City breaks by boat allow sailors to get a unique perspective as they sail into the coastal cities of Great Britain and Ireland. Yachting Monthly experts reveal their favourites
City breaks: 10 of the best by boat
Many of us think cruising homewaters is about escaping the crowds to quiet anchorages and harbours, but to avoid the coastal cities of Great Britain and Ireland would be to miss out on history, culture and much more.
Cities with a strong maritime heritage are dotted around the UK and Ireland.
Arriving by sea allows sailors to get right to the heart of these metropolitan areas, giving you a unique perspective as you sail in the wake of seafarers of old, past historic dockyards, fortifications and landmarks.
Many are located up rivers and estuaries, offering great shelter so you can leave your boat and explore the notable buildings, galleries, museums and nightlife with peace of mind.
From Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, to Liverpool, city of culture, and Britain’s ocean city, Plymouth, our experts have chosen some of the best places to cruise to this season.
So set your sails and point your bow towards these urban areas and discover the buzz of the city.
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Recommended by Sarah Brown
To think of Inverness simply as the gateway for sailing to Orkney, Shetland and Fair Isle or as the departure point for exploring the Scandinavian coast, or even just as the starting location of the Caledonian Canal, misses the full beauty and enjoyment that the Moray Firth and the city has to offer.
From the world class sandy beaches to the stunning bottlenose dolphins who hunt the salmon throughout the Firth, there is much more to Inverness than just a gateway destination.
The dolphins congregate to feed and play (often with their food!) in the tidal narrows off Chanonry Point so watch out for them there especially.
Land-based day trips from Inverness Marina are easy by hire car or public transport and can deliver anything from a whisky tour, a ski slope, an ancient castle or two or even a Munro in the Cairngorms if you are in the mood.
City breaks by boat: Getting to Inverness
There is a tidal gate between Chanonry Point and Fort George where tides can be brisk, so check the atlas before sailing.
All offer complete shelter close to Inverness.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Recommended by Jane Cumberlidge
Belfast is a fascinating city. Arriving by boat you see the massive gantry cranes, Samson and Goliath, in the old Harland and Wollf shipyard to port.
Nearby you’ll also find SS Nomadic in dry dock and HMS Caroline in the Alexandra Dock.
Caroline is the last remaining survivor of the First World War Battle of Jutland.
Start with a visit to St George’s covered market in May Street with its stalls of wonderful local produce and seafood, plus musicians and entertainers.
The Cathedral Quarter is the cultural centre of the old city. There are galleries, craft workshops and a great choice of restaurants.
Don’t miss a city bus tour that takes you out to Stormont, through the heart of Belfast and along the Crumlin Road where you’ll see some of the amazing street art created during the Troubles. www.visitbelfast.com
City breaks by boat: Getting to Belfast
Having reached Belfast Lough, navigation is simple.
The harbour limit lies just past Carrickfergus and then you follow the Victoria Channel right up to the marina.
Recreational craft should not stray into the Musgrave Channel to port or the Herdman Channel to starboard.
Belfast Harbour Marina (www.belfast-harbour.co.uk) is under the SSE Arena.
You should call the harbour on VHF Ch12 on arrival.
Recommended by Jane Russell
Liverpool has one of the world’s truly iconic waterfronts.
As you sail up the Mersey you are travelling through maritime history, past the Royal Liver Building and its neighbouring ‘Graces’, and then the Albert Dock – together just part of what is said to be the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in the country.
The dock is home to the impactful International Slavery Museum as well as a maritime museum, Tate Liverpool, and more.
Step a little further along Hope St between the two glorious cathedrals, or perhaps make a different sort of pilgrimage to discover The Beatles Story or to fill your boots with all things Liverpool FC.
Take a ferry cross the Mersey with the song on your lips, or gaze with the statues towards ‘Another Place’ from Crosby beach.
This city of culture really does have it all and you can moor in the heart of it. www.visitliverpool.com
City breaks by boat: Getting to Liverpool
Formby safe water buoy marks the start of the 10m well- buoyed entry channel between training walls. Keep a good lookout for ships and ferries.
Avoid springs when there is a tidal range of up to 10m with very strong tidal streams.
Liverpool Marina at Brunswick Dock is generally accessible 2hrs either side of HW. Call on VHF 37 or 0151 707 6777.
Overnight arrivals between 2200 and 0600 must be arranged in advance.
Go to www.liverpoolmarina.com for lock times and a useful welcome guide.
Temporary mooring may be possible about 1m further upstream, between Rock Ferry and New Ferry on the west side.
Cork, South-west Ireland
Recommended by Jason Lawrence
There are few cities where you can moor in the heart of the action, and Cork is one of them.
Customs House Quay is located right by the Eamon De Valera bridge at the navigational head of the River Lee and offers secure pontoon berthing.
From here, it’s possible to explore Ireland’s second largest city whilst remaining connected to the water and your cruising adventures.
Cork is stimulating and engaging, where bonhomie and music abounds. Strolling west takes you along Lapp’s Island and into the city centre.
Provisioning can be a delight at the English Market with local and artisan produce.
That theme is carried throughout the city in the architecture, museums and parks together with numerous restaurants, pubs, clubs and nightlife, all a short walk from the marina.
After a few days ashore in this vibrant city you really feel that you have touched Ireland.
City breaks by boat: Getting to Cork
Cork City Marina (www.portofcork.ie) is located some 14 miles from Roches Point at the harbour entrance. Booking is essential.
It is possible to sail the first four miles or so but with course changes and commercial shipping it is advisable to motor the rest.
It’s a wonderfully scenic journey, with close navigation and open roads leading up to the heart of the city.
It’s always a good idea to take the flood tide with plenty of depth up to the city.
Linking Cork to Dublin, the main bus depot located on Lapp’s Island makes Cork a convenient place for departing or arriving crew.
Cardiff, south Wales
Recommended by Jane Russell
There is something special about arriving by boat at any capital city, and Cardiff is no exception.
Since the building of the barrage in the 1990s, the waterfront, once a tidal panorama of industrial docklands, has transformed into an attractive modern cityscape wrapped around Cardiff Bay.
The eye-catching Millennium Centre, behind the historic Pierhead building, was part of this metamorphosis. So too the wetland reserve and other green spaces.
Linked from its heart by the River Taff, the city has truly reconnected with the waters of the bay and the Bristol Channel beyond.
This ex-coal port – once the busiest in the world – has history and culture aplenty. www.visitcardiff.com
City breaks by boat: Getting to Cardiff
The Bristol Channel can be challenging. Make full use of the 10m+ tides, but beware the short, steep seas that build very quickly with wind against tide.
Cardiff Bay Barrage locks (VHF Ch.18) operate 24hr except at large spring tides. Lock in at quarter-past and quarter-to the hour.
Call ahead from Outer Wrach WCB for permission to enter the outer harbour. Depths in the bay should be 2.5m minimum.
Visitor berths at Penarth Marina (www.boatfolk.co.uk), on the River Ely at Cardiff Marina (www.themarinegroup.co.uk) and Cardiff Bay YC, by prior arrangement at Cardiff YC, and for short stay at Mermaid Quay. www.cardiffharbour.com
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Bristol, River Avon
Recommended by Jonty Pearce
Bristol. Where do you start?
The city is a hidden gem; without moving from the central Floating Harbour one can eat one’s way around the globe, board iconic ships, soak up the atmosphere of the historic port, admire industrial heritage, explore museums and art galleries, be fascinated by a hands-on science exhibition centre and planetarium, visit the theatre, go shopping, and enjoy waterside bars and nightclubs.
You really need a week here; many cultural venues have sprung up in former warehouses and workshops which can be seen from a walk starting at Underfall Yard’s historic hydraulic pumping station.
Amongst other attractions, wander past Brunel’s famed SS Great Britain, several dockside vessel exhibits, and a preserved steam crane before getting to M Shed’s Museum of Bristol.
Boat trips and ferry services ply their trade from frequent landing stages, even reaching as far as Temple Meads railway station.
Visiting Bristol is a must, but give yourself long enough. www.visitbristol.co.uk
City breaks by boat: Getting to Bristol
After negotiating the swift currents of the Bristol Channel, the onward route up to Bristol starts by riding the flood tide up the River Avon past Avonmouth Docks.
It might be necessary to lock into Portishead Marina (www.boatfolk.co.uk) for the right timing before informing Avonmouth and Bristol of your upstream passage.
When the Clifton Suspension Bridge soars above, start to look on the port side for the entry to the Cumberland Basin.
Call harbour officers for advice on VHF Ch. 73.
Recommended by Ken Endean
Stand on Plymouth Hoe, above the glittering water of The Sound, and you are looking at a scene of maritime endeavour.
Out to your right, Drake’s Island is where Francis Drake is reputed to have anchored after his circumnavigation to enquire whether his sponsor Elizabeth I was still alive, which could have determined whether he was likely to be knighted or executed.
To your east is Sutton Harbour with its Mayflower Steps and the Barbican, the heart of old Plymouth with numerous pubs and restaurants among its twisting alleys.
Heading west, the River Tamar passes the Naval Dockyard and gives access to 20 miles or so of inland cruising through a soft, green landscape that was once one of the world’s most valuable mining areas.
To the north, for those needing a little retail therapy, lies the modern shopping centre.
City breaks by boat: Getting to Plymouth
The approaches to Plymouth Sound are straightforward with all hazards well marked.
Watch out for and keep clear of naval vessel movements, infrequent but very tightly escorted, which have to thread a convoluted track through the Tamar Narrows and around Drake’s Island.
The chartlet shows the locations of several marinas, of which Sutton Harbour (www.suttonharbourgroup.com) is nearest to the city centre.
For exploring the shores and beaches of The Sound there are several possible anchorages, the most popular being Cawsand Bay.
Recommended by Theo Stocker
Portsmouth is an impressive harbour from the deck of a yacht.
The Napoleonic forts and Southsea Castle, from which Henry VIII watched the Mary Rose sink in 1545, stand in contrast to the Royal Navy’s vast new aircraft carriers and the modern architecture of Spinnaker Tower and Ben Ainslie Racing’s new base on the Camber.
The large and well-protected harbour has been in use as a Naval base for the last thousand years or more, with Portchester Castle testament to both Roman and Saxon fortifications in the harbour.
The Historic Shipyard, and its residents the Mary Rose, Nelson’s HMS Victory, and HMS Warrior, are all imposing and fascinating to explore.
A stroll around the Camber and the old town for a drink and on to Southsea Castle, Common and beaches, makes a pleasant afternoon.
If the urge to shop, eat and be entertained overtakes you, you can moor your boat right in the middle of the Gunwharf Quays development.
Don’t miss the submarine museum in Gosport (as well as several others), or head west for a stroll over the golf course and along Stokes Bay.
City breaks by boat: Getting to Portsmouth
Spinnaker Tower makes an unmistakable landmark, whether approaching from the east via the submarine barrier gap or the west via the Swashway, (both if tide allow), or along the south side of the main channel.
Listen out for the Queen’s Harbour Master (QHM) on VHF Ch11.
The tide runs strongly in the entrance and small vessels must keep to the small boat channel with their engines running.
Ask permission before crossing between Gunwharf and Ballast Beacon.
There are plenty of marina berths, particularly on the Gosport side from where you can get a ferry to Portsmouth, or in Gunwharf Quays marina, or in one of several places further up harbour.
Recommended by Nick Ardley
A quick visit to London is almost impossible.
There is so much to soak up, from the industrial heritage as you cruise up river to museums, theatres, galleries, parks and historic sites, many of which are free to visit.
My preference is Limehouse with its fascinating mix of old and new.
The Museum of London Docklands and enticing riverside taverns are close to the marina.
London is a bewitching cluster of villages; walking the streets will give you a good feel for each area. Guided tours can be booked (www.visitlondon.com).
Highgate, with its intriguing cemetery, is a must as is Greenwich and the medieval parish of Clerkenwell.
There is so much to enthral and you won’t do everything. Expect to go back.
City breaks by boat: Getting to London
Start at Queenborough Harbour (www.queenborough-harbour.co.uk). Plan your passage for the early morning tide, departing the last hour of the ebb.
Stops can be made at Thurrock Yacht Club, Erith Yacht Club and Greenwich Yacht Club. Tides run fast on the river.
Keep to the starboard side of the fairway, even if sailing.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Recommended by Ken Endean
Party city of the North? Check out that claim by sailing up the Tyne and moor in the middle of the ‘Toon’, ideally on a Saturday night.
For getting close to the action, Newcastle City Marina is right in the centre, a long pontoon with security gates, against the north bank, close to the Low Level, High Level and Tyne bridges.
As the marina is upstream of the Millennium Bridge, visiting yachts must book a berth and a bridge swing (www.newcastlecitymarina.co.uk).
The Sage concert hall and Baltic modern art gallery are on the Gateshead bank, while Ouseburn is home to a vibrant arts and music (and craft ale) scene, with the bustling city centre a short walk up the hill.
A mile down river, St Peter’s Marina (01912 654472) offers a more relaxing berth with an easy stroll back into the city, to enjoy the architecture and history that spans everything from Roman to ultra modern.
The basin has a half tide sill with a waiting pontoon in the river.
City breaks by boat: Getting to Newcastle upon Tyne
Cruisers on passage along the East Coast will be tempted to pause overnight near the Tyne’s entrance, perhaps at Royal Quays Marina (www.boatfolk.co.uk), but in adverse weather the Newcastle marinas offer an entertaining diversion.
The city also has good rail and air transport connections for changing crews.
The river still has patches of industry on its banks but the sail upstream is quite straightforward, maintaining a good lookout for occasional commercial movements.
If waiting for the flood tide, in offshore winds it is possible to anchor inside the entrance breakwaters, although the bay on the south side may experience northerly swell.
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