Top Ten Mediterranean Cruise Ports

June 6, 2010

With the summer cruise season in full throttle mode, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about one of my favorite cruise destinations – the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean Sea divides Africa and Europe and is the largest sea in the world (based on coverage area). It also boasts great summer weather with lots of sunshine and cool breezes. But most importantly, it is host to many famous sea ports and cities like Venice, Athens, Barcelona, Nice and Alexandria. Additionally, islands like Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Capri and Santorini, all sway to the tune of the Mediterranean Sea.

The decision to cruise the Mediterranean is simple enough, but its deciding which route and ports to visit that is difficult. So, I have attempted to list my ten favorite ports here, along with what you can expect to do at each of these ports.

Nice, France – I believe most cruise ships call this port Cannes which is known for its popular Film Festival. But the charm of this port is Nice with its pebble beaches and cobblestone streets. In the old town, cars are forbidden abd tourists can outdoor markets, cafe’s and the beautiful sites of the French Riviera. 30 minutes from Nice, a small quaint town called Eze sits perched above the Mediterranean. This is the epitome of what is called Côte d’Azur. The town of Eze, albeit small, is very picturesque and has great pathways that reveal some post card views of the Mediterranean. You can take a bus from Nice to go to Eze and save some money. For the young and the restless, I don’t recommend an excursion here.

Monaco – The second smallest country in the world and ruled by a monarch, Monaco’s most famous icons are Grace Kelly and Casino Royale. Living there is something few of us could ever afford, but it is worth a visit. The Palace in Monaco is still home to the Prince of Monaco but is open to the public. Cafe du Paris, right outside Casino Royale offers great coffee and sundaes and the Casino itself is also worth a peek. The whole country can be walked on foot in about 1 to 2 hours. Take in the Palace and the Casino and you can spend the whole day enjoying Monaco and its elegant beauty.



Florence, Italy – Florence is a beautiful city. But its beauty lies not in the sea and the views, but in its historic buildings and cathedrals. The port itself is Livorno, and getting to Florence takes well over an hour. I recommend taking a cab from the port (hint: cab sharing with fellow cruisers is an easy way to save money). Make sure you negotiate both pisa and Florence with your cab driver. During my visit in 2009, our group of 8 people paid 320 euros total for the whole day (including Pisa and Florence).

Go to Pisa first, (20 minutes from Livorno) and climb the Tower. I say this because they don’t let more than 30 people climb the Leaning Tower at a given time. Lines can be long, specially if you go with the crowds. So if you put it off as the last thing you do before heading to the ship, you may not be able to make it.

In Florence, visit the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), at Piazza del Duomo. Also check out the famous statue of Michelangelo’s David, and stroll to the 14th century Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) over River Arno, with its many shops. Florence is an art lover’s dream and the short amount of time a cruise ship allows you to visit this great city does not do it justice. Given that you have both Pisa and Florence to cover in a day, you definitely want to get an early start and get to Florence as quickly as possible so you can see as much as possible. Oh and if you want to buy a souvenir, a painting on the streets of Florence makes for a great collectible. Just make sure you bargain hard. Usually, you can get something for at least 50% of what the vendors first quote you.

Florence, Italy - The Duomo

Florence, Italy - The Duomo

Rome, Italy – Rome needs no introduction. It is the capital of the ancient world and the best preserved city from the Roman empire. However, the port for Rome is Civitavecchia (a nightmare for anyone spelling, pronouncing or visiting). It takes two hours just to get to Rome via a taxi so don’t even try the rail or bus. Get a taxi for your group or simply do an excursion. Better yet, if your cruise has Rome as its first or last stop, you can spend a few days here. This is the best way to go. But if you are simply stopping here for a day, you can either do an end to end tour of Vatican City (including St. Peter’s) or simply take in a city tour that will cover the Forum, the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon and perhaps Piazza Navona. I also recommend the Angels and Demons tours that have sprouted in light of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

St. Peters Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peters Basilica, Vatican City

Naples, Italy – If you are on a budget, consider public transportation to get around Naples. While most consider Naples, loud, dirty and rough, I think it is one of the best stops on a cruise. There are four major attractions in Naples, each warranting attention. Pompei is an obvious choice for its rich history. Then there is Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed most of ancient Pompei. Isle of Capri is another option with its glamorous views of the ocean. Finally, there is the huge National Archeology Museum with the largest collection of artifacts from the Roman empire anywhere. Needless to say, Naples is quite a destination. If your cruise itinerary involves any of the Greek Islands, you might want to consider skipping Capri.

Pompei near Naples, Italy

Pompei near Naples, Italy

In any case, I recommend picking one option from the above rather than trying to do too much. I say this because Naples has a great shopping scene, as well as the fact that it was the birthplace of Pizza (Neapolitan pizza). So, save a couple of hours for shopping and pizza before departing.

Venice, Italy – Paris, while beautiful and romantic, is often over hyped. Pound for pound, I believe Venice is the more romantic of the two. St Mark’s square (Piazza San Marcos) is where all the action is. Grand buildings lines the square with St. Mark’s Basilica on one end, neighbored by Doge’s Palace. Both these structures are worth seeing. Rialto Bridge, which is a 10 minute walk from St. Mark’s square is famous for its shopping and dining. If you can get just transportation from port to San Marcos, you can figure out how to navigate this port. It is very easy to get around on foot. I am sure you can also just take a water shuttle tour to take you to various stops (like a Hop-on, Hop-off).

Piazza San Marcos, Venice

Piazza San Marcos, Venice

Since Venice is a connection of small islands, they don’t have cars. You take the Vaporatto (their version of a public bus system) or a water taxi (the more expensive option) to move around. Venetian architecture is quite distinct from Roman.

Venice is also known for Murano glass, which comes from the island of Murano in Venice. If this is something you fancy, you might want to consider touring Murano. During my stay there, we were offered to do the tour for free.

One thing everyone likes to do in Venice is the gondola ride. While these are expensive, you can negotiate with the gondola operators if business is slow. It is certainly worth the price to do this at least once.

Santorini, Greece – I have never seen anything more beautiful than Santorini. Every picture you take her is post card material. Every corner yields a dreamy landscape. The white-washed stone buildings with shiny blue tops, white churches with blue domes, the narrow stone streets of Oia and the black sand beach, all add to the allure of Santorini. Make sure you either do the Donkey ride up the stairs or climb the stairs if you can withstand the physical exertion. It is quite an experience and the views along the way are breathtaking. Food in Santorini is divine and for dessert, try the yogurt with honey and nuts. It is the perfect summer dessert.

Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

Athens, Greece – Much like Rome, Athens needs no introduction. The oldest of civilizations and architectural wonders are here. Acropolis sits with the grand Parthenon, overlooking the city, giving it a God-like appearance. Athens, much like Rome, is a busy and bustling city. The language is Greek (pun intended) and the city is rather dirty and loud. But if you are a history buff, you must visit Athens. There are plenty of other sites here other than Acropolis, but that alone will take most of the day. If you have time to spare, check out the new museum at the base of the Acropolis and enjoy charcoaled corn with lemon from a street vendor.

Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis, Athens

Corfu, Greece – Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian islands. It looks very different from most Greek towns, because of Corfu’s unique history. For almost four centuries, from the 1300’s to the 1700’s, Corfu was ruled by the Venetian nobility. In the 1800’s, it was first part of the French colony and then the British. This diverse history has left its architectural mark on Corfu. Some buildings look distinctly Venetian, yet some others look French.

Corfu, Greece

Corfu, Greece

There is plenty to do in Corfu. From walking around, shopping and hiking to the top of the Island and enjoying the views from the old fort to renting a jeep or motorbikes and exploring the island and its sandy beaches, Corfu has a lot to offer. For lunch, the place to eat is Spilia. Owners Andreas and his wife are friendly and warm and prepare a great meal. Try either the Sofrito or the Pastitsado, along with the local drink called Retsina.

Barcelona, Spain – Barcelona is another port that might be best served as a destination. There are far too many places to visit here than a docked cruise ships allows for.

Barcelona is a walkable city, particularly places such as Barrio Gothic. There’s an excellent tube and public transportation system. Large cruise ships dock at a location accessible to Las Ramblas, one of the most popular streets in Barcelona. Take the cruise ship’s shuttle to Las Ramblas. From there, you can catch public transportation to one or two of many attractions including La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished but gorgeous structure and fantastic view from the top, the Gothic Quarter with its boutique galleries, narrow streets and 13th century architecture and the monastery of Montserrat.

No matter what stops you have on your Mediterranean Cruise, one thing is for sure. It will be one heck of a cruise and if you are thinking about cruising the Mediterranean, stop thinking and just do it. Find special deals on Mediterranean Cruises on CruiseDirect.

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5 Responses to Top Ten Mediterranean Cruise Ports

  1. Jon on April 3, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Shame Malta didn’t make your top 10 list, even if its a small Island, the port on Valletta Waterfront gives access to an island which has the world’s oldest free-standing structures dating 3500BC amongst hundreds of other Tourist Attractions

  2. Nasos on April 24, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    I was expecting to write more about are island(Corfu) and the beautyfull beaches, resorts and hotels in Corfu. :-(

  3. Rodriguez on March 9, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    Wow. Very descriptible and awesome article. Thanks for take your time and help us to plan our trip.

  4. Chris on August 26, 2011 at 3:20 AM

    very informative article, I liked most what you say about Santorini island.. Next time write about Corfu island!

  5. Taylor on April 29, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    All of these places are so spectacular.

    hard to put them into any kind of ranking order.

    I’ve been doing some online research for a Euro tour and came across your site.

    I can’t choose where to go from your list, so I guess we’re going to have to see them all!

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