Southern Europe and The Mediterranean
Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Saint Paul, Marco Polo and millions of others from the dawn of civilization to present-day cruise vacationers have explored the coastal cities and thousands of islands of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. These are, in fact, places linked mainly by the sea, and much of their history, commerce and traditions have their origins there.
Cruises in this part of the world fall into three broad categories:
Eastern Mediterranean/Aegean Seacruises visit ports in Turkey, Greece and islands such as Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos and Crete. Ships traveling this itinerary on seven-day cruises often departing from Piraeus (Athens), Greece, or Istanbul, Turkey, though some longer voyages sail from ports farther west.
Western Mediterranean/Southern Europecruises sail among the cities and villages of Southern Europe from the Adriatic to the Straits of Gibraltar, including Venice, Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome) and Genoa, Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; St.-Tropez, France; Barcelona, Spain; and a host of others, ranging from small villages to major cities.
Southern Mediterraneancruises visit the more exotic ports of call along the coast of North Africa from Morocco to the Holy Lands, including Tunis, Tunisia; Tripoli, Libya; Alexandria, Egypt; and Haifa, Israel, among others.
Ports of Call
A crossroads of civilization throughout history, this ancient city literally serves as the bridge between Europe and Asia and lies at the head of the busy Bosphorus Strait where it joins the Black Sea. Busy, beautiful and almost overwhelming in the richness of its history, art and culture, Istanbul rates as a "must visit" destination.
Sultanahmet Square -
Two of Istanbul's most famous sites, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, stand just a short distance apart in the Sultanahmet Square district. The central focus of the city since the Romans built a Hippodrome stadium for races there more than 1,000 years ago, the square also is home to several museums and a bazaar where visitors can purchase genuine Turkish carpets and other handicrafts.
Topkapi Palace -
Built more than 500 years ago as the residence for the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, this complex of pavilions linked by four large courtyards today is a national museum housing fantastic treasures and providing a glimpse into the world of the Sultans who once ruled here.
Grand Bazaar -
A visit to Istanbul could not be complete without a trip to the Grand Bazaar and some serious shopping. A labyrinth of narrow streets leads bargain hunters past the hundreds of stalls offering everything from candies to fine jewelry. Remember that the merchants here expect to negotiate price.
Considered by many to be the most romantic city in the world, Venice is famous for its canals and the grand Piazza San Marco. A walk through the city's narrow streets inevitably leads to discoveries that are bound to become fond memories - pleasant plazas bordered by cafes, galleries of fine art and crafts and everyday scenes of life in a unique city.
A Gondola Tour -
Fleets of these distinctive single-oar boats stand travel among the canals that crisscross Venice, giving tourists a water-level view of the city and a unique memory to take home.
Island of Glass -
A short boat ride from the main part of the city takes visitors to the small island of Murano, where artisans demonstrate the skills that have been used to create masterworks of creative glassmaking there since the 13th Century. Today Murano glass is famous throughout the world.
Piazza San Marco -
Any tour of Venice must at some point linger for a while in this world famous plaza. St. Mark's Basilica, which dates to the 11th Century, and the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) anchor one end, and cafes and shops line the arcades behind graceful porticos on the sides of the Piazza.
Some experienced cruise travelers rate Barcelona among the world's most beautiful port cities. The tree-lined walkways, cafes and flower stalls of La Rambla, the mile-long focal point of the city's shopping and nightlife, could alone earn this Spanish port city that distinction.
Architectural Wonder -
Among Barcelona's most famous landmarks, the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia represents the crowning achievement of architect Antoni Gaudi, though it remains a work in progress more than 100 years after its construction began in 1882. The church's fantastic towers, striking artistic touches and unconventional design of the church today hint at the grandeur of the architect's design.
La Rambla -
This distinctive urban space invites visitors to linger and enjoy with open-air cafes, shops and non-stop entertainment throughout the day and night. Its proximity to the cruise port also makes it an ideal place to begin or end a tour of the area.
A relatively short coach trip outside the city into the mountains takes visitors to the spectacular Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, which dates back to the 9th Century. Both the richly decorated basilica and the views from this historic religious center could be described as breathtaking.