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Hidden gems of the Emerald Isle: Small ship cruises to Ireland

Cruise Advice

When we're scanning through cruise itineraries looking for interesting and unusual voyages, our eyes are often drawn towards the world's more exotic and far-flung corners.

But one of the joys of cruising by small ship is that it can offer a new perspective on familiar destinations, taking you to hidden harbours, remote islands and unexpected attractions that you may not even have realised were there.

Ireland is just such a destination, often overlooked by UK cruisers due to its geographic proximity. For many Brits, our experience of Ireland is limited to a long weekend in Dublin, or perhaps a circuit of the classic tourist highlights such as the Ring of Kerry. Plenty of mainstream cruise lines visit Ireland, but calls are usually limited to Dublin and Belfast, with little opportunity to really delve into the island's rich culture, history and natural beauty.

Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland

A small ship cruise to Ireland offers many more possibilities, from port-intensive itineraries combining Ireland with the Scottish islands to expedition-style voyages exploring the rugged west coast. It's also possible to combine your cruise with an overland tour, or a journey on the luxurious Belmond Grand Hibernian train. Here are a few of the small ship sailings that have caught our eye:

1. Azamara - Ireland Intensive

All three of Azamara's small ships, each carrying around 700 guests, will be circumnavigating the Emerald Isle during the next couple of years. Highlights of this intensive voyage include Waterford, with its fascinating Viking and Norman heritage, and Galway, the 2020 European Capital of Culture and gateway to Connemara National Park. Options include Dublin to Stockholm in June and Dublin to Southampton in August 2021.

Galway cathedral, Ireland

2. Seabourn - Gems of the Irish Sea

The lovely 458-guest Seabourn Quest sails out of Dover in July 2021 on this 14-night voyage combining Ireland with calls in England and Scotland. You'll visit smaller ports like Bantry and Killybegs, along with the cities of Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow, and you'll have the opportunity to explore the Lake District with a rare call in Barrow-in-Furness.

Cliffs of Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

3. Hebridean Island Cruises - Gaelic Heritage

The quirky little Hebridean Princess, our favourite country house hotel at sea, makes a rare foray across the Irish Sea in September 2021, with this island-hopping itinerary that combines the southern Hebrides with Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. You'll visit the Titanic Museum in Belfast, take a tour of Mount Stewart's elegant gardens and cruise beautiful Strangford Lough on a round-trip voyage from Oban.

Belfast City Hall

4. Silversea - Expedition Ireland, Scotland & Isles of Scilly

Silversea's popular Silver Wind, carrying a reduced capacity of just 274 guests following her refurbishment later this year, sails from London Tower Bridge to Reykjavik in June 2021. Highlights include the monastic huts and amazing birdlife of the Skellig Islands, the exotic flora of Tresco Abbey Gardens and Iona's historic Abbey, said to be the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.

St Martin's Cross, Iona Abbey, Scotland

5. Saga - Romantic Ireland

Saga's new 999-guest Spirit of Discovery has been garnering rave reviews from Mundy clients, and she's a particularly good choice for solo travellers. This round-trip voyage from Southampton in June 2021 calls at ports including Bantry, Killybegs and Waterford, and the all-inclusive fares represent excellent value for money, with home pick-up and travel insurance included in the price.

Bantry Bay, Ireland

6. Crystal Cruises - Emerald Isle Immersion

One of our favourite ships at sea, the 980-guest Crystal Serenity, sails from Dover to Belfast in August 2021 on a week-long itinerary that includes Cobh, Waterford and Dublin. This is also an opportunity to tick off a few other British Isles that you may not have visited, with calls in Guernsey and Anglesey.

Dublin Castle Gardens, Ireland
Meet the author

Tom is a former Marketing Manager at Mundy Cruising

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