Our visit to London this summer was the starting point for a longer vacation in northern Europe, something we had wanted to do with our children for awhile. After researching options, we decided on a cruise so that we could easily explore multiple destinations without a lot of effort traveling from one city to the next.
Our cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Sea started in Southampton, England and included stops in Bruges (Belgium), Oslo (Norway), Hamburg (Germany) and Le Havre (France). Although we did a lot of planning in advance to research the cities and cruise excursions, we didn’t necessarily plan activities for each of the stops. Some cities we left pretty open-ended, while others we had a full 12-hour itinerary packed into our day. I think this kept things pretty balanced and allowed for wandering around and exploring, while also ensuring that we hit the destinations on our must-see list.
Here are a few favorite photos (among the hundreds I snapped) along with a rundown of some of our favorite sights in each city.
Bruges was one of our less planned cities. I think ‘eat chocolate’ was our primary objective in Bruges, and we were definitely successful in accomplishing our mission. We spent our day wandering around the cobblestone streets of the city square, visited several chocolate shops and the Chocolate Museum, and ate Belgian waffles for lunch. The highlight was an outdoor city market, where we found local craftspeople selling art, vintage items and handmade wooden toys.
Visiting Oslo was a big factor in the decision to choose this particular cruise, since I had never traveled that far north and I was eager to see the landscapes surrounding the fjords. It was also one of our more ‘planned’ destinations. We had a list of sights we wanted to see in our 1-day stop, and we ended up purchasing an Oslo Pass which gave us access to museums and public transportation. The ship docks right in the center of the city (the dock is shown in the top photo above), so it was easy to walk and jump on local trams and buses. Our day included The Viking Ship Museum, The Fram Museum, The Kon Tiki Museum and The Oslo Opera House.
The Fram and Kon Tiki were both great museums for kids. The Fram Museum houses a large polar ship that children can explore and see what it was like for the early explorers who went on expeditions to the Arctic circle. We also planned a visit to either the National Gallery or the Edvard Munch museum (to see the famous painting, The Scream), but the National Gallery was closed on the day of our stop and rain late in the day caused us to return to the ship early.
It rained during most of our visit to Hamburg, making it difficult to explore the city. Our first stop was The Miniature Museum, but we didn’t purchase advance tickets and arrived to find the first available entry was too late in the day. We moved on to visit St. Michael’s, and then decided to head for cover in a tour bus since the rain was getting worse. Once the rain died down, we walked along the dock and stopped at the U-Boat Museum, which was definitely the highlight of our visit to Hamburg. Despite weather conditions, we enjoyed Hamburg quite a bit, probably because we spent more in time in restaurants (eating wonderful food) than any other city on our tour. If we had more time, I would have definitely visited the Philharmonic to see the architecture and exterior light/video display, but hopefully it won’t be our last trip to Hamburg.
Le Havre, France
Le Havre was the last stop on our cruise before returning to Southampton, and though we were only in France for a day, this portion of our vacation likely warrants its own post. When we booked the cruise, we planned to take a train to Paris for the day. But violence in Paris caused us to change plans, and we opted for the Royal Caribbean excursion to the D-Day beaches of Normandy instead. This ended up being an amazing part of the trip. The day included stops at Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach (one of several beaches invaded by Allied forces on D-Day during WWII), the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, and the Caen D-Day Memorial Museum. Each location made a big impression on Jason and Jenna, from standing in giant bomb craters to walking through the mass of gravestones to eating their first authentic French meal to traveling over present-day Omaha beach via virtual reality headsets. In fact, our visit to Normandy left a pretty permanent imprint on Jason’s mind, as he is now completely fascinated by all things related to WWII.
That’s the rundown of our amazing summer vacation. I can’t imagine we will ever top this trip, but I’d certainly like to try!