Whether you want a hassle-free start to your holiday or simply don’t want to get on a plane, sailing from a British port on a no-fly cruise opens up a world of possibilities, as Deborah Stone reveals. 

There is a fantastic variety of no-fly cruises, which sail from and arrive back at a UK port. Here are some of the best options available for the year ahead.

Dover

Britain’s best-known port has bold plans to transform its waterfront with new shops, bars and cafés to welcome even more ships to its historic cruise terminal. It may not be as busy as Southampton, but it’s important to British-market cruise lines such as Kent-based Saga Cruises, which will launch new ship Spirit of Discovery there in July.

Other major lines offering no-fly cruises with itineraries departing from Dover include Holland America Line and Disney Cruise Line, which sails from the South Coast port to the Norwegian Fjords, inspiration for the hit film Frozen.

Historic buildings line the River Moyka in St Petersburg as seen on a no-fly cruise with Saga
Historic buildings line the River Moyka in St Petersburg

Historic buildings line the River Moyka in St Petersburg Saga’s Spirit of Discovery is kicking off with a tour around Britain for its inaugural cruise in July, but it will be going all the way to St Petersburg in its Myths & Legends of the Baltic cruise, departing 12 September. This cruise will also call at the Baltic ports of Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Kalundborg (for Copenhagen) and Aalborg, and costs from £4,017pp, based on two people sharing (0808 163 9075; travel.saga.co.uk). 

You can also enjoy the British Isles on Holland America Line’s 14-day Celtic Explorer cruise, which sails from Dover to Falmouth, calling at Fishguard in Wales on the way to the Isle of Skye, before heading south to Amsterdam via Dublin and the Channel Isles. It departs on 6 May and costs from £1,799pp, based on two people sharing, cruise only (0344 338 8605; hollandamerica.com). 

London Tilbury

As well as Empire Windrush and the first post-war Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica, this London cruise terminal has welcomed writers Mark Twain and George Orwell in its time. Now its cheerful staff send off thousands of British cruisers every year to sail under the M25’s Queen Elizabeth Bridge and Southend’s world’s longest pier into the North Sea.

Viking sometimes uses Tilbury for its cruises to Norway and for anyone looking for a no-fly cruise, which doubles as a trip of a lifetime, and who has recently come into money, there’s the new Viking Ultimate World Cruise, a 245-day round-trip that leaves just up the river at Greenwich and sails west around the world to New Zealand and back for a cool £68,590 per person. More affordable at £3,790pp is Viking’s 13-day In Search of the Northern Lights (see feature, page 106).

The Northern Lights can be visited on a no-fly cruise with Viking
Tromsø’s location and mild weather make it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights

At Stavanger, there’s the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which is far more interesting than it sounds, or you can learn curling, go fishing or take a boat trip down Lysefjord to the famous 2,000ft Pulpit Rock.

There are overnights at Tromsø and Alta, both Northern Lights hot spots, and an overnight in colourful Bergen. Unfortunately, this is where the cruise finishes, but as Norway is not in the EU there’s no change anyway. Departing 10 January 2020, from £3,790pp, based on two people sharing, including return flight (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk).

Southampton

This is Britain’s busiest cruise port with the most departures from the UK and no-fly cruises that go all over the world including the Caribbean as well as offering excursions to some of the most quintessentially British landmarks.

Southampton has four separate cruise terminals along its two-mile waterfront and all the major cruise lines call here but, in particular, it’s home to P&O Cruises, one of the most popular British-market cruise lines. Next May, the hotly anticipated Iona will be launched, the cruise line’s first new ship since Britannia in 2015, and will sail mainly to Norway on return trips from Southampton, calling at colourful fishing towns including Bergen and Stavanger, as well as sailing through still and silent fjords such as the incomparable Geirangerfjord. Its seven-night Norwegian Fjords cruise costs from £799pp, based on two people sharing, for its departure on 4 July 2020 (0344 338 8003; pocruises.com).

Yellow funicular in Lisbon takes guests on no-fly cruises up to the city's finest viewpoints
Lisbon’s yellow funicular will take you up to its finest viewpoints

Royal Caribbean is among the major lines operating from Southampton and Independence of the Seas is sailing to the Canaries on a return trip that calls at Portugal’s capital city Lisbon, Cadiz, Spain, and the garden island of Madeira, as well as the Canary islands, from £1,425pp, based on two people sharing, departing 29 June (01246 819819; bolsovercruiseclub.com). 

And MSC Cruises’ MSC Preziosa nips over to the Continent and back from Southampton on its Northern Europe cruise. A seven-night voyage from Southampton to Zeebrugge (for Bruges), Rotterdam (overnight), Hamburg and Le Havre for Paris, departing 15 May, starts from £759pp, based on two people sharing (0203 426 3010; msccruises.co.uk).

Liverpool

Unlike most other British cruise terminals Liverpool is just a few steps from Unesco-listed buildings and world-class tourist attractions. Sailing up the mighty River Mersey looking back at Liverpool’s skyline as your ship follows the sun to the Mediterranean or Canary Islands, around Britain or north to Iceland and Scandinavia, is almost as uplifting as sailing down-river into the city. Because arriving in Liverpool, next to Pier Head and the Albert Docks, is like arriving on a film set. New York has its Empire State and Chrysler buildings, but Liverpool’s got its Three Graces – Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings.

pool deck on Amazara Journey lights up at night
Amazara Journey

If you want to see the countryside try a ship’s excursion to the Lake District, or Port Sunlight and its wonderful Lady Lever art gallery – even north Wales and Conwy Castle. Liverpool is one of the best port of calls in round-Britain cruises but there are so many others, as Princess Cruises’ 12-day British Isles (with Liverpool) cruise reveals. Leaving Southampton on regular dates from 25 May, Crown Princess or Reg al Princess calls at Dublin, Belfast, Liverpool, Greenock and South Queensferry – for Glasgow and Edinburgh – and costs from £1,249pp, based on two people sharing (0344 338 8663; princess.com).

Azamara Club Cruises also calls at Liverpool during Azamara Journey’s 15-night Iceland Intensive Voyage. The return trip from Southampton calls at Reykjavik, Ísafjörður, Akureyri and Seyðisfjörður as well as three British ports, and costs from £4,409pp, based on two people sharing (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).

Newcastle

The International Passenger Terminal has recently been refurbished to speed up embarkation and disembarkation, making it an ideal departure point for those living in the North who want to sail to Northern Europe on one of the great no-fly cruises available. It saves getting all the way down to the south coast then sailing all the way up again – at least a day or two – and while it’s usually British-market cruise lines that leave from Newcastle, it’s growing in popularity as a port day for international companies.

Houses in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, visited during no-fly cruises with Saga
Red Ribbinska Husetin old Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Most ships will have an excursion to the Unesco-listed Hadrian’s Wall. The other must-see excursions are to Northumberland’s Heritage Coast, where you can explore dramatic Bamburgh Castle in the sand dunes, and the handsome market town of Alnwick, where a visit to Alnwick Castle is magical – not least because of its Harry Potter films connection.

Marella’s Legends of the Baltics cruise, departing on 22 June, from £1,624pp, based on two people sharing, is a 15-night round-trip from Newcastle, calling at Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and Riga, with an overnight stay in St Petersburg (tui.co.uk).

Belfast

Cruise-ship visits to Belfast Harbour will be up 31 per cent this year, with 151 ships expected. Norwegian Cruise Line alone is increasing its calls here, from one in 2018 to 11, and it will be the first Irish port of call for Saga’s new ship, Spirit of Discovery. So why is Belfast the UK’s third most visited port? Of course it has a lot to do with the popularity of British Isles cruises, but it’s also down to Belfast’s growing tourism profile.

It all began when the Titanic Quarter first opened on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in 2012, one of the world’s largest urban waterfront regeneration schemes. There are historic ships to see, fascinating tourist trail boards to read and, of course, the shiny multi hull-like Titanic Belfast with its interactive galleries about the doomed ship that was built there.

Belfast City Hall can be visited on one of Silversea's no-fly cruises
The grand Belfast City Hall

But it’s the explosion of interest in the Giant’s Causeway, a drive away along the Antrim coast, that has really helped to elevate this spectacular region to must-visit status. Back in Belfast, get a better understanding of the city’s social history at Belfast City Hall, with its free permanent exhibition and Titanic Memorial Gardens. And watch out for the modern street art around Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter – witty and joyful works are found among some of the city’s best pubs and restaurants.  

Silversea’s 13-day British Isles cruise, departing 11 August, is a London Tower Bridge round-trip that calls at Fowey in Cornwall and Holyhead in Wales, before circumnavigating Ireland, calling at Belfast and Londonderry as well as Dublin, Galway, Bantry and Cork in the Republic, from £6,120pp, based on two sharing (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).

Greenock

Plans for a £15million expansion to Greenock’s Ocean Terminal are hoping to get the go-ahead this year so that a new visitor centre, restaurant and museum will be open by 2020. It will be a much-needed boost to attractions in this River Clyde town, where most cruise passengers are likely to jump on a train for the 40-minute rail journey to Glasgow or book on to a ship’s excursion. 

And sailing into the sunset down the Clyde from Greenock is one of the most beautiful sections of a round-Britain cruise, where the islands merge with the mainland into one magical experience. And this can be experienced on one of the amazing no-fly cruises available from the port.

Small ship cruise line the Majestic Line has 14 different itineraries, some setting off from Holy Loch to sail around Bute, Arran and Kintyre, all around the Firth of Clyde. It also sails from Oban, further north, venturing into the southern Hebrides and lochs of Argyll. This cruise, on its converted wooden fishing-boat cruise ships, books up quickly because there’s room for only 11 on board the Glen Tarsan and Glen Massan, but there’s a six-night sailing on 23 May 2020 and three other dates, all from £2,260pp, based on two people sharing (01369 707 951; themajesticline.co.uk).

Edinburgh

The Scottish capital is so popular that there are four cruise ports, so more passengers on no-fly cruises can visit the Unesco city: Rosyth, South Queensferry, Leith and Newhaven on the Firth of Forth. Leith in particular has good shops, interesting bars and restaurants, with the former royal ship Britannia permanently moored there. Edinburgh’s Old Town is a labyrinth of streets full of boutique shops, restaurants and pubs, topped by the castle and the Royal Mile. The Scottish Natonal Portrait Gallery in the elegant Georgian New Town is worth a detour, as is the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

But while you can’t ‘do’ Edinburgh in a day, you can see a lot of Scotland on a round-British Isles cruise – certainly more than you could see by car in just a few days. Take the Orkney Islands, off the north coast, an archipelago of some 70 islands – the largest is called the Mainland, and Kirkwall is the largest town and capital of the Orkneys. It’s here that cruise ships stop to see the oldest prehistoric houses in Western Europe, at Bay of Skaill.

Norwegian Spirit cruising on one of its no-fly cruises
Norwegian Spirit

The 5,000-year-old stone houses have stone beds and seats, and were discovered after a storm in 1850. And it’s just one of several Neolithic sites, including the standing stones of the Ness of Brodgar, that has brought record numbers of visitors to the island. Kirkwall itself is dominated by the 12th-century Norse cathedral of St Magnus, built about the same time as the Bishop’s Palace, which was later incorporated into a Renaissance palace. 

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Spirit, refurbished in 2017, calls at Kirkwall during its 12-day British Isles Heritage cruise, a return trip from Southampton that also stops at Invergordon in the Highlands and Newhaven for Edinburgh, departing 15 September, from £1,679pp, based on two people sharing (0333 2412319; ncl.com).

For help planning your next holiday and discovering other no-fly cruises, take a look at our cruise finder.