With a rich tapestry of history, iconic architecture, sun-soaked coves and captivating cultural treasures, the Med continues to sparkle as a cruise destination. We round up the best mediterranean cruises for the year ahead.

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Adapting to an ever-changing world means cruise lines are increasingly inventive with itineraries; but the Mediterranean remains our number one cruise destination, and experts predict the year ahead will see the spectacular Turkish city of Istanbul and Israel’s Ashdod, for excursions to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, surging in popularity.

“Travel to Europe is more popular than ever – ABTA’s 2020 Travel Trends report revealed that Europe was the number one choice for British holidaymakers travelling abroad, with 84% visiting the continent in 2019,” Wendy Atkin-Smith, Managing Director of Viking UK, comments.

“Based on demand for both river and ocean cruises in the region over the next two years, this trend is set to continue. Viking’s Iconic Western Mediterranean voyage between Barcelona and Rome is one of our most popular itineraries worldwide for UK guests.

“On an eight-day cruise guests can visit Rome, Florence, Monte Carlo, Marseille, Montpelier and Barcelona – imagine trying to fit in that many city breaks to a one-week holiday.”

Most Mediterranean itineraries will also include opportunities to just soak up the sun. Busy days sightseeing are often followed by more relaxing days in beautiful sun-kissed destinations, such as the beautiful islands of Sardinia and Menorca. And returning to cities that may be more familiar, for instance, Barcelona and Rome, means you can dig deeper and visit the neighbourhoods to reveal what makes these places tick.

The Best Mediterranean Cruises

Best cruises in the Med for history lovers

An overnight stay at Ashdod for excursions to Jerusalem and Bethlehem is the highlight of this week-long voyage with Marella Cruises. You will see shrines, monuments and churches as well as the Wailing Wall and the Garden of Gethsemane. Also, you will have the opportunity to bathe in the soothing mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea. The round-trip from Limassol, Cyprus, calls at Alanya, in Turkey, presented to Queen Cleopatra by Mark Antony in 44BC, and the elegant resort of Marmaris. Plus, there’s a day in cosmopolitan Heraklion, capital of Crete.

*The Ancient Affair cruise on Marella Celebration departs 11 November, with prices from £875pp, based on two people sharing, when booked online, including flights, transfers, tips and service charges (0871 230 2800; tui.co.uk/cruise).

Best for culture vultures

Cunard’s Queen Victoria sails from Southampton to the walled city of Kotor, in Montenegro, for its 19-night cruise in September. Backed by mountains and approached by a long bay resembling a fjord, Kotor is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Adriatic. Croatia’s Dubrovnik and Split come next, and while Croatia’s town walls and marble streets are famous, Split’s third-century Palace of Diocletian is still an unknown treasure, which is full of temples, statues and sphinxes. But it’s Venice that is the main highlight, lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces, alleys and piazzas. The ship then calls at the French island of Corsica before heading home via Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.

*The Venice and the Adriatic cruise on Queen Victoria departs 20 September, with prices from £3,549pp, based on two people sharing (0344 338 8650; cunard.com).

Best Mediterranean cruises for wine connoisseurs

Oenophiles who would like to explore southern France before a day at the seaside in Marseille should try Avalon’s enchanting nine-day river cruise. This Rhône-Saône itinerary is a foodies’ delight, leaving from charming Saint-Jean-de-Losne with a Master of Wine lecturer on board. There’s also a visit to a Chardonnay cellar in Mâcon for wine tasting, two days in France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon, plus a walking tour of medieval Tournon with wine and chocolate tasting at Valrhona, and a trip to the wine cellars of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Avignon. Don’t forget to book an Avalon Your Way one-night stay in Marseille so you can soak up the Mediterranean sun.

*The Marseille for Wine Lovers (southbound) river cruise departs 27 October, with prices from £2,897pp, based on two people sharing, including flights and one night in Marseille (0330 058 8243; avalonwaterways.co.uk).

Best cruise for exploring iconic cities

Longer cruises, such as this 24-day voyage from Oceania Cruises, offer more opportunities to spend time in smaller towns and cities, such as Valencia in Spain. This has 15th-century Gothic buildings as well as the ultra-modern architecture of its state-of-the-art Science and Culture Park, not to mention sandy beaches. There is island hopping, from Menorca to Sardinia, Malta and Sicily – where Syracuse is known for its Greek and Roman ruins. In addition, this cruise offers the chance to visit Rome, Florence, Barcelona, Granada and Seville. Sirena will then sail up the Atlantic coast to northern Spain and France before reaching Southampton.

*The Catalonia to Crowns cruise on Sirena departs 18 April 2021, with prices from £4,719pp, based on two people sharing, including flights (0345 505 1920; oceaniacruises.com).

Best Mediterranean cruises for ancient wonders

Luxury all-inclusive line Seabourn is returning to Turkey’s most fascinating city, Istanbul, this year and this seven-night Ephesus & Greek Isles voyage offers a lovely way to meander through the Aegean isles and along the Turquoise Coast. Departing from Piraeus, the ancient port on the edge of Athens, it calls at beautiful Greek islands including Patmos – a UNESCO world heritage site – Mykonos, with its maze-like whitewashed streets, and Skiathos, where you can get boats to isolated beaches. There’s also a day on the Turkish island of Tenedos, which has a crenelated fortress and cobblestone streets, before arriving at Istanbul, where a post-cruise hotel stay is available.

*The Ephesus & Greek Isles cruise on Seabourn Ovation departs 10 October, with prices from £3,499pp, based on two people sharing, including flights and onboard credit (0344 338 8615; seabourn.com).

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Credit: Puk Patrick via Unsplash

And myths & legends

A new ocean itinerary from Viking – an eight-day journey from Turkey to Greece starting with an overnight in Istanbul and finishing with two days in Piraeus to explore Athens. Six guided excursions are included with extra paid-for tours, such as visiting a centuries-old Turkish bath in Istanbul and dinner in Athens’ Plaka District while watching traditional dancing. Sailing through the Dardanelles, there’s a day at Çanakkale in Turkey to see the nearby ruins of Troy or the First World War battlefields of Gallipoli. At Kuşadasi you can visit the extensive ruins of Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary is said to have once lived, and at Heraklion in Crete you can visit the Palace of Knossos and see the labyrinthine corridors of King Minos’s court, where the mythical half-man, half-bull Minotaur lived.

*The Ancient Mediterranean Treasures cruise on Viking Sky departs 25 April 2021, with prices from £2,790pp, based on two people sharing, including flights and gratuities (0800 298 9700; vikingcruises.co.uk)

Best Mediterranean cruises for art lovers

Viking has three-night French Riviera post-cruise stays available for its eight-day itineraries on the Saône and Rhône rivers. Starting with three days in Lyon, France’s third largest city and the ultimate in food destinations, the cruise takes you to the wine regions of Burgundy and Beaujolais around the Roman town of Vienne. There are more vineyards around Tournon, but Avignon is an architectural revelation with its Gothic Papal residence, fortress, church and palace. The Roman city of Arles, an inspiration to countless artists, is also on the itinerary, but you can add on a three-night hotel break in Nice, on the Côte d’Azur with tours of the Old Town, English and Russian quarters as well as walks along the beach.

*The Lyon & Provence river cruise, with regular departures between March and November, starts from £2,295pp, based on two people sharing, including return flights, excursions, drinks with meals, gratuities and wifi, plus £599pp, two sharing, for three-night extensions (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk).

Best for intrigue

Silversea’s 11-day itinerary starts in the Atlantic, at Portugal’s charming capital, Lisbon, and some of its most interesting destinations are just outside the Mediterranean at Portimão, on Portugal’s Algarve coast, and up the River Guadalquivir to Seville. This UNESCO-listed city is home to Flamenco, tapas bars and the Mudéjar architecture of Alcázar royal palace, and Christopher Columbus’s possible final resting in the Gothic cathedral. It’s also close to Córdoba and its extraordinary mosque-cathedral. Then there’s an excursion to the unforgettable walled medina of Tangier, whose Moorish architecture is mirrored in parts of Málaga, where the Alcazaba fortress dates back to the 11th century. Cartagena and Valencia have Moorish history but also scars from the Spanish civil war, while Palma has a Moorish royal palace still used by the King of Spain. The cruise ends with a night’s stay in Barcelona, arguably Spain’s most exciting city.

*The Lisbon to Barcelona cruise on Silver Shadow departs 13 September, with prices from £4,590pp, based on two people sharing (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).

Best Mediterranean cruise for architecture

Emerald Waterways is building its own ocean cruise yacht for 2021, but meanwhile its coastal voyages along the Dalmatian coast offer the chance to explore Croatia’s gorgeous islands on a boutique-style yacht. The itinerary weaves a path from Split to Dubrovnik calling at UNESCO-listed Trogir with Romanesque churches and Renaissance buildings, as well as Šibenik with its UNESCO-listed St James Cathedral. You can swim under the waterfalls of Krka National Park and walk through vineyards and lavender fields near Hvar. The island of Korčula has sandy beaches and medieval architecture, while Slano and Ston on the Adriatic coast are known for their wine. The cruise, which includes breakfast and lunch but only two dinners so passengers can go local, finishes with an overnight stay in Dubrovnik.

*The Islands of Dalmatia cruise departs regularly, from 23 April, with prices from £1,745pp, based on two people sharing, including flights and transfers, excursions, tipping and gratuities (0808 252 3363; emeraldwaterways.co.uk)

Best cruises in the Med for romance

Two overnight stops, in Istanbul and Venice, make Holland America Line’s 12-day itinerary stand out from the crowd. Moderately sized Nieuw Amsterdam, which takes just 2,106 passengers, leaves Venice for an eastern Mediterranean cruise that includes a day at the seaside town of Katakolon for excursions to the ancient Greek ruins of Olympia, then on to Piraeus for a day in Athens. Scenic cruising through the Dardanelles, the 37-mile wide waterway that divides Europe from Asia, ends in Istanbul for two days of sightseeing that might include the sublime beauty of the Blue Mosque, the grandeur of Topkapi Palace where the Ottoman sultans kept their harem, or perhaps the Grand Bazaar full of spices, rugs and leather goods. There are calls at the ridiculously picturesque Greek island of Mykonos, historic Rhodes and Crete, before heading north to Croatia’s UNESCO-listed island, Korčula, where 400 years of Venetian rule is reflected in its charming streets, then an overnight stop in Venice itself – possibly the most romantic city in the world.

*The Mediterranean Empires cruise on Nieuw Amsterdam departs on 9 and 21 July, with prices from £1,849pp, based on two people sharing, on a cruise only basis (0244 338 8605; hollandamerica.com).

Best cruise for beaches

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Credit: Nick Karvounis via Unsplash

Combine Spanish style with French sophistication and you have a cruise that defines cosmopolitan chic. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ nine-day voyage on luxurious small ship MS Europa 2 leaves Mallorca for a day in Barcelona, then returns to the Balearic Islands calling at Formentera during the day and arriving on Ibiza at 10pm in time to party. There’s also a day in Menorca’s capital, Mahón. This is a particularly good cruise for golfers, with access to PGA-standard greens on the French island of Corsica, plus Marseille and Antibes, where you can spend the day before sailing round the corner for an overnight stay at the millionaires’ playground of Cannes.

*The Mallorca to Cannes cruise on MS Europa 2 departs 22 July, with prices from £5,100pp, based on two people sharing, on an all-inclusive cruise-only basis (0800 0513 829; hl-cruises.com).

Best cruise in the Med for island-hopping

If you’re hankering after the Greek islands but need a no-fly cruise, Saga Cruises has just the thing: a 22-night return-trip from Southampton to Athens. This voyage will be only the fourth outing for Saga’s new boutique ship, Spirit of Adventure, which launches in late August, and along the way it will call at ports where history was made. There’s Malaga, founded by Phoenicians, where you can see Roman ruins and The Alcazaba – a Moorish fortress; Valletta, Malta’s capital, which was built by the Knights of St John and still has buildings from that period; Heraklion in Crete has a Venetian fortress, and during an overnight stay in Piraeus there are Greek ruins galore in Athens. The cruise also includes a spot of Greek-island hopping, calling at unspoilt Karpathos, UNESCO-listed Patmos and lovely Lesbos.

*The Tales from the Ancient Mediterranean cruise on the Spirit of Adventure departs 10 October, with prices from £5,928pp, based on two people sharing, and is all-inclusive with no on-board gratuities (0800 505030; travel.saga.co.uk).

Best Mediterranean cruises if you’re new to cruising

There are few new-to-cruise itineraries that can beat the Western Med. Almost all European history can be seen in the well-known ports and excursion cities that passengers visit, from Barcelona with its old Gothic quarter and uplifting Art Nouveau architecture to the monuments, ruins and still-standing ancient buildings of Rome, an hour or so from the port of Civitavecchia. Norwegian Cruise Line’s seven-day round-trip from Barcelona also calls at Naples, a fascinating city and just a short train journey from Pompeii, while Livorno has Pisa almost on its doorstep by train. By contrast Cannes, in the south of France, and Palma, on the Spanish island of Majorca, have both interesting architecture and pretty beaches.

*The Western Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona on Norwegian Epic departs weekly from 3 May to 1 November, with prices from £689pp, based on two people sharing, cruise only (0333 241 2319; ncl.com).

Most stylish Mediterranean cruises

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Credit: Cinque Terre by Brooks Rice via Unsplash

There’s something for everyone on MSC Cruises’ idyllic seven-night Mediterranean cruise, which starts in the charming port of Palma, in Mallorca. The ship then heads out to colourful Barcelona, and metropolitan Cannes, on the French Côte d’Azur, which is great for people watching; or if that doesn’t float your boat, there’s a wonderful nature walk round the back streets. On arriving at the Italian Riviera, you’ll have a day at Genoa and another
at La Spezia, one of the best-known ports of the Cinque Terre. The former fishing village is now a hotspot of tall, colourful, buildings clinging to the cliffs along this dramatic coastline. Once seen, never forgotten.

*The Mediterranean cruise on MSC Grandiosa departs on 2 April 2021, with prices from £849pp, based on two sharing, on a cruise-only basis (0203 870 2941; msccruises.co.uk).

Best for elegance

Princess Cruises takes you to the main sights with side orders of sophistication and exotica on a no-fly cruise from Southampton. This 13-night round trip includes Barcelona; Livorno for excursions to Florence or Pisa; and Civitavecchia for Rome. It also calls at Marseille, which has been transformed since its year as European City of Culture 2013. The old port is still the biggest attraction, with its world-class MuCEM dedicated to Mediterranean culture. Also included is a little time for the beach at the Italian island of Sardinia and a day at Spanish enclave Ceuta in Morocco.

*The Mediterranean Adventurer cruise on Crown Princess departs August 2 2020, with prices from £1,349pp, based on two people sharing (0344 338 8663; princess.com)

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