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From Dublin to Tromsø
Ponant’s 12-day expedition cruise from Dublin to Tromsø, with stops in the Hebrides and Lofoten, is a journey for travelers with romantic sensibilities. The itinerary begins in that most literary of cities, Dublin, and includes stops at islands that were home to age-old Irish monasteries, remote rocky outposts in the middle of the North Sea, and ports where the Viking past is still palpable today. The landscapes you will encounter range from rolling heathland to the dramatic fjords of Norway. 

For naturalists, there are opportunities to spot countless seabirds and marine mammals and you’ll even sail through a fjord named after the trolls said to reside there (note, however, that Ponant is unable to guarantee troll sightings). If what you most remember is the people you meet on your journeys, you’ll be delighted by the warm welcomes you receive in Irish pubs, the Scottish isles, and in Tromsø, a surprisingly sophisticated city that has been called the Paris of the North. This journey aboard the 132-stateroom L’Austral is exceedingly rich both culturally and in terms of its natural settings. It’s an opportunity to explore parts of Northern Europe that remain off the beaten path, even millennia after some of them were first settled. 

Note: This itinerary is subject to ice and weather conditions. The expedition highlights and itinerary described here, including wildlife sightings, illustrate possible experiences only and cannot be guaranteed.
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    Day 1
    You’ll start your cruise in Dublin, Ireland’s charming capital on the east coast of the country. It is a city of poets and storytellers, including historic figures like Joyce, Yeats, and Wilde, but also the present-day owners of pubs and shops who will happily share the famous Irish gift of gab with visitors. You can spend the day before you board L’Austral visiting sights including Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells, or following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

    If you are most interested in Ireland’s struggle for independence, you may want to visit the General Post Office (the principal site of the Easter Uprising) and walk along O’Connell Street, Dublin’s grandest boulevard. Another option, however, is simply to choose to get lost in the alleys and streets of Temple Bar, a neighborhood famous for its many pubs, restaurants, and stores. Embarkation begins at 4 p.m. for a 6 p.m. departure, so you’ll have time to get a taste of Dublin before you set sail.
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    Day 2
    You’ll wake up today in another country when you arrive in Portrush, in County Antrim, one of the six counties that form Ulster, or Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom. Portrush has been a pleasant and popular resort town since the 19th century, with its three wide sandy beaches and many seaside hotels and teashops. It’s also close to one of Ireland’s most famous sites, the Giant’s Causeway, an hour by car to the northeast of town. While according to legend, the causeway was built by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill so that he could cross the North Channel to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner, geologists now agree that the 40,000 or so interlocking basalt columns were the result of volcanic activity. The natural wonder has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites since 1986.

    If you are a fan of Irish whiskey, the causeway is just a few miles from Bushmills, home of the Old Bushmills Distillery known for both its blends and single malts. Halfway between Bushmills and Portrush, Duncle Castle was, at different points, the seat of both the MacDonnell and the MacDonald clans. It has been abandoned since the 17th century, and its atmospheric ruins overlooking the sea offer a postcard-perfect photo opportunity.

    You stop later in the day at the southernmost island of the Hebrides, Islay—the Queen of the Hebrides. You’ll have time to explore the island, known for its distilleries—there are eight of them, on an island with a year-round population of only around 3,200. Connoisseurs praise Islay’s whiskies for their distinct smoky notes and peat flavor, said to be the result of the water and particular barley used to create them. Even if you aren’t a drinker, the island offers opportunities to explore on foot or bike, perhaps spotting some of the many birds that stop here. Exploring is made even more pleasant given Islay’s unusually mild climate due to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream which are all the more pronounced in the summer when the Ponant expedition cruise calls there.           

    For travelers captivated by the saga of Scotland’s history, Islay was long the center of power in western Scotland as the seat of the Lords of the Isles. From the 12th to the 16th centuries, the Lord of the Isles rivaled the kings of England and Scotland, and while James IV of Scotland eventually seized all their lands, Prince Charles, the current heir to the British throne, still counts Lord of the Isles among his titles. A number of abandoned castles and other sites on Islay recall this fascinating period of Scottish history.
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    Day 3
    Iona, Hebrides
    Iona is a small island, measuring only 1.5 miles by three miles and it is home to only 120 residents, but its role in Scottish history is enormous. It is nicknamed “the cradle of Christianity” in Scotland as it was here that St. Columba arrived, in 563, from Ireland. The most famous sight on the island is Iona Abbey. While St. Columba’s original buildings no longer stand, in the 13th century a Benedictine monastery was established on the site and it would later become the seat of the Bishops of the Isles. The Augustinian nunnery nearby was abandoned during the Reformation, but its surprisingly well-preserved ruins are still atmospheric and evocative.

    Another sort of preservation draws visitors to Dun I, the island’s highest point which sits at 333 feet above the sea. After admiring the views, stop at the nearby Well of Eternal Youth, said to have been blessed by St. Brigid of Ireland who lived in the sixth century. To this day, pilgrims come to sip the water or splash their faces with it and, perhaps, to benefit from its healing powers. Later in the day, L'Austral will call at Staffa Island, famous for its colony of puffins and Fingal’s Cave. Formed of basalt columns (like those at the Giant’s Causeway), the cave has enchanted thousands of visitors over the years, including Wordsworth, Keats, and Turner.
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    Day 4
    St. Kilda, Hebrides
    Ponant's ships can explore even the remotest corners of the world. This day on your voyage is a good example of that when you call at the archipelago of St. Kilda, which has a fascinating, unusual history. While the islands were inhabited since the Bronze Age, they were long isolated from the rest of Great Britain. As late as the 19th century, missionaries were attempting to Christianize the population whose beliefs were closer to druidism. Later, tourism would initially help the island’s economy but at the same time it had the effect of convincing younger residents to venture elsewhere in search of a better life. In 1930, after centuries of privation and isolation, the last 36 residents of Hirta, the main island, were evacuated at their request.

    Today St. Kilda is a bird sanctuary with large populations of puffins and gannets. Traces of its human history can be found in an abandoned medieval village as well as Victorian houses. And the islands are no longer completely deserted—there is now a population of around two dozen residents, mostly employees of the National Trust of Scotland the UK’s Ministry of Defense. It is possible, however, that the ghosts of St. Kilda still outnumber its living residents.
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    Day 5
    At Sea
    You can use this day at sea to explore L’Austral, taking advantage of some of the many services and activities on board the ship. Relax with a treatment at the spa, visit the fitness center, or, if the weather is good, claim a chaise in the sun on the pool deck. You can also attend a lecture for insights on the history and natural wonders of the ports you will be visiting.
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    Day 6
    John O’Groats and Kirkwall
    You’ll call at two different ports today on your North Sea cruise, and experience two very different sides of Scotland in the process. First, John O’Groats is the end of the road in Great Britain, near the very northern tip of Scotland and the starting point for ferries to the Orkney Islands. The village was named after Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who built a house here in the 16th century but at some point over the years that transformed to the more Scottish sounding John O’Groats. A coastal walk here will take you to views of stunning sea stacks, while the Castle of Mey, six miles from John O’Groats, is another popular attraction. Originally built in the 16th century, the castle had fallen into disrepair when it was purchased by the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1952 and she spent much of the later part of her life here. Today it is open to the public and its interiors left as the beloved figure of the royal family had decorated them.           

    Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands, traces its history back to Norse settlers who established it in the 11th century and the center of town retains a Norse street plan and well as the majestic St. Magnus Cathedral. Constructed in the 12th century, the Romanesque church has the distinction of being Britain’s northernmost cathedral. Alongside its historic sites, Kirkwall has become known for its lively restaurant and bar scene as well as shops selling Scottish goods, all of which have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks in part to cruise ships calling here.
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    Day 7
    Shetland Islands
    Halfway between the Orkney Islands and the coast of Norway, Scotland’s Shetlands stretch for some 100 miles and includes over 100 islands, 15 of them inhabited. On day 7 of the Ponant cruise, you’ll stop in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetlands—and Britain’s northernmost town. With 7,000 residents, roughly one-third of the islands’ population lives here. Though it was twice burned to the ground, first by Dutch and then by French forces, handsome gray sandstone buildings in the historic part of Lerwick date from the 18th century and sit along picturesque lanes and alleys. The so-called “new town” was mostly constructed in the 19th century and includes elegant villas and public parks.

    The Shetland Museum and Archives offer an introduction to the history of the islands while the Shetland Textiles Museum focuses on some of the islands’ most famous crafts—lacework and knitwear made of Scottish wool.
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    Day 8
    The first stop in Norway on the Ponant cruise is Geiranger, located halfway between Bergen and Trondheim on the country’s west coast. It is the natural beauty of what has been described as the crown jewel of Norway’s fjords that earned it a place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Stunning waterfalls with evocative names like the Seven Sisters, the Suitor, and the Bridal Veil plunge from the peaks surrounding the fjord.

    A hike along the Eagle’s Road offers panoramic views of the fjord while the village of Geiranger itself has a number of cafes and hotels with restaurants that are good places for a meal between walks or bike rides exploring the fjord. You’ll want to make time to visit the town’s beautiful white wooden octagonal church, a local landmark from 1842.
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    Day 9
    Cruise to Lofoten
    You’ll have another day at sea aboard L’Austral as you sail to Leknes, the capital of the Lofoten Islands which sit farther north off of Norway’s coast. Ponant’s ships offer the atmosphere of a private yacht, albeit ones with a library, two restaurants, and a fitness center with all the latest equipment. Perhaps start the day with coffee on your private balcony—almost all the staterooms on L’Austral have one—then you may want to curl up with a good book in the library or head to the fitness center. When you are ready for a meal, dine on French and international cuisine at the Gastronomic Restaurant or the buffet lunch and themed dinners at the Grill.
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    Day 10
    You’ll arrive this morning to the Lofoten Islands, a small archipelago sitting north of the Arctic Circle, and specifically to their capital, Leknes. It’s a region of peaks rising abruptly up from the sea, sheltered inlets and coves, empty beaches, and pristine forests. It’s also an area rich in fish, which in turn attracts birds from cormorants to eagles. As it sits above the Arctic Circle, from the end of May until mid July, the midnight sun shines on the islands.

    In Leknes you can get a taste of the natural beauty of the archipelago and learn about its history at the Lofotr Viking Museum, eight miles outside town, with its recreations of Viking buildings and ships and even opportunities to taste Viking cooking. The Lofoten National Tourist Route connects Leknes with Raftsundet in the north of the same island, a distance of 142 miles. You can travel all or part of it, by car or bicycle, to see typical fishing villages and more postcard-perfect views of rocky peaks and blue seas than you can count.
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    Day 11
    Svolvær and Trollfjorden
    You’ll visit a second port in the Lofoten Islands this morning, Svolvær on the island of Austvågøya. This town of some 4,500 has a picturesque setting on the water and is ringed by mountain peaks. Many artists, from Norway and beyond, travel to the Lofoten Archipelago, drawn by the unusual crystalline light here—as well as the natural beauty of the region generally—and galleries in town offer opportunities to see their works. Svolvær is also a popular starting point for excursions to explore the island and the archipelago, and you can depart on fishing expeditions as well as biking and kayaking tours from the town.

    Later in the day you’ll continue on to Trollfjorden, back on the mainland of Norway. This spectacular fjord has a narrow entrance—just over 300 feet wide—and is lined with soaring peaks reaching heights beyond 3,000 feet. It might feel impossible that a cruise ship could navigate its way through this tight space, but L’Austral will take you to the end of the fjord and then manage to turn around and return to sea. Along the way, you’ll see seals in the water, eagles circling above the ship, and, perhaps, some trolls (the fjord’s namesakes) if you look closely and suspend disbelief.
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    Day 12
    You’ll end your Ponant cruise in Tromsø, a city that has been called the Paris of the North. The nickname is inspired in part by the number of neoclassical buildings from the 18th and 19th century give the city a stately look (the city also has one of the largest collections of traditional wooden buildings in the country). The University of Tromsø also contributes to the city’s rich cultural life, and the comparisons to Paris, with film and cultural festivals creating a surprisingly sophisticated atmosphere for this remote outpost.

    Tromsø is also a gateway to arctic adventures in the north of Norway—whale-watching, dog-sledding, and cultural excursions focused on the Sami people who live in this part of the country. While your adventure with Ponant will end today, you can extend your stay in Tromsø if you want to see more of northern Norway before you return home.