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15 Under-the-Radar Cruise Ports to Visit Before Anyone Else

Not all ships dock in major cities or popular Caribbean islands; in fact, some of the most intriguing sights and destinations may be hidden behind an unfamiliar name. These 15 smaller ports lead to some major world sights that are off the beaten path.

Honningsvag, Norway beyond the Arctic Circle.Vlada Photo/Shutterstock

Honningsvåg, Norway

Viking Ocean Cruises makes the signature Into the Midnight Sun cruise along the Norwegian coastline from Bergen in the south to the tip-top of the country in Honningsvåg. An excursion to Nordkapp (or North Cape), where visitors stand atop a plateau and stare down into the frigid Barents Sea below, will take your breath away. It’s one of the northernmost points in continental Europe, earning it the nickname “the top of the world.” Views on a clear day are spectacular, although the fog can often roll in quickly. Don’t miss these 12 other bucket list cruises.

PIscocourtesy Hotel Paracas, a Luxury Collection Resort

Pisco, Peru

Pisco is the gateway town to Paracas National Reserve and a port of call on Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The mysterious Nazca Lines, one of the ancient mysteries around the globe that researchers still can’t explain, make it worthy of a stop. While you’re there, don’t miss lunch at Hotel Paracas and its Chalana café, which serves up fresh catches of the day as ceviche, tacos, and sushi.

GivernyCourtesy Tauck

Vernon, France

One of the many highlights on Tauck’s Paris-to-Normandy sails is Vernon, about a 10-minute drive from Giverny, where Claude Monet’s home and its famous garden are located. Cruisers can enjoy a private visit early in the day before the garden, with its iconic Japanese bridge and waterlily-filled ponds, open to the general public. Included in the tour is a visit to the Impressionist Museum in Giverny, where many works of art are immediately recognizable.

Ships and boats anchored on the river bank of the mekong riverKosin Sukhum/Shutterstock

Siem Reap, Cambodia

This city’s name may not roll off your tongue, but it is an important place because it is home to the famous Angkor Wat temples, which are exceptional displays of Khmer architecture and history. It is also a starting or ending point of most Mekong River cruises, including CroisiEurope’s sailing between here and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam aboard the modern RV Indochine II. Find out more about our favorite affordable bucket list destinations that won’t break the bank.

salzburgCourtesy AmaWaterways

Linz, Austria

The city of Linz lies along the picturesque Danube River and has a charming old town district that’s worthy of a visit itself. The town is also a great jumping-off point for Salzburg, known to many as the setting for the movie The Sound of Music. Visitors to Salzburg can explore many of the landmarks featured in the film, including the Basilica St. Michael and Mirabell Gardens. Salzburg is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Mozart, and visitors can see many of the places that inspired him to write his music. Many of AmaWaterways’ Danube River sailings make a stop in Linz, and the line offers complimentary loans of bicycles for tooling around the town. Don’t miss these 11 other cruises with crazy-cool amenities.

View of Genoa, port city in northern ItalyAlex Tihonovs/Shutterstock

Genoa, Italy

The splendid the Cinque Terre region is known for its colorful rows of houses and hotels that hug the Mediterranean cliffs and shorelines. One of its most famous ports of call is Genoa, and not only because this is the home region of Christopher Columbus or the birthplace of the original pesto; it’s also one of the easiest places for larger ships, like MSC’s Meraviglia, to bring passengers who want to explore Portofino and the entire coastline.

Hvar croatiaCourtesy Crystal

Hvar, Croatia

Visitors to Croatia are most likely going to spend time in Dubrovnik or Split, both of which welcome cruise ships. But it’s worth booking Crystal Yacht Expedition’s Crystal Esprit to visit the jaw-dropping island of Hvar. The Mediterranean beaches here are unspoiled and less crowded than many others in the region—not to mention, the entire island offers a photo-worthy backdrop of rolling hills, lavender fields, and azure-blue sea. Find out the 14 other beautiful Mediterranean islands you need to visit once in your lifetime.

Breathtaking norway view of Sunnylvsfjorden fjord with cruise ship and famous Seven Sisters waterfalls, near Geiranger village in western Norway. Smit/Shutterstock

Geiranger, Norway

Norway is famous for its majestic fjords, especially in and around Geiranger. Viking’s Into the Midnight Sun itinerary makes this a quintessential stop on its tour, and you can choose from one of many spectacular excursions, including kayaking through the fjords, viewing them from a helicopter, and hiking your way across. The Geirangerfjords are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Explore these 10 other impressive sites around the world.

NaplesCourtesy MSC Cruises

Naples, Italy

Among Italy’s largest cities, Naples may be a familiar name to foreigners. But it is what lies beyond Naples that makes this such a splendid addition to any itinerary. MSC Cruises makes regular stops here, giving travelers the chance to visit Pompeii or the island of Capri (limoncello, anyone?) as a convenient day trip. Another popular excursion is driving south along the coast toward the famous towns of Sorrento and Ravenna for a food and shopping extravaganza. Read about the world’s 10 best cruise lines.

Normandy franceCourtesy AmaWaterways

Caudebec-en-Caux, France

A must-see for many American’s traveling to France is Normandy’s D-Day beaches, which can be accessed from this port city. AmaWaterways operates numerous sailings along the Seine River to reach this important landmark, and its excursions include a visit to the beaches, the U.S. Cemetery at Omaha Beach, and the Ranger Monument. Another popular destination is Mont Saint Michel, the island commune that is surrounded by water when the tide rolls in. Its majestic perch offers beautiful scenery and quiet strolls through its cobblestone streets.

Salamanca, Spaincourtesy Vega de Terron, Salamanca

Vega de Terrón, Portugal

Sail along the Douro River on the Viking Torgil for a port of call in Vega de Terrón. A popular excursion from this border town is a bus tour to Salamanca, Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This ancient town shows off a history that dates back to the Middle Ages and magnificent sandstone architecture. Don’t miss the famous main square, Plaza Mayor; the University of Salamanca, which is the world’s fourth-oldest college; or the Salamanca Cathedral, which has portions dating back to the 1100s.

Panama courtesy Windstar Cruises

Colón, Panama

Sailing through the incredible feat of engineering that is the Panama Canal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Want to live it for yourself? You’ll likely embark in the city of Colón on the Caribbean coast. Cruisers on the 212-passenger, all-suite Windstar Star Breeze get to check out the inner workings of the Canal from above before crossing it on the ship. You can also explore the area’s indigenous culture or take the famous aerial tram for a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest canopy below. Explore these little-known cruises that leave the Bahamas in the dust.

australiacourtesy Tourism Western Australia

Broome, Australia

Considered the gateway to the Kimberley region of Western Australia, this port is popular with outdoorsy folks interested in hiking, riding camels on Cable Beach, and “glamping” in the wilderness while learning more about the area’s aboriginal culture. Broome is also the ideal place to witness the Staircase to the Moon, a natural phenomenon that takes place when the full moon rises high over the beach’s exposed mudflats at low tide. What results is an optical illusion of a staircase reaching up to the sky. Kimberley is known for its natural beauty, including the world’s only horizontal waterfalls; impressive Lake Argyle in Kununurra, which is ten times as large as Sydney Harbour; and dinosaur footprints that date back more than 130 million years. Well-known cruise lines, including Princess, Crystal, and Silversea Expeditions, all take cruisers along this coastline, while Ocean Dream Charters and the Great Escape Charter Company are two local providers that lead small-scale cruises in the region.

Amazonian man boating in canoe up the Nauta Cano river with small trolling motorTerri Butler Photography/Shutterstock

Nauta, Peru

Sail the Amazon River in luxury aboard Jungle Experiences’ MV Zafiro from the town of Nauta, Peru, seven miles from the mighty river’s source. Guests take smaller boat excursions from the ship deep into the jungle to glimpse local tribespeople; eclectic wildlife, including parrots and monk saki monkeys; and a diverse range of fauna.

Beautiful panoramic view of the evening city near Kremlin with the Stroganov Church and Oka river. Nizhny Novgorod city, Russia.RAndrei/Shutterstock

Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Chances are, you have never heard of this city, but it is among the biggest and most beautiful cities in Russia. Hop aboard the Scenic Tsar for a trip down the Volga River for a visit to Nizhny Novgorod. Among its claims to fame are the highest cable car in Europe and a Kremlin of its own, and one of the world’s coolest McDonald’s. Read about some of the wackiest themed cruises around the world.

Ramsey Qubein
Ramsey Qubein covers the hotel, cruise, and airline industry from every corner of the globe. He is highly recognized as an expert in travel loyalty programs and writes for RD.com's Travel section. You'll find Ramsey flying more than 450,000 miles per year on his quest to visit every country on the planet (166 and counting so far). His work has appeared in numerous publications including Reader's Digest, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel+Leisure, CNBC.com, AFAR, Robb Report, Business Traveler, BBC Worldwide, USA Today, Frommers.com, Fodors.com, and NerdWallet.com. He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and completed a Master’s Degree thesis studying the history of branding in the airline industry. Follow along on his travels via Instagram and Twitter.