You don’t need to set sail for Iceland, Norway or New Zealand for some rugged, beautiful landscape – or travel the Continent for a taste of a rich old culture. Scotland cruises give you the chance to discover another way of life, right on your doorstep. Have you ever thought about a cruise of Scotland, or making a Scottish destination part of a longer cruise?
Scotland’s Hebrides will make you stare; they have that effect on people. Skye is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the British Isles, and a popular destination on cruises around Scotland. The main town on the island, Portree, is the standard stop on a cruise here. You could stick around the town for a scenic shopping trip, with the green hills towering in the background; or head into the green, grey, silent wilds, which might become your new favourite place to be if you’ve always been a fan of places like the Lake District.
If cities are more your thing, there are many cruises that start or finish in Edinburgh. The city has seen increasing footfall from cruise visitors in recent years, and it’s only set to increase – with cultural attractions like the Fringe Festival and the Military Tattoo pulling in huge crowds every year. Alternatively, you could stop off in towns like Stornoway and Fort William. See the ancient standing stones at Callanish, tour placid lochs and immerse yourself in wild landscapes, or take to the road on a shore excursion and tour the ruins and rebuilds of the Highland castles, like Dunvegan on Skye – the home of the Clan MacLeod.
You never really know a place until you’ve taken a seat and eaten there. We’ve all heard about the kind of food and drink that make Scotland famous – but until you’ve tried it in the right context, have you really had the full experience? Everyone’s familiar with haggis, tatties and neeps, but depending where you go you could tuck into a big plate of the classic version, or settle yourself down in a modern city restaurant and try a new, gourmet interpretation.
If haggis isn’t for you, there’s plenty of other recipes that can give you a taste of Scotland during your time here. Opt for a bowl of creamy Cullen skink, a thick smoked haddock soup to warm your bones after a hike across the heath; or a thick, tender slab of Aberdeen Angus, to make a burger big enough to make a castle doorstop. Whether you’re in a beautiful port town or a bustling city, you won’t struggle to find a bright cut of Scottish salmon, either. Village trawlers bring crabs, lobsters and langoustines ashore, and rich, gamey grouse and venison come fresh from the moors.
It’d be a shame, nay a crime, to come all the way to Scotland and not try the scotch. Even if the taste of knocking one back bodily knocks you back too, no other drink will give you as much taste for Scotland’s character. Scotch began as uisge beatha, pronounced wishga bah-ha, Gaelic for “water of life” – hence, whiskey. There are countless brands to choose from across the country, but your best bet during a shore excursion could be to ask for a glass of the local favourite. There’s no better occasion than Hogmanay to enjoy it, either – Scotland knows how to see out the old year with a bang.
If you’re not in the habit of travelling overseas, but you’d like to start, Scotland is a great place to dip your toe on your first cruise holiday. There’s no language barrier to overcome, and in relative terms Scotland has a pretty compact, accessible coast to get around. Cruises to Scotland hold a unique appeal – combining a familiar way of life with the kind of landscape that you’d expect to see much further afield in Norway and Iceland. Did you know, for instance, that you could catch a good eyeful of the Northern Lights from Orkney, Shetland, Caithness or the Outer Hebrides?
Scotland’s location makes it the perfect starting port for cruises of the Baltic and the Norwegian fjords, with many tours sailing out of Rosyth and Leith in Edinburgh. Take a northern cruise from Scotland and you could be touring the fjords within days – or touring up past Denmark, Sweden and Finland into the Baltic Sea, and seeing the hidden gems of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before a tour of St Petersburg. Alternatively, you could take a cruise heading south for warmer climes around the Iberian Peninsula – a voyage bringing you to down past Portugal, Gibraltar, Spain and France.
West of Glasgow lies the port of Greenock, which opens the way for cruises right around the north of Scotland, and then further afield to destinations like Bergen in Norway. A Scotland cruise makes a great way to combine a tour of the Hebrides, the northern coast and places as far afield as Lerwick and the Faroes – secluded islands which both celebrate their Viking history with spectacular festivals.
Main image courtesy of C. Doussin. Article images courtesy of R. Shade and G. Neate.