State capital Juneau is a port of call for almost all Alaskan cruises. Often referred to as ‘The Last Frontier’, the city boasts a picturesque downtown, sitting snugly between Mount Juneau, Mount Roberts and the Gastineau Channel. With more hiking trails than roads, Juneau is unique as the only state capital in the US that is inaccessible by car – you have no choice but to arrive via cruise ship, air or ferry. But once you do, majestic views and rich culture await you at every corner. Hop on a helicopter to glacier-trek in the morning, board a boat to view humpback whales in the afternoon, and end your day at a chef’s table, enjoying sensational seafood. The world really is your oyster in unspoiled Juneau. Alternatively, visitors can spend some time uncovering the maze of narrow streets that run past a mix of Gold Rush-era buildings, art galleries and quaint houses, not to mention the waterfront, bustling with cruise ships, fishing boats and floatplanes zipping in and out.
Why cruise Juneau
Alaska is a bucket-list cruise destination, famed for its spectacular wildlife and scenery. With snow-capped mountains, misty rainforests, grand glaciers and a bounty of rich wildlife, the region’s remote and picturesque state capital, Juneau, is the perfect place to discover this amazing nature and scenery. Cruise passengers can choose to discover the city’s picturesque centre, home to historic landmarks, centuries-old bars and quaint stores, or venture further afield and enjoy outdoor thrills, from tundra-trekking over Mendenhall Glacier to whale-watching in Auke Bay Harbour. Major cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, NCL, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas, Princess, Celebrity and Carnival all sail to Juneau as part of their Alaska cruise itineraries.
What to see and do
Most often seen in pictures or on postcards of the city, Mendenhall Glacier is a sight not to be missed. Begin your trek from the visitor centre and head towards Nugget Falls, where, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll spot black bears fishing for king salmon. Several hiking trails also await you, the most popular being the Photo Point Trail and the Nugget Falls Trail, which leads to a belting waterfall.
Glacier Bay National Park
Covering more than three million acres, this national park is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The view of the bay is breathtaking, sitting between two promontories, with eight glaciers reaching down to meet choppy tidewaters. The spot is a major feeding ground for humpback, minke and orca whales, but keep your eyes peeled for moose, wolves and sea birds, too.
Alaska State Museum
Alaska’s State Museum features more than 25,000 historical objects spanning the state’s multicultural heritage. Think Gold Rush and mining memorabilia, as well as various tools, weapons, and documents shedding light on the Russian colonial era. Exhibits are separated into mining, fishing and forestry sections, as well as a focus on WWII. Our highlight? The replica of an early sailing ship that you can actually climb aboard.
Mount Roberts Tramway
You’ll need a head for heights, but the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway (actually a cable car) will whisk you effortlessly up a 1,800ft mountain slope, offering spectacular views of the city below. At the top you’ll find a restaurant, theatre, shops and a nature centre, plus the trailheads of several excellent hikes. And the best bit? You hop aboard right at the cruise dock.
Juneau’s best restaurants and bars
Tracy’s King Crab Shack
For an establishment that has been in business for less than 10 years, Tracy’s King Crab Shack has made an impressive mark on Juneau’s food landscape. Born out of a love for seafood, sport and people, the spot serves hot, locally sourced crab legs with butter, as well as tasty crab cakes, crab rolls and a plentiful selection of seafood appetisers. Needless to say, Tracy’s is perfect if you’re looking to sample fruits of the nearby Alaskan sea.
With one of the most extensive wine and cocktail lists in the entire city, Salt is one of Juneau’s premier restaurants and nightspots. Visitors to the bar are spoiled for choice, but we recommend ordering the Bufala Negra, featuring bourbon, simple syrup, balsamic vinegar, basil and ginger beer, or the signature French 75, comprising Broker’s gin, elderflower liqueur, house sour and sparkling wine. You won’t regret it.
As the name suggests, Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill pays tribute to the freshest daily catch from Alaskan waters, with dishes such as sweet potato shrimp cakes, warming clam chowder and sautéed Alaskan black cod on the menu. Take a stroll down there as the sun sets before enjoying a plate of the freshest fish at dusk. Book ahead if you possibly can – this eatery is hugely popular with locals and visitors alike.
Keep warm in Juneau’s crisp climate with a visit to Amalga Distillery, famous for making the best gin in the state. Sip a tipple in their stylish tasting room and choose from a rotating list of house-designed cocktails. The perennial ‘Sea Donkey’ is our personal favourite – a gin-based take on the classic Moscow Mule. Make sure to save room for a bottle of Amalga gin in your checked luggage for the way home.
Juneau’s best buys
Alaska was a Russian colony until 1867, and hints of that heritage remain – especially in these wooden collector’s items, painted with explosions of colour. Usually sold in sets of eight, the dolls vary in design, and some are even decorated to look like animals.
Alaska is blessed with a profusion of wild berries, which locals have turned into delicious jams for centuries. Need souvenir inspiration? This could be the perfect way to take home sweet memories of your visit to beautiful Juneau.
Alaskan hand-blown glass is a striking arty alternative to paintings and photography, which makes it an inspired choice when it comes to buying gifts or souvenirs. Just be sure to pack some bubble wrap in your suitcase to avoid any breakages.
Need to know when travelling to Juneau
Getting around in Juneau
Cruise ships dock along and just off South Franklin Street, located south of downtown Juneau. Larger ships dock at two floating berths at the main terminal close to the Mount Roberts Tramway around 10 minutes’ walk from the main downtown area. When are more than three ships docked, ships may anchor and tender passengers ashore. Taxis and shuttle buses are available outside the cruise berths on South Franklin Street.
When to go to Juneau
The best time to visit Juneau is between May and August, as the days are long and sunny. It’s also peak whale migration season, meaning you’re almost guaranteed a sighting of these magnificent mammals.
Juneau uses the US dollar. ATMs are scattered around the city at banks, petrol stations, supermarkets, airports and even some visitor centres, though be prepared to pay a small fee for withdrawing cash.
The Visa Waiver Programme allows UK citizens to enter the US for 90 days without a visa. You’ll need to register online with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) before travelling, as well as showing proof of a return trip, or an onward ticket.
Written by Amelia Glean
Alaska cruises are included in the offer
Glacier Bay is a highlight of Alaska’s famed Inside Passage