Expert Cruise Advice and Travel Inspiration

Planning a cruise holiday or craving some travel inspiration? Let our expert advice and destination guides pique your wanderlust. Advice is full of everything you could need to get more from your cruise holidays. From local cuisine and natural wonders to practical advice and behind the scenes glimpses into on-board life, our travel and lifestyle experts cover it all.

Whether you cruise for relaxation or exotic adventures, get yourself comfortable and take a peek!

Tipping on cruises can be confusing: some cruise lines charge in dollars, most charge different amounts and some don’t even charge at all. It can seem like a bit of a minefield, but thankfully, we have created a handy guide to how much each cruise line charges for gratuities.

Take a look at the chart below and find out what to set aside for tips on the main cruise lines.

Chart listing the amount that different cruise lines charge for gratuities

Are you thinking about cruising with a line we haven’t mentioned in our gratuities chart? Our Cruise Concierge team is on hand to answer any questions you may have about your getaway. Give them a call on 0207 980 2847.

Santorini is possibly the most striking of the Cyclades islands, with a string of whitewashed villages sprinkled over the top of towering black cliffs that form the rim of a dormant volcano. Ships can’t drop anchor here as the sea is so deep, so you’ll tie up to a concrete bollard at the base of the cliff and be ferried ashore by tender boat. Then, there are three ways to get up to Fira, the island’s glitzy but busy little capital: cable car; hiking up the zigzag path; or for a few Euros, braving it on a donkey. Old pastel-coloured church building in Santorini cruise port Sea-view balcony in a restaurant in Santorini Fira itself is wall-to-wall souvenir shops and jewellers. Expensive cocktail bars occupy the prime spots, with breath-taking views across the caldera and the glittering Aegean. Although you pay a premium for the view, if your ship is sailing late, do take up position in one for a spectacular sunset. We love PK Cocktail bar, near the cathedral, which does food as well as classy cocktails ( Houses and ancient buildings on a clifftop in Santorini cruise port If you have a day in port, hop on the bus or join a tour to Oia, spilling over the black cliffs on the northern tip of the caldera. It’s quieter than Fira, with boho shops and galleries lining the whitewashed alleys. It’s also in Oia that you’ll get that iconic Santorini snap of the blue-domed church against an indigo sea. Stay for lunch and try the local specialities of white aubergine and fava beans with a chilled island wine, or a lunchtime mezze of salads and dips. Archaeology fans, meanwhile, should join a tour to Akrotiri to see the ongoing dig there, which has revealed one of the most important Bronze Age settlements of the whole region.

Top tip

Fancy some exercise? Join a boat trip to hike up Nea Kameni, the islet in the middle of the caldera; a stony little cone with wisps of sulphur wafting from between rocks near the summit. The views are sensational and the reward afterwards is a cooling swim over the springs that bubble up from the seabed.

You can’t go wrong with a spot of authentic Spanish tapas, but there is more to Spanish cuisine than patatas bravas. The country’s rich culinary history means there are countless traditional dishes you can try in cruise ports ranging from Bilbao to Barcelona.

Why not start with these five delicious Spanish dishes?

1. Paella

A stone pan of seafood paella with shrimps and peppers

Paella might be done to death back home, but you haven’t tasted anything until you have sampled an authentic helping.

Originating in Valencia, paella is available right across Spain and traditionally comes in one of two forms: paella Valenciana with rabbit and chicken, or seafood paella. If you are visiting Valencia then paella Valenciana should be your dish of choice, while nothing compares to a beautifully fresh seafood paella once you reach ports elsewhere.

2. Gazpacho

A pan of gazpacho topped with vegetables and bread

sunny mama/, CC BY-SA 2.0

Cold soup might go against everything you believe in, but there is nothing more refreshing than a bowl of gazpacho after taking in the sights of a searing Spanish city.

Gazpacho is primarily made using tomatoes, but also includes sweet peppers, fragrant garlic, fresh bread and plenty of olive oil. Delicious!

3. Jamón Serrano

Jamon Serrano and artisan cheese on a wooden chopping board

seanchicoine/, CC BY 2.0

This succulent cured ham is a staple in Spain – you are bound to spot it hanging from the ceiling of some Spanish bars and restaurants, drying out to achieve that characteristic melt-in-your-mouth texture.

A variation on jamón Serrano is jamón Iberico. This ham comes from black Iberian pigs and is more expensive. It is well worth it, however, thanks to an incredibly lengthy curing process.

4. Fabada

Bowl of Spanish fabada stew complete with black pudding and pork

Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/, CC BY-SA 2.0

This one-pot feast is a popular dish throughout the majority of ports you will visit on cruises to Spain. A rich stew made using white beans and saffron, it commonly contains a mixture of pork meats including chorizo, pork shoulder and black pudding. Flavoursome and comforting, fabada is the perfect dish to enjoy on a cool evening after a day of exploring.

5. Leche frita

Spanish leche frita with ice cream and syrup

Javier Lastras/, CC BY 2.0

If you thought you couldn’t fry milk, think again. Leche frita is a popular dessert that might sound odd, but is absolutely delicious!

Milk, egg yolks and flour are whipped together before being left to chill and solidify. They are then coated in breadcrumbs and fried before being topped with sugar and cinnamon. The final result is a beautifully sweet dessert that pairs perfectly with a scoop of ice cream.

Do any of these traditional Spanish dishes take your fancy? Perhaps we have missed off your favourite food to try during cruises to Spain? Let us know in the comment box below.

Princess Cruises offers something for everyone. With an innovative fleet of ships and a diverse range of itineraries; foodies, adventure-seekers and sun-worshippers alike will find a cruise that is absolutely perfect for them. But which Princess cruise ship is best for your holiday needs? Let us help you discover what type of Princess you really are.

Foodie Princess

A chef on-board Regal Princess cooking up fresh fish with a pan of vegetables

If you want your cruise to be all about food, you have two fantastic ships to choose from. Regal Princess and Grand Princess both boast traditional grills, cafes, pastry shops, ice cream bars and several casual dining venues, while Regal Princess in particular is known for its speciality dining. This might come at an extra cost, but the multiple courses, themed dinners, authentic cuisine and intimate settings are well worth it. The Chef’s Table Lumiere combines a behind-the-scenes galley tour with your culinary journey, while Sabatini’s serves Italian cuisine celebrating the country’s culinary heritage.

Adventurous Princess

The vast Sawyer Glacier seen from Alaska cruises

Adventure-seekers, rejoice! Emerald Princess is armed with a range of fascinating shore excursions and an extensive programme of Alaska cruises that will satisfy your craving for action and exploration. Trek through Totem Bight State Park in Ketchikan, gaze upon breath-taking glaciers in Juneau and discover the gold-mining history of Skagway.

Cultural Princess

Paintings on the walls of the art gallery on-board Majestic Princess

Based in China all year-round, Majestic Princess is the perfect ship for cultural cruisers. Sailing from Shanghai to Japan and Korea, she is dedicated to immersing passengers in the unique culture and customs of this fascinating part of the world. Dine from authentic Southeast Asian, Japanese and Chinese menus and enjoy itineraries taking in the best of Asian culture, such as the Majestic Grand Asia fly cruise.

Sun-seeking Princess

Passengers soaking up the sun and admiring the sea view from the Star Princess deck

If you are a sun-seeking Princess, step on-board the sparkling Star Princess cruise ship. The relaxing ambience and tantalising dining are the perfect accompaniment to her sun-soaked itineraries. Imagine relaxing on a bright white beach in beautiful Hawaii, or strolling across the sand on the California coast. Then there is Mexico: a paradise of crystal clear water and amazing sea life. Plus, you have Tahiti, a gorgeous mix of black sand beaches, tumbling waterfalls and lush mountains.

Family Princess

Families dancing on the deck of Sapphire Princess in the evening

Sapphire Princess is an indulgent cruise ship catering to your every whim, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect for families. You will be made to feel welcome as soon as you step on-board, while Sapphire Princess also boasts Two Bedroom Family Suites that will help the whole family feel right at home. Elsewhere on the ship there are dining options for even the fussiest eaters, as well as swimming pools, fascinating Discovery at Sea programmes and three fun-packed kid’s clubs.

Luxury Princess

Lady enjoying a hot stone massage in the Lotus Spa on Royal Princess

From a breath-taking piazza-style Atrium to the dramatic views from the glass-floored SeaWalk, everything on-board Royal Princess is designed to take your breath away, including The Sanctuary and the Lotus Spa.

The Sanctuary is an adult-only retreat away from the main bustle of the ship, where guests can enjoy signature beverages, light meals and al fresco massages. The Lotus Spa is even more indulgent, offering facials, stone therapy massages, detoxifying ocean wraps and an aromatherapy thermal suite. Then there is the Princess Luxury Bed. Created in collaboration with sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus and HGTV designer Candice Olson, it features a scientifically engineered mattress and bed springs, a plush two-inch pillow top, European-inspired duvets and 100% luxurious Jacquard-woven linens. Absolute heaven!

Would you like to experience one of these Princess cruise ships for yourself? If you want to book a voyage or aren’t sure which ship to sail on, call our Cruise Concierge on 0207 980 2847 for advice.

Little gets cruisers as hot under the collar as the thorny topic of cruise dress code. Whatever the rules suggested by the cruise line, someone is going to cause raised eyebrows. Stetsons in the dining room! Football shirts after 6pm! And my personal bugbear, from a rather sweaty cruise on an Italian line, men in Speedos jostling at the lunch buffet!

What should I wear to dinner?

Couple toasting champagne glasses on a Princess Cruises ship

Okay, it is hard to dictate what people wear by day (although I won’t be revisiting that buffet) as they are, after all, on holiday. It is the evenings that cause the problems. Every cruise line has its own dress code, often couched in old-fashioned language - ‘country club casual’, anyone? Or the confusing ‘formal optional’? What does that mean, formal or not formal? Cruisers, especially first timers, can be forgiven for experiencing dress code anxiety. Nobody wants to be the only person in a penguin suit on a very informal ‘formal’ night and, heaven forbid, mistaken for a waiter. But equally, nobody wants to do the walk of shame out of the dining room for failing to pack a tie.

Debunking dress code jargon

Well-dressed friends enjoying speciality dining at Chef's Table on-board Princess Cruises

You shouldn’t worry. Essentially, there are three kinds of evening dress code and a cruise line will tell you before you leave how many formal nights or otherwise to expect. ‘Formal’ is the smartest and usually means tuxedo or dark suit for men and posh frocks and bling for women. ‘Informal’ or ‘semi-formal’ means smart cocktail dress or trousers for ladies and jacket and shirt for men. ‘Casual’ means no jacket required but still looking respectable; no shorts.

Some of us positively love dressing up, of course. In which case, you can’t beat a voyage on a Cunard Queen, where everybody dresses to the nines, or a glittering night on Crystal, Holland America Line or Silversea, when people-watching is all part of the fun.

You will see a wider interpretation of ‘formal’ on mainstream lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, MSC and Princess. Funnily enough, it’s the kids who often rock the smartest gear, from teen girls in full prom queen outfits to little boys in mini-me tuxes, which is quite pleasing, in a way, as it suggests that future generations will keep cruising stylish.

If you are of the opinion that on holiday, nobody should be made to wear a dinner jacket, Celebrity Cruises might be the answer, with a simple ‘evening chic’ dress code, or Oceania Cruises, Viking Ocean, Azamara Club Cruises or Star Clippers, all of which trust you to make an effort but don’t lay down laws. The ultimate in casual is NCL, where there are no posh nights, although people still make a bit of effort in the evenings, especially in the smarter restaurants.

Top cruise dress code tips

A couple in casual dress enjoying cocktails on a Celebrity Cruises ship

Still confused by the dress code on cruise holidays? Here are my top five survival tips:

  • Ladies, you can’t go wrong with a little black dress, which can make at least two outings with different accessories. A coordinated wardrobe goes a long way.
  • Palazzo pants are extremely elegant with heels and often come with an elasticated waist, which is always handy towards the end of a cruise if you have, er, dined well.
  • Don’t take advance notice of theme nights too seriously unless you are really into fancy dress. I tend to avoid ‘pirate night’ or ‘seventies night’, although the White Nights deck parties on Azamara are quite stylish.
  • In the event of a crisis, such as forgetting a bow tie, ships’ receptionists are often quite helpful in sourcing a spare – or the on-board shops usually sell formal accessories.

Absolute worst case, you won’t starve, as the ship’s buffet is always casual, even on posh nights. And if you order room service, you can feast on filet mignon in your pyjamas.

Some passengers dread sea days, but honestly? We love them! You might not be out and about seeing the sights, but during days at sea, you have the perfect excuse to explore everything your ship has to offer and spoil yourself rotten.

Here are nine cruise ship activities you will love trying out while you are sailing to your next destination.

1. Have a lie in

Steaming cup of tea on a bedside table next to someone bundled up in a duvet

Port days are action-packed and tiring, especially if you are booked onto exciting shore excursions. When you are due to spend a day on the water, plan in a much-needed lie in to rest your aching feet and replenish your energy levels. One of the worst things you can do is pack in too many cruise ship activities and end up more exhausted than when you are on dry land! Take it slow and give yourself chance to enjoy on-board life.

2. Order room service for breakfast

Lady enjoying room service breakfast on her cruise ship balcony

There is nothing more indulgent than enjoying a delicious breakfast in the comfort of your own stateroom; even more so when you are staying in an Ocean View or Balcony stateroom. Curl up in front of your windows or in your balcony chair, sip a comforting cup of tea and watch the sea glide by. Depending on where you are cruising, you could even spot a passing pod of dolphins!

3. Hit the gym

Passengers using the ocean-view gym on-board MSC Fantasia

Whether you want to keep up with your regular fitness routine or seize the chance to work off some of that tantalising cruise ship cuisine, sea-days are the perfect opportunity to hit the gym. Equipped with the latest machines and boasting beautiful sea views, there is no better place to work up a sweat.

Top tip: The gym is usually packed in the morning and late afternoon, so pay a visit between these hours. Lunchtime is usually best – the perfect excuse to refuel at the buffet.

4. Indulge in a spa treatment

Woman enjoying an outdoor massage in the spa of her cruise ship

The cruise ship spa is an absolute must-try during any cruise holiday. Facials, massages and even acupuncture treatments are on the menu, offering a relaxing experience for every taste. There is just one thing to remember: book your spa treatments well in advance! This area fills up fast during sea-days.

5. Sit out on deck

Lady sun-bathing on the deck of MSC Fantasia

What could be more serene than sitting out on deck and gazing out to sea? Grab a good book and settle down into a lounge chair as the sound of the sea sails by and the breeze cools your skin. Or, if you want to avoid the crowds by the pool and relax somewhere a little more peaceful, it is well worth renting a cabana. Alternatively, depending on your cruise ship, you could hit the on-board library or Observation Lounge.

6. Learn something new

A lady experimenting with shades of blue during a cruise ship painting class

Cruise ships are fantastic places to learn something new, from painting classes and dance lessons to culinary masterclasses.

P&O cruises on-board ships like Arcadia host dance classes during itineraries including seven or more days at sea, as well as watercolour classes on voyages with six or more days at sea. Celebrity Cruises goes one step further. Alongside self-guided tours of the artworks on-board and fun-packed trivia contests, guests can enjoy unique experiences like A Taste of Film: an outdoor showing of a film that has inspired the evening’s bites and drinks.

7. Find your sense of adventure

Lady enjoying the iFly skydiving simulator on-board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Modern cruise ships are packed with unbelievable thrills and spills. Norwegian Breakaway’s Sports Complex comes complete with an exhilarating ropes course and eight foot plank extending above the sea. Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has its very own skydiving simulator, while Oasis of the Seas offers the ride of your life on a nine decks-high zip line. MSC Meraviglia boasts an amazing F1 simulator that will transport you straight to the track, and guests on-board Carnival cruises can enjoy the WaterWorks waterpark.

8. Brush up on your photography skills

Cruise passenger taking a picture of a butterfly after an on-board photography class

Cruises are packed with photo opportunities, so why not make the most of them by brushing up on your photography skills? Cruise lines ranging from Princess Cruises to Holland America Line offer photography classes covering everything from how to compose your shots, to how to edit them when you get back home.

9. Learn a new language

A pile of language books ranging from German dictionaries to Japanese language guides

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be bilingual? Or at least able to speak enough to get by? Thankfully, luxury cruise lines like Crystal and Celebrity Cruises offer language classes as part of on-board enrichment programmes. Crystal Cruises run them as part of its Creative Learning Institute, which also features brilliant music, wellness and tai chi classes.

Have any of these activities caught your eye? Perhaps we haven’t mentioned your favourite thing to do during days at sea? Let us know in the comment box below!

The flagship of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ fleet has a colourful pedigree. Originally built in 1988 for the now defunct Royal Cruise Line, the 1,350-passenger Balmoral sailed with NCL as Norwegian Crown before it was purchased by Fred. Olsen in 2007. The vessel underwent a major refurbishment the following year, including the addition of a central section to the hull which increased the capacity and provided extra public room space for this mid-size vessel.

On a recent cruise to the Norwegian fjords – a destination where Fred. Olsen has creative itineraries – I was able to appreciate what makes this ship such a firm favourite. Nowhere is this more evident that in the easy to understand layout of the ship. The Marquee Deck (Deck 11) is devoted to outdoor pursuits, while the Lounge Deck (Deck 7) is the venue for entertainment and leisure. A Scottish theme runs throughout the ship with the names of restaurants being influenced by the Highlands: the Ballindalloch, Avon and Spey.

Where to sleep

Premier Suite on-board Fred. Olsen cruise ship, Balmoral

There is a large range of accommodation in 21 grades, ranging from cosy Inside cabins at around 160 sq ft; through Ocean View cabins ranging from 165 to 200 sq ft; plus Balcony cabins at approximately 190 sq ft; as well as top of the range Suites with Balcony that come in at between 200 sq ft and 430 sq ft. An outstanding feature of Balmoral is the number of dedicated single cabins across several accommodation grades, making solo travel affordable. These include 15 Inside cabins; 39 Outside cabins; and three Balcony Suites. Apart from the single cabins, all have either twin or double beds.

All cabins come with a Smart TV, hairdryer, safe, air-conditioning, and tea and coffee making facilities. A high proportion of cabins come with a bath tub and there are shower gel and soap dispensers. Balconies vary in size and many are shaded by the deck above. In a break with current practice, smoking is permitted on balconies. The on-board amenities and perks increase with the level of accommodation and culminate with the ‘Suite Dreams’ benefits which make for a truly indulgent cruise.

What to do

Singer and dancers putting on a show on-board Fred. Olsen Balmoral

The Neptune Lounge features lavishly-costumed revues of West End musical favourites, as well as guest stars from the small screen and big stage. On my cruise the ‘Ministry of Rock’ production by the Balmoral Show Company was little short of ground-breaking for this cruise line, whose entertainment is normally more subdued. This show was edgy and the nine singers and dancers gave competent performances of great rock anthems. Another memorable show was given by Phamie Gow – a modern harpist, pianist and vocalist. Special ‘Theme Nights’ – such as British Night; 60’s and 70’s Night; and Tropical Night bring their own magic – none more so than the Crew Show.

Named after Fred. Olsen’s first ship, the Morning Light Pub has a vibe more in common with an ‘All Bar One’ than the ‘Rovers Return’, but popular entertainment is provided by a guitarist and comedians. Probably the most serene room on-board is the Observatory Lounge, where a pianist enhances the ambience during cocktail hour as well as after dinner. In the Card Room, passengers can enjoy bridge tournaments and social games; there is also a well-stocked library. Scattered throughout the ship are original British and Scandinavian artworks from the Olsen family collection.

Where to eat

Guests eating and enjoying a glass of wine in the restaurant on BalmoralLady being served afternoon tea on-board Fred. Olsen Balmoral

The traditional Ballindalloch Restaurant stretches the width of the ship; there are also two smaller, attractive restaurants, the Avon and the Spey, high up on Deck 10 which have extensive views from floor-to-ceiling windows. All three have open-seating for breakfast as well as lunch, which is never more impressive than when the Sunday Roast or Seafood Buffets are served in the Ballindalloch. Sumptuous five-course à la carte dinners, offered in two sittings, allow the chefs to demonstrate their immense culinary skills. The Palms Café has open-seating for all meals as well as theme nights such as the Asian Dinner Buffet, plus a nightly supper club if you get a late onset of the munchies.

The Grill at the stern of Deck 7 incurs a supplement of £20, but I relished the fine cuisine in an inspired setting looking out to sea. There is also a lavish Traditional Afternoon Tea served in the Observatory Lounge; a veritable banquet for an additional £7.95. It is worth noting that Fred. Olsen was recently a recipient of the prestigious ‘Britain’s Best Cruise Line for Food’ accolade in the Holiday & Cruise Channel’s ‘Telly’ Awards, which are voted for entirely by viewers.

What I loved

Man reclining in a jacuzzi in the deck of Fred. Olsen cruise ship, Balmoral

There are some unexpected surprises such as the Gin Menu in the Marquee Bar, and anyone taking advantage of the All-Inclusive Package for drinks for £25 per person, per day, can enjoy unlimited premium drinks and cocktails. The wine list in the restaurants is also comprehensive and well-priced.

On-board the beautiful Balmoral, the ambience is relaxed and refined, with Brit-popular activities such as ballroom dancing, lectures, arts and crafts, and carpet bowling. Passengers tend to go all out for formal nights, donning cocktail dresses, black tie and even kilts.

What I didn’t

There were often queues for the Palm Court Buffet, especially when afternoon tea is served. Also, some passengers tended to hog the sun-loungers - even putting books on them - in an attempt to keep them for when they returned - often much later.

Traditions might be writ large at Fred. Olsen Cruises, but this new chapter is a page-turner.

A true British favourite, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is one of the longest-established cruise lines in the world and has been refining the cruise experience for more than a century and a half. As a family-operated company, it is justly proud of its lineage and heritage as much as its success.

The present Olsen & Company businesses began with three brothers from a small town near Oslo. Fredrik Christian Olsen bought his first schooners in 1848; his brother Petter began his ship owning career in 1852; followed by Andreas in 1860. However, it was Petter’s son Fredrik who laid down the foundations of the present company.

With their fleet of four ships, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is a company that believes ‘small is beautiful’. It take pride in its Norwegian heritage and appreciates that passengers want a wider choice of cruising options than is the norm in today’s world of long flights and short sailings.

Woman and companions enjoying Observation Lounge afternoon tea on a Fred. Olsen cruise

The company’s management understands that their passengers want a more personalised experience; one where modern-day conveniences sail in tandem with traditional values. Time-honoured customs have their place, for this is a cruise experience that has more in common with Noel Coward than Noel Gallagher. Unashamedly British, the entertainment takes its cue from the West End rather than Broadway; the currency is the familiar pound as opposed to the mighty dollar; and announcements are only made in English.

When it comes to that most sublime cruise pastime of dining, the British palate takes precedence. Chefs ensure that the menus are metaphors for fine-living and good taste, but ensure they never overstep the mark and prove too over the top for guests.

Friends admiring the view from their Fred. Olsen cruise ship in Venice

Rarely does the same routing appear twice in the carefully-planned itineraries. With more than 160 ports of call, Fred's ships sail to the world’s most celebrated destinations, as well as many remote locations often bypassed by other ships. Overnight stays are a signature of several cruises, affording more in-depth shore excursions than is the norm.

Another definable difference is the personable and long-standing crew who are adept at creating a ‘home-away-from-home’ camaraderie of friendly faces rather than a seaborne voyage full of strangers.

Judging by the high number of repeat passengers, this is a cruise experience that has been styled to perfection.

The gateway to the fjords is full of surprises.

Founded on an old Viking settlement in 1070, the city of Bergen has a proud history and is famous for its blend of old and new architecture – little wonder it was European City of Culture in 2000. One of Norway’s most enjoyable cities, Bergen is set amid seven hills; while to the south and west islands dot the horizon.

Although Bergen has become one of Norway’s most important cruise ports as the undisputed gateway to the fjords, it remains a laid-back, easy-going town with a firmly nautical air. Fishing may no longer be Bergen’s economic lifeblood, but the bustling main harbour is still very much the focus of life during the day; while at night, bars and clubs attract an arty/boho crowd.

City houses nestled into the mountains in Bergen, a Norway cruise port

Colourful fronts of traditional fishing shops in Bergen, Norway

Sadly, most fjords cruise ships sail away in late afternoon so visitors need to content themselves with the many attractions the city has to offer. The Hanseatic Museum is a 300-year-old warehouse that harks back to the cod-liver oil trade, but city-wide there is a jaunty maritime feel.

The Fish Market along the Torget in Bergen has been a meeting place for merchants and fishermen since the 1200s. In summer months it is a riot of colour as stalls also sell fruits, vegetables, flowers and handicrafts. Nearby is Bryggen, the city’s old wharf, which is an exceptional example of a medieval urban area and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Many fires, the last in 1955, ravaged the quaint wooden houses, but today, some 62 buildings remain preserved. The Bryggens Museum is a stunning modern construction built over the remains of the first settlement and allows you to experience life in medieval Bergen.

A good tip is to pack layered clothing as well as waterproofs – after all, Bergen is the rain capital of Europe!

Few voyages offer such enchantment as cruises to the Norwegian fjords.

While Norway’s rugged western coastline and Arctic latitudes offer a magnificent mix of natural splendour, it is the serene fjords that are Instagram hotspots. Created during a succession of ice ages, when glaciers carved out deep chasms, these most spectacular geological formations are long, narrow inlets that reach deep into the surrounding mountains.

From the early days of cruising, voyages to the Norwegian fjords have been an essential part of many ships’ annual sailing calendar. Summer is a magical time of year to visit when the calm seas are an indigo blue and skies seem to go on forever. Cruise ships both large and small call these northern latitudes home between May and September as they indulge in leisurely sailings along the sculpted western coastline – some even venture as far as the North Cape and beyond.

Natural beauty

Cruise ship sailing the Norwegian fjords on a stormy day

There is no finer way to experience nature’s pageant than on-board a cruise ship that navigates into the very soul of this magical land. The fjords boast countless waterfalls that thread the dramatic cliffs then erupt into streams of dazzling water plunging hundreds of feet down sheer cliff faces. Far below, tiny farmsteads brim-full of trees heavy with scarlet apples cluster round humble stone churches reflected in the shimmering water.

You can get up close and personal to this placid terrain during excursions by kayak when you paddle right up to the mighty rock faces and enjoy a refreshing spritz from the icy mist of the waterfalls. Other, more sedate options include tours to myriad attractions on offer in this tranquil country that never short-changes on spectacular scenery and colourful communities.

View down the valley to Geirangerfjord

The poster-child of Norway, Geirangerfjord is the very stuff of cruising. Cruise ships glide past the famous Seven Sisters and Bridal Veil waterfalls before reaching the tiny settlement that is the jumping off point for tours to Mount Dalsnibba – the highest peak in Sunnmøre. You don’t have to be an adrenaline-junkie to experience the Geiranger Skywalk viewing platform which only opened last year.

The village of Flam, at the head of the Aurlandsfjord, epitomises idyllic Norwegian life. Just a short stroll from the dock, you can board the Flamsdalen Mountain Railway for a 30-minute journey to Myrdal Station that climbs 2,800 feet past the spectacular Kjosfossen Waterfall. The Sognefjord is the longest and deepest fjord in the world. One of the branches of this legacy of the Ice Age is Fjaerlandfjord; another is the mighty Jostedal glacier.

Close by Eidfjord is the Skykkjedalsfossenk waterfall, as well as the breathtakingly beautiful Mabodal Valley. Stirring vistas of Romsdalfjord are on offer not far from tiny Andalsnes, from where you can visit the enchanting Stigfoss Waterfall and view the jagged peaks of Trollveggen.

Contrasting ports

Cabins and mountains by the Norwegian fjords covered in snowCruise ship docked in Alesund in Norway

Most fjords cruises include visits to a contrasting mix of cities and settlements. Bergen fuses the cosmopolitan with the al fresco. In Gamle Rådhuset, picturesque medieval houses line cobbled streets full of colonnaded shops and lively cafés. There is often nothing finer than a stroll around the old harbour’s famous Bryggen quayside and the Torget market. Music-lovers head to Troldhaugen where Greig composed many of his haunting melodies. If you are lucky, the ships tour will include a piano recital in the modern concert hall that overlooks the tranquil lake.

Appearing to float on its three islands, the picturesque port of Ålesund is the largest town on Norway’s northwest coast and overflows in art nouveau architecture and Nordic mythology.  At the Sunnmøre Open-Air Museum, you can see the plucky fishing vessel Heland, a relic of the clandestine special operations for refugees during World War II known as the ‘Shetland Bus’.

With its captivating gardens and white painted wooden houses, Molde enjoys the nickname ‘Town of Roses’. Take time to discover the marketplace with its impressive City Hall and visit the iconic church, high above the city, richly decorated by some of Norway's leading artists.

Heading further north

Cruise ship docked in the middle of a Norwegian fjordNorthern lights shining above a snow-covered mountain in Tromso, Norway

A handful of longer summertime cruises venture inside the Arctic Circle where the Midnight Sun rarely sets in summer months. In the Lofoten Islands, timber-fronted and brightly painted houses - as well as old fishermen’s shacks - are picture-postcard perfect.

Surrounded by sculpted glacial peaks, Tromsø is a spirited town that, in summer months, stages street music and cultural events – it also has more pubs per capita than anywhere else in Norway. Must-see attractions include the Domkirke - completed in 1861; the modern iceberg-shaped Arctic Cathedral; and the Polaria Centre.

Honningsvåg lies only 21 miles from the North Cape - Europe’s most northerly point. At the Roof of Europe the stark grandeur stretches to infinity. A visit to the Nordkapphallen dramatically brings the four seasons to life on a panoramic, 225-degree screen.

Norway offers scenic highlights and pastoral gems in equal measure. For anyone looking for a tranquil holiday at sea combined with awe-inspiring scenery, a cruise to Europe’s northernmost country ticks all the right boxes.