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Top 10 Western Mediterranean Destinations

The beautiful cliff-top views of the Mediterranean make Taormina well worth the one hour trip from Messina. - Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

Nowhere else do so many shore excursions spotlight culture, but with all of that amazing art, food, history, and architecture — and precious little time in port — how does a cruiser choose? Here are our top picks for what to see:

1. Alcazar Palace in Seville

Port: Cadiz, Spain

alacazar palace seville western med tours

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

Originally a Moorish fortress, this sprawling complex — which was built and rebuilt over the centuries — is an amalgamation of styles over the eras, from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Baroque. Lobed arches, sunken gardens, and monumental friezes are among its exquisite splendors.

Getting There: Seville is a 1 ½- to two-hour train ride from Cadiz.

Must-Do Experiences: Palacio de Don Pedro is the crown jewel of the collection of palaces. Head to the lovely gardens, which are groomed in as many styles as the palaces.

 

2. St. Rémy and Les Baux-de-Provence 

Port: Marseille, France

provence france azur western mediterranean tours

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

This duo of quaint villages, located on a rocky plateau hanging over olive groves, orchards, and vineyards, captures the spirit of the region. Les Baux-de-Provence is worth ascending for the photo ops alone, while the narrow streets of St Rémy are lined with cafes, artisan shops, and galleries.

Getting There: If you don’t sign up for an excursion through your cruise line, renting a car is the best way to get to the towns, which are just over an hour’s drive north from the Marseille port.

Must-Do Experiences: Meander the labyrinth-like ruins of Chateau des Baux, shop for locally pressed olive oil, and sip chilled Côtes de Provence in a sidewalk café.

 

3. Uffizzi Gallery in Florence

Port: Livorno, Italy

uffizi gallery florence western med excursions

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

This lavish former administrative building of considerable fame houses a trove of masterpieces from the collection of the Medici family. Among the key works are the 14th-century "Madonna With Child and Saints" by Pietro Lorenzetti, Botticelli’s iconic "Birth of Venus," and Michelangelo’s depiction of the "Holy Family."

Getting There: Trains from Livorno to Florence run hourly; the ride takes 90 minutes.

Must-Do Experiences: Walk through the rooms in chronological order, taking in the frescoed ceilings of the corridors. Excursions often combine gallery tours with other sights, such as Palazzo Pitti, Il Duomo, and Pisa, 51 miles west. 

 

4. Dragon Caves in Porto Cristo

Port: Palma de Mallorca, Spain

dragon caves porto cristo western mediterranean

Photo by Bob Krist / eStockPhoto

The Mediterranean Sea carved out this geological wonder, dripping with stalactites and sprouting stalagmites. The caverns are impressive in both their depth and natural beauty, enhanced by atmospheric lighting and a large subterranean lake.

Getting There: Rent a car from Palma de Mallorca; the caves are an hour’s drive east.

Must-Do Experiences: Listen to the echoing sounds of chamber music in a live concert on Lake Martel.

 

5. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

Port: Civitavecchia, Italy

st peters basilica rome western med

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

The church of all churches — stomping grounds of the pope — was constructed by no less than five architectural greats, including Donato Bramante and Michelangelo. The marble interiors and fine sculptural details impress, if not inspire faith.

Getting There: Take a shuttle bus from the port to the train. The trip will take roughly an hour and 15 minutes.

Must-Do Experiences: Admire Bernini’s spiral-column baldachin over the papal altar, Michelangelo’s masterpiece Pieta, and glass-enclosed relics of past popes. 

 

6. Kayaking in Menorca’s UNESCO Biosphere

Port: Mahon, Menorca, Balearic Islands

spain balearic islands western mediterranean tours

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the island of Menorca is home to marshes and dunes, empty beaches, and hidden caves accessed along the jagged coasts.

Getting There: Kayaking excursions depart from Es Grau or Cala en Porter, a 15-minute cab ride from the port. Trips also leave from Fornells on the northeast coast, approximately 30 minutes from Mahon by cab. Book in advance; the summer months can be busy.

Must-Do Experiences: Navigate the caves and islets of the protected northeast coast to the Favaritx Lighthouse; keep an eye out overhead for booted eagles and osprey and other birds of prey. 

 

7. Pompeii 

Port: Naples, Italy

pompeii garden fugitives

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

One of the most famous archaeological sites is also a cruise ship favorite: The vestiges of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption — a well-preserved complex of temples, villas, and public buildings —provide telling windows into ancient life.

Getting There: The Circumvesuviana train line departing from Piazza Garibaldi (take a cab, bus, or tram from the terminal) will whisk you to Pompeii in around 35 minutes.

Must-Do Experiences: Tour the Villa dei Misteri, which houses the enigmatic Dionysiac frieze; the Garden of the Fugitives’ molds of victims; and the arcaded amphitheater where gladiators once valiantly battled. 

 

8. Sagrada Familia

Port: Barcelona, Spain

sagrada familia western mediterranean tours

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

Though Antoni Gaudi was from a small province in Catalan, Barcelona is the city of his architectural legacies. Most dramatic of his curvaceous and ingenious structures is the Sagrada Familia, a church that remains unfinished after more than a century of construction.

Getting There: You can get to Sagrada Familia, and any of the city's other major sights, via public transportation or a short taxi ride from the terminal at the end of Las Ramblas.

Must-Do Experiences: Drop your jaw under the towering spires of Sagrada Familia; marvel at the sinuous stone façade of La Pedrera; muse over the fantastical mosaic figures at Park Guell.

 

9. Musei di Strada Nuovo 

Port: Genoa, Italy

musei di strada nuovo

Photo by Musei di Strada Nuovo

Originally a Moorish fortress, this sprawling complex — which was built and rebuilt over the centuries — is an amalgamation of styles over the eras, from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Baroque. Lobed arches, sunken gardens, and monumental friezes are among its exquisite splendors.

Getting There: Seville is a 1 ½- to two-hour train ride from Cadiz.

Must-Do Experiences: Palacio de Don Pedro is the crown jewel of the collection of palaces. Head to the lovely gardens, which are groomed in as many styles as the palaces.

 

10. Taormina

Port: Messina, Sicily

greek theater peloritani taormina western med

Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto

This cliff-top stunner — once the capital of Byzantine, Italy — has inspired artists and writers for ages. The town offers sophisticated shopping off the main thoroughfare, sweeping views from what appears to be the most tip-top of altitudes (Taormina is actually only 656 feet above sea level), and a scattering of Greek and Roman remains.

Getting There: You can take a train from Messina to Taormina, and then a cable car up to the top; the total voyage takes about an hour.

Must-Do Experiences: Hike to hilltop Castelmola for unparalleled views of the Ionian coastline and peer into the Greek amphitheater that frames billowing Mt. Etna. 


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