Sign up to our newsletter
Holiday goals

5 top cruises for history and culture

History and culture cruises are perfect for travellers eager to enrich their holidays by learning all about the destinations visited on their sea escape – here are some of the best.

Cultural cruises in the Mediterranean, Far East and beyond offer more than simply sunbathing, relaxing and eating good food (although there’s still plenty of that too if you wish!).

These enrichment cruises really get under the skin of the amazing places visited on your holiday, from UNESCO World Heritage wonders to intriguing medieval towns.

Not only can you explore these destinations via shore excursions – or indeed venture alone – you’ll also benefit from guest speakers on your cruise ship who can inspire and educate you during enrichment lectures on the ships on the sights you’ll see, whether that’s hyper-modern architecture or a fascinating historic site you’ll never forget.

We’ve rounded up five superb handcrafted cruises – available to book via travel agent Iglu Cruise – all with Cruise and Stay elements to make you really make the most of the hotspots visited, should you want to seek out Sri Lankan temples, experience indigenous Alaskan heritage and so much more.

5 best cruises for history and culture

Celebrity Cruises: Spice Route
Star Clippers: Amalfi & Sicily
Royal Caribbean: China & Japan
Princess Cruises: Canada & Alaska
Azamara: Greece & Turkey

Celebrity Cruises: Spice Route

Discover the cultural and historical wonders of South Asia on this Celebrity Cruises Cruise and Stay holiday. Diverse Mumbai in India pulsates with energy and is proud of landmarks such as the Gateway of India and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (a main railway station on the UNESCO World Heritage list).

Goa offers Portuguese colonial architecture and amazing beaches while Colombo’s rich heritage can be admired at the Gangaramaya Temple and national monument Independence Memorial Hall. For further Sri Lankan history and culture, Hambantota houses the country’s southern treasures both old and new, from ancient temples to the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium.

Next is the tropical paradise of Phuket in Thailand with its ornate temples then Penang, Malaysia, and its UNESCO-listed George Town, complete with a fusion of Chinese, Malay and British influences.

Your cruise ship then wends its way to Kuala Lumpur, the dynamic capital of Malaysia. You won’t miss its modern skyline alongside such cultural gems as the nearby Batu Caves (a complex of limestone grottoes) and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (an impressive late-19th-century governmental building).

Finish your cruise in the city-state of Singapore where you’ll find both tradition and modernity in Chinatown, Little India and the famous Gardens by the Bay.

Set sail

Spice Route from Mumbai to Singapore with Stays

Perks: All-inclusive drinks & Wi-Fi

Includes: Flights | transfers | 2-night Mumbai hotel stay | 2-night Singapore hotel stay

Duration: 18 nights
Stay: Mumbai & Singapore
Cruise: Mumbai, India | Goa | Colombo, Sri Lanka (overnight) | Hambantota | Phuket, Thailand | Penang, Malaysia | Kuala Lumpur | Singapore
Ship: Celebrity Millennium
Price: From £3,149 pp

Find out more

Star Clippers: Amalfi & Sicily

Ahead of your tall-ship Mediterranean cruise with Star Clippers, enjoy a brief sojourn in Rome where the echoes of gladiator battles and the whispers of ancient intrigue resonate among the imposing Colosseum and the Roman Forum. For papal pomp head to The Vatican City, with its awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel – absolute must-sees on a history and culture cruise stay in Italy’s capital.

Then let the sails billow as your vessel departs for Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian Islands and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by volcanic landscapes and ruins. Historical site highlights of Lipari town include a fortified citadel and castle built by the Spaniards in the 16th century and the 12th-century Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew (said to contain the apostle’s ’sacred thumb’).

The voyage continues along the shores of the Mediterranean to Messina in Sicily where Norman and Arabic influences can be spotted in the intricate details of Messina Cathedral before Amalfi, with its dramatic cliffs, lemon groves and divine Amalfi Cathedral makes you never want to leave.

But, onwards to Sorrento and further sea views and fragrant citrus gardens – plus plenty of interesting Mediterranean culture and history of course. Sorrento’s medieval town centre houses the 15th-century Sedil Dominova and the Basilica di Sant’Antonino while the Museo Correale di Terranova, located in a noble residence, displays an impressive collection of art and artefacts.

The final call is Ponza Island, where clear waters and delightful beaches invite cruisers to unwind amidst the remnants of ancient Roman civilisation. Fun fact: the Grotte di Pilato, a series of sea caves, are believed to have served as a natural pool for the Roman Emperor Tiberius!

Set sail

Amalfi & Sicily from Rome Cruise & Stay

Includes: Flights | transfers | 2-night 4-star hotel stay in Rome

Duration: 9 nights
Stay: Rome, Italy
Cruise: Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy | Lipari | Messina, Sicily | Amalfi | Sorrento | Ponza Island | Rome (Civitavecchia)
Ship: Star Flyer
Price: From £2,299 pp

Find out more

Royal Caribbean: China & Japan

The cultural and historical treasures of both China and Japan are laid before you on this bespoke bucket list Cruise and Stay getaway. Begin with a series of Iglu Cruise-organised hotel stays in China, commencing in Beijing, where the Forbidden City and Great Wall tell the tale of China’s imperial grandeur.

Xian, with its Terracotta Army, transports you to the ancient Qin Dynasty, while in Chengdu you can learn about the rich Sichuanese culture, exemplified in the historic Wuhou Shrine and lively teahouses.

Next, you’ll enjoy a river cruise along the majestic Yangtze River, taking in natural splendours intertwined with ancient legends followed by a hotel stay in Shanghai, a modern metropolis where protected historic district the Bund juxtaposes with the futuristic skyscrapers in Pudong… before setting sail with Royal Caribbean.

In Kobe, Japan, check out the well-preserved Western-style houses from the Meiji era (1868–1912) in the Kitano district while in Osaka you’ll want to swing by Osaka Castle and take in local street life.

The history cruise is not over yet, though! Tokyo is home to such cultural landmarks as the forest-dwelling Meiji Shrine and Asakusa – the city’s oldest geisha district – while back in Shanghai you can roam ancient water towns, classical gardens and a plethora of museums, from Shanghai Museum’s vast collection of Chinese art and cultural pieces to the Power Station of Art in a converted power plant.

Set sail

Great Wall, Terracotta Army, Pandas, Yangtze River & Japan

Includes: Flights | transfers | 3-night Beijing hotel stay | 2-night Xian hotel stay | 1-night Chengdu hotel stay | 2-night Shanghai hotel stay

Duration: 20 nights
Stay: Beijing, Xian, Chengdu & Shanghai
River cruise: Yangtze River Cruise
Ocean cruise: Shanghai, China | Kobe, Japan | Osaka | Tokyo | Shanghai, China
Ship: Spectrum of the Seas
Price: from £4,099 pp

Find out more

Princess Cruises: Canada & Alaska

Sail and rail your way through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska on this Cruise and Stay holiday with Princess Cruises. You’ll begin in Vancouver, Canada, where modern life fuses with the region’s indigenous roots, evident in the Museum of Anthropology and the historic Gastown district, before you venture into the wild beauty of Alaska.

Juneau, the state capital, has plenty to shout about with the drop-dead-beautiful Mendenhall Glacier plus the Alaska State Museum where you can learn about the region’s natural wonders and Native heritage. In Skagway, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park transports visitors to the frontier days, while the dramatic landscapes of Endicott Arm and the calving splendour of Dawes Glacier provide a majestic backdrop of ice and fjords.

Lastly, there’s Ketchikan, the “Salmon Capital of the World,” with its rich Native American heritage, on display at the Totem Heritage Center and Saxman Village.

Set sail

Rocky Mountaineer from Banff to Vancouver & Alaskan Inside Passage

Perks: £1pp deposit + upgrade from Princess Plus to Princess Premier for free + up to 30% savings – Hurry! Ends March 4, 2024

Includes: Flights | transfers | 2-night Banff hotel stay | Rocky Mountaineer – Kamloops to Vancouver | 1-night Vancouver hotel stay

Duration: 12 nights
Stay: Canada
Cruise: Vancouver, Canada | Juneau, Alaska, USA | Skagway | Endicott Arm | Dawes Glacier | Ketchikan | Vancouver, Canada
Ship: Ruby Princess
Price: from £2,699 pp

Find out more

Azamara: Greece & Turkey

This Eastern Mediterranean voyage explores off-the-beaten-track destinations while still ticking off the big hitters. Starting with a hotel stay in Istanbul you’ll take in Byzantine and Ottoman heritage via recognisable sights such as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque before cruising with Azamara onto Canakkale. Near the ancient city of Troy, this Turkish city brims with heroic tales of the Trojan War and archaeological treasures.

It’s then on to Greece and the port city of Kavala featuring the medieval Kavala Castle and Kavala Aqueduct, an impressive Ottoman-era structure that once spanned the length of the city. Over in Thessaloniki, you’ll find Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences displayed in the White Tower (used as a fortress, prison, and even as a place of execution) and the Rotunda, an imposing cylindrical monument.

Next, the coastal city of Volos (mythological home to Jason, leader of the Argonauts) with its neoclassical architecture and proximity to Mount Pelion, plates up historical and natural wonders. Head to the Volos Archaeological Museum and the Athanasakeion Archaeological Museum of Volos to find out more.

Back in Turkey, Cesme offers a mix of Ottoman architecture and gorgeous beaches before your Azamara ship revisits Greece. Amorgos and Rhodes Town have ancient ruins and medieval charm aplenty, while Thira in Santorini is a must-photograph spot with its blue-domed churches against the backdrop of the caldera.

Aegina, known for its archaeological sites and pistachio orchards, and Athens, with its Acropolis, Parthenon and countless other wonders, complete this culture cruise in the Mediterranean.

Set sail

Greece Intensive with Istanbul & Athens Stays

Includes: Flights | transfers | 2-night Istanbul hotel stay | 2-night Athens hotel stay | More Inclusive drinks | gratuities

Duration: 14 nights
Stay: Istanbul, Turkey | Athens, Greece
Cruise: Istanbul, Turkey | Canakkale | Kavala, Greece | Thessaloniki | Volos | Cesme, Turkey | Amorgos, Greece | Rhodes Town, Rhodes | Thira, Santorini | Aegina | Athens (Piraeus), Greece
Ship: Azamara Journey
Price: From £2,979 pp

Find out more
Published 27.02.24