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Cruising Europe: Five Top Ports and Shore Excursions

With more than 20 countries and dozens of ports available on Holland America Line itineraries, Europe is one of the most intriguing and comprehensive cruising regions.

From the sun-kissed beaches of Greece to the snow-capped fjords of Norway, from the ancient ruins of Rome to the modern museums of Bilbao, the most diverse experiences await in Europe.

These five ports are among the most popular for a variety of reasons. Some of the words used to describe are exciting, chic, stunning, historic, breathtaking, vibrant and, of course, memorable. Take a look at these five ports and shore excursions that highlight what make them tops among our guests.

In the background of NAPLES, ITALY, Mount Vesuvius looms. Guests who take a cruise that calls at this port can visit the only active volcano on the European mainland, which blew in A.D. 79 and buried the city of Pompeii. One of the chief commercial cities of Europe, highlights of Naples include Castel dell’Ovo, Castelnuovo and national museums dedicated to art and archaeology. The city center has been designated a World Heritage Site, and the surrounding areas are dotted with cultural and historical treasures, not least them the restored ruins of Pompeii.

The enchanting Isle of Capri.

The enchanting Isle of Capri.

On the A Cruise to the Isle of Capri tour from Naples, guests take a jetfoil ride to the island of Capri that shows off the sights of Capri Town and Anacapri. The finest win flows during a traditional Italian lunch. Roman emperors, including Caesar Augustus and Tiberius, vacationed on the island, and you’ll see the remains of their magnificent Roman villas.

We really, really enjoyed this excursion…my husband was going to go to Pompeii but ended up coming with me and it was a highlight on our 16-day cruise and his favorite stop! Our guide was funny and informative and seemed to really love his job! The lunch & wine were just perfect in the marble hotel overlooking the cliffs! The chair lift ride is a MUST do! — guest Canadian2

MONTE, CARLO, is known among those “in the know” as one of the most sophisticated and chic cities in the world. It is the essence of the Riviera: couture fashion, grand yachts and legendary nightlife. Walk in the footsteps of Grace Kelly or test your luck at the famed Casino.

Monte Carlo on the French Riviera.

Monte Carlo on the French Riviera.

A Taste of the Riviera gives guests a comprehensive view of the area. From Monaco, guests head to the to the medieval village of Eze, perched on a craggy peak above the Mediterranean. A journey to Nice offers views of Beaulieu, Cap Ferrat, Villefranche and Cap d’Antibes along the way. Guests take a walk on Cours Saleya, the elegant promenade of Old Nice where the famous flower market is held. At a wine cellar, you’ll taste a selection of three wines paired with three small canapés.

This excursion was one of the best I’ve taken! Eze was so quaint and beautiful! Nice was my favorite! I wish I could have stayed there overnight! The wine cellar was fun and the wine was excellent! The time in Nice was too short! — guest Ezgator

From Rome’s port city of CIVITAVECCHIA, ITALY, guests can linger at the charming sidewalk cafes or make their way to several places farther away from the port. If you’ve been to Rome or want to see a different side of Italy, head to the Vatican or lesser-known Tarquinia & Tuscania.

rome The charm and beauty of the region shines through on the Etruscan Treasures: Tarquinia & Tuscania tour. Guests journey to Tarquinia, founded in the 7th century BC, now known as a magnificent Etruscan burial ground. You will see the Palazzo Vitelleschi — an excellent example of early Renaissance architecture, whose Archeological Museum houses the remains of the mysterious Etruscan population. Visit the necropolis, containing thousands of tombs dating from the 6th to the 1st century BC, many of which have not yet been explored.

Enjoy a traditional lunch with Italian wine; then, visit Lake Bolsenae situated in the northern Lazio region. Tuscania village is located on a plateau nearby, above the River Marta, and is one of the oldest towns of Italy. Take a walk in the medieval city center and admire two great Paleo-Christian basilicas built in the 9th century.

This was a very informative, interesting, and relaxing day! Miki, our guide (from Tarquinia) was excellent! The necropolis in Tarquinia was different than I have ever seen. From Miki we really learned about the Etruscans and saw their artifacts…After having a chance to look around the town of Tarquinia on our own we were taken to Tuscania for a very nice lunch on Lake Bolsenae, followed by a tour through the town. Such lovely countryside! It was a very enjoyable day! — guest Cyrus

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA, is a treasure chest of glittering domes, baroque palaces and elaborate churches. One day just isn’t enough to see all that St. Petersburg has to offer, which is why the ships overnight at this exciting city. From the Hermitage Museum and its collection of masterpieces to Catherine’s Palace and the globally recognized Church on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg is a cultural haven.

The mesmerizing Russian folkloric dancers.

The mesmerizing Russian folkloric dancers.

During the overnight call, join the Evening Folkloric Spectacular tour. Embark on a fascinating spiritual journey through different regions of Russia, with energetic dances of Don Cossacks, melodic Russian, Ukrainian and Gypsy songs including the world famous Kalinka and Katyusha.

This was the highlight of our cruise, we were so sorry when the evening came to an end. The dancers are amazing, totally in sync with each other, not a hair out. Each dance was performed to perfection, and very often humorous, kudos to all the lovely young performers. — guest Gloj

The name EIDFJORD, NORWAY, might not be as recognizable as Bergen or Oslo, but it certainly is as beautiful and interesting, if not more. With impressive glaciers, mountain lakes, rivers and waterfalls, the incredible fjord landscapes with green mountain sides and white mountain tops leave every visitor to Eidfjord in awe.

Vøringsfossen Waterfalls.

Vøringsfossen Waterfalls.

Waterfalls and Waffles shows off the best of the area. Drive up the steep Måbødalen Valley. Today there is a new, safer route that leads to the enormous Hardanger Mountain Plateau — the largest mountain plateau in northern Europe and one of the few places in Norway where wild reindeer herds still live untended. The tour stops for refreshments at Halne Mountain Lodge, situated about 3,700 feet above sea level in the heart of the Hardanger Mountain Plain. Coffee or tea and a homemade Norwegian waffle are served with jam and sour cream.

After the coffee break, return to the Måbødalen Valley and stop at the Sysen Dam — the main reservoir for the Sima Power Station and one of Norway’s largest embankment dams. The dam is more than a half-mile long, 265 feet tall and 813 feet wide at the bottom.

Continue to Fossli to view the Vøringsfossen Waterfalls. The majestic falls cascade almost 600 feet into the wild Måbø Valley below. This tour provides an abundance of opportunities to capture some of the most beautiful, natural scenery in the world.

We caught the coach in sunshine and drove through steeply-sided ravines with waterfalls and spectacular, soaring views. The higher we drove, the more the weather changed, until we reached the plateau and thick, thick snow! The snow ploughs were driving up and down the road and it was snowing! It was only an hour from Eidfjord, but it was like a different world! We went into the log-cabin dining room in the hotel and were soon served with an enormous waffle each and dishes of sour cream and jam. The coffee was fresh and very welcome. After we had eaten, we had time to walk (carefully!) outside and take pictures of the snowy landscape. We then went on to the dam (more snow, more pictures) and then the waterfall which was, indeed, spectacular…It was a fantastic excursion and we would recommend it to other travellers. Well done Holland America! — guest Welsh Traveller

Which European port is your favorite? Did it make our list?

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