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Destination Northern Europe: Our Top 9 Ports

Northern Europe has a wealth of wonderful ports of call. Here is a pick of just nine of the gems out there, from Cowes in the Solent on the south coast of England, to the Kyles of Bute on Scotland’s beautiful west coast, to the beautiful archipelago of Gothenberg, and beyond…

Lofoten islands September
Norway's spectacular western coast - photo Simo Rasanen

Lofoten Islands
Norway’s western coast offers a spectacular landscape of mountains, fjords and glaciers. What’s more, it’s well sheltered inside the chain of islands that fringes the coast, so even in strong winds you can make passages in almost flat water.

However, the downside is that the easier-to-reach southern section of this coast is in the path of summer low-pressure systems and can be very wet. But time spent getting further north will reward you with clear skies, round in the clock sun and the spectacular jewel of the Lofoten Islands. Don’t be put off by the latitude – the islands benefit from the world’s largest positive temperature anomaly relative and with warm water temperatures, the sea is teeming with life and there’s a population of sea birds to match.


Cowes - The round the island race
Cowes is home to a host of sailing events held in the waters of the Solent, including the JP Morgan Asset Mannagement Round the Island Race. Photo Thierry Martinez/See&Co/RTI Race

Cowes is home to a host of sailing events held in the waters of the Solent, including the world’s oldest – and largest – regatta, as well as the planet’s biggest yacht race, JP Morgan Asset Mannagement Round the Island Race.

Cowes remains a must visit destination for many sailors that hosts a string of prestigious events for both state of the art raceboats and the most elegant of classic yachts. Each spring the small town awakes from a quiet winter slumber to welcome tens of thousands of sailors from around the world during the season.

While the town is sometimes criticised for the lack of a smart hotel, or the difficulty of finding a restaurant table during busy events, those in the know rent one of the big Victorian villas or modern penthouses overlooking the Solent and hire a celebrity chef to take care of the catering.


Falmouth Custom House Quay
Falmouth is a traditional jumping off point - Photo Tony Atkin
This has been the traditional jumping off point from Britain’s south-west coast to destinations south and west for generations of sailors. It’s a port that can be entered in any weather, yet provides sheltered moorings for thousands of boats of all sizes.
It has repair and refit facilities for every type of boat, including the world’s largest superyachts, while annual summer events include a 450 boat regatta week plus a classic regatta with around 100 yachts. In 2012 the port was graced by the J-Class regatta, while in 2014 Falmouth will host the Tall Ships Race.
Gothenberg Archipelago
The Gothenburg Archipelago is two collections of islands

Gothenburg Archipelago
Sweden’s second city enjoys a benign, if short, summer season. Right on the doorstep, the Gothenburg archipelago is two collections of islands, offering spectacular remote anchorages, fishing villages and small resorts.

The southern island group is entirely traffic free, with the 5,000 permanent inhabitants spread across five islands reliant on delivery mopeds, electric vehicles and ferries. When you’ve had enough of the quiet life, the city centre is only an afternoon’s sail away.

No trip to France is complete without a visit to Honfleur Photo Pir6mon

No trip to northern France is complete without a visit to this stunning medieval port at the mouth of the Seine estuary and it’s a must for both foodies and art lovers. In the late part of the 19th century the Impressionist movement was born here, after Parisian artists – including Monet, Courbet and Boudin – were attracted by the exquisite quality of the light.

Yachts and fishing boats still dock behind massive lock gates in the old port, where there’s ample draught for large vessels. Excellent cafes and restaurants that cater to all tastes and budgets surround the harbour – you’d need a month to sample them all. Before leaving, provision from the superb market on the quay.


KInsale country cork
Kinsale is a gastronomic paradise

This deep water sheltered fishing village, just to the west of Cork, has become a gastronomic paradise, with food to satisfy the most discerning of tastes, especially during the annual Gourmet Festival.

It’s also in a great sailing area – a factor that attracted, among others, superyacht designer Ron Holland to set up home in Kinsale after emigrating from his native New Zealand.

Kyles of Bute
The beautiful Kyles of Bute on Scotland's west coast. Photo Kenneth Hall

Kyles of Bute
The west coast of Scotland offers some of Europe’s most spectacular sailing among majestic scenery and a host of islands that provide both welcome shelter from north Atlantic swells and a range of options for each day’s sailing.

The Kyles of Bute, between the island of Bute and the mainland, are one of the west coast’s prettiest locations, with fjord-like channels winding between heather clad hills. There are numerous sheltered anchorages, both on the Bute side and along the mainland. At the top of the narrows you can anchor behind Eilean Dubh island in Glen Caladh Harbour, giving almost perfect shelter in a tranquil location.

Appropriately the Breton meaning of Morbihan is 'small sea' - photo Jean Rebiffe


This island-studded almost circular estuary in South Brittany forms a sheltered inland sea – appropriately, the Breton meaning of Morbihan is ‘small sea’. Big tides give rise to an ever-changing landscape, with yet more islands appearing as the water drops. There’s a myriad of deep water picturesque sheltered anchorages and harbours among scenic villages and fishing ports. Here the sea here permeates well inland and almost everyone has a connection with the water – a statistically improbably proportion of the French superstar solo sailors come from Morbihan.

Tallinn Harbour
Tallinn's harbour at dawn - photo CC-BY-SA license

It’s easy to assume the Baltic’s harsh winters reflect the weather year-round here, but nothing could be further from the truth. The regions climate means that summers are warm and relatively dry, without the over-bearing heat of mid-summer in the Mediterranean. The Estonian capital is the old capital city in northern Europe and shared the title of European Capital of Culture with Turku, directly opposite across the Gulf of Finland.






Written by Rupert Holmes

Written by: Rupert Holmes

Rupert Holmes has more than 70,000 miles of offshore cruising and racing experience, in waters ranging from the North Sea to the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He writes about all aspects of boat ownership and marine travel, including destinations, seamanship and maintenance, as well as undertaking regular new boat and gear tests.

He currently sails around 5,000 miles per year and in the past couple of seasons has cruised from the UK to the Azores, as well as winning his class in the 2014 two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. He also owns two yachts, one based in the Mediterranean and the other in the UK.


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