10 Under-the-Radar European Cruise Destinations

  • The Welsh countryside is a patchwork of rolling hills and green valleys, with the occasional castle such as Caernarfon perched on a hill.

    Wales: Castles and Cheer

    Sleuth for cruises listing a few less-touristed ports. You can count on some good surprises; cruise lines do their research. Ports in Wales are jewels, leading to stunning green valleys, cosy storybook villages and cheery people. Holyhead, Wales boasts three nearby castles,  including Caernarfon Castle. Visitors to Holyhead can take an excursion to Snowdonia National Park, a stunning sweep of of small mountains. Holland America Line includes Holyhead, Wales on several itineraries.

    Photo courtesy of Visit Britain

  • Irish luck will take you to the magical Ring of Kerry. Actually, it's good planning that gets you there.

    Irish Ports are Smiling

    Ireland's Ring of Kerry is a road of magical views, but tricky for tourists to drive.  Cruise ships calling in Cork offer shore trips that trace the ring road, taking in sweeping sea vistas and dense woodland thickets. Look closely at mist-srhouded bogs--you might see fairies dancing. That's a matter to take to the nearest pub where friendly locals will add a few stories of their own. Princess Cruises sails around Ireland; Cork is one port call.

    Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland

  • All hands on deck as a Hurtigruten ship eases through a fjord in Norway's far north.

    Norway: "Cold" is the New "Hot"

    Cruising Norway's coast and exploring its spectacular fjords is so popular, it seems "cold" is the new "hot." Norway's mountains and seascapes are gorgeous. Plus Norwegian chefs are winning high praise and Scandinavian design is back in vogue. Norwegian line Hurtigruten sails Norway's coast every day of the year, stopping at villages along the way to deliver mail. Some Hurtigruten cruises sail above the Arctic Circle, a passage that carries bragging rights.  

    Photo courtesy of Trym Ivar Bergsmo/Hurtigruten

  • No need to be rich or famous to enjoy the charms of Portofino, a small town on the Italian Riviera.

    Portofino: Not Just for Celebs Anymore

    If you've heard of Portofino, it was probably inked with a celebrity. Portofino's picturesque harbor village with upscale shops and restaurants are a big draw.  But lovely nearby beaches are heaven for basking.  Perhaps hike up to Castello Brown (castle). Hiking trails thread the hills above town. Divers love the crystalline sea. Sea Dream Yacht Club is among cruise lines calling at Portofino.

    Photo courtesy of Sea Dream Yacht Clu

  • St. Tropez is still a fishing village, though nary a fishing pole hangs off any multi-million dollar yacht in the harbor

    St. Tropez: Where Diamonds Go for a Tan

    The St. Tropez tan is the closet most people get to St. Tropez on the French Riviera. But no yacht ownership is required for sitting in a sidewalk cafe admiring the pretty harbor. St. Tropez is far smaller than other French Riviera haunts. And in spring, streets are subdued and restaurants are welcoming. When summer tourism pulsates, head for the hills to visit a winery. Or find a quiet village. This is Provence, with bountiful vineyards, fields of sunflowers and storybook villages.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • Omis, Croatia does not spring to mind with the word "Riviera." But Omis boasts riviera riches that are golden to active travelers.

    Croatian Riviera? Meet Omis

    Riviera--that's the upscale Mediterranean coast of Italy and France. But "riviera" is Italian for coastal with tropical climate and vegetation. That describes Croatia's Mediterranean coast, and Omis, Croatia gives snorkeling and diving fans, clear waters (with tropical fish ruins, a pirate fort and sunken ships lying beneath).  Sunny sidewalk cafes, river rafting and canyon climbing are also popular. Royal Caribbean calls at Omis on select Mediterranean sails.

    Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

  • Consider a day in Hamburg, a progressive city that turned seedy port facilities into smart urban living.

    Hamburg is Happening

    With its North Sea location, Hamburg, Germany is often the debarkation port where passengers bid farewell to their ship. It's worthwhile to book an extra day in this lively city once renowned for its raucous waterfront.  Recent development has transformed the district into a model of urban renewal. Residences, offices and retail replace dilapidated warehouses. The city also has dozens of museums, including children's museums. A passion for sports and fashion keeps Hamburg lively. Celebrity Cruises makes port calls in Hamburg.

    Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

  • Hang out in the Kaffeehaus; listen to great music. One could grow very accustomed to the Vienna lifestyle.

    Vienna: Toast Mozart with Lattés

    Vienna, Austria - distant from the sea - doesn't fit into a land-based European tour. But a Danube River cruise lands right on Vienna's doorstep. Music is the city's greatest claim to fame; evening shore excursions take in performances. Kaffeehaus culture is a centuries-old Viennese tradition where social discourse (Freud's and Mozart's) found fertile ground--or perhaps "grounds"- here.  Vienna is a formal city, as befits the Italian Renaissance grandeur of the Vienna State Opera House. Viking River Cruises sails here on the Danube. 

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • Budapest charms travelers by remaining Hungarian and making the Danube its bejeweled city centerpiece.

    Bashful Budapest: Barely Known and Brilliant

    Budapest is Europe's "unexpected city"-- less homogenized by Western culture than most of Europe. There are few international retailers on the miles-long Vaci utca promenade; goods are Hungarian or European-made. Same story in the Grand Market Hall where traditional handicrafts and locally produced foods are plentiful. The Danube is the city's ultimate grace note, its riverside cafés filled with music and laughter. Rverfront promenade bridges twinkle with a strings of lights. Danube River cruises are offered by Viking and Uniworld river cruise lines.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • Sailing into Malta gets the cameras humming to capture crumbling sandstone fortifications.

    Malta's Allure: Sun above, Treasure Below

    Malta's a miniscule nation of seven islands floating alone in the Mediterranean, holds crumbling walls and fortress that look like clever sand castles.  It's been occupied by a variety of cultures from Romans to crusading monks. Sun and sea are dazzling on this Mediterranean island nation, and scuba diving is legendary; sunken World War II bombers are visible in the clear water.  Famed architect Renzo Piano added a contemporary flair to Valletta's parliament. Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2 and Azamara Club Cruises include Malta on itineraries.

    Photo courtesy of Azamara Club Cruises

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