Cruise Guide to the Mediterranean
If you’re thinking about a Mediterranean cruise, you’re in luck. There are many beautiful, historical, and sun-soaked destinations that you can explore at your leisure. In this article, we will shed light on some of the best things to see or do at each popular stopover within the region so that you can make an informed decision about your holiday route. From the verdant landscapes and rolling hills of Tuscany in Italy to the rich history of Greece and its islands, with a cruise through the Mediterranean, you can see it all. In terms of gastronomy, the cuisine in this region is well-renowned internationally and a feast for the palate. There are more delicious dishes shared between the countries than you’ll have time to try. So whether your priority is sightseeing, world-class cuisine, or purely relaxation, then you won’t be disappointed at any of these cruise stops.
A starting point for many cruises through the Med, the stunning port city of Barcelona in Spain is the capital of Catalonia, and one of the country’s highlights. Cruise Barcelona and you get the unique opportunity to take in a bustling city that also has incredible beaches, incredible history, and exceptional food – Barcelona has something for everyone. Gothic architecture is plentiful in the city and can make you feel as if you had travelled back in time. To add to that, the world-renowned architect Gaudí left his stamp on the Spanish town with a collection of weird and wonderful works of art, which include the iconic Sagrada Familia, and the impressive Park Güell which offers some of the best views of Barcelona. The spring and summer months in Barcelona are ideal times to cruise, be sure to check out our Barcelona weather guide for up to date information.
Serving as a modern-day homage to famed architect Antoni Gaudí, Park Güell sits high above the city and is home to many impressive structures and monuments which illustrate Gaudí’s artistic style, which was coined Catalan modernism. Tourists flock here not only to marvel at Gaudí’s works of art but also to take in the breathtaking views from the lookout. With the urban sprawl of Barcelona and the blue horizon of the sea as a backdrop, Park Güell is well worth a visit should your cruise begin here. Another reason to take the time out to explore the park is due to its revered status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site status, which was granted in 1984.
While Gaudí’s impression on the Catalonian capital is undeniable and evident all across the city, there is one area of the city which has a distinct medieval influence: the Gothic Quarter. Here you will find remnants of life dating back centuries; in fact, this area of the city used to be a Roman village at one point in time. The most enchanting thing about the Gothic Quarter is getting lost in the winding medieval streets, and noticing the ancient buildings side by side with recent builds. Along with these stark contrasts, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to European-style plazas, and places to stop for a drink at night, or a snack during the day.
One of the best ways to explore Barcelona – or indeed any Spanish city – is through the cuisine. As is well-known, the Spanish enjoy sitting outside in sun-soaked terraces and plazas, indulging in refreshing beer and tasty tapas. With that in mind, what better way to get to know the city than by hopping from bar to bar sampling some of the best local tapas? A great place to start is in the aforementioned Gothic Quarter. Full of lively bars in a medieval setting, you’ll have plenty of tapas to work your way through during lunchtime. Bar La Plata has been singled out as one of the best bars for tapas in the whole city, so be sure to give it a try if you’re in the area.
Palma De Mallorca (Spain)
Palma de Mallorca is the biggest of the Balearic islands, and as such, is situated just off the eastern coast of Spain. The capital of the islands, Palma de Mallorca is in many ways their crowning jewel. Home to some of the most idyllic beaches in Europe, as well as spectacular examples of Gothic and Moorish architecture, there’s a lot to experience on this Spanish island. For a whirlwind Mediterranean cruise stop, take a stroll around the island and take in the beautiful sights and breathtaking scenery. Palma de Mallorca has all the ingredients for a fun-filled day during your cruise through this southern European region.
An excellent way to take in the surrounding scenery, Bellver Castle looms over the city from its hilltop location. A 14th century round castle, – a rarity in Spain- this is one for history buffs and casual sightseers alike. Surrounded by pine trees, the Bellver Castle houses an insightful museum and seems to defy time with its almost perfectly preserved exterior. Take a walk around the castle’s courtyard, moat, and upper level to get a feel for what it was like to reside in the castle. Bellver roughly translates from Catalan to mean ‘beautiful view,’ so you can see for yourself why the castle was given such a name as you look out over the bay.
Something else you might consider on a cruise stop in the idyllic island of Mallorca is getting up close and personal with some of the local sea life at Palma Aquarium. Given that there is an abundance of aquatic life surrounding the island, it would be a shame not to learn more about it and see some of the larger mammals in person. What makes this particular aquarium unique is that it is home to the deepest shark tank in Europe, reason enough to take time out of your day to visit. Great for both families and individuals, the aquarium will give you a good idea of how diverse life is around the Balearic Islands.
Passeig des Born
A popular, large tree-lined street in Palma de Mallorca, Passeig des Born is a great spot to head to when you’re feeling a little peckish and want to watch the world go by. A very exotic-feeling avenue, the towering green trees of Passeig des Born are perfect for seeking shelter from the sweltering sun. While there, make sure to take the weight of your legs at one of the many lively bars and people-watch to your heart’s content. If you happen to be in Palma de Mallorca around Christmas time, you’ll be treated to a spectacular light display along this street, which will rival any Christmas lights.
Civitavecchia is a port town about 80km north of Rome, where many European cruises depart from. There are many transfer options between Civitavecchia and Rome, so exploring the Italian capital will not be difficult. Known as ‘La Città Eterna,’ or the Eternal City, Rome is one of the best places to reflect on ancient history and marvel at some of the Roman civilization’s most impressive accomplishments, such as the grand Colosseum and the old Roman Forum. If you are at all interested in ancient history, you will take immense pleasure from wandering around the old streets and stumbling across monuments that have been standing longer than some countries have existed. Even if you’re just interested in Italian cuisine and the sunny Rome weather, you won’t regret a visit to Italy’s capital.
No trip to Rome would be complete without at least passing by the epic Colosseum. A staggeringly large structure, the Colosseum used to be an amphitheater which laid on gladiator fights and other events for the locals. With an estimated capacity of between 50,000 and 80,000, – which at the time made it the biggest amphitheater around – you can only imagine what the deafening roar of the crowd would have been like between its arched walls. Quite astonishingly, the Colosseum didn’t only host gladiator fights, but also animal fights, executions, and even mock sea battles.
Providing a stark contrast with the raucous entertainment put on by the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel is a place for silent admiration and solemn contemplation. Even if churches, cathedrals, and chapels aren’t usually at the top of your list when visiting a new city, you should make an exception for the Sistine Chapel. Residing within the walls of the Vatican City, (a small country and the home of the Pope) the Sistine Chapel has been around since the 15th century and is most famous for the jaw-dropping depiction of The Last Judgment. Michelangelo painted the fresco on the ceiling of the chapel, making it famous around the world, and an incredibly popular tourist attraction.
Once you’ve got your fill of ancient history and stunning artwork, you’re likely to want to take a break from the scorching sun and cool off with Italian gelato. It’s no secret that the Italians make great gelato – along with pasta and pizza, of course, – and you should ensure you get one during your brief stay in the city. Gelato is made using whole milk as opposed to lots of cream and has a much smoother texture than ice cream. Plus, it comes in mouth-wateringly delicious flavours. An excellent place to head for gelato is the Trevi Fountain. That way, you can savour it while you contemplate how many coins to toss into the fountain.
The nearest cruise port to Florence is the town of Livorno. From here your cruise ship will be able to organise day trips to the world renowned city of Florence. Capital of the verdant Italian region of Tuscany, Florence is a city with a considerable Renaissance influence, which is reflected in everything from art to architecture. As well as serving as the home to some of the most influential Renaissance artists’ works at the Uffizi gallery, Florence also offers up plenty to see and do for the passing tourist. In the Tuscan capital, you can sample some of the region’s best food, marvel at Renaissance architecture, or get lost in the city’s romantic streets and riverside districts. If your cruise includes Florence (via the port of Livorno), be sure to take this opportunity to visit and experience one of the world’s most truly remarkable cities.
Just like the Louvre in Paris, the Uffizi Gallery is held in high regard as an art museum and is worthwhile whether you consider yourself a lover of art or not. Situated right in the heart of the historic centre of the city, the Uffizi Gallery ranks up there as probably the best art gallery in the country. It has one of the largest collections of any art gallery. The Uffizi gallery first opened its doors to the public in 1765 and has now become one of the most popular and most visited art galleries in existence. To give you just a taste of what you can expect here, within its walls, the Uffizi Gallery contains works from Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, and Botticelli, to name just a few.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
The first thing you’ll think of when you think of Florence, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore stands out for the awe-inspiring domed roof, which can be seen from miles away. The cathedral was built in the 13th century, and its eye-catching design is unique, even within Italy. The large dome is considered the largest brick dome ever built, which makes it all the more impressive. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cathedral is responsible for generating a lot of tourism in the city, and understandably so.
During your stay in the Tuscan capital, you’d be well-advised to tuck into some of the local food and try some of the dishes that Florence is known for. Fun fact: Tuscany is home to the original garlic bread. That’s right, before it became what we know it to be today, garlic bread had a much more rustic feel to it. Known as ‘fettunta,’ this garlic bread is made by rubbing a raw garlic glove over grilled bread, before being drizzles with some of the best olive oil and seasoned with sea salt. If that doesn’t stir up your appetite, or you’d prefer a low-carb alternative, maybe you’d enjoy a simple deconstructed pasta dish. ‘Ravioli Nudi,’ or naked ravioli, is Tuscany’s minimalist pasta dish, which has everything but the pasta itself.
The city of canals, Venice has a reputation for being one of the most romantic and enchanting holiday getaway destinations. Most cruise ships visiting Venice will dock at Baciono Della Stazione Marittima, which is just south of the city. Many of the major cruise lines offer transfers into the main tourist region of St Marks Square . The floating city is a marvel in itself, a magical place where boats and gondolas are the most common way to travel around, and roads don’t even exist. Venice is a place to let your curiosity guide you, and re-discover that childlike sense of wonder as you contemplate how such a city can stay afloat (literally).
St. Mark’s Square
A thriving social hub of Venice, St. Mark’s Square is usually bursting with activity, and it’s easy to see why. However busy it gets though, it’s hard to feel trapped in the sizeable central square, as it looks out onto the tranquil water. In fact, you can even enter the square from the water if you want to ensure a truly memorable first impression. In the square, you’ll instantly notice the impressive ‘Campanile di San Marco’, or the bell tower of the Basilica, the Basilica itself, and the Doges Palace. Make sure you stop off at one of the elegant cafes looking out over the water for a ‘caffè latte’ or a typical Bellini cocktail.
The largest in the city’s vast canal network, the Grand Canal is a sight to behold, and one that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. Starting in the lagoon, the Grand Canal goes all the way to the San Marco Basin on the other side of the city, forming an S-like shape on its way. As you wander through the city, every now and again, you will come across the Grand Canal, and it’s worth stopping to watch the gondolas and boats pass by below as you stand on a bridge. Make sure you head to the Rialto Bridge for the most impressive Grand Canal crossing experience in Venice.
Aperitivo By the Canal
One of the best things about ‘La Dolce Vita’ is the aperitivo culture. What this means for most Italians is a refreshing cocktail and some light snacks before dinner, typically between the hours of 7 and 9pm. The most common drink during aperitivo is Campari, a bitter liqueur made from herbs and fruit. This is often mixed with Prosecco to make an aperol spritz, which is the perfect drink to sip on while you stand by one of the many canals and watch the gondolas gracefully pass by. Many bars will let you take your aperitivo snacks and drink outside, so you can really soak up the Venice vibe.
An idyllic island which will show off a completely different side to Italy, Capri is nestled in the Bay of Naples. Capri is an extravagant destination full of high-end shopping, gourmet dining experiences, and unforgettable views over the Mediterranean Sea. A playground for the rich and famous, you’ll be able to spend a day of pure luxury coasting around the shores of this Italian gem. The island is also known for its rugged and rocky terrain, which makes the approach especially spectacular. Take time out from your Mediterranean cruise itinerary to enjoy a dip in the turquoise water, indulge in some retail therapy, or simply soak up the island life on this small Italian slice of paradise.
Hands down the most stunning natural feature of the island of Capri, the Blue Grotto is a mesmerising cavern where the sunlight reflects off the water and lights up the whole interior in spectacular fashion. If you’re interested in adding an element of adventure to your cruise holiday through the Med, then it doesn’t get much better than exploring the Blue Grotto. To get the full experience, you’ll pass through the narrow opening of the cavern in a small rowboat, with the help of chains, before being treated to the stunning blue interior. A once in a lifetime experience, a visit to the Blue Grotto is highly recommended.
Next up in the island of incredible natural beauty, is the Arco Naturale. The Arco Naturale is a naturally formed arch that has roots in the Palaeolithic era, making it very old indeed. What was once a grotto, collapsed and became the giant limestone arch that you can see today. Well worth getting the selfie stick out for, the Arco Naturale will provide some perfect photo opportunities to remember your time on the island of Capri. What’s more, to reach the arch, you will be taken along a challenging 3.9km trail from the city centre, which is full of wildlife and natural beauty for you to admire along the way.
Traditional Taverne of Capri
After a long day of hiking, swimming, and/or sightseeing, you’ll probably be ready for some evening cocktails and entertainment. At which point, you should check out the local ‘taverne’ to experience the nightlife on the island. After eating dinner at one of the many great spots around Capri, go to the popular ‘Piazzetta,’ or main square, and follow the sounds of live music to the nearest ‘taberna.’ The Italians do things much later than most, so you can expect things to really get going around midnight or so. Live bands often play typical Neapolitan music, which you can easily dance the night away to.
Mykonos, aside from being a popular craft beer, is a Greek island with plenty of potential for a fun stopover on your cruise through the Med. The island of Mykonos is mostly known for the crazy summertime antics as the island really comes to life and can rival the likes of Ibiza for its buzzing party scene. However, the island also has a lot of cultural attractions and is a great spot to sample some of Greece’s best cuisine. A cosmopolitan island, here on Mykonos, you will get the best of both worlds, with waves crashing against the shores, as well as man-made marvels such as the typically colorful houses that characterize the Greek islands.
Agrari beach is one of the island’s best, and is far from the lively center of Mykonos, allowing for a pleasantly relaxing experience. As well as being secluded, the beach has amenities within reach – including an incredibly trendy beach bar – and is surrounded by rocky hills. Agrari beach is the kind of beach you always see in films and TV shows, the one that isn’t inundated with holiday-makers and is brimming with natural beauty from the water to the rocks. For that reason, you should definitely consider a dip in the water if you’re planning on a brief stay on the Greek island.
Mykonos Brewing Company
As alluded to earlier, Mykonos lends its name is to an excellent beer brewing company that you can visit while on the island. If you’re partial to an ice-cold beer on a hot day, then chances are you’ll love the Mykonos Brewing Company tour. First Established as recently as 2017, the beer is made using Greek malt and Belgian caramel wheat, making it quite the refreshing treat. During the tour, you’ll learn a lot about the beer-making process before getting to taste their delicious range of craft beers, which sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon.
Named so for its resemblance to the floating Italian city of Venice, the Little Venice neighborhood in Mykonos is the perfect place for a leisurely afternoon or evening stroll. As you approach Little Venice, you’ll be met with the colourful facade of the typical Greek houses facing out over the crystal clear water. Once you enter the neighborhood, one of the best things you can do is head to one of the many idyllic waterside bars or restaurants, for a view across the water to the impressive old windmills. Make sure you stick around to witness a spectacular sunset over the water too.
Santorini is one of Greece’s most well known attractions, and is a popular stop on most Mediterranean cruises. With its incredible location atop a large rock, and the distinct blue domed rooftops, Santorini is stunning location that will live on in your memory long after you cruise has finished. Essentially Greece’s answer to Capri in Italy, or Nice in France, Santorini is a great place to live the high life and revel in all the delights it has to offer all those who visit its shores. Your European cruise will give you the perfect vantage point to take in the unique rocky form of the island, which can be attributed to a volcanic eruption that occurred in the 16th century – this gives it a real aura and highlights how wild nature can be.
While your instinct may be to head straight for the beaches or fancy restaurants, Santorini has a rich history and has remnants of the ancient Minoan civilisation within its shores. Akrotiri – coined by some the ‘Greek Pompeii’ – was a Minoan Bronze Age settlement that was all but wiped out by the same volcanic eruption that shaped the island into what it is today. However, miraculously, some frescoes and artwork survived the natural disaster and are on display in the ancient site. Some say the settlement could have even been an inspiration for the mystical and mythical city of Atlantis, which is a great way to convince the kids to come along.
Now for something a bit more in line with what you might have expected from a cruise stop in Santorini: a scenic wine-tasting experience. At the Santo Wines Winery, you’ll be able to sample wine like never before. With tables overlooking the impressive crater below, if you’re somehow disappointed with the wine, you definitely won’t be by the views. You can also enjoy typical Greek cheese platters and other local foods at the Winery, so you can really feel like you’re living a life of luxury on the island. Go around sunset for an especially memorable evening, as you watch the sun disappear into the sea while sampling some of the best local produce.
The very aptly named Red Beach takes its name from its incredible red sand, making it a one-of-a-kind beach. Due to the volcanic nature of the island, this beach doesn’t conform to most people’s vision of an idyllic island beach with white sands, but instead boasts red sand which makes it look more like Mars than a tropical island. The Red Beach is one of the places you have to see in person to believe it exists, but be careful, as you’ll need to navigate the surrounding rocks, which can be unstable at times.
A city that serves as a constant reminder of the incredible Ancient Greek civilisation that was responsible for some of the biggest ideas and influential figures, Athens has all the charm and allure you’d expect from one of the world’s oldest cities. While your mind may drift to the majestic Acropolis dominating the skyline of the city, Athens is also home to several other ancient wonders, as well as some exciting contemporary experiences, striking a satisfying balance between old and new. There’s also no better place to try Greek cuisine than the capital, so there’s something for all the senses in Athens.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient Acropolis of Athens is an unmissable attraction. One of the most impressive ancient buildings still standing today, the Acropolis is an incredible architectural feat, one which still astounds experts today, and sits regally atop a large rock. Take a hike up to the historical site and prepare to be left speechless – in part due to the steep incline! Once you’ve scaled the rock, you’ll be treated to a view of the Mediterranean and approaching ships. But of course, the main attractions are the epic remains of the upper city and the incredible Parthenon.
After absorbing the rich history of the Acropolis, you’ll likely be in the mood for a bite to eat in a quaint neighbourhood of Athens. The Plaka neighbourhood is precisely that. A stone’s throw from the ancient upper city, walking around Plaka feels like being taken back to an old Greek village. With plenty of artisan shops selling everything from jewelry to ceramics, and a handful of cute cafes and Greek tavernas, Plaka is a great place to come and reflect on the Acropolis while observing it from below. Get lost in the narrow cobbled streets of Plaka for a typical European experience, and you won’t be disappointed. Narrow staircases, colourful buildings, and beautiful flower arrangements await.
Greek cuisine, while not as famous as say Italian or French cuisine, has a lot to offer. One of the best things about Greek gastronomy is its dedication to using fresh produce and especially vegetables. If there’s anything better than eating a great meal on holiday, it’s feeling like you ate healthy as well. Some of the dishes you have to try in Athens include the infamous Greek salad (or ‘Horiatiki Salata,’ as it’s known locally), which is full of the best local produce like Greek olive oil, delicious feta cheese, and an array of other vegetables. Another one to look out for is ‘Gemista,’ a dish which translates to ‘stuffed.’ Basically, any vegetables you can stuff fall under this category, so you can expect to get tomatoes, peppers, or even zucchinis stuffed with a selection of herbs, spices, and other ingredients like rice and sauce.
The second biggest city in Croatia, Split is a relatively unknown but incredibly beautiful holiday Mediterannean cruise destination. Famous for its spectacular coastline and beaches, Split is the perfect place to stop off at during your cruise and indulge in some well-earned sunbathing. Split has more than enough to keep you entertained for as long as you decide to stay, and has a rich Roman history which is well worth taking the time to investigate and learn about. There are also idyllic islands nearby, such as Hvar and Brac, in case you feel like a quick boat trip to an exotic Croatian island.
By far and away the best attraction in the city, Diocletian’s Palace is one which has stood firm since the 4th century if you can believe it. The ancient Roman palace, dedicated to the emperor Diocletian, occupies around half the space of the historic centre of the city. More akin to a fortress than a palace, the giant structure is considered one of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture in the world, making it a must-visit attraction. A walk around the palace will reveal 4 impressively large gates, a cathedral, and a temple. While below the ground you’ll find a vast substructure, which helped put the palace on the map when it was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The Riva in Split is one of the city’s most important streets. A promenade that runs right next to the water, the Riva grants pedestrians views of the timeless Diocletian palace and the sparkling blue water at the same time. A thriving area, the Riva is home to a number of lively venues which are perfect for your morning cup of coffee, afternoon snack, or evening cocktail. As well as all this, the promenade hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year. The most important of which is their exciting Carnival, which takes place in February. There isn’t a better spot in the city for a leisurely stroll on a sunny afternoon.
The beating heart of the Croatian city, the historic centre of Split is an enchanting area full of pleasantly old architecture and lively markets. Pjaca Square is a particular highlight of the old centre, as it is home to the town hall, and boasts marble tiles and al fresco dining. Then you have Marmont street, a street which will take you all the way down to the water, and is lined with bars, cafes, shops, and everything in between. Last but not least, the delightfully named Fruit square is the place to go to sample some of the best local produce and marvel at the typical Croatian buildings.
Nice – pronounced niece – lies in the French Riviera, and has become an incredibly popular cruise destination over the years, famed for its turquoise waters and exciting city life. Here you’ll find sunny days whatever the season, a great selection of gourmet restaurants serving stellar French cuisine, and a lively old centre. As far as coastal cities go, the French paradise of Nice is about as good as it gets. Everything in Nice oozes quality, from the stunning beaches to fine dining, and the blend of urban and green spaces. Maybe that’s why it was given the nickname of ‘Nice the Beautiful.’
Promenade des Anglais
The perfect way to get to know the French city, while enjoying the sun and feeling the fresh sea breeze on your skin, the Promenade des Anglais stretches out over 7km. Get your comfortable walking shoes on – or flip flops if you’re really in holiday mode – and set off along this grand promenade, taking in the breathtaking sights along the way. Whenever the sun gets too much for you, or your feet start to tire, you can always pop into one of the many fine restaurants along the promenade for a refreshing drink or a bite to eat.
If there’s anything better than seeing the city from street level, it’s seeing it from above. Castle Hill provides you with an opportunity to do so. A series of steep winding staircases and pathways will lead you up to the fantastic lookout point at the top. As if the promise of a great view wasn’t enough, on the hike up the hill, you’ll come across a waterfall tucked away in the trees, an interesting old cemetery, and a pleasant cafe at which you can enjoy a well-earned drink after your physical exertion. Once you reach the top, you’ll be met with a view of the entire city curving around with the sea.
Not only does Nice serve up widely acclaimed French cuisine, but it also offers up some of its own dishes to tempt the taste buds. It’s well worth going out of your way to try some of the best local dishes, and sample some of Nice’s best contributions to French cuisine. One such dish is the simple Niçoise salad. A healthy blend of anchovies, tomatoes, olives, green beans, and hard-boiled eggs, the salad will leave you feeling perfectly satisfied. If you’re looking for some exciting street food, then your best bet is to seek out ‘Socca,’ a flatbread style food which you can get your hands on in the old centre of the city.
Author: Sophie Anderson
Post Date: 18th January 2020