The Mediterranean Sea and surrounding region is known as “The Cradle of Civilization.”
A cruise can be an amazing way to immerse yourself in history, culture, foods and outdoors activities that the Mediterranean offers. You can explore the lands and cities where famous figures like Julius Caesar, Nero, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Plato, Marc Anthony and Cleopatra made their names.
It’s not like we get to hop on over to that region regularly. So, a cruise is your chance to tick off several iconic and historic sites from your travel wish list.
The Mediterranean Sea and surrounding region is vast, and Mediterranean cruises can take you dozens of amazing ports to enjoy stunning sun-splashed beaches and a wide range of outdoors activities on and off the water. You can also find all kinds of delicious cuisine and wines to savor. Here are our favorite Mediterranean cruise ports and a few highlights to enjoy during your visit.
Ships embark/disembark at the Civitavecchia cruise terminal about an hour away, and it’s worth planning for an extra day or two before or after your cruise to fulling embrace the Eternal City.
You can’t take more than a few steps in Rome without seeing an ancient monument, fascinating church or important ruins site that tells a story of the republic that was once the center of the world. Top sites to visit include the Colosseum, Pantheon, Circus Maximus, Forum, Trevi Fountain, and Vatican City for St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.
Another popular cruise embarkation city, Barcelona delights visitors with its fascinating architecture, especially the quirky and playful designs of native son Gaudi. Cruisers can easily stroll to the bustling pedestrian street Las Ramblas from the cruise port for shopping, dining or people watching over a pitcher of strong sangria and tasty tapas.
Be sure to visit Sagrada Familia, the massive (still-unfinished) church that is Gaudi’s most-famous work. Other top sites include Barcelona Cathedral, Picasso Museum, Park Guell (another Gaudi masterpiece) and the Gothic Quarter.
The city that once served as the heart of Western civilization and gave birth to democracy is now an interesting mix of the modern and ancient world. Being a big city that offers so much to do and see, it’s worth planning for an extra day at either end of your cruise.
The Athens Acropolis overlooks the city. Climbing the slick well-worn centuries-old cobblestones to the top transports you back in time. Wander the hilltop and gaze at the Parthenon and ruins of several other ancient structures, like the Erechtheum and the Propylaea.
Our favorite destination in Athens is the Plaka Quarter, a neighborhood near the Acropolis filled with small shops, taverns and restaurants on narrow cobblestone streets. This is a great place to mix in with locals and enjoy real Greek cuisine. You might also like to watch the energetic changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier right at Syntagma Square, which sits in the heart of the city.
The city sits at the edge of the Adriatic Sea, with its tapestry of orange rooftops marking the loving restoration of the Old Town since the heavy destruction incurred during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991 and 1992 during the Croatian War of Independence.
The Old City is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. With cobbled streets, stone steps and large walls, the fortress is breathtaking. “Game of Thrones” fans love taking tours of filming locations around Dubrovnik for the massively popular HBO series. You can also walk the ramparts getting a view of the Old Town and its idyllic harbor from high on the walls. Nearby Banje Beach is a nice area to go for a dip in the clear sea.
A visit to Venice is a truly transcendent experience, and sailing into the city by cruise ship is a spectacular way to greet this floating marvel. I highly recommend just walking to get blissfully lost in the maze of streets, bridges and canals. Start early and aim to head toward St. Mark’s Square to visit the beautiful basilica, bell tower and surrounding buildings. Make time to see the Doge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs, Rialto Bridge and Jewish Ghetto.
Getting tired from walking? Hop on a vaporetto for a ride in the Grand Canal and over to Burano and Murano to see the manufacturing process and museums of the famous Murano glassware. You can also try a romantic gondola ride through the canals that carve their way through Venice. Don’t forget to make time for a great meal and some wine at sunset. The city is filled with amazing restaurants where you can dine al fresco and just watch the world go by.
On the Aegean Sea on Turkey’s western coastline, Kusadasi is the gateway to the remarkably preserved ancient Greek and Roman city of Ephesus, located 30 miles away. The highlights of Ephesus are the ruins of the Temple of Artemis and the largely intact Library of Celsus. Visitors are amazed to be able to walk on ancient Roman roadways and feel as if you are caught in a moment in time. You can wander through a bathhouse and brothel, as well as into the Great Theatre, down Marble Street and along the massive city walls.
A cruise tour from Kusadasi also might include a visit to a village like Sirince, where you can try tea, wines, olive oil or a traditional Turkish lunch. Be sure to treat yourself to Turkish Delight, too.
This quaint cruise port on the quiet Greek village offers plenty to do nearby, such as enjoy a seaside cafe or day at the beach. However, this is the port that gets you to ancient Olympia and the grounds that hosted the very first Olympic Games. A train takes you straight to the site, or you can join your cruise ship tour to Olympia.
At the ancient site, you can visit the museum that houses artifacts — which are still being pulled from the grounds there – like art pieces, statues, busts and columns. The grounds are also filled with marble column pieces, and a highlight is to enter the stadium and take a run for glory on the old track. You also can stop by to see the spot on the ancient site where the Olympic torch is lit before it makes its way around the world on its way to the site of the modern Olympic Games.
Pizza and Pompeii are on order at this cruise port. The simple pizza Margherita and pizza marinara are famous staples that own a prestigious place in the history of the city. On any cruise stop in Naples, passengers should seriously consider planning for a delicious pizza break at any of the numerous eateries that create these wood-fired delights.
A cruise excursion to Pompeii also makes for a fascinating look at the town that was frozen in time when the exploding Mount Vesuvius belched forth a storm of ashes and lava in 79 AD. Wander the stone streets to see the temples, amphitheater, buildings, walls and houses that were excavated after centuries of being buried beneath heaps of ash. The ash helped to preserve all this, and it’s incredible to think about how life must have been in the bustling urban center right up to the moments that the disaster struck.
Other top things to do on a cruise to Naples include a boat ride to Capri to spend a few hours walking the coast or enjoying the sunshine at a cafe with wine (now might be a good time to have that pizza, too) and a tour to the Blue Grotto cave.
These are just our top eight spots to visit in the Mediterranean on a cruise, but there are many more. In addition to these fascinating and historically significant sites, you can also look for itineraries that give you the chance to bask in the sunshine and vibrant culture in such places as Mykonos, Monte Carlo, Santorini, Florence, St. Tropez, Crete, Ibiza and Malaga.
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