With winter slowly releasing its icy grip on the UK and average temperatures beginning to inch upwards, many people's thoughts will be turning to the arrival of spring and the refreshing holiday opportunities that come with it.
Modern ferry links mean that some of the most popular holiday hotspots in Europe are but a short sea journey away for most, and with the Easter break just around the corner there has never been a better time to discover some of the destinations that lie on our doorstep.Isle of Wight
Tucked away neatly on England's south coast, the Isle of Wight is often overlooked by Brits searching for their next holiday destination. The island is just a short ferry trip away and is home to several family-friendly attractions and sights.
Arguably the most famous attraction of all on the Isle of Wight is the Needles, a series of three chalk stacks that rise from the sea off the island's westernmost point. They are located near Alum Bay, which itself is a popular tourist site known for its multicoloured cliffs.
There are also plenty of man-made attractions on the island that cater for families, including the Blackgang Chine theme park near Ventnor, which is home to dozens of attractions to interest visitors of all ages.
Easter will be celebrated with some themed events on the Isle of Wight, including special rides on the island's Steam Railway between April 2nd and 5th and an egg hunt at Mottistone Manor Garden on April 4th.Wightlink
is one of the main operators serving the Isle of Wight, with regular ferries from Portsmouth to Fishbourne
and Ryde along with a Lymington to Yarmouth ferry service. Hovertravel
also provides crossings from Southsea to Ryde.Isle of Wight ferry routesNorthern France
France has long been a popular destination among British holidaymakers and this Easter is set to be no different. Ferry crossings from the south coasts of England and Ireland provide easy access to Brittany and Normandy, two of the country's most popular and interesting regions.
One sight not to be missed for people who visit north-west France is Mont Saint-Michel, a rocky island near the borders between Brittany and Normandy famous for its medieval abbey and church.
Holidaymakers can also sail from Dover to explore north-east France. This part of the country is home to the Champagne-Ardenne region - which is popular among wine enthusiasts - and historic cities such as Reims and Strasbourg.
One of the leading providers of sea crossings to northern France is Brittany Ferries
. The company offers ferries to St Malo, Caen and Cherbourg from Portsmouth, as well as a Cork to Roscoff ferry service for Irish travellers.
Other options include LD Lines
' ferries to Le Havre from Portsmouth and Condor Ferries
' links to St Malo from Poole and Weymouth.
Both P&O Ferries
serve the popular Dover to Calais ferry
route, while Norfolkline
provides ferries to Dunkerque from Dover.France ferry routesThe Netherlands
The Netherlands is home to one of Europe's most popular city break destinations, as well as picturesque rural areas that could lure visitors beyond its major urban areas.
Amsterdam is certainly one of the locations that should not be missed by anyone visiting Holland. One of the most fulfilling experiences is simply going for a walk around the city to see its historic architecture, canals, churches and windmills. Culture vultures will want to pay a visit to famous attractions such as the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum.
Travellers might also be interested in visiting some of the country's big cities during the Easter period as they host major events, such as the Motel Mozaique arts festival in Rotterdam from April 8th to 11th and the Race of the Classics regatta, which will set off from Rotterdam on April 5th and return to Amsterdam on April 11th.
Those who venture beyond the big cities can visit attractions like the Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world, just outside Lisse and the Het Loo Palace near Apeldoorn.
People based in northern England can take ferries to Amsterdam from Newcastle with DFDS Seaways
or travel on P&O Ferries
' Hull to Rotterdam ferry route, while Stena Line
offers ferries to Hook of Holland from Harwich.Holland ferry routesNorthern Spain
Southern Spain might grab all the headlines in tourism terms, but there is plenty for holidaymakers to discover on the country's northern coast.
One of the highlights of the region for visitors is the picturesque port city of Santander, which is the capital of the Cantabria province and home to the beaches of Magdalena, Sardinero, Matalenas and Camello. The most famous local attraction is the Magdalena Palace, which was formerly used as a summer holiday retreat by members of the Spanish royal family.
Other popular holiday destinations in northern Spain include Bilbao in the Basque Country and Oviedo in Asturias, which is home to several cathedrals, churches and other historic sites, some of which feature on the Unesco World Heritage list.
People who are looking for some adventure during their holidays this year will find plenty to pique their interest in northern Spain, with several popular surfing beaches in locations such as Torrelavega and San Vicente de la Barquera. The region's rugged coastline also provides the opportunity to try caving, rock climbing, hiking and other pursuits.
Brittany Ferries offers Santander ferry services from Plymouth and Portsmouth that provide convenient access to northern Spain and plenty of onboard facilities for passengers to enjoy during their journey.
Another option is P&O Ferries
' Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry route, which will operate until September this year.Spain ferry routesIreland
Located just a short sea journey away, Ireland represents a world of holiday opportunities for those in the UK.
Within easy reach are the vibrant cities of Dublin and Belfast, where visitors can absorb contemporary culture, learn about local history or enjoy some live entertainment. Highlights of the cities include the National Museum of Ireland and the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin and Belfast's City Hall and Saint Anne's Cathedral.
While its cities provide some exciting and memorable opportunities, arguably the strongest element of Ireland's appeal to tourists is its range of natural attractions. People heading to Northern Ireland can visit County Antrim to take in the unique spectacle of the Giant's Causeway, while those bound for the Republic of Ireland's west coast can see the stunning sights of Galway Bay and the Cliffs of Moher.
Easter will be celebrated in Ireland this year with events such as the Walking Festival in Westport from April 3rd to 6th and a family fun day and parade in Bangor on April 5th.
Stena Line is one of the leading operators serving the destination, with ferries to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire from Holyhead, along with a Fishguard to Rosslare ferry service. The company also offers a Stranraer to Belfast ferry link and ferries to Larne from Fleetwood for people planning to visit Northern Ireland.Irish Ferries
sails to Rosslare from Pembroke and to Dublin from Holyhead, while both P&O Ferries
and Norfolkline Irish Sea
operate regular crossings on the Liverpool to Dublin ferry route.Ireland ferry routes
Posted by Andrew Smith