Dec 8, 2023Cruises, Europe0 comments

One of the most important aspects when choosing a cruise is the itinerary. This is never more true than on a Mediterranean cruise which offers so many famous, historical, and iconic destinations.

But which ports are the best? Which should you absolutely include in your cruise?

Read on for my personal bucket-list of ports that you should prioritize when deciding which cruise to book.

Bridge in Rome

A Med Cruise will include many famous destinations

Some things to know about this list

There are many different ways to sort destinations, many of them subjective. For this list I have tried to be as objective as possible (though I do include my personal opinions).

My main considerations were how iconic the destination is, how many different attractions  you will find and how easy it is to see the sights there (especially on independent excursions without a ship tour).

I have only included those ports that are commonly found on mainstream cruises (so no exotic Greek islands) and that I have personally been to. In general, I have limited the list to one port per country (other than Italy where it was hard to cut the list down to two).

Please note: I have sorted the list in geographical order by going around the Mediterranean Sea in anti-clockwise direction. So number 1 is not higher ranked than number 8!

Did you know that there are a number of ways in which Med cruises differ from most other cruises, e.g. in the Caribbean?

Read my top tips for a Mediterranean cruise to make sure you are prepared! Doing so will help you avoid disappointment, manage expectations, and save money.

Bucket-list Med ports that are not to be missed


#1 Barcelona

Las Ramblas in Barcelona

Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s populard boulevard, is close to the cruise terminal

Barcelona is a frequent port on Western Med cruises and this Catalan city is also a frequent embarcation port. That’s lucky as Barcelona is many people’s favorite Spanish city.

Personally, I much prefer Malaga or Palma but even though I don’t love the city’s vibe I have to admit that it makes for a great cruise stop.

The pier is centrally loacted (you can walk into town) and Barcelona offers many sights and activites.

Stroll along the famous Ramblas, explore the Gothic Quarter, climb on the roof of the Cathedral, visit Montjic Castle, and don’t forget to tour Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. There is even a pleasant beach right in the city!

Even after several visits I haven’t seen everything of interest in Barcelona. And if you do run out of sights in the city itself, you can always visit nearby Montserrat.

#2 Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul's mosques are just some of the sights that make this city a must-see on your cruise

Try to find a cruise that overnights in Istanbul so you can cover more of the sights

Istanbul was one of my most favorite cruise ports ever and I highly recommend it.

This gateway between Europe and Asia has a long and varied history. Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul – the many names of this city alone evoke a sense of history and mystery.

There is plenty to do and see for three days in Istanbul (or longer) but on a cruise visit you will have to pick and choose those attractions you are most interested in.

If you are lucky your cruise will include an overnight stay in Istanbul so you have two days to visit the many sights. I loved seeing Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, but my favoritewas the Basilica Cistern. Its mysterious and slightly spooky vibe was a highlight of my Eastern Med cruise with Royal Caribbean.

#3 Athens, Greece

Athen seen from the hill.

Athens may have less sights than most capitals but the ones it does have are iconic

When I started compiling this list of ports you should not miss on a Med cruise, I was at first going to skip Athens.

The Greek capital just doesn’t have the same number of major sights as most other large cities.

Whereas Tripadvisor’s list of Things to do in London consists of over 9,000 sights/activities the website lists less than 3k for Athens. And it isn’t just the number of attractions but also their fame and attractiveness.

I enjoyed my first visit to Athens but when the port was cancelled on a subsequent cruise due to a pilot strike and replaced by Split, I did not mind. For me it was a once and done.

So why is it on the list? Well, while I personally don’t think Athens has a huge number of sights the ones it does have are so iconic that I didn’t feel I could leave it off this list.

The Acropolis, Parthenon, and Plaka as the cradle of Western Civilization are just so famous and iconic that yes, Athens is a bucket-list destination you should not miss on your cruise!

#4 Kotor, Montenegro

The fjord on your approach to Montenegro's Kotor is a highlight of this bucket-list port during an Eastern Med cruise.

Sailing into/out of Kotor is a highlight of any cruise

We loved spending time in the small town of Kotor and climbing up the hill to the Fortress St. John. To be honest, we didn’t make it all the way up but the views were still outstanding.

But while Kotor with its old buildings, cute shops, and authentic restaurants is definitely worth a visit, the real draw of this port is something else.

Like they say “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey”. This definitely applies to the port of Kotor. The biggest highlight here is sailing into the fjord.

If you have dreamed of a trip to Norway’s fjords but decided on a Med cruise instead, Kotor is the next best thing.

So make sure to be up and out on deck (or your balcony) early enough to enjoy the beautiful sights as you approach!


#5 Dubrovnik, Croatia

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Dubrovnik's Old Town can best be seen during a walk on the city walks. Dubrovnik is a bucket-list port for your cruise.

A walk along the city walls is a highlight during a visit to Dubrovnik

Sure, Dubrovnik is less well known than most of the other ports on this list but it is a port that almost every visitor enjoys.

There is plenty to do here to spend a fun and relaxing day. The main attraction is of course a walk on the City Walls with wonderful views over the Old Town and out to sea.

Then you can spend some time just meandering through the Old Town (a UNCESCO World Heritage Site) with its narrow streets and wide plazas. And a boat tour (we chose a glass-bottom boat) is highly recommended!

While Dubrovnik offers less “must-see sights” (unless you are a Game of Thrones fan) than Rome, Barcelona, or Istanbul it makes for a nice change.

Great for a more restful day during an often exhausting Med cruise!

#6 Naples

Interior courtyard and garden of ancient villa in Pompeij

Pompeii is a top destination for anyone interested in history

Opinions are divided when it comes to Naples. Some love the authentic, gritty vibe of this Southern Italian city but even more find it loud and dirty.

I can’t give you my personal opinion as even though I have been to Naples three times on a cruise I still haven’t spent any time in the city itself.

And that is why for me it is one of the top cruise ports for Med cruises: there are so many wonderful excursions available from the port of Naples and most of them can easily be done on your own.

Visit the ancient relics of Pompeij or Herculaneum. Take a hike up on Mount Vesuvius. Marvel at the quaint beauty of the Amalfi Coast (this is best done on an organized excursion). Visit Capri to see the Blue Grotto or explore Villa Jovis, the former home of Roman Emperor Tiberius, on top of the hill. Or take a boat to Ischia with its thermal pools.

It will take many cruises before you run out of options for your Naples cruise stop.

#7 Civitavecchia

The Tevi Fountain in Rome, Italy, is just one of many iconic sights you can visit from the Civitavecchia port on a Med Cruise.

The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s most popular sights

Civi-what? you may be asking if you aren’t familiar with cruise itineraries.

Though the city of Civitavecchia has over 50,000 inhabitants and traces its history back to the Etruscans, it is hardly a major tourist destination. However, Civitavecchia is the port for Rome and what would a Med cruise be without visiting the eternal city.

Even if your cruise itinerary states the port as “Rome” you will dock in Civitavecchia as Rome is miles inland. Luckily, there are frequent and inexpensive trains running between Civitavecchia and Rome so you can get there in just about 1 hour.

There are so many sights: the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Forum in Rome itself as well as the Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (the worlds smallest country but for practical purposes in Rome).

No Western Med cruise would be complete without a visit in Rome/Civitavecchia. You may even have a difficult time finding one that does not include Civitavvecchia as either a stop or embarcation point.

But what about Venice? Why isn’t it on the list?

Yes, Venice is a bucket-list destination and SO worth a visit. The only reason it is not on this list (other than that I already have two Italian ports included) is that with the new restrictions for cruise ships (and tourists in general) it has become somewhat difficult to visit Venice effectively on a cruise.

Instead consider whether you can spend a couple of days in Venice either before or after your cruise!

#8 Villefranche

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

The picture-perfect Villa Ephrussi with its gorgeous gardens is easily reached from Villefranche

Whereas the first port on this list, Barcelona, is not my favorite city, I absolutely love Villefranche. The small town itself is lovely (and hiking around Cap St. Jean Ferrat is my favorite activity along the Cote d’Azur) but the main reason it is on this list is the number of wonderful excursions you can easily and cheaply do.

By train or bus you can explore most of the Cote d’Azur from Villefranche for little money. Enjoy the bustling city of Nice with its museums, grand plazas, and long pebble beach. Or make your way to Cannes to see where the famous Film Festival takes place every year in May. The quaint town of √ąze is just around the corner (or more accurately up the hill) and of course Monaco with its famous casino is always worth a visit.

Harbor in Monaco with highrises and boats

Final Thoughts

The Med offers so many wonderful ports that it can be hard to decide on an itinerary. But in my opinion the eight ports above are bucket-list destinations that should not be missed!

Unless you book a very long cruise you will likely not be able to see all of them in one trip as ships usually either concentrate on the Western or the Eastern Mediterranean.

But no worries! While that means you won’t be able to visit all the ports on my bucket-list on one vacation it does give you an excuse to book another cruise – always a good thing in my book!

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!


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