Go on a historic mini cruise to Belgium and France

Although the Caribbean and the Med are probably the destinations that spring to mind when you think of cruise holidays, they are far from the only places you can explore on this type of getaway. You also don’t need to set aside several weeks to go on a cruise – there are numerous itineraries that depart from the UK and take you on a short, two to three day tour of nearby spots.

Where can you go for history?

France and Belgium are just a short sail away from the UK and both are home to a plethora of fascinating historical sites, from beautiful cities to poignant battlefields. You can explore both of these aspects of continental Europe on a short cruise from Southampton, calling at Zeebrugge and Le Havre.

What to see in Zeebrugge

Zeebrugge is a subdivision of Bruges and its name means ‘Bruges on Sea’. It’s a charming seaside fishing village and is Belgium’s most important port. Of course, it’s easy to get from here into Bruges proper, allowing you to also discover one of the country’s most exciting cities on a day away from your cruise ship. As the city’s historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s well worth making the journey inland to explore.

The main attraction in Zeebrugge itself is the maritime theme park, which is very much linked to the town’s seafaring heritage. The biggest attraction here is a Russian submarine, which offers an interesting insight into this side of undersea exploration. Other exhibits cover fisheries and the fishing industry, Zeebrugge’s involvement in World War I and the wildlife of the North Sea.

What to see in Le Havre

Le Havre in France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is celebrated for its reconstruction following extensive bomb damage during World War II. What makes it so special is the plan that led to its rebuilding, which was conceived by Auguste Perret. It is lauded as an “outstanding” example of post-war urban planning, with Perret having stayed true to the original historical layout of the town, and incorporated any of its existing historical structures, in his redevelopment scheme.

Among the buildings to look out for here are the Church of St Joseph, the Hotel de Ville, Le Volcan and the Appartement Temoin, a wonderfully preserved 1950s-style apartment. You should also take a tour of the St Vincent district, which largely escaped the devastating bombings of the war and offers a fantastic glimpse into Le Havre’s heritage.

Another essential stop on a visit to Le Havre is the Musee d’Art Moderne Andre Malraux, which plays host to an incredible collection of impressionist works, with pieces by the likes of Pissarro, Monet, Degas, Renoir and Boudin on show here. The exhibits in this space are actually the largest selection of impressionist paintings outside of Paris, so it’s a real must for anyone with an interest in art.

If all of this has piqued your interest in a short trip to the continent, take a look at a suggested itinerary here. This will not only give you an idea of where you can visit, but will also allow you to take a look at the shore excursions you can go on if you’re travelling as part of a cruise.

Of course, in between exploring fascinating destinations like Le Havre and Zeebrugge, you will be travelling in real style. There is always plenty of entertainment onboard cruises, even if it’s just a short tour, while you will never have far to go if you want to indulge in a tasty meal.