Updated January 8, 2020
For decades the Americans, Canadians, Australians and many other nationalities have flocked to the British Isles to take a cruise. And whilst most people consider the British Isles to consist of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it actually encompasses a much wider region. Ireland is geographically speaking part of the British Isles too, as is the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Orkney Islands, Hebrides and the Shetland Islands -- a whopping six thousand outlying islands in total! And while you won't be able to see them all in a week, you will be able to get a good taste of the diversity of the British Isles -- from the French influences in the Channel Islands to the Celtic history of Ireland and Viking past of the Shetlands.
Some come for the voyage alone; others combine a cruise with a land stay. However, Brits make up a very small percentage of passengers sailing on these voyages, which is a shame as there is a whole lot to discover right here on our doorstep.
Here are our seven reasons why we feel Brits should take a round-Britain cruise.
1. It's cheaper on your own doorstep
With budget flights abroad often more affordable than a train ticket in the U.K., Brits tend to head to the Med or beyond instead of cruising back at home. It's actually cheaper, however, to stay put. Itineraries around the British Isles are so varied there will always be interesting ports of call on each sailing and a cruise is an extremely economical way to see multiple destinations in one go. A typical British Isles cruise will take in Cork (Ireland), Belfast (Northern Ireland), Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scotland). An equivalent DIY trip would involve lengthy car journeys, a ferry and flights.
2. Unsurpassable History, Culture & Legends
History is a major draw for any British Isles cruise. Here are a few highlights:
Edinburgh: The capital of Scotland is one of the world's most beautifully situated, with stunning sites including Edinburgh Castle (where you'll find the Crown Jewels of Scotland), the Royal Yacht Britannia; the Royal Mile and several major art galleries.
Dublin: Dublin Castle, built by King John in 1204, Christ Church Cathedral and the National Gallery of Ireland and Dublin's Trinity College home to the "Book of Kells", the oldest manuscript in the world, but also stunning in its own right. For literary fans there's even a James Joyce Centre celebrating the life of the "Ulysses" author who came from Dublin.
Belfast: The Northern Ireland capital boasts its own castle and cathedral as well as the new and wonderful Titanic Experience -- an exhibition charting the tale of the ill-fated ship built in Belfast's Harland & Wolff shipyard.
Liverpool: Home to the largest collection of museums and galleries outside London, Liverpool is equally famous for its iconic pop music culture. Celebrity Cruises offers a four-hour excursion where you can follow the lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo as you explore their hometown (including Penny Lane) and the roots of The Beatles.
3. Awe inspiring scenery
Scenery throughout the British Isles is varied and dramatic, with miles upon miles of spectacular, unspoilt coastline. Want to find a remote, foot-print free white-sand beach? They're here in abundance. Want to find rugged mountains, fields of heather or a loch? The Scottish Highlands is the place to be. Want to explore an uninhabited island? There are plenty of them in the Orkneys and Shetlands. And just outside Belfast, you will find the 63 million year old Giant's Causeway, a formation of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns which emerge from the sea like a gargantuan geometric sculpture. Legend has it that it was built by an Irish giant, Finn McCool, to create a pathway between Ireland and Scotland. The great thing about this UNESCO World Heritage Site is that you can clamber amongst the columns, watching the sea crash around you.
4. You get to star in the scenery
With such an abundance of stunning scenery, it's no surprise that many destinations on a British Isles cruise have been used as filming locations. Remote white-sand beaches, clifftops and country roads in Northern Ireland all serve as the backdrop for magical scenes in HBO's hit series "Game of Thrones". Nearby, Dunluce Castle featured in U2 and Van Morrison's music videos; the "Outlander" saga is filmed in the Scottish Highlands; "Downton Abbey" was filmed 90 minutes from London at Highclere Castle. You can follow in the footsteps of these programmes by visiting these scenic spots independently or on themed excursions organised by the cruise lines.
5. You still get to go abroad
If you don't feel you've had a 'proper' holiday unless you've gone abroad, then fear not. Whilst the cruise itinerary might be called British Isles, most longer voyages (nine days or more) include stops in Northern France as well as a Channel Island, the most popular being Guernsey, setting for the historical novel "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" which was adapted into a film of the same name and released in 2018. And whilst Guernsey is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, it's closer to France than the U.K. and has a very French feel, with bi-lingual street signs and French patisseries. Celebrated French author Victor Hugo (of "Les Miserables" fame) spent 15 years here and you can visit the house where he lived. Should you prefer to go Dutch, Cunard and Saga include stops in Holland (Rotterdam or Amsterdam) on their British Isles voyages. But you don't always need to go abroad to feel like you're in another country. The Orkneys, Shetlands and Hebrides are officially in the U.K., but these wild, unspoilt outcrops are so remote that they feel foreign and are all included on several Fred. Olsen and Hebridean Island voyages.
6. A ship for every taste
With so many cruise lines sailing on British Isles itineraries you can pick a ship which best suits your needs. For families the bigger lines such as Cunard, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have kids' clubs and child-friendly amenities, with Princess offering the biggest selection of voyages during the school holidays. However, if peace and quiet is what you're after you might want to consider Fred. Olsen, Saga, Cruise & Maritime Voyages and P&O Cruises' Oriana, Arcadia and Aurora which all operate adult-only voyages. For a small, deluxe ship experience, Windstar, Silversea, Tauck and Hebridean Island Cruises all have itineraries with stops in interesting smaller ports which other ships cannot reach.
7. A real taste of the place
Nothing tastes as good as when it's eaten in the country it hails from. Ask any Irish person and they'll insist the best Guinness in the world can only be found in Ireland, and most Irish refuse to even drink it outside their own country because they claim it doesn't taste as good. You can make up your own mind at the Guinness Factory in Dublin (a free pint is included as part of a guided tour) or in one of the city's many vibrant pubs. Whisky distilleries across Scotland offer a similar experience for fans of a wee dram (nearly every cruise line offers a distillery excursion) and if you prefer food to a tipple then you can always try the local delicacy of haggis (sheep or calf's offal mixed with suet and oatmeal encased in the lining of a sheep's stomach. It tastes better than it sounds). Alternatively you could kick-start the day with a bowl of Scottish porridge or some Irish soda bread. And don't forget to try some fish and chips. Nowhere does it better or fresher than the ports around the British Isles.