Top 8 Luxury Mediterranean Cruises: Best Ports and Excursions
From the dramatic rocky coasts of southern Spain and the romantic, sun-dappled promenades of the French Riviera, to the fascinating antiquities of Greece and Croatia’s stunningly clear waters, the Mediterranean truly has it all. With picturesque landscapes, fantastic food, historic and modern architecture, and a warm, welcoming climate, it’s no wonder the Mediterranean tops next to the Caribbean many lists of the most popular cruise destinations.
Couple the bountiful charms of this azure sea with the superb service, all-inclusive cruise fares, and stylish, spacious accommodation that you can expect when going on a luxury cruise, and you have a match made in heaven. When it comes to planning your luxury cruise to the Mediterranean (or “Med” for those in the know), there are a few things to keep in mind. Here we will share some of our top tips for when to cruise the Mediterranean, where to go and what to do, and what destinations you shouldn’t underestimate.
Why Take a Luxury Cruise to the Mediterranean?
To be honest, a better question might be “why not?” After all, the Med is one of the world’s most beautiful places, and it connects a wealth of diverse cultures, cuisines, and experiences. On a luxury cruise, you can experience these cultures one after the other, in style and comfort, with excellent enrichment programs to introduce you to the nuances of each destination. Plus, with the intimacy of small luxury cruises, you’ll be able to visit ports catering to the cosmopolitan, rather than the tourist.
Here are just a few of our best arguments to pick the Mediterranean for your next luxury cruise.
1. The weather
Unlike other equally beautiful cruise destinations like Alaska or even the Caribbean, the weather in the Mediterranean remains relatively warm year-round. While temperatures definitely become milder during the winter months, there’s still no shortage of fun and fascinating activities and excursions to take part in. High season for the Mediterranean falls during the summer when students have vacations and the temperatures can reach sweltering heights. However, for the best weather, opt for a cruise in spring or early fall, when the climate is ideal.
2. Cultural and historical diversity
Nowhere else in the world will you find so many different countries and cultures so easily accessible by cruise. From Portugal to France, Greece to Turkey, Israel to Egypt, Tunisia to Morocco - all of these vastly different countries are accessible by Mediterranean cruises. Don’t stop exploring at the coastal cities - opt for an over-land or ferry excursion to discover some of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets (which we’ll discuss more later).
3. Delicious cuisine
It may be a bit cliche to rave about the fine dining in Italy and France, but the Mediterranean’s other destinations boast equally delectable delicacies. Try fresh-caught fish in Croatia, flaky, honey-soaked baklava in Greece, and sun-ripened fruits and olives on the Turkish Riviera. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with tried and true favorites like French wines or Sicilian antipasti. One of the best parts of cruising the Mediterranean is that you can sample multiple cuisines on a single trip.
Plus, more and more luxury cruise lines are partnering with world-class and Michelin-starred chefs to offer passengers fine dining options between ports. For example, Seabourn teamed up with chef Thomas Keller to direct their specialty restaurant. Lines like Crystal Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises have each teamed up with a different celebrity chef to provide curated menus as well as custom dishes for cruisers with specific cravings.
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Best Time to Cruise the Mediterranean
It may be surprising, especially if you’re still new to cruising, but the best time to take a cruise is often different from the high season. This is certainly true of the Mediterranean. While the high season for the Med is in summer, usually from late June through August, the best time to visit is actually in the spring or fall. Here are some of our top recommendations for when to go for different experiences:
Best time for beaches
It seems like the height of summer would be best for relaxing on one of the myriad beaches along the Mediterranean coast, and that’s certainly true of many popular destinations. June and July are great times to soak up the sun on Croatia’s clear pebble beaches. Head for southern locales like Malta, Sardinia, and Corsica if you want to cruise in the spring.
Best time for natural scenery
Opt for an earlier cruise in late March or April if you want breathtaking natural splendor. Head to France’s southern coast and the French Riviera for flowers galore, particularly lavender. Of course, if you suffer from allergies, you may also want to keep this tidbit in mind when planning your luxury Mediterranean cruise.
Best time for wildlife
The Mediterranean Sea is home to an abundance of wildlife, but perhaps the optimal time to visit for a closer look is in early summer or early fall. Visit Iztuzu Beach on the Turkish Riviera in May or June to see nesting loggerhead turtles (Caretta Caretta), or come later in August to watch the baby turtles make their adorable dash to the sea.
Most Popular Mediterranean Ports
While any seasoned cruiser will tell you that the most popular and busy ports aren’t always the best, these fan favorites continually surpass expectations and wow new and experienced travelers alike. These Mediterranean cruise destinations add a little something extra to any itinerary.
The French Riviera’s port of choice features colorful architecture, romantic promenades, plenty of beaches, and exceptional shopping. It’s a particular favorite among the luxury cruising crowd for these reasons, and it also offers an excellent entrypoint into other French experiences further inland, like Castle Hill (Montee du Chateau).
Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
The Eternal City may be a common destination for Mediterranean cruises, but its incredible antiquities are anything but boring. Plus, with world-renowned wines and gourmet dining, Rome is a significant hub for foodie cruisers. Add to that a wide variety of luxury shopping - including Prada, Gucci, Armani, and more - and Rome’s long list of attractions becomes even more tempting.
Once a hidden gem twinkling among the Med’s better-known glitterati, Dubrovnik is now an A-list luxury cruise destination in its own right. Boasting impressive Roman architecture made famous by Game of Thrones, Croatia’s best-known cruise port also offers history-rich excursions into the city.
A historic hub of intercontinental trade and exchange, Istanbul is one of the Eastern Mediterranean’s top cruise destinations. Take in the hustle and bustle of bazaar shopping, visit the iconic Hagia Sophia, or immerse yourself in the culture, history, and art of Turkey with a museum.
Most Underrated Mediterranean Cruise Destinations
Discovering a new favorite destination is an incredible feeling. Not only do you have fewer crowds to contend with, but you can also easily feel like a cruise expert or a local. Plus, you can experience the authentic flavor and atmosphere before it becomes overrun by tourists. Here are some of the Mediterranean’s best-kept secrets you shouldn’t miss on your next luxury Mediterranean cruise.
This gorgeous bay won’t stay hidden forever, so plan your visit soon. Explore the charming old town, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with breathtaking panoramic views of the Dinaric Alps and stunning fjords. Kotor takes the best aspects of Europe - from medieval architecture to Mediterranean cuisine to impressive natural landscapes - and condenses them into a single pearl of experience.
A true city of stone, Cadiz dates back nearly 3,000 years. Rocky coastline gives way to sandy beaches, but the real allure of this cruise destination is its stone cathedral and village of rock-hewn domiciles. The famed pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago also ends in Cadiz. There’s plenty to see and do here, and its rugged, untamed landscape makes it ideal for those looking for more adventurous shore excursions.
Sun-soaked and friendly, Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city. It’s close to Mount Carmel and offers glorious gardens and architecture, plus plenty of street markets and boutique shopping. Top excursions tend to be active, like hiking and mountain biking, and Haifa also tends to be nestled in itineraries bookended by larger metropolitan ports.
Milos (Mylos), Greece
Greece’s “island of colors” features over 75 diverse beaches of all shapes, sizes, and types, plus jewel-like waters rippling between sapphire, turquoise, and emerald shades. The beaches range from black sand to white sand, pebble beaches and seashell beaches. Plus, this island boasts an impressive historic background, particularly for art history buffs, as it is the original home of the Venus de Milo.
Best Luxury Mediterranean Shore Excursions
While the services and amenities onboard a luxury cruise ship are notoriously excellent, the real draw of a cruise is getting to explore the different destinations. The Mediterranean is a particularly excellent place to opt for a luxury shore excursion, and these are some of the best.
Horseback riding in the Croatian countryside
Grand Prix de Monaco race
Porto Cervo and La Maddalena protected national park
A night out on the town in Mykonos
- Cruise ship: Seabourn Ovation
- Cruise line: Seabourn
- Itinerary: 14-Night Western Mediterranean Cruise
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