Getting off the boat is sometimes harder than you think. Many times we’ve found ourselves having bought a shore excursion at a distant destination only to find out that transportation was accessible and even walking would have gotten us to where we wanted to go. Here is a list of ports that we’ve visited and our experiences in each.
Lisbon: We bought a shore excursion here because the websites for the city and tourism were not very helpful. The first thing we saw as we looked out to port was the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. Not one but two of them, different companies too! The passenger port in Lisbon is right on one of the main arteries so you can choose from local public transport, taxis or the tourist buses.
Bilbao: The port for the city of Bilbao is in the adjacent town of Getxo, about 20 km away. You can buy a shuttle from the port authority at the terminal or you can buy it from the ship line. Either way you may not recommend this as many things can happen and you’ll miss your ship.
LeHavre: The city provides a tram shuttle that will take you to the city center for 10€. You will get a narration of the points of interest and it will also give you a nice little tour of the rest of the city. You can also walk but it is a 5K walk from the port entrance and this may be quite far from your ship depending on where it is docked.
Southampton: At this port we were told by the cruise line that you were not allowed off the port except in an excursion. We, however, stubbornly got off the ship to see what the building in front of us had to offer. We found tour operators, independent of the ship, and a tourist office desk. We decided to investigate further and leave the port on foot. At the entrance booth, manned by a couple of Bobbies, we were courteously treated and given directions on how to get to the old city, which was only a couple of blocks away. In Southampton you can walk to and through the old city inside the medieval walls quite easily.
Cobh (port for Cork, Ireland): When I looked down into the port the first thing I saw was the train station. For 6€ you can ride the train round trip to Cork if you want. My advice is to stay on Cobh, which is a very quaint little Irish town, complete with rowdy pubs. Even at the port you can shop, sing along and have a pint. Getting back to Cork, if you go, there is a Hop-On-Hop-Off with a stop right in front of the train station. Fare is 14€ or 10€ for seniors.
Belfast: There is a free city shuttle from the ship to the city center. You won’t find this out from the cruise line since they want to sell you their shuttle and/or excursions. Once you are in the city center you can buy tickets for the Hop-On-Hop-Off at the Tourist Information desk (TI) for 14€ for adults and 10.50€ for seniors. The H-O-H-O is well worth it to see the Parliament building and the murals depicting scenes from “the troubles” as the call the very long insurrection times.
Dublin: There is no city sponsored shuttle to the center, so you might as well bite the bullet and buy the shuttle ticket from the cruise line. The actual continuous shuttle cost 16€ in 2014 and can be bought on site. Once you get to city center they will drop you off across from Trinity College, all cruise line shuttles converge on the same spot so make sure you are getting on the correct bus. Once you arrive you can buy the tickets for the Hop-On-Hop-Off at the TI (Tourist Information) office or from many vendors walking the sidewalks. The price is the same and the vendors work for the different HOHO companies.
St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands: This is a tender port, with the tender dropping you off in the middle of the waterfront. Most shopping areas and historical buildings are within walking distance. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive as the island is not very big and everything is close by.
Greenock: (port for Glasgow) Train and buses are available to Glasgow, both about a 10 minute walk from port gates. Train fare is 6.90 £ and the easiest to use. Shopping, the river front esplanade, historical churches, historical and municipal buildings are all within a mile walk. “Inverclyde” is a volunteer organization that provides free and excellent walking and coach tours of the area from the port. The Tourist Information office is at the entrance to the port as well.
Invergordon: (port for Inverness) Taxis and public transportation are available at the port entrance. There are also several private tour companies that will offer all day or half day tours to Inverness and Loch Ness. These are excellent and inexpensive.
Kirkwall, Orkney Islands: There is a free shuttle provided by the city, from the port to the city center. Taxis are also available at the port for tours of the island. The Tourist Information office is at the port entrance.
Queensferry: (port for Edinburgh) This is a tender port. You will find taxis at the tender disembarkation station as well as bus service to Edinburgh (a 30 to 40 minute drive). There are public transportation buses as well as a private company shuttle (10£ round trip) and the train station is a 10 minute walk away, although the walk is uphill and strenuous. Trains run every 20 minutes and cost 4.50£ round trip. The train station is easy to find once in Edinburgh but be observant of where the buses drop you off. Edinburgh is a very old city and like most of them very easy to lose your bearings.