Europe by Boat: Budget cruises and ferries
For chilling out in the middle of a long Europe trip, just take a boat.
The Baltic, Black Sea, North Sea, and the Mediterranean are all criss-crossed by regular scheduled routes, with ships varying from chic cruise ferries to humble boats that carry tourists, locals, livestock and the mail. A day or two on board a long distance ferry can be an economic and enjoyable way of recharging batteries in the middle of a long trip.
Ferries on the Adriatic
Many routes include extended stops where you can hop off the boat for a few hours and do some sightseeing.
Our favourite Adriatic ferry journey is the Monday evening departure from Rijeka (Croatia) with Jadrolinija that gets you into Bari in southern Italy 36 hours later – so after two nights aboard. On the Tuesday, the ship cruises gently through the islands off Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, with four ports of call along the way, among them a six-hour stop in Dubrovnik, where the boat arrives at 4pm. You can go ashore to explore the ancient Venetian port, have dinner, then reboard the ship for the final overnight leg on to Bari.
Viking Cruise to Iceland
Smyril Line offers many fine cruising opportunities, especially during the shoulder seasons (through mid-June and from late August). During this period, the company’s cruise ferry Norröna is less busy and operates to an unhurried schedule on its weekly journey from Denmark to Iceland. The trip includes a 9-hour stop along the way in the Faroe Islands. Departures are from Esbjerg on Saturdays.
Along Norway’s Coast
Truly dedicated mariners can spend almost an entire week afloat on the Hurtigruten service along the Norwegian coast. Services leave daily from Bergen and reach Kirkenes on Norway’s Barents Sea coast (way up above the Arctic Circle just a stone’s throw from the Russian border) six days later.
Along the way, the boat stops at over 30 ports, some no more than tiny harbours that rely on the daily boat for contact with the wider world. Several stops are two to four hours long, so there is lots of scope for sightseeing. The great thing about the Hurtigruten service is that you really can use it like a bus service, stopping off at an appealing small port before continuing a day or two later.
The Aegean, Baltic, North Sea or the Bay of Biscay
Longer crossings without en-route stops can fill useful gaps in itineraries, saving on accommodation costs while affording a pleasant spell afloat. Some of the longer Greek island routes are like a short cruise, and we are also fans of the Baltic routes from Sweden and Germany to Estonia and Finland.
P&O Ferries, the lineal descendant of the august Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company has some especially useful routes. They include a twice-weekly sailing from Portsmouth (England) to Bilbao (Spain), which affords two nights on board. And the company has daily overnight sailings from Hull (on England’s east coast) to Zeebrugge (Belgium) and Rotterdam (Holland). We used the later route a few weeks back, hopping on board the ship around 6 PM and disembarking 15 hours later on the Dutch coast – refreshed, relaxed and ready for our onward journey to Berlin by train.
We always say that if folk had any idea just how much fun such ferry trips can be, then the budget airlines would long since have succumbed to competition from Europe’s maritime highways.