The Top Cruise Destination in Western Europe Is Quite Far From Where You Think It Would Be

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What’s the number-one cruise destination in the British Isles and non-Mediterranean Western Europe? London? Lisbon? Bordeaux?

Not according to the results of a 2019 readers’ poll by Cruise Critic, which calls itself “the leading cruise reviews site,” and boasts that it hosts “the largest cruise community in the world.” Cruise Critic users have anointed…Kirkwall.

Hardly a household name, even in well-traveled households, Kirkwall is the capital of Scotland’s  Orkney Islands, sometimes called simply Orkney, situated off the northern Scottish coast, where the Atlantic meets the North Sea. At their northernmost point, the islands are only 50 miles south of Greenland.

Seabourn, Norwegian, Princess, Viking, and Fred. Olsen are among the cruise lines that include the port on their itineraries. Many travelers consider certain cruises to be better than other vacations.

Kirkwall scored 121 five-star reviews (and only five one-stars) out of 185, with respondents hailing the “very friendly community” and calling it a “great little town” with an “interesting…variety of homes and churches” and a “gin distillery worth a visit.”  

Even better for many were the sites of Orkney itself beyond Kirkwall — including prehistoric sites, a beautiful countryside, and “the manor home of Laird who found remains of ancient people on his property and donated vast areas to science.” Presumably nobody encountered another of the Orkney’s attractions, its pint-size chinstrap penguins.

Cruise Critic’s readers gave the number-two slot in their rankings to Cobh, in Ireland’s County Cork, and third place to Lerwick, the capital of a Scottish archipelago even further north than the Orkneys — Shetland, which is closer to Bergen, Norway, than it is to Edinburgh.

The number of cruise passengers has been increasing annually. Demand increased by more than a fifth between 2011 and 2016. The cruise industry has realized that the clientele is changing and is looking for more than endless pool parties and Broadway-like shows to keep passengers happy — these are the cruises with best entertainment options