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With National Ferry Fortnight running from 5 – 19 March 2016 with the theme “Be a Ferry First-Timer”, here are some great ferry destinations to consider for the first time, or indeed to experience again, recommended by the twelve ferry operator members of Discover Ferries. These ferry destinations are a must for anyone looking for a great holiday or short break!

Island Hopping

Island hopping offers the ultimate in ferry destinations. The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company has now made it a ‘smooth sailing’ to the stunning Scilly Isles. For 2016 travellers can a buy a pass for the world famous sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Gardens on board which entitles them to a take a special excursion boat to Abbey Gardens on the car-free island of Tresco. www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk

The Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey are ideal first-time ferry destinations for a family holiday, with their combination of sandy beaches, family-friendly attractions, delicious seafood dining and unique Anglo-French culture – not to mention the warmest weather in the British Isles.

There’s plenty to look forward to in 2016 as Condor Ferries’ exciting new ship continues to ferry visitors to the beautiful ferry destinations of Guernsey and Jersey on the Condor Liberation, with a much smoother and more comfortable ride. There’s also a new range of seating options, with spacious passenger lounges, bars and bistro, and a new on board duty free shop, and kid’s play area. St Brelade’s Bay is on the south coast of Jersey and boasts soft white sand to relax on and stunning gardens to discover. With cafés, restaurants and hotels surrounding the bay there is plenty of choice to stop for lunch with the family before a visit to 400 year old Elizabeth Castle. On the island of Guernsey, thrill-seekers can get in gear at Guernsey Karting, where the circuit caters for all ages, or history buffs will enjoy an afternoon exploring Hauteville House, home of the great writer, Victor Hugo. www.condorferries.co.uk

The Isle of Man famously has ‘something for everyone’ and there’s so much to explore in the Isle of Man that every visit can feel like the first time. It could be hiking through stunning scenery, playing on sandy beaches, exploring thousands of years of Viking and Celtic history including the magnificent Castle Rushen, one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe, or experiencing the incredible local cuisine. Look to the air, land or sea and there are hours of enjoyment for wildlife enthusiasts, with seals, basking sharks, kittiwakes and even wild wallabies. Year-round sailings from Heysham, and seasonal services from Liverpool, Birkenhead, Dublin and Belfast, make reaching the Isle of Man on the Steam Packet Company’s vessels hassle-free. www.steam-packet.com

Just a short trip over the Solent from Portsmouth or Lymington with Wightlink Ferries, the Isle of Wight has a host of attractions and countryside ready to be explored. With Wightlink Ferries the holiday starts as soon as you step on board one of a choice of spacious car ferry or foot passenger ferries, and with a journey time of under 50 minutes it’s easier than ever to take the family away – complaint-free. Ferry destinations don’t come much better than this! www.wightlink.co.uk

Red Funnel vehicle ferries and Red Jet Hi-Speed foot passenger services run regularly to the Isle of Wight from Southampton. Red Funnel has partnered with a number of the Isle of Wight’s best attractions, to offer up to one third off entrance tickets when booked with Red Funnel ferry crossings. Visitors can take their pick from Dinosaur Isle, Isle of Wight Zoo, Seaview Wildlife Encounter, Blackgang Chine, and Wight Karting. www.redfunnel.co.uk

With NorthLink Ferries, travelling to the ferry destinations of Orkney and Shetland is more convenient than ever before and should be considered as a great first-time option for those considering taking a domestic holiday. There is a choice from up to three sailings a day from Scrabster (near Thurso) to Stromness in Orkney, or a nightly sailing from Aberdeen to Lerwick in Shetland – with four of these sailings going via Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall.There are many activities to enjoy in Orkney – a land full of wonder and mystery. Whether it is following the trails to ancient Viking sites for a taster of the islands’ history, the Orkney Craft Trail or visiting artists at work, there is truly something for all ages and interests. The fresh air, tranquility and freedom make Shetland another great destination for those holidaying with children. Natural attractions are second to none – check out the Wildlife Explorer Group at Sumburgh Head, and more than 70 play parks and the fantastic selection of leisure centres have become holiday attractions in their own right. www.northlinkferries.co.uk

Unlock the magic of the West coast of Scotland with a visit to spectacular Mount Stuart or discover one of Britain’s most spectacular Victorian Gothic mansions with just a 35 minute ferry ride to the beautiful Isle of Bute, followed by a guided tour of the 300 acre estate and gardens. For whisky lovers, there’s no better time to visit the West coast, famous for its whisky production, by touring the Whisky Coast trail. www.calmac.co.uk

Bonjour La France

France is of course a well-known destination for UK and Irish travellers but with so much on offer there’s still plenty to discover for those looking for a nearby holiday that won’t break the bank. There are numerous fantastic beaches dotted along the northern France coastline, and all are within easy reach of ports on the South Coast.

Take the Dover to Calais ferry crossing and head along the beautiful Cap d’Opal – the Opal Coast – towards Boulogne, taking in a string of beautiful beaches and coves before visiting the impressive Nausicaa museum. Or head off to explore the wide open spaces and natural beauty of France’s emerging eco-tourism destination, the Baie de Somme in Northern France. And as the Baie de Somme is commonly cited as one of Europe’s most important stopover destinations for migratory birds, no trip would be complete without visiting the Marquenterre Nature Reserve, where over 360 different species of birds have been observed. www.poferries.com

Dunkirk hosts an annual wine, beer and artisan food festival celebrating the region’s produce and visitors can immerse themselves in the history of the First and Second World War with a tour of Dunkirk beach and Port Museum. www.dfdsseaways.co.uk

Brittany ferries also acts as a gateway to the ferry destinations of Normandy, Brittany & western France with destination ports in Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo and Roscoff, where you can discover delicious cuisine, a wealth of history and unprecedented beauty. Enjoy a re-enactment of the Viking battles at Puy du Fou, an exhilarating medieval theme park in Vendée western France or stock up on some goodies in the old market town. www.brittany-ferries.co.uk

Travellers from Ireland can sail from Dublin or Rosslare to Cherbourg and from Rosslare to Roscoff. www.irishferries.com

Coming Up Tulips in Holland

For those planning a romantic getaway for the first time, holidaymakers can now travel to Holland and stay in chic Dutch holiday village Hof van Saksen with Stena Line. Featuring typical local farmhouses set around a sand-fringed lake, a smorgasbord of dining options and a top-of-the-range spa and wellness centre, visitors can take in that Dutch charm in idyllic surrounds. www.stenaline.co.uk

DFDS Seaways’ Newcastle service, offers holidaymakers a direct route into Amsterdam. The mini cruise packages offer passengers the perfect combination of a cruise city break and include two nights’ accommodation on board and up to five hours to explore Amsterdam city centre. For those who have never been before, now is the time to explore the incredible city which is so close to home. The city boasts some of the world’s finest art galleries, historic sites including Anne Frank’s House as well as shops, picturesque canals and one of the oldest zoos in Europe, the Artis Zoo. www.dfdsseaways.co.uk

Discovering That Irish Charm

Ireland packs a huge variety of landscapes into a small country, making it the perfect touring destination. A visit to the nation’s capital, Dublin is a must for those who’ve never been before and is home to top attractions such as Dublin Zoo, The Guinness Storehouse and The National Gallery of Ireland, let alone the pubs, and is accessible from Liverpool with P&O Ferries, www.poferries.com and from Holyhead with Irish Ferries, www.irishferries.com. Or for those coming from from Troon and Cairnryan, there are ferries direct to Larne where the Causeway Coast and Giant’s Causeway more than merits its World Heritage Site status and is a must-see.

Last summer, The Gobbins cliff path in Northern Ireland, located along the Causeway Costal Route, re-opened for the first time since the 1900’s. For adventurers looking for a new thrill this white-knuckle walk is ideal and a great way to experience the raw nature of the coast, and is only a quick hop over the Irish Sea.  www.stenaline.co.uk

Viva España

From the 7 – 9 July this year, the Spanish port of Bilbao, will once again draw in music lovers from all over Europe. With headliners Arcade Fire and many more big bands playing, the Bilbao BBK Festival 2016 will welcome in the crowds to celebrate the arrival of summer. www.brittany-ferries.co.uk