Last Updated on November 16, 2023

There are cruise ports where it is very easy to walk off the boat and explore the local town or city WITHOUT wasting any money on paid shore excursions.

Cruise ports you can explore yourself and easily

Embarking on a cruise is a fantastic way to explore new destinations, soak in breathtaking views, and immerse yourself in diverse cultures. While cruise ship excursions offer convenience, there are plenty of ports where you can venture out on your own without shelling out extra money.

So where are these cruise ports and what can you see and do in these places? I will explain all below!

1. Cadiz, Spain

One of my favorite ports in Europe to visit as a cruise traveler is Cadiz and for several reasons:

  • You can easily walk off the boat and walk to the lovely quaint town center within 5 to 10 minutes
  • Or you can jump on the hop-on hop-off bus that stops just by the cruise port and this bus will take you to all the main places in Cadiz
  • Cadiz is great for walking around and has stunning beaches
  • It is one of Spain’s oldest cities and it boasts a fascinating history, vibrant culture, and beautiful architecture.

Whether you want to wander through the narrow streets of the old town or enjoy a few hours say on the stunning sandy beach, it’s easy to explore on your own.

You can also find some great seafood bars and restaurants close to the cruise port.

I appreciate that you might not want to spend money on food in port given you get to eat for free on the cruise ship, but a plate of fresh mussels or a plate of grilled sardines is not expensive in Cadiz.

Docked in Cadiz on the MSC Orchestra
Docked in Cadiz on the MSC Orchestra

We have been to Cadiz several times on cruises and the first time we used the hop-on hop-off bus and the times after that we just walked everywhere ourselves including from the cruise port to the beaches.

Hop-on hop-off bus in Cadiz

2. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a fantastic cruise port, both as a departure point and as a cruise day visitor.

The cruise port is situated near the bottom of Las Ramblas, the main street in Barcelona center, so the cruise port is in a great location to walk to the center.

This is a city that combines history, art, and vibrant street life, and there are some outstanding attractions you can easily see on a day visit to the city, such as:

  • Sagrada Familia
  • Park Güell
  • Picasso Museum
  • Montjuïc Castle
  • Las Ramblas
  • and the Gothic Quarter.

The metro system (underground trains) is very clean, affordable, and efficient and this makes getting around the central parts of Barcelona extremely easy.

If you want, for example, to see Sagrada Familia, I recommend just jumping on the metro at the bottom of Las Ramblas by the cruise port and getting the metro to the station at Sagrada Familia.

Other ways to get around include walking out of the port and, at the bottom of Las Ramblas Street, you can easily jump on a red hop-on-hop-off bus if you want to get a day ticket and see all parts of the city.

Valeria and I in Park Güell in Barcelona
Valeria and I in Park Güell in Barcelona

3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Once again, you can walk straight off the boat and start strolling around the quaint Old Town of Dubrovnik, with its cobblestone streets, historic walls, and stunning architecture.

I recommend saving money on any paid excursions when visiting Dubrovnik on your cruise and exploring independently by foot the city walls, visiting the local markets, and exploring the historic sites on foot around this town on the Adriatic Sea.

You might even decide to head to one of the nearby beaches for a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters.

4. Lisbon, Portugal

If you cruise into Lisbon, you will literally be docked right up against the edge of the town center.

The first time we came to Lisbon, we made the mistake of paying for a transfer from the cruise ship to the centre!

Not only was it a waste of money (because we could easily have walked it in 15 minutes) but we got stuck in traffic and it took longer sitting in a mini-van than it would have been to take a pleasant and free walk.

P&O Ventura docked in Lisbon cruise port, Portugal
P&O Ventura docked in Lisbon cruise port, Portugal

Lisbon, just like Cadiz, Barcelona, and Dubrovnik, is a great cruise port to explore on your own given that it has:

  • a compact and easy-to-walk-around central area
  • lots of great shops for souvenirs, bars, and restaurants including by the waterfront
  • plenty of interesting attractions in the center that you can walk to and others that you can very easily get a tram to (such as the historic Belém Tower).

You really do not need to book a shore excursion if visiting Lisbon on a cruise as everything really is within walking distance.

If you are limited in terms of mobility and you are limited to how much you can walk, then in Lisbon and the other places mentioned in this post, then maybe a paid cruise ship excursion is justified.

If you don’t mind walking, then in Lisbon, just get off of the ship and explore!

Touring Lisbon whilst on a P&O Ventura cruise
Touring Lisbon whilst on a P&O Ventura cruise

5. Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel is especially good for water sports. So, if you want to try this type of activity, then a paid cruise excursion might be a good idea time-wise (so that you have time to get to the venue, sort our equipment, and do the activity).

If, on the other hand, you are happy to walk and explore the town of Cozumel, you can easily take a short taxi ride to popular areas such as Chankanaab Beach or simply enjoy the relaxing ambiance of Paradise Beach.

These spots are easily accessible and provide a variety of activities.

6. Nassau, Bahamas

Nassau is another very easy cruise port visit to have on your itinerary as it is another very easy port to explore by yourself.

Stroll through Nassau’s colorful streets, visit the historic Fort Fincastle, and relax on beautiful beaches.

The Queen’s Staircase I highly recommend and the Straw Market Valeria really loved. I’d definitely recommend seeing those two attractions and you can do them by foot from the ship.

The port is situated conveniently close to these attractions, making it feasible to explore independently.

7. Flam & Stravgar, Norway

If you do a fjords cruise to Norway, you might well find that the ports of Flam and Stravgar are included in your itinerary.

A lot of the Norwegian cruise ports are quite small and you can walk straight off the boat and explore, including in the towns of Flam and Stravgar.

Several cruise lines including NCL and P&O offer Norwegian Fjord trips and I highly recommend doing this one time to see the stunning landscapes.

You might though want to go in the spring or summertime so that it is not too cold!

P&O cruise to Norwegian fjords

8. Juneau, Alaska

As the capital of Alaska, Juneau offers a unique blend of stunning landscapes and historical attractions.

I recommend visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, to witness the impressive glacier and its surroundings.

Take a self-guided walk through town to discover local shops, galleries, and the historic Red Dog Saloon.

The cruise port is conveniently located within walking distance of Juneau’s main attractions, so just walk off the boat after breakfast and enjoy a leisurely walk around Juneau.

9. Bermuda (King’s Wharf)

We did not bother with a paid excursion when we were in Bermuda and you really do not need to book one, unless there is a specific shore excursion that really takes your fancy.

King’s Wharf in Bermuda offers a mix of natural beauty and historical charm.

You can also discover the crystal-clear waters at Horseshoe Bay Beach, relax by the beachside, or explore the historic Royal Naval Dockyard, featuring shops, museums, and art galleries.

The cruise port is centrally located, allowing you to enjoy both the island’s natural wonders and its rich history without the need for a guided tour.

10. Key West, Florida

Key West cruise port
Key West cruise port

Known for its easy-going and friendly atmosphere and charming streets, Key West is a paradise for independent exploration.

Discover the famous Southernmost Point marker and take a leisurely stroll along Duval Street, lined with shops, cafes, and galleries.

Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum to learn about the author’s life and admire the resident six-toed cats.

The cruise port is situated close to Key West’s attractions so you can explore the area at your own free will.

11. St. Maarten Cruise Port

This island offers photographic stunning beaches and beautifully clear waters.

Visit Maho Beach to witness planes landing and taking off right above the sand. Afterward, explore the Dutch and French sides of the island for a diverse cultural experience.

Taxis and local transportation options are normally easy to find.

12. George Town, Grand Cayman

Enjoy the stunning Seven Mile Beach or head to the Cayman Turtle Centre for a close encounter with these gentle creatures.

The town is also known for its fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Seven Mile Beach is easily accessible from the port, and the Turtle Centre can be reached using local transportation.

Paul Symonds