Where to cruise by season

Lesley Bellew / 28 June 2016

Looking to cruise but not sure when to go? Find out the best places to cruise to in spring, summer, autumn and winter.



Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call...

Carole King’s reassuring lyrics are all very well when you are on dry land but if you are thinking about a cruise, how do know which season to travel? The decision is not necessarily straightforward.

You don’t need to be a genius to realise September and October are best for autumn colour in New England, for example, but new-to-cruise passengers may feel a shorter sailing, that’s closer to home, is a better bet.

Be inspired by Saga's small-ship cruise experiences! Find out more here.

Spring cruises

A season full of promise and new beginnings and a perfect time to cruise the Mediterranean where the azure blue sea glistens as if a million stars are dancing on the water.

At this time of the year the air is fresh and temperatures are comfortable for strolling in shorts and T-shirts to uncover the legacy of the Mediterranean's ancient civilisations.

Discover the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, in Croatia, now rebuilt to even more than its former glory after late 20th century conflict, and stop off at nearby islands to swim, hike and breathe in the smell of pine trees.

One of those islands, Hvar, is fast becoming a stopping point for superyachts while Brac is famous for its stone (used to build The White House) and Korcula, thought to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, remains more or less untouched by tourism.

Sicily, just off mainland Italy, never sees a frost so it is always clothed with spring flowers. In the east, explore the regional capital of Palmero, which has seen waves of invaders from the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks to Romans, Saracen Arabs and Normans. All have left their mark from architecture to a fusion of local dishes. On the other side of the island, the hillside town of Taormina awaits with its magnificent Greek amphitheatre overlooking Mount Etna and the sea. 

On the island of Sardinia, again follow the footsteps of the ancients in the old quarter of the capital Cagliari or visit the botanical gardens, complete with a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre!

Spain is a cruising favourite and Barcelona is a ‘must visit’ and ‘must plan’ port of call because there is so much to see. From Gaudi’s great works to the Picasso museum, beaches, bars and the mighty Barcelona Football Club stadium, try to pack in as much as possible.

Find out 'moor' about cruises to Venice and other ports in the Mediterranean Find out more here.

Summer cruises

Take a scenic cruise around the British Isles to view its stunning coastline – and there are some places that really are best viewed from the water, including the Sound of Mull and and Fingal’s Cave, in the Inner Hebrides. 

Cruise in for traditional events such as the Highland Games, in Dunoon, and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo or sail north to the Orkney Islands to explore 5,000 years of history at the Skara Brae Neolithic settlement. 

Coastal gems on the Emerald Isle are plentiful and Cobh, pronounced Cove, is the gateway to picture-perfect scenery. On the north-west coast, when it’s sunny, head to Fintra Beach, one of the finest in Ireland. 

The Isle of Wight’s Round-the-Island race and Bournemouth Air Show may also be on cruise schedules so get the ‘best seat at sea’ for these fabulous events.

Cruises often double-up as city breaks so in Dublin soak up the friendly atmosphere and try a Guinness in Temple Bar or in Belfast, consider a visit to the Titanic Experience.

Discover more about cruising around UK and Ireland Find out more here.

One of the top cruise destinations is Norway and when the snow has melted the fjords glisten in the early summer sun. 

It’s a wonderful region for walks of all levels - through fields laced with wildflowers, past tiny villages on the water’s edge to more strenuous hikes including Pulpit Rock, which towers 604 metres over Lysefjord, or the stunning Briksdal Glacier, near Olden.

Consider a ride on the Flåm railway, which leaves Sognefjord to rise high into the mountains, passing dramatic waterfalls, streams and meadows until the landscape becomes more rugged and sometimes snowy – it’s like entering Narnia, an incredible ever-changing wonderland. 

A picture of Geiranger is in every cruise brochure and when ships sail into the innermost part of the Geirangerfjord, they are dwarfed by towering mountains. 

It’s a magnificent port of call! Norway’s famous son, the composer Edvard Grieg, lived at Trouldhaugen, in Bergen. Most Norway cruises include a call to the city so visit his home and understand how the beautiful fjord setting influenced his music.

Most of the above destinations can be visited on a fairly short sailing of about seven days but if there’s a chance to extend your holiday for a little more adventure, take a cruise that goes further north to cross the Arctic Circle. 

Here the midnight sun turns the sky into a kaleidoscope of pink and gold and at 00.00 hours it is as light as day!

Svalbard is a northern wilderness where wildlife is in abundance. Cruise within a few hundred miles of the icepack to see whales, walrus and if you are lucky - polar bears. At Longyearbyen, dogsledding is an exciting (and noisy) activity to trundle over the barren landscape which is covered in snow for at least eight months of the year.

Discover more about cruises to Norway and Scandinavia Find out more here.

Baltic cruises are a delightful summertime option and sailing into Stockholm, which is included in many Baltic itineraries, is truly magical as the ship weaves slowly through thousands of small islands dotted with tiny holiday homes and colourful wooden boats.

Stockholm is gracefully set on 14 islands and has plenty of green spaces as well as an array of attractions from the 17th century warship at the Vasa Museum to the all-singing, all-dancing ABBA museum.

Over to Finland, Tall ships’ fans should keep an eye on their diary as next year these magnificent schooners will be in Turku before they continue their race to Lithuania.
 
St Petersburg is always a highlight but do check the cruise ship is offering at least one night in the city and that itineraries include options for private viewings to beat the queues at the tourist hotspots such as the Hermitage Museum. 

If you can, book special musical interludes in the evening, perhaps the opera or a ballet performance.

Find out more about cruising around the beautiful Baltic Find out more here.

Autumn cruises

City breaks in autumn make sense. In Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, take a cruise to tick the boxes for Venice, Rome and Florence.

In Venice, allow yourself to get lost in the labyrinth of alleyways and go in search of its churches and art galleries as well as magnificent St Mark’s Square and the elegant Rialto Bridge, one of the 450 bridges that cross the city’s 160 canals. 

If there’s an overnight stay option catch an operatic performance at the Musica a Palazzo or call into the casino at the Ca' Vendramin Calergi palace on the Grand Canal.

Sail into Livorno for Florence, in Tuscany, home to some of the world’s greatest art and architectural masterpieces. 

Marvel at the cathedral; Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell'Accademia and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and da Vinci’s Annunciation in the Uffizi Gallery. 

Cruise ships dock at Civitavecchia for Rome. It wasn’t built in a day and you can barely scratch the surface in 24 hours. 

It can be overwhelming to be surrounded by 3,000 years of history with ancient ruins on almost every corner from the Roman Forum to the iconic Coliseum, but enjoy the taster. 

If you also want to see St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, which house masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, book jump-the-queue tours.

If you love the Greek Islands, but island-hopping with luggage seems a hassle, a cruise is a leisurely option. 

Just pick your favourite islands, or the ones you have always wanted to see, to enjoy the tavernas in traditional fishing villages and secret coves for sunbathing. 

The ancient sites of Delos; the party island of Mykonos and romantic Santorini, with its iconic blue-domed churches and clifftop houses are just three of the contrasting options – the choice is yours. Yammas!

Stay overnight in the port of Venice and experience everything it has to offer on a cruise with Saga Find out more here.

Winter cruises

One of the many joys of cruising is to escape the British winter. 

The Canary Islands are a popular starting point and for good reason. The climate is warm all year round, with the islands set between Africa and Europe, and there is so much to see and do.

In Tenerife, take the cable car to the top of Mount Teide, surrounded by a volcanic ‘lunar’ landscape created by earlier eruptions, and stay late for stargazing in the clear night sky. 

It’s a magical experience. There are plenty of beaches and bars but for those who want to get off the beaten track, walking trails through forests and hills, to stop at wonderful rustic restaurants for lunch, are an attractive option (Tenerife Tourist Board, webtenerife.co.uk, offers a huge amount of information on walking, cycling and driving routes for those who want to explore the island). 

In the capital Santa Cruz, visit the Palmetum, home to the largest collection of palms in Europe, rather surprisingly created on the site of a rubbish dump and now transformed into a fascinating garden with views far across the bay. 

Each of the Canary Islands is different, with tiny villages in the hillsides and terrace upon terrace of bananas, tomatoes and vines. 

In Gran Canaria join a camel-back safari and in Lanzarote admire Fire Mountain or visit the home of artist César Manrique.

An added bonus is that many Canaries’ cruises also include Madeira with its year-round glorious tropical gardens and stunning landscape. 

Discover more about cruising around the Canary Islands Find out more here.

The laid-back Caribbean has long been a favourite winter escape, and no wonder when warm turquoise water laps powder-white beaches shaded by palm trees. 

Cuba is now often included in itineraries so travel between December and March for the best of the weather.

Being more realistic, mini-cruises can be a perfect taster. Soak up the atmosphere of Europe’s Christmas markets on a three or four-night break to France, Holland and Germany and you’ll never look back! 

To actually get away over the Christmas period, choose from sunny climes or a Scandinavian cruise if you dream of a White Christmas!

Want to see the Northern Lights? Sail north to Norway in February or March for the best chance to witness Mother Nature’s spectacular light show. 

It can be a long cruise with two nights spent in Alta, but it’s not all about the aurea borealis – go dog sledding, meet the Sami people and their reindeers or chill out in an ice hotel. Cool.

Discover more about cruising around the Caribbean Find out more here.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.