Have you ever dreamed of sailing with Viking Cruises to Norway and the UK? Backroad Planet's annotated travelogue explores the 15-day “Into the Midnight Sun” itinerary, introduces its scenic destinations, and evaluates its shore excursion options.
I was a guest of Viking Cruises, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
NOTE: This is a long-form, photo-intensive post intended for readers who want to cruise vicariously, as well as travelers seeking detailed information before booking a Viking “Into the Midnight Sun” cruise of their own.
Table of Contents
- 1 Viking Cruises to Norway & the UK
- 2 Day 1: Bergen, Norway (Arrival)
- 3 Day 2: Bergen, Norway
- 4 Day 3: Geiranger, Norway
- 5 Day 4: Molde, Norway
- 6 Day 5: At Sea | Arctic Circle Crossing
- 7 Day 6: Tromsø, Norway
- 8 Day 7: Honningsvåg, Norway
- 9 Day 8: Lofoten (Leknes), Norway
- 10 Day 9: At Sea
- 11 Day 10: Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland, UK
- 12 Day 11: Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK
- 13 Day 12: Edinburgh, (Rosyth), Scotland, UK
- 14 Day 13: At Sea
- 15 Day 14: London (Greenwich), Great Britain, UK
- 16 Day 15: London (Greenwich), Great Britain, UK (Departure)
- 17 Viking's “In Search of the Northern Lights” Itinerary
- 18 How to Plan, Book & Embark on a Viking Ocean Cruise
- 19 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 20 Pin this Post!
- 21 Helpful Links
Viking Cruises to Norway & the UK
Map Credit: Viking Cruises
The 15-day Viking “Into the Midnight Sun” ocean cruise visits Norway, Scotland, and Great Britain, and embarks on five sailings each summer. The itinerary offers 10 guided tours and includes no less than 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, as determined by selected excursions.
Norway is a scenic wonderland of deep fjords, quaint fishing villages, rugged mountains, and plunging waterfalls. The North Atlantic Current of the Gulf Stream reaches the coast of Norway and flows above the Arctic Circle, keeping most of coastal Norway free of ice and snow year round.
Scotland's Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, and its capital city of Edinburgh boast a rich history with medieval castles, Romanesque cathedrals, ancient Viking settlements, and prehistoric stone circles. The port of Greenwich on the River Thames is home to the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, and is a gateway to all that London has to offer.
This daily travelogue of our July sailing focuses primarily on the itinerary, destinations, and shore excursions included in the cruise. Although our experiences in Norway and the UK paralleled those of our fellow passengers, no one's experience was exactly the same. With up to 15 shore excursion options for each port, that is pretty much a guarantee!
For a wealth of insider tips and a detailed look at the onboard experience, navigate to our comprehensive post: Viking Ocean Cruises: A Guide to Planning, Booking, and Embarking on a Voyage of a Lifetime.
Day 1: Bergen, Norway (Arrival)
Bergen, Norway, is the port of departure for the Viking Cruises “Into the Midnight Sun” itinerary.
After a three-leg flight from Tampa to Atlanta to Amsterdam to Bergen, we were greeted by Norwegian humor and a host of Viking representatives who facilitated our coach transfer to the ship.
The Viking Sea was a sight for tired eyes. After completing the boarding process, we proceeded to the World Cafe for lunch. From our table on the Aquavit Terrace we enjoyed a panoramic view of Bergen Harbor.
Note: Silver Spirits purchasers should be aware that Norwegian law does not allow liquor to be served until after 1:00 PM while in port. You can be served beer and wine prior to that time, but no cocktails unless you plan a late lunch.
Because the ship overnighted in port, guests were free to disembark and head into town. As much as I love city-walking and exploring new destinations, I have learned that recovering from jet lag first is the key to fully enjoying the experience later.
After lunch we headed to our stateroom, unpacked, and slept until we woke up. Later that evening we toured the ship, met friends for dinner, and stayed up far later than we should have due to the 11:05 PM sunset.
We would explore Bergen in the morning.
Day 2: Bergen, Norway
Bergen is Norway's second-largest city, and it was established in 1070 AD at the location of a former Viking settlement.
The city's varied history and stunning setting offer more opportunities for exploration than one can enjoy in a single day, leaving me with major FOMO (fear of missing out). These options were clearly illustrated by Viking's twelve optional tours that included a rail journey, mountain hikes, flightseeing over glaciers, fjord fishing, as well as visits to a stave church and a Norwegian family farm.
Our budgeted optional tours were scheduled for later in the cruise, so after breakfast we joined the included tour of Bergen.
Panoramic Bergen (included 2-hour excursion)
The narrated coach tour took us for a drive through the 19th-century white wooden houses of the Nordnes Peninsula and to a scenic point overlooking Bergen Harbor. The tour continued through the city of Bergen with a stop near the site where the German-commandered Dutch vessel Voorbode exploded in 1944, killing 158 people, wounding 4,800, and destroying more than 250 buildings.
Because the ship was docked within walking distance, we chose to remain in town and explore further on foot. We cruised through the Torget fish and fruit market and stopped by the Bergen visitor center.
I was acquainted with European pay toilets from my previous travels, but this was my first time paying with credit card. The transaction later appeared on my statement for the equivalent of $1.25, but Jerry and I had taken advantage of a 2-for-1, and another patron snuck in the restroom as we were leaving. Finding ways to beat the system makes me smile.
Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage wharf, is the dominating feature of the city center. The German Hanseatic fishing league opened its Bergen offices in 1350 AD, and this collection of 62 commercial fishing warehouses dating to the early 1700s are the surviving relics of that era. Visitors are free to roam the interconnecting alleyways between these wooden structures whose architecture is all color, lines, and angles. The Hanseatic Museum is the only building to have retained its original interior, and it is open to the public for an additional fee.
As we made our way back to the ship, we passed through the Bergenhus Fortress, a complex with a rich and storied past situated at the entrance to Bergen Harbor.
Excavations have uncovered foundations dating to the 1100s AD. Two of the most prominent surviving buildings, Rosenkrantz Tower and King Haakon's Hall were built in the mid-1200s AD.
Bergen is a great city to explore on foot, and it was a perfect beginning to our journey along the coast of Norway. Passengers were required to be back on board by 4:00 PM for the emergency drill, followed by a lovely 5:00 PM sailing out of Bergen Harbor.
Day 3: Geiranger, Norway
We awoke the next morning and opened our terrace doors to mountain walls lined with plunging waterfalls that seemed almost close enough to touch, as we sailed into the UNESCO World Heritage Geirangersfjord,
We would be taking advantage of two excursions while in Geiranger, and because our ship was anchored at a distance within the fjord, we would travel ashore by tender boats. The tender process was well organized and operated continuously between ship and shore throughout the day.
As the third largest cruise port in Norway, the village of Geiranger exists today primarily as a tourist destination. Sadly, the area is at risk of losing its UNESCO status due to potential installation of power lines across the fjord. Even more alarming is the inevitable collapse of the mountain Åkerneset. Experts predict the avalanche will induce a chain reaction tsunami, destroying towns along the fjord.
The 2015 critically-acclaimed motion picture The Wave was shot partially on location in Geiranger and depicts the devastation this natural disaster could cause when it happens.
Eagles Bend Overlook & Panoramic Tour (included 2.5-hour excursion)
The included panoramic excursion took us 2,000 feet above the fjord along eleven hairpin turns to the Eagles Bend Overlook. Unfortunately, the early morning cloud cover obstructed our view. It was disappointing, but then Mother Nature has a mind of her own.
It was the same situation at the Flydalsjuvet viewpoint, so we took advantage of the public restrooms, admired the roadside waterfall, and hiked a short distance to the Fjordsetet (the fjord seat), an art installation dedicated by HRH Queen Sonja in September 2003. The trail to the “Queen's Chair” is where we first discovered wild huckleberries.
Summer wildflowers were in full bloom near the overlook, and I made a point to grab a few shots of white angelica, lupine, fireweed, and an unidentified yellow beauty.
As we headed back down the mountain, one of the hairpin turns offered a stellar view of the Viking Sea at anchor in the fjord below.
Next, the coach carried us through Geiranger and up into the mountains on the other side of town. As we ascended ever higher, suddenly we broke through the clouds into the sunlight.
Soon we arrived a a crystal clear lake nestled between the mountains, and we pulled over to stretch our legs and take in the view. The lake called Djupvatnet is located 3,333 feet above sea level and is 660 feet deep.
The aquamarine waters looked so inviting, and freezing, too.
Our tour did not continue three miles up the toll road to the Geiranger Skywalk at Dalsnibba. At almost 5,000 feet, it is Europe's highest roadside fjord overlook. Cloud cover would have obstructed our view from that point, as well, I am sure.
Our coach also did not stop for a photo op at the quaint octagonal Geiranger Church, built in 1842, although we passed it coming and going. I would recommend adding both of these locations to the panoramic excursion itinerary.
Insider Tip: They don't tell you this in the tour descriptions, but booking an afternoon departure of the included excursion will allow the morning cloud cover time to dissipate and increase your chances of clear panoramic views.
Geirangerfjord by Jet Boat (optional 1.5-hour excursion)
Our second excursion of the day was an optional jet boat ride through the fjord. We had budgeted this paid experience while in the planning stages of our cruise by using the My Viking Journey website. As it turned out, we planned well. The jet boat tour ended up being my second-favorite excursion of the itinerary.
In preparation for the tour, we donned fluorescent yellow jumpsuits and life jackets. Our RIB (rigid inflatable boat) featured cushioned straddle seats, tricky to get into, but perfectly comfortable while sitting and ergonomically supportive when standing.
The jet boat tour began at a steady pace as we headed out into the fjord beyond the point where our beloved ship lay at anchor. Note the hairpin turns on the road leading to the Eagle Bend Overlook in the distance.
Soon our speed accelerated and we fairly flew across the water for an optimal view the “Seven Sisters” waterfall. Diminished water flow on the day of our tour made the falls look more like three sisters. Then, we crossed the fjord for an up-close-and-personal look at “The Suitor” waterfall, a single cascade that appears to flirt with the sisters across the way. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the tour were the ancient family farms perched precariously high on the mountain walls, some abandoned and others occupied and active.
There are nine additional optional tours in Geiranger. The one I heard most about back on ship was the 3-hour scenic bike tour featuring electric powered bicycles that ease the pedaling up the mountain roads.
Day 4: Molde, Norway
The port city of Molde was established as a trading post during the late Middle Ages. Through succeeding centuries it evolved as a center in the Norwegian textile and garment industry. Its mild climate helped it become a tourist destination during the late 19th century, attracting European royalty as summer visitors.
Highlights of Molde (included 2.5-hour excursion)
The first stop on our tour was at the Molde Cathedral. Completed in 1957, the modern basilica and freestanding bell tower replaced two previous churches at this location, the latter destroyed by a German air attack in 1940. The church interior was supposedly closed during the tour, but I heard later some guests took a peek inside.
Not to worry. I was off to explore the adjacent flowering terrace and streetside gardens. Molde has been nicknamed “The Town of Roses,” and with good reason. The region's climate and soil provide ideal growing conditions as evidenced by the countless public and private gardens throughout the city.
The next stop took us on a journey back in time to Old Norway. Founded by Peter Tønder Solemdal in 1912, the Romsdal Museum has been opened to the public since 1928. Centrally located in Molde, the institution also operates several satellite locations throughout the region.
Featuring more than 35 original structures from the 16th through the 20th centuries, the open air folk museum is the ideal location to learn about traditional Norwegian architecture and culture.
The most intriguing feature to me were the “torvtak” sod roofs. Some roofs grow wildflowers, huckleberries, and even small trees.
Dressed in traditional “bunad” costumes, living history reenactors demonstrate heritage crafts, perform folk songs and dances, and conduct guided tours.
Opened in 2016, the modern Krona museum building houses exhibitions and features facilities including an auditorium, library and archives, costume workshop, gift shop, and café.
The final stop on our coach tour was the Varden viewpoint situated 1,300 feet above Molde. Upon arrival, we had a fairly clear view of the city, our ship in the harbor, distant fjords, and perhaps a couple of the region's 222 mountain peaks. By the time we boarded the bus, clouds had moved in, creating a complete whiteout.
A hiking trail called the “green corridor” leads from the harbor through Reknes Park to the Romsdal Museum, and continues to Varden and beyond for visitors who have a few free hours on their itineraries. The Vardestua Café serves snacks and drinks during summer hours.
The tour allowed us a few minutes to scout trails, investigate the native vegetation and landscape, and grab a few photos. I may or may not have enjoyed a few trailside huckleberries, as well.
It was our guide's first day on this tour, but even though she blundered through her narration, her candid observations kept me entertained. The Highlights of Molde tour turned out to be my favorite included excursion of the cruise.
Day 5: At Sea | Arctic Circle Crossing
Our first day at sea was not without excitement. Guests were invited to participate in the Order of the Blue Nose ceremony in recognition of crossing the Arctic Circle. Jerry was a good sport, as he often is when I need to play photographer or need an excuse to avoid potentially painful activities.
The Viking initiation involves a series of actions that include taking a polar plunge in an ice-filled pool, kissing a herring, downing a shot of aquavit, and the ship captain painting your nose blue.
Looking back, I'm not sure the initiation was valid. Jerry didn't submerge completely in the pool and the fish-kissing step appears to have been skipped.
But who am I to judge?
After the ceremony, we headed up to the port decks to observe the crossing of the Arctic Circle, identified by the globe monument on Vikingen Island.
Beyond the Arctic Circle, we would officially be in the Land of the Midnight Sun, where in summer the sun never sets.
When we returned to our stateroom later that evening, we discovered frame-worthy certificates to remind us of this milestone event in our travels.
Day 6: Tromsø, Norway
With a population of 75,000, the city of Tromsø is the largest Norwegian urban area north of the Arctic Circle. It has also been designated the “Gateway to the Arctic” for its role as the point of origin for many Arctic expeditions.
Several of our fellow passengers went on the optional 4-hour Husky Trek through Arctic Hills excursion that included a visit to the Tromsø Wilderness Centre where they went hiking with huskies and enjoyed some puppy love. We had preselected the included excursion, so I was a bit envious.
Panoramic Tromsø (included 2-hour excursion)
First up on our panoramic tour was a stop at the Arctic Cathedral. This modern concrete, glass, and steel construction completed in 1965 is often compared to the Sydney Opera House for its distinct appearance.
Once again, we were not granted entrance to the church, so I wondered off to snap some flower photos, including the largest dandelions I have ever seen.
Our coach cruised through town and up into the mountains to a lovely point that overlooked Finnvikvatnet Lake to the south and a distant fjord to the north.
Our return trip took us through the Tromsø tunnel network where we circled a subterranean roundabout. Intersecting tunnels was a new concept for me. The tunnel system also features an underground parking lot beneath the city center.
After lunch onboard, Jerry and I decided to head into town and explore a bit on foot. The picturesque harbor offered an outstanding view of the Arctic Cathedral and its mountain backdrop across the water.
The Tromsø city center has the largest number of brightly-painted wooden houses in northern Norway, the oldest dating to 1789.
Our walk carried us past the red Polar Museum and two yellow wooden churches both constructed in 1861.
The Tromsø Cathedral (bottom right) is the northernmost cathedral in the Church of Norway and also the only one made of wood. The Cathedral of our Lady (top right) is the northernmost Catholic church in the world, and by virtue of its location three city blocks north, it is the northernmost church in the world of any Christian denomination.
Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, and the first to reach both poles, spent many years in Tromsø, and was ultimately lost at sea in a plane crash near the coast in 1928.
Visitors to Tromsø will find no shortage of Viking warriors, trolls, and Norwegian wool sweaters at souvenir shops and outdoor markets.
Prior to this cruise, I believed all of the land north of the Arctic Circle was barren tundra.
Boy was I wrong!
And there would be even more natural beauty as we cruised to our itinerary's northernmost port.
Day 7: Honningsvåg, Norway
When you travel this far north, there are many superlatives, but they are not without merit.
That said, the port of Honningsvåg is Norway's northernmost city.
Most of our fellow passengers had selected the included 3.5-hour Drive to North Cape excursion. North Cape is the northernmost point in Europe accessible by car. The attraction is situated on a 1,000 foot plateau and offers breathtaking views of the Barents Sea and the midnight sun. I experienced major FOMO this day, but unfortunately this tour conflicted with an optional excursion we could not pass up.
Honningsvåg & Surroundings by ATV (optional 2.5-hour excursion)
It is common knowledge that I am not an adrenaline junkie like some of my peers. When it comes to outdoor activities, I always gravitate to soft adventure. I know riding ATVs is not considered an extreme sport, but for me it pushes the envelope. This was the second excursion of the cruise that required donning not only a jumpsuit, but also a helmet.
Even with a XXL helmet to accommodate my big head, I was already getting claustrophobic, and we had not even exited the building. Fortunately, the fresh air outside helped me breathe and begin to relax, and we took to the highway.
Our route led north along the harbor and then west along the Skipsfjorden.
And suddenly, there it was. A complete rainbow hovering over the water. We could see both ends of the rainbow, and over the rainbow, but no pots of gold.
We turned off the highway and headed up NATO Mountain. The rainbow followed us as we ascended ever higher.
We could not resist stopping to grab photos at a bend in the mountain road. Our guide Tina said she had never seen a rainbow at this location in all of her ATV tours.
“It may be raining, but there's a rainbow above you . . . .”
We continued up the mountain to the tour's standard photo op location. It was foggy, but we still had a great view of our ship in the harbor.
We headed back down the mountain and stopped at a picturesque spot in the valley.
This roadside location conspired with every element of a bucolic setting: mountains, a valley, a stream, a bridge, wildflowers, and a cozy cabin.
I could not stop taking pictures.
Back on the highway, we drove through a 4 km tunnel to a lavvo camp in Sarnes for coffee and cookies around a fire. A lavvo is a tent used by Norway's indigenous Sami people.
Later, our guide Tina treated us to a one-on-one encounter with a king crab.
Viking offers an optional 3.5-hour King Crab Safari excursion that involves sailing into the Sarnesfjorden to catch, cook, and eat king crab.
Before hopping back on our ATVs for the drive back to port, we caught a glimpse of two reindeer on the distant mountainside.
It was a perfect ending to an unforgettable badass tour at the top of the world, and my favorite excursion of the cruise!
Honningsvåg was not only the northernmost point of our itinerary; it also marked the halfway point of our 15-day cruise. The Viking Sea cast off, bearing us south to our second week of adventures.
Later, we met up with fellow passengers who had taken the excursion to the North Cape. They reported that the visibility had not been good. I was sad for them, but the news was a FOMO consolation for me.
This evening on our southbound course would be one of our last opportunities to view the midnight sun before passing south of the Arctic Circle, so we stayed up late to capture the moment. At 12:00 AM the sun was obscured by the clouds, but Jerry's patience paid off, and he captured the sun peeking through in this photo, marked with a 12:14 AM timestamp.
Day 8: Lofoten (Leknes), Norway
Leknes in the Lofoten Islands would be the final Norwegian port of our cruise. Lofoten is a scenic archipelago marked by countless sheltered harbors, jagged mountain peaks, and an unusually mild climate for a location positioned north of the Arctic Circle. Lofoten's major islands are interconnected by a network of bridges and undersea tunnels that also connect to the mainland.
Panoramic Lofoten (included 2-hour excursion)
While in port, Jerry set off on the Panoramic Lofoten excursion. My plans to join him had suddenly changed, as you will see.
According to Jerry, the included excursion was primarily a guided coach tour with limited stops. The tour did accommodate photo ops at Uttakkleiv Beach, said to offer the best views of the midnight sun and where herds of sheep roam freely, the white sand Haukland Beach, as well as the modern fishing community of Ballstad.
Drive to Hamnøy (custom 2.5-hour excursion)
A fellow passenger who is also a photographer consulted with the Shore Excursion Desk to arrange a custom group excursion to the quaint fishing village of Hamnøy. When I saw a photo of the location, I knew this was an opportunity I could not miss.
Hamnøy is truly one of the most picturesque locations I have ever visited. Photographers and Instagrammers flock to the bridge to capture shots of this singular landscape.
Because the drive to Hamnøy was almost an hour each way, we only had about 20 minutes to walk the area. I don't believe I have ever taken so many pictures within such a short frame of time.
Our jaunt to Hamnøy was short and sweet, but totally worth it.
As we bid Norway farewell, our cumulative experience left the roadtripper in me longing to return for another visit at a slower pace.
Day 9: At Sea
Our second day at sea was a welcome respite from the whirlwind of adventure we had enjoyed during the previous three days. We did laundry, ordered room service breakfast, and relaxed in the company of friends old and new.
The British Isles segment of our cruise was about to begin.
Day 10: Lerwick, Shetland Islands, Scotland, UK
Although I had visited the United Kingdom by way of Great Britain during previous travels, the port of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands would mark my first entry into Scotland.
All passengers were “required to be seen in person by UK Immigration Authorities,” prior to disembarkation. The immigration desk was set up in the Star Theater, and Viking scheduled guest appointment times to operate like clockwork, which they did, beginning at 7:30 AM and finishing by 9:00 AM. The line was long, but moved steadily, and I was elated to have a new passport stamp.
Our included excursion did not leave until later in the day, so Jerry and I took the shuttle into town for a self-guided walking tour of Lerwick, primarily along Commercial Street and the Esplanade. The drizzly day somehow enhanced the ambience and did not hinder our spirit of adventure in the least.
We walked the grounds of Fort Charlotte, an 18th century garrison built on the site of two previous fortresses employed during the Anglo-Dutch and Napoleonic Wars.
Summer was all abloom around town with dangling fuschias, cascading honeysuckle, and scores of flowering cultivars in the Jubilee Flower Garden.
Soon we made our way back to the shuttle stop to return to port and board the bus for our included tour.
Shetland Panorama & Ponies (included 2-hour excursion)
The Shetland Panorama & Ponies excursion is essentially what its title suggests.
The panorama part was basically a coach ride through the countryside.
It's not that there were no worthy sites along the route that would have made great stops. There were. As we rode, our guide narrated how the iconic stone walls were made, and he indicated locations along the moors where locals cut peat to burn in the winter. He recounted the story of the Tingwall murder stone and other roadside sites, but we did not stop to see them up close. The best we could hope for was to snap photos through the bus windows.
I had heard there was a castle on our tour. There was, and we stopped to see it. There it was, Patrick Stewart's Scalloway Castle, far and away across the bay.
The unquestionable highlight of the tour was getting to meet a herd of world famous Shetland ponies in person.
The ponies were friendly and came close to the fence so you could pet them. If the truth be known, I really wanted to jump the fence to get even closer to these beautiful creatures with flowing manes and regal stares.
A 10-month old pinto foal was the cutest pony of the herd. He was not shy and soaked up the love from all of the friendly hands.
Shetland pony sugar is as sweet as you would imagine
Day 11: Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, UK
The Viking Sea sailed south through the night to the port of Kirkwall in Scotland's Orkney Islands.
Orkney has been inhabited for millennia, dating to at least 6660 BC when Mesolithic nomadic tribes roamed the island called the Mainland. It was later inhabited by a succession of Neolithic tribes, Gaels, Celts, Picts, Norse Vikings, and Scots.
We set out to explore a bit of the island's rich history on our third optional tour.
Orkney's Stone Age (optional 3.5-hour excursion)
The “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” is a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses four key locations on the Mainland. The optional Orkney's Stone Age excursion includes visits to two of those sites.
The first stop on the itinerary was the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic henge and stone circle believed to have been built between 2,500 and 2,000 BC. QuietVox audio sets were used for the land portions of this tour, so we were free to roam the perimeter of the site while still in contact with our guide's narration.
Blooming heath and heather “on the moors” blanketed the ancient site.
Thistle, Scotland's national flower, was also in bloom, as was purple angelica, with its bud that resembles an alien pod from a sci-fi flic.
The next stop on the tour was the Skara Brae and Skaill House historical site. Skara Brae is considered the “best preserved prehistoric village in Europe,” and Skaill House belonged to the man who discovered the site.
A powerful storm in the winter of 1850 eroded a knoll situated along the Bay of Skaill. Landowner William Watt noticed the unearthed stone walls and conducted an initial excavation of the area. The settlement of eight interconnected dwellings dates to 3180 BC, predating Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids by hundreds of years.
Construction of Skaill House began in 1620, two hundred years before William Watt became the laird of the estate. Our guide indicated that the house interior was an optional part of our “stone age” tour, but I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to take a peek inside.
The manor house interior was not adorned with the elegant, ornate decor I have come to expect from visits to other historical homes across Europe. There were, however, several fascinating pieces, including a bookcase with a secret compartment, Captain Cook's dinner service (not the ones pictured), and Queen Elizabeth's guest book signature from her 1983 visit.
Our coach drove us past two additional stone age sites, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ness of Brodgar where an archaeological dig was in full swing. I longed to hop off the coach for a closer look, but these poor-quality photos through the bus window were the best I could do.
Day 12: Edinburgh, (Rosyth), Scotland, UK
Of all the destinations on our cruise, Edinburgh is the one that keeps calling me back. There is simply so much to see and do, that we barely scratched the surface on our included tour. I will admit, hindsight being 20-20, that we could have made better use of our time in port had we done our research. That said, I am so glad Edinburgh is included on the “Into the Midnight Sun” itinerary.
Edinburgh Highlights (included 4-hour excursion)
It was a Saturday, but the cards were stacked against us, getting to and from the port of Rosyth to Edinburgh center. The distance is only 15 miles, but there were eight cruise ships in port and the vehicle traffic was considerable.
That said, it was what it was, and I loved it!
The drive into town took us past the red UNESCO World Heritage Forth Bridge. Completed in 1890, this cantilever railway bridge is considered Scotland's greatest manmade wonder.
The 12th-century Edinburgh Castle is without question the focal point of Scotland's capital city. It overlooks Edinburgh's UNESCO World Heritage medieval Old Town and 18th century New Town.
Our narrated coach tour navigated the city streets of both towns, where I grabbed a few worthy bus window captures. While viewing the horseback statue of Prince Albert, we learned that a steed's lowered head indicates the rider has died.
The blonde sandstone Neoclassical and Georgian buildings of the New Town were badly in need of pressure washing, but apparently it is difficult to clean without damaging the stone. The red door marks the former home of Robert Louis Stevenson.
The World’s End pub on the Old Town's Royal Mile marks the location of Edinburgh's 16th century city gates. The were considered the end of the world by residents of the walled city.
The coach tour included a drive through Holyrood Park, and after an extended time searching for a suitable spot to disembark, we were allowed approximately 45 minutes to explore on our own.
We headed first to the National Museum of Scotland, to take advantage of their facilities, and then we set off on a loop route through the Grassmarket district. Even with limited time we encountered several intriguing historical sites, including a section of the Flodden and Telfer town walls, and enjoyed great views of the castle.
During our brief city-walk, we happened upon a location from the 1969 motion picture “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” Readers may recall that Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey fame won an Academy Award for her performance in the movie. The theme song “Jean” written by Rod McKuen later became a hit for American singer Oliver.
Perhaps the most memorable part of our walk was seeing the memorial statue of Greyfriars Bobby. We located his grave just inside the Greyfriar's Kirkyard, as well as the grave of his beloved master John Gray, where Bobby kept a vigil for fourteen years.
To make the most of limited time in Edinburgh, I recommend booking one of Viking's full-day optional excursions. If you wish to explore on your own, I suggest taking the ScotRail train from the Rosyth Dockyards into the city center and embarking on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Just remember to allow plenty of time for the return trip to ship. Back on board time for our cruise was 5:30 PM.
After arriving back on board, Jerry and I toured the bridge of the Viking Sea and witnessed the amazing technology that made our voyage “Into the Midnight Sun” a reality.
Day 13: At Sea
During our third and final day at sea, we sailed from Rosyth to the mouth of the River Thames. Oil rigs dotted the horizon, and some guests spotted whales in the distant waters of the North Sea. We caught up on laundry, checked out the LivNordic Spa, and enjoyed dinner with friends.
Day 14: London (Greenwich), Great Britain, UK
An ocean liner sailing upriver somehow seems like a figment of my imagination. Yet it happened.
Guests flocked to the various decks to enjoy the morning cruise up the Thames to the port of Greenwich, a royal borough of London. The Thames Barrier was open, and we sailed through unhindered. The most impressive part of the sail-in was a tug-assisted three-corner maneuver to position the Viking Sea facing downriver. The process took longer than expected, and so we did not disembark until after lunch.
Because I had visited Greenwich before, we opted not to take the included Royal Greenwich by Foot excursion, and instead chose to explore the UNESCO World Heritage center on our own.
The ship was anchored mid-river, which required a short tender to the Greenwich Pier. The distance between ship and shore was insignificant, but riverboat traffic along the Thames was intense. We made two return trips to the ship over the course of the day and had to wait in line for 30 minutes or more each time.
Guests arriving at the pier are met by the 1869 Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship known for its use in the tea trade and as the eponym for a brand of Scotch whisky. The Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory, National Maritime Museum, and Queen's House comprise the four Royal Museums Greenwich.
The domed structure pictured above is the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel beneath the River Thames.
We headed first to the Royal Observatory perched on a hill in Greenwich Park. The shaded Avenue was a welcome reprieve from the summer drought and heatwave.
The Shepherd Gate Clock at the entrance to the observatory displays Greenwich Mean Time, and a nearby statue commemorates General James Wolfe, a native of Greenwich whose death and victory at the 1759 Battle of Quebec secured Canada for the British.
The most popular attraction at the Royal Observatory is the Prime Meridian where visitors can stand astride the line in two hemispheres simultaneously. Admission is charged for this section of the museum, and yes, we took all the touristy pictures!
The observatory provides a panoramic view of the National Maritime Museum, the Queen's House and the London skyline.
Admission to the National Maritime Museum is free, and I highly recommend it as a favorite museum from my travels. The collection presents both military and civilian aspects of British maritime history.
The museum has so much to offer, from Lord Nelson's HMS Victory Ship in a Bottle, to statues of British naval heroes, to an exquisite collection of ship figureheads.
I was especially intrigued by the Atlantic Gallery: Slavery, Trade, Empire, a collection of exhibits that interprets the British role in an American institution I have studied so often during my travels, most recently on Louisiana plantations.
Some vessels are housed fully within the museum, including Prince Frederick's 1732 river barge and the 1933 Miss Britain III racing power boat.
Another one of my fixations is vintage travel. Glassed exhibits display an intricate model of the 1925 SS Rawalpindi from the P&O cruise line and other artifacts from the “Golden Age of Travel.”
For me, the highlight of the museum is the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery. Years ago, on my first visit to the maritime museum, I learned the story of Britain's esteemed naval hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, and I was amazed by the vast collection of artifacts from his life. The most prominent artifact on display is the coat Lord Nelson was wearing when he was mortally wounded on October 21, 1805, at the Battle of Trafalgar. The hole from the musketball is visible on the left shoulder of the uniform.
Completed in 1635, the Queen's House was originally a royal residence for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I (yes, the one from the KJV Bible).
Today the residence houses an internationally renowned art collection including the 1588 Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, a portrait of a young Queen Victoria, and a bust of King George VI.
The Old Royal Naval College, with its four courtyard buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1690s, is also open to the public.
Knowing the Viking Sea would be overnighting in port, Jerry and I purchased advance tickets online for a West End show. The London cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber's School of Rock put on an incredible performance, but the Gillian Lynne Theatre was a disappointment due to its ineffective cooling system and the bar's broken ice machine.
Insider Tip: When traveling by London Underground, you can use Apple Pay to swipe for entrance and not bother with exchanging currency or purchasing tickets.
Day 15: London (Greenwich), Great Britain, UK (Departure)
And with that our Viking “Into the Midnight Sun” cruise came to an end. It was time to bid a fond farewell to our fellow passengers, complete the disembarkation process, and begin our journey home.
But more Viking ocean and river cruises await . . . .
Viking's “In Search of the Northern Lights” Itinerary
Map Credit: Viking Cruises
The winter “In Search of the Northern Lights,” Viking cruise to Norway and the UK offers a modified itinerary, and is a great counterpart for guests who wish to experience the region in both seasons.
How to Plan, Book & Embark on a Viking Ocean Cruise
Backroad Planet's comprehensive guide for planning, booking, and embarking on a Viking ocean cruise features our exclusive insider tips as Viking Explorer Society members. Be sure to follow our step-by-step method when designing your voyage of a lifetime!
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