Explore well-preserved sights at these lesser-known and iconic ports of call.
If you're contemplating a European cruise, it's important to decide which region you want to visit to find the right itinerary for you. Western Mediterranean itineraries often include stops in Portugal, Spain, Italy and France, while eastern Mediterranean cruises extend from northeast Italy and Croatia into the Adriatic Sea, through the Greek Islands, Turkey and often Israel or Egypt. Meanwhile, northern European voyages may include stops in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, the Baltics and Russia. And while it's easier to find cruise itineraries that visit the most well-known western Mediterranean ports, a visit to less-frequented locales can be the most memorable calls of all. Here are 10 not-to-be-missed ports across the pond.
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Valletta, the capital of the small island nation of Malta, is situated to the south of Sicily. And the views of the medieval fortresses that line the harbor are spectacular. Architecture enthusiasts should head over to St. John's Co-Cathedral in the center of Valletta. Afterward, tour the 16th-century limestone Grand Master's Palace, located on Palace Square. Other shore excursions may include motor coach rides to view ancient megalithic temples and the city of Mdina, the original capital of Malta. A variety of cruise lines, including Azamara Club Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises offer sailings to Valletta.
A beautiful Italian island located only 50 miles north of Sicily, Lipari offers a picturesque backdrop with colorful fishing boats set against a massive cliff. As you leave the port and wind your way up the cobbled path toward the city, you'll be amazed by old-world sights. Once you reach the top of the hill, take a few moments to absorb the 13th-century Greek mini-amphitheater, and visit the Aeolian Archaeological Museum. Continue your stroll past tiny boutiques and souvenir shops, where you'll find handcrafted jewelry. Many small-ship cruise lines, including Windstar Cruises and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, offer voyages to Lipari.
When you pull into the tiny town of Portofino, you can expect postcard-worthy views. Nestled in a cove overlooking the Mediterranean, Portofino rivals cliffside Positano in its charm. Located on the northwest coast of Italy, Portofino's closest major city is Genoa. Your ship may dock in Genoa – and transport cruisers to Portofino – or anchor off of the nearby town of Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy. After tendering in, walk the 3-mile scenic overlook path between the two towns. Stroll the path from the right side of the harbor to view the 12th-century Church of San Martino. A variety of cruise lines, including Azamara, Celebrity Cruises and Windstar, offer sailings to Portofino.
On Italy's west coast, you'll find the lively seaport of Livorno. In the midst of a cultural resurgence, Livorno is the jumping-off point for passengers to reach Pisa and Florence, both nestled in the nearby Tuscan countryside. You'll have to choose between a daytrip to Pisa or Florence. If this is your first visit to Italy, Florence should be your number one choice. Just over an hour's drive from Livorno, Florence is compact enough that visitors can see many of the city's highlights in one whirlwind day. Though a mad rush through the city may leave you exhausted, save some energy to shop for leather goods and jewelry along Florence's Ponte Vecchio.
There are two main reasons why you shouldn't overlook this canal-laden city. First, in the future, large cruise ships will not be allowed to cruise past Piazza San Marco and the gleaming Basilica di San Marco. Second, most ships dock overnight in port, giving guests an opportunity to explore a city where no cars, taxis or buses are allowed. Transportation is solely done on public water buses, private water taxis or on foot. To escape heavy crowds, make your way across the bridges along Riva Degli Schiavoni, where the locals hang out to dine and shop at the Arsenale. If you want to pick up a souvenir, colorful ceramic carnival masks are plentiful, as are glass figurines.
A gem in the Adriatic Sea, along the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, Dubrovnik lures cruisers with winding streets, stone buildings and its fortress-like stone wall. From the pier, it's a short walk into the heart of the old walled town. After you enter the old city, take a walk along the Placa, the pedestrian promenade that features fountains, cobblestone streets, cafes and shops and churches. And have your camera ready as you sail away past Dubrovnik's spectacular suspension bridge at sunset. Many cruise lines, including Azamara, Celebrity, Cunard, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Star Clippers, offer voyages to Dubrovnik.
With dramatic mountains as a backdrop, a panoramic drive around Corfu delivers breathtaking views at each turn, with looming castles and ancient monasteries visible along the roads. Depending upon where your ship is docked, you can either hop on a shuttle bus or walk to the Old Town of Corfu, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Be sure to allow time to wander across the drawbridge to explore the Old Fortress. When you're ready to grab a bite, you'll find lively tavernas throughout the Old Town offering authentic Greek cuisine. A variety of cruise lines, including Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean offer sailings to Corfu.
An often-overlooked yet excellent jumping off point for exploring England, Southampton is the home port for Cunard, the iconic luxury cruise line. Here you'll find a sprawling modern shopping center, several pubs, storied stone walls and sidewalks with embedded plaques. Take a walk through the archway of the 800-year old Bargate that formerly served as the main entrance to the once walled city, or plan a daytrip into London and beyond. Tours to Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and Windsor Castle are among the most popular expeditions from Southampton. Many cruise lines, including Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean offer sailings with stops in Southampton.
Pronounced "Cove," Cobh is the port for Cork, Ireland. From Cobh, you can take a ship transfer or train, located at the end of the pier, for a 25-minute trip to Cork. No trip to Cobh and Cork is complete without a few hours spent at the world-famous Blarney Castle, but save a little time to discover the quaint town of Cobh. Here you can tour the Cobh Heritage Center before stopping in a lively pub for a Guinness beer, fish and chips. And don't leave Cobh without picking up a few authentic keepsakes, such as ceramic pottery and handcrafted woolens. Celebrity, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean, along with other mainstream cruise lines, offer itineraries to Cobh.
Norway's second-largest city, Bergen, is nestled between lush mountains, snow-capped fjords and the sea, offering a postcard-perfect setting. A recognized UNESCO World Heritage site, Bergen has retained much of its 900-year-old charm. And no visit to Bergen would be complete without a ride on the funicular to the top of Mt. Floyen, which sits at 1,000 feet above the city. Afterward, make your way to Torggaten, a pedestrian shopping mall filled with small shops, large department stores, restaurants and coffee shops. When hunger sets in, visit Bryggen, the city's colorful harbor, which features lively pubs and cafes. Many cruise lines, including Holland America, Hurtigruten Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises offer, itineraries to Bergen.