Ireland's rugged coast is one of nature's most beautiful. Credit: Shutterstock

The best British breaks to book right now

Author: Jemima Forbes

Published on:

Whether you want to reduce how much you fly or simply explore what’s on your doorstep, a British cruise is the answer. But if you think staying local means missing out on the aurora borealis, icing-sugar beaches or intriguing islands, think again. Jemima Forbes shines a spotlight on five global destinations – and their breathtaking British counterparts

The British Isles offer a spellbinding mix of destinations – many of which rival international holiday spots for their beauty, history and landscapes. From Caribbean beach lookalikes to islands bursting with archaeological treasures, here are five fabulous home-grown substitutes for your next getaway.

Destination doppelgangers

Swap Iceland’s barren landscapes for… the Scottish Hebrides

Tumbling waterfalls, eerie landscapes and intriguing legends: these are just some of the similarities between Iceland and the Hebrides archipelago off Scotland’s northwest coast. Many British cruises visit Lewis, Skye and Mull, a trio of Hebridean islands with scenery that mirrors Iceland’s vast, wild terrain.

Mull’s fishing villages wouldn’t look out of place on Iceland’s remote east coast, while Skye’s Old Man of Storr rock formation, as jagged and grey as a rhinoceros horn, is comparable to Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) on western Iceland’s beautifully bleak Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Is gazing up at the aurora borealis on your bucket list? Lewis, Skye and Mull are far enough north to experience this celestial phenomenon – especially Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, which has some of Britain’s darkest skies.

Get on board
Hurtigruten Expeditions’ 10-night Scottish Isles – Island Hopping in the Hebrides cruise aboard MS Spitsbergen, return from Glasgow via Arran, Islay, Iona, St Kilda, Stornoway, Skye, Mull and Colonsay, departing May 10 2024. Prices start from £3,633 per person.

Instead of travelling to Iceland, get your fill of waterfalls and open landscapes in the Scottish Hebrides. Credit: Shutterstock

Swap the Caribbean's turquoise waters for… the Isles of Scilly

If powder-soft beaches and gin-clear waters are your usual summer tonic, you’re in luck. The Isles of Scilly, 45km off Cornwall’s southwestern tip, have long been compared to the Caribbean.

This enchanting archipelago consists of five inhabited islands, with St Mary’s being the largest. All are blessed with white sand coves fringed by tropical vegetation, from brilliantly blue agapanthus to Mediterranean fan palms. What’s more, the Scilly Isles have some of Britain’s mildest winters, making visiting a pleasure all year round.

Most cruises disembark on tender boats in Hugh Town, St Mary’s – and it’s quite the arrival, as Porthmellon Beach is dotted with colourful vessels. Once on land, there’s plenty to intrigue. Hike the coastal path around St Mary’s, swot up on local history at the Isles of Scilly Museum or venture inland to HolyVale vineyard to savour rich pinot noirs.

Get on board
Saga Cruises’ 10-night Scilly Isles & Western Britain cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery, return from Portsmouth via St Mary’s, Belfast and Douglas (Isle of Man), departing May 28, 2024. Prices start from £3,409.

Swap Vietnam’s rock formations for… Northern Ireland’s Antrim coast

From Halong Bay’s towering karsts to the basalt columns of the Ganh Da Dia coast, Vietnam is renowned for its otherworldly topography.

But why venture all the way to southeast Asia when Northern Ireland has Giant’s Causeway, which is almost identical? According to legend, these amazingly regular hexagonal rocks, plunging into the Irish Sea off the Antrim Coast, were created by the warrior giant Fionn mac Cumhaill. In reality, this UNESCO-listed natural wonder was formed by the rapid cooling and shrinking of a lava flow, more than 60 million years ago – just like Vietnam’s equivalent.

The Antrim Coast is a popular excursion for cruise passengers disembarking for a day in Belfast, with the Giant’s Causeway lying just over an hour’s drive north of the city. You can also spy the structures from your ship while sailing around the entire Emerald Isle.

They may not be as warm as the Caribbean, but the Isles of Scilly have some stunning beaches. Credit: Fred. Olsen.

Swap France's Mont Saint-Michel for… England’s St Michael’s Mount

Rising majestically from the mouth of the Couesnon River, the tidal French island of Mont Saint-Michel is one of Normandy’s most photographed sites – and it’s easy to see why. Yet you’ll spot a convincing doppelganger off the coast of Cornwall.

Marazion, the gateway to the British island of St Michael’s Mount, is a 50-minute drive west of Falmouth’s cruise dock. The two islands share a name and a history, as the French took control of the British isle and built a Benedictine monastery there during the Norman conquest in the 11th century. The monastery was subsequently converted into a castle, which you can still tour today.

When it comes to visiting, timing is everything. Connected to the mainland by a cobblestone causeway, St Michael’s Mount is cut off at high tide. While you can hop on a boat from Marazion, journeying on foot with the ocean in the distance and Cornwall’s rugged coast behind you is an unforgettable experience.

Get on board
Ambassador Cruise Line’s five-night UK & Ireland Getaway cruise aboard Ambition, return from Liverpool via Belfast, Cork and Falmouth, departing July 27, 2024. Prices start from £769.

Swap Crete’s beaches for… the Isle of Anglesey

It may lack the Mediterranean climate but Anglesey rivals Greece’s largest isle for its golden-hued beaches and remarkable ruins.

This north Welsh gem is richly endowed with wildlife, too, particularly at the RSPB South Stack Cliffs Reserve, which teems with nesting puffins, razorbills and guillemots in spring.

While Crete is home to the Minoanera Knossos Palace, Anglesey is one of the best places in the UK to view prehistoric, Celtic and Roman ruins. In fact, you’ll find the remains of a Roman fort, Caer Gybi, at Holyhead – the island’s largest town and the location of its international port.

Elsewhere, visitors have more than 200km of coastline to explore, from dozens of coves to a scattering of tidal islands. Llanddwyn Island, accessible at low tide from Llanddwyn beach, is particularly worth seeking out for its solitude and sweeping dune views.

Just as Crete is associated with romantic Greek myths, Llanddwyn is connected with Dwynwen – a fourth-century Welsh princess and the country’s patron saint of lovers. The ruined Llanddwyn Chapel was built upon a shrine to St Dwynwen, a popular pilgrimage site during Tudor times.

Get on board
Ambassador Cruise Line’s 12-night British Isles & Ireland Discovery cruise aboard Ambition, return from Dundee via Holyhead, Cork and St Mary’s, departing August 29, 2024. Prices start from £1,369 per person.

Most recent articles