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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 06 February, 2024
Expert travel writer: Sue Bryant

Exploring the coast of Britain and Ireland by ship is a wonderful immersion in history, culture and nature. Even to Brits themselves, the historical contrasts are a delight, from Edinburgh Castle to the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, the Beatles trail in Liverpool and the literary scene in Dublin.

The coastal scenery is dazzling; white beaches and aquamarine shallows in the Isles of Scilly, or the basalt formations of Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. The sea passage around the north of Scotland and the Irish Sea is extraordinarily rich in wildlife, with excellent chances of spotting whales and porpoises.

While the majority of people attracted to this kind of cruise are more mature, it’s also possible to turn a round-Britain voyage into a family holiday and some of the bigger ships are well geared up to entertain kids and teens on the days at sea.


Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: Min 7 days

Getting there & doing it

Exploring the British Isles independently is relatively easy; the advantage of a cruise is that getting from point to point is effortless – and the scenery, particularly as you round the top of Scotland, is magnificent.

You could opt for a round-Britain and Ireland voyage, with typical stops including Newcastle, Edinburgh, Inverness, Orkney, Greenock (for Glasgow), Belfast, Dublin. Liverpool, Portland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Southampton and Dover. Starting points include Southampton, Dover, London (for smaller ships) and sometimes, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Dublin.

Another option is to travel by much smaller ship and explore the west coast of Scotland in detail, pottering along the shores of lochs and islands and stopping for walking, castle visits and tastings at whisky and gin distilleries.

When to do it

Cruises operate from March to October. August/September is festival season in Edinburgh, so a good time to drop in. Midges are a pest in Scotland from June to September, although much less so if you’re out at sea.

Who to go with: tour operators


Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Ambassador Cruise Line [British Isles]

Ambassador Cruise Line [British Isles]

United Kingdom (UK)

New cruise line offering cruises in British waters from London Tilbury and aimed at a cost conscious, mature British market.

Noble Caledonia [British Isles]

Noble Caledonia [British Isles]

United Kingdom (UK)

Noble Caledonia operates small ships with the vibe of a country house hotel on board. UK itineraries call at small, remote ports, offering in-depth cultural tours.

Saga Cruises [British Isles]

Saga Cruises [British Isles]

Folkestone, Kent, Multiple countries

Luxury operator specialising in cruises for the over 50s, calling at off the beaten track ports. Beautiful, contemporary ships and all-inclusive style; onboard, you’ll find a quintessentially British experience.

Destination guides


Destination guides including or relevant to this experience


County Dublin, Ireland

A bridge and houses reflecting in the River Liffey in the evening light

Medieval history, literature, art and culture marry epic nightlife and dining in a charming urban village.


Edinburgh Region, United Kingdom (UK)

An overview of Old town Edinburgh and Edinburgh castle in Scotland. thousands of buildings covering the ground with on a blue sunny day with a scatter of white clouds

Capital treats abound, from mighty castles and royal palaces to gourmet restaurants and arguably the world’s best performing arts festival.


Merseyside, United Kingdom (UK)

Close up of top of the building

Home of the world’s most successful ever-band and one of the world’s top football clubs, the reborn city is also a cultural powerhouse, with top-notch museums, rich maritime heritage and cultural events galore.


Greater London, United Kingdom (UK)

view of houses of parliament at night

World-class culture, fashion, music, food and history – and a mind-boggling array of bucket list experiences – packed into one extraordinary, incomparable destination. 

Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands, United Kingdom (UK)

Ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the edge of Loch Awe with brown hills behind

Magnificent mountain scenery slashed by silvery lochs and peppered with brooding castles: all laden with rich Scottish heritage, history and tradition. Drive the NC500 road trip, or ride on the spectacular West Highland Line.


Northern Ireland, United Kingdom (UK)

Exterior view of the local parliament during the daytime

Northern Ireland’s capital makes for a surprisingly arty city break, with convivial and cosy pubs, elegant architecture and cutting-edge cuisine.



Round-ups that include this experience