Grand Circle: Maritime Jewels of the British Isles and Ireland

Scotland lends itself to small-ship cruising. The rugged coastline, with long sea-lochs and remote islands, is a treasure trove of hidden gems … if your ship is small enough to weave between them. Ok, sometimes the weather is a bit wet and windy and, on those days in a small ship, you might just need your sea legs! But, on the whole, a nimble little vessel will get you up close to stunning wildlife and into the small harbours of Scotland’s historic towns.

Grand Circle (an independent American cruise line focusing on enrichment) run a discovery tour of the British Isles during summer, which includes an interesting Scottish itinerary. Most cruises visiting Scotland take the familiar Iona, Skye, Orkney and Shetland route bringing together many of the country’s iconic historical and geological sites.


The Grand Circle tour opts for less well-known stops as well as a few of the old favourites. Barra, a Hebridean Island best known for the beach acting as the airport runway, is only 8 miles x 5 miles in size. Enjoy a gentle stroll, visit the island castle and meet the welcoming locals who are often keen to share their culture with visitors.

Isle of Lewis

Then onwards to Stornoway, which is the capital of another fascinating island and often overlooked by visitors. There are ancient standing stones along with magnificent beaches and an authentic black-house village. Then, after a visit to the stunning Orkney archipelago, the trip stops at the granite city of Aberdeen before ending in Edinburgh.

MV Corinthian
MV Corinthian

Your ship is the 98-passenger MV Corinthian. Ice-strengthened for its annual season in Antarctica, this expedition vessel is comfortable without being luxurious. If you expect a clean ship with a friendly crew and an special ability to access remote places then you won’t be disappointed.


More information on this cruise can be found here on Grand Circle’s website.


Date: May/June/July 2019

Duration: 16 days

Ship: MV Corinthian

Images courtesy of Grand Circle Cruise Line

Radar: Scotland cruise figures hit the high spots

According to recent figures, Scottish ports are on course to welcome a million cruise passengers annually years ahead of original expectations. 2018 has been a record season with 825 cruise ships bringing 794,577 passengers to destinations around the country.

Cruise Scotland Chair, Rob Mason, said: “It’s been another remarkable cruise season, with the trend in growth continuing – vessel arrivals were up 8.4% and passengers by 16.75% compared with 2017.  Everyone involved in the success – directly through the ports and in the wide-reaching service sector – deserves a big vote of thanks for their support. We are committed to building on the achievements of the past decade by attracting more cruise ships and increasing the contributions to the Scottish economy.”

Based on current bookings, 912 vessels are heading for Scottish ports next year, an increase of 10.5% on 2018, with passenger numbers expected to be up 15.8% at more than 920,000.

Port Guide: Ullapool Essentials

With a population of around 1500 people (similar to a mid-size cruise ship) this pretty village of white-washed cottages nestles on the shores of Loch Broom. As the main settlement in Wester Ross, this is a bustling little place with lovely cafes, a great bookshop and a fantastic museum.

Ullapool Cruise Ship
Watching the world go by

Carved out by the glaciers of the Ice Age, the town itself is surrounded by sea and mountains. Local pubs often have live music playing and restaurants make good use of the abundant seafood on offer.


Ceilidh Place
The Ceilidh Place

Highland Stoneware

Ullapool Museum

The Ceilidh Place


Ullapool at night
Ullapool at night

Natural deepwater harbour

Tender to pontoon and reception marquee

Immediate access to village and excursion coach departure point



Ullapool Harbour

Community Site 

Ponant: From Scotland to Spitsbergen

Ponant Skara Brae
Skara Brae

Ponant, the luxury French cruise line, has a fantastic voyage from Dublin to Longyearbyen in 2020 … taking in the magical Scottish Islands of Mull, Skye, Orkney and Shetland as it goes. If an expedition cruise is on your bucket list, and the idea of exploring scenic Scottish archipelagos before crossing the Arctic Circle for Norway, then this 12-day trip should be on your to-do list.

Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey

The cruise itinerary includes visiting the five beautiful Scottish ports of Iona, Tobermory, Portree, Kirkwall and Lerwick. Departing from Dublin, the trip also visits the Norwegian Lofoten Islands and the icy landscape of Spitsbergen in Svalbard. Flights from Longyearbyen to London are included in the price.

Ponant Scotland Spitsbergen

Your ship will be the elegant 132 stateroom mega-yacht, l’Austral. In partnership with National Geographic the resident expedition team give talks and even accompanies you on hikes and Zodiac tours, along with an onboard NG photographer.

During your time ashore, you can enjoy hikes over deserted beaches and heathery mountains, observe fascinating sea birds and rare wildlife, visit ancient archaeological sites, enjoy spectacular fjords and marvel at gigantic glaciers.

Ponant L'Austral Polar
Glacier Spotting


Date: 17 May 2020 to 28 May 2020
Duration: 12 days / 11 nights

Departure Port : Dublin
Arrival Port : Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen

Ship : L’Austral

More about this fantastic cruise can be found here on Ponant’s site.

Photos courtesy of Ponant

Viking Cruises: British Isles Explorer

Shetland Lighthouse
Shetland Lighthouse

The winds are favourable for Scotland’s cruise industry with a surge in cruise calls predicted over the next few years. After all, it’s an easy size to explore. For a small country there’s lots to see and do; from the vast swathes of rugged wilderness to the spectacular coastline, vibrant cities, fascinating history of warring clans, haunted castles, amber whisky and even a loch monster (maybe!).

Viking Cawdor Castle
Cawdor Castle

Viking Ocean Cruises know a thing or two about uncovering the best of places. This luxury line is strong on immersion and even includes an in-depth excursion in every port – as part of the standard fare. Their British Isles Explorer is a 15-day trip with stops in Lerwick, Invergordon, Edinburgh, Kirkwall and Ullapool.

Making good use of the long days of summer there’s plenty of time ashore to explore the ancient archeological sites of Orkney, observe the abundant seabirds and marine life around Shetland, play golf on St.Andrews Old Course, enjoy street theatre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile or even try to spot the elusive Nessie (The Loch Ness Monster) … you might just be the one who snaps that million dollar photograph.

Viking Sea Infinity Pool
Viking Sea Infinity Pool

Your ship will be the Jupiter, Sea, Sun or Star depending on which date you sail. As all ships are essential identical, the actual vessel makes little difference to the trip. For a closer look at a Viking ship click here.

Viking St Andrews Cathedral
St.Andrews Cathedral

More information on this cruise can be found here on Viking’s site.


Cruise Dates: July/August 2019; May/June/July/August 2020

Cruise Duration: 15 days

Ship: Jupiter/Sea/Sky/Sun/Star