The Mediterranean attracts diverse crowds who enjoy a mix of culture, history, and breath-taking scenery. The best season to travel to the Mediterranean is between April and November, but it’s best to book a trip in May or September to avoid the mid-summer crowds. I’ve taken cruises to various ports of call in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and France, and here are the top 5 cities I visit when cruising the Mediterranean.
As an avid fan of Turkish cuisine, Istanbul is my top destination to shop in the street markets and enjoy traditional roadside delicacies like the flaky cheese pastry Borek and the Turkish-style pizza Lahmacun. The bustling markets, the friendly locals, and the variety of cuisine made me extend my stay by a few days for time to cruise along the Bosphorus and see sights like the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque.
Once you’ve enjoyed the choppy waters of the Bosphorus, you’re ready for the bustling ambiance of the traffic, street vendors, and fish markets. It may seem intimidating at first but once you start exploring you’ll blend right into the scene. Don’t be shy to haggle at the Grand Bazaar for Persian rugs, leather goods, spices, teas, and Turkish lanterns.
Indulge in a Turkish bath, visit the waterfront village of Ortakoy for antique shops and art galleries, or venture out to Princes Islands which is lined with pine trees and seafood restaurants on the sand. It’s very laid back and peaceful since there are no cars allowed.
The Bay of Naples
Sunbathe, swim and sip cocktails in the cultural and luxurious Naples. Visit the nearby town of Sorrento which sits on a steep cliff along the Amalfi Coast, where the curvy roads, scented lemon groves, and stunning views of the Mediterranean will keep you intrigued.
You can shop, sample gelato, or rent yourself a car to drive along the coast to the volcanic land of Pompeii. You can follow the scent of lemons and take the hydrofoil from Naples or Sorrento to the classy island of Capri to shop for designer couture and Italian leather sandals. Wander through the refreshing streets where you’ll find designer boutiques, cafes, and scenic locales. Take a boat to Blue Grotto or enjoy coffee anywhere along the Piazzetta.
The most picturesque destination in the Mediterranean, Venice is a glorious island to visit during spring, summer, and autumn. Cruise ships glide along the Giudecca Canal to dock at the serene port of La Serenissima. Check out the best locals bars and cafes including Ca’d’Oro – Alla Vedova.
Hire a gondolier or board a Vaporetto (water bus) for a tour down the Grand Canal where you’ll see historic landmarks including Rialto Bridge, Palazzo Santa Sofia, and Palazzo Dario. Visit Piazza San Marco to enjoy panoramic views of the city from Basilica San Marco and St Mark’s Campanile.
The luxurious Monte Carlo is where you can dress to impress and roam the floral streets like a local. The jam-packed cliffs full of villas, pine and palm trees look over the dense sea, lined with luxury yachts. A variety of cruises from Southampton dock at Villefranche, the prettiest port along the French Riviera where you can grab lunch at any of the fabulous restaurants along the marina.
Tour the gardens, the Prince’s palace, the Grand Prix, and the legendary Casino Square but I suggest window shopping at the chic boutiques, spending hours at the Café de Paris, and watching Lamborghinis and Ferraris zoom along the road. The casino is quite an attraction but doesn’t get your hopes up for the salon’s prices, since these private rooms are strictly for professional gamblers.
A philosophical city rich in literature, architecture, and cuisine, Athens is most famous for its iconic buildings, museums, hotels, and restaurants that serve fresh seafood. Take an architectural tour to see Acropolis and other monuments like the 2,500-year-old Parthenon. Other inspirational sites include the Temple of Olympic Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, and the Theatre of Dionysus, which is known as the world’s oldest stage.
You can watch the changing of the guard ceremony in Syntagma Square, walk through the National Gardens or book an excursion to the peaceful island of Hydra.
Athens has a major urban appeal and a vibrant nightlife. New buildings are nestled between ancient statues and historical relics. You can explore Athens on foot to get a good feel for the city or hop on a tram.