Porto is Portugal’s second-largest city and, some would say, its most charming. Credit: Shutterstock

2023's most dazzling cruise destinations

Author: Sarah Holt

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From iconic classics to surprising new ports of call, Sarah Holt discovers the best places to visit on a cruise next year.

Straddling the River Douro in the northwest of Portugal, buzzy Porto is a great place to start or finish a river cruise. The city lends its name to the region’s famous fortified wine, and there are tasting opportunities wherever you look. Take time also to wander the narrow cobbled streets of the medieval Ribeira district, with its stylish merchants’ houses and many cafes.

Sao Francisco Church, known for its ornate gilded carvings, is definitely worth a visit, and don’t miss the Livraria Lello bookshop, where sometime Porto resident JK Rowling took inspiration for her Harry Potter books.

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AmaWaterways' seven-night ‘Flavours of Portugal & Spain’ cruise aboard Ama Vida, from Vega de Terron to Porto via Barca d’Alva, Pinhao, Regua, Caldas de Aregos and Entre-os-Rios, departs May 2, 2023, from £3,545 per person.

For UK travellers, the Arctic is far easier to reach than the Antarctic, yet it remains an incredible journeythat few of us ever make. Within the Arctic Circle lie parts of Canada, the USA, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. On cruises here you’ll get to spot polar bears, arctic foxes and walruses, and you’ll learn how four million people, including many indigenous communities, manage to live in such extreme conditions, where the temperature throughout the year can vary from -40°C to +30°C.

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Hurtigruten Expeditions' 13-night ‘Arctic Islands Discovery’ cruise aboard MS Fram, from Oslo to Reykjavik via Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Eyjafjordur, Akureyri, Patreksfjordur and Snaefellsnes Peninsula, departs July 12, 2023, from £4,935 per person.

Surrounded by a picture-perfect panorama of ocean, mountains and green space, Vancouver is consistently lauded as one of the world’s most liveable cities. On a port visit, don’t miss the chance to see Gastown, the now gentrified cobblestoned district where Vancouver began.

Here you’ll discover bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, plus the city’s famous steam clock, which whistles at 15-minute intervals. Also worth a visit is trendy Granville Island, where you’ll find cool cafes, markets and galleries. If you’re a wildlife fan, plan to visit between March and October, when thousands of whales migrate through the waters near Vancouver, making it one of the world’s finest whale-watching locations.

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Princess Cruises'
seven-night ‘Inside Passage’ cruise aboard Crown Princess, round trip from Vancouver via Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, departs May 5, 2023, from £929 per person.

Vancouver easily earns its reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Hungary’s capital city is dominated by the mighty Danube, which separates Buda in the west from Pest in the east. On the hillier Buda side, visitors can explore the World Heritage-listed castle district and bask in the colonnaded swimming pool and hot spring baths at Gellert Spa.

On the Pest side, don’t miss the chance to amble down the milelong Andrássy Avenue and tuck into traditional Hungarian dishes – from squidgy flodni cake to peppery goulash – in the cavernous Central Market Hall.

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Emerald Cruises' seven-night ‘Danube Delights’ cruise aboard Emerald Sun, from Munich to Budapest via Regensburg, Passau, Durnstein, Vienna and Bratislava, departs May 22, 2023, from £2,466 per person.

Budapest has become one of Europe's best-loved short-break destinations. Credit: Viking

Lovely Lyon in central France offers cruise passengers the chance to dine like a king. Not for nothing is this UNESCO-listed city also known as the gastronomic capital of the world, and the opportunity to eat is everywhere, from the three-acre Les Halles food market to the city’s 4,000 restaurants, including no fewer than 21 with Michelin stars. Visitors in search of the most authentic dishes should try la quenelle – a sort of elongated dumpling – with pink praline tart for dessert.

The architecture here is equally enthralling, so don’t miss the chance to visit the Roman Amphitheatre des Trois Gaules or the medieval and Renaissance buildings in Vieux Lyon, the old city.

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Avalon Waterways'
seven-night ‘Burgundy & Provence’ cruise aboard Avalon Poetry II, from Chalon-sur-Soane to Arles via Tournus, Lyon, Tournon-Viviers and Avignon, departs April 4, 2023, from £2,692 per person.

Lyon is France's foodie, festival-loving city. Credit: Shutterstock

The capital of exotic Qatar, Doha offers a whole host of head-turning sights including the Aspire Tower – aka The Torch – which stands 300m high, the Museum of Islamic Art and the stunning new National Museum, designed to resemble a desert rose. Souq Waqif, a traditional bazaar that stands on the site where Bedouins once traded livestock and wool, is a must for travellers in search of an authentic local experience.

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MSC Cruises
' seven-night ‘Emirates’ cruise aboard MSC World Europa, round trip from Doha via Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island and Ad Dammam, departs February 2, 2023, from £615 per person.

Souk Waqif is Doha's historic bazaar. Credit: Qatar Tourism

Monte Carlo
The urban centre of Monaco, that glamorous principality on the French Riviera, Monte Carlo may be tiny – about the size of 35 football pitches – but it’s home to some of the most expensive real estate and many of the wealthiest citizens on earth. Here you’ll find beautifully manicured gardens, designer yachts in the harbour and Lamborghinis on every corner.

What is more surprising is how easy it is for us mere mortals to spend a day here. Just take a look at the menu fixe offerings at the local restaurants and you’ll find the prices are surprisingly reasonable. You can even visit the famous casino – but take care not to break the bank.

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Azamara's five-night ‘Grand Prix Weekend Voyage’ aboard Azamara Pursuit, round trip from Barcelona via Saint-Tropez and Monte Carlo, departs May 25, 2023, from £1,092 per person.

All roads in Monte-Carlo lead to the place du Casino.

Mount Fuji
most iconic sight lies about two hours by road from Tokyo, so with your ship berthed in the capital it’s an easy excursion to the foothills of this perfectly conical snow-capped peak. Mount Fuji overlooks five lakes (where its reflection will offer your ultimate Instagram shot) and these are all equally popular with visitors, who can enjoy taking hot spring baths and sleeping on futon beds at a traditional Japanese inn.

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Celebrity Cruises' 12-night ‘Best of Southern Japan’ cruise aboard Celebrity Millennium, round trip from Tokyo via Kyoto, Kochi, Okinawa, Ishigaki, Jeju Island (South Korea) and Hiroshima, departing November 5, 2023, from £1,787 per person.

See the soaring peak of Mount Fuji. Credit: Shutterstock

With its maze of narrow cobbled streets, striking boulevards, shaded squares and medieval architecture, Palma de Mallorca is a fascinating port of call. The majestic 14th-century Sa Seu cathedral is a highlight, with decorative 20th-century additions by Spanish architect Gaudi – more famous for his work in Barcelona – and a modern chapel by Miquel Barcelo.

Palma is also renowned for its pearls and leather goods, and visitors can get their shopping fix in the streets around Passeig des Born. There are also some lovely beaches nearby if you fancy a dip.

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Scenic Cruises' 11-night ‘Incredible Iberian Discovery’ cruise aboard Scenic Eclipse II, from Lisbon to Barcelona via Portimao,Seville, Puerto Banus, Malaga, Cartagena, Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca and Mahon, departs April 12, 2023, from £6,111 per person.

Palma de Mallorca is Majorca's cosmopolitan capital. Credit: Shutterstock

Cape Town
Whether you’re climbing Table Mountain, chuckling at the baby penguins on Boulders Beach or simply checking out the shops, restaurants and bars at the city’s buzzy Victoria and Alfred waterfront, this incredible city at the southern tip of Africa is one of the world’s most memorable port stops.

And if you’re lucky enough to be anchoring overnight, don’t miss the chance to visit the famous Stellenbosch winelands, less than an hour’s drive from the central business district.

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Cunard's 16-night ‘Cape Town to Southampton’ cruise aboard Queen Mary 2, via Walvis Bay and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, departs April 7, 2023, from £1,949 per person.

Cape Town is arguably the most naturally beautiful city in the world. Credit: Shutterstock

Norway’s capital is the birthplace of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, and cruise passengers can find out more about the life and legacy of the man behind the prizes at Oslo City Hall and the Nobel Peace Centre. Equally famous is Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, whose iconic image The Scream is one of the world’s best known paintings. Oslo is now home to a brand new 13-storey museum that showcases more than half of the great man’s works.

Elsewhere in the city, take time to enjoy an open sandwich at the harbourside, or treat yourself to lunch at one of the many excellent fish restaurants.

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Fred Olsen Cruises'
10-night ‘Exploring the Nordic capitals’ cruise aboard Bolette, round trip from Newcastle via Aarhus, Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo, departs April 11, 2023, from £1,199 per person.

The fjord-facing Scandinavian city of Olso rewards a visit. Credit: Shutterstock

Easter Island
Although it lies more than 2,000 miles west of mainland South America, Easter Island is actually Chilean territory. Also known as Rapa Nui, this remote, volcanic dot in the Pacific – just 64 square miles in size – is famous around the world for its distinctive Moai statues. Carved from rock, these four-metre giant heads remain one of the world’s great enigmas.

Today the local economy is based largely on tourism, and as well as seeing the mysterious statues up close, you can also hire cars, motorcycles and mountain bikes to explore this fascinating destination.

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Princess Cruises'
34-night ‘World Cruise segment’ aboard Coral Princess, from New York to Sydney via Panama Canal, Manta, Lima, Pisco, Easter Island and Tahiti, departs August 16, 2023, from £6,459 per person.

Easter Island is one of the most isolated places on the planet.

Stretching for 640 square miles, the second largest of Spain’s Canary Islands is famous for its white-sand beaches and year-round warmth. One of the most popular places to visit here is Corralejo Natural Park, where you can enjoy a 4x4 excursion, take a boat trip or pack a picnic and visit the beach.

Elsewhere on the island, you’ll find blue lagoons and sheltered coves that make perfect swimming spots.

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P&O Cruises'
seven-night ‘Canary Islands’ cruise aboard Azura, round trip from Tenerife via Madeira, La Palma and Fuerteventura, departs February 17, 2023, from £629 per person including flights.

Fuerteventura is the original Canary Island.

The capital of the 700-plus Bahamian islands is one of the most popular ports in the Caribbean. The Bahamas were a British colony from 1718 to 1973, and this legacy still shapes the city today, with cars driving on the left and red letterboxes dotted around the streets.

Ships dock at the central Prince George Wharf, which is within easy walking distance of attractions including the shops of Bay Street and the Straw Market, the swashbuckling Pirates of Nassau attraction and Parliament Square, where pastel pink buildings are fronted by a statue of Queen Victoria.

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Royal Caribbean's
seven-night ‘Bahamas & Perfect Day’ cruise aboard Grandeur of the Seas, round trip from Tampa via Key West, Grand Bahama Island, Perfect Day at CocoCay and Nassau, departs May 27, 2023, from £465 per person.

Nassau is the vibrant hub of the Bahamas. Credit: Shutterstock

Not only a city with music in its soul, Liverpool is also a historic port – so what better way to visit than by ship? Host to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2023, the city is packed with attractions all year round, from the must-see Beatles Museum on Mathew Street to the iconic Royal Liver Building at the Pier Head.

With plenty of shops and restaurants within the redeveloped Royal Albert Dock, this is a buzzy UK destination not to miss.

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Ambassador Cruise Line's seven-night ‘River Seine Experience’ aboard Ambition, round trip from Liverpool via St Peter Port, Rouen, Honfleur and Belfast, departs July 18, 2023, from £709 per person.

Visitors to Liverpool's waterfront are greeted by an iconic statue of the Fab Four. Credit: Shutterstock
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