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Best British Isles Shore Excursions
27 Best Day Trips from U.K. Cruise Ports
Titanic Belfast, Museum and Visitor Center in Belfast, Northern Ireland (Photo: James Kennedy NI/Shutterstock)

27 Best Day Trips from U.K. Cruise Ports

27 Best Day Trips from U.K. Cruise Ports
Titanic Belfast, Museum and Visitor Center in Belfast, Northern Ireland (Photo: James Kennedy NI/Shutterstock)
Kerry Spencer
Contributor
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This summer it looks as if we'll be spending a lot more time admiring our own fair isles, with a large number of cruises set for a restart here.

So whether you're embarking, disembarking or have a scheduled stop, make the most of the British Isles on your next cruise holiday with our list of the best day trips from the U.K.'s major ports.

From lush green lochs to medieval castle and curvaceous Jurassic-era coastlines, here are 27 best day trips from UK ports.

Editor's note: Not all of these sights may be available to visit. Check with your cruise line.

1. Stonehenge, Wiltshire   

Stonehenge (Photo: Mr Nai/Shutterstock)

Stonehenge, the U.K.'s most famous prehistoric monument, lies roughly an hour from the south coast ports of Portland, Southampton and Portsmouth and is a must for anyone with an interest in ancient history or archaeology. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is an iconic ring of standing stones, dating from approximately 3,000 BC to 2,000 BC, which are shrouded in myth and mystery. There is an excellent visitor centre nearby. Worth noting: Last admission is two hours before the advertised closing time. Entry to Stonehenge is managed through timed tickets, and the only way to gain entry on the day and time of your choice is by booking ahead.

Stonehenge; open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Pre-booking is essential. Near Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE; 0370 333 1181

2. Maritime Portsmouth, Hampshire

If you're interested in maritime history and docked in Portsmouth -- or even Southampton which is an effortless 30-minutes away -- you're in luck. Portsmouth has the world's oldest continuously used dry dock and has been an important naval port for centuries. Many of its attractions are maritime-themed, including Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, which is home to Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, Britain's first iron-hulled warship HMS Warrior, Henry VIII's favourite vessel Mary Rose and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Other Portsmouth attractions include Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum.

Contact Portsmouth Museum Visitor Information Centre; open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Museum Road, Portsmouth, PO1 2LJ; 023 9282 6722

3. New Forest National Park, Southern England  

Another south coast attraction, just a few miles outside of Southampton is the New Forest National Park, a favourite spot for walking, cycling, horse-riding, golf and watersports -- as well as the iconic ponies, which wander wild. Other attractions nearby include Paultons Park -- great for Peppa Pig fans and with the new dinosaur-themed area Lost Kingdom. Visit Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary or try one of the New Forest's luxury hotels, such as Lime Wood near Lyndhurst, for a luxury spa experience or afternoon tea.

New Forest Heritage Centre; open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Lyndhurst, Hampshire, SO43 7NY; 023 8028 3444

4. Jurassic Coast, South Coast

The Main Harbour in Poole, Dorset, Southern England, Showcasing it's Natural Beaches and Blue Waters (Photo: Steven Mckell/Shutterstock)

England's stunning Jurassic Coast covers 185 million years of history and 95 miles of dramatic shoreline, from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset. Traditional seaside ports including Portland -- home to the famous red-and-white-striped Portland Bill Lighthouse -- punctuate the dramatic coastline.

The landscape of sweeping beaches and coves sheltered by towering cliffs is another UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can literally walk along the beaches and hunt for fossils. The coastal path from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door is particularly spectacular. 

Jurassic Coast Trust; Bridport, Dorset, DT6 3JP; 01308 807000

5. Bath, Somerset

Another UNESCO World Heritage site and the only U.K. city that is designated one in its entirety, Bath is well worth the two-hour trip from the south coast or 90-minute journey from Central London, with gorgeous Georgian architecture and its famous Roman Baths. Jane Austen, one of Britain's best-loved authors, lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806, and her literary legacy can be traced at the Jane Austen Centre.

There's also the more modern spa attraction, the Thermae Spa, which has stunning views over the city's rooftops from its outdoor pool.

Bath Visitor Information Centre; open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Terrace Walk, Bath BA1; 0844 847 5256

6. The Cavern Club, Liverpool

Liverpool is one of the definite stops on round-Britain cruises this summer, and The Cavern Club in central Liverpool is one of the most famous music clubs in the world, having launched the career of The Beatles in the 1960s. Visit the club, which opens early doors for cruise passengers, to tour the brick-vaulted cellars that are packed with memorabilia. Tribute acts play daily so you can soak up live music.

The Cavern Club also operate two-hour Magical Mystery tours that will take you on an exploration of the Beatles' Liverpool, including houses where McCartney and co grew up, where they went to school and their hang outs, plus the places that inspired their global hits "Strawberry Field" and "Penny Lane".

The Cavern Club; open daily from 10 a.m., live music daily from 11:15 a.m.; 10 Mathew St, L2 6RE; 0151 236 9091

7. Eden Project, Cornwall

If you're calling at Falmouth in Cornwall or Plymouth in Devon, the Eden Project is just under an hour away and well worth a visit. Explore the eco-attraction's giant domes that are filled with thousands of plant species. Each dome imitates a natural biome, with the main dome replicating a rainforest, which is the largest indoor rainforest on the planet. 

There's also an outdoor botanical garden, where you will find native Cornish flora. Stop off for a locally brewed cider in the nearby town of St Austell on your return to your cruise port.

Eden Project; open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG; 01726 811972

8. Central London

London (Tilbury)

There's so much to do in central London that it's hard to know where to start. One option is to take a riverboat from Embankment Pier, where you can catch many of the major landmarks such as the London Eye, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Shard and OXO Tower.

The boats will also stop at two of the capital's top museums -- Tate Modern and Tate Britain. There is also the Natural History Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, which are clustered near South Kensington. Buckingham Palace and St Paul's Cathedral are must-see landmarks, too, or head to one of the city's many parks.

If you're a second- or third-time visitor to London and want to skip all of the major landmarks, head to Notting Hill to explore the independent boutiques and the famous Portobello Market or make your way to the top of Primrose Hill for star spotting and stunning city views or get a taste of the countryside within the city with a visit to Chiswick House and Gardens and Barnes. Before you leave, eat your way around Borough Market, which is conveniently located by London Bridge.

City of London Information Centre; opening times vary; St Paul's Churchyard, EC4M 8BX; 0207 332 1456

9. Royal Windsor, Berkshire  

The picturesque city of Windsor sits on the Thames, 90 minutes along the river from Tilbury or 60-minutes from Central London. Here you'll find HM, The Queen's official residence, Windsor Castle (Buckingham Palace is her London 'pied-a-terre'), which is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, plus its beautiful and vast Great Park. Thorpe Park and Legoland are also both in Windsor.

Royal Windsor Information Centre; open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Old Booking Hall, Windsor Royal Shopping, Thames Avenue, SL4 1PJ; 01753 743900

10. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire  

This prestigious university city attracts visitors who want to see its historic academic buildings including the Cambridge colleges, King's College Chapel, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Fitzwilliam art and antiquities museum. A punting tour down the river Cam is a traditional way to see the sights from a different perspective, including the Bridge of Sighs and wooden Mathematical Bridge.

Visit Cambridge; (no opening hours provided); The Guildhall Market Square, CB2 3QJ; 01223 791500

11. Highclere Castle, Hampshire

Lady Carnarvon rides at Highclere Castle (Photo Viking Ocean Cruises)

Go behind the scenes of the real Downton Abbey at Highclere Castle, the setting of the popular television show, which is little more than a 30-minute drive from Southampton. Owned by the earls of Carnarvon, who still reside at the castle, Highclere has stood on the site in 1,000-acres of gardens in its present structure since 1842, though it has existed in various forms for centuries longer.

Tour the filming locations of Downton Abbey, including the main hall, state rooms and some of the bedrooms, before descending into the old staff quarters below. It's here where you will find the Egyptian Exhibition, which celebrates the 5th Earl of Carnarvon's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Highclere Castle; Highclere Park, Newbury, RG20 9RN; 01635 253210

12. Isle of Sheppey, Kent

Sheppey, known as Kent's 'Treasure Island', is a great alternative to busy London-based attractions if you'd prefer a more peaceful day out from the port of London Tilbury or Dover. There are plenty of open spaces here, including the Elmley National Nature Reserve, Barton's Point Coastal Park and numerous beaches. You could also stop off at the popular Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway, a two-mile heritage line.

Visit Swale; (opening hours unavailable); Swale Borough Council, East Street, Sittingbourne, Kent ME10 3HT; 01795 417399

13. Leeds Castle, Kent

This castle, dating back to the 12th century, occupies a beautiful countryside site on a moat formed by the River Len and is a great day out for all ages. An easy 40-minute drive from Dover, Leeds Castle's interesting collection of attractions include the world's largest dog collar museum (more than 130 are on display), a maze and underworld grotto, and the Gatehouse Exhibition, which takes you back through the castle's 900-year history.

Leeds Castle; open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Maidstone, ME17 1PL; 01622 767870

14. Canterbury, Kent

Famous for its cathedral, the medieval city of Canterbury is half an hour from Dover. The cathedral is the spiritual centre of the Anglican Church and for most of the Middle Ages was England's greatest pilgrimage site. There are also the ruins of the 6th century St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury Castle and the beautiful Grade II listed Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.

Visit Canterbury; open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, 18 High Street, CT1 2RA; 01227 862 162

15. White Cliffs of Dover, Kent

Dover (Photo:GlennV/Shutterstock)

Dover's White Cliffs are an instantly recognisable natural landmark, with the sheer chalk cliff faces dropping into the English Channel -- you'll see them as your ship approaches the port and as you sail by. They're just minutes from the port by car -- or you can walk along the signposted footpath. For the best view of the cliffs, walk the coastal path to the South Foreland Lighthouse. Samphire Hoe Nature Reserve, which sits below a section of the cliffs, is also a great place for a scenic stroll.

White Cliffs of Dover; Langdon Cliffs, Upper Road, CT16 1HJ; Car park opening times, Daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

16. Dover Castle, Kent

Dover's vast medieval castle is the largest in England and has played an important part in the country's history of defence. Visit the colourful rooms of the Great Tower, the eerie underground hospital and the secret wartime tunnels that are carved into the white cliffs.

Dover Castle; open daily, times vary by month; Castle Hill, CT16 1HU; 0370 333 1181

17. Hastings, East Sussex

History enthusiasts won't be able to resist a trip to Hastings, roughly 90 minutes from Dover and Southampton. Famous for its namesake 1066 battle between the English and the French, attractions include the ruins of Hastings' 11th century Norman fortress and Battle Abbey -- which is eight miles north of the town -- built on the battlefields. Hire a Blue Badge Guide for an expert tour of 1066 Country.

Hastings is also something of an up and coming seaside spot, with a new-look pier that reopened in 2016 following a devastating fire that saw it close in 2008, a pretty fishing beach and medieval Old Town dotted with smart boutiques, cafes and galleries.

Hastings Tourist Information Centre; opening times vary; Station Approach, TN34 1BA; 01424 451111

18. Edinburgh

Edinburgh (Photo:Johannes Valkama/Shutterstock)

Scotland's capital is the main draw for most visitors to Rosyth, lying just half an hour from the cruise port. There are numerous attractions including 16th century Holyrood Palace and Abbey, Craigmillar Castle, Lauriston Castle, the eerie Edinburgh Vaults, the medieval Old Town and, of course, Edinburgh's famous castle, which sits on a hill overlooking the city.

For the best views over the cityscape, head up Carlton Hill, where you'll find the National Monument of Scotland. Or you can hike up to Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano and the highest point in the city's vast Holyrood Park. There are also numerous museums and galleries, including the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Edinburgh Information Centre; open daily, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 249 High Street, EH1 1YJ; 0131 473 3820

19. The Glenturret Distillery

Fans of Scotch malt whisky should visit The Glenturret Distillery, Scotland's oldest (since 1775) and home of the Famous Grouse and Glenturret brands of whisky, which lies roughly an hour from Rosyth and 90 minutes from Greenock.

Choose between three different tasting tours, or you could try your hand at being a master blender, or spend a full day at the attraction as a whisky 'stillman'. The market town of Crieff, where you'll find the distillery, is on the border where the Scottish Highlands meet the rolling Lowlands.

The Glenturret Distillery; opening times vary depending on the season; The Hosh, Crieff, PH7 4HA; 01764 656565

20. St Andrews

The former royal burgh (an area created by historic royal charter) of St Andrews sits on Fife's dramatic coastline and offers an alternative to Edinburgh for passengers wanting to experience a traditional Scottish city. It's home to St Andrews University -- the oldest university in Scotland and third oldest in the U.K. -- and the ruins of the 12th-century St Andrews Cathedral.

With seven public golf courses it's known worldwide as 'the home of golf', and has a green for every golfer, whatever their handicap -- be aware though that getting on the famous Old Course can quite literally be a lottery, with the course running a ballot system that closes 48 hours before play.

St Andrews Information Centre; opening times vary; 70 Market Street, KY16 9NU; 01334 472021

21. Fife

The county north of Edinburgh and south of Dundee boasts plenty of attractions and is within easy distance of Rosyth cruise port. Former Royal burgh Dunfermline, with its beautiful abbey and palace, plus the vast Pittencrieff Park, is just eight minutes north of Rosyth. Kirkcaldy, Fife's largest town, is only a few miles along the coastline from the port -- plus you've got plenty of colourful fishing villages to discover as you go (Crail is especially charming). If you'd prefer to roam the Scottish countryside, the heather-covered Lomond Hills Regional Park is half an hour away, where walks of varying lengths await active walkers and hikers. There's also the Fife Coastal Path, which is Scotland's longest continuous coastal walk at 117 miles.

Welcome to Fife; opening hours vary; Fife House Glenrothes, KY7 5LT; 03451 555555

22. Glasgow

Greenock (Glasgow) (Photo:Bill McKelvie/Shutterstock)

Scotland's second city is crammed full of culture and history, including the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Burrell Art Collection in Pollok Country Park and the Lighthouse Centre for Design and Architecture. Glasgow has more than 90 public parks and is also home to Botanic Gardens as well as numerous shops, cafes, restaurants and bars.

Glasgow Information Centre; opening times vary; 156a/158 Buchanan Street, G1 2LL; 0141 566 4083

23. Titanic Belfast, County Antrim

If you can face the subject matter while cruising, Titanic Belfast is a must-visit as the world's largest Titanic attraction. Based in the city's Titanic Quarter, on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the ill-fated vessel was built, this amazing ship-shaped modern building offers an in-depth experience through nine interactive galleries, an Ocean Exploration Centre and much more. A new attraction in the Titanic Quarter is HMS Caroline, the last floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland, which has been refurbished and opened to the public.

Titanic Belfast; opening times vary throughout the year; 1 Olympic Way, Queen's Road; BT3 9EP; 028 9076 6399

24. Belfast, County Antrim

The cruise terminal shuttle bus makes it easy to get to the city centre from the port. The beautiful City Hall building on Donegall Square is a top sight and marks the start of the city's Golden Mile. The Cathedral Quarter, around St Anne's, is one of Belfast's most dynamic areas, while the Victoria Square shopping centre, with its iconic dome, is a good place to browse and buy. Other attractions include Belfast Botanic Gardens, the Ulster Museum, Queen's University, Belfast Castle and Belfast Grand Opera House.

Visit Belfast; open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 11a.m. to 4 p.m.; 8-9 Donegall Square; BT1 5GJ; 028 9024 6609

25. Ballycastle & Game of Thrones Tour, County Antrim  

Ballycastle sits on the north-easternmost tip of Ireland and is the gateway town to some of Northern Ireland's most stunning natural sights, including the Causeway Coast and the gorgeous Glens of Antrim. Ballycastle itself is a coastal town with a spotless beach, beautiful scenery and a ruined castle (Kinbane). Fans of the hit series "Game of Thrones" will want to carry on 15 minutes along the coast to Ballintoy Harbour, which features in the show. Other GoT locations include Cushendun Caves and the famous Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, where the trees interlace over the pathway. If you're a fan, consider booking a tour from Belfast.

Ballycastle Visitor Centre; opening hours vary; Portnagree House Harbour and Marina Visitor Centre, 14 Bayview Road, BT54 6BT; 028 2076 2024

26. Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

This distinctive rock formation is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and is easy to reach on a daytrip from Belfast. The result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago (although many locals claim it was the work of a giant called Finn McCool), these coastal columns of hexagonal-shaped layered basalt are an extraordinary sight.

Cross the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, located nearby the Giant's Causeway, which was originally built by salmon fishermen in 1755 to connect the cliffs, 100ft above the Atlantic Ocean. Don't forget to take your camera to create lasting memories of these extraordinary landmarks.

Giant's Causeway; open daily from dawn to dusk; 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim; BT57 8SU; 028 2073 1855

27. Lough Neagh, near Belfast

The inky-hued Lough Neagh is the largest lake by area in the British Isles, measuring 18 miles long and seven miles wide, and easily reached from Belfast. If you're a water baby there's lots to enjoy on and around this tranquil lake, including boat rides, kayaking, walking and cycling trails, two islands, four marinas, archaeological sites and numerous parks and nature reserves.

Lough Neagh Discovery Centre; open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Oxford Island National Nature Reserve, Craigavon, BT66 6NJ; 028 3832 2205

Updated April 29, 2021

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