The British Isles are waiting – these are the best UK cruises in 2021

Stornoway
Explore Stornoway's captivating landscape on a cruise excursion Credit: HUGH MCKEAN

A coastline peppered with fishing villages, soft-sand beaches and dramatic cliffs. A nation with intriguing cultural traditions and unique cuisine. Plus, a history going back thousands of years that can still be seen today across its ancient landscapes and buildings. It sounds like an idyllic cruise destination, no? Well, it is – and it’s right on your doorstep.  

While thousands of cruise passengers set sail for warmer climes every year, the British Isles quietly lie in wait for those who know just how special these islands are. You might not be guaranteed great weather here, but there’s a rugged allure to these islands that makes even the most miserable day an exciting adventure. 

British Isles cruises offer an opportunity to explore places that are, put simply, a pain in the backside to reach. There’s no need to spend hours in the car schlepping down to Cornwall when a cruise ship can drop you off just a few miles from the county’s most beautiful beaches on the Isles of Scilly. And there’s no need to pay extortionate train fares up to Scotland either, as you can explore the islands and Highlands of our northernmost nation from the comfort of vessels large and small.

Whether you’re a first-time passenger or a seasoned cruiser, these itineraries around the British Isles offer something truly thrilling. Here’s what to book for 2021.

Set sail from Tower Bridge

Silver Cloud is one of the few ships small enough to dock right in central London, in the shadow of the iconic Tower Bridge, which makes for a pretty thrilling start to this corker of a cruise. After a night in the capital, the ship sets sail for St Peter Port in Guernsey, and then onto the Isles of Scilly where you can explore the stunning botanic gardens and beaches of Tresco or have hand-picked crab for lunch on St Mary’s. 

Over 14 nights, the ship cruises up the west coast of Britain, docking along the Pembrokeshire coast and stopping off at Skomer Island, famous for its Atlantic puffin population. With just one full day at sea, you’ll pack in an incredible amount. Hiking in the Highlands at Fort William, remote island escapes in uninhabited St Kilda, and plenty of spectacular seabirds await on tiny Iona. 

Silver Cloud underwent a major renovation in 2017

On the way back to London, the ship stops in Dublin, the Isle of Man and Waterford in Ireland before a day in Dartmouth to finish. The cruise costs from £6,930 and departs May 17, 2021 (silversea.com).

Take in Scotland’s most spectacular show

The 14-night full-circuit trip around the British Isles on Island Princess makes 11 stops after it sails from Southampton, including the likes of Portland, Guernsey, Cork, Belfast and Newcastle. But in summer 2021 there’s a departure with a difference: board the ship at the end of July and you'll find your cruise times itself perfectly the Edinburgh Fringe and Military Tattoo, arriving in the Scottish capital just in time for the celebrations.

Spend the day enjoying some of the street performances or theatre shows, then round off the evening with an incredible display of musical and physical precision at the Tattoo set inside the historic Edinburgh Castle. You'll stumble back on board with the sound of fireworks and bagpipes ringing in your ears, and the ship will sail while you slumber. 

Book onto the 27 July departure from £1,699 for 14 nights (princess.com).

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an incredible display Credit: GETTY

See spectacular cities aboard Queen Victoria 

This cruise from Cunard takes in some of Britain’s most exciting cities. After departing Southampton and stopping at St Peter Port on Guernsey, you’ll sail up the west coast of England and Wales to Liverpool. Music fans should head to the famed Beatles Story museum, an immersive history of the Fab Four. Also don’t miss the International Slavery Museum for a sobering but essential education on the British Empire before you depart. 

There’s time in dynamic Belfast, which has some of the country’s finest boozers, and a stop in Inverness, a brilliant base for exploring the Highlands. Glasgow offers art galleries and glorious Victorian architecture, plus options for excursions to some of Scotland’s prettiest lochs. 

Along the way, you’ll also get a cruise-by tour of the gorgeous Isle of Skye. The cruise is 13 nights and costs from £1,849 per person (cunard.com).

Belfast is home to a fine city hall – as well as some of the country's best pubs Credit: RUBEN MARIO RAMOS

Party with the Scots

This voyage technically begins in Bergen, Norway, so it’s not strictly just British Isles. But if you don’t mind the hop over the North Sea and back, it’s well worth the effort. Aboard Scenic Eclipse, dubbed the “world’s most luxurious all-inclusive cruise ship”, this itinerary takes in some of Scotland’s smaller ports. 

Expect to explore medieval castles in Stornoway, discover ancient stone circles on Orkney and take a photography tour of postcard-perfect Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. The highlight, though, is a traditional Scottish ceilidh, exclusively put on for Scenic’s passengers. You’ll party with local highland dancers to the jaunty folk music of the region. The cruise also visits the Irish capital before making its way back east to Bergen. 

This trip is all-inclusive, so you won’t pay extra for the shore excursions, and there’s now a deposit protection plan offering flexibility up to 120 days before departure. The 12-day 29 August 2021 departure costs from £8,480 (scenic.co.uk).