A dream for many people in both the United States and Canada is to travel around Europe. The culture, the winding streets, corner cafés and a general joie de vivre are oh so inviting.
But for many, the barriers to getting to Europe are, unfortunately, too much. Costs, time, fear of flying, and a number of other reasons all keep people from making that trip across the Atlantic.
While no city can truly compare to the glory of Paris or the romance of Venice, there are a surprising number of destinations that can be visited on a cruise which echo the atmosphere and architecture of Europe.
Check out the cities below for our top “European” cruise ports that are located in North America.
1. Québec City, Québec
Arguably the most European-feeling destination in North America is Québec City. Most cruise ships dock right in the heart of the city, below the imposing Chateau Frontenac. If more than one ship is in port, there is an additional facility a short ferry ride away (which also offers incredible views of the city as it crosses the Saint Lawrence River) at the Quai Paquet.
Once visitors disembark, most choose to start their day with a wander around the Petite Champlain neighborhood, also known as the “Lower Town,” where Québec City was founded in 1535.
After touring here, ascend the cliffs to the “Upper Town” to view the churches, Chateau, and the city walls. Most importantly, plan on spending a leisurely lunch at any number of local cafés and restaurants.
Dust off that high school French and try your luck at conversing with the Quebecois, but don’t worry — nearly everybody involved in the tourist industry here also speaks English.
If it happens to be a rainy day, duck into the Musee de la Civilisation (Museum of Civilization), Monastere de Ursaline (Ursaline Convent), or take a tour of the Chateau Frontenac (the most photographed hotel in the world).
Finally, do not miss taking a walk along the Terrasse Dufferin, and taking in the spectacular views of the Lower Town and the Saint Lawrence River.
2. Boston, Massachusetts
As the cradle of the American Revolution, Boston may seem like a surprising addition to our list. However, as a leading city in Colonial America and an important port in the early British Empire for over 150 years, Boston has a distinctly European flair.
While the cruise port is not in the heart of the old town, a short cab or Uber ride (or 30-minute walk) will bring visitors to the peninsula where the most important sights are.
Many visitors will want to walk the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile long marked path linking 16 sites from Boston’s founding through the revolution, including Boston Common, Bunker Hill (site of the massacre of the same name), Paul Revere’s house, and other sites relating to the founding of the United States of America.
A self-guided tour can be downloaded onto smartphones.
While not an outside café type of town, Boston is similar to cities in Northern Europe and is awash with fine seafood, with a particular focus on oysters, lobster, and other seafood. If you prefer to spend time observing sea life while it is living, whale watching tours are a popular option when the weather is fine.
3. San Juan, Puerto Rico
A settlement has been in San Juan, Puerto Rico for over 500 years. Contained within thick stone walls, the old city of San Juan is filled with Spanish Colonial architecture, cobbled streets, moody fortresses, and splendid restaurants and bars. The cruise port is located right in the middle of the action with the streets of the city right off the gangway.
A fun way to view the city is to disembark the ship and make a left. Follow the Paseo de la Princesa along the waterfront and underneath the massive city walls. Enter the town through the Puerta de San Juan, the red sea gate through the walls. From here, you can head uphill to El Morro fort or choose to simply wander the streets of Viejo San Juan.
When you feel hungry, make your way to Punto de Vista, located on the roof of the Hotel Milano on Calle de la Fortaleza. While the mofongo is excellent, the real attraction here is the view of the city, which is especially spectacular at sunset. After dinner, your ship is a short 5-minute walk away.
4. New Orleans, Louisiana
Despite its reputation, New Orleans has so much more to offer than wild drinking parties. The French Quarter (or Vieux Carre) evokes the old world in so many ways: brick streets, wrought-iron balconies, charming cafés, and fine restaurants. Cruise ships dock at one of two berths just south of the French Quarter, which is easily accessible via the city’s historic streetcar system.
Once in the old town, take time to stroll the streets, have a delicious coffee and pastry, and visit the numerous museums and historic houses such as the Pharmacy Museum (an old apothecary turned museum), the 1831 Hermann-Grima House, Old Ursuline Convent Museum founded during the French period and the minuscule Voodoo Museum.
If you are in the mood for something spooky, there are several companies that offer ghost tours of the quarter. Alternatively, for those looking to feed their stomach and their brain, cooking classes with a focus on Cajun cuisine are also a fun choice.
5. Halifax, Nova Scotia
Bagpipes, changing of the guard, moody weather, and a beautiful waterfront make Halifax one of the most British cities in America. Often thought of as an afterthought on New England and Canada itineraries, visitors who have had a chance to sample the city inevitably want to return.
If the weather is fine, walk from Pier 22 (where the cruise ships berth) into the city toward the Central Library, which is an architectural gem and contains a pleasant rooftop viewing area.
From there, head up the hill towards the historic Citadel which was founded in 1749. There are interesting tours offered by enthusiastic guides along with a changing of the guard. Every day at 12 PM, they fire the noon gun.
For an additional fee, you can join the 78th Highlanders for the day and fire an authentic Snider-Enfield rifle, just as they did in 1869.
After the citadel, wind down through the city towards the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, located along the waterfront. This incredible museum explains the region’s connections to the sea and has exhibits about the Titanic.
Finally, walk along the waterfront back to your ship, enjoying the sea and sights along the way.
While North America maybe a few thousand miles away from Europe, it is possible to get a taste of the Old Country without flying across the ocean.
These five cities all have features common among European ports and offer the considerable advantages of being closer to most US and Canadian cruisers, while still allowing us to feel like we have visited a faraway foreign land.