When travellers hear the term ‘Mediterranean cruise’, they tend to automatically think of the Western Med, with the stunning weather, white sand beaches, and cocktails galore, but the Mediterranean is actually much more than that stereotype. Head further to the east, and cruise passengers are presented with the same serene seas and beautiful climate, along with many more cultural focuses and unique sights to see. Sadly, the fascinating ports of the Eastern Med are often overlooked due to the greater dynamism of the Western Med, particularly countries such as Spain and Portugal, but the region still receives an estimated 29 million cruise passengers each and every year. If you’re thinking of exploring the Eastern Mediterranean, here are some ports you simply cannot afford to miss:
Athens is a very popular port during the summer months and vessels dock into the ancient port of Piraeus, roughly 7 miles from the centre of Athens. When you arrive into Piraeus, you have three main options in terms of activities – stay and explore the port town, travel into central Athens, or take a ferry trip across to the Aegean islands. If you’re staying near the port, the Archaeological Museum is very interesting with collections of classic Greek art and a chance to learn about Greece’s vast and important history. Travelling into the city, there is no better site to visit than the Acropolis. It really is the symbol of Athens, with the Temple of Zeus being particularly fascinating. Ferries depart from Pireaus to Hydra Island and Aegina Island which both portray the classic whitewashed houses and Mediterranean architecture synonymous with the region and are very pleasant day trips, especially for families.
The beauty of Dubrovnik is that it’s such a small and compact city that you’re never far from anywhere; making it one of the most accessible Eastern Mediterranean ports of call. For those interested in European history, there are few places more amazing than Dubrovnik. Having played a huge role in the Croatian War of Independence, the effects and damage are still evident in this historic city, especially amongst the collection of photographs hanging in the War Photo Exhibition Centre. If you’re travelling with children who perhaps aren’t too interested in historic sights, Onofrio’s Fountain is quite Trafalgar Square-esque, and is a great place for children to play. Just opposite the port there’s a fantastic beach too, known as the Lapad Peninsula Beach. The modern, active beach is a stark contrast to the medieval town centre, and there’s always activities and refreshments galore.
If there’s one place everyone should add to their travel bucket list, it’s Istanbul. Istanbul is the only city in the entire world that straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. The blend of the Eastern European and Asian cultures are evident across the city, and it’s remarkable to see how Istanbul welcomes and incorporates aspects from both regions. Ships dock in Karaköy, on the European side of the city, and, conveniently, this is located right next to Taksim Square, which is largely considered to be heart of the city. Here you’ll find plenty of historic sites, but it’s the shopping opportunities throughout the many bazaars that are perhaps the most popular attraction. Fabrics, rugs and spices are sold in abundance here, but be vigilant if travelling with young children as some vendors can be quite intimidating. Turkey is one of the most up-and-coming cruise destinations in Europe, and it’s a wonderful place to visit.
Other exciting attractions to see include the magnificent Blue Mosque as well as the ever impressive Topkapi Palace. These are two truly spectacular sightseeing musts and are certainly not to be missed. Alternatively, if you’re looking to relax and unwind then perhaps take a boat trip along the Bosporus for fascinating views or even take the time to enjoy the great range of local cuisine.
With its gondolas and miles and miles of canals, is there anywhere in the world more romantic than Venice? Although there’s plenty to do in the city, if you’re just visiting for a day as part of an Eastern Mediterranean cruise itinerary, the best thing is to simply walk around and take in the many famous sites. The Bell Tower of Saint Mark stands tall as one of the city’s landmarks, and one which has influenced both design and structure around the world, while the Rialto Bridge, the oldest crossing the Grand Canal, and the Bridge of Sighs are favourites of lovers – kissing underneath them is said to bring health and happiness!
Cruises to Israel tend to dock in Ashdod, which is approximately a one hour journey from Jerusalem so the city is a common place to visit for the day while docked on the Mediterranean coast. As one of the most important religious cities in the world, Jerusalem really is a unique and fascinating place to visit, regardless of whether you’re a believer or not. By far one of the more interesting attractions in the city is the Garden Tomb, which is widely believed to house the tomb of Jesus. If you’re interested in different religions and cultures, the Old City is well worth a visit, as well as Yad Vashem, the city’s holocaust museum. Although there is plenty to do in the city, some travellers head to Jerusalem for one reason and one reason only – to bathe in the Dead Sea. It’s a bit of a trip outside of the city (make sure your ship is docked all day, or preferably overnight), but it really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you’re travelling with kids, this is one of the best Eastern Mediterranean destinations. Although it’s one of Bulgaria’s smaller cities, it’s perfectly set up for families, with plenty of family-friendly activities and things to do. The aquarium and dolphinarium, which are both in themselves excellent places to spend the day with children, are located right near the city’s main beach, which encompasses all the classic aspects of Mediterranean beaches with white sand and crystal clear blue seas. There’s also the Sea Garden, which is just child’s paradise. Although the park is very old, it’s perhaps one of the most active parts of the city, and includes live music performances, sporting activities, gentle footpaths, and even a zoo! Travellers don’t often associate Bulgaria as being a particularly family-friendly destination, but it’s by far one of the best in the region!
It’s rather unfortunate that the Eastern Mediterranean is often overlooked in favour of the Western Mediterranean as it’s actually far more dynamic and innovative than given credit for. The Eastern Med is so diverse that it can seem like you’ve travelled halfway around the world. If you like cruising, enjoy history and love culture, then the Eastern Mediterranean is definitely for you.