Top 10 Eastern Mediterranean Destinations

Venice is a staple of European cruising, but there are plenty of other gems in the Eastern Mediterranean worth exploring. - 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. Acropolis of Athens

Port: Piraeus, Greece

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This ancient citadel — located on a rocky outcropping atop Athens — symbolizes the glory of Greece at its pinnacle. The columned Parthenon that’s dedicated to Athena holds no architectural rival in grace or symmetry.

Getting There: Take the Line 1 metro from Piraeus to downtown Athens, approximately a 30-minute ride.

Must-Do Experiences: Walk around the Parthenon, then hit the Acropolis Museum, home to original friezes, caryatids, and sculptures; stop to take a breather outside — the Acropolis offers commanding city views. 


2. Topkapi Palace 

Port: Istanbul, Turkey

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Built in the 15th century, the pavilions, courtyards, and corridors of this opulent compound — once the seat of Ottoman rule — paint a vivid picture of court life and its intricacies, schemes, and mysteries.

Getting There: You can reach the historic quarter in 10 minutes via taxi.

Must-Do Experiences: Marvel at the glittering jewels in the treasury and get lost in the labyrinth-like harem, once the residence of the sultan’s concubines and eunuchs. 


3. Oia

Port: Santorini, Greece

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A cascading slope of whitewashed dwellings built into volcanic rock, the Cycladic village of Oia seduces with charming shops, caldera-facing eateries, domed churches, and narrow walkways awaiting a leisurely amble.

Getting There: A cab from the cruise port will deliver you in 15 minutes.

Must-Do Experiences: Savor Santorini wine in a taverna, gaze at fishing boats bobbing in port, and discover shops and restaurants in off-the-main-thoroughfare lanes.


4. Delos

Port: Mykonos, Greece

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A revered shrine of ancient Greece, Delos was the mythical birthplace of Apollo, the god of poetry, music, and prophecy. Its jewels are the ancient mosaic floors of the courtyard houses and the beasts of the Avenue of the Lions, replicated and lined up for dramatic effect.

Getting There: The island is a half-hour boat ride from Mykonos.

Must-Do Experiences: Ascend Mount Kynthos — the island’s highest point — for 360-degree views, parade down the Avenue of the Lions to the Sacred Lake, or swing by the Archaeological Museum to see the antiquities’ originals.


5. Olympia

Port: Katakolon, Greece

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The fabled birthplace of the Olympic Games — which date back to 8th-century B.C. — and the illustrious public buildings (a hippodrome, stadium, and gymnasium, for example) bring the ancient sporting events (chariot racing, wrestling, and discus throwing) to life.

Getting There: It’s a 40-minute drive from Katakolon to Olympia. Rent a car, take a (overpriced) cab, or book a shore excursion through your cruise line.

Must-Do Experiences: Check out the remains of the Temple of Zeus, a Doric-column sanctuary — once the finest of ancient Greece — then make your way to the Archaeological Museum for a glimpse of the Statue of Hermes by Praxiteles.


6. Ephesus

Port: Kusadasi, Turkey

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Despite the footprints of hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, this once-thriving Greco-Roman metropolis, with origins from the 10th century B.C., is one of the most well-preserved. The city’s role in the spread of Christianity and its beautiful cluster of temples and public buildings score it a top spot on every history lover's bucket list.

Getting There: Walk 20 minutes to the bus station, where a vehicle can transport you to the ruins in 30 minutes.  

Must-Do Experiences: Study the columned library that still holds papyrus scrolls, the semicircle theater where gladiators once held combat, and the delicate Temple of Hadrian, whose arches are adorned with deities. 


7. Basilica di San Marco 

Port: Venice, Italy

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Originally built as a repository for the body of its namesake saint, this 11th-century church is the striking signature of Venice and the lavish fusion of two architectural styles: Byzantine and Romanesque. The glittering floor-to-ceiling mosaics and adorned altarpiece are convincing testaments to the former city-state’s wealth and power.

Getting There: It takes 20 minutes by bus, boat, or vaporetto to get to Piazza San Marco.

Must-Do Experiences: Examine the mosaics that recount the life of Christ, as well as the Pala d’Oro, a jewel-encrusted gold altarpiece. Some cruise lines host an evening excursion paired with a gondola ride. 


8. Krka National Park

Port: Split, Croatia

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The blue-green Krka River cut out a landscape of gorges, canyons, and cliffs in limestone and is now a protected national park with natural pools and gushing waterfalls.

Getting There: Booking a shore excursion with your cruise line will ensure round-trip transportation; otherwise, you can rent a car for the hourlong drive.

Must-Do Experiences: Count the 17 waterfalls of Skradinski Buk, hop on a boat to the island monastery of Visovac, or hike to the park’s second largest falls, Roski Slap.


9. Villages of Corfu

Port: Corfu, Greece

villages corfu greece mediterranean cruise tours

Photo by Musei di Strada Nuovo

The most breathtaking scenery in Corfu can be found in the outer reaches of the island. An invigorating 4x4 excursion will wind through coastal roads, past cypress-dotted mountains, olive groves, and frozen-in-time villages.

Getting There: Excursions often leave directly from the cruise port.

Must-Do Experiences: Chat with locals over wine in Sokraki, pause for panoramic views of Paleokastritsa at Bella Vista, and zigzag through the slopes of Pantokrator or “Little Switzerland.”


10. Farms and Food of the Dalmation Coast

Port: Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Croatia’s cuisine is flavorful and varied, further enhanced by the land’s own bounty. The countryside overflows with farms and small producers responsible for the country’s finest flavors made directly from the source.

Getting There: You’ll need a car to get from place to place if you want to explore the food of the region. Sign up for a tour with an independent outfitter or through your cruise line.

Must-Do Experiences: Feast on a seafood platter of fresh catches; poke around in an oyster farm; sample red and white varietal wines only found locally. 

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