Secret Ports: 20 Great Places You Can Visit on a Small-Ship Itinerary

by Donna Heiderstadt

Secret Ports: 20 Great Places You Can Visit on a Small-Ship Itinerary

by Donna Heiderstadt

Move over big, popular cruise ports—these 20 small-ship itineraries in late 2021 and 2022 visit 20 lesser-known places that are well worth seeing. They may not have the buzz of Barcelona or the sizzle of Rio, but they all offer charming architecture, fascinating history and scenery galore.

Move over big, popular cruise ports—these 20 small-ship itineraries in late 2021 and 2022 visit 20 lesser-known places that are well worth seeing. They may not have the buzz of Barcelona or the sizzle of Rio, but they all offer charming architecture, fascinating history and scenery galore.

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Rovinj, Croatia / iStock/PM78
Portoferraio, Elba, Italy
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Portoferraio, Elba, Italy

Elba, the island off of Italy’s Tuscan coast where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in 1814, is a delightful port of call on Mediterranean itineraries. It pairs the historic insights of a visit to Portoferraio’s Palazzina dei Mulini, where the deposed French Emperor lived, with tours to scenic beaches and family-owned wineries. Visit on the Mediterranean Island Mosaic itinerary aboard Wind Star.

Read more: 10 Hidden Islands You Can Visit on a Cruise

Elba, the island off of Italy’s Tuscan coast where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in 1814, is a delightful port of call on Mediterranean itineraries. It pairs the historic insights of a visit to Portoferraio’s Palazzina dei Mulini, where the deposed French Emperor lived, with tours to scenic beaches and family-owned wineries. Visit on the Mediterranean Island Mosaic itinerary aboard Wind Star.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
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Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

If you love a port that you can cover on foot in one day, the capital of Prince Edward Island province is a perfect option. It’s full of history—the 1864 conference that led to Canada’s formation was held here—along with inviting shops and seafood restaurants. You can also book a tour to nearby Anne of Green Gables Place. Check out this Boston to Montreal itinerary on the new Ritz-Carlton Evrima

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If you love a port that you can cover on foot in one day, the capital of Prince Edward Island province is a perfect option. It’s full of history—the 1864 conference that led to Canada’s formation was held here—along with inviting shops and seafood restaurants. You can also book a tour to nearby Anne of Green Gables Place. Check out this Boston to Montreal itinerary on the new Ritz-Carlton Evrima. 

Sète, France
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Sète, France

Known for its moules-frites (mussels with fries), a steep trek up 400 steps to the top of Mont Saint-Clair, and photogenic canals lined with fishermen’s boats that have earned it the nickname the “Little Venice” of the Languedoc, the 17th-century French port city of Sète hosts lively “water jousting” tournaments every summer. Visit on this 7-Night France-Intensive Voyage aboard Azamara Journey

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Known for its moules-frites (mussels with fries), a steep trek up 400 steps to the top of Mont Saint-Clair, and photogenic canals lined with fishermen’s boats that have earned it the nickname the “Little Venice” of the Languedoc, the 17th-century French port city of Sète hosts lively “water jousting” tournaments every summer. Visit on this 7-Night France-Intensive Voyage aboard Azamara Journey

Punta Arenas, Chile
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Punta Arenas, Chile

Ushuaia is the gateway for Antarctic cruises, but windswept Punta Arenas has its charms. This isolated colonial outpost in Chilean Patagonia offers access to the Seno Otoway Penguin Colony and is home to a surprisingly elegant cemetery, a ship museum, and a Magellan statue in Plaza Muñoz Gamero. Visit on the Prismatic Patagonia itinerary aboard Oceania Marina

Ushuaia is the gateway for Antarctic cruises, but windswept Punta Arenas has its charms. This isolated colonial outpost in Chilean Patagonia offers access to the Seno Otoway Penguin Colony and is home to a surprisingly elegant cemetery, a ship museum, and a Magellan statue in Plaza Muñoz Gamero. Visit on the Prismatic Patagonia itinerary aboard Oceania Marina

Gdansk, Poland
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Gdansk, Poland

Largely destroyed during World War II, this jewel of a city on the Baltic features meticulously restored Hanseatic mansions, atmospheric squares with ornate fountains, inviting shops selling Polish glassware and ceramics, and the red-brick Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption. There’s even a medieval crane on the waterfront. Visit on this Viking Homelands itinerary with Viking Ocean Cruises.

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Largely destroyed during World War II, this jewel of a city on the Baltic features meticulously restored Hanseatic mansions, atmospheric squares with ornate fountains, inviting shops selling Polish glassware and ceramics, and the red-brick Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption. There’s even a medieval crane on the waterfront. Visit on this Viking Homelands itinerary with Viking Ocean Cruises.

Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe
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Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

French culinary indulgences—crispy baguettes, fragrant cheeses, and superb wine—blend with the charms of the Caribbean’s smaller islands in this picturesque port of call that’s home to historic Fort Napoleon, colorfully painted houses, grazing goats, and sun-bathing iguanas. Visit the isle of Terre-de-Haut—and overnight there—on this Bridgetown to Castries itinerary aboard SeaDream I.

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French culinary indulgences—crispy baguettes, fragrant cheeses, and superb wine—blend with the charms of the Caribbean’s smaller islands in this picturesque port of call that’s home to historic Fort Napoleon, colorfully painted houses, grazing goats, and sun-bathing iguanas. Visit the isle of Terre-de-Haut—and overnight there—on this Bridgetown to Castries itinerary aboard SeaDream I.

Funchal, Madeira
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Funchal, Madeira

Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira, located in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, has something for everyone: madeira (a fortified wine) tastings, shops filled with handmade lace, an intricate system of levadas (irrigation canals) with adjacent hiking paths, and even an exhilarating “toboggan” ride. Visit on this Canary Islands Delight itinerary aboard Regent Seven Seas Voyager.

Read more: 7 Alternative Destinations if You Can’t Afford the Mediterranean

Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira, located in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa, has something for everyone: madeira (a fortified wine) tastings, shops filled with handmade lace, an intricate system of levadas (irrigation canals) with adjacent hiking paths, and even an exhilarating “toboggan” ride. Visit on this Canary Islands Delight itinerary aboard Regent Seven Seas Voyager.

Quepos, Costa Rica
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Quepos, Costa Rica

As the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos offers access to the natural wonders of the Costa Rican rainforest. On guided walks, you can spy on four species of monkeys (including the very vocal howler monkey), two species of sloths, and more than 350 bird species, from kingfishers to toucans. Visit on this Monteverde Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Cruise Tour itinerary aboard Wind Star.

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As the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos offers access to the natural wonders of the Costa Rican rainforest. On guided walks, you can spy on four species of monkeys (including the very vocal howler monkey), two species of sloths, and more than 350 bird species, from kingfishers to toucans. Visit on this Monteverde Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Cruise Tour itinerary aboard Wind Star.

Bergen, Norway
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Bergen, Norway

Norway’s second largest city is famous for the colorful wooden houses lining its historic wharf, once a Hanseatic League trading center. The sea remains at modern Bergen’s heart and you can appreciate its spectacular setting amid mountains and fjords on a funicular to the top of Mt. Floyen or a cable car up Mt. Ulriken. Visit on this Dover-North Cape-Dover itinerary aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Maud.

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Norway’s second largest city is famous for the colorful wooden houses lining its historic wharf, once a Hanseatic League trading center. The sea remains at modern Bergen’s heart and you can appreciate its spectacular setting amid mountains and fjords on a funicular to the top of Mt. Floyen or a cable car up Mt. Ulriken. Visit on this Dover-North Cape-Dover itinerary aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Maud.

Kotor, Montenegro
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Kotor, Montenegro

Overshadowed by its Adriatic neighbor Dubrovnik, Kotor is a humbler walled city at the far end of the Bay of Kotor. It is set dramatically against limestone cliffs and its winding medieval Old Town is easily explored on foot. More ambitious: climbing 1,300-plus steps up to the Fortress of St. John for views of red roofs and your ship. Visit on Gems of the Venetian Empire aboard Seabourn Ovation

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Overshadowed by its Adriatic neighbor Dubrovnik, Kotor is a humbler walled city at the far end of the Bay of Kotor. It is set dramatically against limestone cliffs and its winding medieval Old Town is easily explored on foot. More ambitious: climbing 1,300-plus steps up to the Fortress of St. John for views of red roofs and your ship. Visit on Gems of the Venetian Empire aboard Seabourn Ovation

Hobart, Tasmania
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Hobart, Tasmania

Australia’s main ports—gleaming Sydney and eclectic Melbourne—are big cities, while Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, feels more like a small town. This is especially true in the waterfront warehouse district, Salamanca Place, where you’ll find galleries and cafes, and in nearby cottage-lined, colonial-era Battery Point. Visit on this Sydney to Auckland itinerary aboard Regent Seven Seas Explorer.

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Australia’s main ports—gleaming Sydney and eclectic Melbourne—are big cities, while Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, feels more like a small town. This is especially true in the waterfront warehouse district, Salamanca Place, where you’ll find galleries and cafes, and in nearby cottage-lined, colonial-era Battery Point. Visit on this Sydney to Auckland itinerary aboard Regent Seven Seas Explorer.

Kos, Greece
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Kos, Greece

See the place where modern medicine got its ancient start on the lush, tranquil Greek island of Kos. Here, you can tour the Asklepion, the healing temple/medical school where Hippocrates studied and practiced, and enjoy lunch in a mountain town surrounded by pine trees or overlooking one of the sandy beaches that flank Kos Town. Visit on this 7-Night Greece-Intensive Voyage aboard Azamara Quest.

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See the place where modern medicine got its ancient start on the lush, tranquil Greek island of Kos. Here, you can tour the Asklepion, the healing temple/medical school where Hippocrates studied and practiced, and enjoy lunch in a mountain town surrounded by pine trees or overlooking one of the sandy beaches that flank Kos Town. Visit on this 7-Night Greece-Intensive Voyage aboard Azamara Quest.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

While not as flashy as neighboring Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates has certainly embraced dramatic architecture via modern glass skyscrapers and world-class museums—there’s a Louvre and a Guggenheim is planned—and the massive white-domed Sheik Mohammed Zayed Mosque. Thrill-seekers can also head to Ferrari World. Visit on this Middle East Meandering itinerary aboard Oceania Nautica.

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While not as flashy as neighboring Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates has certainly embraced dramatic architecture via modern glass skyscrapers and world-class museums—there’s a Louvre and a Guggenheim is planned—and the massive white-domed Sheik Mohammed Zayed Mosque. Thrill-seekers can also head to Ferrari World. Visit on this Middle East Meandering itinerary aboard Oceania Nautica.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands
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Aitutaki, Cook Islands

You may have never heard of this far-flung coral atoll—but visit and you’ll never forget it. That’s because tiny Aitutaki is home to one of the most stunning lagoons in the Cook Islands, if not the entire South Pacific. Snorkeling its dazzling turquoise water is the top activity, but Cook Islanders are fierce dancers, too. Visit on this South Pacific Islands itinerary aboard Silver Explorer

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You may have never heard of this far-flung coral atoll—but visit and you’ll never forget it. That’s because tiny Aitutaki is home to one of the most stunning lagoons in the Cook Islands, if not the entire South Pacific. Snorkeling its dazzling turquoise water is the top activity, but Cook Islanders are fierce dancers, too. Visit on this South Pacific Islands itinerary aboard Silver Explorer

Bornholm, Denmark
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Bornholm, Denmark

Located off the coast of Sweden, but a territory of Denmark, Bornholm is a 227-square-mile island known for its traditional fishing villages and smoked herring. The port of Ronne is home to colorful half-timbered houses, while excursions around the island offer a chance to spot Bornholm’s distinctive round white churches. Visit on this Russia & the Baltic Sea itinerary aboard Viking Ocean Cruises.

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Located off the coast of Sweden, but a territory of Denmark, Bornholm is a 227-square-mile island known for its traditional fishing villages and smoked herring. The port of Ronne is home to colorful half-timbered houses, while excursions around the island offer a chance to spot Bornholm’s distinctive round white churches. Visit on this Russia & the Baltic Sea itinerary aboard Viking Ocean Cruises.

Aomori, Japan
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Aomori, Japan

Late April in Northern Japan means one thing: cherry blossoms. And with a port call on Aomori, a prefecture that is densely forested and home to photogenic temples, a top destination will be the nearby Hirosaki Castle Park, a 121-acre expanse that is home to one of the country's most popular sakura (cherry blossom) festivals. Visit on this Tokyo to Tokyo itinerary aboard Silver Muse.

Late April in Northern Japan means one thing: cherry blossoms. And with a port call on Aomori, a prefecture that is densely forested and home to photogenic temples, a top destination will be the nearby Hirosaki Castle Park, a 121-acre expanse that is home to one of the country's most popular sakura (cherry blossom) festivals. Visit on this Tokyo to Tokyo itinerary aboard Silver Muse.

St. George’s, Grenada
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St. George’s, Grenada

Lush geography and cuisine flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger—Grenada is the “Spice Island” after all—give this Southern Caribbean island multiple dimensions. Enjoy the colorful architecture of St. George’s harbor and the laid-back ease of breezy Grand Anse Beach or venture inland to Grand Etang National Park. Visit on this Bridgetown to Bridgetown itinerary aboard SeaDream I.

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Lush geography and cuisine flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger—Grenada is the “Spice Island” after all—give this Southern Caribbean island multiple dimensions. Enjoy the colorful architecture of St. George’s harbor and the laid-back ease of breezy Grand Anse Beach or venture inland to Grand Etang National Park. Visit on this Bridgetown to Bridgetown itinerary aboard SeaDream I.

Ajaccio, Corsica
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Ajaccio, Corsica

Celebrated for its beaches and known as the birthplace of Napoleon, the French island of Corsica is a sunny oasis where rugged mountains spill down to the sparkling Mediterranean. Ajaccio, the capital, has a lively and atmospheric Old Town with shops and cafes and is set on the island’s largest and deepest bay. Visit on the Romantic Mediterranean Isles itinerary aboard Seabourn Sojourn

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Celebrated for its beaches and known as the birthplace of Napoleon, the French island of Corsica is a sunny oasis where rugged mountains spill down to the sparkling Mediterranean. Ajaccio, the capital, has a lively and atmospheric Old Town with shops and cafes and is set on the island’s largest and deepest bay. Visit on the Romantic Mediterranean Isles itinerary aboard Seabourn Sojourn

Rovinj, Croatia
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Rovinj, Croatia

Croatia’s coastal cities strung along the Adriatic are popular ports of call, but the tiny island of Rovinj, located just a quick sail from Venice in sunny Istria, is visited more selectively. That helps keep its Old Town, where the Venetian-style bell tower of St. Euphemia Church is the main landmark, blissfully romantic. Visit on this Venice to Athens itinerary aboard Silver Shadow.

Croatia’s coastal cities strung along the Adriatic are popular ports of call, but the tiny island of Rovinj, located just a quick sail from Venice in sunny Istria, is visited more selectively. That helps keep its Old Town, where the Venetian-style bell tower of St. Euphemia Church is the main landmark, blissfully romantic. Visit on this Venice to Athens itinerary aboard Silver Shadow.

Napier, New Zealand
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Napier, New Zealand

Art Deco architecture, the Hawke’s Bay wine region, a seaside promenade lined with photogenic Norfolk pines and a famous gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers make this city on New Zealand’s North Island a must-visit. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, Napier made a comeback as a cultural center and a magnet for wine lovers. Visit on this Australia & New Zealand itinerary aboard Viking Ocean Cruises

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Art Deco architecture, the Hawke’s Bay wine region, a seaside promenade lined with photogenic Norfolk pines and a famous gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers make this city on New Zealand’s North Island a must-visit. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, Napier made a comeback as a cultural center and a magnet for wine lovers. Visit on this Australia & New Zealand itinerary aboard Viking Ocean Cruises

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