While cruises are perfect vessels for removing the stress and strains of everyday life, the destination is just as important as the unwinding on the deck – especially after a few days at sea. Arrive to more than another ocean view accented by sand at these complex and intriguing cities beyond the ports. With long histories, remote locations and an air of romanticized curiosity, the following ports are easily some of the coolest landings cruises are making today.
Neko Harbour, Antarctica
Antarctica is becoming an increasingly popular destination as a seemingly "last frontier" for adventurous travelers and wildlife enthusiasts. As a prominent landing area in the region, Neko Harbour is also the breeding grounds for several species, including gentoo penguins. With strict guidelines in place to ensure the habitat and animals are not harmed by an increasing human presence, only ships that carry 500 passengers or fewer are allowed to dock. Additionally, travelers are only allowed on shore at certain hours, and no more than 100 people can disembark to explore the area at a time.
Montreal's Old Port
Among American travelers in particular, Montreal is a popular city for its European charm, and its Old Port is no different. Stretching two kilometers long, this historic port was used as early as 1611 as a French fur trading post. Today it offers riverfront access to the Montreal Science Centre and the Montreal Clock Tower. With many outdoor festivals and events taking place there throughout the year, travelers will likely stumble upon the latest happenings. Walk along the quaint cobblestone street to see one of the most popular sights, the 1829 Notre Dame Basilica, and wander through the former fire hall that is now a history exhibit on Montreal.
Viña del Mar, Chile
Northwest of Santiago, the port of Viña del Mar is a Chilean resort city and a shining gem of architectural finds ranging from historic castles to the Quinta Vergara museum and park. Known for its beaches and gardens, don't miss the Flower Clock and Reñaca beach. For more offbeat activities, visit the Museum of Archeology for two unique sets of artifacts: moai stone statues hailing from Easter Island, and shrunken heads. Stop by Wulff Castle, built in 1906, for stunning ocean views and a visit to the city's heritage headquarters.
Stroll along the boat-lined quay to see the fishmongers' catch of the day in France's oldest city, founded by the Greeks in 600 B.C. The Vieux-Port, meaning "Old Port," provides lovely access to one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in all of France. A crossroad for immigrants, the blend of cultures is evidenced in Marseille's food, architecture and culture. The nearby Parc National des Calanques is a gateway to preserved, pristine nature among the Provencal landscape. Pass time taking in historical locations or shopping in trendy boutiques, but do not leave without trying the signature dish, bouillabaisse – a seafood stew.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Another rising destination, St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, who stands immortalized in the city's "Bronze Horseman" statue. To this day, St. Petersburg remains Russia's cultural venue featuring so many of the great artistic attractions ranging from the ballet at Mariinsky Theatre to the State Hermitage Museum, housing some of the country's finest art since 1746. The port on the shore of the Baltic Sea is also home to breathtaking and vibrant architecture topped with the onion domes that are signature of Russia. Plan your trip to coincide with the city-wide summer festival, White Nights, or visit the bars around the crossing of Dumskaya and Nevsky Prospekt for nightlife.