Destinations, Ports, Itineraries, and Resources

In this article you will find:


Picture Postcard Travel-Cruising


Cruise Regions, Countries, and Islands


Pros and Cons of Cruising the Mediterranean


Port Visits and Accessibility


Best Mediterranean Cruise Ports


Things to See and Do


Mediterranean Cruises and Itineraries


Recommended Resources

The Mediterranean is the world’s most popular tourist destination. Hosting over 350 million (2019) international tourists each year, this stellar region of warm waters, sunny beaches, idyllic islands, and picturesque coastal towns also is a favorite cruise destination for over 30 million people who visit its 22 countries, 200+ cruise-friendly islands, and 300 ports each year. In fact, seven of the world’s top tourist destinations are found here – #1 France (90 million), #2 Spain (83 million), #5 Italy (65 million), #6 Turkey (51 million), #13 Greece (31 million), #15 Portugal (25 million), and #24 Croatia (17 million). Cruise the Mediterranean and you may decide to come ashore and linger longer in such exciting cities as Barcelona, Rome, Athens, and Istanbul.

Picture Postcard Travel-Cruising

The Mediterranean includes a rich collection of islands (3,000+) for water lovers, from large and iconic Sicily, Sardinia, Cypress, Corsica, Crete, and Majorca to small and romantic Santorini, Mykonos, Nafplion, Paros, Capri, Formentera, Hvar, and Milos. The most popular cruise ports are mainland cities and towns such as Barcelona, Seville, Athens, Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Split, Lisbon, Rome, Venice, La Spezia, and Villefranche-sur-Mer (Nice) that dot the shores of the Mediterranean. Many of these places exude old world charm with their intriguing history, art, and culture. A photographer’s delight, many ports are eye candy for observers of ancient ruins, classical art and architecture, expansive plazas, colorful shops, outdoor restaurants, inviting beaches, and people watching.

For a quick and balanced overview of cruising the Mediterranean, including several popular ports and onboard activities of a large mainstream cruise ship (Celebrity Reflection), start with Rick Steves’ 55-minute video – Rick Steves’ Cruising the Mediterranean. For a brief summary of the Mediterranean’s best sailing and yachting centers, see Best Sailing Destinations in the Mediterranean.

Pros and Cons of Cruising the Mediterranean

Cruisers and cruise professionals generally give the Mediterranean high marks for offering the world’s best cruise experiences. Here’s what they say on both the positive and negative sides:


• Year-round sailing in relatively warm and calm waters
• Large selection of interesting cruise ports and cruise ships
• Cover several countries in a short period of time – a great travel sampling experience
• Discover new and unusual places one could never imagine – a true discovery experience
• Fun-filled and relaxing cruise options
• Convenient embarkation and disembarkation ports
• Good value compared to the cost of onshore travel (as low as $80-100 per night)
• Three positives when cruising in December and January – less expensive, few kids, no crowds
• Great embarkation and disembarkation ports (Barcelona, Rome, Athens) for extended stays
• Most ships cover numerous ports – often one per day
• Many things to see and do
• Beautiful islands and ports
• Great weather during April to October cruise season


• Limited time in interesting ports – superficial visits
• Miss port nightlife because ship must depart early evening for the next port
• Overcrowded ports with hordes of tourists in July and August
• Disappointing cruise-sponsored shore excursions
• Interesting cities located far from the port (Civitavecchia vs. Rome, Livorna vs. Florence, Piraeus vs. Athens, Haifa vs. Tel Aviv or Jerusalem) – need more than 12 hours in port to explore these distant and compelling places
• Expensive (nickeling and diming) cruise ship extras – wi-fi, drinks, excursions, tipping, specialty dining
• Sometimes tacky and borderline mediocre onboard entertainment, but sometimes surprisingly good
• Unpredictable weather, iffy sea conditions, and limited openings and hours in December and January
• Negative environmental impact of cruise ships (air and water pollution)

Cruise Regions, Countries, and Islands

Many people cruise the Mediterranean because of its rich collection of attractive ports – from legendary cities to charming coastal towns. Few places in the world offer such interesting places for people who love history, culture, shopping, drinking, dining, warm water beaches, and beautiful settings. Visitors to the Mediterranean quickly discover they are literally cruising “The Cradle of Civilization” – a place that is simultaneously ancient, modern, and exhilarating. At times, especially in July and August, Mediterranean ports can be very crowded with hordes of tourists. Good advice: consider visiting the Mediterranean during the less crowded but still pleasant shoulder months of May, June, and September.

There are many ways to “slice and dice” the Mediterranean into different cruise regions, delightful itineraries, and memorable experiences. Most cruise companies start by dividing the Mediterranean into two major regions (Eastern and Western) which, in turn, are further divided into sub-regions for 7- to 14-day itineraries. A minor and seldom discussed third region (Southern) has yet to gain traction in the cruise world:

  1. Eastern Mediterranean – Levantine Coast (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine/Gaza, Jordan), Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and East Coast Italy. Greece alone has over 2,000 islands of which nearly 200 are inhabited.
  2. Western Mediterranean – This is the beautiful Europe of the French Riviera and Italian Riviera. It includes iconic Gibraltar, Spain, France, Monaco, Malta, and West Coast Italy with such fabulous cities as Barcelona, Monaco, Cannes, Nice, Florence, and Rome. Portugal (Lisbon and Porto) are usually included here despite lacking a Mediterranean coast line.
  3. Southern Mediterranean/North Africa – Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

The Eastern Mediterranean is especially popular for its wonderful beaches, warm weather, beautiful islands, rich culture, ancient ruins, and unique culinary traditions. The Western Mediterranean — anchored by tourist-heavy Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy — is known for its historic cities, picturesque and chic seaside towns, art, culture, shopping, and cuisine. It offers a great mix of activities and attractions for cruisers.

Italy stands between the two regions, with key embarkation/disembarkation ports for both the Eastern Mediterranean (Venice) and the Western Mediterranean (Rome, Genoa/Savona, and Naples). In fact, some cruisers view Italy as forming a separate region in the Mediterranean – Central Mediterranean – which includes such places as Monaco, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, and Malta along with the Italian Riviera.

The little known and infrequently cruised Southern Mediterranean, which includes the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, is the least developed cruise region in the Mediterranean. Only a few cruise ships visit the eastern and western ends of this region — Cairo (Regent, Azamara, Crystal, Norwegian, Holland America, Star Clippers), Tunis, Algiers, and Casablanca (Crystal, Regent, Oceania, Seabourn, Princess, Windstar, Costa, Viking, MSC, Holland America, Ritz-Carlton). Silversea Cruises and Viking Cruises on occasion include Algeria and Tunisia in their itineraries.

Within these major regions are several sub-regions around which cruise lines develop a series of 7- to 14-day cruises. These sub-regions come under many different names:

Eastern Mediterranean
(KEY PORTS: Venice, Dubrovnik, Piraeus, Istanbul, and Haifa)

Greek Isles: 200+ inhabited islands in Greece. The most attractive are Santorini, Corfu, Crete, Hydra, Kefalonia, Naxos, Mykonos, Skopelos, Delos, and Paros. Nafplion is considered the most romantic island. Greek Isles are also part of the Aegean Sea region.
Aegean Sea: This beautiful cruising ground lies between eastern Greece and western Turkey; it connects to the Marmara Sea and Black Sea in the north and includes such popular islands as Crete and Rhodes; rich in history, including ancient Greece, Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Crusades, Ottoman Empire, and World War I (Dardanelles); most Aegean islands belong to Greece. The Greek Isles are replicated here with such popular cruise ports as Heraklion, Katakolon, Corfu, Mykonos, Patmos, Piraeus, Rhodes, and Santorini.
Dalmatian Coast: Coastline along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea that includes ports in Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia; includes such attractive places as Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar, Zadar, Sibenik, Korcula, and Trogir in Croatia; Kotor in Montenegro; and Koper in Slovenia). Four countries in the Balkans are found here.
Adriatic Sea: Located along the eastern shore of Italy and the Dalmatian Coast. The key port here is Venice along with all the ports along the Dalmatian Coast, such as Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar, Zadar, and Kotor.
Turquoise Coast: Also known as the Turkish Riviera. Located in southwest Turkey, the areas includes 620 miles of shoreline along the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. A very popular area for cruise ships and traditional two- and three-masted wooden sailing vessels (gulet) that crowd the harbors and marinas of the coastal Turkish towns of Bodrum and Marmaris.
Balkans or Balkan Peninsula: Four of 11 countries make up the Balkans on the Adriatic Sea (Dalmatian Coast): Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania. The remaining 7 Balkan countries are either landlocked or border the Black Sea: Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Holy Land, Turkey, and Greece: Some cruise lines combine these three countries into a single cruise that includes the ports of Ashdod (Jerusalem) and Haifa (Tel Aviv) in Israel; Rhodes, Patmos, Piraeus, Mykonos, and Skiathos in Greece; and Istanbul, Bodrum, and Ephesus/Kusadasi in Turkey.
• Some cruise lines advertise cruises in this section of the Mediterranean as “Greek Islands and Israel,” “Italy, Croatia, & Greece,” “Italy, Croatia & Montenegro,” “Malta, the Adriatic, and Greece.”

Western Mediterranean
(KEY PORTS: Gibraltar, Balearic Islands, Barcelona, Marseille, Villefranche-sur-Mer,
Cannes, Monaco, Genoa, La Spezia, Livorno, Rome, Naples, and Valletta)

The Rivieras: Includes the French Riviera (also known as the Cote d’Azur) located in the southeast corner of France (extends from Saint Tropez in the west to Monaco in the East) as well as the Italian Riviera (extends from the French Riviera in the west to La Spezia in the east).
West Coast Italy: Includes coastal cities and towns facing the Thyrrenian Sea and Strait of Sicily.
Malta: The small island nation of Malta (122 square miles and 515,000 inhabitants) with its port city of Valletta (50 miles south of Italy) are included in this part of the Mediterranean.
• Some cruise lines advertise cruises in this section of the Mediterranean as “Spain and Morocco,” “Italy, France, & Spain,” “Barcelona to Rome,” “French Riviera and Tuscany,” “Italy and the Rivieras,” “Riviera Treasures and Rome.”

Port Visits and Accessibility

Cruise ship companies also extend the Mediterranean region to countries in both the Arabian Gulf and Atlantic Ocean. For example, several cruise companies now link their Mediterranean cruises to these Atlantic coast and Arabian Gulf countries and territories:

Northwest Africa, Atlantic Ocean, and Western Mediterranean — Includes cruises (Regent, Star Clippers, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Oceania, Silversea, Ritz-Carlton, Seabourn, Cunard) to Portugal as well as Morocco and the Madeira Islands (Portugal) and the Canary Islands (Spain) located off the Atlantic coast of Morocco from various ports in the Western Mediterranean (Lisbon, Barcelona, Savona, Marseille, Rome).
Arabian Gulf and Mediterranean – Includes cruise ships from Dubai (see Silversea, Costa, Princess, Regent, Norwegian, and Azamara) that visit ports in Oman, Egypt, Suez Canal, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Many Mediterranean cruises are port intensive – ships visit several ports within a few days, usually one per day (most port departures occur in the afternoon or early evening and arrive in the next port in early morning). Windstar, for example, visits these 9 ports on a 9-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise: Piraeus (Athens), Monemvesia, Katakolon, Corfu, Kotor, Dubrovnik, Hvar, Zadar, and Venice.

Port accessibility can be an issue on several cruises. For example, Naples, Monaco, and Barcelona are easily accessible (can literally step off the ship and be in the port city) whereas Rome (Civitavecchia), Florence (Livorna), and Piraeus (Athens) are not (need to take a bus, taxi, or train to get to where the action is). These ports are best visited as embarkation or disembarkation ports where you may want to spend an extra two or three days exploring their many attractions without the pressure of having to return the same day to your cruise ship.

Best Mediterranean Cruise Ports

Measured in terms of annual visitors, the four busiest Mediterranean cruise ports are the following:

1. Barcelona (3.1 million)
2. Balearic Islands (2.6 million)
3. Rome/Civitavecchia (2.6 million)
4. Genoa/Savona (2.0 million)

Many cruise specialists and seasoned travelers identify these 34 Mediterranean cruise ports as their favorites:


Palma de Mallorca

Villefranche-sur-Mer (Nice)
• Calvi (Corsica)

Monte Carlo

La Spezia
Lipari (Sicily)
Cagliari (Sardinia)





Athens (Piraeus) – largest passenger port in Europe, 20 million disembark annually
Olympia (Katakolon)


Ashdod (Jerusalem)
Haifa (Tel Aviv)


The most beautiful coastal and harbor towns in the Mediterranean (most are cruise ports) are found in Spain, France, Montenegro, Italy, and Croatia:

Cadaqués (Spain) – not a cruise port – sailing, yachting, chartering only
Villefranche-sur-Mer (France)
Manarola (Italy)
Positano (Italy)
Kotor (Montenegro)
Trogir, Split, Dubrovnik, Rovinj (Croatia)

Most of these ports offer a wonderful variety of tourist options – great shopping, dining, sightseeing, history, culture, and oceanfront ambience complete with beautiful sailboats and mega-yachts. Unlike cruising in tropical waters, where white-sand and sunny beaches are everywhere, there are limited beach and water sport destinations in Mediterranean cruise ports. The best beaches are found near Palma de Mallorca, Marseille, Santorini, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Mykonos, Sardinia, Dubrovnik, Seville, Nice, and Monaco.

Things to See and Do

Since most Mediterranean cruises are port intensive, you’ll only have a few hours (8-10) to visit each port; most ships arrive in the morning and depart the same afternoon or evening for their next port. If you want more port time, select the city as an embarkation or disembarkation point so you can plan an extra 2 or 3 days to explore the place (Athens, Rome, Barcelona, Venice, Istanbul, and Haifa are good candidates). Also, carefully check the detailed itinerary of each cruise line. Cruisers often complain that their ship doesn’t stay long enough in port. This criticism is often directed toward ports with lively nightlife that begins after 8pm. Check out these Mediterranean cruise ports that have reputations for interesting nightlife:

• Barcelona
• Dubrovnik
• Haifa (Tel Aviv)
• Istanbul
• Venice
• Villefranche-sur-Mer (Nice)

Does your cruise ship overnight in these ports or depart by early evening? Most large ships will move on the same day, but smaller ships can often overnight in ports. You’ll get an added bonus – excellent nightlife — if your cruise ship stays in port until the next day!

Each Mediterranean port city seems to have its own personality along with a top 10 list of things to see and do. Some ports are best explored through an organized tour (Athens) whereas others can be experienced on your own (Mykonos). While your cruise ship will most likely offer shore excursions and recommended shore activities, you should also do your own research on what you would like to see and do. Start by searching online for the “Top 10 things to do in _______.” This key search will generate several similar lists on each port city. Many will come via recommendations of TripAdvisor users.

Be sure to check out these websites which profile cruise ports:

VacationsToGo Cruise Ports
2,244 Cruise Ports by Region
• Guide to 1,200 Ports of Call

These sites provide an enormous amount of detail on each port as well as convenient maps for navigating various places. Also, be sure to download these useful city/port navigation apps:

Google Maps
WiFi Finder

If you’re not big on visiting historical sites or taking crowded ship-sponsored excursions, you might want to hire a car with guide to take you on a customized tour of places that most interest you. Check Roll Call to make onboard connections for your next cruise. Many cruisers use Roll Call to organize customized tours with fellow passengers with similar tour interests.

Mediterranean Cruises and Itineraries

While the best time to cruise the Mediterranean is during the summer months, many of the very large cruise ships (MSC and Costa) operate year-round in the Mediterranean. Smaller cruise ships, such as Crystal, Seabourn, Regent, Oceania, Viking, and Windstar, offer some of the most interesting itineraries for the Mediterranean. Here are sample itineraries worth considering for the various Mediterranean regions and beyond:

All Mediterranean

Regent (Seven Seas Voyager): “Barcelona to Haifa.” 15 days. Includes Barcelona, Naples, Catania (Sicily), Crete, Athens, Kavala, Istanbul, Ephesus/Kusadasi, Rhodes, Limassoi (Cyprus), and Haifa.
Crystal (Crystal Serenity): “Istanbul to Monaco.” 13 nights. Includes Istanbul, Nesebur (Bulgaria), Odessa (Ukraine), Constanta (Romania), Athens, Olympia, Taomina (Sicily), Sorrento, Rome, Florence/Pisa, and Monte Carlo.

Eastern Mediterranean

Viking (Viking Sky): “Istanbul to Athens.” 7 nights. Includes Istanbul, Canakkale, Ephesus/Kusadasi, Rhodes, Crete, and Athens.
Windstar (Wind Star): “Athens to Athens.” 7 nights. Includes Athens, Mykonos, Ephesus/Kusadasi, Patmos, Santorini, Monemvasia, Nafplion, and Athens.

Western Mediterranean

Princess (Regal Princess): “Rome to Barcelona.” 14 nights. Includes Rome, Naples, Crete, Ephesus, Istanbul, Mykonos, Athens, Santorini, Kotor, Messina, Naples, and Barcelona.
MSC Cruises (MSC Fantasia): “Marseille to Marseille.” 7 nights. Includes Marseille, Genoa, La Spezia, Naples, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, and Marseille.

Arabian Gulf and Western Mediterranean

Oceania Cruises (Nautica): “Dubai to Athens.” 27 nights. Includes Dubai, Muscat (Oman), Salalah (Oman), Petra (Jordan), Luxor, Suez Canal, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ephesus/Kusadasi, Skiathos (Greece), Istanbul, Lesbos (Greece), Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Syros, and Athens.
Costa (Costa Smeralda): “Dubai to Marseille.” 21 nights. Includes Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat, Salalah, Suez Canal, Haifa, Crete, Naples, Barcelona, and Marseille.

Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean

Seabourn (Seabourn Ovation): “Rome to Lisbon.” 14 nights. Includes Rome, FlorencePisa, Propriano, Marseille, Carcassonne (France), Palamos, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Valencia, Cartegena, Melilla (Spanish Territory), Tangier, Casablanca, and Lisbon.
Crystal (Crystal Symphony): “Barcelona to Lisbon.” 11 nights. Includes Barcelona, Alicante, Malaga, Cadiz, Casablanca, Agadir, Arrecife (Canary Islands), Santa Cruz, Tenerife (Canary Islands), Funchai (Madeira), and Lisbon.
Oceania Cruises (Sirena): “Istanbul to London.” 28 nights. Includes Istanbul, Bozcaada (Turkey), Ephesus/Kusadasi, Rhodes, Paphos, Haifa, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv, Crete, Zakynthos, Valletta, Trapani (Sicily), Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Portimao, Lisbon, Oporto, La Coruna, Bilboa, Bordeaux, St. Malo, and London (Southampton).

Several repositioning cruises also link the Mediterranean to the Caribbean and Asia.

Recommended Resources

You’ll find many useful resources on cruising in the Mediterranean that you may want to review prior to deciding on the when, where, and what of your trip. In addition to the Rick Steves’ Cruising the Mediterranean video, you’ll find many other Mediterranean YouTube videos created by travel experts, amateurs, and major cruise companies:

Top 10 Mediterranean Cruise Destinations
Top 11 Mediterranean Cruise Tips (Gary Bembridge)
Mediterranean Cruises
Royal Caribbean Top 5: Mediterranean Escapes for 2020
Embark on a Mediterranean Cruise with Princess
Mediterranean Cruise to Montenegro & Greece: Sky Princess
Mediterranean Cruise: Set Sail with Celebrity Cruises
7 Reasons to Take a Mediterranean Cruise: Celebrity Cruises
Explore Greece on a Mediterranean Cruise: Celebrity Cruises
Enjoy a Western Mediterranean Sea Cruise with MSC Cruises
Top 10 Tips for a Mediterranean Cruise
Mediterranean Cruise Aboard Royal Princess

If you need more travel information on Europe, consider subscribing to Rich Steves’ YouTube Channel which includes many of his informative travel videos and presentations for relatively independent budget travelers who prefer traveling by rail and road.

Several travel guidebooks focus on the Mediterranean. If you’re planning to do independent touring in various cruise ports, you may want to consult these four travel guides which are available through the CRUZUS bookstore:

Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships
DK Eyewitness Cruise Guide to Europe and the Mediterranean
Lonely Planet Cruise Ports Mediterranean Europe
Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports

With 30+ cruise lines specializing on Mediterranean cruises, you’ll find detailed information on hundreds of cruise itineraries by visiting their websites. The major cruises lines with a Mediterranean presence include:

AIDA Cruises
Atlas Ocean Voyages
Azamara Cruises
Celebrity Cruises
Costa Cruises
Crystal Cruises
Disney Cruises
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Holland America Line
Marella (TUI) Cruises
MSC Cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line
Oceania Cruises
P&O Cruises
Ponant Cruises
Princess Cruises
Regent Seven Seas
Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection
Royal Caribbean
Saga Cruises
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
SeaDream Yacht Club
Star Clippers
Vantage Deluxe World Travel
Viking Cruises
Virgin Voyages
Windstar Cruises