Home to iconic cities, historic ruins, incredible art, and sun-drenched beaches, the Mediterranean is a feast for the senses. The deep blue waters and gorgeous coastline have made it one of the most popular holiday spots in the world, but if you want to get a new perspective on this stunning region, you might want to explore it from the water.
From the culture-packed canals of Venice to the glamorous French Riviera, a Mediterranean cruise allows you to get up close to some of the most beautiful and characterful places in all of Europe. Plus, in between stop-offs, the views as you sail are utterly spectacular.
So, if you want to discover a whole new side of the Mediterranean, here are 11 stunning cruise destinations to inspire you.
1. The Greek islands
Steeped in myth, legend and history, the Greek Isles have been igniting the imagination for thousands of years. Boasting ancient ruins, whitewashed villages, and sparkling turquoise seas, it’s easy to see the appeal of these gorgeous isles – and for most holidaymakers, the only dilemma is deciding which islands to visit.
The Cyclades are among the most popular, and cruising around this part of Greece allows you to visit some of the most picturesque islands. Santorini, Mykonos, and Naxos are some of the loveliest isles – the ones that feature in films and postcards – and here you can explore cubic villages that sprawl across cliff sides, admire dramatic sunsets over glimmering seas, and enjoy lazy dinners in traditional tavernas.
The lush hillsides, azure waters, and white pebble beaches of the Ionian Islands are another excellent choice; relax on sandy beaches in Corfu, sample delicious olive oil in Paxos, and dive into translucent waters in Antipaxos. Further south there’s the Dodecanese, where you can explore Rhodes’ medieval old town, or immerse yourself in Greek cultural traditions in remote Karpathos.
With delicious food and wine, picturesque villages, historic towns, and a glorious coastline, Italy is another dreamy cruise destination. If you want to uncover the cultural treasures that this country is so known for, including Renaissance palaces and indulgent pastries, then a cruise can take you to Italy’s most sensational sights – from well-known cities like Naples to iconic islands like Sicily and Sardinia.
You can enjoy a romantic gondola ride down the canals of Venice, admire ancient ruins and works of art in Rome, and soak up the mesmerising beauty of the Amalfi Coast. Along the way, you can also feast on mouthwatering pasta and pizza, relax in charming piazzas, swim in sapphire blue waters, explore colourful coastal towns, and immerse yourself in la dolce vita.
Croatia is the jewel of the Adriatic, and its long coastline and idyllic islands make it ideal for cruising. With its shimmering cyan waters, Roman ruins, cascading waterfalls, rugged mountains, and historic walled cities, it’s no surprise that Croatia has become such a popular holiday spot in the past few decades – yet many parts of this country still feel like a hidden paradise.
On a cruise, you can explore the terracotta-tiled city of Dubrovnik, the seafront cafés and Roman temples of Split, the dazzling mountains of Plitvice Lakes National Park, and the many islands that are scattered along the Dalmatian Coast. You can sample impossibly fresh seafood, sip delicious local wine, visit Venetian-era palaces, and uncover centuries of history and culture.
4. Canary Islands
The bustling towns, black-sand beaches, and lunar-like landscapes of Spain’s Canary Islands are just three reasons why cruises here are so popular – and these volcanic isles have something for everyone. Tenerife is the largest island, and if you like hiking, you’ll definitely want to trek to the top of the looming volcano Teide, from where you can enjoy incredible views across the island.
In Gran Canaria, the cobbled streets and pretty old town of Las Palmas will appeal to history buffs, while in Lanzarote you can sample local wine from volcanic vineyards. The black sands and national parks of Fuerteventura are perfect for escaping the crowds, while on La Gomera, you can check out the house where Christopher Columbus once lived. There really is something for everyone!
Montenegro is one of Europe’s hidden gems – but this little-known Balkan nation is one of the most beautiful and charming places in the Mediterranean. Home to hulking mountains, buzzing beach towns, and jaw-dropping bays, this country may be small but it’s undeniably stunning, and during a cruise, you’ll get to see why Montenegro is tipped to be ‘the next Croatia’.
With its hilltop fortifications, ornate cathedrals and Venetian ramparts, coastal Kotor is one of the Mediterranean’s best-preserved medieval towns, and here you can visit museums, stroll along the harbour, and sample traditional Montenegrin foods. The sandy beaches are perfect for kicking back on, and the glimmering waters of the mountain-ringed bays are astonishingly photogenic.
6. Monaco and the French Riviera
Monaco and the French Riviera are undoubtedly one of the most glamorous cruise destinations in the world, not just the Mediterranean. This gorgeous region is synonymous with fancy yachts, deep blue waters, and palm-fringed boulevards, and whether you’re interested in sunbathing, swimming, or supercars, it’s difficult not to get carried away by the unbridled glitz and glamour.
In Monaco, you can explore the home of the Grand Prix, admire the Prince’s Palace, and sip cocktails in the world-famous Monte Carlo Casino. In Nice, you can step back in time as you explore the city’s medieval landmarks, before visiting the hilltop village of St Paul and Grasse – the best place in the world to buy perfume. And, to enjoy some sun-soaked glamour on the beach, there’s the iconic St Tropez!
Spain has long been one of the most popular destinations for a traditional Mediterranean holiday, but it’s just as suited to a cruise. Exploring sunny Spain by ship means you can visit the country’s most beautiful islands, as well as many of its mainland hotspots. Coastal cities like Barcelona, Malaga and Valencia are all packed with charm, and easy to reach on a cruise.
Plus, you’ll also get to explore the dreamy Balearic Islands; visit Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Cabrera, where you can sunbathe on long sweeps of sand, relax in buzzing beach bars, or stroll through charismatic old towns. If you have enough time, you can even cruise further south and stop off at the Canary Islands! A cruise is simply the best way to see as much of Spain as possible.
The island of Malta is like nowhere else in the world – and there’s no better way of exploring it, or its neighbours Gozos and Comino, than by cruise. The shimmering blue waters here are some of the most inviting in the whole Mediterranean, and many of these island’s best-kept secrets, like sea caves, fossil-adorned cliffs, and secluded beaches, are best spotted via the water.
Malta’s capital Valletta is an utter joy to visit, and anchoring in its port means you can explore this architectural paradise at your leisure; as the smallest capital in Europe, it won’t take long to see the sights! In Gozo, you can admire ancient Megalithic temples and striking salt pans, while in Comino, the remarkable Blue Lagoon will make you think you’ve somehow made your way to the Caribbean.
Just like Spain, Portugal has long been one of the most popular holiday destinations for Brits…and exploring this fabulous country on a cruise means you get to see so much more of it. You can sail from the Algarve to the Azores, to the coastal cities of Porto and Lisbon, and even to the subtropical island of Madeira. A Portuguese cruise allows you to discover a whole new side of this country.
In colourful Lisbon and Porto, you can visit medieval castles, modern museums, and buzzing bars, before relaxing on the sweeping beaches of the Algarve. Or, the Azores archipelago and the island of Madeira are glorious at any time of year, and their balmy climate means you get to admire vibrant flowers and sensational views whenever you set sail. The hiking here is also unrivalled!
The idyllic island of Cyprus boasts a captivating history, delicious food, lively towns, and a seemingly endless coastline that’s chock-full of beautiful Blue Flag beaches. Because it’s an island, this historical and cultural hotspot is also perfect for a cruise, and sailing along these dizzyingly blue waters means you get to make the most of Cyprus’ many delights.
The port of Limassol is one of the highlights of a cruise, and here you can explore the old town of Lemesos, sample authentic Cypriot cuisine in traditional tavernas, and kick back on the many golden beaches. In Paphos, you can also see some of Cyprus’ most famous sites, like the Rock of Aphrodite and the awe-inspiring archaeological site Curium, with its stunning sea-facing amphitheatre.
Just a little further afield, on the very eastern edge of the Mediterranean, is Turkey. An intoxicating blend of cultures and histories, Turkey is a place where old meets new and east meets west. A cruise here covers all the must-visit sights, from modern, fast-paced cities to ancient sun-bleached relics, and allows you to gain a much deeper understanding of this unique country.
If you want to hit the beach, Antalya province can’t fail to impress, and apart from its beautiful stretches of sand, it’s also home to historic fortresses, incredible natural sights, and the lively resort town of Alanya. Istanbul, with its remarkable Blue Mosque and bustling bazaars, is worth a visit too… And, if you’re into history, the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus in Kusadasi may be a cruise highlight.
If you’ve never thought about taking a cruise before, we hope this article has shone a light on why they’ve become so popular. Once viewed as expensive or restrictive, cruises are now one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel market for a reason.
Not only are cruises stress-free holidays where all the logistics are taken care of for you, but they also allow you to see far more than you would on a traditional holiday. Sailing along a country’s coastline, and visiting its islands, means you can experience so much more – and when you’re not actively exploring, you can relax on deck and admire the sensational views.
With its dazzling blue waters and captivating coastline, not to mention astonishing diversity, the Mediterranean is arguably the top cruise destination in the world. The only problem will be deciding which country you want to visit the most!
For more cruise inspiration, you might want to check out our other articles on the travel section of our website – including 9 unforgettable cruise destinations, 7 scenic river cruises in Europe, and 10 best destinations for first-time cruisers.
Have you been on a Mediterranean cruise – or has this article inspired you to think about taking one? Do you have any other suggestions for idyllic cruise destinations? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below.