Explore terraced hillsides dotted with medieval castles, vineyards, and religious sites along the way, a gentle ride down these tributaries unlocks the treasures of these towns, ancient hubs of merchant trade routes, and strategic fortresses which created boundaries of modern European cultures. Several of these villages and large commercial centers are well preserved and offer an exciting portal to discover quaint cities, local craftsmanship, artistic treasures and gourmet adventures.
There are plenty of good reasons for this popularity. The many great cities in this prosperous and sophisticated corner of the world include London, Paris, St. Petersburg and many others. Its landscapes include the rugged beauty of Norway and Finland, the bright flower fields of the Netherlands and the lush greens of Ireland. The architecture encompasses modern masterpieces as well as ancient churches and castles.
And of course, the art and music and literature of this region form a large part of the cultural fabric of the western world. These also are the heartlands of golf, tennis, auto racing, equestrian sports, soccer and many of the world's other favorite sporting pursuits and championships.
Summer is the high season for cruises in this part of the world; however, some lines offer year-round sailings from ports in Great Britain and Norway.
Ports of Call
Although some small luxury vessels actually sail up the Thames River to tie up in the heart of London, larger vessels dock at nearby Tilbury, Harwich or Southampton. Wherever the ship is, the action is in London Town.
The British Museum -
If there is a master repository of the history of the world's civilizations, this must be it. Collections built through the long history of the British Empire and the work of some of the greatest scholars have created a museum that possibly could not be completely explored in a single lifetime.
Kings and Castles -
London's many royal buildings embody the history and traditions that continue today in this constitutional monarchy. Among those open to the public is the famous Tower of London on the banks of the Thames, dating back to the 11th Century, where tours allow visitors to see where the great and the notorious were once imprisoned and executed and to view the priceless Crown Jewels.
Great Walks -
A stroll through the city's Bankside along the Thames takes tourists past the new recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern art gallery, the medieval Southwark Cathedral and a lively shopping and entertainment district. Other prime locations for leisurely walks include the legendary Hyde Park and the stately Victoria Embankment, which leads to the Houses of Parliament.
St. Petersburg -
Although this great city shows the wear and tear it endured as Leningrad during the decades of the Soviet Union, its essential grandeur shows through.
The Hermitage -
Originally a palace of the czar, this vast building now houses one of the world's greatest art collections. It is, in fact, a work of art in itself, and no visit to St. Petersburg would be complete without a visit to this great museum.
The Summer Palace -
A short trip from the city, this country home built for Peter the Great and its surrounding grounds provide a glimpse into the opulence and elegance of the Czar's court. The tour also takes visitors through the rural countryside outside St. Petersburg.
Nevskiy Prospekt -
St. Petersburg's main thoroughfare and the heart of its lively shopping and entertainment district, this broad avenue is lined with shops carrying the names of world-famous designers, art galleries and restaurants and nightclubs. The street also crosses over the canals that earned St. Petersburg the title "Venice of the North."
Norwegian Fjord -
Not exactly fit the definition of a port call but a series of scenic transits and stops at small villages and cities, the Norwegian Fjords treat visitors to spectacular scenery and a first-hand view of the life, culture and history of the land of the Vikings.