Open daily, Times vary by month.
History enthusiasts won't be able to resist a trip to Hastings, just over an hour away. Famous for its namesake 1066 battle between the English and the French, Attractions include the ruins of Hastings' 11th century Norman fortress and Battle Abbey-- which is eight miles north of the town -- built on the battlefields. Hastings is also something of an up and coming seaside spot, with a new-look pier that reopened in 2016 following a devastating fire that saw it close in 2008, a pretty fishing beach and medieval Old Town dotted with smart boutiques, cafes and galleries.
Hastings Tourist Information Centre; Aquila House, Breeds Place TN34 3UY; 01424 451111; Opening times vary.
Rosyth is the second cruise port for Edinburgh at just 15 miles away (Leith is the city centre port for Scotland's capital but it only accommodates smaller ships). Rosyth's position north of Edinburgh also makes it ideally placed to explore the historic county of Fife, including the former Royal burgh of St Andrews. Rosyth welcomes mostly medium-sized cruise ships carrying between 500 and 1,250 passengers. Lines including Fred. Olsen, Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Crystal, Thomson Cruises and Oceania use this port.
Scotland's capital is the main draw for most visitors to Rosyth, lying just half an hour from the cruise port. There are numerous attractions including 16th century Holyrood Palace and Abbey, Craigmillar Castle, Lauriston Castle, the eerie Edinburgh vaults, the medieval Old Town and, of course, Edinburgh's famous castle. For the best views over the cityscape, head up Carlon Hill, where you'll find the National Monument of Scotland. Or you can hike up to Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano and the highest point in the city's vast Holyrood Park. There are also numerous museums and galleries, including the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Edinburgh Information Centre; 3 Princes Street, EH2 2QP; 0131 473 3868; Opening times, Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m., Sunday, 10 a.m., Closing times vary by time of year.
Crieff and the Glenturret Distillery
Fans of Scotch malt whisky should visit the Glenturret distillery, Scotland's oldest (since 1775) and home of the Famous Grouse and Glenturret brands of whisky, which lies about an hour away. Choose between three different tasting tours, or you could try your hand at being a master blender, or spend a full day at the attraction as a whisky 'stillman'. The market town of Crieff, where you'll find the distillery, is on the border where the Scottish Highlands meet the rolling Lowlands.
Glenturret Distillery; The Hosh, Crieff, PH7 4HA; 01764 656565; Daily, March to October, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., November to February, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours run hourly from 10:30 a.m.
The former royal burgh (an area created by historic royal charter) of St Andrews sits on Fife's dramatic coastline and offers an alternative to Edinburgh for passengers wanting to experience a traditional Scottish city. With seven public golf courses it's known worldwide as 'the home of golf', and has a green for every golfer, whatever their handicap -- be aware though that getting on the famous Old Course can quite literally be a lottery, with the course running a ballot system that closes 48 hours before play.
The county north of Edinburgh and south of Dundee boasts plenty of attractions and is within easy distance of Rosyth. Former Royal burgh Dunfermline, with its beautiful abbey and palace, plus the vast Pittencrieff Park, are just eight minutes north of Rosyth. Kirkcaldy, Fife's largest town, is only a few miles along the coastline from the port -- plus you've got plenty of colourful fishing villages to discover as you go (Crail is especially charming). If you'd prefer to roam the Scottish countryside, the Lomond Hills Regional Park is half an hour away, where walks of varying lengths await active walkers and hikers. There's also the Fife Coastal Path which is Scotland's longest continuous coastal walk at 117 miles.
Scotland's second city is an hour from Rosyth, and a great choice for an excursion if you've already experienced Edinburgh. Crammed full of culture and history, including the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Burrell Art Collection in Pollok Country Park and the Lighthouse Centre for Design and Architecture. Glasgow has more than 90 public parks and also a Botanic Gardens as well as numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries and attractions.
Visit Scotland Glasgow Information Centre; 10 Sauchiehall Street, G2 3GF; 0141 566 4083; Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Belfast cruise terminal is just two miles from the city centre, making it a really convenient stop for visiting Northern Ireland's capital city, plus some breathtaking nearby natural attractions. Lines visiting Belfast include Princess, Celebrity, Cunard, Silversea, Majestic and Fred. Olsen.
If you can face the subject matter while cruising, Titanic Belfast is a must-see visit as the world's largest Titanic attraction. Based in the city's Titanic Quarter, where the ill-fated ship was built, this amazing ship-shaped modern building offers an in-depth experience through nine interactive galleries, an Ocean Exploration Centre and much more. A brand new attraction in the Titanic Quarter is HMS Caroline, the last floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland which has been refurbished and opened to the public.
Titanic Belfast; 1 Olympic Way, Queen's Road; 028 9076 6399; Opening times vary through the year.
The cruise terminal shuttle bus makes it easy to get to the city centre from the port. The beautiful City Hall building on Donegall Square is a top sight and marks the start of the city's Golden Mile. The Cathedral Quarter, around St Anne's, is one of Belfast's most dynamic areas, while the Victoria Square shopping centre, with its iconic dome, is a good place to browse and buy. Other attractions include Belfast Botanic Gardens, where you'll also find the Ulster Museum, Belfast Castle and Belfast Grand Opera House.
Visit Belfast; 9 Donegall Square; 028 9024 6609; Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 11a.m. to 4 p.m.
Ballycastle sits on the north-easternmost tip of Ireland and is the gateway town to some of Northern Ireland's most stunning natural beauty, including the Causeway Coast and the gorgeous Glens of Antrim. Ballycastle itself is a coastal town with a spotless beach, beautiful scenery and a ruined castle (Kinbane). Fans of the hit series "Game of Thrones" will want to carry on 15 minutes along to coast to Ballintoy Harbour, which features in the show. Other GoT locations include including Cushendun Caves and the famous 'Dark Hedges' in Ballymoney, where the trees interlace over the pathway. If you're a fan, consider booking onto a tour from Belfast.
Ballycastle Visitor Centre, Portnagree House Harbour and Marina Visitor Centre, 14 Bayview Road; 028 2076 2024.
This distinctive rock formation is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and is easy to reach on a daytrip from Belfast. The result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago (although many locals claim it was the work of a giant called Finn McCool), these coastal columns of hexagonal-shaped layered basalt are an extraordinary sight.
Giant's Causeway; 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim; 028 2073 1855; Open Daily, Dawn to Dusk.
Lough Neagh is the largest lake by area in the British Isles, measuring 18 miles long and 7 miles wide. If you're a water baby there's lots to enjoy on and around this tranquil lake, including boat rides, walking and cycling trails, two islands, four marinas, archaeological sites and numerous parks and nature reserves.
Lough Neagh Discovery Centre; Oxford Island National Nature Reserve, Craigavon, BT66 6NJ; 028 3832 2205; Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From Easter to September the Discovery Centre closes at 6 p.m.