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Europe & the British Isles

Dine in an Irish castle, historic London market or a Welsh prison turned upscale eatery

By Lucy Spicer

Vacations Magazine: Europe & the British Isles
Aervisions/Red Carnation Hotels

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Chill out in Iceland. Where else can you experience waterfalls, volcanoes, thermal baths, encounters with frost-resistant wildlife and more in the span of seven nights? Circumnavigate this island nation on a jaunt with Windstar Cruises beginning and ending in the world's northernmost capital. You can take a dip in the geothermal Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, ride one of the region's hardy horses in Akureyri or visit a colony of Atlantic puffins on Heimaey, whose name translates to "home island." There are multiple departures offered this July and August, with prices for suites from $3,599.

Hike with huskies. Miss your canine companion when you travel?
A trip to Lapland in Finland will introduce you to some new furry friends. The country's northernmost region is home to husky farms that breed these tough, sled-pulling dogs. Summertime departures of the eight-day "Finland's Lapland" include both a hiking excursion with your own personal husky by your side and a visit to a breeding farm. Departures are available May through September from $4,749.

Lock down dining reservations. If you're looking for a unique dining experience during your stay in Cardiff, the charming capital of Wales, consider The Clink Restaurant. Yes, there's truth to the name: The eatery is located just outside Cardiff Prison and staffed by prisoners. It's part of a rehabilitation program run by The Clink Charity, with the goal of providing inmates with job skills and reducing the chances of repeat offenders. The award-winning restaurant -- in addition to honors for its food, this spot also is lauded for its sustainability practices -- is within easy reach of museums, shops and entertainment venues. Nearby accommodations include the Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel and Spa, with 165 rooms and an indoor pool.

Salute Scotland. The country's tourism officials have declared 2017 to be the "Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology." Travelers wishing to mark the occasion can choose from a wealth of cultural activities, from attending traditional events like the Highland Games to visiting six UNESCO World Heritage Sites dotted across the land. Outdoorsy folks can soak up the scenery of the countryside while city slickers might enjoy learning about the national drink at The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.

Shop London's oldest food market. Amid myriad impressive landmarks in London sits a roughly 1,000-year-old attraction committed to exceptional ingredients and environmental responsibility. Many of Borough Market's wares are sold by the very farmers and bakers who produced them, and eye-catching displays of fresh vegetables, seafood, meats, breads and more adorn 100-plus stalls. Compostable packaging and the charitable donation of leftover food are just two ways the market strives to reduce waste. Visit Borough Market and numerous other sights on the eight-day "London Explorer" from Trafalgar, with departure dates available from April through October. Prices start at $1,988.

Experience the royal treatment. An overnight stay at Ashford Castle on a trip to Ireland can turn aristocratic daydreams into reality. Located in lush County Mayo, construction on Ashford began in 1228, and there have been several expansions and changes in ownership since, notably the 1852 purchase by a member of the Guinness family. The impressive structure is now a hotel boasting sumptuously decorated rooms, fine dining and a host of activities fit for nobility, including falconry and clay shooting. Experience the luxury with Brendan Vacations' 10-day "Iconic Ireland & Ashford Castle" which also makes time for Dublin, the Cliffs of Moher and the striking Ring of Kerry. Prices start at $2,137 for departures April through October.

Infuse your cruise with culture. A Cunard Line arts and literature cruise departs the London-area port of Southampton, England, on July 1. This 13-night voyage aboard the Queen Elizabeth will feature talks by British actor Robert Powell and Jane Austen expert (and Charles Dickens Museum trustee) Louise West. Excursions in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and the British Isles will highlight impressive collections and sources of literary inspiration. Stops include Dublin, home to monuments of Irish writers like Seamus Heaney and James Joyce, and Inverness, the Scottish setting for Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Inside cabins start at $2,319.

Join the Reformation celebration. In 1517, Martin Luther was said to have nailed his 95 theses to a church door and ignited the Protestant Reformation. In 2017, Germany honors the 500th anniversary of this event. Globus has organized a 12-day German tour to highlight sites associated with the Reformation, including St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg, where Luther preached; Luther's birthplace and "death house," now museums in Eiselben; and Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, where he translated the New Testament. Two departures are available, on June 8 and Oct. 29. Prices start at $2,729 for " 500th Anniversary of the Reformation."

Ring in the season in Germany. Be the envy of friends and family when you return from your river cruise with spectacular goodies from the Nuremberg Christmas Market. This festive event dates to the 1600s, and today it comprises more than 150 stalls selling toys, arts and crafts, tree decorations, traditional food and more. Savor mulled wine or grilled sausages while perusing handmade goods, including glass ornaments and wooden nutcrackers. Discover its treasures and explore other seasonal vendors in Frankfurt, Wurzburg and beyond on the eight-day "Classic Christmas Markets" with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection. Three December departures start at $2,949.

Bike the Rhine. Sailing through central Europe aboard AmaWaterways' newest vessel, the AmaKristina, means encounters with wonders like the Rhine Gorge, dotted with vineyards and castles. Certain departures of the eight-day "The Enchanting Rhine" voyage feature this ship and its unique way of absorbing the view: Bicycles are provided for independent exploration or guided group tours. Scheduled free time in Holland, Germany and France means ample opportunity to pedal past picturesque cathedrals and bustling city squares. Multiple departures are available from April through November, from $2,799.

Toast the birthplace of Champagne. This very specific type of bubbly is named after the region in France where it is produced. If it didn't come from Champagne, the bottle can't bear its name. Sip at the source on the Paris-to-Epernay route of "A Classic Champagne Cruise" with European Waterways; this weeklong river journey aboard the eight-passenger La Nouvelle Etoile combines historic tours with a decadent menu. Between brie and wine tastings, guests also visit significant sites like the scene of the 1918 Battle of Chateau-Thierry and Eisenhower's WWII map room. Two summer departures are available from $7,475.

Find family fun in Paris. The Louvre has seen several incarnations over its 800-year history -- this site's first structure was a 12th-century fortress -- and the museum's extensive collections can appear overwhelming. Tour provider Tauck offers a solution that will suit the whole gang: a scavenger hunt leading to world-famous works of art, sure to keep both adults and children engaged while minimizing the chance of being lost in the crowds. Find this and other family-friendly activities (including chocolate-making demonstrations) on the eight-day "Bon Voyage! France Family River Cruise" down the Rhone. Four summer departures are priced from $4,290.

Raise a glass to spring. Care to tipple among the tulips? Avalon Waterways has designed a vacation for the beer and bulb connoisseur with a special sailing of its popular "Holland & Belgium With Tulips" itinerary. An eight-day journey from Brussels to Amsterdam aboard the recently debuted Avalon Passion, it combines historic sightseeing and beer tastings. Between cathedral visits in Belgium and walks among the windmills and blooms of Holland, get advice on pairings and learn about local products from a resident brew expert. An April 6 departure is priced from $2,599.

Sink your teeth into Transylvania. What could be spookier than celebrating Halloween in the ruins of a rumored vampire's home? A seven-day tour from G Adventures seeks sites associated with Vlad the Impaler, also known as the inspiration for Bram Stoker's classic horror novel, in central Romania, which encompasses the historical region of Transylvania. Attractions include the ruins of Poenari Castle, the tyrant's fortress between the cities of Bucharest and Sibiu, and Bran Castle, a former defensive point. On Oct. 31, guests don costumes to attend a Dracula-themed private party at Corvin Castle, where they also receive a guided tour of its (supposedly) haunted halls. "Halloween in Transylvania" departs Oct. 27, with prices from $1,349.

Cook off the coast of Corfu. Oceania Cruises understands that food is an important part of interacting with another culture. In addition to cooking classes offered aboard the line's larger ships, the Marina and Riviera, some vacation itineraries include Culinary Discovery Tours, shore excursions built for gourmands. On the Greek isle of Corfu, for instance, a local guide will lead you through a market in the Old City, offering you the chance to expand your palate with samples of kumquat and ginger gelato, olive wood-smoked ham, regional wines and more. Afterward, participants retreat to the ship for a hands-on lesson in Greek cuisine. Try it on a nine-night journey aboard the Riviera departing Venice on Sept. 29, with prices for balcony cabins from $3,349.

Discover the Albanian Riviera. MSC Cruises has expanded its list of Mediterranean ports to include the city of Sarande, near Albania's border with Greece, and cruise-goers can explore this sun-soaked shore on eight weeklong voyages this April and May. The area sees fewer crowds than the big-name beaches on the French and Italian rivieras and offers its own treasures, including Roman ruins, a city built by the Ottoman Empire and the Blue Eye, a two-toned spring whose depths still are unknown. Departures aboard the MSC Poesia start at $591.

Meet a gelato maestro. Sergio Dondoli is an accomplished ice cream maker praised for his unique flavors (think pink grapefruit with a hint of sparkling wine) and willingness to share his passion for dessert with visiting tour groups. Pass through the Italian hill town of San Gimignano and sample his wares this summer with Insight Vacations' "Country Roads of Umbria and Tuscany" a 10-day jaunt that also makes time for olive groves and vineyards; prices start at $2,381.

Smell the flower power. The 14-night "Queen Victoria's Festival of Flowers" voyage with Cunard was specifically designed to showcase the lush gardens and colorful markets of Portugal and the Canary Islands. Departing Southampton, England, on June 8, the cruise overnights in Madeira, an isle with verdant hills that earned it the reputation as "the floating garden of the Atlantic." Sampling Spain's Canaries, meanwhile, reveals the abundant results of fertile volcanic soil, like the wineries of La Palma. The trip's theme is continued at sea, thanks to special guest talks and classes led by expert florists. Pricing starts at $2,029.

Dine at the end of the world. Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but this particular feast will be unforgettable. "Breakfast at the North Cape" is an optional Hurtigruten excursion to the northernmost point on the European continent, and guests will enjoy a sumptuous buffet in Norway's North Cape Hall, more than 1,000 feet above sea level, where the waters of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans mingle. This experience, which also includes a visit with an indigenous Sami family, is available on itineraries like the six-day, southbound "Classic Voyage" along Norway's coast from Kirkenes. Summer departures start from $2,110.

See 13 countries in 31 days. A whirlwind adventure from tour operator Cosmos, "All About Europe" checks off many popular wish list cities including Barcelona, London, Paris, Rome and Vienna. From relaxing along the French Riviera to photographing the Greek Parthenon to boarding a canal cruise in Amsterdam, this schedule ensures that you make the most of your Old World holiday. Nineteen departure dates are available from May through December, with prices starting at $4,219.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Winter 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.

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