Winter is one of the best times of year to visit some of Europe’s capitals, the cities are not as busy with tourists leaving you more space and time to explore. This year MSC Cruises is offering travelers the unique opportunity to discover 5 Northern Pearls during one perfect winter getaway.
This winter MSC Magnifica is offering 7-night cruises visiting five of Europe’s most popular cities. MSC Cruises’ Northern Pearls Voyage includes visits to the cities of Hamburg, London (Southampton), Paris (Le Havre), Bruges & Brussels (Zeebrugge), and Amsterdam (IJmuiden). Making the most of your time ashore is easy as the ship offers extended stays in port of up to 12 hours.
The Northern Pearls
The city of Hambug, on the river Elbe, bridges continental Europe and Scandinavia. The city is renowned for its elegant boulevards, stately buildings, emerald green parks and Speicherstadt. Spanning an area of 630,000 square metres, Speicherstadt is the world’s largest warehouse district. Built between 1883 and 1927, it is home to remarkable Neo-Gothic brick buildings which now house museums, modern tech companies and media firms. You can explore the area’s labyrinth of alleys, canals and bridges privately or with an MSC Cruises excursion. During your excursion you will learn more about this renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site and its world-famous architecture. The beautifully decorated Hamburg City Hall is another must-see during your visit. The Hamburger Rathaus, as it is officially called, is located in the Altstadt quarter in the city center near the lake Binnenalster and the central station. The impressive buidling was constructed from 1886 to 1897 and is home to Hamburg’s parliament, senate and mayor. Hamburg’s City Hall is open to the public, and visitors may join a guided tour or visit exhibitions housed inside.
Another must-visit in Hamburg is the iconic St. Michael’s Church. It is one of Hamburg’s five Lutheran main churches and considered to be one of the finest Hanseatic Protestant baroque churches. Nearby, the Krameramtsgasse offers a magnificent view of some 17th-century houses.
From Hamburg you can visit the Hanseatic city of Lubeck – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or Lüneburg’s – the ‘City of White Gold’ with its many richly decorated historical buildings and small, cobbled alleyways.
Southampton, United Kingdom
While the thousand-year-old city of Southampton has retained some of its medieval charm in some parts, the city has reinvented itself as a twenty-first century shopping centre in others. Core of the modern town is the Civic Centre, a short walk from the port. Here you’ll find the excellent Southampton City Art Gallery, which is particularly strong on contemporary British artists. The Western Esplanade runs alongside the best remaining bits of the old city walls. Rebuilt after a French attack in 1338, they incorporate God’s House Tower, at the southern end of the old town in Winkle Street. the historic building currently houses the Museum of Archaeology. Best preserved of the city’s seven gates is Bargate, at the opposite end of the old town, at the head of the High Street. It’s an elaborate structure, cluttered with lions, classical figures and defensive apertures.
Southampton provides convenient access to a number of top tourist attractions in Southern England including the nearby historic cities of Winchester or Salisbury with their world-famous cathedrals, and to the stone circle of Stonehenge – one of the most intriguing and ancient sites in the U.K. Shrouded in magic and mystery, many believe this sacred site emanates a special atmosphere. For those wishing to visit another capital city London is the top destination to visit. The capital’s great historical landmarks – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and so on are not-to-be-missed hotspots. Or you can go shopping on Oxford Street, explore Hyde Park, check out Covent Garden market, immerse yourself in culture in one of the many museums or art galleries or simply enjoy a pint of ale and relax in a typical English pub.
Le Havre, France
Le Havre, on the Seine estuary, is a place of pilgrimage for fans of contemporary architecture. Following its near-destruction during World War II, Le Havre was rebuilt by a single architect, Auguste Perret, between 1946 and 1964. While the endless mundane residential blocks can be dispiriting, the few surviving relics of the old city have been sensitively integrated into Perret’s famous dictum that ‘concrete is beautiful’. The cathedral of Le Havre, with its baroque main facade, dates from the 16th and 17th centuries and is the oldest buildings in the city. The nearby modern St. Joseph’s Church stands in sharp contrast to the cathedral. Built in concrete between 1951 and 1958 the chuch and its 107 meters tall tower act as a beacon visible from out at sea. Centrally located in Le Havre is the remarkable architectural work of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The House of Culture was built in 1982 and is nicknamed ‘the Volcano’ because of the shape of the building. Le Havre has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.
From Le Havre you can visit Rouen, the historical capital of Normandy, or Honfleur, a tiny town known for its picturesque harbour and beautifully preserved old buildings. Honfleur is known to have inspired Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin and Johan Jongkind. Located about 32 km (20 mi) northeast of Le Havre is Étretat. The town is best known for its chalk cliffs, including three natural arches and a pointed formation called L’Aiguille (the Needle), which rises 70 metres (230 ft) above the sea.
For those wishing to venture further, an MSC shore excursion to Paris offers an opportunity to see some of the major sights of France’s magnificent capital and find out why the city is known worldwide for its elegance and grandeur. On leaving the port of Le Havre a leisurely three-hour drive will take you to Paris for a chance to discover the eternally romantic city. You will explore the splendour of the Champs-Élysées – referred to as ‘the most beautiful avenue in the world’ by the French – and the world-famous Eiffel Tower. When the 324 meters high tower was built in 1889 it was considered to be a marvel of modern engineering. Nowadays it is still the tallest building in Paris and the second tallest in the whole of France. A few hours of free time will allow you to explore the area around the Place de la Concorde, walk along the Seine and have lunch Parisian-style.
The belgian port of Zeebrugge is close to the picturesque UNESCO World Heritage city of Bruges (Brugge), one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities with quaint cobbled streets and tranquil canals. Here you can indulge in traditional Belgian treats such as waffles and chocolate, the world-famous beers and French fries – actually a truly Belgian creation – or shop for beautiful local lace and tapestries.
Alternatively you can spend the day exploring Belgium’s capital city Brussels where skyscrapers and hotels have modernized the skyline of this French and Flemish speaking city. Not to be missed is the ‘Grand Place’, one of Europe’s most beautiful squares. The extraordinary ensemble of baroque façades was built on the very spot where Brussels’ first inhabitants held their market in the 12th-century. The nearby Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries are an ensemble of glazed shopping arcades. Designed and built between 1846 and 1847, they precede other famous 19th-century European shopping arcades such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan (Italy) and The Passage in St Petersburg (Russia).
Located between Brugge and Brussels is the vibrant and quirky city of Ghent (Gent). Brimming with trendy, modern urban life, Ghent is a must because of its three medieval towers – the Belfry, the Saint Bavo Cathedral and the Saint Nicholas’ Church – that overlook the old city centre. Also not to be missed is the majestic fortress ‘Castle of the Counts’ (Gravensteen) and the world-famous masterpiece the ‘Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers.
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is a charming city made-up of picture-perfect canals and bridges and stunning 16th century architecture. Popular attractions include Anne Frank’s house, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.
Those looking to step back in time should definitely wander through the narrow streets of the Jordaan. Often cited as Amsterdam’s most charming neighbourhood, the area is dotted with independent art galleries, antique shops, courtyard gardens and great bars and restaurants. The 17th century canal belt is the quintessential postcard-perfect vision of Amsterdam. Floating along the canals by guided boat tour you will learn lots of fascinating facts along the way – such as why the tilting homes along the canals are known as ‘dancing houses’. It is an unbelievably pretty sight, especially after sundown when the bridges are lit up by fairy lights giving the whole area a magical feel.
A three-minute ferry ride from the Central Station will bring you to the the striking white EYE building. Since its opening in 2012 the building has rapidly become one of Amsterdam’s most iconic landmarks. The EYE Filmmuseum showcases retrospectives and contemporary exhibits, as well as a vast film library, cinema and restaurant bar with a terrace overlooking the water. Another must see is STRAAT. Located inside an enormous warehouse at the modern NDSM-wharf, the museum showcases the biggest street art collection in the world. STRAAT is located 15 minutes away from Amsterdam Central by ferry.
MSC Magnifica, your floating luxury hotel
MSC Magnifica is the fourth ship to be built in MSC Cruises’ Musica-class. The ship entered service in March 2010, at a cost of $547 million, and was completely renovated in 2021. During the extensive 130 million euro renovation Magnifica was stretched by 23 meters (75 ft 6 in), resulting in an additional 7,000 m2 of comfort and other features such as 800m2 of sundeck. MSC Magnifica was also outfitted with the most modern ecological systems: a state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system and next-generation Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) system. The vessel was also equipped with a shore-power system.
MSC Magnifica offers 13 passenger accessible decks where you will discover three swimming pools, a gymnasium, spa, and wellness center, a 1,250-seat Art Deco-style theatre, casino, cinema, bowling alley and a number of dining areas and bars.
Marrying traditional craftsmanship with ground-breaking design, the superb venues on MSC Magnifica spoil you for choice, including 5 restaurants serving food from around the world and 12 designer-themed bars. Kids and teens love their own themed venues and special clubs that help break the ice with new friends. The ship’s award-winning MSC Aurea Spa brings you traditional Balinese massages and ultramodern beauty treatments: a sauna, Turkish bath, fitness centre, thalassotherapy room and relaxation area.
The leisure facilities are no less impressive, with a lush open-air pool complex, 4 whirlpools, a solarium and a skylit indoor pool with Magrodome retractable roof, so you can enjoy perfect bathing whatever the weather. Then there’s tennis, mini golf, miniature bowling, billiards, a high-tech gym and jogging track.
The entertainment continues into the evening, with a spectacular casino, panoramic discotheque, 4D cinema, Internet café, cigar lounge, plush 1,200 seat theatre and live entertainment in the bar lounges. For a quieter evening, step out onto the deck for a romantic drink under the stars, and watch the waves go by. In every way, MSC Magnifica lives up to her name – she offers a cruise that’s memorably magnificent!
Ready to book your perfect winter getaway to the Northern Pearls? Visit MSC Cruises for more details and bookings.