Sailing holidays in Europe: six bucket list destinations

sailing in Croatia

With days spent soaring over jewel-bright waters, and nights whiled away under wide, starry skies, sailing holidays are an enticing way to experience a destination. Here in Europe, we’re blessed with a diverse range of different waters, from the balmy waves of the Ionian Sea to the Solent’s teeming village of sailing enthusiasts. Here are some top European sailing destinations, straight from our bucket list.

Sailing in Europe: which sailing holidays to pick?

The type of sailing holiday you opt for will depend on your level of proficiency. There are three types of sailing holidays. Skippered charters are where you pay a skipper to navigate and sail. They’re good for novices. With bareboat charters, you sail the rented boat yourself. You need a sailing licence for this. On bareboat holidays, you can sail away on your own terms and follow your own itinerary. Flotilla holidays are where a qualified sailor guides a group of yachts sailed by people of mixed ability.

Many operators offer learn to sail holidays, where novices or complete beginners spend a week or more with a skipper, who teaches them how to handle a boat. These sorts of holidays often offer the chance to gain a sailing qualification.

Brittany, France

sailing boats in the Glenan archipelago

Sailing schools are plentiful off the coast of Brittany, France

The most recognisable fashion export from Brittany might give a clue as to the depth of its people’s love for the sea. The navy-and-white striped Breton top immediately conjures up sapphire seas, rugged coastal scenery and tide-swept beaches. With more than 2700 kilometres of coastline, Brittany deserves its reputation as a seafarer’s heaven.

Several sailing charter companies run along this western outcrop of France, covering stretches of water from La Manche south of Falmouth, through the Pink Granite Coast with its iconic rose-coloured granite formations, and out into the Atlantic, where the cerulean seas around clusters of islets like the Glénan Archipelago could hoodwink travellers into believing they’d arrived in the Caribbean.

Brittany’s fast tides and cool seas are teeming with langoustines, spider crab and white fish. After a day of sailing under open Breton skies, these fresh seafood dishes make a great pairing with good French wine.

Sail Croatia: head beyond Game of Thrones

With its recent fame as the location of hit TV series Game of Thrones, Croatia has become a popular destination. Particularly Dubrovnik, the site of the fictional King’s Landing, and the holiday resort of Split. But Croatia also has a host of unspoilt islands just waiting to be explored.

Yacht charter in Croatia typically centres around the 30+ islands off the central Dalmatian Coast, near Split. These beguiling islands, with their romantic, mysterious names like Solta, Hvar, Vis, and Brac, feature medieval walled towns, secluded bays, charming harbours, traditional villages, and clear, sapphire blue waters.

Wild, rugged, and mostly uninhabited, the Dalmatian Islands are a big draw for people seeking sailing holidays in Croatia. Lots of these Mediterranean islands are protected as national parks, awash with stunning natural beauty.

Solent, south of England

ship in the Solent

The Solent is a popular sailing destination. Image from Pixabay

The Solent coastline is a 20 mile-long stretch of water off the south coast of England. It begins in Barton on Sea, then carries on via  Southampton, Gosport and Portsmouth. The Solent is possibly one of the busiest and most famous sailing areas in the world, hosting the interational sailing event Cowes Week. King Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose sunk in the Solent, in 1545. Through a colossal feat of technology, experts raised the ship off the seabed in the mid-1980s. The Mary Rose is now displayed in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

The Solent coastline teems with sailing clubs and Solent yacht charter companies. Invitingly pretty fishing ports like Chichester, Yarmouth and Lymington make great stopping points. The picturesque South Downs and the New Forest are easily accessible from shore.

Sailing holidays in Greece

Travellers looking for Greek sailing holidays have a choice of island territories. The relaxing waters of the Ionian Sea can be reached via charter boats from Corfu and Lefkada. This might be a good choice for sailing holidays for beginners, or family sailing holidays. The Ionian islands, which run parallel with west side of Greece’s mainland, have a completely different character to those in the Aegean. One unmissable experience is to anchor in Agios Nikolaos bay, and visit the Blue Caves of Zakynthos, accessible only by boat. Look out for rare loggerhead turtles, Caretta caretta, while they’re en route to Zakynthos’s southern beaches to lay their eggs.

The Cyclades or the Argo-Saronic islands are easily accessible from Athens. Sailors can launch from Alimos (or Kalamaki), Greece’s biggest charter base.  The Cyclades is more challenging for sailors in July-August, when the meltemi wind reaches peak ferocity. The Dodecanese can also be windy, but to a lesser extent. Kos and Rhodes are the set-off points for Dodecanese sailing holidays.

Yacht charter in Scotland

boat on Loch Ness

Scotland’s lochs are a good place to charter a yacht

Scotland is growing in popularity as a cruising destination, with well-equipped docking points up and down the country, catering for all classes of boat. Scotland’s great lochs, its picturesque canals and the breathtaking beauty of its unspoilt islands, make for a diverse range of sailing opportunities.

Bucket list experiences stack up nicely when sailing Scotland’s coastline. Sailors approaching Argyll and its islands from the south or east can experience ‘Britain’s prettiest short-cut’, the Crinan Canal, with pubs peppered along the canal at Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, Cairnbaan and Crinan. The sheltered Firth of Clyde has ten of the best large marinas in the UK, and leads on to the exciting, vibrant city of Glasgow. Orkney and Shetland‘s islands make for good whale-spotting, while the Moray Firth has a resident population of bottlenose dolphins. With a plethora of castles and links back to Viking forebears, a Scottish sailing holiday would bring a big dose of history, as well as natural beauty and wildlife.

Sailing adventure in Finland

Finland archipelago

Sailing the Finnish Archipelago is very different to a sailing experience in southern Europe. Image from Pixabay

A Finnish sailing holiday is a different prospect entirely to sailing holidays in the Med. It never gets really dark in Finland in July, and the average temperature in summer is around 20°C. So travellers need to remember to pack jumpers for chilly evenings, and a mac for the rainy days.

With thousands of uninhabited islands, the Finnish Archipelago is the most dense in the world, and is a real test of sailors’ navigational skills. But a sailing adventure off Finland’s Baltic coast would be a unique chance to experience the forested, green and lush landscape of the islands. Tiny settlements pepper the archipelago, with histories dating back hundreds of years. Visitors can experience their traditional ways of life, as well as popping into one of the many saunas that are widespread across the islands.

Heading inland, Lake Saimaa is the second largest lake in the European Union, with plenty of scope for sailing. If you’re lucky you may even spot a rare Saimaa ringed seal.

Sailing holidays in Finland aren’t as readily available as those in southern European countries. This is partly due to the short window of opportunity. Sailing the archipelago isn’t fun outside the summer months. But I like the look of this Finland sailing trip, and more information is available on the Visit Finland website.

Have you been sailing in Europe? Where would you like to go?

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Sailing in Europe bucket list destinations

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