For travelers who want to sample a variety of rich culture and history, embarking on a Mediterranean cruise will leave them wanting more. With approximately 50 cruise lines operating in the Mediterranean Sea and over 50 ports of call, travelers have a plethora of options for their Mediterranean cruise itinerary. Mediterranean cruises vary in length, but most of the larger cruise lines offer voyages that range from 10-14 days, and points of departure are flexible along the cruise route.
A common theme among cruise lines is to break down their Mediterranean cruises into categories of Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean and the Holy Land. A review of theses classifications, including the most frequented ports of call, will give a general idea of which places in Europe, Asia or Africa that will be visited on a Mediterranean cruise.
Western Mediterranean cruises include stops in Spain, France and the west coast of Italy. Almost all Western cruises will stop in Barcelona, Spain and Rome, Italy. For many large cruise lines these cities will also be an embarkation or debarkation point. Situated only 90 miles (145 km) from the French border, the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona is the capitol of the Catalonia region of Spain. Visiting the Picasso Gallery and enjoying a serving of paella, Spain’s national dish, at a local restaurant are two popular activities for visiting cruisers.
When Mediterranean cruise ships head for Italy, most stop in Civitavecchia, known as the gateway city to Rome. Many travelers could spend weeks in Rome taking in the historical sites of this ancient city, however, the tight schedule of a cruise does not allow this. A day in Rome could include a trip to the Colosseum, tours of the Sistine Chapel or the Vatican, and a coin toss in the famous Trevi Fountain after having taste-tested some of the local pasta.
Ports of call in France on a Western Mediterranean cruise vary greatly between cruise lines that service the Mediterranean. Stops may include Marseille, the second largest city in France, and the starting off point for visits to the country’s Provence region, or somewhere along the French Riviera, such as Nice or Cannes. Regardless of the port, guests on a Mediterranean cruise have a variety of options in these French ports of call. Marseille, the largest port in the Mediterranean, boasts ample opportunity for shopping after visiting the Basilica of Notre Dame or Aix, the home of famous artist, Paul Cézanne.
Nice, located only 15 miles (24 km) from Cannes is a great place to walk along the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea on their Promenade des Anglais or “Walk of the English,” after travelers taste the local favorite, Socca, which is a pancake made out of chickpea flour. Cannes is home to the famous International Film Festival. Cruisers can shop at their high fashion boutiques or try their luck out a casino in nearby Monte Carlo.
An Eastern Mediterranean cruise itinerary may also start in Barcelona or Rome, however, they will head further east, including stops in Athens, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey. The port city of Piraeus is the gateway city to Athens, where cruisers can visit the Acropolis, the Parthenon and other historical landmarks. Istanbul is the crossroads where Asia meets Europe. Visitors cannot leave Istanbul without exploring the architecture remaining from past ruling empires. The most popular are the Blue Mosque, famous for it minarets and blue tiling on the inside, and the Topkapi Palace Museum, a lavish palace built during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Some Eastern and most Western Mediterranean Cruises stop somewhere in the Holy Land and some cruise lines offer specific cruises that mostly consist of ports of call in the Holy Land. These areas, known as the “cradle of civilization” are home to countless religious architectural, archeological and historical sites. The most popular port of call is Jerusalem, which is considered Judaism’s holiest city, Islam’s third holiest city and the place where Christians may walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Other significant Holy Land ports of call include, Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus and the location where Mary and Mohammed had communications with the Angel Gabriel, and Port Said, Egypt, where cruisers may debark to visit Cairo and the Pyramids of Giza.