The Mediterranean region has it all — amazing food and wine, famous historical and cultural landmarks, scenic seaside towns and gorgeous island beaches.
You’d be hard-pressed to sample Spain, France, Italy and Greece on one land tour without transportation nightmares. A Mediterranean cruise, however, is the perfect way to get a taste of many coastal countries with ease as you transit between destinations while you sleep aboard your ship.
Whether they operate tiny ships with a few hundred passengers or giant megaships with several thousand people, most cruise lines have vessels summering in the Mediterranean. Some even sail the region year-round.
Most Mediterranean cruises focus on one region (usually the eastern or western halves of the coastline), but longer itineraries might encompass more. While choosing a ship is important, so is picking which route to take and which countries you want to see.
Consider what’s on your bucket list. Cruise lines offer a variety of options, making it possible for culture vultures, beach lovers, history buffs and family travelers to prioritize different ports of call and onboard amenities.
Here are some of the best Mediterranean cruises departing in 2024 and 2025 to whet your appetite for a European adventure by sea.
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Best cruise for romantics: Windstar Cruises in the rivieras
For romance seekers, few experiences beat a cruise that lingers along the French and Italian rivieras. France’s Cote d’Azur, with its coastal mountains and crystal blue sea, has inspired artists and romantics for centuries. The equally stunning Italian coast is perfect for romantic strolls around secluded harbors or an indulgent, delectable lunch at a table for two overlooking the ocean.
Another popular port of call on Riviera itineraries is Monaco, where you might visit the royal palace of the Grimaldi family and stop by the glamorous Monte Carlo Casino to pretend you are James Bond enjoying a night on the town.
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Related: Western Mediterranean vs. Eastern Mediterranean cruises: Which itinerary will I like more?
You’ll find these cruises on small and luxury ships, but our pick for romance is Windstar Cruises’ seven-night “Yachtsman’s Harbors of the Rivieras” sailing between Rome and Barcelona (or vice versa) on multiple spring, summer and fall dates in 2024 and 2025.
The five-masted Wind Surf is as picture-perfect as the ports you’ll visit, and the 342-passenger ship can follow all the luxury yachts into smaller harbors and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Your onboard meals, with many dishes created by James Beard-affiliated chefs, might even rival the fresh Mediterranean cuisine you’ll find in port.
Ports of call vary by sailing date but can include Port-Vendres, Sanary-sur-Mer and Cannes, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; and Portofino and Portoferraio, Italy. For the ultimate Riviera experience, book one of Windstar’s Prix du Monde sailings with exclusive access to the Formula One racing events.
Best cruise for budget-conscious travelers: Celestyal Cruises in the Greek isles
Visiting the Greek islands is a magical experience. Lessons in ancient history and the development of Western civilization come to life surrounded by astounding natural beauty.
Your jaw might drop as your ship navigates the sunken caldera that leads to Santorini, where whitewashed villages dot the tops of steep cliffs. In Mykonos, you can head to one of the island’s famous beaches or catch a ferry to explore the ancient ruins of Delos, known as the birthplace of Apollo. Budget-conscious travelers can skip the tours and stroll the narrow streets and city walls of the Old Town of Rhodes.
Related: Best Mediterranean cruise tips to enhance your European vacation
For less pricey ways to see the Greek isles, consider Celestyal Cruises, which sails three- and four-night mini-cruises in addition to affordable one-week sailings. A four-night cruise packs a lot into a short sailing with visits to Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion and Santorini, as well as Kusadasi, Turkey. Don’t forget to spend time in Athens, Greece, before or after your cruise.
Celestyal’s two ships carry between 1,200 and 1,700 passengers, so you’ll enjoy all the amenities of a large cruise ship — such as multiple pools, restaurants and bars, and spa and fitness facilities — without feeling inundated with many thousands of fellow cruisers.
Best cruise for history lovers: Viking in the Eastern Mediterranean
Eastern Mediterranean cruises of a week or more immerse you in multiple ancient civilizations and take you to the historical places you have traveled to see, including several UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Extraordinary itineraries visit Athens for the Acropolis; Istanbul for the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace; and Kusadasi for the impressive ancient city of Ephesus and sites associated with the Virgin Mary. In Dubrovnik, Croatia’s medieval Old Town (a filming location for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) will wow you; from Naples, Italy, you can explore the ancient city of Pompeii.
Cruises that start or end in Rome will treat you to such sights as the Roman Colosseum and the Vatican.
Related: Best Mediterranean cruise shore excursions
True history lovers will not be satisfied with only a week in this rich landscape. Choose Viking for your Eastern Mediterranean cruise, and look for longer itineraries, such as the 15-day “Ancient Mediterranean Antiquities” sailings throughout 2024. The one-way sailing between Rome and Istanbul hits most of the ancient civilization highlights: Naples and Sicily, Italy; Rhodes, Crete and Athens, Greece; and Ephesus, Troy and Istanbul, Turkey.
Viking also offers complimentary shore excursions in every port, so you’ll have access to knowledgeable guides who can explain the historical sites you’re touring. On board, you’ll find a comfortable home base on Viking’s 930-passenger identical ships, with multiple included dining venues, inviting lounges done in Scandinavian-inspired decor and comfortable cabins with thoughtful details, such as quiet-closing drawers and heated bathroom floors.
Best cruise for explorers: Celebrity Cruises in the Holy Land
Travelers who really want to double down on the ancient civilizations should look for longer Eastern Mediterranean cruises that combine Greece, Turkey and Italy with port calls in Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Depending on the specific Holy Land itinerary, you might see Cairo and the pyramids of Giza, Jordan’s ancient rose-hewed rock city of Petra and biblical locations in and around Jerusalem.
Celebrity Cruises is a terrific choice for your Holy Land cruise, as the company offers 10- and 11-night Egypt and Israel sailings. For example, a 10-night, round-trip Athens cruise visits Haifa and Ashdod, Israel (for Jerusalem) and Alexandria, Egypt, with overnights in each port except Haifa. The extra time in port allows for overnight tours, so you can venture farther into each country to see all the key sites. The 11-night version adds a stop in Kusadasi, Turkey, for a visit to Ephesus.
Celebrity’s ships are known for their foodie culture, with multiple specialty restaurants, as well as a happening bar scene. (Do not miss the martini flights.) With a range of rooms, from windowless inside cabins to comfortable suites, you can tour the Holy Land at any price point.
Best cruise for culture vultures: Norwegian Cruise Line in the Western Mediterranean
For foodies, fashionistas and art lovers, it’s hard to top a Western Mediterranean cruise to the renowned resort towns and famed coastal cities of Italy, France, Monaco and Spain.
This is your opportunity to see Antoni Gaudi’s fantastical Sagrada Familia church and other creations in Barcelona; visit Michelangelo’s David sculpture and other Renaissance treasures in Florence, Italy; hang out at the casino in Monte Carlo; and stop in dreamy Nice, France, for its Matisse and Chagall museums.
You can shop for Italian, French and Spanish designer fashion when you’re not dining on the best Italian pasta and gelato you’ve ever tasted — or bouillabaisse and escargot in France, or paella and tapas in Spain. All are accompanied by local wines, of course.
Related: How I skipped the cruise ship tour in Italy and had a better, cheaper adventure on my own
Norwegian Cruise Line offers a variety of Western Mediterranean cruises to key ports in Spain, Italy and France. The line’s newest ship, Norwegian Viva, sails the Med in the spring, summer and fall of 2024 and 2025. Its nine- to 11-night cruises call on a variety of major ports. For example, an 11-night cruise on select dates in 2024 sails from Rome to Lisbon, Portugal, and visits Livorno, Italy (for Florence and Pisa); Villefranche-sur-Mer (for Nice and Monaco) and Marseille, France; Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Motril and Cadiz, Spain (for Seville); and Gibraltar in the United Kingdom.
It’s a shame that the itinerary has no sea days because the ship offers plenty to keep cruisers busy on board. There’s a wealth of dining options, from the Italian cuisine-serving Onda by Scarpetta to a trendy food hall, plus a go-kart track, multistory twisty slides and a bar serving sustainable craft cocktails.
Best cruise for families: Royal Caribbean in the Mediterranean
When looking at a cruise with children, you’ll want to mix time exploring on land with playtime on the ship, whether in the kids club or with attractions like video arcades and waterslides. Look for an itinerary that includes one or more fun-filled days at sea.
Kids will enjoy such sights as the Roman Colosseum, where they might pretend that they are gladiators; the flower market in Nice, France; and the Leaning Tower of Pisa (on a shore excursion from Livorno, Italy). Take them to the beach in the Greek Isles, and eat pizza in Naples, Italy. If you can find a cruise that includes the Italian seaside villages of Cinque Terre (accessible from Genoa, Livorno and Portofino), fans of Disney’s animated feature “Luca” will be ecstatic.
Family favorite Royal Caribbean has a variety of ships and itineraries sailing around Europe, but a top option is a seven-night Western Mediterranean cruise aboard Oasis of the Seas. The round-trip itinerary departs from Rome. Additional ports of call include Naples and La Spezia, Italy (for Florence); Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Marseille, France. Sailings depart beginning May 2024.
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Family-friendly entertainment on board is plentiful. On sea days, you’ll have access to three main pool areas, a kiddie splash zone, surfing simulators, a miniature golf course and even a zip line.
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