While the Mediterranean embraces the sunny, southern shores of Europe's coastlines, and fairybook Northern European countries are found along the Baltic Sea, the mighty Atlantic Ocean touches many other European countries, from northern and western France, Belgium and the Netherlands' sea borders to Portugal and the northwestern coast of Spain, offering their own distinct cruise experiences. Many of these ports can be reached easily from the UK without the need for any flying, and often make for popular mini cruise itineraries, as they're usually much closer.
France's Atlantic coastline covers the historic ports in the region of Normandy - renowned for the famous D-Day Landings, white cliffs, and charming, half-timbered medieval towns - the Roman ruins, untamed coastline, wild forests and proudly independent spirit of Brittany, and all the way along France's western shores to popular seaside cities such as La Rochelle in the southwest. The French Atlantic coasts (particularly further north) may not be quite as sun-drenched as the country's southern Mediterranean shores, but you'll find just as much culture, history, and excellent cuisine, particularly seafood such as oysters and mussels, and fine wines (and even ciders), and perhaps a more laid-back feel.
On the north and northwestern shores of Spain, the Basque Country, Asturias and Galicia regions lie on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The Basque Country is renowned for its celebrated cuisine - particularly pintxos, the region's answer to tapas - strong, cultural traditions and sense of identity, and its own distinct language which predates the Romance languages. Most of its cities - including Pamplona, host of the infamous Running of the Bulls festival - are further inland, but Bilbao is a vibrant riverside city accessible from the port of Getxo, which has seen a dazzling reinvention with a revitalised waterfront and a newfound cultural hub. On the northwesternmost point of Spain, along dramatic and wild coastlines, the region of Galicia and its western cliffs at Cape Finisterre were, for the Romans, the 'end of the known world'. Similarly to the Basque Country, Galicia boasts its own language and distinctive customs. The Galician coast is resplendent with beautiful beaches, charming fishing ports, and claims to bring in the best seafood in Spain. Asturias claims to be the only region of Spain never conquered by the Muslims, and Asturians boast that their region is the real Spain. Wildly dramatic coastline is home to colourful fishing ports and over two hundred beaches, and the region is characterised by its pre-Romanesque architecture.
However, because the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas are connected to the Atlantic, ports along Europe's Atlantic coasts are often easily combined with a Mediterranean or Baltic cruise.